Requires Photography

Shawabty of Queen Sakaaye

Napatan Period, reign of Malewiebamani
468–463 B.C.

Findspot: Nubia (Sudan), Nuri, Pyramid 31


Largest fragment: Overall: 5.9 x 3.5 cm (2 5/16 x 1 3/8 in.)

Accession Number


Medium or Technique


Not On View


The Ancient World


Shawabties and shawabty boxes

This is a box of twenty legs and feet fragments of shawabtys of Queen Sakaaye. When complete this type consists of the following: The female figure wears the king’s nemes headdress with uraeus and has a long beard. There is one unframed column of incised text on the front of the figure containing her cartouche prefaced by ‘The Osiris, The Mother of the God’. The arms are not crossed, the hands are positioned right above left. One hoe is held in the left hand resting on the left shoulder and the right hand holds a cord to a small bag slung over the right shoulder. This mummiform shape does not have a back pillar or base. All but one of the feet have enough of a cartouch to positively identify this queen.

The ancient Nubians included shawabtys in their tombs only in the Napatan Period, about 750–270 B.C. These funerary figurines are based on Egyptian shawabtys, but differ from them in many features of their iconography. For instance, the known Nubian examples are only from royal tombs. Also, they have unique texts, implements, poses and are known to have the largest number of shawabtys included in one tomb. Their function, it is assumed, was the same as that of the Egyptian shawabty, namely to magically animate in the Afterlife in order to act as a proxy for the deceased when called upon to tend to field labor or other tasks. This expressed purpose was sometimes written on the shawabty itself in the form of a “Shawabty Spell,” of which versions of various lengths are known. Shorter shawabty inscriptions could also just identify the deceased by name and, when applicable, title(s). However, many shawabtys carry no text at all. The ideal number of such figurines to include in a tomb or burial seems to have varied during different time periods.


From Nubia (Sudan), Nuri, Pyramid 31 (tomb of Queen Sakaaye). 1918: excavated by the Harvard University–Boston Museum of Fine Arts Expedition; assigned to the MFA in the division of finds by the government of the Sudan.

Credit Line

Harvard University—Boston Museum of Fine Arts Expedition