Stele of the Nubian soldier Nenu

First Intermediate Period
about 2100–2040 B.C.

Findspot: Egypt, Said to be from el-Rizeiqat, Notes: (Said to be from el-Rizeiqat)


Overall: 45 x 37.1 x 6.7 cm, 14.06 kg (17 11/16 x 14 5/8 x 2 5/8 in., 31 lb.)

Accession Number


Medium or Technique

Painted limestone

On View

Dynasties 6-11 (Gallery 105C)


The Ancient World



During the tumultuous years between the Old and Middle Kingdoms the local rulers of Middle Egypt were drawn into a heated rivalry between the Thebans from southern Egypt and the Herakleopolitans from the north. Nubian mercenaries, particularly the highly skilled archers, fought on behalf of all the factions involved. Many of them served in the Egyptian army and then settled in Egypt, where they lived, died, and were buried according to local customs.

This limestone stela was set into the tomb wall of one such Nubian soldier who had evidently married an Egyptian. The stela served as the focal point for offerings brought to the tomb to honor and sustain the deceased and his family in the afterlife. The inscription requests offerings from Anubis, the jackal god of the necropolis, for the tomb owner, a man named Nenu. Nenu is identified as a Nubian not only by the text, but also by certain elements of his dress, including a wide leather sash and a distinctive, curly wig. His wife stands beside him wearing a characteristically Egyptian sheath dress, wig, and broadcollar, although the conventions of Egyptian two-dimensional representation make her appear to be behind him. Other family members in Nubian attire face them in the lower register, accompanied by a pair of curly-tailed hounds wearing collars. In the upper register, a servant figure offers a libation from a large jar resting on a stand behind him. Servants of this type, energetically proffering a cup to the tomb owner, are characteristic of the First Intermediate Period. Hunting hounds such as the two portrayed with Nenu also appear frequently on stelae and tomb reliefs of both the First Intermediate Period and Middle Kingdom.

During the First Intermediate Period, local relief styles replaced the refined relief of the preceding Old Kingdom, and the figures on this stela display the awkwardness characteristic of the age. Particularly noteworthy are the enormous eyes, beaklike noses, extremely long limbs, and the unrealistic manner in which the wife’s arm bends around Nenu’s waist.


Said to be from Rasigat (el-Rizeiqat). 1903, sold by Mohammed Mohassib (dealer), Luxor, Egypt, through Albert M. Lythgoe to the MFA for £15. (Accession Date: January 1, 1903)

Credit Line

Emily Esther Sears Fund