funerary stela

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The Faces of Cilicia

Details of Roman era funerary stelae.  From the Adana Archaeology Museum in Turkey.

I was digging in Turkey again this summer and I got the privilege seeing the newly built archaeological museum in Adana. It’s reportedly the biggest museum in Turkey. Unfortunately the opening of this museum appears to have been rushed because two-thirds of the exhibition areas are not yet open to the public, and the ones that are accessible are incredibly unorganized in display. However, I see a lot of potential for this museum once everything is finally finished! 

The Egyptians…knew that if their tombs were maintained for a century they were lucky. So what did they do? If the actual loaves of bread stopped coming, they could be replaced by magical substitutes. The tomb paintings which show rows of comely young women carrying food were magical insurance against the failing of forgetful ka-priests; so were the loaded offering tables which are depicted on tomb walls, stelae, and funerary slabs. A second line of defense in case of neglect was a written list….The offering formula goes something like this: ‘A boon which the king gives, to Osiris, Lord of Abydos [or some other god], that he give invocation offerings of bread and beer, oxen and fowl, alabaster and clothing, and every good and pure thing for the ka of the venerated [So-and-so].’
—  Barbara Mertz, Red Land, Black Land, p. 375

~Stela of Senres and Hormose.
Medium: Limestone
Place Made: Egypt
Dates: ca. 1539-1425 B.C.E.
Dynasty: XVIII Dynasty
Peroid: New Kingdom

Both this funerary stela and the adjacent one, illustrate a popular Dynasty 18 type. The rounded top represents the sun’s path across the dome of the sky. A pair of wedjat-eyes—symbols of the sun and moon as well as of wholeness—frame a shen-ring, representing the sun’s universal, cyclical course. The stela’s owner Senres is shown sniffing a lotus, an emblem of eternal rebirth, while accepting food offerings. Senres’s wife, Hormes, is depicted grasping his arm in a gesture of intimacy. The offering prayer below ends by stating that Hormes commissioned this stela for her husband.

The Life and Times of a Soldier during the Middle Kingdom

The life of the soldier Khusobek is known only from his funerary stela, a short autobiography which he wrote so he might be known for posterity. Though he probably couldn’t have imagined how interested modern archaeologists would be. The stela and its inscription was found at the site of Abydos in Upper Egypt. It would have stood either in his tomb, or in some form of cenotaph: Abydos was the supposed burial-place of the god Osiris, and Egyptians who could not afford to be buried near the resting-place of this god sometimes built small chapels by the processional way leading to his sanctuary.

Khusobek says he was born around 1880 BCE. The lack of details about his family has made archaeologists believe he was of humble birth, but Khusobek managed to attract the attention of the new king, Senwosret III, who made him a royal escort, perhaps a bodyguard. He was given command of a squad of 60 men, and took part in the campaigns into Nubia. Egyptian interest in Nubia at this period, for both war and trading, is well documented. But the stela’s description of a campaign into Palestine comes as a surprise, since it had been assumed that the Middle Kingdom left this area alone to focus on its southern border. The army, with the now-veteran Khusobek,bpenetrated as far as Sekemem, perhaps the modern Nablus on the West Bank. Khusobek had the dangerous task of protecting the rear of the Egyptian army. He again distinguished himself and was given rewards for his bravery from the king’s own hands (at least, according to his stela). Thanks to this one funerary inscription, we know of a “new” ancient war!

~Funerary Stela of Heni.
Unknown artist, Egyptian
From Naga-ed-Der
2134-2040 BCE
Limestone and paint

Offered symbolically, the images and hieroglyphics depicted on the right of this funerary stela ensured that Heni, a local high official, would never experience hunger or thirst in the afterlife.

The slightly awkward proportions of Heni’s figure are typical of monuments of the First Intermediate period, when there was no centralized government in Egypt. The lack of royal control over artistic production during this time allowed artists to experiment, as seen in the multiple levels of relief on Heni’s kilt, the particular green of the hieroglyphs, and the striped border.