BLUE GREEN FAIENCE USHABTI OF PSMATIK BELOVED OF NEITH
Late Period, end of 26th – 27th Dyn. C. 520 B.C., reign of Psamtik III
Height: 7.75 inches (19.7 cm)
Published: S. Decker, Uschebti – ägyptische Dienerfiguren einer deutschen Privat-sammlung, Kempen 2005, 98-100. 98-100.
Exhibited and Published: Römisch-Germanisches Museum, Köln, 25.06.-30.09.2007, Kosmos der Zeichen, University of Cologne, ZAKMIRA Band 5, (2007) cf. H.D. Schneider, Shabtis, Part II, Leiden, 1977, p. 179
Provenance: Ex coll. Dr. Heinrich, ex coll. Stefan Decker; ex Harmakhis Gallery, Brussels, from coll. USA before 1960.
Restoration: Repaired at ankles.
The shabti was an important component of Egyptian funerary rights. It was believed that the realm of the afterlife was identical to the living world with the exception of death and sickness, and that such necessary activities as farming, basket weaving, and construction of public monuments to the god Osiris, lord of the underworld, would be undertaken by those who had departed this world. To spare the deceased from having to work during their afterlife, and living servants from being sacrificed to the same graves that held their masters, the shabti was placed within the tomb. An inscription with a spell from the Book of the Dead would allow it to become animate upon its master’s command and free them from toil in the Land of the Dead. For this reason shabti (also known by the names ushabti or shawabtys) were known as “answerers”. They responded to demands made upon the departed – whether commoner, nobleman, or royal – in the afterlife. By the 26th Dynasty, in which this particular shabti was carved, they were regular fixtures among grave goods and often a fair indicator of wealth. The richer one was in life, the more shabti were commissioned to work for the entombed in death.
This impressive shabti is well crafted from blue-green faience. The shabti wears a striated tripartite wig, braided false beard, and a gentle smile on its delicately carved face. Eyebrows and the cosmetic lines around the eyes are carved in light relief, raised just enough to call attention to their presence. The mummiform figure holds a pick and hoe in crossed hands with a seed bag over the left shoulder which is cross-hatched to show its straw or rush construction. Below the shabti’s hands are nine horizontal bands with the shabti’s spell and the name of the deceased pharaoh for which it was created: Psamtik (also spelled Psammetich or Psammetek), likely Psamtik III, last pharaoh of Egypt before the Persian conquest, during whose reign this shabti was made. Inscribed upon the first of nine bands of hieroglyphic writing that wraps around the mummiform figure are the words ‘…The Illuminated, the Osiris, the Overseer of the writers of the royal meal, Psamtek, beloved of Neith, true of voice, he says (..)’ The referenced Neith is an Ancient Egyptian goddess, and the patron deity of the town of Sais from which the father of the pharaoh originated.
The life and death of Psamtik III were not easy. Merely six months after his ascension to the throne the young pharaoh’s armies were abandoned by his Greek allies and Egypt was conquered by the Persian Empire. His father, Amasis II, had made a formidable enemy of the Persian king Cambysses II.
A general in the army of pharaoh Apries and the pharaoh Psamtik II before him, Amasis II took over the throne of Egypt in the 19th year of Apries’s reign. After a failed military expedition to Libya with foreign mercenaries the Egyptian army revolted and sided with their general against the pharaoh, forcing Apries to flee. He returned with a Babylonian army in an attempt to reclaim his throne, but was killed in battle; granting Amasis II the right to rule. In order to cement his claim to the throne Amasis II treated the former ruler’s remains with the appropriate funerary rites, and married one of Apries’s daughters who bore him a son.
Pharaoh Amasis II ruled Egypt successfully for 44 years. However, towards the end of his reign Amasis II dealt King Cambysses II of Persia great insult. The king, on the advice of a slighted Egyptian physician gifted to him by the pharaoh, requested one of the pharaoh’s daughters be sent to marry him. Knowing that his daughter would be the king’s concubine rather than his wife, Amasis II sent the daughter of former pharaoh Apries instead. Upon arriving before the Persian king she revealed her true identity and, enraged, Cambysses II amassed an army to conquer Egypt. Forming alliances with the local kingdoms for safe passage through the desert Cambysses II crossed the sands and captured Egypt along with its newly minted pharaoh, Psamtik III. By this point Amasis II had already died, but Cambysses II, not to be deterred in his revenge against Amasis II by such trivialities as death, exhumed and desecrated the corpse of his enemy.
Following the capture of pharaoh Psamtik III the Persians reportedly executed the captured pharaoh’s wife, children, and citizens in front of him. Upon seeing an old friend who had been reduced to the state of a beggar Psamtik III was overcome with grief for the plight of his friend. Seeing the pharaoh’s compassion for the old man in light of all that had happened to him and his household the Persians spared both their lives. Eventually Psamtik III too was put to death for the crime of instigating rebellion among the Egyptians.