Deconstructing Ancient Egyptian Stelae

The ancient Egyptians used text and images to venerate gods and the deceased

Stela Dedicated to the Deified King Amenhotep I and Queen Ahmose Nefertari (-1292/-1190)American Research Center In Egypt (ARCE)

Veneration in Stone

There are many ways people venerate and communicate with the dead. In ancient Egypt, it was common for people to commission stelae with decorative images and short texts. Stelae were used to commemorate people and provide access to the dead or divine.

Royal Gods

The upper register shows Queen Ahmose-Nefertari, and her son, Amenhotep I, seated on thrones. They were royals who were deified after their deaths and worshipped as gods.

Queen Mother

Ahmose-Nefertari wears a  vulture headdress, often worn by royal wives and female pharaohs, with a crown of a sun disk and large feathers. Her skin is black, a symbol of rebirth, fertility, and resurrection. Her name is written inside the cartouche.

Sacred Engraved Letters

The hieroglyphs behind her read, "Protection, life, stability and dominion are behind her, like Re, everyday."

Symbols of Power

Amenhotep I wears a headband with the uraeus and holds a crook in his left hand and an ankh (a symbol of life) in his right. A solar disk floats above his head with two uraeus cobras. The cartouche reads "Djeserkare", one of his royal names.

Looking to the Gods

In the lower register, two men kneel with  with their hands raised in adoration.

Father and son

The text identifies the deceased who are venerating Ahmose-Nefertari and Amenhotep I as: "Servant in the Place of Truth (i.e. the royal necropolis) Amonemope, True of Voice; his
son, the Servant in the Place of Truth, Amennakht, True of Voice, forever."

Stela Dedicated to Amenhotep I (-1189/-1069)American Research Center In Egypt (ARCE)

An Ancient Stela

This stela is dedicated to Amenhotep I who is depicted at the center, holding a crook and wearing an uraeus, symbols of divine authority.

Amun is Satisfied

You can read his name, written in the cartouches, “Djeserkara Amenhotep (I).” 

The Intermediary

What is interesting is that the text is written as if Ramesses IV is the dedicator of the stela. But it is likely that the real owner actually invoked Ramesses VI to act as intermediary between the unknown dedicator, and the god Amenhotep I.  

What's in a Name?

Both the left and right sides list the  royal names of Ramesses IV.  Together, these names defined the king and his relationship to the gods. By listing the names of Ramesses IV, the owner summoned the absolute holiness of the king to speak on their behalf to the deified Amenhotep.

The Horus Name

“The living Horus, ‘Victorious ka-bull, living Maat, lord of festivals 
(like his father) Ptah-Tjenen” 

The Nebty Name

 “The two golden Ladies, ‘He who protects Egypt, who subdues the nine bows” 

The Throne Name

“The king of Upper and Lower Egypt, the lord of the Two Lands, Heqaamun-maat Setepenre” 

And the Personal Name

“The King of Upper and Lower Egypt, the Lord of the Two Lands, Heqaamun-maat Setepenre; the son of Ra, lord of appearances, Ramesses Meryamun” 

Stela Dedicated to the Deified King Amenhotep I and Queen Ahmose Nefertari, -1292/-1190, From the collection of: American Research Center In Egypt (ARCE)
Stela Dedicated to Amenhotep I, -1189/-1069, From the collection of: American Research Center In Egypt (ARCE)
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Two different stelae, but with the same goal of communicating with with the gods.

Credits: Story

Story by Tessa Litecky

This story was created in association with a museum exhibition and academic conference titled Exalted Spirits: The Veneration of the Dead in Egypt through the Ages, jointly organized by The American Research Center in Egypt (ARCE), The American University in Cairo (AUC), and the Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities (MoTA) in Egypt. 

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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