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Work Funerary stele

Department of Egyptian Antiquities: Christian Egypt (fourth - twelfth centuries AD)

Funerary stele

© Musée du Louvre

Egyptian Antiquities
Christian Egypt (fourth - twelfth centuries AD)

Author(s):
Cédric Meurice

This wooden stele in the form of the ankh, the symbol of life, was created during the Pharaonic period. A Coptic text, which attributes the stele to a certain Pantoleos, who died in the early tenth century AD, is engraved on three of its sides. The stele is interesting both in terms of the materials used and its shape.

Christian stele with Pharaonic hieroglyphs

This funerary stele is in good condition. Carved from a thick piece of wood, it takes the form of the cross always found in tombs and temples of the Pharaonic era: the ankh, a symbol of life. This Christian-era stele, used to mark the site of a tomb, adopted this shape as a symbol of life and rebirth. The form of the Pharaonic era ansate cross has been modified in this case: the cross's arms, which are usually much longer, are very short on this object. This sign was usually engraved on a stele, while here it forms the shape of the monument itself.

Prayer for Pantoleos

But there is more: three sides of this object carry an engraved inscription that is read by walking around the stele (seventeen lines on the front, with nine and three lines on the narrow sides). This inscription is written in Faiyumic Copt, a dialect of Northern Egypt spoken in the Faiyum region, a fertile area southwest of present-day Cairo. God is requested to procure rest for the soul of Deacon Pantoleos, who died in the year "641 of Emperor Diocletian." Pantoleos and his father Thoter lived in Tebtynis, a large city on the southeastern edge of the Faiyum oasis.

Precise dating

The epitaph is interesting as it allows us to date the stele precisely. In order to do so, we should add 284 to the date 641 – because the Age of the Martyrs (so called to commemorate the persecutions carried out by Diocletian during this period) began in the year 284 in our Gregorian calendar. This gives us the year 925, in the first half of the 10th century.

This is a late stele, therefore, which reflects the permanence of Egyptian beliefs: the life symbol from the ancient Egyptian vocabulary was used in the 10th century AD as a support for a prayer on behalf of a deceased Christian.

Bibliography

-  Egyptes…L’Egyptien et le copte, Lattes, 1999, n°64.

- L’art de l’Egypte copte, 2000 ans de christianisme, Paris, 2000, n°8.

- De temps en temps. Histoire de calendriers, Paris, Archives nationales, 2001, p. 29.

- Egypte, la trame de l’Histoire, Paris, 2002, n°4, n°24.

Technical description

  • Funerary stele

    First half of 10th century

  • Wood

  • R. Weill bequest, 1992

    E 25091

  • Egyptian Antiquities

    Denon wing
    Lower ground floor
    Bawit room
    Room C
    Display case 5

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