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Department of Egyptian Antiquities: Objects from everyday life

Large bottle with vine-leaf decoration

© 2002 Musée du Louvre / Christian Décamps

Egyptian Antiquities
Objects from everyday life

Author(s):
Pierrat-Bonnefois Geneviève

This large, two-tone pottery bottle was found in a grave in Sedeinga in Sudan, in a cemetery dating from the Meroitic period. Painted ceramics were an important feature of the art of this civilization, which grew up between the Second and Sixth Cataracts of the Nile and lasted from the Hellenistic period through the Late Roman Empire.

A large bottle found in a tomb

The bottle has a globular body with a long, slightly curved, cylindrical neck. Both parts are clearly differentiated, the red slip on the neck contrasting with the pinkish-white of the belly, which is decorated with vine leaves. The earthenware from the Meroitic necropolis of Sedeinga included many such vases, but this is one of the most elegant and best preserved. Leaf decoration also features on Egyptian ceramics (from the Theban region) which date from the contemporary Roman period; it originated in Hellenistic designs of lanceolate leaves and ivy. The latter is hardly recognizable; in fact, archaeologists often mistook it for vine (the most common plant motif during the Roman period.)

Sedeinga: a great Meroitic and Napatan necropolis

In 1996, the Sudanese government gave France a hundred antiquities unearthed during the French excavations at Sedeinga, a town situated between the Second and Third Cataracts of the Nile. Its ancient cemetery boasted dozens of mudbrick pyramids dating from the Napatan (seventh to third century BC) and Meroitic (third century BC to fifth century AD) periods. Ramps led down to the burial chambers beneath these (now eroded) constructions, whose sides measured three to nine meters.
Despite pillaging, the Meroitic tombs yielded a wealth of material. The temple adjoining the pyramid was decorated with carved sandstone elements: door, stele, offering table, and winged statue symbolizing the soul of the deceased. In the burial chamber, the body was adorned with jewelry made of semi-precious stones or (sometimes gilded) glass beads. Crockery items in bronze, siliceous faience, earthenware, and glass were placed beside the corpse.

Painted pottery from the Meroitic period

Meroitic pottery is remarkable for its extraordinarily fine paste and its stamped or painted decoration. Egyptian-style themes, such as uraeus serpents, ankh crosses, and waterlily flowers, are common, as a result of several centuries of contact with the Pharaonic civilization. Other motifs, such as processions of guinea fowl or frogs, are strictly indigenous, and the style is always highly original. The vine-leaf decoration on this vase comes from Greco-Roman art, which was also much admired by the Meroitic upper classes. Two engraved signs on the upper part of the shoulder remain a mystery, although we know that they are not written characters.

Bibliography

A. Labrousse, "Sedeinga, métropole régionale au coeur de l'Empire méroïtique" in les Dossiers de l'Archéologie n 196, septembre 1994, p. 34-39.

Catalogue d'exposition Nubie. Les Cultures Antiques du Soudan, Marcq-en-Baroeul, Lille, 1994, p. 209-214.

Technical description

  • Large bottle with vine-leaf decoration

    Late Meroitic period, second to third century AD

    Sedeinga excavations, Sudan

  • Painted terracotta

    H. 34.5 cm; Diam. 20.5 cm

  • Gift of the Sudanese government (division of excavation finds), 1996

    E 32501

  • Egyptian Antiquities

    Sully wing
    1st floor
    Nubia and Sudan
    Escalier du Midi

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