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Work Mummy Label

Department of Egyptian Antiquities: Roman Egypt (30 BC - AD 392)

Mummy Label

© 1999 Musée du Louvre / Georges Poncet

Egyptian Antiquities
Roman Egypt (30 BC - AD 392)

Author(s):
Marie-France Aubert

The mummy label is an emblematic funerary object from the Roman era in Egypt. Attached to the mummy, it was the deceased's identification and passport to eternity. A portrait of the deceased, with an epitaph in Greek, was depicted on one side, while a standard prayer formula in demotic script graced the other.

A Portrait of the Deceased

This exceptionally large label is rectangular in shape and slightly curved on the side. It has a hole in it, through which a linen tie was threaded to attach it to the mummy.
The reverse side has a frontal view of the deceased, and the small curved side reproduces the upper rounded section of a stele. The deceased is wearing a red tunic adorned with two dark bands, and the sleeves are trimmed with a braid of the same color. She is wearing shoes on her splayed feet. Her thin neck supports an enormous head, which is disproportionately large for the body. Two immense eyes fill the triangular face; the thick eyebrows meet above the bridge of the broad nose, which joins the tiny mouth. Three bead pendants hang from her ears. Black lines arranged around her curly hair form a schematic design of an Osiris crown of justification. To the right of the deceased is an altar of horns for incense offerings. Below is an inscription in Greek: "Artemis, daughter of Anaraus, whose mother is Tronchonminis, lived to the age of twenty-one years."
A Roman tabula-ansata-type label is drawn on the front side, while the unused space has been hatched with lines. This imitation label carries a formula in demotic script reading: "May her soul live with Osiris Sokaris, the great god, master of the West, Tamin, daughter of Anarau, whose mother is Tronchonmin, dead in her twenty-first year. May her soul live forever."

Keeping Identity after Death

The imagery on the reverse side was inspired by Ptolemaic funerary steles. Yet the deceased here, shown in a frontal pose, suggests the idea of renaissance and awakening. The importance given to the face, especially the oversized eyes, means that the preservation of the head, linked to that of the name, was of primordial concern, as they reflected her identity and her individuality.
The simultaneous use of Greek and demotic script can be explained by the fact that Greek became the official language once the Ptolemaic kings took power. Yet the Egyptians continued to speak and write their own language, known as "popular" demotic, which developed in the late sixth century BC. It was to die out only in the early fifth century AD.
The use of the wooden label as a means of identification dates from the New Kingdom. During the Roman period, the mummy label was well suited to the mass burials, density and stacking of bodies that characterized the funerary practices of the time.

A Label-Stele

This miniature portable stele was a less expensive replacement for the cumbersome stone monument. The short prayer formula was equally efficient and functioned as a Book for the Coming Forth by Day or the Second Book of Breathing. Given that the priority was to perpetuate the name of the deceased, the majority of the labels were written simply.
This funerary object probably came from one of the necropolises situated on the western bank of the Nile in the region of Akhmim, formerly Panopolis, in Upper Egypt.

Bibliography

M.-F. Aubert, R. Cortopassi, catalogue de l'exposition Portraits de l'Egypte romaine, Paris, musée du Louvre, 5 octobre 1998-4 janvier 1999, Paris, 1998, n 13 ;

W. Seipel, catalogue de l'exposition Ägypten, Götter, Gräber und die Kunst - 4000 Jahre Jenseitsglaube, Linz, O.Ö. Landesmuseum, 9 avril-28 septembre 1989, n 512 :

Catalogue de l'exposition Egyptes...L'égyptien et le copte, Lattes, Musée archéologique Henri Prades, 1999, n 14 ;

Technical description

  • Mummy Label

    Between the second and third century AD

    Akhmim?

  • Painted willow

    H. 23 cm; W. 8.10 cm; D. 1.30 cm

  • Former Bouriant collection. Purchased 1889

    E 9449

  • Egyptian Antiquities

    Denon wing
    Lower ground floor
    Roman Egypt (room closed for renovation)
    Room A

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