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Work Palm column in the name of King Unas

Department of Egyptian Antiquities: Religious and funerary beliefs

Palm column in the name of King Unas

© 1993 RMN / Hervé Lewandowski

Egyptian Antiquities
Religious and funerary beliefs

Author(s):
Chloé Ragazzoli, Lili Aït-Kaci

This palm column once adorned the peristyle courtyard of the funerary temple of King Unas (2380-2350 BC) at Saqqara. It evokes the prestigious setting of the royal funerary temple adjoining the eastern façade of the pyramid, where the priests in charge of the cult officiated and served the offerings intended to ensure the dead king's survival in the afterlife.

The royal funerary complex in the Old Kingdom

This granite column comes from the necropolis at Saqqara, more precisely from the "upper temple" in the funerary complex of Unas (2380-2350 BC), the last king of the 5th Dynasty. The architectural complexes constructed for the funerary cult of the kings of this dynasty covered a much greater area than the famous pyramids of the Giza Plateau (from the 4th Dynasty), though their pyramids were much lower. This complex consisted of a funerary temple adjoining the eastern side of the pyramid, a valley temple (accessible by boat), and a paved causeway between the two.

The column in the Louvre

This column from the peristyle courtyard of the upper temple was discovered with six others (one of which is in the British Museum). They were all broken. The doors at each end of the temple established the east/west axis of this rectangular courtyard. As the inscription on the shaft alludes to northern deities, perhaps this column was one of those situated to the north of this axis, nearest the temple entrance.
It was carved from a single block of granite. Its palmiform capital is topped by an abacus which supported an architrave (part of which is conserved at Saqqara). Five rings are carved in relief around the base of the palm leaves, and a double loop indicates the main axis of the column. An inscription halfway up the shaft is framed by two "was" scepters which rest on the symbol of the earth and support that of the sky. The inscription gives the five names in the titulary of Unas:
King of Upper and Lower Egypt
Son of Re, Unas, beloved of Wadjet of the cities of Dep and Pê, mistress of Lower Egypt
Horus Wadjtawy
He of the Two Ladies, Wadjem
Golden Horus Wadj
At the bottom of the inscription is the epithet "granted life, stability and strength, for ever."

The origin of this column

This is an example of the vegetal motifs used in stonework in Egyptian places of worship, reflecting an image of the world. This column also reveals a keen sense of color, insofar as the mass of pink granite stood on a white alabaster surface.
It was purchased by rhe Egyptian government in the early 20th century, together with elements from the chapel of the mastaba of Akhethetep (lien base cartel + notice mastaba).
Although the column was part of the temple of Unas, it might nevertheless have originally served an older monument. Indeed, certain irregularities suggest that the shaft was re-carved to erase former inscriptions, perhaps in the name of the precedent king, Djedkare Izezi. This was a common practice in ancient Egypt.

Bibliography

E. DELANGE, Le temple, Fiche-visite Louvre. Dépt Antiquités égyptiennes, salle 12

B. Porter, R. L. B. Moss, Topographical Bibliography of Ancient Egypt, III2, Oxford, 1977,p. 420-421.
A.Labrousse, J.-Ph. Lauer, J. Leclant, Le temple haut du complexe funéraire du roi Ounas, Bibliothèque d'Etude 73, Institut français d'archéologie orientale, Le Caire, 1977, p. 23-31.
Chr. Ziegler, Stèles, peintures et reliefs égyptiens de l'Ancien Empire, Paris, 1990

Technical description

  • Palm column in the name of King Unas

    Old Kingdom, 5th Dynasty, reign of Unas (2380-2350 BC)

    Saqqara

  • Pink granite, hollow relief

    H. 6.66 m; Diam. 0.87 m

  • Purchased 1903

    E 10959

  • Egyptian Antiquities

    Sully wing
    Ground floor
    The temple
    Room 12

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