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Work Stele dedicated by King Amasis to the Apis bull that died during his reign

Department of Egyptian Antiquities: The final Pharaonic dynasties and the Ptolemaic period (circa 1069 - 30 BC)

Stele dedicated by King Amasis to the Apis bull that died during his reign

© Musée du Louvre/C. Décamps

Egyptian Antiquities
The final Pharaonic dynasties and the Ptolemaic period (circa 1069 - 30 BC)

Author(s):
Élisabeth David

This stele is an official monument, dedicated by King Amasis to a sacred Apis bull that died during his reign. It is very thick, and must have been incorporated into the stonework that blocked the entrance to the bull's tomb at the Serapeum of Memphis. At the top of the stele, under the hieroglyph for sky and a winged sun disk, King Amasis kneels before the Apis bull, separated from it by an offering table covered with slices of bread. The text records the major dates in the life of the sacred animal.

The king with two left hands

Amasis kneels in profile, sitting back on his heels, his upper body leaning slightly forward. His arms are held in an unusual position: contrary to the convention of showing human shoulders full front, the artist tipped the king's right shoulder forward. His arms hang in front of his knees and his hands are almost touching. Attentive viewers might therefore notice that the king has two left hands! This abnormality was perfectly common in Egyptian relief carvings, but as the hands were generally held on either side of the body, it was less obvious than it is here.

One of the first official epitaphs for a bull

Referred to by his "Horus names" and as "King of Upper and Lower Egypt," "the perfect god, Lord of the Two Lands" offers bread and beer to "Apis-Atum, who wears his two horns on his head." Prior to the Saite Period, Serapeum steles were dedicated by private individuals. Psammetichus I, the first king of the 26th Dynasty, had major renovation work done in the Serapeum, and royal steles may have appeared on this occasion.

The traceability of the sacred bulls

The stele, which commemorates the solemn burial of the bull, mentions all the major dates in its life:

"Year 23, 1st month of Shemu, day 15, under the Majesty of the king of Upper and Lower Egypt, Khenemibre, given life, eternally:

[There follows a description of the funeral: after embalming, the sacred bull was dragged on a sledge to its tomb. It was placed in a granite sarcophagus commissioned by the king, who also provided the shroud, amulets, and funerary furniture.]

The Majesty of this god departed for heaven in Year 23, 3rd month of Peret, day 6. He was born in Year 5, 1st month of Akhet, day 7. He was taken to the domain of Ptah in the 2nd month of Shemu, day 18. The duration of this god’s perfect life: 18 years, 1 month, and 6 days. Made for him by Amasis, given life and authority, eternally."

Such a wealth of dates on the royal steles for the Apis bulls helped establish Egyptian chronology from the 26th Dynasty to the end of the Greek period.

Bibliography

- LETELLIER B., BERMAN L. M., Pharaohs. Treasures of Egyptian Art from the Louvre, The Cleveland Museum of Art in association with Oxford Press,  1996, p. 80-81, 97.

Technical description

  • Stele dedicated by King Amasis to the Apis bull that died during his reign

    Late Period, 26th Dynasty, year 23 of the reign of Amasis, 547-546 BC

    Serapeum of Saqqara

  • Sculpture (bas-relief), limestone

    H. 1.07 cm; W. 63.5 cm; D. 3.5 cm

  • Gift of the Egyptian government (sharing of excavation finds), 1852-53

    N 406

  • Egyptian Antiquities

    Sully wing
    Ground floor
    Animals and gods
    Room 19

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