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Department of Egyptian Antiquities: Religious and funerary beliefs

The Tod treasure

© 2008 Musée du Louvre / Christian Décamps

Egyptian Antiquities
Religious and funerary beliefs

Author(s):
Pierrat-Bonnefois Geneviève

Custom required that foundation deposits be buried beneath Egyptian temples at the time of their consecration by the king. The Tod treasure is unique in that it was buried at a later date, by the successor of the founder of the Tod temple, and includes some metals that were unknown in Egypt. It is evidence of exchanges between the sovereigns of the Near East and the Eastern Mediterranean at the beginning of the 2nd millennium BC.

The discovery of a cache of lapis and silver

In 1936 the archaeologist F. Bisson de la Roque made an astonishing discovery in the ruins of the temple at Tod, near Luxor. In the foundation sand beneath the floor of the temple of Sesostris I (1934-1898 BC), he uncovered four copper chests inscribed with the name of the king's son, Ammenemes II. They contained lapis (raw or finely worked fragments) and silver, in the form of ingots, chains, and 153 vases (mostly with folded rims), together with some gold items. These pieces of silver and gold ware were clearly not Egyptian and were different from anything found before. It was possible to identify the lapis lazuli pieces, however. The cylinder seals came from an area stretching from Anatolia to the eastern borders of Iran and were produced throughout the 3rd and into the early 2nd millenniums. The beads and amulets mostly came from Mesopotamia and were made in the latter half of the 3rd millennium. Most of the fragments were too small to be re-used; the treasure was a gift to the god Monthu, "sacrificed" forever, and intended to remain buried.

The mysterious origin of the silver cups

The origin of the silver cups is an ongoing mystery. They look like ceramics from the Cretan Minoan civilization (sites of Knossos and Phaistos, Palace Periods, 1900-1700 BC), which may have imitated metal forms never found outside Tod. Metal was indeed melted down with every generation to meet new tastes and requirements. The Egyptian soil may have preserved metal models that were destroyed elsewhere. Some archaeologists have suggested the mining region of Anatolia or northern Syria-an area of magnificent craftsmanship, where fine tableware held an important place in commercial and diplomatic exchanges during the 2nd millennium, on the evidence of archives found in the palace of Mari. Craftsmen might copy foreign styles, such as that of Minoan art. If the treasure was gathered in northern Syria, it could be a reflection of several styles. Indeed, Egypt's relations with the Levantine coast (especially Byblos) were intense during this period.

The significance of this foundation deposit

Royal annals mention the many offerings made by King Ammenemes II to the gods and in memory of his father King Sesostris I, shortly after his death. The texts reveal that the king buried the chests in the foundation sand of the temple built by Sesostris I as an act of filial devotion. It was also an act of devotion to the war god Monthu, lord of foreign lands, who received their "tributes"-actually taxes or commercial and diplomatic exchanges. The content of the four chests may even have been assembled in Egypt, from the royal treasure; this would explain its great diversity. This unique treasure reflects the role of the King of Egypt, who acquired wealth from all over the world, then passed it on to the god Monthu so that he would maintain the king's military strength abroad.

Bibliography

Michel Menu, "Analyse du trésor de Tôd", Bulletin de la Société Française d'Egyptologie, 130, Paris, 1994
Geneviève Pierrat, "A propos de la date et de l'origine du trésor de Tôd", Bulletin de la Société Française d'Egyptologie, 130, Paris, 1994
G. Pierrat-Bonnefois, "La part du lapis-lazuli dans l'étude du trésor de Tôd", Actes du colloque Cornaline et pierres précieuses, musée du Louvre, Paris, 1999.
 

Technical description

  • The Tod treasure

    The treasure consists of variously-dated elements, going back to the 3rd millennium BC. It was gathered and buried during the reign of Ammenemes II (1898-1866 BC)

    Tod, Upper Egypt

  • Cuprous metal, lapis lazuli, silver, gold, cast iron; repoussé hammering

    The largest chest: H. 20 cm; W. 45 cm; D. 20 cm

  • Gift of the Egyptian government (division of excavation finds), 1936

    E 15128 à E 15318

  • Egyptian Antiquities

    Sully wing
    Ground floor
    The temple
    Room 12

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