Work Offering table found at Meroe
Department of Egyptian Antiquities: Religious and funerary beliefs
© Musée du Louvre/C. Décamps
Religious and funerary beliefs
Offering tables were blocks of sculpted stone, intended to be placed in front of the magical false doors and statues of tombs; they were fundamental items in the cult of the dead and the gods. This one is particularly rare: it comes from Meroe, capital of a kingdom located in modern Sudan, south of the fifth cataract of the Nile.
An offering table
The offering table played a major role in the Egyptian cult of the dead and the gods: it concretized offerings of food and drink by representing them on a horizontal block of stone. A channel allowed water (poured in libation and to purify the food) to flow onto the floor.
The rings in a row on this offering table no doubt represent loaves of bread. The scene engraved above resembles a kind found on upright steles: a woman on the left and a dog-headed man on the right are leaning forward, pouring a liquid offering that they appear to have drawn from the large jars on the ground before them. In the center, an Egyptian-style table on a water lily-shaped support is engraved with circles representing loaves of bread. The lines that lead from the loaves toward the table edge, via the overflow, probably represent the libation water, which the engraver may have imagined to be the same as the water poured by the two figures.
Meroe, a royal capital
This table was found during excavations conducted in Meroe in the early 20th century by the Englishman John Garstang. In 1821 the explorer Frédéric Cailliaud had discovered, beyond the sixth cataract of the Nile, a necropolis of beautiful pyramids in golden sandstone: the burial places of the sovereigns of a forgotten kingdom. Four kilometers away were the ruins of Meroe, the capital city of these kings from the 6th century BC onward. Beginning in 1909, Garstang excavated its ruins and uncovered the walls of the temple of Amun, whose cult was mentioned by ancient authors. The excavation archives were partly destroyed during World War II, so we no longer know the exact site of the discovery of this work. Many similar tables were discovered during excavations conducted between 1920 and 1923 by Georges Reisner and Dows Dunham in the necropolis area of the Meroitic aristocracy.
A traditional Egyptian object
These Meroitic offering tables date to the 2nd and 3rd centuries AD. The form of the block of stone and the round bread loaves correspond to Egyptian tradition. The water lily-shaped table support was a common feature of Nubian art from the last centuries before the Christian era. However, the notion of a simple replica of a meal is transformed by the scene's protagonists into the kind of representation usually found on a stele. The gods Nephthys and dog-headed Anubis are portrayed together, leaning forward in a gesture of libation. Meroitic culture was permeated with certain forms and notions from Egyptian religion, which were given an original treatment. The inscription on the table edge is in Meroitic, a form of writing derived from Egyptian demotic script. Its alphabet has been identified, but the language has yet to be totally deciphered.
BibliographyCatalogue de l'exposition "Portes pour l'Au-delà. L'Egypte, Le Nil et le champ des offrandes, Montpellier, 1992, p. 173, notice n 80
Catalogue de l'exposition Naissance de l'Ecriture, catalogue d'exposition, Editions de la Réunion des musées nationaux , Paris, 1982, p. 164, notice n 108
trouvée à Méroé
H. : 35 cm. ; Pr. : 9 cm. ; l. : 33,50 cm.
Nubia and Sudan
Escalier du Midi
Vitrine 2 : Le royaume de Méroé
The Louvre is open every day (except Tuesday) from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Free admission on the first Saturday of each month
from 6 p.m. to 9:45 p.m.