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Work Water jars and stand

Department of Egyptian Antiquities: Christian Egypt (fourth - twelfth centuries AD)

Jarres (zir) avec leurs supports

© 1988 RMN / Béatrice Hatala

Egyptian Antiquities
Christian Egypt (fourth - twelfth centuries AD)

Lyon-Caen Christiane

These porous jars, placed in purpose-designed cavities on the stand, kept water cool thanks to evaporation. Excess water seeped through the ceramic, then flowed from the cavities into a pipe that emerged through the lion's mouth carved at the front of the stand. The water that dripped from the gargoyle's mouth was collected in a container.

An original furniture item

The low stone table designed to hold the water jars is rather squat and rustic in appearance. It was made from a block originally used in a pharaonic edifice. The table ends are carved in flat relief: one side features hieroglyphs, but a leg is all that remains of a figured scene on the other side. On the front face are the schematized forequarters of a lion, its head resting between its outstretched forepaws, its mouth perforated to let the water flow through.
The lion has always been associated with water in the Mediterranean world; even today, fountain water still spurts from lions' muzzles. Such symbolism in Egypt could be explained by the fact that the beneficial Nile flood occurs when the sun is in Leo. In the Roman world, however, the lion symbolized cleansing fire; the water that poured through the wild beast's mouth was therefore pure and fit for either drinking or lustration purposes.

A thermostatic system

This rather unsophisticated design corresponds to a simple but ingenious system. The whole surface of the table top is taken up by three cavities: the outer two are round and concave to hold the large, porous clay jars with their convex bases; a pipe system connects these cavities to the central, quadrangular one, which collects the seepage from the jar walls. The water thus collected flows through a little pipe and out of the lion's mouth into a container placed on the ground. Evaporation was caused by the jars' porosity, ensuring that the water they contained was kept cool and fit for consumption.

The containers

The jars themselves are ordinary wheel-thrown vessels. Their chief interest lies in the fact that they were found during excavations in a stratigraphic context that was too disturbed by the Nile floods to allow any certainty regarding date. Their pink-colored paste suggests they were made in Aswan, and the Arabic inscription in black ink ("to my master") on one of them allows us to establish a "terminus ante quem" (latest possible date for their manufacture): the second half of the 7th century at the earliest. It is difficult to assert that they were made to hold water, especially as they were probably imported, perhaps containing wine from the Aswan region, but archaeological objects often metamorphose during the course of their long lives.
The Copts probably used a ladle to draw water directly from the jars. During the subsequent period, however, scrape marks at the bottom of some basins suggest that water was taken from the container itself by means of a cup.


Benazeth Dominique, "Les pièces de Tôd", in Revue du Louvre, 1985, n 5-6, p. 417, pl. 9, fig. 26.
Bénazeth Dominique, Rutschowscaya Marie-Hélène (sous la dir. de),
L'Art copte en Égypte : 2000 ans de christianisme, cat. exp. Paris, Institut du monde arabe, 15 mai-3 septembre 2000, Cap d'Agde, Musée de l'Éphèbe, 30 septembre 2000-7 janvier 2001, exposition co-organisée par l'Institut du monde arabe, en collaboration avec le Conseil supérieur des antiquités égyptien, Éditions Gallimard, 2000, p. 39, n 3.
Badawy Alexandre, "The prototype of the coptic water jug stand",
in Archaeology, t. 20, 1967, pp. 56-61.
Boreux Charles, Musée national du Louvre. Département des antiquités égyptiennes. Guide catalogue sommaire. I : Salles du rez-de-chaussée, escalier et palier du Ier étage. Salle du Mastaba et salle de Baonît. II : Salles du Ier étage (Salles Charles X), t. I, Paris, Éditions des Musées nationaux, 1932, p. 277.
Loyrette Anne-Marie, "Tôd, fouilles dans l'enceinte du temple de Monthou, le secteur 10", Rapport d'activités 1981-1982, ERA 439, CNRS, p. 168 et p. 170, fig. 36, Le Caire, 1983.
Lyon-Caen Christianne, in Égyptes, l'égyptien et le copte, cat. exp. Lattes, 1999, exposition réalisée par le Musée archéologique Henri Prades, édition préparée par Nathalie Bosson et Sydney H. Aufrère, Lattes, 1999, n 27.
Pierrat Geneviève, "Essai de classification de la céramique de Tôd de la fin du VIIe au début du XIIIe siècle", in Cahiers de la céramique égyptienne, n 2, IFAO 1991, pp. 145-204 et plus particulièrement pp. 187-188,
fig. 58 et 59.
Vandier Jacques, Musée du Louvre. Le Département des antiquités égyptiennes. Guide sommaire, Paris, Éditions des Musées nationaux, 1948, p. 28.
Rutschowscaya Marie-Hélène, "Water jugs and stands", in Coptic Encyclopaedia, t. VII, p. 2320.

Technical description

  • Jarres (zir) avec leurs supports

    VIIe - XIIIe siècle après J.-C.

  • calcaire et terre cuite pour les jarres trouvées

    H. 74 cm; W. 41 cm; D. 32 cmH. 38 cm; Diam. 30 cmH. 42 cm; Diam. 28 cm

  • Fouilles du musée du Louvre à Tôd, 1980 , 1980

    AF 6267, E 27230, E 27231, E 27227, E 27229, AF 12410

  • Egyptian Antiquities

    Denon wing
    Lower ground floor
    Bawit room

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