Bronze shawabti, King Psusennes I, Dyn. 21

Bronze shawabti, King Psusennes I, Dyn. 21
Period:Egypt, 3rd Intermediate Period, Dynasty 21, Psusennes/Aakheperre-Setepenamun
Dating:1039 BC–991 BC
Origin:Egypt, Lower Egypt, Tanis [Avaris]
Physical:6.9cm. (2.7 in.) -

Links to other views:

⇒ Larger View
if scripting is off, click the ⇒ instead.

• • •

Links to others from Dynasty 21

Gilded mummy mask of a queen, Dyn. 21
King Amenemope (?) as Osiris, Dyn. 21
Queen as Isis-Hathor nursing, Dyn. 21
Wax shawabti for bronze casting, Dyn. 21

Links to others of type Shabti

Basalt shawabti of a king, early Dyn. 18
Blue faience shawabti, Dyn.18
Bronze shawabti, King Psusennes I, Dyn. 21
Crude pottery shawabti, Late Dyn. 20
Crude pottery shawabti, Late Dyn. 20
Faience shawabti of Hekamsaf, Dyn. 26
Light blue faience shawabti, Dyn. 26
Limestone shawabti, early Dyn. 18
Red clayware shawabti of Ankhefenmut
Shawabti from Deir el-Medineh, Dyn. 19
Shawabti in elaborate dress, 1340-1220 BC
Shawabti of Admiral Hekaemsaf, Dyn. 26
Shawabti of Amen, vizier of Amenhotep III
Shawabti of Amenemope, c.1000 BC
Shawabti of an unidentified king, Dyn. 19
Shawabti of Djedkhonswiwfankh, 1000 BC
Shawabti of General Amen, c. 1000 BC
Shawabti of Herefer-Neith, Dyn. 30
Shawabti of Hor, c. 1020-975 BC
Shawabti of Hor, son of Rurer, Dyn. 26
Shawabti of Hor-sa-Iset-Mut-f, Dyn. 26
Shawabti of Hor-Te-Ha, early Dyn. 20
Shawabti of Hor-Wdja, Dyn. 26
Shawabti of Im-Neferw-Neb, Dyn. 12
Shawabti of Khonsu-Hor, Dyn. 26
Shawabti of King Djed-Hor (Teos), Dyn. 30
Shawabti of King Pami, Dyn. 22
Shawabti of King Psamtik I, Dyn. 26
Shawabti of King Psamtik I, Dyn. 26
Shawabti of King Psamtik II, Dyn. 26
Shawabti of King Psamtik II, Dyn. 26
Shawabti of King Psamtik III, Dyn. 26
Shawabti of Mery-Seth-Hor-Mes, Dyn. 26
Shawabti of Mery-Seth-Hor-Mes, Dyn. 26
Shawabti of Neith-M-Hat, Dyn. 26
Shawabti of Nesitanebashru, 965 BC
Shawabti of Nespaheran, c. 1000 BC
Shawabti of Nespaiherhat, 1070-1030 BC
Shawabti of Nespakanwty, 1000-950 BC
Shawabti of Overseer Pahhmedat, 1000 BC
Shawabti of Pa-iri, fan-bearer, Dyn. 19
Shawabti of Pennamen, c. 1000 BC
Shawabti of Pinedjem II, 990-964 BC
Shawabti of Prince Horiraa, Dyn. 26
Shawabti of Prince Horiraa, Dyn. 26
Shawabti of Prince Horiraa, Dyn. 26
Shawabti of Prince Ir-Irw, Dyn. 26
Shawabti of Prince Pa-Khaas, Dyn. 30
Shawabti of Prince Pa-Khaas, Dyn. 30
Shawabti of Prince Pa-Khaas, Dyn. 30
Shawabti of Prince Pa-Khaas, Dyn. 30
Shawabti of Prophet Wahibre, Dyn. 26
Shawabti of Prophet Wahibre, Dyn. 26
Shawabti of Psamtik-mry-imn, Dyn. 26
Shawabti of Psamtikmeryptah, Dyn. 26
Shawabti of Queen Henuttawy, c.1050 BC
Shawabti of Queen Mutemwia. Dyn.18
Shawabti of Royal Prince Ahmes, Dyn. 26
Shawabti of Royal Scribe Idjedir, 1000 BC
Shawabti of Sheshonq II (?) Dyn. 22, 890 BC
Shawabti of Sheshonq II (?) Dyn. 22, 890 BC
Shawabti of Sheshonq II (?) Dyn. 22, 890 BC
Shawabti of Sheshonq II (?) Dyn. 22, 890 BC
Shawabti of the prophet of Amen, Dyn. 20
Shawabti of the Vizier Paser, Dyn. 19
Shawabti of Wahibramaket, Dyn. 30
Stone shawabti of a Nubian viceroy, Dyn. 18
Uninscribed wooden shawabti, Dyn. 18
Wax shawabti for bronze casting, Dyn. 21
Wood shawabti of King Seti I, Dyn. 19
Wood shawabti of King Seti I, Dyn. 19
Wood shawabti of King Seti I, Dyn. 19
  This is a bronze shawabti of King Psusennes I (P-sbk-ha-n-niwt) Dynasty 21. The hieroglyphs read: “Osiris the King, the beloved of Amen (P-sbk-ha-n-niwt), the star rose in the city.”

“In 1939-40 in Tanis, within the walls of the great temple, Prof. Pierre Monted discovered intact the tombs of Kings Psusennes I and Amenemope, served by a considerable number of shabtis… In the series found at the feet of Psusennes’ sarcophagus, 325 servants and 44 chiefs (all in faience) are kept at the Cairo Museum. The initial count on small bronze shabtis is much more elusive. 167 servants and 7 chiefs are kept at the Cairo Museum, to which were added another 14 specimen purchased later by the Museum. Another thirty, without counting the chief and servant of the Cambridge museum were located by us in Europe. These included, M.P. Clayton currently knows of 15 chiefs and 232 servants in bronze” (Aubert 1974:136, 154).

“Psusennes I revived the practice seen previously in the funerary assemblages of Ramesses II and III of including a number of shabti figures made of bronze in his tomb. This was an uncommon luxury in Egypt at this period, as bronze was highly valued. The same honor was also extended to Mutnodjmet, the sister and wife of Psusennes I, and to the general Undjebauendjed, the high-ranking official buried in the same tomb prepared for the royal couple” (Tiradritti 1998:324).

“Bronze shabtis of Psusennes I were cast solid being 8 cm. in height” (Stewart 1995:44).

Funerary Statuettes
The anthropomorphic statuettes sometimes found in Egyptian tombs fulfilled a variety of roles. Some were carved to help the defunct attain eternal life by preserving the integrity of the four parts of a person. Some served as deputies of the defunct, to discharge unwelcome obligations of his afterlife. Some were made to provide the defunct with a staff to enhance his “after-lifestyle.” As often with the fluid nature of Egyptian thought, combinations and compromises between these seemingly irreconcilable aspirations often occurred.

Consequently, this thematic overview of 3000 years of funerary statuettes presents a somewhat artificial, anachronistic perspective which, although useful, imparts discontinuities to the narrative. Please bear with us.

Preserving Integrity
The goal of Egyptian funerary practices was to help the defunct reach the stage of Akh, that of the blessed dead that would continue to exist for all eternity in the other world. But any hope of attaining this eternal bliss was absolutely predicated upon preservation of the defunct’s physical body, name, Ba, and Ka.

Starting with the late predynastic, or at least the early dynastic, we find near the mummy wooden figures that we believe to represent the Ka of the defunct. The Ka was the “spark of life,” this tenuous but infinitely important difference between a corpse and a living person. Ka statuettes are anthropomorphic. They sometimes wear atop their heads the hieroglyphic sign for Ka—a pair of outstretched arms.

Tombs from Dynasty 4 high dignitaries sometimes contained “reserve heads.” These were clearly faithful portraits of the defunct, presumably intended to preserve his physical appearance for eternity.

Delegation of Labor
The Egyptian state apparatus relied on a sophisticated system of civil service draft that was demanded of all Egyptians. Every citizen had to work for the state for a few weeks a year (Kemp 2000:129). Egyptians naturally assumed that such a system had to exist in the kingdom of the dead.

During Dynasty 12 of the Middle Kingdom (circa 1800 BC), a new class of funerary statuettes appeared. Streamlined, almost minimalist, most often made of highly polished stone, a single statuette was placed in the tomb, representing the defunct, with his arms, his legs, his whole body shrouded in mummy trappings, up to his head. These would come to be known as shawabtis and ultimately become one of the most emblematic of Egyptian artifacts.

Shawabtis had a clear mission: to take over for the defunct whenever he was called to serve his tour of duty in the kingdom of the dead. Although these early shawabtis were most often uninscribed, some bore the name of the defunct, and a few—such as that of Renseneb (British Museum #49343)—were inscribed with chapter 6 of the Book of the Dead, which makes the role of shawabtis very explicit by spelling out their duty.

O Shawabti!
If the Osiris [name of defunct] is summoned
To do any work that has to be done in the other world
Or an obstacle/unpleasant task is imposed on him there
To cultivate the fields,
To irrigate the land
To move sand from East to West, and back
In the place of the man at his duty
Here I am, you shall say

These shawabtis of the Middle Kingdom and the beginning of the Second Intermediary Period were all made for high dignitaries. No royal shawabti from this time has ever been found. One could reasonably argue that kings did not need shawabtis, because they expected to be exempt from any labor conscription in the kingdom of the dead (and they certainly had no compelling need for a funerary statuette immortalizing their physical appearance, as it was already well documented in a variety of media).

By the middle of the Second Intermediary Period (c.1650 BC), shawabtis had fallen into disuse. They are virtually unknown during the Hyksos period (c. 1650-1550 BC)

Staff for the After Life
In all civilizations, men would rather envision a vibrant afterlife. For Egyptians, who were steeped in a culture that glorified continuity and stability in all things, this afterlife would much resemble their current existence. Rich Egyptians expected to continue enjoying their material comfort, supported by their retinue of servants. Funerary practices reinforced and perhaps were thought to make this vision possible.

During part of Predynastic Egypt, evidence suggests that the King (or reigning queen) ensured good service in the after life by the gruesome practice of having his servants and administrators buried with him-perhaps alive. This practice appears to have died with the reign of King Ra-Neb.

A thousand years later, at the end of the Old Kingdom, this concept was brought back in a much more civilized form. Tombs were furnished with highly detailed models of servants hard at work for their master. These models, sometimes marvelously full of life, contributed a great deal to our understanding of daily life in Egypt. Unfortunately for archeologists, this practice also fell into disuse by the end of the First Intermediate Period (circa 2000 BC).

Some four hundred years later, towards the end of the Second Intermediate Period, the shawabti statuettes started reappearing in tombs. Initially there were "stick shabtis"—crude items that bore little resemblance to Middle Kingdom shawabtis. As the New Kingdom unfolded, these were replaced by increasingly refined shawabtis. Although they were still shawabtis, as the ritual text from the Book of the Dead indicates, their relationship to the defunct had changed in subtle but profound ways. Their gender no longer necessarily matched the defunct. Starting with King Ahmose, they were also placed in royal tombs. More importantly, they were no longer unique. In fact, as time went on, they became more and more numerous. The tomb of Tutankhamun, for instance, held 413 shawabtis (Stewart 1995:19), and that of Seti I some 700 statuettes. To keep this veritable army of workers productive, a formal hierarchy was introduced amongst shawabtis, with the emergence of “overseers” or reisshawabtis during the Ramesside period. Usually provided in the ratio of one to ten, these overseer shawabtis are very distinctive, wielding a whip and donning a projecting pleated kilt. Eventually, the number of royal shawabtis settled around 401, one for every day of the year, plus 36 overseers. Clearly, the original significance of the shawabti as the "substitute of the defunct in his labor duty" had evolved. Could it be that these later shawabtis were really substitutes, not for the defunct, but instead for his retinue of servants, so that they would not be called away from their duty to their master. This would account for the need for shawabtis in a royal tomb, and tie into the ancient tradition of keeping one’s servants in the other world.

In a highly ritualized society, where constancy is highly valued and every change in hand placement or accessory in a religious representation can have profound meaning, the rapid stylistic evolution of shawabtis was an exceptional phenomenon. Interestingly, these changes often mirrored the vagrancies of Egyptian society and economy. In times of order and wealth, shawabtis were proud reflections of a refined society, while in times of political uncertainty and economic frailty, they displayed a lack of care betraying more immediate preoccupations.

In the sleek, sober Dynasty 12 statuettes, the hands were often completely shrouded under the mummy wrapping. By Dynasty 13, the hands more commonly emerged from the wrapping, crossed against the chest, and holding ritual objects such as the Ankh and an offering vase. When shawabtis returned during Dynasty 17 as stick shabtis, they looked like a grotesque Pez dispenser in a cocoon. But with Dynasty 18, they once again were elegant works of art. By the middle of Dynasty 18, we see both mummyform shawabtis portraying the subject after death, and shawabtis donning the sophisticated pleated robes of the living. This is also when most shawabtis started holding agricultural implements (generally hoes), and carrying bags (presumably holding seeds). Some were also burdened with water pots hanging from a yoke. Dynasty 19 brought very distinctive overseers shawabtis with their projecting pleated skirts, and the establishment of Egyptian faience as the material of choice for the manufacture of shawabtis. The Theban priesthood of the Third Intermediate Period contributed a style of faience shawabtis who despite their ungainly appearance, dazzle us with their spectacularly intense cobalt blue glaze. The Kushite kings of Dynasty 25 brought back the elegant simplicity of the Middle Kingdom shawabtis. Then, the Saites (Dynasty 26) abolished the distinction between overseer and common worker, and returned to a strict mummyform appearance, with a male subject wearing a pleated beard, holding a hoe in one hand and a pick in the other, and resting against with a back pillar. Shawabtis would change very little after that, but for their name which evolved into the variant Ushebti. "Although the production of royal shabtis ceased with Nectabo II, the last pharaoh of the Thirtieth Dynasty, the figurines continued to be made for commoners. The final demise of the type came at the end of the Ptolemaic period." (Stewart 1995:32)

Bibliography (for this item)

Aubert, Jacques-F., and Liliane Aubert
1974 Statuettes égyptiennes: chaouabtis, ouchebtis. Librairie d’Amerique et d’ Orient, Paris, France. (136

plate 33 # 71-74)

Clayton, Peter A.
1994 Chronicle of the Pharaohs: The Reign-by-Reign Record of the Rulers and Dynasties of Ancient Egypt. Thames and Hudson, London, UK. (

Gardiner, Alan
1957 Egyptian Grammar. 3rd edition. Oxford University Press, London, United Kingdom.

Gardiner, Alan
1961 Egypt of the Pharaohs. Oxford University Press, London, UK. (


Khalil, Hassan M.
1976 Preliminary Studies on the Sanusret Collection. Manuscript, Musée l’Egypte et le Monde Antique, Monaco-Ville, Monaco. (

[III] 119-121)

Stewart, Harry M.
1995 Egyptian Shabtis. Shire Publications, Buckinghamshire, United Kingdom. (44)

Tiradritti, Francesco
1998 Egyptian Treasures from the Egyptian Museum in Cairo. White Star Publishers, Vercelli, Italy. (

Bibliography (on Funerary Statuettes)

Aubert, Jacques-F., and Liliane Aubert
1974 Statuettes égyptiennes: chaouabtis, ouchebtis. Librairie d’Amerique et d’ Orient, Paris, France.

Stewart, Harry M.
1995 Egyptian Shabtis. Shire Publications, Buckinghamshire, United Kingdom.

©2004 CIWA, All rights reserved.