Artwork of the month


July 2022 Archaeology

A scaraboid to the glorify of Pharaoh Amenhotep III

In ancient Egypt, the scarab was an important solar symbol, representing the rising sun at dawn. Countless amulets were carved in the form of this beetle. The underside of these objects, often small, could be engraved with a short inscription such as a name or a religious formula. The object presented here belongs to this family, but King Amenhotep III reinvented its use: this scaraboid serves as a propaganda tool for the glory of the sovereign!

Scaraboid commemorating the wild bull hunt of Amenhotep III
Origin unknown
New Kingdom , 18th Dynasty , reign ofAmenhotep III, (1387 – 1350 BC)
Glazed steatite
11.5 cm high, 6.7 cm wide, 2.6 cm deep
FGA-ARCH-EG-0228

Provenance
Galerie François Antonovich, Paris, before 2003.

Scaraboïde commémoratif des chasses au taureau d'Amenhotep III
Fig. 1. Scaraboid commemorating the wild bull hunt of Amenhotep III, New Kingdom, 18th Dynasty, reign ofAmenhotep III, (1387 – 1350 BC), FGA-ARCH-EG-0228 © Photographic credit : Fondation Gandur pour l’Art, Genève. Photographer : Grégory Maillot.

A scaraboid of exceptional quality

This remarkable object is carved from steatite, a soft stone with grey shades, and retains much of its original bluish glaze. It is one of a large group of scarabs, the flat, oval reverse of which is inscribed with hieroglyphic text commemorating the deeds of King Amenhotep III. It is distinguished from its peers by the unusual shape of its opposite side, which is domed, smooth and pierced with two transverse holes, whereas the other examples all take the naturalistic form of the dung beetle, a strongly emblematic insect in the Egyptian civilisation. The only other known exception is a scarab of Amenhotep III in the Cleveland Museum of Art, which is so similar to the FGA scarab that the two objects can be considered twin brothers. (fig. 2, 3)1.

Commemorative Scaraboids of Amenhotep III
Fig. 2. Commemorative Scaraboids of Amenhotep III : flat side. Left : FGA-ARCH-EG-0228. © Photographic credit : Fondation Gandur pour l’Art, Genève. Photographer : Grégory Maillot. Right : Cleveland, Museum of Art 84.36. Image in public domain CC0.
Commemorative Scaraboids of Amenhotep III : domed side.
Fig. 3. Commemorative Scaraboids of Amenhotep III : domed side. Left : FGA-ARCH-EG-0228. © Photographic credit : Fondation Gandur pour l’Art, Genève. Right : Cleveland, Museum of Art 84.36. Image in public domain CC0.

It is surprising that the anatomical features of the beetle are not mentioned here, and several hypotheses have been put forward concerning the apparent originality of the domed face of these two scaraboids. They could be training models presenting an original and perfect version of the text and not intended for display. However, their high material quality and fine execution make them objects of prestige, indicating on the contrary their purpose of indexing and displaying royal power. In this sense, it can be assumed that these objects were originally composed of an additional removable part, now lost, which was attached to the domed side by means of the two drilled holes. One can imagine that this element took the form of a scarab, perhaps made of a precious material such as gold or silver.

The flat face of the object is carefully polished and displays a horizontal hieroglyphic text inscribed in 16 registers. They are separated horizontally by neat lines and a thin frame encircles the whole text (fig. 4). The signs are finely engraved and read from right to left. Only a few chips have damaged the edge, but the text, which relates the prowess of the pharaoh during a wild bull hunt early in his reign, has not been damaged. Known from five other copies2, this text is very similar to the versions inscribed on the Cleveland scaraboid and the British Museum scarab, although with slight discrepancies. It is, moreover, the one that presents the finest quality of inscription and is the best preserved today, along with the Cleveland scaraboid.

Fig. 4. Hieroglyphic inscription in sixteen registers on the flat face of scaraboid, FGA-ARCH-EG-0228 © Transcription Aurélie Quirion. Photographic credit : Fondation Gandur pour l’Art, Genève. Photographer : Grégory Maillot.

The remarkable state of preservation makes it possible to recognise each sign and thus to propose a transcription (fig. 4), as well as the complete transliteration and translation of the text (below). Comparing the hieroglyphs with the translation, the reader can easily have fun identifying, for example, the numbers present in the text: a line for a unit, a horseshoe-shaped sign for a ten, and a small spiral-shaped string for a hundred. Like us, the ancient Egyptians used a decimal system, and could therefore repeat each of these signs up to nine times: nine lines indicate the number nine, and so on.

  1. ḥȝt-sp 2 r m n
  2. ʿn r kȝ nt ʿ-m-Mȝʿt nbty smn hpw
  3. sgr-tȝwy bk nbw ʿȝ-w-stw nsw bt nb tȝwy nb-Mȝʿt-Rʿ
  4. sȝ Rʿ Imn- tp ḥḳȝ-wȝst d ʿn mt nsw wrt Ty ʿnt m Rʿ bỉȝwt prwt
  5. r tn m=f w=tw r d n m=f w wn smȝw r ḫȝst
  6. nt3 w n štp nʿt m=f m wỉȝ nsw ʿ-m-Mȝʿt4
  7. r tr n ḫȝwy šsp tp5 wȝt nfrt spr m tp r w n štp
  8. r tr n dwȝw ʿt m=f r ssmt mšʿ=f tm m-t=f
  9. sn=t(w) srw ʿnw nw mšʿ r r=f m d=f rdw
  10. n kȝp6 r rt rsw r nȝ n smȝw st w~n m=f rdt
  11. t=tw nn smȝw m sbty nʿ šdy wḏỉ
  12. {~n m=f}7 r nn smȝw r ȝw=sn rt n rw 170 rt
  13. n m=f m bs m hrw pn smȝw 56 wȝḥ~n m=f hrw 4
  14. m wš8 rdt srf n ssmwt=f ʿt m=f r ssmt
  15. rt n sp 29 smȝw jn~n=f m bs smȝw 40
  16. dm smȝw 96
Fig. 5. Detail : bull hieroglyph.

① Year 2 (of the reign of) the majesty ② the Living Horus « The victorious bull, appearing in Maat », He of the Two Ladies « Who has establishes laws ③ and pacifies the Two Lands », the Golden Falcon « Great of khepesh, smiting the Asiatics », the King of Upper and Lower Egypt, Lord of the Two Lands Neb-Maât-Rê, ④ the Son of Ra, Amenhotep, Ruler of Thebes, living.

The great royal wife, Tiye, may she live like Ra !

Of the wonders that have befallen ⑤ this majesty : one came to tell his majesty that there were wild bulls in the desert ⑥ in the district of Chetep10. And his majesty to sail north in his royal boat « Appear-in-Maat », ⑦ at dusk. A good journey began and (she) arrived safely in the district of Chetep, ⑧ at dawn. His majesty appeared on a horse, his entire army at his side.

⑨ The officials, the members of the entire army, ⑩ as well as the children of the royal academy (kap) were instructed to be attentive to these wild bulls. His majesty then ordered that ⑪ these wild bulls be led into an enclosure with a ditch. {His majesty} went ⑫ to all these wild bulls. Number of animals: 170. Number taken ⑬ by his majesty during the hunt on this day: 56 wild bulls. His majesty stayed away for 4 days, ⑭ due to the need to give his horses a rest. His majesty appeared again on a horse. ⑮ Number of wild bulls he took during the hunt: 40 wild bulls. ⑯ Total : 96 wild bulls.

Egypt, the heart of a gigantic empire

This royal scaraboid has aesthetic qualities that reflect Egypt at the time it was carved. When he ascended the throne at a very young age, Amenhotep III inherited not only a stable country, but an enormous empire of which the ancestral Egyptian territory was only the heart. The previous golden age, the Middle Kingdom (2135 – 1781 BC), had been followed by a period of instability and division - the Second Intermediate Period (1781 – 1650 BC), with northern Egypt occupied by the Hyksos, a foreign people. At the same time, Egyptian kings ruled the south from their capital of Thebes, the ancient Uaset, known today as Luxor (Fig. 6).

Great colonnade built during the reign of d’Amenhotep III, Louxor temple.
Fig. 6. Great colonnade built during the reign of d’Amenhotep III, Louxor temple. © Wikipedia. Photographer : I. Rémih, CC BY-SA 3.0.

It was finally King Ahmose who succeeded in reunifying Egypt and retaking the north from the Hyksos. For this reason, he is commemorated as the founder of the 18th Dynasty, although he is the legitimate heir of his predecessors of the 17th Dynasty. But Ahmose was not content with freeing his country from foreign rule: in order to secure his borders, he led expeditions to the Near East as far as Biblos. He sowed destruction on his way, with a clear goal: to harm the Hyksos and prevent them from regaining enough strength from these lands to be able to threaten Egypt again. In the south, he attacked Nubia, which had benefited from the Egyptian instability of the previous two centuries. Ahmose reached the second cataract of the Nile. His successors did not cease to reinforce this Egyptian control in the north as well as in the south, by carrying out great military campaigns of which the kings of the 18th dynasty were proud, in particular Thutmose I, who reached the Euphrates and the fourth cataract of the Nile. In particular, he had an exceptional frontier stela engraved at Kurgus, nearly 1300 kilometres upstream from Aswan (Fig. 7).

Fig. 7. The cliff of Hagar el-Merwa at Kurgus, Sudan, and detail of the inscription engraved during the military expedition of Pharaoh Thutmose I. After DAVIES, W.V., « Nubia in the New Kingdom », fig. 2 and 9.

Amenhotep III is the direct heir of the great Thutmose and of his grandson Thutmose III, himself a great warrior. Since the reign of his father Thutmose IV, Egypt reaps the benefits of all these military campaigns: the region is almost pacified, diplomatic negotiations allow the establishment of a peace treaty between the king and the powerful kingdom of Mitanni, whose heart was in the north-east of modern Syria. The Egyptian empire thus controlled a gigantic territory, as well as production and trade, especially of precious materials such as gold and ivory.

Thutmose IV and his successors no longer had the opportunity to shine on the battlefield. Instead, the emphasis was on the divine status of the ruler, closely linked to the cult of the sun, which reached its apogee during the reign of Amenhotep III's son, the famous Akhenaten. The production of luxurious objects also reached a peak, of which the scaraboid of the FGA was undoubtedly a part, if it was indeed incorporated in a precious metal beetle figurine. Of course, few of these extraordinary treasures have survived to the present day, but the famous material uncovered in King Tutankhamen's tomb – just a century ago – gives us a dazzling glimpse of these wonders.

The court of the king

In parallel to the changes in the perception of the king's person, we notice that that of the queen-mother also evolves. Although Amenhotep III is the legitimate son of Thutmose IV, his mother was only a secondary wife of the latter; it is her son who gives Mutemwya the title of 'Great Royal Wife' retrospectively, after she has become Queen Mother (fig. 8, left). But the woman who plays the biggest role in Amenhotep's life is his own Great Royal Wife, Queen Tiye (fig. 8, right). They were married at a very young age, at the latest in the second year of his reign, when he was probably only thirteen or fourteen years old, as another commemorative scarab tells us (see below).

Left : the Queen Mother Mutemwia incised on a wall of the Luxor Temple. © Antikforever.com. Right : the Great Royal Wife Tiye in the Ägyptisches Museum, Berlin (ÄM 21834).
Fig. 8. Left : the Queen Mother Mutemwia incised on a wall of the Luxor Temple. © Antikforever.com. Right : the Great Royal Wife Tiye in the Ägyptisches Museum, Berlin (ÄM 21834).

Although the king and court moved around the country, it was mainly in Memphis that they spent the first part of the reign. Later, a palace with a gigantic port installation was built in Luxor, on the site of Malqata. Crowned young, Amenhotep III enjoyed a long life, which allowed him to celebrate three sed festival, supposed to regenerate the king. His grandfather had also reigned long enough to experience such a ceremony, but the grandson took things very seriously. He had the old archives researched in order to give his celebrations the lustre of the festivals of old, the likes of which no one had seen in Egypt for centuries. The grandiose palace of Malqata was the perfect setting for these ceremonies (fig. 9).

Reconstitution of the columned hall leading to the throne room of the palace of Malqata
Fig. 9. Reconstitution of the columned hall leading to the throne room of the palace of Malqata. © Paul François & Franck Monnier, https://www.arce.org/resource/virtual-malqata.

Scarabs galore: international royal propaganda

The scarab, a symbol of creation, was often used by the Egyptians as a form of amulet. During the 18th Dynasty, from the reign of Hatshepsut (1479 – 1458 BC) onwards, a new type of royal scarab appeared, containing historical and commemorative texts. Following the model of his forebears, Amenhotep III had nearly two hundred exceptionally large scarabs produced, bearing long texts commemorating the important events of his reign. These scarabs form five distinct groups, depending on the text they contain: the lion hunt (fig. 10); the glory of Queen Tiye, wife of Amenhotep III; the digging of an artificial lake; the bull hunt; and finally, the arrival of Kilughepa, a princess from the Mitanni kingdom.

All these scarabs date from the earlier part of the reign of Amenhotep III, when the king was still young. They were found in Egypt, but also in Sudan and the Near East, which demonstrates a desire for wide distribution within the kingdom, if not beyond. More than simply providing information about historical facts, they play an important role in royal propaganda. Indeed, although they may relate facts that are partly real, they are mainly centred on themes linked to the affirmation of royal power.

Scarab commemorating the lion hunts of Amenhotep III
Fig. 10. Scarab commemorating the lion hunts of Amenhotep III, FGA-ARCH-EG-0073. © Photographic credit : Fondation Gandur pour l’Art, Genève. Photographer : Grégory Maillot.
Detail of the Narmer Palette (verso)
Fig. 11. Detail of the Narmer Palette (verso), 1st Dynasty, Cairo Museum (CG 14716). © Wikipedia. Image in public domain.

For example, the wild bull hunt is supposed to take place when the king is only about twelve years old and probably does not yet possess the strength or agility required for such a sporting feat. Nevertheless, the bull has been a strong royal symbol since the beginning of Egyptian history. Thus, in the classical iconography the king wears the tail of a bull on his belt (fig. 11). Moreover, the titulary of the kings includes the title of "mighty bull" since the reign of Tutmosis I. The scarabs of Amenhotep III describing the hunting of bulls thus allow the young king to be presented in a particularly strong position and in the same line as his ancestors.

Xavier Droux
Curator, archaeology collection

Dre Aurélie Quirion
Assistant Curator, archaeology collection

Fondation Gandur pour l'Art, July 2022

Notes and references

  1. Berman, Lawrence M.; Bohač, Kenneth J., Catalogue of Egyptian Art: p. 294-96.
  2. 1. Cleveland, Museum of Art (CMA 84.36) ; 2. London, British Museum (EA 55585) ; 3. Unknown location, probably a private collection (ex collection Groppi) ; 4. Jerusalem, Israel Museum (IMJ 76.18.244) ; 5. London, Petrie Museum (UC15798). See SCHLÖGL, Hermann A.; BUXTORF, Regine; BRODBECK, Andreas (coll.), Kunst und Handwerk, p. 2-7.
  3. The sign n is rendered with an unusually curved shape.
  4. All five other versions of the text include the expression m ḫd in this sentence : nʿỉt ḥm=f m ḫd wỉȝ nsw ḫʿ-m-Mȝʿt. See SCHLÖGL, Hermann A.; BUXTORF, Regine; BRODBECK, Andreas (coll.), Kunst und Handwerk, p. 8.
  5. The lexeme tp is written with two p-signs, instead of the usual.
  6. The lexeme  kȝp is written here with the sign of the arm with the hand open upwards, instead of the usual; the same is visible on the Cleveland Museum of Art and British Museum parallels. See SCHLÖGL, Hermann A.; BUXTORF, Regine; BRODBECK, Andreas (coll.), Kunst und Handwerk, p. 9.
  7. The subject of the sentence (~n ḥm=f) is missing in this version of the text, unlike in the five parallels (SCHLÖGL, Hermann A.; BUXTORF, Regine; BRODBECK, Andreas (coll.), Kunst und Handwerk, p. 9). This mistake may have been caused by the change of line, which often creates this type of error.
  8. A small, rounded sign is written above the w ; it is not present in the other versions of the text. See SCHLÖGL, Hermann A.; BUXTORF, Regine; BRODBECK, Andreas (coll.), Kunst und Handwerk, p. 10.
  9. The sign used here for sp 2 is sw
  10. Probably in Wadi Natrun, see RITNER, Robert K., « The site of the wild bull-hunt », p. 193-4.

Bibliography

References :

ANONYMOUS. Aménophis III. Le Pharaon-Soleil, exhibition catalogue [Galeries nationales du Grand Palais, 02.03-31.05.1993; Cleveland Museum of Art 1992; Kimbell Art Museum 24.10.1992-31.01.1993], Paris, Réunion des musées nationaux, 1993.

Berman, Lawrence M.; Bohač, Kenneth J., Catalogue of Egyptian Art: The Cleveland Museum of Art, Cleveland, 1999, p. 294-296.

BLANKENBERG VAN DELDEN, Catharina, The large commemorative scarabs of Amenhotep III, Leiden, Brill, 1969.

DAVIES, W. Vivian, « Nubia in the New Kingdom: the Egyptians at Kurgus », in SPENCER, Neil; STEVENS, Anna; BINDER, Michaela, Nubia in the New Kingdom: lived experience, pharaonic control and indigenous traditions, British Museum Publications on Egypt and Sudan 3, Leuven, Peeters, 2017, p. 65-105.

KÜNZI, Frédéric ; CAUVIN, Simone, Les trésors des pharaons, exhibition catalogue [Genève, Salon international du livre et de la presse à Palexpo, 30.04 - 04.05.2008], Geneva, Fondation pour l'écrit, 2008.

RITNER, Robert K., « The site of the wild bull-hunt of Amenophis III », JEA 72, p. 193-194.

SCHLÖGL, Hermann A.; BUXTORF, Regine; BRODBECK, Andreas (coll.), Kunst und Handwerk aus Ägyptens goldener Zeit, Wiesbaden, Harrassowitz Verlag, 2018.

Bibliography of the work:

KÜNZI, Frédéric ; CAUVIN, Simone, Les trésors des pharaons, exhibition catalogue [Genève, Salon international du livre et de la presse à Palexpo, 30.04 - 04.05.2008], Geneva, Fondation pour l'écrit, 2008.

Exhibitions:

Les trésors des pharaons. Exposition Égypte d'Akhénaton à Ramsès II. Images d'éternité,

Geneva, Salon international du livre et de la presse – Palexpo, 30.04.2008 - 04.05.2008.

See also