Posted by: imalqata | February 8, 2013

A Celebration Fit for a King

Friday, February 8, 2013

In regnal year 30 (about 1360 BC), after initial construction was complete at Malqata, Amenhotep III celebrated the first of his three heb-seds. The heb-sed was a royal ceremony celebrating the renewal of a king’s individual power and the rebirth of the divine aspect of his office. Egyptian kings celebrated the heb-sed from at least the 1st Dynasty (about 2920-2770 BC), but despite the frequency with which it was represented in Egyptian art and texts, the details of when, where, and how the festival was carried out are unclear. The heb-sed was not part of the annual Egyptian festival calendar, but it seems to have ideally taken place after the king ruled for 30 years. After his initial heb-sed, Amenhotep III and other kings who ruled long enough to celebrate subsequent festivals did so at regular intervals of about three years.

Faience amulet in the form of the hieroglyphs for heb-sed.  From the South Village.  Metropolitan Museum of Art, Rogers Fund, 1911 (11.215.208)

Faience amulet in the form of the hieroglyphs for heb-sed. From the South Village. Metropolitan Museum of Art, Rogers Fund, 1911 (11.215.208)

While heb-sed chapels have been found at major temples like Karnak, there is no evidence that the festival actually took place at these sites. Ceremonial palaces, such as the palace at Malqata, appear to have been built expressly for the heb-sed celebration. Ritual platforms, amulets, jar labels, and other archaeological finds support the idea that the Malqata palace was connected to the heb-sed festival, but what specific activities took place at the palace are uncertain.

Heb-sed scene of Amenhotep III from Luxor Temple.  The three markers can be seen just behind the king under his rear forearm.

Heb-sed scene of Amenhotep III from Luxor Temple. The three markers can be seen just behind the king under his rear forearm.

Representations and texts related to Amenhotep III’s first heb-sed in year 30 can be found at his mortuary temple at Kom el-Hetan, Luxor Temple, and his temple at Soleb in Nubia. These scenes give us an idea of what kinds of rituals may have been involved in the festival. For example, at Luxor Temple Amenhotep III is shown running around three markers before the god Amun. Kings are often shown running in heb-sed scenes, as participation in physical activities would demonstrate their fitness to rule.

Amenhotep III seated wearing the long cloak and accepting years and heb-sed festivals from a god.  Luxor Temple.

Amenhotep III seated wearing the long cloak and accepting years and heb-sed festivals from a god. Luxor Temple.

Another image commonly associated with the heb-sed is the motif of the king wearing a long cloak wrapped around his body. Appropriately called the sed-festival cloak, the garment is often seen worn by kings in processions or offering scenes.

Amenhotep III wearing the long cloak and processing towards a divine shrine.  Temple at Soleb.  From Michela Schiff Giorgini.  Soleb V: Le temple bas-reliefs et inscriptions.  Le Caire: Institut français d’archéologie orientale, 1998, Plate 114.

Amenhotep III wearing the long cloak and processing towards a divine shrine. Temple at Soleb. From Michela Schiff Giorgini. Soleb V: Le temple bas-reliefs et inscriptions. Le Caire: Institut français d’archéologie orientale, 1998, Plate 114.

The momentous event of Amenhotep III’s heb-sed was also commemorated in private monuments including the mortuary temple of Amenhotep III’s architect Amenhotep son of Hapu, the tomb of the overseer of the two granaries Khaemhat (TT57), and the tomb of Kheruef, Queen Tiye’s steward (TT 192). Amenhotep III celebrated a second heb-sed in year 34, but the only mention of the festival is from jar labels found at Malqata. Amenhotep III’s final heb-sed took place in year 37 and is known from jar labels as well as the tomb of Kheruef.

Annie Shanley

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