Posted by: imalqata | February 10, 2013

Food For The Feast

Saturday, February 9, 2013

The King’s heb-sed required massive amounts of supplies to provide the needs of the royal family and their court.  At least some of the food was brought in from royal domains (such as the king’s estate called “Nebmaatre-(may he live)-is-the-splendor-of-the-Aten), and some came from private estates located all over the country.  These included distant places such as Kharga Oasis in the eastern desert , and an area of the Nile delta known as the Western River.  We know about this because many of these supplies arrived in jars that were inscribed with descriptions of the commodity they contained, when it was made, its place of origin, and who oversaw its preparation.  After the jars were empty, they were discarded and the pottery fragments, or sherds, were discovered during the Metropolitan Museum’s excavations in 1917.

The inscriptions were usually written in hieratic script on the shoulder of a jar, and they sometimes give the name of a person, such as a vintner, or a butcher, or a scribe, or the donor:

“Year 37: wine of the western river from the estate of ‘Nebmaatre-(may he live)-is-the-splender-of-the-Aten;’ the chief vintner Ptahmay”

“Ale requirement from the Estate of the Royal Daughter Sitamun (may she live); prepared by the Royal Scribe Huy”

Metropolitan Museum of Art, Rogers Fund, 1917 (17.10.2)

Metropolitan Museum of Art, Rogers Fund, 1917 (17.10.2)

“Regnal year 38: 5th epigominal day, the birth of Osiris: Fat of the limbs of the cattle byre. Brought as a gift to his majesty (Life Prosperity Health), offered by the Royal Scribe, Ahmose; prepared by the renderer Iuamun”

[Note: the ancient Egyptian calendar had twelve months of thirty days (360), plus five epigominal days at then end (to make 365)]

Metropolitan museum of Art, Rogers Fund, 1917 (17.10.6)

Metropolitan museum of Art, Rogers Fund, 1917 (17.10.6)

“Regnal year 34 9 (the second festival): Processed meat for the repetition of the Sed-festival from the stockyard of Thutmose, prepared by the butcher Kaia.”

“Regnal Year 34: Preserved (or processed) meat for the repetition of the Sed-festival; a meat offering of the First Prophet from the stockyard of the Royal Scribe Khau, prepared by the butcher Ka”

One of my favorite inscribed sherds is from a jar that contained honey, an easy word to recognize because of the bee at the beginning (right side) of the second line of text (below).

Metropolitan Museum of Art, Rogers Fund, 1917 (17.10.12)

Metropolitan Museum of Art, Rogers Fund, 1917 (17.10.12)

“Produce from the estate of the King’s wife, May She Live!: red honey from the Greatest of Seers (title of the high priest of Heliopolis), Amenemhat”  (the inscription may be completed from other examples)

Besides its use as a sweetener, honey was valued for its medicinal properties when applied to wounds. Honey is prescribed in thirty of forty-eight cases described in one of the earliest medical texts, the Edwin Smith Papyrus, which is in the collection of the New York Academy of Sciences and which is now on-line at

Catharine Roehrig






  1. Thank you – most interesting, the inscriptions.

  2. when researching for a dissertation on Amenhotep son of Hapu I read somewhere (possibly Hayes, not to hand) that gift labels indicated an emphasis on particular types of offerings at the 3 separate heb seds, e.g. a concentration on gifts of beer at one heb sed while, at another heb sed, beef, etc.

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