‘Ready for calls of duty of gods’: Egyptian ‘ushabti’ statuettes in Turkey

‘Ready for calls of duty of gods’: Egyptian ‘ushabti’ statuettes in Turkey

Used in funeral rituals in ancient Egypt, and found in archaeological digs in western Anatolia, small statuettes called “ushabti” are on display for the first time in Turkey’s Izmir province. 

Exhibited at the Izmir Archaeology Museum, the ushabti go back 2,700 years and were usually made of wood, stone, or faience. The ones in this exhibition are made of ceramic, and were unearthed in archaeological sites in Izmir’s Bayrakli, Foca and Erythrai, according to the Daily Sabah.

The National Trust describes ushabtis as representing their deceased owners at the beginning, starting with the Twelfth Dynasty (1985–1773 BC), explaining that “according to Egyptian belief, the conservation of the body was essential, as without a functioning body the deceased could not survive in the afterlife. The shabti therefore acted as a surrogate in case their master’s mummy was damaged, guaranteeing his or her eternal life.”

Because of this close relationship, the deceased was only buried with one or two of these figurines. In later years, especially during the New Kingdom (1550–1069 BC), the role of the ushabti (also known as shabti or shawabti) changed: “The figurine became a mere servant who fulfilled different tasks that would otherwise be imposed on the deceased in the afterlife, such as fieldwork. For this reason, the shabtis are equipped with tools like hoes and seed bags.”

The National Trust notes that the number of servant figurines deposited in tombs increased “dramatically” at that time, with the dead Egyptian being buried with literally hundreds of ushabti: “The number of servant figurines deposited in tombs increased dramatically at this time. Now the deceased would ideally own 401 shabtis, consisting of 365 worker-shabtis (one per day of the year) and 36 overseer-shabtis (one per Egyptian 10-day week).”

The ushabtis were small, lightweight and common, the National Trust says, making it easy for early travellers to bring them home as souvenirs: “It is therefore unsurprising that there is no Egyptian museum or private collection without at least one shabti.”

Izmir Archaeology Museum plans to introduce a different artifact to visitors every month, and September 2021 marks the introduction of the ushabti figurines.

Turkey’s state news agency Anadolu Agency (AA) notes that the statuettes were transferred to Izmir Archaeology Museum from the Istanbul Archaeology Museum in the 1930s, and were kept in the warehouses in Izmir Archaeological Museum for about 80 years.

AA notes that the figurines suggest “long standing commercial and cultural relations” between Egypt and Anatolia.

Local and international tourists are invited to visit the museum until the end of September to see the figurines, with hieroglyphic inscriptions saying "ready for calls of duty of gods."

"We know that Anatolia and Egypt had very important deep-rooted relations in the fields of politics, culture, art, and trade in every period of history,” Hunkar Keser, the director of Izmir Archaeological Museum, tells Anadolu Agency.

According to information received from the Izmir Archaeological Museum, there are two Egyptian temples in Ephesus, Turkey: for Isis and Serapis. Moreover, rumoured to be Egyptian queen Cleopatra’s sister, Arsinoe II of Egypt was married to King Lysimachus, king of Ephesus. 

There are a lot of goods imported to Anatolia from Egypt including pottery, as well as offerings to the gods, including burial gifts. These ushabti figurines were part of the Egyptian influence in Anatolia at the time, sources believe.

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