ANCIENT EGYPTIAN MUSIC
Harper playing before Shu Visitors to ancient Egypt often wrote about the abundance of music, dance, storytelling and songs in the kingdom and described feasts and ceremonies with musicians playing harps, lyres, tambourines, sistrums, “ mizmaar” (a reed flute), drums, lutes, cymbals and flutes. How Egyptian music sounded is not known.
Tomb paintings show musicians playing various instruments. One shows four women, thought to be professional entertainers, playing a harp, a lute, oboes and a lyre. The women appear to be dancing while they are playing. A small sculpture shows a musician kneeling as he plays a harp. Tomb paintings show the development of harps from something that resembled a hunter's bow to elaborate carved triangular instruments that resembled some kinds of modern harps.
Music was a key element in Egyptian religion. Some scholars believe it aimed to soothe the gods and encourage them to provide for their worshippers. Emily Teeter, an Egyptologist and research assistant at the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago told Archaeology magazine: "For years people have debated what kind of music it was. But there's no musical notation left, and we're not sure how they tuned the instruments or whether they sang or chanted." Some scholars have suggested it may have sounded like rap because there was a string emphasis on percussion, and with this presumably rhythm. Images often show people stamping their feet and clapping. Examples of song lyrics are recorded on temple walls. Some of the songs were sung at at the Festival of Opet in Thebes when the cult images of the gods Amun, Mut, and Khonsu were brought by boat down the Nile and carried in a procession to renew the pharoah's divine essence. One lyric from the festival goes: “Hail Amun-Re, the primeval one of the two lands, foremost one of Karnak, in your glorious appearance amidst your [river] fleet, in your beautiful Festival of Opet, may you be pleased with it.” [Source: Julian Smith, Archaeology, Volume 65 Number 4, July/August 2012]
Marcelle Duchesne Guillemin wrote in her article:“Music in Ancient Mesopotamia and Egypt”: “It is almost certain that Egyptian music, if not already heptatonic and modal, became so in the New Kingdom under Asian influence. This is confirmed by allusions in late Greek authors such as Dio Cassius and by the study of the Siwa songs. It does not preclude, however, the survival of very ancient pentatonic or hexatonic melodies. [Source: “Music in Ancient Mesopotamia and Egypt by Marcelle Duchesne Guillemin, World Archaeology, Volume 12, 1981 - Issue 3, Pages 287-297, published online: 15 July 2010]
A popular ancient Egyptian song went:
” There is a welcoming inn.
Its awning facing south;
There is a welcoming inn” .
Its awning facing north;
Drink sailors of the Pharaoh.
Beloved of Amun.
Praised of the gods.” ♀
The Egyptians had puppets: little movable figures made of gold and carried in sacred processions. The first dramas according to some scholars were plays that told of the pharaoh’s birth at his enthronement. Plays about resurrection were often performed at the pharaoh’s funeral.
Categories with related articles in this website: Ancient Egyptian History (32 articles) factsanddetails.com; Ancient Egyptian Religion (24 articles) factsanddetails.com; Ancient Egyptian Life and Culture (36 articles) factsanddetails.com; Ancient Egyptian Government, Infrastructure and Economics (24 articles) factsanddetails.com
Websites on Ancient Egypt: UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology, escholarship.org ; Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Egypt sourcebooks.fordham.edu ; Discovering Egypt discoveringegypt.com; BBC History: Egyptians bbc.co.uk/history/ancient/egyptians ; Ancient History Encyclopedia on Egypt ancient.eu/egypt; Digital Egypt for Universities. Scholarly treatment with broad coverage and cross references (internal and external). Artifacts used extensively to illustrate topics. ucl.ac.uk/museums-static/digitalegypt ; British Museum: Ancient Egypt ancientegypt.co.uk; Egypt’s Golden Empire pbs.org/empires/egypt; Metropolitan Museum of Art www.metmuseum.org ; Oriental Institute Ancient Egypt (Egypt and Sudan) Projects ; Egyptian Antiquities at the Louvre in Paris louvre.fr/en/departments/egyptian-antiquities; KMT: A Modern Journal of Ancient Egypt kmtjournal.com; Ancient Egypt Magazine ancientegyptmagazine.co.uk; Egypt Exploration Society ees.ac.uk ; Amarna Project amarnaproject.com; Egyptian Study Society, Denver egyptianstudysociety.com; The Ancient Egypt Site ancient-egypt.org; Abzu: Guide to Resources for the Study of the Ancient Near East etana.org; Egyptology Resources fitzmuseum.cam.ac.uk
Evidence of Music in Ancient Egypt
Sibylle Emerit of the Institut français d'archéologie orientale wrote: “Iconographic, textual, and archaeological sources show that music played an essential role within ancient Egyptian civilization throughout all periods. Music was of utmost importance in rituals and festivals. Different forms of music with multiple functions existed for public or private representations, profane or sacred, interpreted by male or female musicians acting as professionals or amateurs. Consequently, from religious celebrations to entertainment, the range of types of music and musicians was very large. [Source:Sibylle Emerit, Institut français d'archéologie orientale, UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology, 2013 escholarship.org ]
“The sources concerning Egyptian music represent various types of iconographic, archaeological, and textual documents from different locations. They cover the entire Egyptian history, from the Predynastic to the Roman Periods, i.e., from 3100 B.C. to the fourth century CE. The principal information comes from representations on the walls of private tombs and temples. There are also numerous depictions of musical scenes on coffins, papyri, ostraca, and on objects like spoons, plates, and boxes, etc. In addition, many three-dimensional representations such as statues and statuettes, terracottas, and amulets of musicians are extant.
“Adding to the iconographic evidence are numerous, most often concise inscriptions in hieroglyphs, hieratic, Demotic, and Greek, which are found not only on papyri, stelae, statues, and musical instruments, but also as legends for the representations on the walls of tombs and temples. In the New Kingdom, the textual evidence is particularly rich: we have the so-called Harper’s Song, “love songs”, or certain “ritual texts,” which were supposed to be chanted and were often accompanied by one or several instruments. These sources allow the identification of the names of musical instruments, titles of musicians, and vocabulary of musical actions, which describe repertoires as well as techniques for playing. The translation of these terms remains, however, difficult since one lexeme can have several meanings and an object several names.
“Archaeology has also provided us with traces of various musical instruments, from the simple percussion object to the more complex cordophone. For most of these objects the provenance remains unknown since they entered the museums as early as thes econd half of the nineteenth century after having being purchased from the art market(Anderson 1976; Sachs 1921; Ziegler 1979).In spite of the richness of the documentation, our knowledge of Pharaonic music remains limited: without theoretical treaty, or musica lscore, it is indeed particularly difficult to do an archaeology of music.”
Musical Instruments in Ancient Egypt
Marcelle Duchesne Guillemin wrote: “Almost all categories of instruments were represented in Mesopotamia and Egypt, from clappers and scrapers to rattles, sistra, flutes, clarinets, oboes, trumpets, harps, lyres, lutes, etc. ...In the New Kingdom (1550–1070 B.C.), Egypt borrowed several instruments from Mesopotamia: the angular vertical harp, square drum, etc. The organ, invented in Ptolemaic Egypt, is first attested in its new, non-hydraulic form in the third century a.d. Hama mosaic.[Source: “Music in Ancient Mesopotamia and Egypt by Marcelle Duchesne Guillemin, World Archaeology Volume 12, 1981 - Issue 3, Pages 287-297, published online: 15 July 2010 ^*^]
“Names of musical instruments are fairly well known owing to the hieroglyphic inscriptions accompanying the paintings, but they are rather vague : for instance the word mat designates the flute as well as the clarinet. No document has yielded any indication about the music, either theoretical or practical. Ancient music may have survived to some extent in that of the tribes of the Upper Nile or in oases such as that of Siwa. This might be suggested by some satirical songs dealing with animals, in the line of fables and scenes depicted on papyri and ostraca. They have been recorded by Hans Hickmann, a more positive contribution than the hypotheses he has put forward in numerous publications about the so-called chironomy and the play of musical instruments. Sachs’ early polyphonic theory, based on pictures of harpists, is without foundation, for it cannot be proved that both hands of the harpist struck any two strings simultaneously, while his further theory of the pentatonic basis of ancient oriental music has been disproved by the discovery of the heptatonic system in ancient Mesopotamia. ^*^
“The instruments may be classified following normal practice proceeding from the simplest to the most complex, into idiophones (clappers and the like), membranophones (drums), aerophones (flutes and reed instruments) and chordophones (string instruments). ^*^
“Organs . It was in third-century B.C. Egypt that Ctesibius, a Greek of Alexandria invented an instrument combining the pan-pipe with a key-board. The air came from a tank in which its pressure was kept constant by a volume of water: hence the name hydraulos , meaning literally water-oboe, a name which was retained even after the water tank was superseded by another device, the pneumatic bellows. The change must have taken place before the third century A.D., for the new contraption is depicted yet again on the Hama mosaic. The hydraulos served purely profane purposes: it was used in circus games and musical competitions. Only in the Middle Ages was it intro- duced into the liturgy of the church, under the name of organon or organum , meaning literally ‘instrument’ .” ^*^
Clappers, Scrapers and Rattles from Ancient Egypt
It seems likely that idiophones such as clappers and rattles were among the first musical instruments. It has been theorized that they grew out of man's natural desire to dance and make rhythm, and succeeded human actions such of stamping the ground and clapping hands. Idiophones appear with some frequency in ancient Egyptian iconography, appearring to augment cadence led by the hands or feet, which are believed to have played a dominant part in the music and the dance of ancient Egypt.
Sibylle Emerit of the Institut français d'archéologie orientale wrote: “The first percussion instrument known in the Nile Valley was the clapper. It has been attested since prehistoric times, in the iconography as well as in archaeological remains. Made of two wooden or ivory sticks, either straight or curved, they are struck against one another by the musician with one or both hands; the presence of a hole made it possible to tie them together. Various ornamental motives decorate these instruments, varying according to the period they were in use: Hathor, either human or animal headed, a hand, a humble papyrus, or a lotus flower. [Source: Sibylle Emerit, Institut français d'archéologie orientale, UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology, 2013 escholarship.org ]
“Sistra and the menit-necklace were also used as percussion instruments. This use has been attested from the Old Kingdom to the Roman Period. Two types of sistra coexisted, the sistrum in the form of a “naos” and the arched sistrum. In both cases, it is a kind of rattle formed with a handle and a frame crossed by mobile rods, sometimes embellished with metal discs. The swishing sound made by the menit-necklace was caused by rows of beads, shaken by the musician, which would be the counterweight part of the collar.
Marcelle Duchesne Guillemin wrote: “The simplest percussion sticks are held one in each hand. In Egypt, clappers imitated a forearm, in bone or ivory, ending in a sculptured hand In the second type, found only in Egypt, both clappers are held in one hand, beingattached together at their base and terminating in a small human or animal head. Theyare depicted in one tomb of the Middle Kingdom and in some of the New Kingdom. A third simpler type is made of a piece of flexible wood slit down the middle, except for a short section at the base, serving as a handle. Such instruments continued in use until the Late Period (712–332 B.C.), but by that time they were reduced to about 80 mm. in length and made in wood, often in the shape of little boots, fir-cones, or pomegranates. These were in time to develop into the castanets of Andalucia but already are to be found in Syria, on the third-century Hama mosaic. A fourth type has each clapper terminating in a small metal cymbal fixed to it with a nail. It is found in the first centuries a.d., not only in Egypt but once more on the Hama mosaic, in North Africa at Carthage on mosaics, and on Roman sarcophagi. Its origin is unknown; the type appears in Iran on Sasanian silverware and survives in Byzantium and in medieval manuscripts. [Source: “Music in Ancient Mesopotamia and Egypt by Marcelle Duchesne Guillemin, World Archaeology, Volume 12, 1981 - Issue 3, Pages 287-297, published online: 15 July 2010 ^*^]
“Rattles exist in two categories : gourd and ‘pie-crust’ rattles, filled with pebbles or other small, hard objects, made of clay, sometimes in animal shapes, and found both in Mesopotamia and Egypt..Bunch rattles are depicted in Egypt in scenes of the Middle and New Kingdoms and called mainit or menat. This instrument is made of several rows of beads held together and attached by two chains to a long metal handle. Sachs did not recognize them as musical instruments, but one may cite a text in which the return of an important person is celebrated by the sound of the mainit and sistra. A scene in a Theban tomb shows women brandishing a mainit in one hand and a sistrum in the other. More- over, one menat in the Louvre has its metal pieces slightly worn off owing to their frequent concussion. ^*^
“The sistrum consisted of a handle and a frame with jingling cross-bars. In Egypt the spur-sistrum is already present on a relief of the sixth dynasty now in Vienna. Later bronze sistra are in the British Museum, in the Louvre and in other collections. Another form, exclusively Egyptian, is in the shape of a small temple or naos , the walls of which have holes, with jingling cross-wires strung through them. The handle is variously adorned, very often with the head of the goddess Hathor in whose honour the instrument was played, before it was taken over by the Isis cult. The naos- sistrum is attested at sixth-dynasty Dendera. A good picture of it is found at Beni Hassan in a tomb of the twelfth dynasty. It may be in bronze, silver, or ivory; some, votive ones, are in enamelled porcelain. The third type, dating from the New Kingdom, had a horseshoe-shaped frame instead of the naos. Several wires slipped back and forth in the loose holes and could have jingling discs strung upon them to increase the noise. This type of sistrum spread with the Isis cult all over the Roman empire. ^*^
Drums, Cymbals and Bells in Ancient Egypt
Sibylle Emerit wrote: “The two main membranophones used by ancient Egyptians were the single membrane drum mounted on a frame and the barrel-shaped drum with two membranes. The single membrane drum is attested in the Old Kingdom (2649–2150 B.C.) in a scene carved in the solar temple of Niuserra in Abu Ghurab. It is a very large-sized round drum, which was used during the Sed Festival. In the New Kingdom, a small-sized model, the round tambourine, was depicted to be exclusively played by women in a context of ovations. A so-called “rectangular” tambourine was also used by the musicians, but only during the 18th Dynasty. [Source: Sibylle Emerit, Institut français d'archéologie orientale, UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology, 2013 escholarship.org ]
“The barrel-shaped drum has been attested from the Middle Kingdom onwards. The instrument, suspended round the neck of the musician, was struck with the hands. The use of drumsticks seems to have been unknown in Egypt. In the New Kingdom, this instrument was only played by men and more particularly by Nubians during military or religious processions. In the Late Period, depictions are found of a small-sized barrel-shaped drum in the hands of some women . The existence of a vase- shaped drum is still debated.”
Marcelle Duchesne Guillemin wrote: “In Egypt, drums are relatively rare. There is none attested in the Old Kingdom. One specimen from the twelfth dynasty was found in Tomb 183 at Beni Hassan. It is cylindrical, 1 m. high with two hides held by strings. Only in the New Kingdom did drums become common, though never introduced into the Osiris cult. They are depicted in military or private scenes. They are barrel-shaped with two hides, and often suspended from the neck of the musician by means of a leather thong. The fact that the hides are held and tightened by means of strings or laces may point to a Nubian provenance, for this is the common type of drum in present-day Africa, whereas the Mesopotamian ones are glued or nailed. Another drum made in terracotta is the ancestor of the Arabic darbukka ; the type appears on a Theban relief. [Source: “Music in Ancient Mesopotamia and Egypt by Marcelle Duchesne Guillemin, World Archaeology, Volume 12, 1981 - Issue 3, Pages 287-297, published online: 15 July 2010 ^*^]
“A frame drum in a scene of the twelfth dynasty is about 750 mm. in diameter and resembles the contemporaneous Hittite instrument. More remarkable is the rectangular drum with concave sides, about 700 mm. long, of the eighteenth dynasty. Both this and the round terracotta drum have their origin in Asia. Neither in Mesopotamia nor in Egypt were drums, even the largest ones, ever played with a stick. This accessory, probably of Indian origin, does not appear until the Roman period in the A.D. third century. ^*^
“Cymbals, bells, and crotals (small metal rattles) were introduced more recently in Egypt, probably during the Ptolemaic Period (304–30 B.C.). “In Egypt, large cymbals, 150 mm. in diameter, were probably held and struck like present-day examples. They are, however, only depicted on terracottas of the Greek period. But one pair, is supposed to date back to 850 B.C. Another, on a Syrian bronze, from about 1200 B.C. is in the Musee du Cinquantenaire. The Greek name for it was adopted in the ancient world and no Coptic name existed. Many bells in silver or gold or bronze were in use in the Late Period in Egypt and the Near East.” ^*^
Flutes and Horns in Ancient Egypt
Sibylle Emerit wrote: “The oldest representation of a wind instrument is depicted on a mudstone palette of the Predynastic time [fourth-millennium B.C.]: it is the long flute. Cut in a reed with a large diameter, it possessed only a small number of holes in its lower part. In the Old Kingdom, this flute occupied a dominating place in music scenes in the private funerary chapels. Only men used it during this period. In the Middle Kingdom (ca. 2030–1640 B.C.), the fashion of this instrument started to fade. [Source: Sibylle Emerit, Institut français d'archéologie orientale, UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology, 2013 escholarship.org ]
Marcelle Duchesne Guillemin wrote: The flute on the pre-dynastic palette “is played by an animal. Sachs sees here a hunter disguised as an animal to lure game. This interpretation is, however, far from convincing; it might as well be a satirical fable like those the Egyptians were fond of in later times as in the Turin papyrus. The long flute is also depicted on reliefs of the Old Kingdom as part of orchestras. It is about 1 m. long and is held obliquely, from which may be inferred that there was no proper mouth- piece. The finger-holes, four in number, are pierced in the lower part of the pipe. A shorter flute is shown being played almost horizontally, straight in front of the musician, which means it was either a duct flute or an oboe. Finally the cross or trans- verse flute appears in the Ptolemaic period. [Source: “Music in Ancient Mesopotamia and Egypt by Marcelle Duchesne Guillemin, World Archaeology, Volume 12, 1981 - Issue 3, Pages 287-297, published online: 15 July 2010 ^*^]
“In Egypt the horn is never depicted. Some specimens in terracotta have been found. They were probably reserved for signalling. Best-known is the pair, one in silver and one of bronze found in the tomb of Tut-ankh-amen. But it also served for military purposes, as pictured for the first time about 1515 B.C. Its invention was attri- buted to Osiris, in whose cult it was used. Plutarch remarked that its blare was like an ass’s bray. Short trumpets in gold or silver also occurred in prehistoric Iran at Asterbad and Tepe Hissar. ^*^
Emerit wrote: “The trumpet was used in Egypt since the New Kingdom, mainly in a military context. This instrument did not look like the piston trumpet invented in the nineteenth century, which is capable of giving all the notes of the scale. The Egyptian trumpet, straight and short, produced only the harmonic series of a note. It served especially for passing on orders instrumentalist Dd-m-šnb: “The one who speaks on the trumpet.” In the tomb of Tutankhamen, two trumpets were discovered, one made of silver and the other one of copper.
“In the Ptolemaic and Roman Periods, new instruments were introduced to enrich the instrumentarium with, on the one hand, the introduction of the panpipes by the Greeks and, on the other hand, the invention of the hydraulic organ in Alexandria during the third century B.C.. Terracotta figurines show musicians playing these instruments.” A Hittite relief in the Louvre shows a pan-pipe instrument with six equal pipes which must have been stopped at different levels in order to produce different pitches. The instrument, common in Greece, was introduced from there into Egypt in the Graeco-Roman period. ^*^
Reed Instruments in Ancient Egypt
On clarinet-like instruments, Marcelle Duchesne Guillemin wrote: “Missing in Mesopotamia, the pipe with a single vibrating tongue was very popular in pairs as early as the Old Kingdom in Egypt, where it appears to have been, indigenous. Its earliest occurrence is on a relief of 2700 B.C. in the Cairo Museum. The twin pipes are coupled and their holes correspond. The instrument survives in modern Egypt under the Arabic name of zummara. The player stops the corresponding holes of both tubes simultaneously with one finger and as the holes, roughly cut into an uneven cane, produce slightly different pitches, the effect is a pulsating sound. Oboes seem to “have been introduced from Asia in the New Kingdom. The sound is produced in the double mouth-piece by the vibration of two reeds. The instrument was used in pairs, could be of considerable length and was played chiefly by women. [Source: “Music in Ancient Mesopotamia and Egypt by Marcelle Duchesne Guillemin, World Archaeology, Volume 12, 1981 - Issue 3, Pages 287-297, published online: 15 July 2010 ^*^]
Sibylle Emerit wrote: “In Egypt, one can distinguish the long flute, the double clarinet, and the simple or double oboe, but it is, however, very difficult to differentiate with certainty these four instruments, which are individualized— from an organological point of view—by the presence or the absence of a simple or double reed. When the instruments survived, these tiny reeds have generally disappeared, and they are never visible in the iconography. [Source: Sibylle Emerit, Institut français d'archéologie orientale, UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology, 2013 escholarship.org ]
“The double clarinet has been attested since the 5th Dynasty. During the Old Kingdom, it was the most frequently represented aerophone. It is a simple reed instrument with two parallel pipes tied together by string. The musician plays the same tune on both pipes, but since the holes’ spacing is not strictly parallel, the obtained note is slightly dissonant.
“The oboe appeared during the New Kingdom. It consisted of one or two long, thin pipes, which separate starting from the mouth of the musician to form an acute angle. The melody is only played on one of the pipes, the other one giving a held note. This instrument, mainly played by women during that period, supplanted the long flute and the double clarinet. According to the pictorial record, the latter two instruments did not disappear from the musical landscape and were played until the Roman time. With the arrival of the Ptolemies, a new type of oboe was attested in Egypt: the Greek aulos.”
Harps in Ancient Egypt
Sibylle Emerit of the Institut français d'archéologie orientale wrote: “The harp has been attested in Egypt since the 4th Dynasty in the musical scenes depicted in the private tombs. It was the favorite instrument of the ancient Egyptians, but this object and its representation seem to have disappeared from the Nile Valley with the advent of Christianity. From the New Kingdom on, several forms of harps coexisted. They led to complex typologies (for instance, the ladle-shaped, boat-shaped, and crescent-shaped harp), but in spite of the large variety, the Egyptian harp was always a vertical type, generally arched and sometimes angular . The fundamental difference between arched and angular harps is that the first one is built from a single wooden piece while the second one requires two.” [Source: Sibylle Emerit, Institut français d'archéologie orientale, UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology, 2013 escholarship.org ]
Marcelle Duchesne Guillemin wrote: “In Egypt the harp is the most favoured instrument. It is essentially the Sumerian type, only diversified in the dimensions of the sound-box. It is difficult to state where the instrument originated. It seems probable that the Sumero-Elamite instrument, found at Chogha Mish as early as the fourth millennium, and the Egyptian one, which began to appear under the fourth dynasty, had one and the same origin. Or can they both have evolved independently from the more primitive musical bow? A type, inter- mediary between the bow and the harp, has been found in modern Afghanistan, represented on a specimen in the Museum of Arhus University, Denmark and another, uncatalogued, in the former Kunstkammer, Leningrad consists of a bow fixed to an oblong sounding-box. [Source: “Music in Ancient Mesopotamia and Egypt by Marcelle Duchesne Guillemin, World Archaeology, Volume 12, 1981 - Issue 3, Pages 287-297, published online: 15 July 2010 ^*^]
“The connection is still obvious between the musical bow and the earliest Egyptian harp, with its arched neck comprising the entire length of the instrument and penetrating at the base into the half-ovoid sounding-box, which resembles the gourd resonator attached to the ethnographic musical bow. As in Sumer, the strings end in fastening knobs, not to be confused with the later, rotating pegs. There are never more than nine of these. In the Middle Kingdom, the harps are covered with abundant decoration. In the New Kingdom enormous instruments have as many as eighteen strings and are played standing. The sounding-box now com- prises the whole of the lower half of the instrument. It has not only painted motifs but sometimes also a sculptured head of a pharaoh. A second type is portable, its neck ends in a fine sculptured head, and the curve of the arch is deeply concave. A third category, even lighter, is called by musicologists the ‘shoulder harp’, carried as it is on the left shoulder. To play it the musician holds it either in that position or halfway down his arm, but with the strings still facing outwards, away from him, thus placing it within the category of the vertical harp. The sounding-box is longish: that of a specimen in the Louvre is more than 650 mm. long. Its four strings are attached to a a neck inserted under the hide which must have covered the box; notches are cut in order to avoid slipping. Under the twenty-fifth dynasty the vertical arched harp became more and more concave, until nearly a right angle was formed between the sounding-box and the strings, but the vertical sounding-box is still at the base. ^*^
“Egypt adopted, from the fifteenth century onwards, the vertical angular harp from Babylonia. This became a type in great favour, perhaps owing to the great stability of tuning allowed by the angular structure. The magnificent specimen preserved in the Louvre has been X-rayed: the internal structure of the sounding-box is thus well known. This box was held against the musician’s breast, its lower, tapering half between his thighs. The holder pierces the box above this tapering part. These splendid instruments have twenty-one strings, sometimes even more .” ^*^
Lyres in Ancient Egypt
Marcelle Duchesne Guillemin wrote: “A lyre, in the wide sense of the term, comprising, in Greece, the kithara and the lyra, is made of a sounding-box of various shapes, from the upper side of which two arms project upwards. The extremities of the arms are joined by a cross-bar. The strings are fastened at the base of the box, then run parallel to the front of it, over a bridge that transmits their vibration to the box, and continue between the arms to be finally twisted round the cross-bar, where their tension can be modified. [Source: “Music in Ancient Mesopotamia and Egypt by Marcelle Duchesne Guillemin, World Archaeology, Volume 12, 1981 - Issue 3, Pages 287-297, published online: 15 July 2010 ^*^]
“In Egypt the lyre is a foreign instrument. It first appears, as has just been mentioned, in the hands of a Syrian nomad. It is rectangular and usually played with a plectrum. A few centuries later the lyre was fully adopted. It shows more elaborate forms, some- times light and elegant with gracefully contorted arms, sometimes more massive with a rectangular box and a protruding bar at the base for attaching the strings. Some animal ornaments on the arms recall Mesopotamia. Similarly the bow-shaped holder of a large lyre in the Rijksmuseum van Oudheden, Leiden, has its parallel, or its model, in the great Babylonian lyre of the Ishali clay plaque. The El Amarna paintings show huge instruments, one of which seems to require two musicians. This compares with the Hittite instrument found at Inandyk described above. It is quite possible, given the political and cultural connections between the Hittites and Egypt, that this type was brought from Anatolia to the Nile valley. Perhaps under the influence of the Palestinian type, some Syrian lyres were modified: one of the arms gets shorter and shorter, the cross-bar more and more slanting, and the strings more and more unequal. This type is frequently depicted in Phoenicia and Assyria, where it sometimes appears along with the traditional, symmetrical type. ^*^
Sibylle Emerit wrote: “The lyre was imported from the Near East during the Middle Kingdom. It is represented for the first time in the tomb of Khnumhotep II in Beni Hassan, carried by a foreigner. This portable instrument, of asymmetric or symmetric shape, became fashionable from the New Kingdom onwards. At that time, mainly women played this instrument, holding it horizontally or vertically, except in Amarna, where men are depicted playing a huge symmetric lyre, placed on the floor or on a base. Two musicians play “quatremain” (playing the lyre at the same time) in a standing position. They wear special clothes: a flounced skirt, a small cape on the shoulders, and a pointed hat, which seem to indicate a Canaanite origin. [Source: Sibylle Emerit, Institut français d'archéologie orientale, UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology, 2013 escholarship.org ]
Lutes in Ancient Egypt
Sibylle Emerit wrote: “The lute, which was introduced in Egypt at the beginning of the New Kingdom, was also imported from the Near East. This instrument became very popular throughout the Nile Valley and sometimes replaced the harp in depictions accompanying the famous Harper’s Song. Played by male as well as female musicians, it was an instrument with a long neck connected to a sound-box. The lute and the lyre could be played with a plectrum, while the harp could not.” [Source: Sibylle Emerit, Institut français d'archéologie orientale, UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology, 2013 escholarship.org ]
Marcelle Duchesne Guillemin wrote: ““A lute has a long neck protruding from the sounding-box. The strings are parallel to the latter, as in the lyre. Moreover, pressure from the fingers on the strings at different levels along the neck shortens at will their vibrating length. Its origin is obscure, but certainly not Sumerian despite two representations. Iran is a possibility because many lutes are represented on terracottas or cylinder seals from Susa. The Babylonian documents show two types of lute. One, rustic, with a very long handle and a small, oval sounding-box as on a cylinder seal in the Louvre; the other is shorter with a more voluminous, nearly rectangular sounding-box. [Source: “Music in Ancient Mesopotamia and Egypt by Marcelle Duchesne Guillemin, World Archaeology, Volume 12, 1981 - Issue 3, Pages 287-297, published online: 15 July 2010 ^*^]
“The lute has two types of sounding-box: one oval, the second very elongated. Somewhat later it was in favour with the Hittites, who had a third, more elaborate type, the precursor of the modern guitar with frets on the handle and sharing its peculiar shape of body. Generally the ancient lutes have only two or three strings.” ^*^
Musical Notation in Ancient Egypt
Sibylle Emerit wrote: “In the 1960s, Hans Hickmann claimed to have discovered a system of musical notation based on chironomy or gesticulations. Indeed, he saw in the variations of the positions of the hands and the arms of the singers depicted in music scenes in Old and Middle Kingdom private tombs a way to indicate to the musicians the musical intervals of fourth, of fifth, or octave. This idea met with a deep interest, but it is widely questioned today because this body language is not really codified suggested a system of musical notation indicated with dots and red crosses placed above a Demotic text dating from the first or the second century B.C., which was discovered in Tebtunis. [Source: Sibylle Emerit, Institut français d'archéologie orientale, UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology, 2013 escholarship.org ]
“These signs of an extreme simplicity could transcribe, according to her, a rhythmic punctuation intended to be played by a percussion instrument. She based this interpretation on the fact that this papyrus contains an Osirian liturgy and that drums could be used in this ritual context. However, this interpretation may be going too far, because research on text metrics shows that the literary and religious texts, intended to be recited, were composed in a rhythmic structure. Red dots aided the pupils in learning how to recite and to remember the scansion. According to the Deir el-Medina ostracon 2392, this recitation could be moreover accompanied by a musical instrument. The notation in P. Carlsberg 589 differs from the usual signs because apart from the dots also several crosses were inscribed over the text. Hoffmann interpreted these signs as an aid for the priest in charge of the declamation as to how to accentuate a group of words.
“It seems surprising that the Egyptian civilization, which developed an elaborate system of writing very early on, did not find a means to record music—but many cultures have lacked such a system. Musical notation is not indispensable for the transmission of musical knowledge. Its use matches a specific cultural need, such as, for example, the sharing of the musical pieces. In addition, the ancient Greek musical notation was invented at the end of the sixth century or at the beginning of the fifth century B.C., and several Greek musical papyri of Hellenistic and Roman time were discovered in Egypt. Apparently, the Egyptians did not adopt this technique for their own music.”
Musicians in Ancient Egypt
Sibylle Emerit wrote: “In Pharaonic society, both men and women could choose to devote themselves entirely to music. Among them were musicians of foreign origin, children, and dwarfs. From the beginning of the ancient Egyptian civilization, the musical art was also the privilege of some divinities. However, the iconography of musician gods developed especially in Greco- Roman temples. In this context, Hathor, Mistress of music, was depicted playing tambourine, sistrum, and menit-necklace, often in the form of the seven Hathors (goddesses of fate who are present at childbirth). Hathor’s son Ihy shakes the sistrum and menit for her. Meret, Mistress of the throat, was represented as a harp player. Bes and Beset were depicted dancing while playing trigon harp, lute, or tambourine. Priests and priestesses played the role of the gods in rituals. For example, in the Osirian liturgy, two young women were chosen to personify Isis and Nephthys and play tambourine for the god. Lastly, animals playing musical instruments are an iconographic theme known continuously from the Old Kingdom to the Roman Period(figs. 3 and 15). For instance, a monkey with adouble oboe, a crocodile with a lute, a lion with a lyre, and an ass with a harp are depictedin the Turin Erotic Papyrus. [Source: Sibylle Emerit, Institut français d'archéologie orientale, UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology, 2013 escholarship.org ]
The musicians’ titles reveal that their professions were more or less structured and organized into a hierarchy according to their musical specialty, the most complex body being the Hsw. Also, they indicate very often the name of the deity to which the musician plays and/or the place where he practices: usually in the palace or a temple. During their career, certain artists could attain high ranks, such as sHD (“inspector”), xrp (“director”), jmj-rA (“overseer”), jmj (“director”), and Hrj (“superior”). However, it is difficult to understand how these levels worked together and to which types of skills they referred. On the other hand, it is certain that these ranks were not purely honorary because their holders generally led a group of persons or oversaw the music in a precise area (palace, temple) or a whole region. Female musicians rarely reached this high level, but their hierarchical organization did not apparently follow the same pattern as that of the men, especially from the New Kingdom onwards when their number continually increased. Connected to the service of a temple, they were distributed within phyles as common priestesses. It is likely that they were subordinated to the wrt xnrt (the great one of the institution-kheneret) or to the Divine Adoratrices, but this link is not sufficiently explicit in the records. If most of the Hsyt, Smayt, and jHyt really were exercising their art, it seems certain that these titles also had a honorary character. Finally, from the New Kingdom onwards, there was a choir (šspt d-xnw) that brought together men as well as women.
“It is not unusual that a male musician or a female musician used several titles in connection with the music. For example, in the Old Kingdom, Temi was at the same time sbA and Hsw , whereas in the Third Intermediate Period, Henouttaoui was šmayt and wDnyt. Musicians’ titles also indicate that they often occupied other functions in Egyptian society. It was usually a position in the priestly hierarchy, but they could also attain offices in the royal administration. For example, in the Old Kingdom, Ptahaperef was “Inspector of the craftsmen of the palace” and Raur was “Overseer of linen”.”
Types of Musicians in Ancient Egypt
Sibylle Emerit wrote: “One of the paradoxes of the ancient Egyptian documentation is that there is a discrepancy between the number of musical specialties expressed in the iconography and in the vocabulary. The iconographic sources allow the identification of at least 12 categories of artists: singers, harpists, players of lute, lyre, long flute, double clarinet, oboe, double oboe, trumpet, and tambourine, as well as percussionists and rhythmists. [Source: Sibylle Emerit, Institut français d'archéologie orientale, UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology, 2013 escholarship.org ]
“The number of musicians’ titles is, on the other hand, more difficult to establish, because for some of them the translation is hypothetical (to the extent that it is even uncertain whether they are musicians), whereas the names of other professions remain unknown. Furthermore, if titles such as jHwy, “percussionist”, or Dd-m-šnb, “trumpet,” describe a single musical specialty, others such as Hsw, šmaw, and xnw/d-xnw indicate musicians who can play several instruments and, sometimes, who can also dance. Thus, the Hsw is above all a singer who can accompany himself by clapping in his hands or by playing a stringed instrument: harp, lute, or lyre. The lute can also be played by the dancer Tnf.
“The main function of a xnw/d-xnw is marking the cadence by clapping hands or with a percussion instrument; this rhythmist is also able to use his voice to punctuate its interventions, probably by the scansion. Finally, the šmaw strikes the cadence with his hands, sometimes by carrying out a dance step or by singing, using in exceptional cases a harp. The dividing line between music and dance is not always clear. An analysis of the terms related to the semantic field of music also reveals the importance of rhythm in the concept of this art in ancient Egypt. The titles Hsw, šmaw, xnw/d-xnw, or jHwy are used for men and women, but they do not cover exactly the same artistic activities and vary by gender. Other titles like Dd-m-šnb and sbA,“flutist,” are attested only for male musicians, whereas sxmyt, jwnty, and nbty are known only for female musicians.
“Through the contact with other antique cultures, new instruments were adopted in Egypt, giving birth to new musical specialties. For example, the introduction of the double oboe during the New Kingdom was followed by the creation of the title wDny, “double oboe player.” Some titles were increasingly fashionable, as Hsyt and šmayt, which developed especially from the New Kingdom onwards to become particularly popular in the Third Intermediate Period. Despite the evolution of musical tastes, it is necessary to underline the perpetuity of the harpist figure from the Old Kingdom to the Roman Period, whether in the iconography or through the title of Hsw, which remains the most common in the documentation.”
Music Training, Compositions and Performances in Ancient Egypt
Sibylle Emerit wrote: “Music was performed in several types of spaces, public and private: inside the temple, the palace, during religious processions, military parades, during burials to maintain the funerary cult, or also during private festivities. Access to these spaces reveals the status of the artists and the music. Musicians, such as singers, exercised their profession in practically all social spheres, whereas the musical practice of other artists was limited to a particular context or event, such as the military and royal context in which the trumpet was used. [Source: Sibylle Emerit, Institut français d'archéologie orientale, UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology, 2013 escholarship.org ]
“Depending on the period, the orchestras’ composition evolved. In the Old Kingdom banquet scenes, the bands include singers, rhythmists, harpists, and long flute and double clarinet players. In the New Kingdom, new instruments appeared: tambourines, lutes, lyres, and double oboe enter henceforth the musical groups. Some artists played solo, such as harpists and lute players, whether it was to interpret the Harper’s Song or to play in front of a divinity. The trumpeter was the only musician to follow the sovereign to war, while in the royal escorts, drummer and rhythmists were also present. According to the context, music had different functions. For instance, in the temple ritual it was used to gladden the god and to pacify him, whereas in a funerary context it could help the rebirth of the dead. A few rural scenes also show singers and flutists entertaining the workers in the agricultural fields.
“The existence of a hierarchical organization of the musician’s profession raises the question of the training in their discipline. Although very rare, some documents allow us to assert that music schools existed and that some sort of institutional teaching was given within the court or the temples. In the Old Kingdom, several instructors are known with the title sbA, who taught music and dance. In the Middle Kingdom, Khesu the Elder is depicted in his tomb giving lessons to female musicians in sistrum playing and hand-clapping showed that part of the palace musicians belonged to the xntj-š group, which brought together royal attendants. Musicians were apparently recruited from among these people. The learning of music certainly began within the family. Indeed, by comparing titles, it is clear that it was not uncommon for numerous members of a lineage to all be musicians.”
Status of Musicians in Ancient Egypt
Sibylle Emerit wrote: “Several elements within the documentation allow us to understand the social and economic status of an individual and to recognize his uniqueness compared to other members of society. The status markers for musicians are of two kinds: archaeological remains and titulary. The nature of archaeological remains is related to the quantity of monuments and objects, which belonged to the musicians, or where the musicians are mentioned or represented. Indeed, a musician known by his inscribed tomb does not have the same economic and social status as the musician who could only erect a stela or statue in a sacred place. Nevertheless, most musicians did not possess a funeral chapel, but simply a monument or commemorative object with their name, such as a false-door, stela, rock inscription, statue, shabti, box with shabtis, libation basin, offering table, textile, or seal. Others are known only from the evidence in the tomb or on the stelae of a personality of high rank, their names being sometimes only enumerated in lists of temple employees, in letters, or official documents. The titulary of a musician reveals his social and economic status. It is composed of several elements including titles, epithets, and sentences of laudatory character, the names of the person, and affiliations. It therefore allows us to place the individual in an enlarged familial and social frame. It is not uncommon to see a musician involved in other functions in society that may have been a source of supplementary income or prestige. [Source: Sibylle Emerit, Institut français d'archéologie orientale, UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology, 2013 escholarship.org ] “Sources show that the economic and social status of the musicians varied a lot according to individual and gender. From a quantitative point of view, the female musicians occupy a more important place in the iconographic and textual records. Some of them even belonged to the royal family. Since the Old Kingdom, the role of sacred musician, shaking sistra and menit-necklaces for the Hathor cult or other divinities, was devolved to queens and girls of royal blood. However their status and function cannot be compared to those of a musician who played music to earn his subsistence. Nevertheless, the male musicians’ social recognition seems superior to that of the female musicians because some male musicians possess their own tomb, which is a sign of royal favor. Thus, this privilege was not restricted to persons in charge of religious, administrative, political, or military tasks. The economic and social status of female musicians seems to rather be determined by that of their spouse, especially from the New Kingdom onwards. Often married to a high dignitary, they are represented or named with him on their monuments (be this tombs, stelae, or statues). Some objects, however, were dedicated by these women and used as memorial in places of pilgrimage, as Abydos. However, a prosopographical documentation is specific to the female musicians who lived during the 21th Dynasty: the sarcophagi from the Deir el- Bahari Cachette and the funerary papyri.
“Since the musician did not produce his subsistence, he was dependent on an employer, who was in charge of his living costs. Those who were attached to the palace or a temple were privileged and comparable to other “functionaries.” If a few musicians are known to us by a title or a name, we should be aware that a large part of the artists involved in the musical life in ancient Egypt definitely is not known to us. Most of them remained anonymous, because they could not afford to leave an epitaph, or their monuments did not survive the ages. That is what the “East Cemetery” of Deir el-Medina dating to the 18th Dynasty seems to testify. The study of the non-epigraphic material from these tombs, in which numerous musical instruments were discovered, reveals that the persons buried in this place belonged to a modest social class attached to the service of local noblemen. Among them were apparently musicians of both genders. It is probable that their function was not limited to music and that they also participated in domestic tasks.
“The Greek papyrological documentation of the Hellenistic and Roman Periods contains some examples of contracts for hiring musicians. It was possible to rent these artists to animate religious or private festivities. That is also shown in a Demotic papyrus of the first or second century CE in which the adversities of a poor talented harpist are related, who goes from place to place, begging for his meal in exchange of his art. This type of punctual hiring, which was certainly common previous to the Ptolemaic Period, reveals the precarious status of the itinerant musician compared to the one who was attached to the court or to the temple. We find an echo of this practice in the Papyrus Westcar where three goddesses, dressed as musicians/dancers-xnywt, offer their service to Redjedet to help her give birth.”
Clothing of Musicians in Ancient Egypt
Sibylle Emerit wrote: “Generally, musicians never wear ceremonial dress or distinguishing features connected to their profession, even when they perform their art. The only identifying feature is the particular instrument they hold. In P. Westcar, the husband of Redjedet identifies the goddesses as musicians/dancers-xnywt because they show him their sistrum and menit-necklaces. An unusual feature should be noted in Amarna: in the iconography,musicians are dressed with a hat of conical shape, a flounced skirt, and a short cape, but these clothes are probably linked to their foreign origin and are not stage clothes. [Source: Sibylle Emerit, Institut français d'archéologie orientale, UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology, 2013 escholarship.org ]
“Certain musical specialties seem to be reserved for a particular ethnic group, as, for example, the barrel-shaped drum, which is usually struck by Nubians. This is not, however, a generality, because this instrument is also played by Egyptians. The Nubians are perfectly recognizable in the iconography whether it is by their facial features or the loincloths they wear.
“Physical characteristics differentiate the Egyptian musician from the others in the iconography. In the Middle and New Kingdom, the harpists are often represented obese and old, whereas their eyes are generally closed. It has long been considered that these artists were blind; however, this characteristic is certainly more symbolic than real. In the 19th Dynasty funerary chapel of Reia, this is clearly an iconographic topos: when this overseer of the Hsw-singers is depicted playing the harp, he is blind, while in the other scenes of his tomb he is not and is depicted as an ordinary noble.”
Opet Festival Songs
Tutankhamen scenes in the Temple of Luxor record the texts of three songs , chanted by priests and priestesses, accompanying the procession of cult images during the Opet Festival in Thebes. The First Song goes:
“Oh Amun, Lord of the Thrones of the Two[Lan]ds, may you live forever!
A drinking place is hewn out, the sky is folded back to the south;
a drinking place is hewn out, the sky is folded back to the north;
that the sailors of Tutankhamen (usurped by Horemheb), beloved of Amun-Ra-Kamutef,
praised of the gods, may drink.” [Source: John Darnell, Yale, UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology 2010, escholarship.org ]
John Darnell of Yale University wrote: “The directions, south and north, may allude to the southeast to northwest flight of the sun . The implied south to north journey of this song—like the actual return to Karnak from Luxor at the end of the Opet Festival—relates to the royal New Year’s Festival and the return of the wandering solar goddess from the south. The drinking place would be one of the booths that celebrants erected during nautical festivals. Such booths are consistent with the aspect of sexual union inherent in the Opet Festival; Neith probably appears in her role as “Lady of inebriation in the (season of) the fresh inundation waters”. The journey by land and a return by river—as the Opet Festival appears under Hatshepsut and Thutmose III—would thus evoke the dry period prior to the union of the god and returning solar goddess, the return to the north by river likewise emphasizing the returning flood. The journey to the south by land, and the towing of the barks against the current in the southerly riverine journey, also mirrored the nocturnal journey of the sun in the dry realms of the Land of Sokar. The sails of the barks appear to have been red in color, the return journey to Karnak thus evoking the red light of dawn, the veil of the new born solar deity.
“Second Song: Recitation:
“Hail, Amun, primeval one of the Two Lands, foremost one of Karnak,
in your glorious appearance amidst your [riverine] fleet,
on your beautiful Festival of Opet— May you be pleased with it.”
Third Song:: Recitation four times—Recitation for the bark:
“A drinking place is built for the party, which is in the voyage of the fleet.
The ways of the Akeru are bound up for you; Hapi is high.
May you pacify the Two Ladies, oh Lord of the White Crown/Red Crown.
It is Horus, strong of arm, who conveys the god with she the good one of the god.
For the king has Hathor already done the best of good things.”
The ways of Aker allude to the east/west axis of the solar journey, parallel to the first song’s “royal” south/north axis The songs associate the festival journey to the course of the sun , and at the same time allude to sexuality. The “best of good things” finds echoes in New Kingdom love poetry, a term for the consummation of sexual union. A further detail confirming the sexual aspect of the festival is a statement of a priest who bends forward and addresses the bark of Amun as it emerges from Luxor Temple at the end of the Opet Festival: “How weary is the cackling goose!”. This short statement alludes to the cry of creation uttered by the great cackler in the eastern horizon, appropriate to the smn-goose form of Amun as the deity prepares to sail to Karnak.”
Tomb of the Singing Enchantress
In 2011, a team from Switzerland's Basel University headed by Elena Pauline-Grothe and Susanne Bickel discovered the tomb of a female singer dating back almost 3,000 years in Egypt's Valley of the Kings. The woman, Nehmes Bastet, was a singer for the supreme deity Amon Ra during the Twenty-Second Dynasty (945-712 B.C.), according to an inscription on a wooden plaque found in the tomb. She was the daughter of the High Priest of Amon. The discovery is important because "it shows that the Valley of the Kings was also used for the burial of ordinary individuals and priests of the Twenty-Second Dynasty. Until then the only tombs found in the historic valley were those linked to ancient Egyptian royal families. The singer’s presence there would appear to indicate that she was of very high status. [Source: AFP, January 16, 2012]
The four-by-two-and-half-meter burial chamber provides a rare glimpse into the life of an ancient Egyptian singer. Julian Smith wrote in Archaeology magazine: “The black coffin carved from sycamore wood and decorated with large yellow hieroglyphs on its sides and top. The hieroglyphs describe the tomb's occupant, named Nehemes-Bastet, as a "lady" of the upper class and "chantress [shemayet] of Amun," whose father was a priest in the temple complex of Karnak in Thebes. The coffin's color and hieroglyphs match a style that dates to between 945 and 715 B.C., at least 350 years after the tomb was built. The coffin shows that the burial chamber had been reused, a common practice at the time. “The only other artifact dating to the same period as the coffin was a wooden stele, slightly smaller than an iPad, painted with a prayer to provide for her in the afterlife, and an image that is believed to be of Nehemes-Bastet in front of the seated sun god Amun. The white, green, yellow, and red paints hadn't faded a bit. Bickel says.[Source: Julian Smith, Archaeology, Volume 65 Number 4, July/August 2012 ==]
“Nehemes-Bastet lived during the Third Intermediate Period, a time when Egypt was split by intermittent wars between the pharaohs in Tanis and the high priests of Amun in Thebes, who rivaled the traditional rulers in wealth and power. "It must have been a pretty unsettling period," says Emily Teeter, an Egyptologist and research assistant at the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago. "There was fighting among these factions around her time." ==
“Nehemes-Bastet was one of many priestess-musicians who performed inside the sanctuaries and in the courts of the temples. "The hypothesis is that these women would sing, act, and take part in festivities and big ritual processions that were held several times a year," Bickel says. The musical instruments that chantresses typically used were the menat, a multi-strand beaded necklace they would shake, and the sistrum, a handheld rattle whose sound was said to evoke wind rustling through papyrus reeds. Other musicians would have played drums, harps, and lutes during religious processions. ==
"It's interesting that in this period even a wealthy girl was buried with quite simple things," Bickel says, comparing Nehemes-Bastet's coffin and stele with the elaborate pottery, furniture, and food found in earlier tombs. "Her wooden coffin was certainly quite expensive," she says, but nonetheless, it lacked the elaborate inner coffins found in similar burials. More details on Nehemes-Bastet's daily life can be drawn from a wealth of paintings, texts, and reliefs carved on statues and stelae of the time, says Teeter. As a chantress, or singer, in the temple of Amun, she probably lived in the 250-acre Karnak temple complex located in Thebes. Her name, translated as "may Bastet save her," indicates that she was under the protection of the feline goddess and "divine mother" Bastet, the protector of Lower Egypt. Nehemes-Bastet's occupation, however, was to worship Amun, the king of ancient Egyptian gods.” ==
The title "Chantress of Amun" belonged to women of the upper classes, Teeter says. Genealogies show multiple generations of women held the title, with mothers probably teaching the profession to their daughters. "It was a very honorable profession," says Teeter. "These women were well respected in society, which is why [Nehemes-Bastet] was buried in the Valley of the Kings." As was the case with the priests, temple singers were paid from the income generated by the huge tracts of land that Amun "owned" across Egypt. Some priests and priestesses served in the temples only a few months out of the year before returning home. There's little information about what women like Nehemes-Bastet would have done while at home, Teeter says, but it probably wasn't too different from other women's traditional duties of the time: running the household, raising children, and supporting their husbands.” ==
Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons
Text Sources: UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology, escholarship.org ; Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Egypt sourcebooks.fordham.edu ; Tour Egypt, Minnesota State University, Mankato, ethanholman.com; Mark Millmore, discoveringegypt.com discoveringegypt.com; Metropolitan Museum of Art, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Discover magazine, Times of London, Natural History magazine, Archaeology magazine, The New Yorker, BBC, Encyclopædia Britannica, Time, Newsweek, Wikipedia, Reuters, Associated Press, The Guardian, AFP, Lonely Planet Guides, “World Religions” edited by Geoffrey Parrinder (Facts on File Publications, New York); “History of Warfare” by John Keegan (Vintage Books); “History of Art” by H.W. Janson Prentice Hall, Englewood Cliffs, N.J.), Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.
Last updated September 2018