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Sed Festival Reliefs of the Old Kingdom

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Abstract:

The Sed Festival was the most important ritual of rejuvenation for the living king, appearing in monumental structures from the early Dynastic Period to the end of pharaonic history. An analysis of the changing placement of its scenes within Old Kingdom architectural contexts shows a continued importance as well as reflecting concomitant changes in royal ideology--an idea not yet fully explored for this era. In order to carry out this analysis, representative two-dimensional scenes and their placement within royal monuments were examined for eight kings: Narmer, Khasekhemwy, Djoser, Sneferu, Khufu, Sahure, Niuserre, and Pepi II. Despite the chance of preservation, evidence contained within the archaeological record seems sufficient to show the changing ways in which depictions of these rituals enabled the king’s rebirth and perpetuated his rule in this life and the next.

Particular attention is paid to the placement of scenes depicting the king’s ritual run--a key indicator of function within the architecture. Although depicted since the early Dynastic period, its role within royal mortuary contexts first becomes clear in Djoser’s 3rd Dynasty Step Pyramid complex. Underground relief panels suggest that the king runs southwards, is reborn in the South Tomb, and is crowned in the Heb Sed Court. The 4th Dynasty’s true pyramids, reflecting a greater emphasis on the king’s connection to the sun-god Ra, created a different architectural setting; depictions of ritual runs on pillars before striding statues in the lower temple Sneferu’s Bent Pyramid and courtyard scenes in Khufu’s pyramid temple suggest that the king might have come forth from his statue niches and performed the ritual run in the temple courtyard. Clearer indications occur in the standardized 5th and 6th Dynasty pyramid complexes of Sahure and Pepi II, where reliefs suggest that the ritual run now took place in the pyramid temple’s N-S transverse hall, leading southward to a rebirth in the satellite pyramid. The ritual run played a particularly important role in 5th Dynasty’s sun temples, exemplified by Niuserre’s at Abu Ghorab. The placement of Sed Festival scenes and texts in the chapel and corridor leading to the central obelisk suggest that the deceased king would have begun his ritual run in the chapel, proceeded to the obelisk for his rebirth, and concluded his ceremonies in the corridor. His identification as Ra’s earthly manifestation meant that the performance of these rituals not only ensured the continuity of his kingship, but also the cyclical regeneration of the sun, thus ensuring the continuity of day and night.

Sed Festival rituals played an important role in the relief decoration of Old Kingdom royal mortuary complexes, eventually sharing space with an increasing emphasis on a solar concept of the king’s afterlife, and even adapting their function to take part in the sun’s renewal. Insight gained from a closer look at these reliefs in their architectural settings suggests that a similar approach for monuments of other eras may increase our understanding of this important festival’s connection with changes in the ideology of kingship through time.

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Association:
Name: The 58th Annual Meeting of the American Research Center in Egypt
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http://www.arce.org


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MLA Citation:

Richter, Barbara. "Sed Festival Reliefs of the Old Kingdom" Paper presented at the annual meeting of the The 58th Annual Meeting of the American Research Center in Egypt, Wyndham Toledo Hotel, Toledo, Ohio, Apr 20, 2007 <Not Available>. 2013-12-16 <http://citation.allacademic.com/meta/p177887_index.html>

APA Citation:

Richter, B. A. , 2007-04-20 "Sed Festival Reliefs of the Old Kingdom" Paper presented at the annual meeting of the The 58th Annual Meeting of the American Research Center in Egypt, Wyndham Toledo Hotel, Toledo, Ohio Online <APPLICATION/PDF>. 2013-12-16 from http://citation.allacademic.com/meta/p177887_index.html

Publication Type: Abstract Proposal
Abstract: The Sed Festival was the most important ritual of rejuvenation for the living king, appearing in monumental structures from the early Dynastic Period to the end of pharaonic history. An analysis of the changing placement of its scenes within Old Kingdom architectural contexts shows a continued importance as well as reflecting concomitant changes in royal ideology--an idea not yet fully explored for this era. In order to carry out this analysis, representative two-dimensional scenes and their placement within royal monuments were examined for eight kings: Narmer, Khasekhemwy, Djoser, Sneferu, Khufu, Sahure, Niuserre, and Pepi II. Despite the chance of preservation, evidence contained within the archaeological record seems sufficient to show the changing ways in which depictions of these rituals enabled the king’s rebirth and perpetuated his rule in this life and the next.

Particular attention is paid to the placement of scenes depicting the king’s ritual run--a key indicator of function within the architecture. Although depicted since the early Dynastic period, its role within royal mortuary contexts first becomes clear in Djoser’s 3rd Dynasty Step Pyramid complex. Underground relief panels suggest that the king runs southwards, is reborn in the South Tomb, and is crowned in the Heb Sed Court. The 4th Dynasty’s true pyramids, reflecting a greater emphasis on the king’s connection to the sun-god Ra, created a different architectural setting; depictions of ritual runs on pillars before striding statues in the lower temple Sneferu’s Bent Pyramid and courtyard scenes in Khufu’s pyramid temple suggest that the king might have come forth from his statue niches and performed the ritual run in the temple courtyard. Clearer indications occur in the standardized 5th and 6th Dynasty pyramid complexes of Sahure and Pepi II, where reliefs suggest that the ritual run now took place in the pyramid temple’s N-S transverse hall, leading southward to a rebirth in the satellite pyramid. The ritual run played a particularly important role in 5th Dynasty’s sun temples, exemplified by Niuserre’s at Abu Ghorab. The placement of Sed Festival scenes and texts in the chapel and corridor leading to the central obelisk suggest that the deceased king would have begun his ritual run in the chapel, proceeded to the obelisk for his rebirth, and concluded his ceremonies in the corridor. His identification as Ra’s earthly manifestation meant that the performance of these rituals not only ensured the continuity of his kingship, but also the cyclical regeneration of the sun, thus ensuring the continuity of day and night.

Sed Festival rituals played an important role in the relief decoration of Old Kingdom royal mortuary complexes, eventually sharing space with an increasing emphasis on a solar concept of the king’s afterlife, and even adapting their function to take part in the sun’s renewal. Insight gained from a closer look at these reliefs in their architectural settings suggests that a similar approach for monuments of other eras may increase our understanding of this important festival’s connection with changes in the ideology of kingship through time.

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