What does the ball on the top of his head signify? And what about the ankh the woman on the left is holding?
The ball on the top of his head is a sun disk. Ankhs are symbols of life and are often held by religious and royal figures in Egyptian art. This stela dates to the reign of the famous pharaoh Ramesses II.
What years would that be?
And can you tell us more about Ramesses II?
Of course! This particular stela dates around 1279-1213 B.C.E. Ramssess II, of the 19th Dynasty, was known for his military campaigns, which strengthened
the Egyptian empire, and numerous monumental building campaigns.
He reigned for 66 years and is believed to have lived to when he was 90, which was a very long life and reign especially for the ancient world!
What does this say?
The hieroglyphs on this stele glorify primarily Amun, an important deity, as well as Ramesses the Great who is shown receiving important symbols of power from Amun.
Did Ramesses II believe he was a direct descendant of Amun-Re? Did Ramesses I?
A Divine Birth Legend the many New Kingdom kings subscribed to portrays the new king as the offspring of his mother and a god (especially Amun or Amun-Re) who has taken the form of the reigning king.
This legend was especially helpful in denying and questions of legitimacy.
How did this come to the museum?
This stela was excavated on a project conducted by the Egypt Exploration Society at a temple on the site known as Amara West in northern Sudan in 1938. It was acquired by the Museum directly from the EES.
The writing down below, does it tell a story or something?
This inscription talks about the founding of the town Meriamen (modern name: Amhara West, Sudan) by Ramesses II and his establishing of a cult of Amun there. At the top of the stela, you can see Ramesses II the Great to the right receiving symbols of dominion from the god Amun.
The text also tells us the King's five names to emphasize that he is more than human. The birds at the very bottom are lapwing birds. They represent the general public, praising the king and the gods.
Can you tell me about this one?
Sure! This stela shows the god Amun-Re, presenting the king Ramessess II (also known as "the Great") with the symbols of kingship.
The figure on the right is Ramesses, and he is already holding one of the symbols, the crook. The king, in ancient Egypt was seen as the people's shepherd.
An interesting aspect of the stela is the way the registers, or different scenes or sections, are separated. It reflects the Egyptians conception of their world. The heavenly realm, the home of the gods it at the top. This includes the king, as he was seen as a divine figure.
At the bottom is the terrestrial home of the Egyptian people. The text in between links these human and divine realms.
Do you know what the text says?
The inscription begins by giving the king's five royal names and titles. It then goes on to commemorate his bringing of statues to the gods of Nubia and gives a religious significance to the town of Meriamen (now known as Amara West), a strategic location along the Nile in present day Sudan, where this stela was excavated.
Do you know if there have been any studies of the relative importance of sides in Egyptian iconography? For example, European cultures strongly favor the right side, and even used to condemn the left as demonic.
I am not aware of any religious preference to right or left sides in that sort of way. However, the fact that hieroglyphs were most often written from right to left did have an impact on visual art.
In this scene, for example, we see the gods to the left and the king to the right. Often, more important figures are show to the left in a two dimensional composition because you can think of the rest of the composition leading up to them.
You may also notice that three dimensional statues typically step forward with their left feet. This is also because of writing. In hieroglyphs, you always read into the faces of the people. So think of Amun, here, as a hieroglyphic sign, you read him from right to left and see that his back foot, his left foot, is the one stepping forward.
It struck me that the more powerful gestures are made with right arms.
That has to do both with the ancient Egyptians desire to render all the parts of a figure, rather than a realistic looking figure coupled with the statistical majority of people being right handed.
What we see here is the active gestures being performed with right hands and left hands in more passive activity.