The scribe enjoyed a particularly revered position in Egyptian society. He belonged to a distinct and exclusive group of educated men, distinguished from the majority by his command of reading and writing. Such skills were regarded as a privilege, and carried a certain sense of mystery, since they were qualities shared only by the gods and kings. Scribes were engaged in a wide range of writing and managerial roles that permeated all levels of society, from writing personal letters, drawing up court proceedings and financial arrangements between spouses, to keeping accounts, receipts, taxes, lists and summaries, and overseeing harvest production and building works. We are indebted to their industry in preserving a wealth of documentation, from everyday reports to literary texts of high merit, offering unparalleled insight into government administration and daily life under the pharaohs.
In accordance with their status, scribes enjoyed due recognition and rewards. The present statue indicates that they were able to afford expensive and impressive works of art with which to furnish their tombs and guarantee their successful and prosperous transition to the afterlife. It depicts the scribe seated and wearing the ornate robes of the living, and would have been placed in the tomb as the physical form in which the spirit (ka) of the departed could reside in order to be nourished, and as an eternal substitute body, should the mummy itself be destroyed. The Egyptians considered stone the most enduring of the materials to which they had access, and that objects created in stone were imbued with a quality of permanence that transcended time.
An inscribed vertical band of hieroglyphs adorns the front central panel of the robe, reading ‘Royal scribe, controller of the Estate of Amun, controller of the Treasury of Amun, Amen (em) int.’ This again reinforces the significance of the scribe’s social status and also underscores the historical value of the present fragment. It is known that the New Kingdom Estate of Amun was centred around Thebes on the west and east banks of the Nile and incorporated the temples of Luxor, Karnak, Medinet Habu, and Hatshepsut at Deir el Bahri. Each site played a major role in important festivals dedicated to the principal god Amun, who was especially revered during the Eighteenth Dynasty. This was a period when Egypt reached the peak of its power, a time of peace, prosperity and artistic splendour. Pharoahs initiated massive building projects, demonstrating their power and wealth, with a special focus on the expansion and beautification of temples, and generous provision was reserved for the temple of Amun at Thebes. That the scribe depicted in the present statue was the controller of the estate and treasury of Amun at this pivotal time, then, is especially noteworthy.
One of the best known statues of this type was discovered in the Tomb of Maya, Overseer of the Treasury and High Priest of Amun, and his wife Meryt, and is displayed in the Rijksmuseum van Oudheden in Leiden (inv. no. AST 3).
Acquired in Europe in the 1960s.
Private Collection, Washington, 1960s-2009.