The poignant tale of an ancient Egyptian scribe

By Faye Kalloniatis, Research Associate

The Norwich Castle’s Egyptian collection includes an inscribed stone statue of a kneeling man whose arms are raised in a gesture of adoration to the gods. He leans against a stela, a memorial tablet which ancient Egyptians used in order to record inscriptions to the dead.

[1] roy statue

This stelophorous statue belonged to Roy and was dedicated to him by his mother.

The text reveals interesting details about the deceased. He was a man named Roy, who lived at a time when Egypt enjoyed great prosperity. Roy was a scribe of elevated status and had extensive duties within the state administration. He came from the Theban region, probably from the town of Hermonthis (Armant), which was situated some 15 kilometres south of Thebes. Hermonthis was a cult centre for the war-like and falcon-headed god, Montu, who is mentioned several times on Roy’s stela.

Roy belonged to a social elite and so would not have lacked for anything, but it seems that he did not live a long life.

[2] head of roy

This is Roy, an ancient Egyptian scribe.

Judging by the text which runs vertically along the front of Roy’s kilt, he died at a relatively young age. The inscription mentions that it was his mother, Tahumay, who was responsible for setting up the stela to her son. She therefore outlived him – a circumstance which surely represents a parent’s worst nightmare. In her affecting dedication Tahumay asks that Roy’s name is ‘made . . . to live’. This alludes to the ancient Egyptian belief in the potency of the name – to memorialise it on a stela would ensure that it lived in perpetuity and therefore the deceased would attain a happy afterlife.

This statue was donated by Sir Henry Rider Haggard, best known for his novels, especially King Solomon’s Mines. Haggard was an Egyptophile who visited Egypt several times and each time buying yet more antiquities, which he later donated to the museum. His love of Egypt encouraged him to study hieroglyphs and his notebooks bear testimony to his efforts to learn to write (and read) this ancient script.

[3] H's notebook

The left-hand folio of this notebook belonging to Haggard shows the novelist’s attempts to teach himself hieroglyphs.

He even asked an Egyptologist friend of his to devise some text for book labels, which he printed for his own personal use. He also used it for his personalised letter-headed paper.

[4] book label

This was printed and used as a book label and as a letter-head by Haggard. It reads: ‘H. Rider Haggard, the son of Ella, lady of the house, makes an oblation to Thoth, the lord of writing, who dwells in the moon.’

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