Osiris with Djed pillar on back, Dyn. 26

Osiris with Djed pillar on back, Dyn. 26
Period:Egypt, Late Period, Dynasty 26
Dating:664 BC–525 BC
Origin:Egypt, Lower Egypt, Memphis
Physical:11.6cm. (4.5 in.) - 255 g. (9 oz.)

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Links to others from Dynasty 26

Amulet of Pataikos, Dyn. 26
Amulet of Shu, Dyn. 26
Bronze of a king as Osiris, Dyn. 26
Bronze of a king as Osiris, Dyn. 26
Bronze of King Psamtik I as Osiris, Dyn. 26
Bronze of King Psamtik I as Osiris, Dyn. 26
Bronze statuette of Bastet, Dyn. 26
Cartouche of King Nekau II, Dyn. 26
Djed pillar, amulet of powers, Dyn. 26
Face from a sarcophagus lid, Dyn. 26
Face from a sarcophagus lid, Dyn. 26
Faience shawabti of Hekamsaf, Dyn. 26
Falcon sarcophagus with Osiris mummy
Glass necklace terminal, Dyn. 26
Horus-the-Child, heir to the king, Dyn. 26
King Ahmose II (?) as Osiris, Dynasty 26
King Nekaw II as Horus-the-child, Dyn.26
Large wooden Ka statue, Dyn. 26
Light blue faience shawabti, Dyn. 26
Sarcophagus and mummy of Taosir, Dyn. 26
Shawabti of Admiral Hekaemsaf, Dyn. 26
Shawabti of Hor, son of Rurer, Dyn. 26
Shawabti of Hor-sa-Iset-Mut-f, Dyn. 26
Shawabti of Hor-Wdja, Dyn. 26
Shawabti of Khonsu-Hor, Dyn. 26
Shawabti of King Psamtik I, Dyn. 26
Shawabti of King Psamtik I, Dyn. 26
Shawabti of King Psamtik II, Dyn. 26
Shawabti of King Psamtik II, Dyn. 26
Shawabti of King Psamtik III, Dyn. 26
Shawabti of Mery-Seth-Hor-Mes, Dyn. 26
Shawabti of Mery-Seth-Hor-Mes, Dyn. 26
Shawabti of Neith-M-Hat, Dyn. 26
Shawabti of Prince Horiraa, Dyn. 26
Shawabti of Prince Horiraa, Dyn. 26
Shawabti of Prince Horiraa, Dyn. 26
Shawabti of Prince Ir-Irw, Dyn. 26
Shawabti of Prophet Wahibre, Dyn. 26
Shawabti of Prophet Wahibre, Dyn. 26
Shawabti of Psamtik-mry-imn, Dyn. 26
Shawabti of Psamtikmeryptah, Dyn. 26
Shawabti of Royal Prince Ahmes, Dyn. 26
Staff finial, Thoth as a baboon, Dyn. 26
Two-fingers mummy amulet, Dyn. 26
Udjat eye amulet-pendant, Dyn. 26
Udjat eye amulet-pendant, Dyn. 26
Udjat eye amulet-pendant, Dyn. 26
Upper Egypt crown amulet, Dyn. 26
Wooden sarcophagus lid, circa 650 BC
Wooden sarcophagus lid, Dyn. 26

Links to others representing Osiris

Bronze of a king as Osiris, Dyn. 18
Bronze of a king as Osiris, Dyn. 22
Bronze of a king as Osiris, Dyn. 26
Bronze of a king as Osiris, Dyn. 26
Bronze of King Psamtik I as Osiris, Dyn. 26
Bronze of King Psamtik I as Osiris, Dyn. 26
Bronze of King Shabaka ? as Osiris, Dyn. 25
Bronze ritual pendant of Osiris, Dyn. 25
Bronze ritual pendant of Osiris, Dyn. 25
King Ahmose II (?) as Osiris, Dynasty 26
King Amenemope (?) as Osiris, Dyn. 21
Osiris, King of the Afterlife, Dyn. 18
Osiris, King of the Afterlife, Dyn. 22
Osiris of an unknown king, Dyn. 18 (?)
Osiris-Neper, god of agriculture, Dyn. 18
Osiris-Neper, god of agriculture, Dyn. 22
Osiris-Neper, god of agriculture, Dyn. 25
Tall bronze Osiris, Ptolemaic Period

Links to others of type Divine standard

Bronze ritual pendant of Osiris, Dyn. 25
Ptah-Tatenen pendant, Dyn. 19-20
Ritual pendant for the Priest of Ptah
  This bronze statuette, which base is engraved with two vertical registers of hieroglyphs, was used as a pendant by the high priest of Osiris. It represents the god Osiris-Djed. (The Djed Pillar is on the back, as the ‘backbone of Osiris’.) It was designed to be worn as an ensign as indicated by the two attachment points, and probably rested in a Naos when not in use. The hieroglyphs, almost completely erased, read: “Osiris, to whom life is given… Min, Ptah, Neith… ”.

“By the Old Kingdom at the latest Neith was an integral element of the state pantheon with a sanctuary at Memphis. There, by analogy with the host-deity Ptah ‘south of his wall’, she was termed as being ‘north of her wall’” (Hart 1986:133).

This seal might have belonged to the High Priest of Memphis and served, during Dynasty 26, to the sed festival (jubilee) of King Psamtik I, which was concerned with the reaffirmation of the physical powers of the King during his long reign (664-610 BC). It may alternately have been part of that king's extensive improvement for Memphis. Item #850 in this collection, which bears the titulary of Psamtik I, seems to be from the same period, with much commonality both in details and general style.

One of Egypt’s principal gods, Osiris was thought to rule over Duat (the Egyptian underworld), and sit in judgement of the life and deeds of the deceased, determining their chances for eternal rest: he was the ‘king of the dead’.

Ions (1968:54) hypothesizes that the cult of Osiris was originally brought to Egypt by Syrians (probably in predynastic times) as they settled in the delta town of Busiris, where the god Andjety was the dominant local god. There, it appears that Osiris was given the royal regalia (crook and flail) of Andjety and was worshipped as a local god of fertility, responsible for the success of crops. From these humble beginnings, Osiris rose to become one of the most prominent gods in the Egyptian pantheon.

By the end of Dynasty 5, the cult of Osiris may have reached such a level of popularity that the priests of Heliopolis, who up to then enjoyed complete control over national theological doctrine, felt a need to take counter-measures to remain in control of this newcoming god. Instead of trying to suppress him, they incorporated Osiris in the family of the solar god, limiting his prestige by making him a great grand-child of Atum. If their aim had been to curb the expansion of the Osirian cult, they were less than successful. Orisis would keep growing in importance by associating with other deities, eventually absorbing their powers and prerogatives.

"… his earliest appearance yet attested [is] on a block from the reign of King Izezy [Djedkare Izezi, penultimate king of Dynasty 5] which shows the head and part of the upper torso of a god, above whom are the hieroglyphic symbols of Osiris’s name" (Hart 1986:151). But depictions of Osiris remain rare until Dynasty 12 (Budge 1973:[1]31).

In earlier dynasties, the traditional dogma was that the king became a god—the God Horus—upon his coronation, then joined the God Re in his solar ship upon his death, and sailed the firmament for eternity. The next king would in turn become Horus. At some point during dynasty 5, the dogma changed radically, calling for the deceased king to become Osiris upon his death. Not only had the cult of Osiris reached national recognition, but it had become part of the very nature of kingship. Although this relationship between king and Osiris was a new development, the Egyptians sought to make it appear original. Indeed, the legend of Osiris places him as the ancestral king of Egypt.

There is some evidence that Old Kingdom kings were not completely at ease with this new tradition. "… sentiments can be found that reveal an apprehension or dread of the ruler of the Underworld. This reflects the underlying desire of the monarch to be with the sun-god in the sky as a visible phenomenon, rather than to dwell in the unknown and forbidding regions of Duat" (Hart 1986:154).

With the general ‘democratization of death,’ Middle Kingdom Egyptians started aspiring to become Osiris, like their king. But as earlier with kings, this hope remained tainted with dread. Osiris exerted on Egyptians an ambivalent fascination, commanding a respect that was partly rooted in fear and even disgust—"… in the Middle Kingdom, there exist in the Coffin Texts descriptions of Osiris that conjure up a picture of a threatening demon. He glories in slaughter, utters malignant spells against a dead person, and runs a ‘mafia’ consisting of executioners called ‘Osiris’s butcherers painful of fingers’ or ‘Osiris’s fishermen’" (Hart 1986:155).

With the New Kingdom—when a generally less somber outlook prevailed—the image of Osiris may have softened. The euphemisms multiplied, and the term "Osiris" came of use as a prefix to the name of deceased dignitaries, much like the term ‘late’ in modern English (as in ‘the late President Nixon’). He continued to absorb the attributes of other deities, and remained an increasingly prominent object of devotion until the end of the Egyptian culture.

Osiris is customarily represented as a mummified human, his body shrouded in bandages, except for his hands which hold the royal insignias of the crook and flail. His distinctive crown, called the Atef consists of a tall conical helmet resembling the crown of Upper Egypt, flanked by two tall plumes. The long, horizontal wavy horns of a now extinct breed of ram, are sometimes affixed to the base of the crown.

The legend of Osiris evolved constantly over 2500 years, spinning off many variants. One of the most complete, most entertaining, but perhaps least accurate, single version is that told by the Greek historian Plutarch.

"… On the first day Osiris was born, as he was delivered, a voice cried out that the Lord of All was coming to the light of day… the great king and benefactor, Osiris, had been born… On the second day, Horus the Elder was born, and on the third Seth was born, not in the right time or place, but bursting through with a blow, he leapt by his mother’s side. On the fourth day Isis was born, near very moist places, and on the fifth Nephtys… Nephtys married Seth, and Isis and Osiris, being in love with each other before even they were born, were united in the darkness of the womb… Horus the elder was the fruit of this union…

It is said that Osiris, when he was king, at once freed the Egyptians from their primitive and brutish manner of life; he showed them how to grow crops, established laws for them, and taught them to worship gods. Later, he civilized the whole world as he traversed through it, having very little need of arms, but winning over most people by beguiling them with persuasive speech together with all manner of song and poetry. That is why the Greeks thought he was the same as Dionysus.

When he was away, Seth in no way conspired against him, since Isis was well on guard and kept careful watch, but on his return he devised a plot against him, helped by seventy two fellow-conspirators plus an Ethiopian queen named Aso. Seth secretly measured the body of Osiris and had made to the corresponding size a beautiful chest which was exquisitely decorated. He brought the chest to a banquet, and when the guests showed pleasure and admiration at the sight of it, Seth promised playfully that whomever would lie down in it and show that he fitted it, should have the chest as a gift. They all tried one by one, and since no one fitted into it, Osiris went and laid down. The the conspirators ran and slammed the lid on, and after securing it with bolts from the outside and with molten lead poured on, they took it to the river and let it go to the sea. . .

When Isis heard of this, she cut off there and then one of her locks and put on a mourning garment… She learned that the chest had been cast up by the sea in the land of Byblos and that the surf had brought it gently to rest in a heath-tree. Having shot up in a short time into a most lovely and tall young tree, the heath enfolded the chest and grew around it, hiding it within itself. Admiring the size of the tree, the king cut off the part of the trunk which encompassed the coffin, which was not visible, and used it as a pillar to support the roof. They say that Isis heard of this through the divine breath of rumour and came to Byblos, where she sat down near a fountain, dejected and tearful. She spoke to no one but the queen’s maids, whom she greeted and welcomed, plaiting their hair, and breathing upon their skin a wonderful fragrance which emanated from herself. When the queen saw her maids, she was struck with longing for the stranger’s hair and for her skin, which breathed ambrosia, and so Isis was sent for and became friendly with the queen and was made nurse of her child… Isis nursed the child, putting her finger in its mouth, instead of her breast, but in the night she burned the mortal parts of its body, while she herself became a swallow, flying around the pillar and making lament until the queen, who had been watching her, gave a shriek when she saw her child on fire, and so deprived it of immortality. The goddess then revealed herself and demanded the pillar under the roof. She took it from beneath with the utmost ease and proceeded to cut away the heath-tree. This she then covered with linen and poured sweet oil on it, after which she gave it into the keeping of the king and queen… The goddess then fell upon the coffin and gave such a loud wail that the younger of the king’s sons died; The elder son she took with her , and placing the coffin in a boat, she set sail…

As soon as she happened on a desert spot, there in solitude she opened the chest and pressing her face to that of Osiris, she embraced him and began to cry. She then noticed that the boy had approached silently from behind and had observed her, whereupon she turned round and full of anger gave him a terrible look. The boy was unable to bear the fright, and dropped dead…

Having journeyed to her son Horus who was being brought up in Buto, Isis put the box aside, and Seth, when he was hunting by night in the moonlight, came upon it. He recognized the body and having cut it into fourteen parts, he scattered them. When Isis heard of this, she searched for them in a papyrus boat, sailing through the marshes… this is why there are many tombs of Osiris in Egypt, for the goddess, as she came upon each part, held a burial ceremony… The only part that Isis did not find was his male member, for no sooner was it thrown in the river than the lepidus, phragus, and oxyrhynchus ate of it, fish they most of all abhor. In its place, Isis fashioned a likeness of it, and consecrated the phallus… Isis, having had sexual union with Osiris after his death, bore Harpocrates, prematurely delivered and weak in his lower limbs." (Plutarch, Of Isis and Orisis:12-20)

Dynasty 26
Born in times of weakness, when Egypt was regularly invaded and generally controlled by the Assyrians, Dynasty 26 (‘the Saite Dynasty’) was installed at the head of the tiny kingdoms of Sais and Athribis in the Delta by the Assyrian king Ashurbanipal. This turned out to be a bad move for Assyria. Within 12 years, in an astonishing reversal of fortunes, the Saite king Psamtik would reunify Egypt under his crown and liberate his nation from Assyrian domination.

Weaving the clear threat of his military power with extremely agile diplomacy and carefully orchestrated ideology, Psamtek brought about the political reorganization that had eluded his predecessors for four hundred years. At last, Egypt was once again led by a centralized authority—an all powerful king, a guardian of order, a living god. It was a true rebirth for Egypt, with a once again thriving economy, a recovered sense of national identity, and a new-found opening to the outside world—most particularly to the Greek World. Under Psamtik’s agile leadership, Egypt was simultaneously moving forward and drawing strength from its glorious past—most particularly that of the Old and Middle Kingdoms. This was particularly manifest in the arts. Craftsmen of the Saite period aspired to equal, and hoped to surpass, their Middle Kingdom predecessors, while adhering closely to the classic canons of aesthetic tradition—a scenario that would play out again 2200 years later when artists of the Italian renaissance sought to rise to the standards set by their Ancient Greek predecessors. Managing their new prosperity with great skill, while keeping the Babylonians at bay, the Saites embarked on an ambitious program of building, restoring, and embellishing. Commerce flourished under dedicated military protection and ambitious public works projects, such as the digging of a canal from the Nile to the the Red Sea—2500 years before the Suez Canal.

Although brilliant by its achievements and the remarkable period of peace and stability it carved within the context of an increasingly turbulent Mediterranean world, the Saite Dynasty was somewhat short-lived (139 years). Its increasing reliance on foreign mercenaries caused tensions, and eventually infighting within the military establishment. Militarily weakened, Egypt became easy prey for the Persian juggernaut. In 525, Persia took over Egypt, putting a sudden end to the Saite period. Egypt would never again shine so brightly.

Bibliography (for this item)

Gardiner, Alan
1957 Egyptian Grammar. 3rd edition. Oxford University Press, London, United Kingdom. (295 {} 378 )

Grimal, Nicolas
1994 A History of Ancient Egypt (Reprint of the 1994 edition, translated by Ian Shaw). Blackwell, Oxford, United Kingdom. (356,357)

Hart, George
1986 A Dictionary of Egyptian Gods and Goddesses. Routledge & Kegan Paul, London, United Kingdom. (133,161)

Bibliography (on Osiris)

Budge, E. A. Wallis, Sir
1973 Osiris and the Egyptian Resurrection (unabridged republication of the 1911 edition by the Medici Society). Dover Publications, New York, NY.

Hart, George
1986 A Dictionary of Egyptian Gods and Goddesses. Routledge & Kegan Paul, London, United Kingdom.

Ions, Veronica
1969 Mythologie Egyptienne (Translation of the 1968 edition by the Hamlyn Publishing Group). ODEGE, Paris, France.

Shaw, Ian
2000 The Oxford History of Ancient Egypt. Oxford University Press, Oxford, United Kingdom.

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