Stela of Mentuwoser

Middle Kingdom
Dynasty 12, year 17
reign of Senwosret I
ca. 1944 B.C.
From Egypt, Northern Upper Egypt, Abydos (Umm el-Qaab, Tell el-Manshiya, others)
Limestone, paint
H. 104.3 cm (41 1/16 in); w. 49.7 cm (19 9/16 in); th. 8.3 cm (3 1/4 in)
Credit Line:
Purchase, Gift of Edward S. Harkness, 1912
Accession Number:
  • Description

    This rectangular stone stela honors an official named Mentuwoser. Clasping a piece of folded linen in his left hand, he sits at his funeral banquet, ensuring that he will always receive food offerings and that his family will honor and remember him forever. To the right of Mentuwoser, his son summons his spirit. His daughter holds a lotus, and his father offers a covered dish of food and a jug that, given its shape, contained beer.
    To show clearly each kind of food being offered, the sculptor arranged the images on top of the table vertically. The feast consists of round and conical loaves of bread, ribs and a hindquarter of beef, a squash, onions in a basket, a lotus blossom, and leeks. The low-relief carving is very fine. The background was cut away only about one-eighth of an inch. Within the firm, clear outlines, the sculptor then subtly modeled the muscles of Mentuwoser's arms and legs and the shape of his jaw and cheeks. The chair legs and the calf's head have also been carefully formed. The hieroglyphic inscriptions in sunk relief state that in the seventeenth year of his reign King Senwosret I presented the stela to Mentuwoser in appreciation of his loyal services. Mentuwoser's deeds are described at length. He was steward, granary official, and overseer of all manner of domestic animals, including pigs. He is described as a good man who looked after the poor and buried the dead. Senwosret's throne name, Kheperkare, appears within a cartouche in the middle of the top line.
    The stela once stood at Abydos, the sacred pilgrimage center of the god of the underworld Osiris. Mentuwoser's image and the prayers on the stela were meant to bring him both rebirth and sustenance at the annual festivals honoring Osiris. At such festivals family members and other pilgrims would visit the commemorative chapels in which the stelae were set up, and at its end this stea's text addresses explicitly three groups of people: 1. any scribe who shall read the stela; 2. any person who shall hear the stela read aloud; 3. all people who shall approach it. It is thus suggested that, according to ancient Egyptian understanding, the written word—and its imagery—reached many more people than only just the fully literate.

  • Signatures, Inscriptions, and Markings

    Inscription: Translation (by James Allen)

    Regnal year 17 during the incarnation of the Horus of living birth,
    the young god Kheperkare, alive forever. The possessor of Horus's
    incarnation has given this stela as [2] a royal offering of Osiris,
    the elder god, lord of Abydos, giving an invocation offering of
    bread and beer, meat and poultry, linen and clothing, and every
    good and pure thing [3] upon which a god lives, for the ka of
    the revered steward Mentuwoser, born of Abihu, who says,

    [4] I am a caretaker of the afflicted, a burier of the dead, who gives
    things to him who has nothing. [5] I am a diligent subordinate in
    the king's house, who is sent on missions because of decisive
    character. I have acted as granary overseer during the counting of
    [6] barley; I have acted as overseer of more than 3,000 people; I
    have acted as overseer of cattle, overseer of [7] goats, overseer of
    donkeys, overseer of sheep, overseer of pigs; I have directed clothing
    to the treasury; [8] account has been taken by me in the king's
    house, and I have been acclaimed and thanked.
    I am generous with surplus [9] of food: there is no lack for one to
    whom I give. I share the greater portion of meat with those who
    sit [10] next to me. I am one beloved of his kindred, to whom his
    family is attached. I have not hid my face from the one who is in

    [11] servitude. I am a father to the orphan, a helper of widows. No
    man has gone to sleep hungry [12] in my domain; I have hindered
    no man from the ferry; I have cut down no man less powerful than I;
    I have tolerated no [13] slanderer. I am one who talks according to
    the style of officials, free of outmoded speech. I am a proper judge,
    [14] who shows no partiality to the one who can give rewards.

    I am wealthy, well supplied with fine things: there is nothing I
    am missing in all my things. [15] I am an owner of cattle, with
    many goats, an owner of donkeys, with many sheep. I am rich in
    barley and emmer wheat, fine [16] in clothing: there is nothing
    missing from all my wealth. I am well supplied with boats and
    rich with vintage.

    Now as for any people [17] among the living who hear this
    stela, they will have to say, "It is true," and their children will
    have to say to [18] their children, "It is true; there is no lie in
    it." And as for any scribe who shall read this stela and any
    people who shall approach it: as you love life and hate death,

    [19] as you want Foremost of Westerners to bless you at his
    terrace, you should say, "Bread and beer, meat and poultry,
    offerings and provisions for the owner of this stela!"
    Mentuwoser: The honored steward, Mentuwoser.

    Man at upper right: Made for him by his son, who causes his
    name to live, the steward Intef, justified, born of Nefersekhet.

    Man at lower right: His father, Intef, born of Senet, whose name
    he has caused to live.

    Woman: His beloved daughter, Dedet, born of Nefersekhet.

  • Provenance

    Purchased from Dikran G.Kelekian with funds from Edward S. Harkness, 1912.

  • See also
    In the Museum
    Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History