Art/ Collection/ Art Object

Sistrum Inscribed with the Names of King Teti

Old Kingdom
Dynasty 6
reign of Teti
ca. 2323–2291 B.C.
From Egypt; Possibly from Memphite Region, Memphis (Mit Rahina)
Travertine (Egyptian alabaster), pigment, resin
H. 26.5 cm (10 7/8 in.); W. 7 cm (2 3/4 in.); D. 2.7 cm (1 1/16 in.)
Credit Line:
Purchase, Edward S. Harkness Gift, 1926
Accession Number:
On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 103
The carved handle of this beautiful object appears to be an elegant papyrus stalk crowned with an umbel bloom supporting a small naos (shrine), surmounted by a cavetto cornice. A falcon stands proudly at the top directly behind a rearing cobra with open hood. This is a royal object, as is shown by the inscriptions naming Teti, first sovereign of Dynasty 6. On the preserved face of the naos, the pharaoh's five names appear framed by the sign for "sky," supported by two was scepters: from center to left, his Horus name, then his Two Ladies and Horus of Gold names; on the right his King of Upper and Lower Egypt and his Son of Re names combined as usual at this name, Teti. A long vertical inscription runs down the handle: "The King of Upper and Lower Egypt, Son of Re, Teti, beloved of Hathor, Lady of Dendara, may he live eternally."

This is not a decorative object, but a musical instrument specific to pharaonic Egypt and called by Egyptologists a naos sistrum. It is one of the first examples known of a type that persisted until the Roman period. A sort of musical rattle, the sistrum was shaken in cadence, marking the rhythm at religious ceremonies. Its soothing music, evoking an ancient rite—the "shaking of the papyrus"—warded off the violence of dangerous deities, Hathor in particular. According to myth, that goddess could transform herself into a fearsome lioness. She appears in the vertical inscription on the sistrum as a young woman with two cow's horns, on which the sun disk rests. Because this sistrum as a whole can be read as a rebus, it is linked to late texts that consider the instrument the incarnation of the goddess. In spite of its unusual material, this sistrum is not an ex-voto but may actually have been used. On the base of the naos are holes for small copper rods equipped with jangling disks; the rods, along with one of the walls forming a sound box, have disappeared, but their former presence is attested by traces of verdigris.
The inscription on the naos (shrine) reads:

(rightmost column, facing left) - nswt zA-ra ttj
(middle column, facing right) - sHtp tA.wj
(leftmost column, facing right) - sHtp bjk nbw zmA
(lower line) - Di(.w) anx wAs D.t

(rightmost column, facing left) - the King of Upper and Lower Egypt, Son of Re, Teti
(middle column, facing right) - Seheteptawi (the one who pacifies the two lands)
(leftmost column, facing right) - The Two Ladies Sehetp (the propitiater), the Golden Horus Sema (the unifier)
(lower line) - given life and dominion forever

The inscription on the handle reads:

nswt zA-ra ttj mr.j Hw.t-Hrw nb.t jwn.t* Di anx D.t
King of Upper and Lower Egypt, Son of Re, Teti, beloved of Hathor mistress of Dendera, given life forever

* After the name of the goddess and her title, the inscription depicts the goddess holding a lotus flower in her hand.

Niv Allon 2016
Formerly Carnarvon Collection, purchased in Cairo before 1920 when it was published by Norman de Garis Davies. Carnarvon Collection purchased by the Museum from Lady Carnarvon, 1926.

Pijoán, José 1950. Summa Artis: Historia general del arte, Vol. III. 1950. Madrid, 163, fig. 214.

Hayes, William C. 1953. Scepter of Egypt I: A Background for the Study of the Egyptian Antiquities in The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Part I: From the Earliest Times to the End of the Middle Kingdom. New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, p. 125-126, fig. 76.

Moore J. Kenneth, Jayson Kerr Dobney, and Bradley Strauchen-Scherer 2015. Musical Instruments: Highlights of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. 2015. New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art.

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