Art/ Collection/ Art Object

Palm Column of Sahure

Old Kingdom
Dynasty 5
reign of Sahure
ca. 2458–2446 B.C.
From Egypt, Memphite Region, Abusir, Pyramid temple of Sahure, court
Total h. at arrival: 665.4 cm (21 ft. 9 15/16 in.); total h. now: 630 cm (20 ft. 8 in.); Diam. at foot: 86.4 cm (34 in.); Diam. above ring bands: 80 cm (31 1/2 in.); capital: H. 168 cm (66 1/8 in.); abacus: W. 87 cm (34 1/4 in.)
Credit Line:
Rogers Fund, 1910
Accession Number:
On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 103
This massive column is one of sixteen that surrounded an open courtyard in the pyramid temple of the pharaoh Sahure, whose names and epithets are inscribed in the panel. The column is a single block of granite, originally 21 1/2 feet high (6.45 m). The stone was quarried at Aswan and ferried downstream more than five hundred miles to the pyramid site at Abusir.
Many elements in pharaonic stone architecture are stylized representations of wood and reed elements that may have existed only in very early structures. The palm column seems to imitate a wooden pole with date-palm fronds lashed to the top with rope. The end of the rope, tucked under the lashings, reappears beneath as a loop.
#3245. Palm Column of Sahure
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Merging the development of the late Fourth Dynasty with new aspects, Sahure created his pyramid complex at Abusir according to a design that set the model for all the following kings of the Fifth, Sixth and Twelfth Dynasties. One new aspect was the ample use of palm capital columns, which appear in his valley temple and in the court of his pyramid temple, which was surrounded by 16 such columns (Curatorial Interpretation Figure 1). The columns fell over, according to the excavator, Ludwig Borchardt, in Ptolemaic times, after stone robbers removed a single column. However, his excavation photos suggest instead that an earthquake threw them down.

The granite for these columns was quarried at Aswan and ferried downstream more than five hundred miles to the pyramid site at Abusir.

After Sahure, kings Djedkare and Unas used palm columns for their pyramid complexes. There is also evidence that palm columns stood in deity temples of the period, some reaching the impressive height of 10 m. Thereafter, palm columns fell out of favor but regained moderate popularity under Amenhotep III (Dynasty 18) and again in the Kushite Period (Dynasty 25).

Borchardt excavated the Sahure pyramid temple in 1907 and found eleven columns lying in a state of confusion. He cleared the court with the fallen columns but refrained from raising them up (which would have been technically possible!). Thereafter, two columns were removed to the Egyptian Museum, Cairo (JE 39527, JE 39529), five to the Ägyptische Museum, Berlin (31605), and one to the Musée du Louvre; one was purchased by the Metropolitan Museum from the Egyptian government in 1910. Two columns were recently re-erected by the Egyptian Ministry of Antiquities at the entrance to the pyramid court (Curatorial Interpretation Figure 2).

In 1975, the broken lower end of the New York column was sawn off in order to fit the column under the lower ceiling of Gallery 103. The removed part was registered as 10.175.137b and is kept in the basement. The remaining column now measures 6.16 m from above the base to the top of the abacus. Of course, this measurement has no relevance to the original size of the column.
Description and Measurements

The columns of the Sahure court were monolithic and had capitals with 9 fronds (Curatorial Interpretation Figure 3). The palm fronds show a central rib and fine side ripples. Borchardt measured or calculated that the columns were 12 cubits (6.30 m) high with the abacus but without the base. The foot of the New York column was badly damaged so that the original height could not be determined. However, the available measurements of the New York column contradict Borchardt’s assumption. The column seems to have been 6.654 m high (including the abacus) when it arrived in NY.

The diameter at the foot is 86.36 cm (2 ft. 10 in.), and is 80 cm above the ring bands; the capital is 1.68 m high (including the abacus). The abacus is 87.2 cm wide, suggesting the width and height for the architrave. The measurements published by Borchardt differ again: The lower diameter was 93 cm, the upper one 82 cm and the capitals were 1.65 m high, with the abacus 82 cm wide. The differences might be caused by the ancient sculptors or by modern measuring procedures and do not disprove an attribution of the New York column to the court.

The column shafts were decorated at the front with a square text panel containing the royal titulary (Curatorial Interpretation Figure 4). The king’s Horus name is confronted with the Mut-vulture on the columns of the south side of the court and with the Wadjet-snake on the north side. Our column must therefore have stood in the southern half of the court.

Also the valley temple of the Sahure complex included palm columns, whose bases and a few column remains were preserved. Borchardt even mentions a complete column. He assumed that their measurements corresponded to those of the court columns.

Dieter Arnold, 2015
The inscription read to the left above the vulture reads:
nxb.t nb.t-tA-Sma.w
Nekhbet, Mistress of Upper Egypt

Below the crowned falcon, within the serekh:
nb-xa.w sAH.w-raw
Nebkhu Sahure

To its right, the columns reads: nb-xa.w nTr.wj-nbw sAH.w-raw
Di(.w) anx Dd wAs snb Aw.t-jb nb D.t
King of Upper and Lower Egypt, The Two Ladies Nebkhau, Netjeruinebu Sahure
Given life, stability, dominion, health, and all joy forever
Purchased by the Museum from the Government of Egypt in 1910.

Borchardt, Ludwig 1910. Das Grabdenkmal des Königs S'a hu-re', vol. 1: Der Bau. Ausgrabungen der Deutschen Orient-Gesellschaft in Abusir 1902-1908 , vol. 6, Wissenschaftliche Veröffentlichung der Deutschen Orient-Gesellschaft, 14. Leipzig: J.C. Hinrichs'sche Buchhandlung, pp. 34, 43-53.

Metropolitan Museum of Art 1911. A Handbook of the Egyptian Rooms. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, fig. 13 on p. 38.

Morgan, J. Pierpont and Robert W. De Forest 1911. "Forty-First Annual Report of the Trustees of the Museum for the Year Ending December 31, 1910." In The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin, vol. 6, no. 4 (April), p. 77.

Metropolitan Museum of Art 1911. "Notes." In The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin, vol. 6, no. 12 (December), p. 241 (fig.).

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: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, p.67-68, fig. 44.

Metropolitan Museum of Art 1975. "The New Egyptian Galleries." In The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin, new series, vol. 33, no. 2 (Summer), p. 111 (fig.).

Arnold, Dieter 1996. "Hypostyle Halls of the Old and Middle Kingdoms?." In Studies in Honor of William Kelly Simpson, vol. 1, p. 49 n. 34.

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