Art/ Collection/ Art Object

Fragments of a Palm Column

Old Kingdom
Dynasty 5
ca. 2353–2323 B.C.
From Egypt; Possibly from Memphite Region, Saqqara
Diameter beneath the ropes of the neck 80.85 cm (31 13/16 in.); width of the abacus 84 cm (33 1/16 in.). The total height of the modern reconstruction (2.12 m (83 7/16 in.)) seems to be much too high.
Credit Line:
Rogers Fund, 1907
Accession Number:
07.229.2a, b
On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 103
Two fragments from a column with a palm-leaf capital. The upper fragment includes much of the capital, with ribbed palm leaves supporting a square abacus. The lower section preserves a portion of the shaft, on which is carved a loop representing part of a rope that lay beneath a series of rope rings. These rings were not preserved, but have been reconstructed based on other examples.
The New York capital was purchased from the Egyptian government in 1907. However, no records exist about the column's origin. The column pieces were installed in 1910 together with the Sahure column (10.175.137a). For this purpose, the capital and shaft fragments were united in a complete column of plaster 19-5 3/8" high.

Apparently in 1930, a new installation was made with both columns displayed as twins. Photos of this date show that the plaster was replaced or redone.

The reconstruction of the shaft was removed again in 1975, but the reconstruction of the capital was retained. However, the reconstruction is too high. The existing original palm ribs should start further down, not far from the 5 rope rings.


The "capital" actually consists of a two large fragments, representing the upper three quarters of the capital and a fragment of the column shaft that includes the hanging rope loop but is broken off precisely beneath the 5 rope rings. One corner of the abacus is also broken off and replaced in plaster.

The New York capital does not show the rib decoration of the fronds of the Sahure capitals and is not carved with the same quality. It can therefore not originate from the pyramid complex of Sahure. Assuming that the capital belonged to a pyramid complex, only two others seem to have had palm columns, Unis and Djedkare.

Unfortunately, archaeologists have not yet measured the palm columns in the Djedkare pyramid complex. From photos one observes, however, that they show ribs and also seem to be of finer quality. The valley temple of Djedkare has left considerable remains but has not yet been excavated and might also contain palm columns.

This consideration would narrow the possibilities to the Unis complex. There, palm columns of three different dimensions were used; two in the valley temple and one in the court of the pyramid temple and all seem to show the poor workmanship of the New York capital without ribbed fronds. One of the court columns was removed to the Egyptian Museum, Cairo (JE 35131). Only the columns of the Unis pyramid temple court seem to have nearly comparable dimensions. However, the neck of the Unas columns has a diameter of 63 cm and that of the New York capital 80.85 cm, a difference too big to be explained as a allowable variation.

One therefore has to conclude (provisionally) that the New York capital does not originate from a pyramid temple. Old Kingdom palm columns were found reused at Tanis, Bubastis and other places, confirming that this column type was used more generally also in gods’ temples of the Old Kingdom, buildings that have not yet been identified. The New York capital may belong to this context.

Dieter Arnold 2015
Purchased from the Egyptian Government, 1907.

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. 67.

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.).

Leclant, Jean, Jean-Philippe Lauer, and Audran Labrousse 1977. Le temple haut du complexe funéraire du roi Ounas (Mission archéologique de Saqqara, vol. 2), Bibliothèque d'étude, 73. Cairo: Institut Français d'Archéologie Orientale du Caire, pp. 23-29.

Arnold, Dieter 1996. "Hypostyle Halls of the Old and Middle Kingdoms?." In Studies in Honor of William Kelly Simpson, vol. 1, p. 48. n. 37.

Labrousse, Audran and Ahmed M. Moussa 1996. Le temple d'accueil du complexe funéraire du roi Ounas, Bibliothèque d'étude, 111. Cairo: Institut Français d'Archéologie Orientale du Caire, pp. 34-37.

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