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Dating a stela: general observations

Private stelae of the First Dynasty are often rather rough monuments,and generally only bear hieroglyphic inscriptions giving the title and name of the owner.

Stelae of the Second Dynasty are often oriented in 'landscape' format, showing the owner sitting in front of an offering table. The scene shown is the prototype for scenes very common on Old Kingdom (about 2686-2181 BC) false doors.

Stelae of the First Intermediate Period are also usually in 'landscape' format. There is often a longer text on the right. The tomb owner and his wife are standing (more often) or sitting on the left. The workmanship is often not very fine.

Stelae of the Middle Kingdom (about 2025-1700 BC) are more often in 'portrait' format. They often (but not always) have a rounded top. Within the rectangular part, the text is nearly always in the upper part, while the figures are placed at the bottom. The figures show the owner, his wife, family and often also servants. In the late Middle Kingdom stelae commonly show the owner with his colleagues at work.

On stelae of the New Kingdom (about 1550-1069 BC) the figures are at the top, while the inscriptions are below. In contrast to earlier periods, New Kingdom stelae very often show the owner in adoration in front of deities: the position of honour seems to be the left, so the deities occupy this area, and may be seated, while the owner stands to their right. Stelae of the 18th Dynasty often show only the owner, his wife and his children, whereas on stelae of the Ramesside period other family members may be included.

Stelae of the Third Intermediate, Late and Ptolemaic Period are often burial chamber stelae made of wood and painted, rather than chapel stelae made in stone carved in relief. The owner, depicted most often without family, is shown in front of several standing deities. In the Ptolemaic Period the owner is often sitting in the upper register surrounded by other people. Note the changing proportion and position of the two compositional ingredients, inscription and depiction.

In early Roman period classical and Egyptian motifs start to mix. The owner of the stela is shown in Greek dress. The inscriptions are often in Greek, sometimes with a few additional lines in Demotic.


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