"Dynasty 00"
Early Serekhs
2nd Dynasty
Stone Vessels
"Dynasty 0"
1st Dynasty
3rd Dynasty

An unpublished Early Dynastic inscription of the Goddess Bastet

(Francesco Raffaele, Jan. 2003)

The inscription

New, improved version of this paper, in PDF format (published in CCdE 7-8, 2005, 27-46)

Stone vessel fragment in the Smith Collection This is a fragment of an Early Dynastic stone vessel in the private Smith collection (USA) inscribed with the name of the goddess Bastet (Wbastit). The object is made of two sherds joined together; the inscription is incised, with no sign of pigments in the lines; the goddess name is complete but it cannot be said if the inscription is too. The fragment max size is 2.5 x 1.75 inches (6,35 x 4,45cm) and it seems that it was originally a small roughly conical vessel of a grey stone; its lip is carefully rounded.


The name of the lion (later cat-) goddess Bastet is rather common in the Second Dynasty (cf. image below, especially from Hotepsekhemwy and Ninetjer reigns): the w is always graphically elided because initial atone vowel which usually doesn't appear in the writing (except in the Greek rendering i.e. the name of king Petubastit = Petubastis; Lacau, in: PD V, 35). The s precedes the Ba bird owing to a common graphical metathesis recurring in most of the variants of this name. The horizontal ointment vessel bas is very stylized, unusually long and without inner lines but only the indication of the lid. The two t of the radical and feminine ending are often elided in the archaic writing, but they are retained in the present one. The determinative of the sitting goddess is attested in Early Dynastic inscriptions as the name also is. The goddess has a feline head and she holds the was scepter (common attribute of gods in this period inscriptions as with Seth/Ash, Neith, Bastet). She seats on a throne known also in the relief and sculpture of the Second-Third Dynasty (it has the form of the Hwt hieroglyph and a low back) even if not as common as the true throne with pedestal (as that of the Cairo Museum statue of Netjerykhet/Djoser and the one in the inscription on a vessel from Menkaura's complex, cf. image below), or as the Khendw throne (with lateral bent arcs) or the seats with lion/bull feet. Except for the Giza bowl inscription, the determinative is generally that of the standing goddess. [For parallels of the goddess and its hieroglyphic name during the Thinite period (early Second Dynasty) see HERE (Hotepsekhemwy and Njnetjer). Cf. Wilkinson, Early Dynastic Egypt, 1999, 282; Lacau-Lauer, PD IV, nr. 57-58, 63-67 (Djefaw-Bastt); PD V, p. 35, fig. 55; Reisner, Mycerinus, 1931, p. 102, pl. 70; name: WB I, 423, 4-8; seat: Kaplony, IAF I, 237-238; Bas vase: ibid., 274; id., IAF II, n. 1527, 105, 992 (grgt Bastt), 1603; Helck, Thinitenzeit, 1987, 71-72; Kahl, Das System, 1994, 790ff. (bas jar); for mainly later evidence concerning Bastet cf. E. Otto, in: LÄ I, 628-630].


The inscription might have either cited the goddess name alone or instead the title and/or name of a priest of her cult; the vessel could have contained an offering to this goddess. The most probable provenance should be the Memphite necropolis (esp. Saqqara) but an Upper Egypt origin cannot be excluded. Priests of this goddess are attested more in the Memphite capital cemeteries than in Abydos (one attestation only, late Dynasty 2 cf. below). On the other hand the object could also have been from E. Amelineau's excavation at the end of '800 (many objects he had found were sold at auctions to Museums and private collections) thus the provenance would be in this case Abydos, Umm el-Qaab P or V (Peribsen's or Khasekhemwy's tombs).
In the Second Dynasty also provisions for the goddess cult/establishments (Djefaw-Bastet) by priests' phyle are known under Ninetjer. The goddess was later associated with the site of Bast (Bubastis, Per Bast)[1] in Eastern Delta (capital of the XVIIIth nome) but we don't know the original relationship between goddess and town and even between name and goddess (i.e. does her name mean originally mean "She of [the town of] Bast" or rather "She of the BAS ointment jar" ?) [cf. Wilkinson, loc. cit.]. The ED writing determinative represents the goddess with lion/lioness head and anthropomorphic body; in the later periods (particularly when the Goddess became tutelary numen of the 22th Dynasty and of the whole Egypt under the Bubastite Dynasts) the cat headed goddess is sometimes represented holding a lion mask in her hand.
About the purchase of this fragment I cite the owner's informations: "Regarding provenance, the fragment was acquired from a dealer who purchased it at public auction. I was told it was formerly in an old Greek Collection (there is an old collection number on the reverse, in ink, that reads: '774'). I do hold a bill of sale for the fragment". (Mr. Smith, personal communication via e-mail).

The rendering of the bas and the presence of the two final t seem to show that the inscription is later than the early/ middle 2nd Dynasty ones I ve indicated above (mainly from incised Stone vessels from below the Step Pyramid of Netjerykhet/Djoser at Saqqara). Once the name is also found painted in ink (Lacau-Lauer, Pyr. Deg. V, 35, fig. 55, cf. my drawing in the image below). The most striking parallel for this inscription has been published by Gunn, in: ASAE 28, 1928, 164, fig. 5, pl. III.7 (republished by Firth and Quibell, Step Pyramid, 1935 plate 90 n.9. = Kahl, 1994, quelle 3191 = Kahl et al. 1995, NeSa32; Cairo Mus. JdE 55274): It's an inscription of a priest of the goddess Bastet incised on a quartz fragment from the Step Pyramid of Netjerykhet: the bas jar and the two t conform with the inscription in object, but the goddess-name determinative doesn't appear; the name of the priest is not preserved. It is dated to the reign of Djoser, following Helck, ZAS 106 (cf. image below). Also in Khasekhemwy's tomb at Abydos a priest of Bast is mentioned (Amelineau, NF III, 1902, pl. 22.1). Therefore the Smith fragment can be fairly dated to the late Second- or early Third Dynasty (after Netjerykhet only very few private inscribed stone vessels are known due to the unaccomplished state of his successors' funerary complexes). Maybe it dates to the reign of Djoser himself when the cult of the goddess was favoured (many priests of hers are known from Djoser's reign and later) as much as in the Second Dynasty period.
However during the latter king's reign the production of stone vessels (cf. Baud, 2002, 238-239) seems to have been absorbed and possibly entirely replaced by that of Statues; Djoser collected a huge amount of stone vessels in some galleries (espec. VI-VII) under his pyramid; perhaps nearly 40.000; scores of incised inscriptions report the names of First and Second Dynasty kings (from Narmer to Khasekhem, excluding Aha and Peribsen; some of these inscriptions are the only source for certain royal names), while c. 1000 have ink inscriptions in the oldest form of hieratic or cursive hieroglyph. Despite this large collection of vessels he gathered (cf. W. Helck, in: ZAS 106, 1979; J.P. Lauer, Histoire Monumentale, 1962, 91ff.) Djoser's own name appears on only one stone vessel (in a private collection, Published by P. Kaplony in 1968).
Palaeographically the jar sign and the seat are of Dynasty 3-6 origin. About the seat, I couldn't find parallels in Early Dynastic but only in Old Kingdom seal impressions (early Vth dyn., Wserkaf: Kaplony, R.A.R. II, 1981, pl. 52.11). This is an important clue. But epigraphically the inscription cannot be of the late Old kingdom, because then we find the writing with the phonetic sign b (leg) or with the bas jar only.
The original vessel must have been a small (h. circa 15-20 cm) cup as those belonging to El-Khouli (Egyptian Stone Vessels, 1978) class XXX. The material, from what I can see in the photo, should be a sedimentary (?) rock, but it's hard to guess which one precisely without observing the section; its color is clear (perhaps more than in the photo) and surely the green hue depends on the scanning (the stone is actually grey).
The probable date of this vessel is therefore, in my opinion, the reign of Khasekhemwy (horizontally oriented stone vessels inscriptions begin with Sekhemib and Khasekhemwy's reigns, late in the Second Dynasty) or that of Netjerykhet (or one of his immediate followers).

I am very grateful to Mr. Smith who has provided me the photo-scan, a drawing of the inscription and the informations about the object (size, color, shape) and its purchase. [Francesco Raffaele, Jan. 20, 2003]

Tomb U-j (chember 11) label nr. 103: (the town of) Ba-st [G. Dreyer, Umm el-Qaab I, 1998, pl. 31, nr. 103NOTES
[1] The earliest epigraphic evidence for the site of Bast has been found by G. Dreyer in his 1990s excavations of Abydos tomb U-j: G. Dreyer, Umm el-Qaab I, 1998, 124-6, 139, 140-141, fig. 78 and pl. 31 (nr. 103-104); his reading of the Ba-bird + st-seat as the toponym of the site has been accepted by other Egyptologists: F.A.K. Breyer, in: JEA 88, 2002, 53ff., esp. p. 56; J. Kahl, CdE 78, 2003, 112-135. (For later evidence of Bubastis see LÄ I, 873-4).

Some inscriptions of the Goddess Bastet,  IInd Dynasty  (perhaps the bottom right one  is early  IIIrd Dynasty)