Relief of the goddess Maat
A fragment of a low relief depicting the upper part of an image of the goddess Maat wearing ostrich feather of truth, a tripartite wig, a wide usekh collar, bracelets, and a tunic supported by shoulder-straps. Her head is surmounted by her emblem, a feather, the symbol of truth and justice. Maat was the symbol of the cosmic order and it was believed that there were two of them: one for the living and one for the dead.
As the daughter of Re, Maat was also the sister of the reigning king who was described as ‘son of Re’ and the relationship between the goddess and the king was of vital importance. Both the legitimacy of the monarch and the effectiveness of his reign were ultimately based on the degree to which he supported Maat and it was therefore common for kings to describe themselves as ‘beloved of Maat’.
The goddess Maat personified the concept of truth, justice and cosmic order. Her origins date back to the Old Kingdom, as indicated in the Pyramid Texts where she occupies the place behind the sun god Re; however, it is only in the New Kingdom that she begins to be referred to as ‘daughter of Re’. The goddess was also associated with the god Osiris – who is often referred to as “the lord of maat” – and in later times was incorporated to some extent by Isis, although according to Egyptian mythology Maat’s husband was the scribe god Thoth.
Egyptian Kings were expected to rule in perfect balance and harmony, which they called “Maat.” The concept signified order, truth, and justice and was embodied by a goddess of the same name who wore an ostrich feather headdress. According to Egyptian theology, Maat’s feather would be weighed against a deceased person’s heart to measure how virtuous a life had been.
Egyptian writings emphasize that the king, as the intermediary between the gods and humankind, had a duty to ensure Maat in Egypt: “Re has placed the king in the land of the living forever and ever . . . to guarantee Maat and to wipe out Isfet [chaos and injustice],” says a theological treaty written in the time of Queen Hatshepsut (1479-1458 BC.). The vizier, Egypt’s supreme legal authority, held the title Priest of Maat, and often wore amulets featuring emblems of the goddess.
New Kingdom, 19th Dynasty, reign of Seti I, ca. 1290-1279 BC. Painted limestone, 74 x 47. Now in the National Archaeological Museum of Florence. 2469