Sarcophagus of Pa-nehem-isis

The sarcophagus of the priest Pa-nehem-isis [Pnehmêse] is a remarkable example from the Ptolemaic Period, with its large face and its profusion of inscriptions and images, covering the whole surface. The figures have been carved in the hard stone with great precision.

The deceased is wearing the tripartite wig and a broad collar. No other part of the mummy’s body has been indicated. The rear part of the wig merges into a broad back pillar. Only the most important elements from the figurative decoration can be mentioned here. On the forehead is a scarab as a symbol of resurrection, flanked by two goddesses.

Sarcophagus of Pa-nehem-isis
Sarcophagus of Pa-nehem-isis

Divided over the two sides are the rare, and for sarcophagi rather unique, depictions of the four winds or cardinal points. Below the broad collar is a pectoral with a winged scarab, flanked by Isis and Nephthys, below this is a cartouche with the name of Osiris as Wen-nefer, flanked by two seated figures of Osiris. 

Below this in the first long register is a solar disk with rays flanked by Isis and Nephthys in adoration. Behind each goddess stand four worshiping baboons. The following register has a Ba bird with a human head. It is flanked by the gods Shu and Thoth and two further deities behind each of them.

The fourth register shows the deceased as Osiris lying on a bier shaped like a lion, with the human-headed Ba bird hovering above him. Isis and Nephthys stand on either side of the bier and pour water over it. 

The foot end of the sarcophagus has a chapel depicted on the front with a djed pillar symbolizing Osiris. It is flanked by baboons holding knives with a protective function.

Likewise, the two hieroglyphs for the “west”, below it, belong to the Osirian symbolism as indicators of the realm of the dead. However, the flanking lions show that the signs represent the sunrise.

In Egyptian theology, a link could be made between the two most significant images of the resurrection. Osiris and the sun.

The numerous texts on the body derive mainly from the various Amduat or Books of the Netherworld, which describe the nocturnal journey of the sun.

A small part has been taken from the Book of the Dead. The bottom has been engraved with depictions of gates with their armed doorkeepers, images representing the Netherworld.

Coffins in the shape of a mummy are known in wood from as early as the Middle Kingdom; in the New Kingdom they are made of stone.

The numerous such coffins dating from the Late Period are particularly impressive, especially since their faces, being the optically most conspicuous element of the coffin, have often been carved in the realistic style of contemporary portrait sculpture.

There is scarcely any undecorated surface on this sarcophagus. Texts and representations (gods of the hereafter, worship of the sun, the mummy on a bier, etc.) cover nearly all of it.

Most of the texts deal with the sun’s nocturnal journey through the underworld. Only because the work stopped prematurely were a few areas left undecorated.

Ptolemaic Period, ca. 305-30 BC. Basalt. L 205 cm, H 47,5 cm, B 66,5 cm Deckel G: ca. 560 kg. From Saqqara necropolis. Now in the Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna. INV 4