Relief from the Funerary Temple of King Sahure

Egypt, Old Kingdom
Fifth Dynasty 2441 – 2458 BC

Height 98.5 cm



Everyone is familiar with the pyramids and the sphinx of Giza. The pyramids’ fame is based on their size and state of preservation. Almost as old and almost as large are the pyramids of Abu Sir, which lie within sight of Giza, at the edge of the desert. The largest of the four structures is the burial complex of the Egyptian King Sahure, who was a great-great-grandson of Cheops. He ruled from ca. 2471 to 2458 BC, promoting the arts and expanding international trade. In the latter context he also entertained relations with Crete.

The pyramid is only one of a number of architectural elements that make up the burial complex of an Egyptian king. It serves as the actual burial structure, the final resting place of the pharaoh. More important for the cult of the dead, however, is the funerary temple in front of it. It is here that the great sacrifices were celebrated in honour of the deceased. The countless rooms and corridors of the complex were decorated with hundreds of colourful images. More than a hundred years ago, Ludwig Borchardt (1863–1938—who also discovered the bust of Nefertiti—excavated the pyramids of Abu Sir. The finds were few in number but extraordinarily beautiful, and some of them were brought to Germany and donated to the antiquities collections of various cities. This large fragment depicts the slaughter of the sacrificial animals, divided into phases. On the left, a dead oryx lies on its back.

The head of the beautiful animal is tipped over onto the ground. Two sacrificial attendants are cutting off one of its forelegs. At the centre, a slaughterer—as we are informed by the chiselled hieroglyphics—is removing the heart from the body of an ox.