Coming to terms with stelae: a performative approach to memorial stelae and chapels of Abydos in the Middle Kingdom

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Abydos was an important cult site in Middle Kingdom Egypt, where processions in honour of Osiris attracted pilgrims from all across the territory. Artefacts—mainly stelae, but also statues and offering tables—have mostly been retrieved from the North Cemetery, a zone close to the wadi that served as the main processional route for festivities, and these constitute a rich resource for studying the site and how it was perceived in the Middle Kingdom. Their inscriptions occasionally allude to stelae and chapels, providing a unique way to approach the materiality of the Abydene landscape. This article focuses on terminology for stelae and chapels in the Abydos North Offering Chapel area (ANOC), as employed mainly on Middle Kingdom stelae themselves. Several words—abA, wD, srx, Sps—seem to denote stelae, but nuances between them have rarely been explored. Their determinatives do not point toward any consistent difference in shape, so a contextual analysis of the terms may contribute to an understanding of the role that stelae played in the site’s landscape. Chapels, of which some archaeological evidence remains, were a fundamental feature of Abydos sometimes referred to as maHat. Although the connection between these chapels and Osirian processions is well established, their function as material embodiments of the social fabric deserves further attention. This article examines the relationships among these terms in order to determine the significance of memorial chapels and their associated stelae within the ritual and social setting of Abydos. Attitudes towards and expectations of these monuments, as identified in the inscriptions themselves, reveal how they were regarded as landmarks that endorsed a perception of Abydos as a locus of memory.
Original languageEnglish
JournalStudien zur altägyptischen Kultur (SAK)
Publication statusPublished - 15 Oct 2020


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