Ritualtexte zum Schutz des Pharaos aus Tebtynis



 “The Tebtunis temple deposit is the largest, single assemblage

of ancient Egyptian literary texts ever found.”

This sentence opens an article by Kim Ryholt (Ryholt 2005, 141) about the contents and nature of the manuscripts from the Tebtunis temple library, whose bulk is now in the Papyrus Carlsberg Collection in Copenhagen, the Ägyptisches Museum und Papyrussammlung in Berlin, the Istituto Papirologico ‘Girolamo Vitelli’ in Florence as well as in the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscripts Library in Yale. The majority of the hieratic material is unpublished and is therefore a splendid playground for academics working with Roman period texts. Among the approximately 110 manuscripts inscribed with cultic or religious texts are several rituals concerning the protection and purification of pharaoh.

The aim of this description is to present the contents and nature of a group of ritual texts whose edition I have undertaken as part of a project based at the University of Heidelberg and sponsored by the Leibniz Price of the German Research Foundation awarded to Joachim Friedrich Quack. As this is a preliminary report, here I am going to address three main questions: why did I choose these texts; what do they have in common, besides their provenance and date; and what exactly could be the usage and the function of these manuscripts? The last two questions are the most important, because the main concern of the edition of these texts is their interpretation, which relates to the aim of improving our understanding of the nature of the Tebtunis temple deposit, as well as of the ritual practices relating to pharaoh in the Fayum at a time, the Roman period, when there was in fact no pharaoh. However, the primary difficulty in addressing these questions is that the papyri are mostly fragmentary.

The selection of texts was based on an overview of the hieratic and hieroglyphic papyri from Tebtunis by Joachim F. Quack (Quack 2006, 1–7). In this he mentioned some magical texts with spells for the protection and purification of pharaoh. He himself published one of the texts (pCarlsberg 475). The edition of three purification rituals (pCarlsberg 658, 659, 660) is the subject of a dissertation project of Dora Petrova. That leaves three papyri (pCarlsberg 216, 645, 646) in which references are made to the king and the priest of Sekhmet as well as the protection of the year. Those three papyri were the starting point for my research. In the search for associated fragments in Copenhagen, Florence, Berlin, Oxford and Yale, where Tebtunis as well as Oxyrhynchos material is stored, further ritual texts concerning the protection of pharaoh were identified (pCarlsberg 886, 780, 906). According to the handwriting, some of the additional texts do not come from Tebtunis. The contents of all these manuscripts are closely linked with parallels and variants of spells in other texts. Together with some smaller papyrus fragments, those texts form a group I will refer to for the time being as ‘Rituals of Kingship’. The dating of the material, which is mainly Roman period, is based on the palaeography of the hieratic as well as the Greek on the recto side of some of the papyri. The Greek texts are documentary, mainly accounts. Just a few of the papyri could be dating to the Ptolemaic period. In his article, Quack mentioned another papyrus (pCarlsberg 206), interpreted as an osirian text. However, the manuscript is a ritual for the benefit of pharaoh and thereby fits well with the other manuscripts. Nevertheless, the text is exceptional in so many ways that is why I have published it independently (Töpfer 2015).

Contents of some texts

The text on pCarlsberg 216 et al. is about a ritual in which the king, as Ihy in the Nun, recites while standing in the god’s barque equipped with the menat-necklace. He offers beer, bread as well as incense. In addition to the sacerdotal king, the setem, Sekhmet and the chief lector priest as well as the high-ranking priests of Wadjet are also referred to as actors of the ritual. The temple of Wadjet is one of the locations in which the ritual seems to be performed. Other locations are the temple of Benben in Heliopolis, and the Per-wer. Parts of a building, such as wood, beams and columns are alluded to. Several body parts are mentioned, decorated with textiles. Furthermore, a menat-necklace of faience beads and a sistrum are mentioned too. This could also refer to the equipment of a statue, because of the use of a female pronoun (=s) perhaps of a goddess. Several female deities such as Wadjet Sekhmet, Unut and Seshemtet are named alongside Shu, Horus and Geb. The main parts of the text are instructions for equipment, libations and offerings as well as to build something. The beneficiary of the ritual is pharaoh who is called the son of Ra. His purification, equipment and protection seem to be the aim of the various ritual spells.

The text in pCarlsberg 645 et al. has some similarities with the text on pCarlsberg 216 in terms of the locations, participants, recipients, actions and used insignia. As in the case of PC 216, the fragments belong to a papyrus roll originally consisting of several spells or books. Something is said about libations in and the purification of the royal administration as well as about a reversion of offerings in the palace. Furthermore, the Per-wer as well as the sanctuary of a temple are referred to. Components of a building (beams, columns, door bolt), the palace or a temple, are mentioned as well as several names of wood. The actors of the ritual are the wab-priest of Sekhmet, who recites and provides the protection of the royal administration and the king, standing in the god’s barque, as is the case in PC 216. The king seems also to be the beneficiary of some of the activities, because his body and throat are mentioned. Therefore, the insignia named such as the flail, sceptre, staff and sistrum could refer to the clothing of the king. Other objects seem to refer to the equipment of a goddess in her manifestation as the white crown, because the female personal pronoun is used when referring to her white and green cloth and faience beads on her throat. It is interesting that in connection with this, measurements are given as is the case in PC 216. Perhaps, this could be understood as a description of a cult statue, which is dressed. The aim of the ritual is the protection of the year of pharaoh by the goddess.

The texts on the previously mentioned papyri contain instructions and recitations including the sacramental interpretation of the offerings. Correlations or rather parallels with the instructions can be found in pCarlsberg 780 et al. The main actors are the setem- and the chief lector priest as well as the king. The king is named in cooperation with Ihy and Nun and is therefore in the same context as in PC 216. Also perhaps mentioned are the god’s barque and the ritual equipment, such as a sistrum and menat-necklace. Besides the temple with its sanctuary, the word ‘palace’ is partly preserved, while another location is Elephantine. Only vague indications of body parts such as the lower leg, eyebrow and lips are given. The word for goddess is mentioned several times, perhaps a notation for Sekhmet, who is named twice. Also in accordance with PC 216 and PC 645 is that the aim of the ritual is the protection of the year of pharaoh.

Although pCarlsberg 646 et al. is very fragmentary as well, the connected text material is sufficient to detect direct parallels with texts on papyri and temple walls. There are similarities with the texts mentioned previously: the location is the palace as place of the reversion of offerings, while the king is the main actor and pharaoh the beneficiary. Also named are several types of wood and plants, body parts as well as the god’s barque and goddesses such as Sekhmet, Wadjet, Bastet, and Depyt. Direct textural parallels or rather variations of some spells can be found in the temple of Edfu and pVienna Aeg. 8426, a ritual text most likely coming from Soknopaiou Nesos (Flessa 2006). Furthermore, concepts and other text sections from the Vienna-Papyrus and therefore most likely from pCarlsberg 646 are recognised in older compilations. The protection of Pharaoh or rather of the year in conjunction with the appeasing of Sekhmet in her various manifestations seem to be the aim of PC 646.

The so-called Sothis-ritual on pCarlsberg 206 et al. is the best preserved of the texts here presented and exceptional in so many ways. The papyrus was found in Tebtunis but its designed  ritual place was the Per-Khefyt, a sanctuary near Oxyrhynchos, where the text could also have been copied. The preserved text begins with fumigations for the uraeus and for the main goddess of the Per-Khefyt (Thoeris). The spells are variations of the fumigation scenes of the Daily Temple Ritual and the Opening of the Mouth Ritual. This is followed by six libation spells addressing several deities. These as well are variations of spells known from the Offering Ritual, the Daily Temple Ritual and the Opening of the Mouth Ritual. The best preserved fragment contains an offering litany for the benefit of pharaoh consisting of: a cult topography, a name litany, as well as a litany for Thoth, and in the next column a litany for Sothis and the entities in heaven, earth and underworld as well as for places, gods and objects, the temple equipment of the sanctuary. The names in the first part of the litany are manifestation of the dangerous goddess who is identical with the sun’s eye, that is Sothis. Sothis, on the other hand, is the focus of the second part of the litany in her aspects as uraeus, ruler of heaven and lady of the beginning of the year. The Myth of the Sun’s eye clearly has an influence on the composition. According to theological concepts, the return of the lion-goddess in Egypt is identified with the rise of the Sothis which announces the Nile inundation. This is an event, which has to be, and in fact was, celebrated - as is documented, e.g. by the Canopus Decree (Pfeiffer 2004). Now, the reason why I suppose that the ritual text is to be interpreted in this context is not just because of the importance of Sothis in the manuscript, but also because of the ritual setting. Oxyrhynchos’ geographical location is at the Bahr Yussef, the canal which connects the Nile with Lake Moeris. So it is this branch which supplies the Fayum with the inundation of the Nile. If my suggest reconstruction of the cultic topography based on its Dendara counterpart is correct, places along the Bahr Yussuf were originally mentioned in the texts. Therefore, it seems logical to perform a ritual about the Nile inundation during the beginning of the year for the protection of the pharaoh representative for Egypt at the nearest possible sanctuary. In some sense the Per-Khefyt could be interpreted as (local) Elephantine, the cultic source of the inundation.

Along with that group of papyri, several smaller manuscripts, or rather fragments, from Tebtunis as wells as Oxyrhynchos should be taken into account as well.

Natures of the texts

First, I would like to emphasize that I still have to study the published and also unpublished (as far as possible) texts concerning kingship, the protection of pharaoh and the religious practices relating to these in more detail. In doing so, I have to take sources from every period into account as well as texts with original private use, which were later adapted for the pharaoh: starting in the Old Kingdom with the “Morning, Offering and Insignia Rituals” of the Pyramid Texts and the so-called Ritual of investiture (Bommas 2013) of the Middle Kingdom. The New Kingdom sources include magical as well as medical texts. Moreover, there is the “Daily Temple Ritual” and the “Offering Ritual”. Most of the material dates to the Late period/Early Ptolemaic period and comes probably from Elephantine. Furthermore, protection amulets for a newborn child with parallels in the mammisi in Edfu and Dendara should be considered. By far the most important sources are the scenes and inscriptions of the Graeco-Roman temples in Edfu and Dendara as well as the manuscripts from Tebtunis and other texts.

After looking through the material, I can give the first preliminary overview of its contents: individual actions and spells show similarities in phraseology, theological and mythological concepts, as well as structure with the Offering Ritual from the Pyramid Texts and the Daily Temple Ritual, but also with magical rituals for the protection of the palace and temple, rituals in connection with the turn of the year, and the investiture, legitimation and confirmation of the king. However, it is hardly surprising that there are parallels with older text compositions, since scenes such as purification, libation, fumigation, offering, anointment and clothing are neutral and adaptable, and also because the effectiveness and validity of certain conventions remain. The protection of pharaoh is the focus and therefore the aim of any of those texts. But I wonder whether these texts are exclusively for the protection of pharaoh as representative for Egypt from the evil of the New Year, as known from the ritual texts from the Pharaonic period. Perhaps the rituals are suitable for a wider range of applications. I am therefore considering the possibility that the term “protection of the year” can also be seen in connection with the regnal year of the ruler. These thought relates to the fact, that the copies date to the Roman period when there was in fact no pharaoh in Egypt. It is an intriguing idea to understand the offerings, instructions and recitations in the texts as part of festival rituals for the idealised investiture, legitimation and/or confirmation of the Roman emperor as the new Horus, the Egyptian pharaoh who has to be protected from every evil of the new (regnal) year. The mentioning of the navigation of the king, the role of the crown/uraeus goddesses or rather its manifestations, the topic of their equipment, as well as the temple and palace with all its parts, support this idea.

What I aimed to point out is that the Tebtunis temple library included not just some, but a number of royal rituals which are connected with the turn of a/the (regnal) year. The rituals are for the benefit of pharaoh with a priest in replacement of the king as main actor. The fact that they are copied at a time when the Roman emperor hardly set foot on Egypt leads to the consideration that the manuscripts presented here are perhaps composed in the 1st – 2nd cent. CE when the legitimation of the Emperor as pharaoh was important for the ritual practice, and to some extent perhaps even for the self-definition of the priestly elite, given that it was a local priest who acted and was initiated during the rituals. I want to stress again that the rituals presented here are compilations of traditional material, such as the Opening the Mouth Ritual, the Daily Ritual and the Offering Ritual, which were also stored in the Tebtunis temple library. In addition to these, manuals of the priesthood of Sekhmet, mythological and geographical manuals, astronomical as well as magical and medical texts, also come from there. All these texts could have been utilised in the composition of these royal protection rituals because of their resemblance in phraseology and structure. Therefore, we are dealing here with “older” concepts and traditions of kingship which probably had considerable influence on “later”, that is Roman period, requirements for theological affirmation.


  • M. Bommas, Das ägyptische Investiturritual, Oxford 2013.
  • N. Flessa, (Gott) schütze das Fleisch des Pharao. Untersuchungen zum magischen Handbuch pWien Aeg 8426, Wien 2006.
  • S. Pfeiffer, Das Dekret von Kanopos. Kommentar und historische Auswertung, Munich/Leipzig 2004.
  • J.F. Quack, Die hieratischen und hieroglyphischen Papyri aus Tebtynis – ein Überblick, in: K. Ryholt (ed.), Hieratic Texts from the Collection, The Carlsberg Papyri 7, CNI Publications 30, Copenhagen 2006, 1–7, in particular 4–6.
  • J.F. Quack, Ein neuer Zeuge für den Text zum neunköpfigen Bes, in: Ryholt (ed.), Hieratic Texts from the Collection, 53–68. A parallel to the illustrated magical pBrooklyn 47.218.156 published by S. Sauneron, Le papyrus magique illustré de Brooklyn (Brooklyn Museum 47.218.156), Brooklyn 1970.
  • K. Ryholt, in: S. Lippert/M. Schentuleit, Tebtynis and Soknopaiu Nesos. Leben im römerzeitlichen Fajum, Akten des internationalen Symposions vom 11. bis 13. Dezember 2003 in Sommerhausen bei Würzburg, Wiesbaden 2005, 141.
  • S. Töpfer, Fragmente eines Sothis-Rituals von Oxyrhynchos aus Tebtynis (pCarlsberg 206 + PSI inv. I 112 + pBerlin P. 23033a–f + pCtYBR inv. 4523.6), CNI Publications 40, The Carlsberg Papyri 12, Copenhagen 2015.


Dr. Susanne Töpfer



  • S. Töpfer, Fragmente des sog. "Sothisrituals" von Oxyrhynchos aus Tebtynis, CNI Publications 40, The Carlsberg Papyri 12, Kopenhagen 2015 (Museum Tusculanum Press).


  • Sothis und der Bahr Yussuf (Vorbericht), in: G. Neunert/H. Simon/K. Gabler/A. Verbovsek (Hgg.), Text: Wissen - Wirkung -  Wahrnehmung. Beiträge des vierten Münchner Arbeitskreises Junge Ägyptologie (MAJA 4), 29.11. bis 01.12.2013, GOF IV/59, Wiesbaden 2015, 253-257.
  • Tradition und Innovation im römerzeitlichen Per-Chefyt bei Oxyrhynchos. Ein „altbekannter“ Reinigungsspruch und seine Tebtynis Rezension, in: A. Pries (Hrsg.), Die Variation der Tradition-Modalitäten der Ritualadaption im Alten Ägypten, Akten des Internationen Symposions Heidelberg 25.-28. November 2012 in Heidelberg, OLA 240, Leuven 2016, 73-90.
  • Hieratical lexical lists from Tebtunis (P. Carlsberg 215 and P. Carlsberg 889 vs), in: K. Ryholt(ed.), Hieratic Texts from the Collection II, CNI Publications (geplant für 2018).
  • The body of the King and of the Goddess – Materiality in and through Manuals for Pharaoh from Tebtunis, in: F.A.J. Hoogendijk et al. (Hgg.), Beyond Papyri: the Materiality of Ancient Texts, Conference 27-29 October 2016 Universiteit Leiden, Papyrologica-Lugduno-Batava (geplant für 2018).

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