ostraka at the
From Deir el-Medina
Hieratic ostrakon noting distribution of supplies.
Černý/Gardiner 1957: 6, pl. 19.1.
Ostrakon Petrie 50
Prescription of a scorpion-charmer
Living in an environment teeming with snakes and scorpions, ancient Egyptians made efforts to develop
remedies to combat the effects of their venom. This ostrakon contents a short letter from Amen-mose
to a priest of the Ramesseum. He asks the priest for the ingredients of a remedy for a sick man.
Amen-mose is a scorpion-charmer. The substances required could have been for a magical cure or they
could have been used in combination of magic in his work.
recto : The scorpion charmer Amen-mose and the temple scribe, prophet Piay of the mansion of King
Weser-maat-Re Setep-en-Re, l.p.h. (the Ramesseum) in the House of Amen (on) the West of Thebes.
To the effect that: the prophet is ill. When my letter reaches [you, you] will send him one grain, one jar
of syrup, one festival date-juice(?).
Translation in McDowell, p. 54-55.
Length: 9.1 cm, width 12.5 cm
Ostrakon Petrie 3
From Deir el-Medina
Supply of yarn for lamp wicks.
Translation : Year 29, month 2 of spring, day 9; on this day, distribution of the linen fibre
to the crew to make into lamp(wick)s; head of distribution[...] on this day: the three
leaders, 24 rings each total: 81the forty men, 9 ½ rings each, total 380 (but) Khons 26,
total: 74 for the linen store, 31 rings to be taken out on the (account of) the right side for
filling the scales 9 ½ (= for measuring each 9 ½?) 225 rings note of what fell to ground 21
rings Sum total: 516 rings[..] year 30, month 1 of flood, day 25; this day handing over the
lamps beside the Amenemipet temple
(Černý/Gardiner 1957: 11, pl. 35.4)
Ostrakon Petrie 5
Donkey hire and return
Hieratic ostrakon. Complete.
Translation : II prt 24. Donkey was given to policeman Imn-hcw
for its b3kw. Coming (back) with it on IV prt 15. He brought 1
goat, that is (ir.n) 3 deben. Verso: One condemned (h3d) him (to)
20 [deben] copper. By the scribe of the Tomb Hori
(Janssen: Donkeys at Deir el-Medina, p. 57)
|The Petrie Museum houses a collection of nearly 50 hieratic ostraka, collected by Flinders
Petrie. Most of the ostraka come from Thebes, though the exact place and dates of acquisition
still remain to be established. Although the written passages are mostly short, their contents
indicate, that the majority of Petrie hieratic ostraka did originate in the Theban area - either
in Deir el-Medina itself or in places where the Deir el-Medina workforce were active, e.g. the
Valley of the Kings. Majority of hieratic ostraka are small pieces of limestone, with black and
red writing in hieratic script. Smaller proportion of the ostraka are pottery sherds. The
contrast for writing in red is less clear, but the background is still effective for writing in
black. The range of content divides the ostraka into several categories:
Year 2, third month of summer, day 24,
of King Weser-Khay-Re-Setep-en-Re
(Sethnakhte), l.p.h.: (day)
Hesy-su-neb-ef divorced the lady Hel.
I spent three years giving to her an
oipe of emmer every single month,
making 9 sacks.
And she gave me a sash, saying, "Offer
it at the riverbank (the market-place);
it will be bought from me for an oipe of
emmer". I offered it, but people
rejected it, saying, "It is bad!" And I
told her exactly that, saying, "It has
been rejected". Then she gave it to
me, and I had one sack of emmer
delivered to her via Khay son of
What was given to her via
Nebu-em-weskhet (fem.) : 1 oipe.
What was given to her via
Ta-a'ot-merut, her daughter: 1 oipe.
Total, 1 1/2 sacks for the sash.
(McDowell, A.G.: Village life in ancient
Egypt : laundry lists and love songs,
|Charity after a divorce
The workman Hesysunebef divorced his wife Hel in year 2 of
Setnakhte (1185-1182 BC). For three following years, the author
of the text below supported Hel with a small monthly ration of
grain. The quantity, roughly equivalent to 19 litres, would not be
enough to live on, but he did also buy a sash ( a piece of clothing),
that used to belong to her, for six times its value.
The ostrakon throws light on how a divorced woman might survive on
the charity of others.
|The lives of Hesysunebef and Hel are well documented. He
began his life as a slave, but was adopted by his master and
became a member of the crew of workmen. Eventually he
attained the rank of deputy. He named his son and his
daughter after his adoptive parents, and dedicated a stela to
his father. His wife Hel is known to us from Papyrus Salt
124. She lived with Pendua before she married Hesysunebef.
She deceived both husbands with the notorious Paneb. It could
have been the reason for the divorce from Hesysunebef,
especially since Paneb had also threatened to kill
Hesysunebef's father (McDowell,1999,43).
To view a stela of Hesysunebef now in the Manchester
Museum, click here.
|I would like to express my thanks to the Petrie Museum and its staff, whose time and help has been
essential. The museum curator Stephen Quirke kindly gave me permission to publish the ostraka images
on my web site, Tracey Golding and Ivor Pridden have been generous with their time and assistance.
© Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology, UCL
The text and photography Lenka Peacock