Djed-pillars

By
Kierra Foley
Kierra Foley is currently a Ph.D. student at the University of Chicago, studying Egyptian Art and Archaeology in the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations. She graduated with a B.A. in Near Eastern Studies and the History of Art from Johns Hopkins in 2014. During her time at JHU, she worked as an undergraduate collections assistant at the Johns Hopkins Archaeological Museum.

3718

Accession number: 3718

Measurements: Length: 3.93 cm; Width: 1.47 cm; Thickness: 0.81 cm

Material: Egyptian Faience

Date: Late Period, ca. 664-332 BCE

Provenance: Thebes, Egypt

Collection: Mendes Israel Cohen Collection of Egyptian Antiquities, number 165 

Description (3718)

This djed-pillar amulet is made of a bright blue faience with large sections of a brownish-purple colorant throughout. A suspension bar has been included at the top of the djed-pillar, which is slightly lopsided.

Description (1991-1)

This faience djed-pillar has been rendered with great care and a high level of incised detail. A very small hole is pierced through the top of its back-pillar horizontally for suspension.

1491-1-BackDiscussion

This symbol was Osirian in nature and was primarily associated with themes of rebirth and regeneration. According to legend, Osiris, the king of the ancient Egyptian pantheon, was murdered by his brother, Seth, the god of chaos. After his passing, his consort, Isis, and son, Horus, revived the god so that he could serve as the chief deity of the netherworld. The djed-pillar was designed as a symbol of Osiris and later came to be understood as a representation of his backbone. In fact, in several Book of the Dead spells, representations of the symbol are used to help reinstate the vertebrae of the deceased and consequently revive them for his or her rebirth into the afterlife. When worn as an amulet, the symbol helped to invoke the regenerative powers of Osiris. The djed-pillar also served as a common hieroglyphic symbol, representing the ancient Egyptian word for “stability.”

As one of the most common Egyptian amulets, djed-pillar amulets have a long history, dating back to the late Old Kingdom (ca. 2686-2160 BCE). Due to their Osirian associations and powers, djed-pillar amulets were most frequently used in funerary contexts. The amulets were often strung together and laid across the lower torso of a mummy, especially in the later periods of ancient Egyptian history, and also around the neck. Green and blue — as seen in these examples — are the most commonly attested colors of these amulets, enhancing the regenerative powers of the amulets through their connection with the fertility and renewal provided by the Nile and its vegetation.

References

Andrews, Carol, 1994. Amulets of Ancient Egypt. Austin: University of Texas. 82-3.

Pinch, Geraldine, 1994. Magic in Ancient Egypt. Texas: University of Texas. 110.

Wilkinson, Richard H., 1992. Reading Egyptian Art. London: Thames & Hudson. 164-5.