Writing played a major role throughout ancient Egyptian history, and the scribe was a figure of great importance and one of the highest positions in the state due to his work in temples and royal palaces. Scribes also occupied a political position, because they kept royal secrets, writes Nevine El-Aref.
There were several types of scribes, including the royal scribe, the temple scribe, and the daily life scribe, making sure that all administrative and economic activities were documented. Today, there are many statues of ancient Egyptian scribes in Egypt’s museums, as these officials were keen to portray themselves as important and evidence of the society’s keenness on science and education.
To mark the 53rd edition of the Cairo International Book Fair (CIBF) that opened this month, archaeological museums all over Egypt are highlighting the ten top statues of scribes in their collections and putting them on special display.
The National Museum of Egyptian Civilisation (NMEC) in Fustat has dedicated showcases for writing and scribes. It has a collection of writing tools such as 40 ivory fragments representing early attempt at writing in ancient Egypt, clay stamps of different shapes and sizes, and a long funerary papyrus divided into parts on which were written Hieratic texts describing the life of the deceased in the afterlife.
It also includes a Middle Kingdom limestone ostracon engraved with the story of Senouhi, who was Amenemhat I’s scribe and servant.
The NMEC has also put on show a beautiful quartzite statue of the 19th-Dynasty administrative supervisor of the deity Amun at Karnak named Haabi, shown sitting and holding a papyrus paper in his hand.
The Egyptian Museum in Tahrir Square in Cairo is highlighting a collection of three statues, one of which will be transported to the Grand Egyptian Museum (GEM) on the Pyramids Plateau. It includes an Old Kingdom painted wooden statue of the scribe Metri discovered at the Saqqara Necropolis in 1952.
“It is one of the most beautiful scribe statues,” said Sabah Abdel-Razek, director of the Egyptian Museum. She said that “the beauty of the statue appears in the extreme realism with which it was carved, where the facial features appear as if they are of a person who is alive due to the use of blue lapis lazuli to graft the eyes on a white ground, as if the statue were looking at everyone standing in front of it.”
The second statue is considered to be the icon of all scribe statues and one of the most important symbols of sculpture at the Egyptian Museum. It is called the “Cairo Scribe” and is carved in painted limestone dating to the Fifth Dynasty of the Old Kingdom. It was unearthed in 1893 at the Saqqara Necropolis.
The third scribe is of Nes-Pakshouti from the 25th Dynasty who carried the title of vizier.
The museum of the Bibliotheca Alexandrina in Alexandria is displaying a red granite statue of the scribe Tep-Im-Ankh from the Old Kingdom, who also carried the title of vizier during the reigns of Unas or Pepi II, while the National Museum of Alexandria has put on show a granite statue of an unknown scribe with his hands on his knees found at the Saqqara Necropolis.
A painted limestone statue of the scribe Ptah-Shepssess is on display in the foyer of the Imhotep Museum in Saqqara, while a statue of the scribe Amehotep Ibn Habu is on display at the Luxor Museum. It depicts Amenhotep Ibn Habu sitting with his head to the front and holding a papyrus in his hands.
Hall Three at the Cairo International Airport highlights the painted limestone statue of the scribe Per-Sen, who was the supervisor of all royal documents and the royal cemetery in Saqqara. It shows him sitting wearing a white skirt and black wig and holding a papyrus in one hand and a feather in the other to start writing.
The statue dates to the Old Kingdom and was found in the western cemetery at the Saqqara Necropolis. The Hurghada Museum is also exhibiting a red granite statue of the scribe Ra-Hotep from the Old Kingdom.