Menat counterweight

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A solid bronze piece which would form part of an aegis or was a counterweight to a collar necklace of the type known as a menat. In both cases the form of the object is identical. As part of the former, it would have ritual connotations, while in the second case its function was one of utility. In both cases it can be given the same name. The front is decorated with incised symbols and images. In the upper long trapezoid area, we can identify a winged sun disk, referring to the god Ra, and below that a chapel topped by bands of uraeus and solar disks. The lintel is built in the architectural form used most by the Egyptians, with lateral walls formed by papyrus stems. Inside this structure we find a depiction of the goddess Isis. She is wearing a crown made of a solar disc with cow horns on each side. In her left hand she holds a was, the sceptre of the gods and at the same time a symbol of life. She holds an ankh in the other hand. This iconography could lead us to mistake her for the goddess Hathor, as the crown is one which they have in common. However, the three hieroglyphic signs in front of the goddess, making up her name, identify her as Isis. Two uraeus descend, one from each side of the trapezoid, one with the Red Crown of Lower Egypt and the other with the White Crown of Upper Egypt. The lower part of the piece is a flat disk in which a goddess is depicted sitting on a square base containing the hieroglyphics of the was and ankh symbols. She is crowned like Isis. The figure is framed by two uraeus with plumed wings. All the iconography and symbolism are typical of the decoration of objects of magic and funerary rituals found in Egyptian production.

On the reverse side of the piece we find a column of hieroglyphs which can be translated as “Made for the Singer of Amon Ra, King of the gods, Nestanebiseru, justified”. The title “singer” was given to women who took part in the religious services around the god Amon merged with the god Ra, and therefore explaining the compound name used here of the Theban god par excellence. These women had great social importance and normally were married to priests. They played instruments, danced and sang in the ceremonies. The name of the owner of the menat is “Nestanebiseru”. The word “justified” refers to the fact that he has passed the Judgement of the Soul examination and has gained access to the afterlife. The piece therefore would have been part of the funerary goods of the deceased owner.

In Ancient Egyptian religion, menat was a name of the goddess Hathor, and with hieroglyphics slightly different also refers to a ritual collar of Ancient Egypt, which along with the sistrum, was closely related to this goddess. The menat was made up of a a plate called the aegis (from the Greek for “shield”) which was worn on the chest as a pectoral plate. This was attached with a ribbon or chain to a counterweight falling down the back of the person wearing this piece. It could also consist of strands of beaded strings made up of faience or other stones such as cornelian or lapis lazuli. These strings of tiny beads were attached to the counterweight. The latter was made of faience or other materials such as bronze or leather. It bore inscriptions and representations of deities associated with Hathor, such as Sekhmet. The most iconic of such collars can be found in the Metropolitan Museum of Modern Art in New York. One can also be seen in the wall paintings in the tomb of Nakht, being worn by his wife, the Lady Tawi.

They were also used as protective amulets, not only by people but also by animals such as the Apis Bulls, considered to be sons of Hathor. The menat was thought to ensure good luck and fortune and to protect against evil spirits. It was also worn for protection in the afterlife and is often found buried with the dead.

As described above, there is a version of this artefact which instead of being a collar or necklace, it is made up of a pectoral called the aegis with a menat counterweight. The piece in question here dates from the Late Period when a great many ex-votos of gods were made in bronze. And at that time, different objects, among them the aegis, rather than being objects of use, became ritual artefacts. The pectoral and the counterweight were of one piece: there were no cords attaching them: they were made of bronze. The manner in which they were used is not known for sure: it is believed that they served some magic or ritual function, as some of them had rings attached so that they could be hung or dangled. There are images of the goddess Baset holding an aegis with a menat in her hands.

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