Ancient Egypt: Seals and Sealings
The magic of seals—Applications—An administrative tool—Seal shapes—Markings
Seals and SealingsSince pre-historic times seals were used as proof of identity and authenticity , for sealing things, be they doors, pottery or anything one wanted to remain closed or inaccessible , for marking property one wanted to make sure one's rights over it would be respected . The concept of the seal was apparently introduced from Mesopotamia and was at first a privilege of the upper classes. This early nobility were the sahu (saH.w), people who had been granted the right by the king to bear a seal . magical objects seem to have embodied.
27th dynasty clay sealing. The underside bears imprint marks of string and papyrus
Behold, youy have written me these words: Open a (burial) place among the tombs of our forefathers and protect its seal until my return...The consequence of illegally breaking a seal was punishment by the authorities if one was caught. But even if the crime remained undetected one would incur the wrath of the gods, be one mortal or god. In the papyrus of Imhotep, son of Pshentohe, Seth was accused of many misdeeds, among them the breaking of a seal:
You have opened the secret chest which is in Heliopolis in order to see what was in it, (although) it had been sealed with the seal of the 77 deities...Re will smite (you on) your head, he will destroy your ba.Seals were often worn as amulets for ptotection and conferred some of their magical properties to the sealings. The act of sealing–or breaking a seal–was a moment of solemnity and truth, and its participants were expected to be in a proper frame of mind:
do not cheat at the time of sealing
Mounting the stairs to the great window to view Re in the Pyramidion House. The king stood by himself alone. Breaking the seals of the bolts, opening the doors; viewing his father Re in the holy Pyramidion House. [adorning (?)] the morning-bark of Re and the evening-bark of Atum. Closing the doors, applying the clay, sealing with the king's own seal, and instructing the priests: "I have inspected the seal. No other king who may arise shall enter here."Papyrus documents, rolled into a coil and tied with string were protected by seals, as the undersides of many clay sealings which bear imprints of papyrus and string, prove.
Unadorned clay stopper, 8 cm dia.
Seals were also applied to documents as a means of authentication or proof of ownership. Mehy, son of the fifth dynasty vizier Senedjemib, wrote in the tomb of his father:
Then his majesty caused decrees to be sealed [with (?)] the seal of writings.2]
The person in charge of the royal seal wielded great power. He was at the very top of the administration, trusted like few others since he had the means to authenticate decrees. Tjetji served as the royal seal-bearer under Intef II:
His real and favorite servant , having an advanced seat in the house of his lord, great and favorite official, knowing the private affairs of his lord, following him at all his goings, [great (?)] hearted [///] in very truth, head of the grandees of the palace, in charge of the seal in the privy office, one whom the lord trusted more than the grandees, who delighted the heart of Horus with that which he desired, favorite of his lord, his beloved, chief treasurer, in charge of the privy office which his lord loved, chief treasurer, first under the king, the revered Thethi....Most states try to control access to information, the ancient Egyptian administration did so, as many still do today, with a well-developed bureaucracy:
As for any writing sent [[by the vizier (?)] to] any hall, being those which are not confidential, it shall be taken to him together with the documents of the keepers thereof under seal of the (sDm.w) officers, and the scribes thereof after them; then he shall open it; then after he has seen it, it shall return to its place, sealed with the seal of the vizier. (But) if he furthermore ask for a confidential writing, then let it not be taken by the keepers thereof.By putting his seal on a document such as a will, an official gave the state's approval to its contents. Rekhmire, enumerating a vizier's duties and privileges, reminds his successors:
Every property list is brought to him (i.e. the vizier); it is he who seals it.
Seals top row from left to right:
Variously costly stones: seals as pendants - 62and the Karnak stela of Ahmose I lists among the presents given to Amen-Re: seals of gold. Metal signet rings became ever more popular, but they never completely replaced other forms of seals.
 G. Maspero, History of Egypt, Vol. VIII, p.11
 Carol Andrews, Amulets of Ancient Egypt, p.52
 Michael Rice, Egypt's Making: The Origins of Ancient Egypt 5000-2000 BC, p.67
 Meritef in a letter to the Amen songstress Renenutet refers to the fact that a seal of his had to be authenticated:
And then the words which I have said that you may send (someone) in order to confirm the validity of a sealing (made) with my seal, and that you may perceive that one has sent (someone already) for this confirmation, before I had asked (for it)What the sealing had been applied to is not mentioned in the letter.
 Among the crimes Seth committed according to the Papyrus of Imhotep was the opening of a sealed secret coffin:
You have opened the secret chest (coffin) which is in Heliopolis in order to see what was in it, (even though) it was sealed with the seal of the 77 gods! You habe broken open the shrine of one cubit in which was the great mysterious scarab! Re will smite you on your head, he will destroy your ba! The servant of a funerary foundation Panetieni wrote in a message pertaining to a shipment of cloth:
The list belonging to it: /// linen /// 1 piece, metshu-linen (?) /// 1 (piece), shu-linen /// 1 (piece), metkema-linen /// 20 (pieces). To take away with the seal of the servant on itLiving creatures such as cattle or slaves on the other hand could of course not be marked using mud seals. Cattle were sometimes branded, while slaves were occasionally tattooed.
 After a transliteration and German translation by I. Hafemann on the Thesaurus Linguae Aegyptiae website => Altägyptisches Wörterbuch, Berlin-Brandenburgische Akademie der Wissenschaften => Briefe => Briefe des Neuen Reiches => Verwaltung/Alltag => Briefe aus Theben => Briefe des Deir el-Medina Corpus => pBM 10375 => Brief des Bu-teh-Imen an den Vizekönig von Kusch und General Pianch
 After a transliteration and German translation by F. Feder on the Thesaurus Linguae Aegyptiae website => Altägyptisches Wörterbuch, Berlin-Brandenburgische Akademie der Wissenschaften => späte Ritualbücher => Späte Totenliturgien => Papyrus des Imhotep Sohn des Pschentohe New York MMA 35.9.21 => 3. Die Enthüllungen der Geheimnisse der vier Kugeln aus Ton
 Paul T. Nicholson, Ian Shaw, Ancient Egyptian materials and technology, Cambridge University Press, 2000, p.291f.
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|A Curious Sealed Pottery Jar by Elaine A. Evans|
|Dynasty I Jar Sealings by Elaine A. Evans|
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