Qenna’s Book of the Dead

What is a Book of the Dead?

In Ancient Egypt, mummification and food offerings were thought to guarantee the survival of the body of the deceased. The latter was also given magical protection. On the journey to the afterlife, the deceased had to ward off all kinds of dangers and secure the approval of the gods, namely Osiris and his 42 judges. One of the sources that gave the deceased the knowledge he needed to withstand this ordeal was the so-called ‘Book of the Dead’, a collection of spells and accompanying pictures. The choice of spells and the size and quality of the Book of the Dead were dependent on the wishes and purchasing power of the client, meaning that every copy is different. Spells from the Book of the Dead were written on papyrus, but also on linen fabric, stelas, mummy cases, and the walls of tombs and temples.

A colourful papyrus

The Book of the Dead of Qenna is unusual, both for its length (almost 18 metres) and its colourful pictures. The text contains 28 of the 162 known spells from the Book of the Dead, and great attention has been paid to the design. Notably, for example, the hieroglyphs for some spells have been executed in different colours. This Book of the Dead was written and drawn on papyrus, an important writing material in Antiquity. It was made from marrow from the stem of the papyrus plant.


Dimensions: 36 x 1770 cm.
Material: papyrus
Period: 1539-1191 BC
Findspot: Luxor, Egypt
Acquisition: purchased in 1835

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