Limestone sculpture of the Egyptian god Horus in Roman military costume

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Not currently on display

Department of Ancient Egypt and Sudan 

Object details

Height: 54.50 cm
Width: 31.80 cm
Depth: 25.60 cm
Museum number: EA 51100

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Limestone sculpture of the Egyptian god Horus in Roman military costume

Egypt, Roman period

In ancient Egypt, the god Horus was the divine representation of the living king commonly represented as a man with the head of a falcon.

After Egypt became a part of the Roman Empire, depictions of Horus in Roman military costume served to express the god’s power in accordance with the new combined authority, and, conversely, to validate Roman political dominance. In this extraordinary object, the iconography and style of the Egyptian and Roman traditions collide with results that are both surprising and subtle.

Rendered in naturalistic (Graeco-Roman) style, this depiction of the quintessentially Egyptian falcon-headed Horus sits enthroned, dressed in Roman military attire. The falcon head is rendered with careful attention to the feathering around the face; the eyes are human and the pupils are raised in a lifted gaze. In an imaginative turn, the feathers of the falcon god double as the scales of a mail shirt, the sleeves of which end below the shoulders. A knotted belt encircles the waist, dropping to the hips in contrast to the more typically depicted position at a soldier's natural waist. A short military cloak fastened at the right shoulder by a round plate fibula is pushed back over the shoulders. A separate garment covers the legs.

The attitude is one of casual repose, common to images of senior Graeco-Roman deities, and sharply contrasting the rigid posture typical of Egyptian representations of Horus.

Like a lot of ancient sculpture, the figure was brightly painted in antiquity. Traces of red, yellow, green and black are visible to the eye and recent scientific analysis has demonstrated that the feathered armour was painted in Egyptian blue. Whereas the other pigments occur naturally, Egyptian blue is an artificial pigment produced by mixing several ingredients. By the Roman period, Egyptians had used the pigment for thousands of years. Romans valued the colour and objects painted in Egyptian blue have been found throughout the empire and beyond.

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