Height: 118.500 cm (max.)
Length: 313.500 cm (max.)
Width: 162.000 cm (max.)
Gift of King George III
Room 4: Egyptian sculpture
Sarcophagus of Nectanebo II
From Alexandria, Egypt
30th Dynasty, around 343 BC
Re-used as a bath
Nectanebo II (reigned 360-343 BC) was the last native king of Egypt. His reign was ended by the second Persian occupation of Egypt, and it is said that he fled to Ethiopia. We thus cannot be certain where he died, or even whether his body was brought back to Egypt for burial. This sarcophagus was probably prepared before he left Egypt and never used.
It was found in the Attarin Mosque at Alexandria, which was formerly a church of St Athanasius. At some time it was clearly used as a water container, bath, or a tank for ablutions, as shown by the twelve draining holes drilled around the base. A myth grew up around this object, that it was the sarcophagus of Alexander the Great. Once the hieroglyphs were translated in the nineteenth century and it became clear that they did not name Alexander, the story seems to have changed subtly, it being said that Alexander's tomb was on the site of the mosque. There seems to be no evidence to support either of these ideas.
The decoration on the sarcophagus consists of a number of sections of the funerary text known as the Amduat, or 'Book of what is in the Underworld', which shows the sun god passing through the underworld during the night.
This sarcophagus was collected by the Napoleonic Expedition to Egypt, and came to the British Museum in 1802 as a result of the Treaty of Alexandria.
G. Pinch, Magic in Ancient Egypt (London, The British Museum Press, 1994)
P.M. Fraser, Ptolemaic Alexandria II (Oxford, 1972)