- Museum number
Terracotta jar-stopper made of micaceous red-brown Nile silt. Front face has been stamped or pressed into a circular one-piece mould creating a cobra in relief, probably crowned with horned sun disc (though may be a theta or phi letter). Behind the snake are letters now obscured. In front of the snake is a rough raised area of obscured letters. At the rear are rough impressions of plant fibres, possibly straw. Faint traces of plaster on edge suggest this was set into a plaster seal.
- Production date
- 1stC(mid) - 2ndC
Diameter: 7 centimetres (minimum)
Thickness: 3 centimetres
- Curator's comments
- This is an unusual, possibly unique amphora stopper as it is made of ceramic bearing a device, when usually only the plaster seal would have been stamped in this manner (Thomas 2011). In the eastern desert and Red Sea regions 50 examples of a similar cobra stamp have been found dating between the mid 1st to 2nd century AD at Myos Hormos (Thomas 2011: table 3.2, Figs 3.11-13) and the 2nd century AD at Mons Claudianus (Tomber & Thomas 200: 252, Fig. 2.15). Cobra seals have also been found at Coptos (Cuvigny 1998: 5 figs 4-5). The best parallel is from Berenike (Bos & Helms 2000: 293), see also BM GR 1886,0401.1374 also from Naukratis.
“Thirty six cobra stamps have been identified at Myos Hormos by the Chicago and Southampton teams. They account for 42% of all commercial wine stamps found at that port. Seven Cobra stamps have also been found at Mons Claudianus (V114 V412, V152, V172, V242, V379, V637 Thomas and Tomber 2006, 252-4) and a further seven are known to the author from Berenike (BE95-3184-Y038 Sundelin 1996; BE96-3664-Y019 Dieleman 1998; BE97-1967-Y008 Cashman et. al. 1999; BE98-4123-Y097 Bos and Helms 2000; BE99-1150-Y037, BE99-1149-Y024 Bos 2007; BE00-1179-Y043 Moulder 2007). Three features are visible; the striking cobra, a disc framed by horns above the cobra’s head, and vegetation growing from beneath the cobra’s body. These diagnostic features help identify the cobra as the I’rt or Uraeus, the protective cobra goddess represented on the crown of the Pharaoh and later the Emperor (Hart 1986, 220). In the Middle Kingdom this cobra goddess was identified with Wadjt of the Nile Delta, who protected the Pharaoh from his enemies by spitting fire (Ibid.), and as a symbol of the Pharaoh-Emperor, it may represent a link to the Emperor. In later periods the I’rt was associated with Renetutet, ‘the nurturer’, a fertility goddess of the Fayum who was commonly depicted with papyrus stalks sprouting around her symbolising her fertility, with the sun disc of R’ and the horns of Hathor in the Roman period following a process of amalgamation (Renetutet-Isis-Hathor) of Egyptian deities during the Ptolemaic and Roman periods (Roberts 1995) that became known in Greek as Hermouthis (Hart 1986, 185). Depictions of Renetutet have been recognised on wine jar stoppers dating to the 14th century BC and interpreted as representing wine from the Fayum (Hope 1978). Such stamps may represent produce from the Fayum’ (Thomas 2011: 13). Roman wooden stamps used to make such impressions were published from Theadelphie, Fayum (Nachtergael: 280, figs 7-8) and Narmouthis, Fayum (Bresciani 1968: 30, fig.3, pls A:1 and X:1-3). The Narmouthis example is erroneously dated to 4th to 3rd century BC based on misidentification as Aramaic, and is probably 1st to 2nd century AD like the others.
Comparanda include plaster seal and fired-clay stoppers with a cobra, usually crowned, and often with letters or names: Johnson 1979: 235, pl. 75:d–f, from Myos Hormos, dated first century AD; Sundelin 1996: 300–2, fig. 16-1, pl. 16-2, from Berenike, dated late first century AD; Cashman et al. 1999: 287, fig. 15:2, from Berenike, context of late first century BC to first century AD; Thomas 2001: 54, fig. 13.2, from Myos Hormos, dated late first to second century AD; Thomas 2002: 66, fig. 44, no. ST 0259, from Myos Hormos, probably first or second century AD; Thomas 2003: 69, fig. 57, five examples, from Myos Hormos, from contexts of mid-first to mid-second century ad. A wooden stamp for a stopper with a cobra (reversed to ours) and a suggested Aramaic inscription comes from Narmuthis: Bresciani 1968: 30, fig. 3, pls A:1 and X:1–3, dated fourth to third century BC. Several of the stoppers from Myos Hormos listed there had the cobra completely surrounded by an inscription, as was ours: some of these included the names of Imperial freedmen.
Bos, J. E. M. F., 2007. Jar stoppers, seals, and lids, 1999 season. In Sidebotham, S. E. and Wendrich, W. Z. (eds) ‘Berenike 1999 / 2000, Report on the Excavations at Berenike, including Excavations in Wadi Kalalat and Sikait and the Survey of the Mons Smaragdus Region’, 258-69. Los Angeles.
Bos, J. E. M. F. and Helms, C. C., 2000. Jar stoppers and seals. In Sidebotham, S. E. and Wendrich, W. Z. ,(eds).’ Berenike '98’, 275-304. Leiden.
Bresciani, E., 1968. ‘Missione di scavo a Medinet Madi (Fayum, Egitto), rapporto preliminare delle campagne di scavo’ 1966 e 1967. Milan.
Cashman, V. L., Bos, J. E. M. F. and Pintozzi, L. A., 1999. Jar stoppers. In Sidebotham, S. E., and Wendrich, W. Z., (eds) ‘Berenike 1997, report of the 1997 excavations at Berenike and the survey of the Eastern Desert, including excavations at Shenshef’, 285-97. Leiden.
Cuvigny, H., 1998. Bouchons cachetés des fouilles d'Adolphe Reinach à Coptos. ‘Bulletin des Musées et Monuments Lyonnais’, 4, 2-7.
Denecker, E. and Vandorpe, K., 2007. Sealed amphora stoppers and tradesmen in Greco-Roman Egypt, archaeological, papyrological and inscriptional evidence. ‘Bulletin Antieke Beschaving’, 82, 115-28.
Dieleman, J., 1998. Amphora Stoppers. In Sidebotham, S. E ,and Wendrich, W. Z., (eds). ‘Berenike 1996, preliminary report of the 1996 excavations at Berenike and the survey of the Eastern Desert’, 265-77. Leiden.
Hart, G., 1986. ‘A dictionary of Egyptian gods and goddesses’. London.
Hope, C., 1978. ‘Malkata V, A Technological Study of the Jar Sealings and Amphorae’. Warminster.
Johnson, W. R., 1979. Plaster Amphora Plugs. In Whitcomb, D. S., and Johnson, J.H., (eds). ‘Quseir al-Qadim 1978, Preliminary Report’, 233-36. Cairo.
Mayerson, P., 2001. Jar stoppers and the sealing of wine jars. ‘Zeitschrift für Papyrologie und Epigraphik‘, 136, 217-20.
Moulder, S. F., 2007. Jar stoppers, seals, and lids, 2000 season. In Sidebotham, S. E., and Wendrich, W. Z., (eds). ‘Berenike 1999 / 2000, Report on the Excavations at Berenike, including Excavations in Wadi Kalalat and Siket and the Survey of the Mons Smaragdus Region’, 270-84. Los Angeles.
Nachtergael, G., 2000. Sceaux et timbres de bois d'Égypte, I. En marge des archives d'Hèroninos, Cachets et bouchons d'amphores de Théadelphie. ‘Chronique d'Égypte’ 75, 153-70.
Thomas, R. I. 2011. Roman vessel stoppers. In D. P. S. Peacock and L. Blue (eds) ‘Myos Hormos – Quseir al-Qadim, A Roman and Islamic Port Site on the Red Sea coast of Egypt, Volume II’. Southampton.
Thomas, R. I. and Tomber, R. S. 2006. Vessel stoppers. In Maxfield, V., and Peacock, D. (eds). ‘Survey and excavation Mons Claudianus, Volume III. Ceramic vessels and related objects’, 239-60. Cairo.
Vandorpe, K., 2005. Sealing containers in Greco-Roman Egypt. The inscriptional and papyrological evidence. In Davoli, P. (ed.) ‘Oggetti in argilla dall'area templare di Bakchias (El-Fayum, Egitto)’, 231-90. Pisa, Biblioteco degli 'Studi di Egittologia e di papirologia 3.
- Not on display
- Good, but fragmentary
- Acquisition date
- Greek and Roman
- Registration number