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JULY 2022

A magical rattle, unlike the others!


Naos sistrum

National Archaeological Museum, Collection of Egyptian Antiquities, inv. no. ΑΙΓ 693

Provenance: Egypt. From the donation of Ioannis Dimitriou Collection, an expatriate settled in Alexandria of Egypt, in 1880.
Dimensions: height: 31cm, length: 8cm., thickness: 4,1cm.
Date: Late period, Dynasty XXVI, (Saite period), 664-525 B.C.
Display location: Exhibition of Egyptian Antiquities, Room 41, Case 25.


jr ḏr mrr=ṯ jḥy

jw ḥḥ n(y) jḥy(.w) n kȝ=ṯ r s.wt=ṯ nb.(wt)

Since you love the sistrum music, there are millions of musical pieces for sistrum, meant for your Ka, wherever you are!

(Fragment of the Stele of King Intef II, Dynasty XI, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. Translation from hieroglyphics: Dominique Farout, École du Louvre).


The ΑΙΓ 693 is a two-sided naos sistrum. Made by Egyptian faience[1], a delicate and exquisite material, it was most probably a votive gift to the goddess Hathor[2], destined to offer her eternal pleasure with its magical sound.

The double face of the goddess symbolized her dual status: dangerous and benevolent at the same time! Its handle is decorated with a hieroglyphic inscription on both sides for the King Psammetichus[3]: “The perfect God, Lord of the Two Lands, King of Upper and Lower Egypt, Psammetichus, living forever’’.

The upper part depicts the goddess with an angular face, cow ears, almond-shaped eyes with beautifully shaped eyebrows and broad cheeks, wearing a straight Egyptian wig, which however is not fully preserved.

On the top of her head lies a temple façade with a pediment[4], between two volutes, representing stylized horns as well as a royal uraeus[5] at the lower end. Three holes are provided on each side for wires to hold the bronze disks, thus creating a peculiar kind of rattling and rustling.

The sistrum and particularly the temple-shaped one, the so-called Naos sistrum, appeared in Egypt for the first time during the Ancient Kingdom period (2700-2200 B.C.). The second type of sistrum was the arched shaped one whereas both had a handle and displayed wires along with copper discs, which, when shaking through the wires, produced an exceptional sound.

Even though, at the beginning, it was a simple musical instrument, sistrum turned very quickly into a ceremonial one, held and vibrated by the high priestesses and priests or by the Pharaoh himself, when they were offering donations to the goddess Hathor.

The sound of the sistrum, like the sound of another ceremonial instrument, the menat necklace, was believed to echo the rustling papyri in the swamps, when crossed by the goddess, in her cow hypostasis.

The sistrum was appeasing her by its magical powers, for the goddess, as the Sun’s daughter, avenged humanity when the latter was breaking the law and the balance of the universe. However, according to ancient Egyptian beliefs, the sistrum had also the power to banish the evil spirits, especially Seth, the god of chaos and disaster. Considering that the sistrum was closely related to Hathor, it had “gained” her powers as well. Thus, at the same time, it was a symbol of joy, music and dance, as well as eroticism, all of them goddess’ characteristics.

Closely related to gods and ceremonies honouring them, as well as to their post-mortem beliefs and their various feasts, religious or secular, music and dance were an inextricable aspect of the ancient Egyptian life. The musical instruments used by the Egyptians, that have come to light, are numerous and beautiful and are, very often, represented in the art. (υπερσυνδεσμος: picture of the flask along with the caption).

Τhe Egyptian Collection of the National Archaeological Museum possesses five sistra among other musical instruments, exhibited in the Case 25 of Room 41, which is dedicated to music, thus offering an indicative picture of this bright and joyful side of the ancient Egyptians’ life.


[1] Material consisting of powered quartz, alkaline salts and metallic colorants, with a brightly blue or green glaze. It was mainly used for the production of scarabs, amulets, figurines (shabtis), vases and many other objects, with funerary or not usage. The ancient Egyptians however used the word tjehenet, to define it, which meant the thing that is brilliant and sparkling like the light of the sun, moon and stars.

[2] The goddess Hathor was worshipped as a woman with cow ears, as a cow or as a woman wearing an Egyptian wig, horns and a sun disc on her head. Her name means ‘’House of Horus’’ and thus since the Pharaoh was the personification of god Horus, Hathor was the royal mother of every king, who brought among others, the title ‘’Son of Hathor’’.

[3] It is not clear to which of the three Psammetichus the inscription refers.

[4] Inscriptions on the temple of Hathor at Dendera suggest that during the Hellenistic and Roman periods, the temple on the sistrum symbolized the monumental gate (bhn) through which the Ba (psyche) of the goddess, included into her statue, was passing, in the New Year, to the rooftop of the temple in order to welcome the first rays of the sun.

[5] Archetypical symbol of kingship, with the form of a raised cobra ready to attack, placed on the forehead of most of the royal crowns as an apotropaic symbol against evil and enemies.


Argyro Grigoraki



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Fekri, M.M, 2003, Les attributs de la déesse Hathor, Proceedings of the third Conference of Archaeology, Cairo University-Al Fayoum branch, on Egyptian Oases and Deserts along the History, p. 5-20.

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Lichtheim, M. 1975, Ancient Egyptian Literature, A Book of Readings, vol. I, Berkeley, Los Angeles, London, p. 94-96.

Manniche, L., 2010, The cultic significance of the sistrum in the Amarna period, The Egyptian Culture & Society Studies in honour of Naguib Kanawati, vol. II, Publications du Conseil Suprême des Antiquités de l Égypte, p. 13-26.

Reynders, M., 1998, ‘’Names and Types of the Egyptian Sistrum’’, Chr. J. Eyre (ed.), Proceedings of the Seventh International Congress of Egyptologists, Leuven, Peeters Publishers, p. 1013-1026.

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Shaw I. and Nickolson P., 1995, British Museum Dictionary of Ancient Egypt, London, British Museum Press.

Spencer P., 2003, Dance in Ancient Egypt, New Eastern Archaeology 66, no. 3, p. 111-121.


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