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The Famine Stele on the Island of Sehel


The Famine Stele on the Island of Sehel


The Legend


During the reign of Djoser (3rd dynasty) a terrible drought lasted for seven years.

I was in mourning on my throne, Those of the palace were in grief.because Hapy had failed to come in time. In a period of seven years, Grain was scant, Kernels were dried upEvery man robbed his twinChildren criedThe hearts of the old were needyTemples were shut, Shrines covered with dust, Everyone was in distress.I consulted one of the staff of the Ibis, the Chief lector-priest of Imhotep, son of Ptah South-of-the-Wall.He departed, he returned to me quickly, He let me know the flow of Hapy

Translation by Lichtheim Imhotep, a high official and Renaissance man, revealed to the king that the Nile had its origins in a land consecrated to Khnum and gave an account of the building materials available at Elephantine. Khnum appeared to Djoser in a dream with the promise to end the drought and described how a temple should be built. Grateful, Djoser re-established the cult of Khnum at Elephantine.

Partial translation of the stele text


Imhoteps account of Elephantine, its gods and minerals

10 Khnum is there as god ..... his soles, his side is placed near him. The door-bolt is in his hand, the wings of the door open according to his wishes. He is there as Shou, who lives on the banks of his surroundings, this is how he is called. He reckons the land of Upper and Lower Egypt, to give him the portion of each god. He brings ... and .... and geese and fish and all things of which they live. A rope is there with a writing tablet and a mast (?) with his reed door. He is therefore the god who lives on the banks, because Shou is set above (?).

11 His temple is open towards the the south-east, and Re rises daily opposite him. South of it the water is inapproprate for a mile. A wall guarded day and night separates the Nubians. There is a mountain massif in its eastern region (of Elephantine) containing all the ores, all the precious stones and all the things

12 sought for building the temples of the gods of the North and South, the stalls for sacred animals, the pyramid for the king, all statues that stand in temples and in sanctuaries. Moreover, incense is set before the face of Khnum and around him.

13 .... green from all flowers ...at the beginning there is Elephantine, the end at ..... It is in the east, it is in the west, it is in the midst of the river. At its time of the year the water is clad. There is a place of relaxation for every man. The work on these rocks on both banks ........

14 of the river in view of the town of Elephantine. There is a stone in its middle, in whose interior evil (?) is contained... It is called the rock of Elephantine.

List of the names of the gods in the temple of Khnum: Sothis, Anukis, Hapi, Shou, Geb, Nut, Osiris, Horus, Isis, Nephthys.

15 Learn the names of the stony materials which are to be found lying in the midst of the rocky mountain, which are in the east and in the west, which are on the island of the river, i.e. Elephantine, which are in the desert, which are inland of the east and west banks, which are in the midst of the river: bekhen, nemi (dead - weathered - granite), metbekhteb, raqes, uteshi-hedsh (onion stone ?) in the east, perdjen on the west bank, teshy inland from the west bank and they are also found in the river.

16 Learn the names of the precious stones located upstream and are found at a distance of four miles: gold, silver, copper, iron, lapis-lazuli, turquoise, tehen (chrysocolla ?), khenem (jasper), ga-y (radish stone ?), menu,
17 Hebegti, temi, these are the kinds of stone from the interior of the land. Mehi, maki, ibehti, ore, gesankh, green make up, black make up (antimony ?), herdes, sehi, mem, saphen, in that part of town.

Djoser's sacrifice and dream

I heard this and my heart was sad, after I had heard the message (?). I spread my clothes. A purification was done, a secret procession and an offering was presented..... of bread, beer, geese, cattle, and all the good things for the goddesses at Elephantine, whose name was mentioned.

18 When I was asleep, my heart was in life and happiness. I found the god standing. I caused him pleasure by worshiping and adoring him. He made himself known to me and said: "I am Khnum, your creator, My arms are around you, to steady your body,

19 to safeguard your limbs. I bestow on you ores with (precious ?) stones since antiquity (existing) that were not worked before to build temples, rebuild ruins, sculpt chapels (?) for his master. I am master of creation. I have created myself, the great ocean which came into being in past times, according to whose pleasure the Nile rises (?)

20 For I am the master who makes, I am he who makes himself exalted in Nun, who first came forth, Hapy who hurries at will; fashioner of everybody, guide of each man to their hour. I am Tenen, father of Gods, the great Shou living on the shore. The two caves are in a trench (?) below me. It is up to me to let loose the well. I know the Nile, urge himto the field, I urge him, life appears in every nose. As one urges to the field .......... I will make the Nile swell for you, without there being a year of lack and exhaustion in the whole land, so the plants will flourish, bending under their fruit. Renenutet is in all things

21 everything will be brought forth by the million (?) and everybody ...... in whose granary there had been dearth. The land of Egypt is beginning to stir again, the shores are shining wonderfully, and wealth and well-being (?) dwell with them, as it had been before.

Djoser's decree Then I awoke happy (?), my heart was decided and at ease. I decreed this order to the temple of my father Khnum.

23 Royal sacrifice for Khnum-Re, lord of the cataract, first of Nubia, as reward for what you favour me with. I make you a gift of your western shore by the mountain of the dusk and your eastern shore by the mountain of dawn, from Elephantine to ...... with twelve aruras on the eastern and western shores, with the plants, with the harbours (?) with the river and with every settlement on these aruras.

24 All the peasants working their fields with their labourers and bringing water to their new and high-lying lands, their harvest shall be stored in your granary in excess of the part that used to be your due.

25 All fishermen and trappers and hunters on the water and lion catchers in the desert, I impose on them a duty of one tenth of their catch.

Every calf born by the cows on theses aruras shall be given to the stables as a burnt offering and a remaining daily offering.

26 Moreover one tenth of the gold and ivory and the wood and minerals and every tree stem and all things which the Nubians of Khenet-hen-nefer bring to Egypt shall be handed over together with every man who comes with them (?).

27 No vizier shall give orders in these places and levy a tax on them, diminishing what is being delivered to your temple.

I make you a gift of this field with the stones and the good fruit bearing land and nothing shall be taken away (?).

Sources:German translation by Gnther Roeder, Jena, 1923

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