Stela worshipping the Apis Bull

Egyptian Name:


If the typical Egyptian stela looks suspiciously like a traditional tombstone, the reason is because traditional tombstones are a modern rendition of these ancient markers. Stela (pl. stelae) is a Latin word derived from the Greek stele, which means "pillar" or "vertical tablet." In English, the usual forms are stele and steles. In ancient Egypt, stelae were slabs of stone or wood, of many different shapes, usually bearing inscriptions, reliefs, or paintings. There are several ancient Egyptian expressions for the term stela, which reflect its different purposes.

Stelae were used in ancient Egypt from the 1st Dynasty onward until the Roman Period. Stelae usually have both depictions and inscriptions, executed in raised or sunken relief, or painted onto the surface. Typical elements used in the decoration of stelae were the sun-disk, the Eye of Horus, the Shen Ring, floral elements, stars, scarabs, and deities. As tombstones, they were originally erected outside the tombs, to mark the offering place and to name the tomb owner. Those traditions hold over into our modern times, with the food offerings now most often being replaced with flowers.

One type of stela was the boundary stela, which was used to mark the edges of estates, administrative districts, or even cities, stemming from stones that marked the edges of fields. Another type was the commemorative stela, which were usually erected by kings or noblemen and recorded special events, such as successful expeditions in the desert, victories over foreign powers, royal building activities, dynastic marriages, or royal decrees.

A boundary stela marking fields

A great number of votive stelae have been discovered, set up by individuals to worship the gods. Votive stelae were presented to temples or were part of small altars erected in private homes. "Magic" stelae were also erected in houses and tombs as protection against dangerous animals, such as snakes and scorpions.

Egyptian Symbols