Originally published in
192 (2003), 61−66.
Cryptic numerals on cubit rods
A comparison of a text found on the back of certain votive cubit rods with the hieroglyphsused as numerals in Ptolemaic inscriptions reveals that the cryptic notation of numbers wasalready in use at the beginning of the Third Intermediate Period.
On one type of cubit rods that have come down to us from ancient Egypt we findnumerous inscriptions. These artefacts, the earliest examples of which are dated to the New Kingdom, are called votive cubit rods, and are thought to have belonged totemple inventories as some sort of ceremonial objects.
That these rods were not usedin actual measurement is strongly suggested in the first place by the fact that they areall made of stone, while the functional rods, as far as we can judge from survivingspecimens, were without exception fashioned from wood.
The nature of the inscriptions also makes us think that the votive rods had symbolic,rather than practical significance. A text inscribed on the top side, for example, tells usthat what is written on these rods belongs to the magical lore of Thoth. Indeed, theother texts record the physical extentions of Egypt, the height of the flooding Nile atdifferent locations, the variations of the land measure according to the nomes, andother similar information. Pierre Lacau and Henri Chevrier were the first to point outthat many of these texts are of the same vein as those found in the White Chapel of Sesostris I (ca. 2000 BC),
and are somehow connected to the jubilee of the king’sreign, the
festival.While the majority of the inscriptions on the votive cubit rods have been clarifiedand translated by Adelheid Schlott-Schwab,
some texts pose sizeable difficulties of interpretation and are still to be properly understood. Here I attempt to shed some lighton a piece of text that has so far eluded explanation completely.
On the back of the cubit rods of Sheshonk I (ca. 950 BC) and Nectanebos II (ca. 350BC) is preserved an enigmatic text, occupying four fingers (from the 16th to the 19th)and belonging to
in Schlott-Schwab’s categorization (see Fig. 1). A fragmentdisplaying about one and a half fingers from the same text is also found on the rod thatis registered in the Cairo catalogue by the number
Since, however, the rods of
The most extensive study of votive cubit rods is found in A. Schlott-Schwab,
Die Ausmasse Ägyptens nachaltägyptischen Texten
(Harrassowitz, Wiesbaden, 1981). See also S. Gabra,
24 (1969), 129-135; A.Schwab-Schlott,
28 (1972), 109-113; A-P. Zivie,
29 (1977), 215-223 and
71 (1972), 181-188.
For these rods, see R. Lepsius,
Die alt-aegyptische Elle und ihre Entheilung
(Berlin, 1865), reprinted with anEnglish translation by J. Degreef as
The Ancient Egyptian Cubit and Its Subdivision
(Museum Bookshop,London, 2001; edited by M. St. John), and M. St. John,
Three Cubits Compared
P. Lacau & H. Chevrier,
Une chapelle de Sésostris I
(Institut Français d’Archéologie Orientale,Cairo, 1956), pp. 217-248.
, pp. 30-65.
28, Tafel XXVI.