- Object type: Sculpture
- Formal Title: The Goddess Maat
- Creator: Unknown, ancient Egypt
- Date Created: 1300 B.C.
- Origin: Tomb of Seti I, 19th Dynasty
- Current Location: Egyptian Museum in Florence, Italy
See, also, Ancient Egyptian Law.
A fragment of a wall relief, showing Ma'at or Maat, the Egyptian goddess of Justice. The item was discovered in 1817 by an Italian archaeologist and shipped to Florence where it has been ever since.
Ancient Egypt worshipped many gods, one of which was Ma'at or Maat, a symbol of truth, morality law and order, although traditional Egyptian archaeologists believe that she was more of a concept than an actual goddess:
The Egyptians used the concept of Maat, personified as a goddess, to refer to the cosmic order which came into being when creation banished chaos. The word covers notions such as order, justice and truth, and means the opposite of chaos, evil and lies. It was considered to be the most important principle of the world.
"It was the (pharaoh's) duty to maintain this order - based on his knowledge of Maat, he issued laws. Further, he had to placate the gods with offerings so that they would not leave Egypt and abandon it to chaos.
"Both the gods and men 'lived on Maat', and one of the most important gifts from the king to the gods was a statuette of the goddess. As the king's deputy, the vizier, too, was a Priest of Maat.
"Although the goddess represents one of the most important principles of the Egyptian state, very few temples dedicated to her have been found.
"Maat is depicted as a woman with a feather on her head. The feather alone can also represent the goddess."1
According to ancient Egyptian legends, she was the wife of another God known as Thoth, and she had eight children who together, created the earth.
Ma'at is usually depicted as a woman either seated or standing holding a sceptre. Her symbol is the ostrich feather which in this ancient engraving, she is wearing in her hair. The ostrich feather is an alternative symbol of justice in Egypt
The official Egyptian Museum of Florence description of the item:
"A fragment of a wall relief showing the upper part of an image of the goddess Maatwearing a tripartite wig, a wide usekh collar, bracelets, and a tunic supported by shoulder-straps. Her head is surmounted by her emblem, a feather, the symbol of truth and justice."
Ma'at was also the word for law and order which, the ancient Egyptians believed, were they ever to be forsaken by the pharaohs, the world would come to an end absorbed by chaos. This admonition explains why some pharaohs left instructions to give prominence to engravings of Ma'at at their burial precincts.
Ma'at was said to be the judge of people when they died, measuring their good deeds against their sins.
"Despite being a winged goddess, she was judge at the Egyptian underworld .... The dead person's heart was placed on a scale, balanced by Ma'at... If the deceased had been found to not have followed the concept of ma'at during his life (if he had lied or cheated or killed or done anything against ma'at) his heart was devoured by a demon and he died the final death. If the heart weighed the same as Ma'at, the deceased was allowed to go on to the afterlife.
"In life, it was the pharaohs' duty to uphold ma'at. "I have done Ma'at" has been spoken by several pharaohs, as well as being called "beloved of Ma'at".
"Ma'at, as would be logical, was also was the justice meeted out in ancient Egyptial law courts. It is likely that a "Priest of Ma'at" referred to people who were involved in the justice system, as well as being priests of the goddess herself."1
This particular engraving has been dated to sometime between 1306 and 1290 BC. It is made on limestone and it is approximately 30 inches high by 18 inches wide. It was recovered from the Tomb of Seti I, who ruled during the 19th Dynasty of ancient Egypt.
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