Fragmentary, rectangular, wooden label with images of the king and rows and columns of hieroglyphic texts.

British Museum 32.650; Ebony label from the tomb of the 1st Dynasty Egyptian king Den in Abydos; © Trustees of the British Museum.

CANCELLED: ARCE Lecture: "In Accordance with the Documents of Ancient Times":

The Ancient Egyptian Sed Festival (Jubilee Festival)

Marc LeBlanc


Note: This event has been CANCELLED. We apologize for any inconvenience.

The Sed Festival is one of the most frequently depicted royal iconographic motifs in the decorative relief programs of ancient Egypt's numerous temples and royal precincts. Upon taking the throne, each Egyptian ruler hoped to celebrate not one, but many Sed Festivals—both in life and in the perpetually renewed state of existence the ruler hoped to achieve after his death. While previous studies of the Sed Festival have mostly ignored early evidence for the festival prior to the political unification of the Egyptian state at the end of the 4th millennium BCE, careful analysis of Predynastic and Protodynastic iconography suggests that, as early as Naqada I, local Upper Egyptian rulers celebrated rituals that later formed part of the celebration of the Sed Festival.

A close examination of textual and iconographic evidence for the celebration of the Sed Festival from the Predynastic, Protodynastic and dynastic periods suggests that the cycle of rituals that comprised the Sed Festival served three main purposes. First, by means of ritual, the Egyptian ruler symbolically transforms into a creator deity and attains the ability to effect his own rejuvenation and to continue to rule Egypt effectively. Second, by symbolically demonstrating his control over cyclical phenomena of the natural world, the Egyptian ruler establishes and maintains order in Egypt and in the cosmos at large. Third, in order to suppress the potentially disruptive and destructive inimical forces of chaos in the cosmos, the Egyptian ruler eliminates all possible threats to himself and to the Egyptian state during the celebration of the Sed Festival.

Marc LeBlanc is Associate Director for Academic Affairs and Adjunct Assistant Professor of Egyptology at ISAW, where he teaches introductory and advanced ancient Egyptian language courses. He received his B.A. in Egyptology and Classics (Latin and Greek) from Brown University and his M.Phil. and Ph.D. in Egyptology from Yale University. His dissertation, a diachronic study of the Sed Festival in ancient Egypt, includes new translations of ancient texts describing the ritual performances of the Sed Festival and sheds new light on the prehistory of the Sed Festival and the development of royal iconography and ideology in Predynastic Egypt. His academic publications include “An Egyptian Priest in the Ptolemaic Court: Yale Peabody Museum 264191” (Co-author, David Klotz), in C. Zivie-Coche and I. Guermeur, eds., "Parcourir l'éternité". Hommages à Jean Yoyotte (Bibliothèque de l'École des Hautes Études, Sciences Religieuses 156; Turnhout: Brepols, 2012), pp. 645-698, and “The Zoomorphic Transformation of the King in Early Egyptian Royal Military Victory Rituals and Its Relationship to the Sed Festival,” in M. Massiera, B. Mathieu, and F. Rouffet, eds., Apprivoiser le sauvage – Taming the Wild (Les Cahiers  Égypte Nilotique et Méditérranéenne 11; Montpellier, 2015), pp. 229-243.

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