The ancient Egyptians believed that the statutory agricultural labour imposed on them in order to utilise the Nile floods would continue in the afterlife. To avoid this irksome duty they devised the shabti, a figurine which they hoped would deputise for them on being activated by the appropriate magic spell. If the idea smacks of 'draft-dodging', the figures are nevertheless of considerable artistic interest, and provide information about Egyptian religion, society, personal names, titles, etc. The motivation and development are discussed from the first appearance of shabtis during the Middle Kingdom until their decline in the Ptolemaic Period. The iconography, inscriptions, materials and manufacture are described with criteria for identifying and dating the various types. A concise up-to-date treatment in English has long been lacking, and this account will be useful to students, art historians, collectors and others.
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