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Tutankhamun sistrum

The sistrum or Ritualistic Rattles in ancient Egypt


The word Sistrum originates from the Greek verb σείω, seio meaning to shake and it was called in ancient Egyptian language “sSSt”. The ancient Egyptian word could be derived from the sound the instrument makes. It is a musical instrument shaped like the anx; it was mainly used in religious rituals.
 
 According to early historians, its origin is unknown. It is attested in Egypt since at least the Old Kingdom. Scenes found on walls show it in the hands of priests and priestesses while performing musical rites, while the king played it in temple rituals standing before the gods.


Tutankhamun sistrum


Musical instruments categories


The ancient Egyptian knew three categories of musical instruments:

1.     Percussion instruments e.g. Sistrum, clappers, tambourine (drums nowadays)
2.     Wind or blowing instruments e.g. trumpet (flute, oboa …. Nowadays)
3.     String instruments e.g. harp (guitar, oud, violin nowadays)
 

The sistrum of Tutankhamun

 
There were two identical sistra, found on one of the funerary beds (the one with head of a cow) in the Antechamber. They were probably used during real life as indicated by signs of wear on the inside of the arch. It is possible that they were used during the burial ritual of Tutankhamun then left on the funerary bed.

The sistrum was believed to magically produce the universal harmony heard only by the gods. It is considered a magical object for Hathor due to the rustling sound that the cow goddess caused while walking through the marshes. This sound was supposed to placate the gods and goddesses. The sistrum is predominantly a female instrument although it was also used by priests, kings and associated with a male diety (Bes).

The material:

The octagonal handle is made out of wood covered with gold leaf. It takes the shape of Ankh sign, the upper part (arch) is made out of metal covered with gold leaf. There are 3 serpent-like metal rods, with 3 square metal jangles running through them. These make music (jingling sound) when shaken. The height is about 1 foot.

Gods and goddesses associated with the sistrum are:
1.     Isis
2.     Hathor
3.     Bes
4.     Bastet (as it was given to her by Isis)
5.     Ihy, son of Hathor (He was represented as a naked child holding the sistrum).


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