Shabtis, or Ushabtis, were little statues placed inside tombs. There could be hundreds of them: Tutankhamun had 413, Seti I had over 700, and pharaoh Taharqa had over 1000!

They were usually made to look like mummies, wrapped up with the arms crossed, but with the head and hands free.


What were shabtis made of?
  1. Shabtis were made of many different materials. The commonest was clay. Stone and wood were also used, and also faience, which is a kind of glass paste baked to go hard. Most shabtis were simple, but some, for nobles and kings, were beautifully made and painted.

In later years, shabtis were often given their own special box (see picture below)

What were shabtis for?

Egyptians believed that in the afterlife they would be called on by the gods to do work, to make their food. Mainly this was farming work. They didn't want to have to do this work, so they made shabtis to do it for them. They were inscribed with a magic spell so they would come to life. Shabti means 'answerer' - that is, they were servants who would answer the call to work.

Most shabtis are shown holding farm tools, so they can do farm work.

The magic spell

The spell comes from chapter 6 of the Book of the Dead. You can see it on the pictures above.

'O shabti, if (name of the dead person) be summoned to do any work which has to be done in the realm of the dead - to plough the fields, to irrigate the land, or to carry sand from east to west; "Here I am," you shall say, "I shall do it".'

Below is a scene from the Tomb of Sennedjem, showing him and his wife ploughing and reaping in the afterlife.


The Story of Eucrates

Do you know any stories in which magicians make objects come to life to do jobs for them? Read this ancient Greek story about an Egyptian magician, and see if it sounds familiar.

While travelling the Nile in Egypt, the Greek Eucrates met one of the sacred scribes of Memphis. He was very wise and had spent 23 years studying in the underground sanctuaries where the goddess Isis had taught him magic. On the boat Eucrates saw the magician work miracles, riding crocodiles and controlling all the creatures of the river. Eucrates was impressed, so the magician invited him to stay with him in Memphis.

The magician had no servants and told Eucrates to dismiss his, as they would not be needed. When there was a job to be done, the magician put clothing on a door bolt, a pestle, or a broom. He said some magic words, and the object came alive did did his bidding. When the job was done, the magician said a few more words and the object went back to how it had been before.


Eucrates was eager to learn this trick, but the magician would not tell him how to do it. One day, while the magician was casting his spell, Eucrates overheard the magic word. When the magician went out, Eucrates tried out the spell and told a pestle to go and bring a vase of water. To his delight it went for the water.

But Eucrates had not learned the word to make it stop, and so it carried on fetching water. Eucrates became desperate, and cut the pestle in two. But then both halves took up vases and carried on bringing water. This went on and on, until the house was flooded. Just then the magician returned and said the word to stop the spell.

Now where have you heard - or seen - that story before?