The Book of Gates as it appears on the Sarcophagus of Seti I

The primary source for my translation of The Book of Gates was the alabaster sarcophagus of Seti I, which these days lives in Sir John Soane’s Museum, London.  Its carvings were published in full in Bonomi, Joseph and Samuel Sharpe. The Alabaster Sarcophagus of Oimenepthah I., King of Egypt. London: Longman, Green, Longman, Roberts, and Green, 1864.  Wonderfully, this book is available to download at; however, the plates containing the book are not organized in order of hour, but by their location on the sarcophagus itself.  As a result, it is actually quite difficult to read the book’s text due to the way the plates are divided up.

So the first thing I did, in preparation for making the translation, was to construct more useful images of the sarcophagus’s surfaces to work from, by stitching together the plates in Oimenepthah on my computer, using the GNU Image Manipulation Program.  Portions of those resulting images were included in the book that has just been published, as full page illustrations of each complete hour, so that readers could follow along with the hieroglyphs, if they wanted, as they read through my translation and Josephine’s commentary.

However, it struck Josephine yesterday that it would be good for the book’s readers to have access to larger versions of those illustrations, and thankfully, as Oimenepthah is way out of copyright, there is nothing preventing us from sharing my stitched-together images of the version on Seti I’s sarcophagus online.

So here they are:

Hours and Gates 1-5
These wrapped right round the outside of the sarcophagus.  The first hour began under his feet, and wrapped up his right side and over his head. The beginning of the fourth hour is directly over his head. The text then runs down the left hand side of the sarcophagus.

Surviving portions of hours 7 & 8 (Hour 6 was not included on Seti I’s sarcophagus)
These were on the lid of the sarcophagus.

Eighth Gate, Hours and Gates 9-10, and final image.
The final representation was directly over Seti I’s head inside the sarcophagus.  The eighth gate sat above his left shoulder. The tenth gate sat between his feet.

Hours and Gates 11-12
For clarity, the final representation is reproduced again in this image, so you can mentally join together the whole inside of the sarcophagus.  The twelfth gate sat above his right shoulder.

If you want to track down Seti I’s version of the missing sixth hour, then your best bet is Hornung, Erik. The Tomb of Pharaoh Seti I. 1st ed. Zurich, Switzerland: Artemis Verlag Zürich und München, 1991. (The hour was included on his tomb walls rather than on his sarcophagus.)

If you want full texts of Hours 7 and 8, then your best bet is Hornung, Erik and Theodor Abt. The Egyptian Book of Gates. Zurich, Switzerland: Living Human Heritage, 2014.  This is Hornung’s complete composite hieroglyphic text of the Gates, with transliteration and translation. It was my main source for Hours 7 and 8, though I tried always to match Hornung’s text with the surviving portions on Seti I’s sarcophagus.

The full text of all the different New Kingdom versions of Gates is also available in Hornung, Erik.  Das Buch von den Pforten des Jenseits, 2 vols, Geneva, 1979/1984.  But good luck getting your hands on a copy unless you have access to an Egyptological library…it seems to be totally out of print and unavailable.

One thing to bear in mind if you’re following along on Seti I’s sarcophagus as you read my translation: scenes that come just before gates, on all three registers, are frequently somewhat abbreviated, as the artists often seem to run out of space for text at those points.  Where my translation carries on after those scenes have apparently ended, it means that I have switched to using Hornung’s composite text to finish off the scene.


Author: Michael Sheppard

Michael Sheppard edits the Quareia course. He is also writing a book on Ancient Egyptian magic.

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