The Heb-Sed Festival

In class the other day we discussed briefly the Heb-Sed jubilee or festival. It caught my interest so I decided to find more information on it.

First I’d like to talk about the reason that this festival was held. The festival was a renewal of the pharaoh’s power and an affirmation of the health of the pharaoh for the whole nation to see. It proved that they were still capable of running the country. We have seen something similar to this in class already where Narmer is scene traveling down the Nile in a procession that is meant to reaffirm the power that Narmer holds over Egypt.

Second I’d like to talk about the ritual itself and what it was composed of. It was usually held after a thirty year ruling period and then after this period held every three years. However, it wasn’t unheard of for pharaohs to shorten the period between each festival for reasons like failing health etc. Some pharaohs even started before the thirty year, an example of this being Hatshepsut who celebrated the festival in her 16th year as pharaoh. (Kinnaer)

The festival varied over the years so the is not one simple procession however most seemed to include a ritual offering to the gods from the king, a crowning of the king with the crowns of both lower and upper egypt, a race alongside the Apis Bull where the pharaoh ran around a track 8 times, four times as the king of upper Egypt and four times as the king of lower Egypt. Finally, there was a procession where the king was carried to “the temple of Horus, where he receives the crook and the flail as the king of Lower Egpyt. Next, as king of Upper Egypt, he was carried to the two chapels of Horus of Edfu and Seth of Ombos, where he was handed a bow and arrow, with which he shoots an arrow in each one of the four directions.” (Arab) In some variations of the festival the king was on a boat going down the Nile which symbolizes the sun god’s journey to the underworld. (Dunn)

There are various Egyptian gods associated with this festival, all with their own representations and symbols. Some pharaohs decided not to include certain gods in their festivals and use others instead. The mythology on the Heb-Sed festival is not very clear. However here are a few gods that may or may not have been involved over the years: “the cobra-goddess Wadjit of the Delta town of Buto,… the vulture goddess Nekhbet of el-Kab”, Sed, and Ma’at. (Dunn)

Heb-Sed. Kinnaer, Jacques (

The Sed-festival: Renewal of the kings Rule and Health. Dunn, Jimmy (

The Sed-festival: Renewal of the kings’ Reign. Arab, Sameh (

1 thought on “The Heb-Sed Festival

  1. Kevin Zemanski

    The Heb-Sed festival is interesting for a few reasons. It is yet another case where we see Pharaoh’s expressing their power over the people beneath them. Of course, the other prime example of this is the pyramids. The Great Pyramids of Giza built and organized by the Pharaoh Khufu are another way in which Pharaohs expressed their power. I too did some research on the Heb-Sed festival and I found a article that talked about how the two may be linked, the festival and the pyramids. It specifically talked about Khufu and how the Heb Sed festival is held during the 30th year of rule of the king. And whether or not it was a coincidence that Khufu, who was said to have taken 10 years to develop his ideas and planning for the pyramids and 20 years of construction to complete the pyramids. Putting the completion of the pyramids in the same year he would have held his first Heb-Sed. It makes you wonder whether or not the pyramids were built for the festival. Or perhaps the other way around, with the festival being built around the pyramids. No matter what way they were linked, if at all, just again shows how important it was to the Pharaoh’s to show their power over the region that they ruled over.

    The Heb-Sed festivals take place every three years, as you mentioned, it is almost like an inauguration that the President has when he or she is elected or re-elected. It goes to show that even though we are in a time so far away and so different from then we are still in some ways more similar then we realize.


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