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Stele
Plural: Stelae
Other spelling: Stela



Stele: Israel stele of Merneptah. Replica at his temple in Luxor, Egypt.
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Israel stele of Merneptah. Replica at his temple in Luxor, Egypt.

Stele: Tuthmosis 4's stele between the legs of the Sphinx at Giza, Egypt.
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Tuthmosis 4's stele between the legs of the Sphinx at Giza, Egypt.

Stele: Famine stele at the island of Sehel, erected by Ptolemy 5. Near Aswan, Egypt.
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Famine stele at the island of Sehel, erected by Ptolemy 5. Near Aswan, Egypt.

Stele: Stele of Assyrian king, Shamshi-Adad 5. Now at the British Museum, London, UK.
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Stele of Assyrian king, Shamshi-Adad 5. Now at the British Museum, London, UK.

Standing stone or wooden slab, usually engraved, used for graves, dedications, commemoration and demarcation. Stelae are found across various cultures, religions and continents. Steles were usually decorated, but there are examples of undecorated steles, too.
Stelae were mainly used in ancient cultures, but among newer examples is the stela at Mount Rahma near Mecca, which is part of the annual pilgrimage of hajj.
Among the oldest examples of stelae is from Canaanite religion. Hammurabi's code stele from the 18th century BCE is perhpas the most famous, made from diorite stone, showing Hammurabi in front of the sun god, Shamash. Another important stele is of the Assyrian king, Tiglath-Pileser 3 from the 8th century BCE.
In the case of Egypt, the oldest stelae dates back to the 1st and 2nd Dynasties, belonging to Abydos. Stelae represent one of the most important sources of information from Ancient Egypt.
Egyptian stelae appears mainly in 3 contexts. The first is with graves, then often as a false door. As such, the stele was a symbolic passage between this world and the afterlife, through which the ka could pass.
The second context was in temples, then as votive or commemorative stelae. On votive stelae, individuals bear offerings or worship a deity. Commemorative usually tells about the achievements of kings.
The third context was with marking borders. Most boundary stelae had a simple shape, but those marking important border passage points could be highly decorated.
One variant of the Egyptian stele was statues holding a stele, known as stelephorus statues, containing hymns to the sun god. These appear first during the 18th Dynasty. Another variant are obelisks, high-rising stone monuments.




By Tore Kjeilen