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Sistrum (plural sistra) is a Greek word. In Egyptian the name would have been sesheshet, a word which is thought to recall, by onomatopoeia, the rustling sound it makes. The sistrum was a type of rattle, played by women during religious ceremonies and also occasionally by the king when offering to Hathor. You can see pictures of women musicians holding sistra on coffin fragments in the downstairs gallery.  

Sistra were particularly associated with Hathor, a goddess of fertility whose festivals included music, dance and drunkenness. The sound of the sistra was said to be like the sound of Hathor as she walks through the papyrus plant and were shaken in order to pacify the gods. A Graeco-Roman inscription at Dendera reads ‘The naos sistrum of your ka-spirit obliterates your fury’. 

There were two basic types of sistra, those with a naos (shrine) shaped top and the other with a looped top. The looped style became more common in the Greco-Roman period 332 BC- AD 395).

The following are in the Egypt Centre:

W1326 Ostracon showing woman shaking a sistrum

AB23 Faience model sistrum

AB20 Fragment of sistrum showing Hathor head

W553 Looped sistrum


Other items associated with music in the Egypt Centre