Votive offerings are those items given to a god by a person in order to establish a personal relationship between the two. This might take the form of answering a prayer or making sure the person was perpetually involved in the cult of the deity even though they might not be present in person. Votive offerings might also be given to appease a deity.
The type of offering varied from period to period but might include mummified animals, food and other objects. Amulets were often given as votive offerings. There is a display of them in the downstairs gallery. Often amulets of Bes and fertility figures were put in temple foundations. Sometimes certain types of objects were given at certain places. For example, scorpion figures were often given at Hierakonpolis. For much of Egyptian history many offerings were made to Hathor.
People usually gave such offerings in temples and cemeteries and also on small shrines. The process dates from the Early Dynastic. In the Middle Kingdom, offerings could only be made by the king. This is shown in the fact that stelae start with the formula ‘an offering which the king gives’. It was not until the New Kingdom however, that we have evidence for people being allowed to leave their own offerings in temples. Many votive offerings, particularly in Graeco Roman times, seem to have been made in the temples. Votive stelae were set up in open forecourts or just outside enclosure walls.
Old votive offerings were not just thrown out but were disposed of within the temple. It seems to have been considered wrong to reuse or destroy such sacred objects. Many thousands of copper alloy figures of gods have been found in the temple area. Similarly, caches of huge numbers of animal mummies have also been found.
Votive Offerings in the Egypt Centre include:
Faience model vessels
AB23 a faience sistrum
W1374 copper alloy figure of Isis and Harpocrates
W283 faience balls
W1710 Votive stela
Model column capitals
Pinch, G. 1993. Votive Offerings to Hathor. Oxford: Griffith Institute.
Pinch, G. and Waraksa, E.A. 2009. ‘Votive Practices’ in Wendrich, W., Dieleman, J., Frood, E. and baines, J. (eds.), UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology http://escholarship.org/uc/item/7kp4n7rk (accessed April 2010)