The 26th Dynasty, also known as the Saite Period, is traditionally placed by scholars at the end of the Third Intermediate Period or at the beginning of the Late Dynastic Period. In either case, the Saite Period rose from the ashes of a decentralized Egyptian state that had been ravaged by foreign occupation. Supported by the assistance of a powerful family centered in the Delta town of Sais, the Assyrians finally drove the Nubians out of Egypt. At the close of this campaign, Ashurbanipal’s kingdom was at the height of its power; however, due to civil strife back east, he was forced to withdraw his forces from Egypt. Psamtik I, a member of the family from Sais, seized this opportunity to assert his authority over the entire Nile Valley and found his own dynasty, the 26th of Egyptian history. Known as the Saite Period due to the importance of the capital city Sais, the 26th Dynasty, like many before it, sought to emulate the artistic styles of past pharaohs in order to bolster their own claims to power and legitimize their authority.
This magnificent bronze votive sculpture represents Osiris, god of fertility, king of the dead, and ruler of eternity. Many centuries ago, it might have been found inside a temple, placed as an offering to the mighty deity. He is depicted wrapped as a mummy, holding a crook and flail. These two attributes act as scepters symbolic of his divine authority over the forces of nature. He wears a double-plumbed atef crown, featuring a uraeus cobra slithering down the front and a pair of undulating ribbed ram’s horns emerging from the sides, and a false braided beard with a curved tip. This type of beard is a symbol of divinity while the headdress associates the god with the ruling pharaohs.
The legend of Osiris states that his brother Seth, overcome by jealousy, murdered him and tore his body into fourteen parts, scattering them across Egypt. Isis, the faithful wife of Osiris, traversed the land and gathered all the parts of his body. She then cast a spell that resurrected her deceased husband for one night, during which their child, Horus, was conceived. Thus, Osiris was the central figure of Egyptian religion, the god who had triumphed over death and therefore offered the hope of rebirth and resurrection to all men. This striking image of the god in his royal mummiform speaks of a universal mystery, the unanswered questions for which no living man has a sure answer.