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Heb-Sed Festival Pharaoh's Jubilee

Ancient Egyptian Year

What: The Festival celebrated the Pharaoh’s revitalisation as a living deity

When: In or after Regnal Year 30 of Pharaoh’s reign and again every 3 years after that, although the Festival could be performed earlier if the Pharaoh wished it to be to rejuvenate the reign

How: The Deities offer Pharaoh, “Hundreds of Thousands of Years of Life, Stability and Dominion with Sed Festivals”, when they give Pharaoh the Heb Sed Festival Hieroglyphs

Who: Carried out primarily by the Pharaoh, the Royal Family and the Priesthood 

Where: Locations were chosen by Priests and the Pharaoh working together. Usually it was at places which had religious relevance to the crown and had the room to host the Heb Sed Festival Court

Why: To confirm the Pharaoh was still working hand in hand with the Will of the Deities and physically fit enough to rule

Timespan: Throughout all Egyptian Pharaonic Dynasties

How do we know about the Festival?


From Reliefs found inside in Temples, Egyptologists have learned that Heb Sed Festivals were believed, in Ancient Egyptian Religion, to have been “given” to Pharaoh to perform by the Deities. These reliefs begin in the reign of Pharaoh Ramses I, first Pharaoh of the 19th Dynasty. But the Reliefs must be interpreted as a Pharaoh’s wish for the future as many of the Reliefs have been dated to early in the reign of the Pharaoh.

In the Reliefs, for example: the Relief of Pharaoh Ramses I.  He is shown kneeling with his arms out, palms up to receive the Hieroglyphs of the Heb Sed Festival from a Deity. In Karnak Temple, on the North Wall of the 3rd Pylon, Pharaoh Ramses II stands in front of the God Thoth who hands to him the hieroglyphs which show the Heb Sed Festival. Thoth says to Pharaoh, “receive the Sed Festival from Ra and the years from your father Amun, so that you can rile as King for Eternity”.

This relief has been confirmed to date to Pharaoh Ramses II’s Regnal Year 2. He was writing down his fervent wish that he would rule securely with the Goddess Ma’at and the Deities by his side for at least 30 years, the date for when the Pharaoh’s first Heb Sed Festival could be carried out. His wish was granted. Pharaoh Ramses II ruled for 67 years and he had 14 Heb Sed Festivals.

The Preparation

Preparation for the Festival was large and complex. The building work alone would often be commissioned years before the Festival was due to commence. The Preparations would include the excavations of Stone for the Festival buildings.

Obelisks and wooden Shrines to host the Festival’s deities and then the building of the Area in which the Festival was due to take place.

Invitations were sent to Foreign Dignitaries and envoys as well as officials and representatives from all regions of Lower and Upper Egypt.

They would all need to be assembled along with the Statues of the Deities which would arrive at the chosen site by barge on the River Nile and placed into their relevant Shrine.

My opinion of the Heb Sed Festival location & buildings


Heb-Sed Courts have been found within the Pharaoh’s own Pyramid complex, please note that the “living” areas remain on the East of the Pyramid. The Pharaoh and the Royal Family need accommodation as the Festival often took place over several days. This was in the form of small Palaces or “Houses”.

The Festival

The Festival began with the First Appearance which was formed into a procession. The procession went to the Place of Proclamation where the Festival was proclaimed to those living and deceased that the Festival was commencing. There were several stages of procession.

Part 2: The Dais


The Pharaoh appeared on the purpose built a dais dressed in a short kilt which had a tail attached to the back. With the insignia of both Upper and Lower Egypt and carried the flail.

There were 4 staircases, 1 at each of the compass points.

The Pharaoh would sit at each of the points in turn where 2 deities for each compass point would bless the Pharaoh with raised hands whilst a Priest recites sacred words. 

Archaeological evidence has hinted that these were:

South Point Tatenen and Set  &  North Point Atum and Horus

West Point Khepre and Geb  &  East Point Isis and Nephthys

Part 3: The Royal Appearance in the Sed Festival Palace


On entering the Sed Festival Palace, the Pharaoh changes into the Sed Festival Robe


Pharaoh is accompanied by the closest family in making offerings to the Deities who have been brought from their residing Temples to the Sed Festival Palace for this purpose.

Part 4: Visits to the Assembled Deities

Findings are suggesting that every Sed Festival Palace was designed and built to provide the Pharaoh with a 3-dimensional map of the sky

Meaning that Pharaoh would be making offerings to a total of 24 Deities – one for each hour of the day and the night

Each deity had their own oblong sanctuary where they were placed after arriving at the location of the Palace from their Temple Sanctuary

My interpretation of the Layout of the Heb Sed Court

Part 5: Visit to Amun Re

The Royal Family progress together throughout the Shrines apart from the Shrine of Amun Re in the Hall of Eating. Pharaoh enters here alone while the Royal Family watches on, as shown from remaining wall reliefs of the Sed Festival. The Deity Amun Re gifts the Pharaoh with a promise of long life and a long reign on the Throne before the Pharaoh leaves his presence.

Carried on a portable Throne by Priests the Pharaoh has now been granted the life, dominion, health, strength, victory, offering and provisions by the Gods and Goddesses. This implies that the Pharaoh has now appeared for the last time as the Old Ruler.

Pharaoh enters the Tomb and “sleeps” through his “Funeral” and “Burial” to be woken by the Deities as the rejuvenated Pharaoh. Changing once again the Pharaoh leaves his Tomb.

New Reign Commences

At dawn the Pharaoh raises the DJED Pillar to symbolize his triumph over death. Pharaoh then ran with a Bull, or an interpretation of one, around a laid-out area called the Field.

The Field

Pharaoh ran with the Bull in an area called the Field, outlined here in red. The Field was outlined with ritual Boundary Markers and was usually within an enclosed space such as a Temple or Funerary complex.


Running with the Bull

Pharaoh ran 4 times as the Ruler of Upper Egypt and 4 times as the Ruler of Lower Egypt

This is to prove the Pharaoh was fit to retain the sole rule of Egypt

As seen in this relief, Pharaoh’s have been shown as running with a Bull which is believed to be a young Apis Bull or a representation of one.

Firing the Arrows & Concluding the Rituals

Pharaoh would then fire 4 arrows toward the 4 cardinal directions as a symbol of his power over Egypt and his ability to bring other nations under Egypt’s influence and increase Egypt’s wealth and prowess.

This was followed by elaborate concluding Temple Rituals which would include processions, offerings and acts of devotion which all went to enhance the rejuvenation of the Pharaoh and represented the strength and potency of the reign.

These are known to have been:

  • receiving the Barque of the Goddess Wenut-Shemau, or Nekhbet
  • receiving the Act of Homage to the Pharaoh by the “Great Ones of Upper and Lower Egypt”


The End of the Festival

The Pharaoh would have ended the Festival by appearing in public with his family to reclaim his Throne and on some occasions, evidence has shown that the Pharaoh was re-crowned before returning to his Palace.

The Public however were encouraged to celebrate, feast and rejoice with different regions celebrating in their own ways. As with all the great festivals, the state provided the people with food and beer for the entire event.

Different Heb Sed Festivals


Pharaoh Hatshepsut celebrated her first Sed Jubilee 30 years from the death of her father, Thutmose I. As despite not being immediately ordained as Pharaoh, she was given legitimacy to rule Egypt as her father appointed her to the highest administrative office in his government, giving her a co-regent’s experience and allowing her to rule many aspects of his bureaucracy.

This Relief shows Pharaoh Hatshepsut as Pharaoh of Lower (left) and Upper (right) Egypt seated on the Throne of each and being handed the bow to shoot the arrows as Pharaoh of each Land.

Pharaoh Akhenaten celebrated his first Sed Jubilee in the 3rd regnal year. Thought to be due to his wish to remove power from the Priests of the Theban Triad and the high God Amun-Re. He considered this long-held power base to be corrupted and that the Priests had usurped their power from the ruling Pharaoh and Court.

Advertising the Pharaoh’s Successful Completion of the Festival

 Individual shrines commemorating the Festival were commissioned and dispatched to Temples and other public places throughout Egypt to announce the Pharaoh’s successful completion of the Festival. The Pharaonic equivalent of a nationwide advertising campaign for the general public.


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