Learn Hieroglyphs

The Offering Formula Phonetics

Formulae comprise relatively fixed combinations of words, and so can be read without a detailed understanding of their internal grammar. The most common example, the offering formula, is an ubiquitous feature of the hieroglyphic monuments found in museums throughout the world. By working through, and becoming familiar with, the elements of the formula discussed below, you will gain access to a vast number of hieroglyphic inscriptions.

The offering formula merges two related functions: official and personal. In official terms, the status of the deceased as one of the blessed deceased was linked to the successful performance of official functions in royal service and ethical behavior in life. This success was instrumental in qualifying the deceased for access to the means of commemoration in terms of memorial inscriptions and funerary monuments. One purpose of the offering formula was to allow the deceased to partake of the offerings presented to the deities in the major cult temples in the name of the king, particularly on festive occasions. This reversion of offerings displays the importance of official life, particularly in terms of the person of the king, in the relationship between the living and the deceased.

The second, personal, function relates more to the private family-based aspects of the funerary cult of the deceased. The private offerings to the deceased could be either physical (the offering of food, drink and goods) or verbal (through the utterance of the offering formula). Furthermore, these offerings could be perpetuated in pictorial and verbal form (through art and writing). In this way, the offerings at the burial could be perpetuated by family members (particularly the son and heir), or by people visiting the tomb, or passing by the stela.


Htp-di-nsw wsir nb +dw nTr aA nb AbDw

An Offering which the king gives to Osiris, lord of Djedu, great god, lord of Abydos.

di.f prt-xrw t Hnqt kA Apd Ss mnxt

So that he may make verbal offerings (prayers), (in) bread, beer, ox, fowl, alabaster, linen.

xt nb(t) nfr(t) wab(t) anxt nTr im

Everything good and pure on which a god lives.

n kA n imAx(w) ky

For the ka of the revered one “Ky”.

The most common form of the offering formula is composed of three parts, which can be divided according to the characteristic Egyptian expression found in each:

       Htp-di-nsw         an offering which the king gives.

                     prt-xrw               a verbal offering.

                     n kA n                     for the kA of

We shall take you through each of these parts in turn, assembling here the material you need to be able to read the standard Osiris offering formula.

a) The offering to the god(s):

      Htp-di-nsw             an offering which the king gives

The conventional grouping of this expression uses the following elements:

 from             nsw         king

 from        Htp         offerings

 from                              di            give

The expression Htp-di-nsw is often used to refer generally to the offering formula and its associated offering rites (and might less literally be translated as “the offering rite”). The actual rendering of this stereotypical phrase is notoriously obscure and still exercises the minds of    scholars. Whatever its original form, it is clear that by the Middle Kingdom the phrase had come to be treated as a fixed, compound expression. Here we have adopted a standard rendering which we encourage you to follow, rather than trying to work out its meaning from the individual signs.

b) The name, title and epithets of the god(s):

The name of the god then follows. The god most commonly named in the offering formula (as in the example above) is Osiris, as well as other gods as Anubis.

c) The offerings are passed on to the deceased:

The voice offerings:

This section of the offering formula centers around the following expression:

                                prt-xrw                 a voice offering.

The standard writing ofprt- xrwcontains the following elements:

 from        prt              going forth

 from            xrw             voice

 from                t                 bread

 from                  Hnqt              beer

The term prt-xrw is regularly written with the bread and beer signs. Even when the voice offering itself is intended without any reference to the bread and beer. They are depicted whether bread and beer are mentioned separately in the subsequent inventory of offerings or not (in which case they may have been thought of as being included within the writing of prt-xrw).

By the Middle Kingdom prt-xrw had become a fixed expression used as a cover term for the offerings themselves (and might be loosely translated as “the ritual offerings”). As a fixed expression, prt-xrw can even be written with a determinative for the whole phrase, such as  “loaf for offering”.

                 prt xrw             a voice offering

The second part of the offering formula either starts off with prt-xrw immediately or marks the passing over of the offerings from the god by the use of:

di.f prt-xrw       so that he may give a  voice offering.

di.f is a form of the verb rdi “to give”.

prt-xrw alone is typical of Eleventh Dynasty stelae. di.f prt-xrw is typical from the mid–Twelfth  Dynasty onwards (prt-xrw alone being rare by then). During the early Twelfth Dynasty a mixture of both usages is found.

The inventory of offerings:

The offerings are usually enumerated via a standard list of items, usually written with abbreviated writings (given here alongside fuller writings):

 or                            t              bread

 or                        Hnqt         beer

  or              kA            ox

 or Apd          fowl

 or                       Ss              alabaster

 or            mnxt           linen

Often the offerings are numbered with  xA“thousand” or  xA-m“a thousand of”.

prt-xrw xA t Hnqt xA kA Apd xA Ss mnxt

A voice offering (of) a thousand bread and beer, a thousand ox and fowl, a thousand alabaster and linen.

(prt-xrwis here written with bread and beer signs but simply reads prt-xrw)

Other offerings sometimes occur (particularly in late Twelfth and Thirteenth Dynasties stelae) and are usually more fully written out:

                            mrHt                Oil, unguent

                           snTr                  Incense

 or  Htp or Htpt        Offerings

                                     Df(Aw)             Provisions

The inventory is wrapped up:

As well as listing a standard set of offerings, the offering formula also usually includes a more generic and all-embracing phrase:

             xt nb(t) nfr(t)wab(t)              Everything good and pure.

This expression is often qualified by the following fixed expression:

    anxt nTr im                           On which a god lives

Since this is a fixed expression, you should read and translate it as a wholewithout worrying abou its internal grammar.

d) The recipient of the offering

The deceased recipient of the offering is introduced by one or both of the following phrases:

                                   n kA n                                    For the ka of

                                   imAxw                                   The revered one.

In the Eleventh Dynasty and into the early Twelfth Dynasty (after which it dies out), we usually find imAxwon its own. The combined usage n kA nimAxwbegins in the early Twelfth Dynasty and reaches its peak in the mid-Twelfth Dynasty. The use of n kA non its own is rare in the early Twelfth  Dynasty, but becomes the most common form from the late Twelfth  Dynasty onwards. Once you have reached this point, then you will find the name of the deceased, usually with a title, and ending with the common epithet:

                                  mAa- xrw                              The justified.

Htp-di-nsw Htp (di) inpw xnty sH-nTr tpy Dw.f prt-xrw n.f m Hb nb ra nb ptH-Spss

An offering which the king gives to Anubis, the foremost of the sacred tent upon his mountain, and verbal offerings (prayers) in every feast and every day to ptH-Spss.