The offering formula

The “blessed dead” (those who passed the “weighing of the heart” in the halls of Ma’at) were thought to live eternally in a paradise with the gods. However, they did not like to be unprepared and so their tombs were equipped with clothing, games, and furniture, as well as food and drink.

Offerings were presented to the images of gods in order to nourish and sustain them, and the Egyptians also believed that the deceased could derive sustenance from offerings presented to them. Offerings were brought into the chapel of the tomb and presented in front of the false door.

An offering table with the offering formula inscribed on it (copyright Gerard Ducher)

The simplest style of offering table was a reed mat with a loaf of bread on it. This became the symbol “htp” (“hotep” or “hetep”) which represented either an altar or the offering itself and was used in words such as “hotep” – to be pleased or satisfied.

Even when the reed mat was replaced by a stone offering table during the Old Kingdom the altar was often created in the shape of a reed mat and bread loaf or had the symbol carved on its design. The offering tables were carved with images of typical offerings, such as bread, beer, meat, and ducks. If the family no longer made offerings at the table, it was thought that the images of the offerings would sustain the deceased. Reciting the “offering formula” could also substitute for a real offering.

The “offering formula” was the principal inscription on the False Door from the Early dynastic period and was popular until the end of the Greco-Roman period. It was also applied to coffins, funerary stelae, paintings, jewellery, and amulets.

The formula

The first of the standard elements is the phrase “Htp Di nsw” (hotep di nisu), which is translated as “A gift (offering) which the king gives”. The offering was always described as being from the king even if it was destined for a common burial. This was because the King was the spokesman for each person with the gods, so every offering was made in his name.

Htp Di nsw
a gift which the king gives

Next the formula confirms the name of the god who will receive the gift. The earliest examples (from the fourth dynasty only refer to Anubis), but Osiris (sometimes in the form of Khentiamentiu) soon became a popular recipient of offerings. From the New Kingdom, other gods such as Amun were occasionally named in the formula. The name of the god is often followed by one of his (or her) epithets. For example, “Osiris, Lord of Djedu” or “Anubis, who is on his mountain” (referring to the cliffs above the cemetery).

The next phrase is “Di-f prt-hrw”. “Di-f” is a future form of the verb “to give” and is translated as “so that he will give”, while “prt-hrw” is translated as “a voice offering”. The sign for the latter term includes the symbols for bread and beer even if they are not among the offerings, and the whole symbol represents any ritual offering.

Di-f prt-hrw
so that he will give a voice offering

This phrase confirms that speaking the offering formula will allow the deceased to gain access to the offerings listed after it. Offerings are often listed by abbreviation as they tended to be fairly standardized.

Common offerings

Ahmose Nefertari and her son Amenhotep I making offerings to Amun copyright One Dead President

Finally, the formula notes the name of the deceased who will receive the offerings.

The deceased is referred to as imAh (the revered one) and mA´-hrw (true of voice, referring to the justified dead who have passed the trials in the hall of Ma’at).

From the Twelth Dynasty the epithet imAh was usually preceded by the phrase n-kA-n (for the ka of)

for the ka of the revered …


Htp di nsw (n) Asir nb Ddw nTr ‘A nb AbDw di=f prt-hrw t Hnqt kA Apd shs mnht ht nb(t) nfr(t) w´b(t) ´nht nTr im n kA imAh(y) ky

An offering which the King gives (to) Osiris, Lord of Djedu, great God, Lord of Abydos, so that he may give a voice offering (in) bread, beer, ox, fowl, alabaster, linen, everything good and pure on which a god lives for the Ka of the revered one Key

Offering formula from the tomb of Senusert

Htp di nsw (n) Asir nb imn.t tA-nTr nb AbDw pr.t-hrw 1000 kA.w Apd.w h.t nb(.t) nfr(.t) wab(.t) n imAhj hr inpw tp(j) Dw=f smr imjrA aXn.tjw s-n-wsr.t mAa-xrw

An offering that the king gives (to) Osiris, the Lord of the West of Ta-Netjer, the Lord of Abydos, 1000 voice offerings of bulls and birds and every good and pure thing, on behalf of the one who is venerable with Anubis, who is upon his mountain, the royal seal-bearer, the sole friend (of the king), the overseer of the royal audience room, Senuseret, true of voice.

Copyright J Hill 2010