M4C Logo AHRC Logo

Cannon Fairbairn

Archaeology, University of Birmingham

Thesis title:

The Role of Breastfeeding in Ancient Egyptian Religion and Kingship

Depictions of the ancient Egyptian king being breastfed by a goddess appear from the Old Kingdom through the Graeco-Roman period in temples and temples all over Egypt. In general, these scenes are understood to represent a rebirth for the king in which he receives the divine attributes needed to rule as Egypt’s king. Often tied to coronation, these scenes reflect the idea that a king changed up ascending the throne. However, these scenes appear in a range of contexts and spaces. Ancinet Egyptian reliefs in temples and tombs were rarely meant to be understood as independent and isolated imagery. They were part of larger decorative programs which interacted with each other, the space in which they were located, accompanying statuary, and the rituals which took place which the space. 

My thesis research seeks to explore the various aspects of the context in which these scenes appear. This includes looking at the time period, location within the temple or tomb, relationship to the overall decorative program, and in relation to the other scenes with which they appear. By these means, we can gain a greater understanding of the purpose behind these images of the king being nursed and the role played by goddesses in ritual and Egyptian ideas of kingship. In addition, by considering change over time, we can better understand how this motif developed over the long history of ancient Egypt and what this can tell us about the changing ideas of ancient Egyptian kingship and the king’s relationship with the divine.

Research Area

  • Archaeology
  • Archaeology of Literate Societies


  • "The Role and Use of Divine Nursing Scenes in Decorative Programs: Analyzing the Contexts of the Divine Nursing Motif" at Egypt Exploration Society Congress 6, 1-2 October 2022
  • "The Chaning Role of Divine Nursing Scenes in Ancient Egyptian Religion and Kingship: Examing the Decorative and Physical Context of these Scenes in Temples and Tombs" at Brimingham Egyptology Symposium 2022, 6 May 2022
  • "Communicating Power Through Iconography: A Suckling Scene from th Temple of Seti I at Abydos" poster presented at the American Research Center in Egypt Annual Conference 2020