The ancient Egyptians believed that the statutory agricultural labour imposed on them in order to utilise the Nile floods would continue in the afterlife. To avoid this irksome duty they devised the shabti, a figure which they hoped would deputise for them on being activated by the appropriate magic spell. The figures are of considerable artistic interest, and provide information about Egyptian religion, society, personal names, titles, etc. The motiviation and development are discussed from the first appearance of shabtis during the Middle Kingdom until their decline in the Ptolemaic Period. The iconography, inscriptions, materials and manufacture are described with criteria for identifying and dating the various types.