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Royal Symbols

Egyptian art is rich in symbols related to royalty and its religious beliefs. By learning to read these symbols, one can gain a better understanding and appreciation of Egyptian art . Below are a few of the most common symbols.

ankh

Ankh

In the shape of a mirror or a knot, the ankh is a symbol of life. It was often carried by deities or people in a funeral procession, or offered to the king as the breath of life.

cartouche

Cartouche

A cartouche is an elliptical outline representing a length of rope that encloses the names of royal persons in hieroglyphs. It symbolized the pharaoh's status as ruler of all that the sun encircled. Napoleon's soldiers gave the cartouche its name. The word is derived from the Italian cartoccio, meaning a cornet of paper (a piece of paper rolled into the shape of a cone). In Italian art, the names of the people represented in paintings were enclosed in a drawing of a cartoccio.

crook and flail

Crook and Flail

The crook and flail are two of the most prominent items in the royal regalia. Kings held them across their chest. The crook, in the shape of a shepherd's staff, is a sceptre symbolizing government and that may be related to the concept of a good shepherd leading his flock.

white crown red crown
double crown blue crown
nemes

Crowns and Headgear

Egyptian kings and gods are depicted wearing different crowns and headdresses. Before 3000 B.C., there was the white crown of Upper Egypt and the red crown of Lower Egypt. When Egypt was united, these two crowns were amalgamated into the Double Crown of Upper and Lower Egypt. Starting in the eighteenth dynasty, kings also wore the blue crown, and the white crown with a plume on either side and a small disk at the top.

Kings are often represented wearing the nemes headcloth, a piece of cloth pulled tight across the forehead and tied at the back, with two flaps hanging on the sides. Cobra (uraeus) and vulture heads were worn on the forehead. Kings shaved their heads but had a prominent beard.

gold

Gold

The Egyptian symbol for gold (nebu) is a collar with beads along the lower edge. Gold has long been associated with the gods and royalty. This imperishable metal reflects the brilliance of the sun and the hope of eternal life. Isis and Nephthys, two of the goddesses who protected the dead, are often shown kneeling on the gold sign at the ends of royal coffins.

Isis knot

Isis Knot

The Isis Knot is similar to the ankh sign, but rather than having a horizontal bar, it has two arms that are bent downward. It is closely associated with the djed pillar that represents Osiris, Isis's husband, and symbolizes the binary nature of life itself.

lotus

Lotus

The blue lotus was a symbol of the sun god and the pharaohs. Like the sun that sets in the evening and rises in the morning, the lotus flower blooms in the day and closes each night. In one version of the creation myth, the sun first rose out of a giant lotus flower that bloomed on the primordial mound. The lotus thus became a symbol of rebirth, the renewal of life and the promise of everlasting life.

menit

Menit Necklace

This heavy beaded necklace with a crescent front piece and a counterweight at the back is associated with the goddess Hathor. It serves as a medium to transfer the goddess's power to the pharaoh. The pharaoh's wife is sometimes depicted offering the necklace to her husband, since she is the earthly representative of Hathor.

papyrus

Papyrus

A water plant, the papyrus symbolizes the primeval marshes of the creation story. The heraldic plant of Lower Egypt, it was used to decorate columns in temples built by the pharaohs.

reed and bee

Reed and Bee

The Egyptian word nsw (he who belongs to the reed) is a symbol for Upper Egypt, and the word bit (he who belongs to the bee) is a symbol for Lower Egypt. When placed together, they represent the domain of the pharaoh, ruler of Upper and Lower Egypt.

scarab

Scarab

The scarab's habit of laying its eggs in a ball of dung, which is then rolled along the ground and dropped into a hole, made it an obvious symbol for the sun god. It represented the rising sun god and, through association, the pharaohs.

was sekhem

Sceptres

The sceptre, or rod, is one of the oldest and most enduring symbols associated with royalty and the deities. Two types of sceptres are found in Egyptian art. The was, a symbol of power and dominion, has a straight shaft, a crooked handle in the shape of an animal head and a forked base. The sekhem symbolizes divine power and has a straight shaft with an enlarged cylindrical end.

shen ring

Shen Ring

The circular shen ring represents the concept of eternity, having no beginning and no end. It is associated with the solar disk, the serpent that bites its tail, and divine birds that are often shown holding the sign in their claws.

sistrum

Sistrum

A ceremonial instrument, the sistrum is a rattle that is often shaped like the ankh symbol. It is associated with the goddess Hathor, and its sound is thought to bring protection and divine blessing through fertility and rebirth.

uraeus

Uraeus

The uraeus represents a rearing cobra with a flared hood. The cobra is associated with the sun god, the kingdom of Lower Egypt, the kings and their families, and several deities. A symbol of protection, it guards the gates of the underworld, wards off the enemies of the royals and guides the deceased pharaohs on their journey through the underworld.

vulture

Vulture

The vulture was the symbol of Upper Egypt. Pharaohs wore the uraeus (cobra) and the head of a vulture on their foreheads as symbols of royal protection. The goddess Nekhbet was also portrayed as a vulture.



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