Faith. Unchained.

A series

For this past week, I have been thinking every day – worrying more like – about where I am going to take my blog.

I mean, I had a plan. I think last week a lot of us had a plan, until we didn’t.

Because #coronavirus.

And the last thing I want to do is seem as though I’m not attending to the optics of a situation which is affecting the world over and which has now been labeled by the World Health Organization as a pandemic.

I mean, I can’t just blindly continue discussing Ancient Egypt and not acknowledging what is happening in the world around us. Entire countries are on lockdown. I don’t want to ignore that.

So, I’ve thought and prayed hard for the last week, and what I’ve come to realize is that the plan I had in mind can work – with some adjustments.

My plan had been to discuss the origins of the Jewish faith by exploring the lives of the patriarchs. This would have been a “sequel”, in a way, to my series on Ancient Egyptian religion. I wanted to be sure to have a series on the the history of the Jewish faith as well.

But, starting a series on faith without acknowledging that we are living in a time when faith, all of a sudden, seems alternately like a very important and very challenging concept, felt wrong.

So, I’ve tweaked my plan a little. I’ll start with the patriarchs, while providing historical context, and then move into other Biblical personages of notable faith. But all of it will circle back around to the idea of:

Faith in God in difficult times – when, dare I say it, it doesn’t seem to make sense.

Why does faith matter? Why should we bother? Especially when it seems everything could be in the process of collapsing around us. In exploring the lives of these individuals, I hope to be able to show the Bible’s answers to these questions.

That, I think, is very relevant to what is happening right now.

I hope you’ll join me next week.

With love and prayer,


The Pharaoh Who Went Rogue

A series on Ancient Egyptian Religion (Part 7)

Image courtesy of Britannica

So. Everyone, meet Akhenaten.

You may remember him mentioned in a previous blog or two. On first glance, you may notice that he looks a little strange.

This is possibly on purpose – or possibly not. We don’t quite know (as is, of course, usual regarding Ancient Egypt).

Here’s the thing. If you haven’t heard of the Pharaoh Akhenaten, I can bet you’ve heard of his wife.

Meet Nefertiti.

I can also most definitely bet you’ve heard of his son.

Meet Tutankhamun. Also known as King Tut.

What may come as a surprise to you is that Tutankhamun was not born Tutankhamun. He was born Tutankhaten.

Akhenaten. Tutankhaten. If you’re seeing a pattern here, you’re on the right track.

What may further interest you to know is that Akhenaten was not born Akhenaten. He was born Amenhotep IV.

So, let’s get this straight. Amenhotep IV changes his name to Akhenaten and has a kid, Tutankhaten. Later in his life (hint: after dad is dead) Tutankhaten kicks that aten to the curb and changes his name to Tutankhamun.

Akhenaten also got the famous Egyptian damnatio memoriae treatment we’ve talked about, after his death. They removed his name from the king lists and his monuments and statues were destroyed.

What is going on here?

Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the Amarna Period.

Akhenaten started his reign (as Amenhotep IV) in Thebes, the which was Egyptian capital during the New Kingdom, when Akhenaten was Pharaoh.

He started off, as far as we can tell, as a fairly normal pharaoh. The only blip that warned of what was to come were several building projects dedicated to the sun and the sun god, Ra. Which, on the surface, was nothing unusual to the ancient Egyptians.

Then, by Ancient Egyptian standards, things got weird.

In the fifth year of his reign, Amenhotep IV changed his name to Akhenaten and moved the whole dang Egyptian capital to a blank space of sand 200 miles north, to a place now known as Amarna. And because he was the Pharaoh, everyone followed (likely with one eyebrow raised). And he built a city, fast.

But Akhenaten wasn’t done. Because, at Amarna, he was determined to introduce something to Ancient Egypt that, while not revolutionary, was culturally very foreign.


Yes, you read that right. Akhenaten spent almost the entirety of his reign making Ancient Egypt worship the Aten, the sun disc.

Why is unknown, but if you want to read my suspicions, head to my post on Dating the Joseph Story historically.

Naturally, this didn’t jive well with the Ancient Egyptians, but the worship of the Aten was officially mandated. Throughout this time, known as the Amarna period, tradition was upended as the Pharaoh was no longer associated with Horus and temple styles were completely reworked to feature large open-air areas that celebrated the sunlight. Even the names of many officials during his reign were changed to reflect no mention of the other Egyptian gods (the names of gods were commonly part of Ancient Egyptian names).

Akhenaten also, most believe, completely changed the art style of the time, for some unknown reason. There’s a thought that the stylistic choices were meant to somehow reflect the nature of the Aten. Compare the death mask of King Tut (made in a non-Aten-worshipping society – we’ll get to that) seen above to the statue of Akhenaten. There’s an obvious stylistic difference in the facial features.

At the same time, because we know so little about Ancient Egypt sometimes, everyone is forced to admit that there’s a chance Akhenaten looked like that, but … I sure don’t buy it! After all, there’s art of others during the time period displaying the same oddly exaggerated features. They can’t have all looked like that.


There’s also a bit of mystery surrounding the last years of his reign. Akhenaten co-ruled with another pharaoh (a common practice in Ancient Egypt to ensure the chosen line of succession) in the last years of his reign. This pharaoh is alternately called Smenkhkare and Neferneferuaten (yes, there’s that aten again) in historical texts. We don’t have much info on this person, but there’s a theory that Neferneferuaten and Queen Nefertiti are one and the same, and that this is an unusual instance of corulership between a king and queen in the ancient world.

Akhenaten’s mandated religious changes were not popular, as evidenced by the fact that soon after his son Tutankhamun finally became king, Amarna was abandoned as the capital. It was, in fact, dismantled over the ensuing years and used as building material for other projects. In subsequent years, Akhenaten and several successors with direct connections to his reign were erased from the king lists. So much so that historians did not learn of his existence until the 1800s.

So, folks, now you know the story of Akhenaten, the pharaoh who went rogue and left weird blip on the radar of Ancient Egyptian religion.

It also brings to a close (for now) our series on Ancient Egyptian religion. I hope you feel you’ve learned something, and I hope you have enjoyed it!

I will see you next week for the start of a new series – to be revealed!

(Do you have any questions you want me to answer? Topics you want me to cover? Comment below, and don’t forget to follow me on Facebook and Twitter @headdeskliz .)

Appropriately Sphinxlike?

A slight digression from my series on Ancient Egyptian Religion

So, before we move onward with my series on Ancient Egyptian Religion, I wanted to talk about the Great Sphinx, since we talked about the pyramids last week.

Now, the thing is, that if the exact symbolic and religious meaning of the pyramids is a mystery, the Great Sphinx has sometimes been made out to be like, that, times a hundred. On the surface, it seems pretty appropriate that over the millennia, “sphinxlike” has become an adjective meaning “mysterious”.

If you took a lot of Western Civ in school, you may remember that a sphinx as a mythological figure is not exclusive to Egypt, although the Great Sphinx, located near the Great Pyramids at Giza, is definitely the oldest sphinx we have record of. It’s dated to around 2570 BC (during the Old Kingdom). Sphinxes later began appearing in Greek and Mesopotamian storytelling and iconography around 1600 and 1500 BC, respectively. You may remember a sphinx featuring in the Greek tale of the unfortunate Oedipus.

If you watch a lot of “documentary-style” TV, you may also have heard that the symbology, meaning, and indeed the origin of the Great Sphinx is up for debate. I want to clear this up.

Egyptologists are, in fact, pretty darn sure of that circa 2570 BC date, and they’re pretty darn sure that that’s a pharaoh’s face sitting up there on the Sphinx – the Pharaoh Khafre. Now, why Khafre wanted his head up on that statute is a little more of a mystery. There’s far later examples of pharaohs represented as sphinxes, so there may be a connection between the early Egyptian sphinx and the ideas of power or guardianship. (In later Ancient Greece, the sphinx was often seen as a guardian or bearer of knowledge.)

By the time of the Egyptian New Kingdom, the Great Sphinx itself had become the center of a cult which connected it to the sun. The Pharaoh at the time even built a nearby temple for the cult – note that this is around 1000 years after the Great Sphinx was constructed. So, whatever the initial reason for its existence, the Ancient Egyptians continued to consider it important, at least during certain phases of their history.

Here’s the thing, though. If you look it up or watch “documentary-style” TV, you may see a lot more “fringe” types hypothesizing about the meaning and origin of the Sphinx. The idea that had me fooled for a long time (it had been presented to me as fact) says that the Great Sphinx is far older than 2570 BC and dates to Predynastic times (before the Old Kingdom). While this is a fascinating idea, created based on certain water erosion patterns noticeable on the Sphinx, there ended up being no real evidence for the theory when scientists examined the water erosion patterns more thoroughly.

There’s also argument that it’s not Khafre’s face up there, but another pharaoh. Arguments to this effect are based on comparisons between the face on the Sphinx and other representations of pharaohs. However, mainstream Egyptologists are pretty sure it is Khafre.

Further, there are even arguments that the face was changed over time. Suggestions include the original head being that of the jackal-headed god Anubis, which would make the original Sphinx no more than an idol figure.

For a long time, there was even a belief that an ancient Hall of Records was located under the Sphinx. This idea, which, admittedly, is pretty fun, has been propagated in pop culture works.

You may have even heard that Napoleon’s troops are the ones responsible for the missing nose of the Great Sphinx, having shot it off with a cannon for some reason. This would have been around the same time that Napoleon’s troops also found the famous Rosetta Stone, a much more useful accomplishment. In fact, the story of the nose is false – drawings from the time show that the nose was missing long before the Napoleonic Era. Other pieces of the statue, such as the traditional pharaoh’s false beard, which was once attached, have also become detached with time.

So, long story short, “sphinxlike” may have come to mean “mysterious”, but there’s nothing too mysterious about this particular sphinx, especially when compared with other aspects of Ancient Egypt.

Next week we’ll be taking a look at Ahkenaten, The Pharaoh Who Almost Broke Egypt, as we begin to wrap our series on religion.

(Do you have any questions you want me to answer? Topics you want me to cover? Comment below, and don’t forget to follow me on Facebook and Twitter @headdeskliz .)

A Pyramid Scheme

A series on Ancient Egyptian Religion (Part 6)

So, I know what you’re asking.

Shouldn’t a post on pyramids be in an “architecture of Ancient Egypt” series instead of a religion series?

Well, yes and no.

I mean, it could be in an architecture series, sure. (In fact, such a series may be coming down the pipeline.)

But –

Can you guess what I’m about to say? If you’ve been paying attention, you might be able to.

Like just about everything else in Ancient Egypt … Say it with me now:

Pyramids had religious significance.

Interestingly, what exactly that significance was is up for debate. In what ways? Let’s find out!

You might remember from my first few posts last fall that pyramids were 1) tombs for the rich and famous and 2) built during the Old and Middle Kingdoms of Ancient Egypt. For reference, the building timeframe is roughly from about 2660 BC to 1760 BC. By the time the New Kingdom was established, the Egyptians had gotten wise to the fact that if you build a giant, unprotected structure over a fantastically rich person’s grave, you basically have only succeeded in hosting a massive free-for-all for grave robbers.

That said, there were a few more scattered attempts at pyramids during the New Kingdom and beyond, but in general, by that time, royal burial rituals had gone underground (literally).

Now, it’s also important to remember that pyramids did not spring from the collective mind of Ancient Egyptian engineers fully formed. Again, if you remember some of my earliest posts, you may remember these pictures:

The first image of the Pyramid of Djoser (also known as the Step Pyramid), dates from the Third Dynasty (around 2660 BC). This is the first known attempt of the Ancient Egyptians to build a pyramid. Obviously, you can see they still had a ways to go.

The second image shows the pyramid known as the Bent Pyramid. This dates to the Fourth Dynasty, around 2600 BC. Engineers started with a 54 degree angle of inclination, and then midway through switched to a 43 degree angle. It’s uncertain whether this was intentional or not. Surely the shallower angle up top helps maintain the structure’s integrity. I’m betting the engineers switched halfway through when they realized their error!

The third image is the coup de grâce of pyramids. This is the Great Pyramid of Khufu at Giza. It’s also from the Fourth Dynasty, but later than the Bent Pyramid – it was completed around 2560 BC. It’s surrounded by other pyramids (take a look at the featured picture at the top of this post!), and is the oldest of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. It’s also the only one left remotely intact.

Yes, you read that right. It’s not intact. Once upon a time, the Great Pyramid and others in Ancient Egypt were encased in smooth white limestone, often with a gleaming metal cap, called a pyramidion, on top. Over time, it has all been stripped away.

There were many, many other pyramids built during the Old and Middle Kingdoms, and you can see from the dates given above that the Ancient Egyptians mastered the art of pyramid-building relatively quickly. So, the question, then, is: Why? Why did the Ancient Egyptians feel the need to build such structures? Such structures, I might add, as took decades to build.

Like many things in ancient history, there is argument regarding what exactly the Ancient Egyptians intended the pyramid to accomplish from a religious perspective. But, there is no doubt that their construction was fueled by the peoples’ beliefs. So, let’s look at what we do know, as well as some unproven but reasonable theories.

Firstly, pyramids did not stand alone out in the desert. They were surrounded by temples, cemeteries, and often other pyramids. It is clear that many rituals involving many people were performed both in and around a pyramid.

It’s also pretty certain that the Ancient Egyptians viewed the pyramid as a symbol of what they believed was the primordial mound from which the world was created. From this perspective, the pyramid would actually be a symbol of new life. There is also speculation that the pyramid symbolized rays of the sun, shining down on the tomb within. This would explain the (often golden) pyramidion set on top of the pyramid.

Interestingly, pyramids were always built on the western bank of the Nile river. In fact, almost all tombs were located there. This is because the Ancient Egyptian religion associated the setting of the sun in the west with the idea of new life or rebirth. Further, we have three bodies of religious work called the Pyramid Texts, The Coffin Texts, and The Book of the Dead, all used in Ancient Egypt. In short, these were rituals and spells used during funerals. Interestingly, a direct translation of the name for “The Book of the Dead” in Egyptian would be: “Book of Coming Forth by Day.” What seems clear is that the Ancient Egyptians believed a good burial was key to rebirth in the afterlife.

It’s important to note, though, that the Ancient Egyptians did not view the pyramid as the only way to eternal life. Many pharaohs and the wealthy were buried in tombs or other structures, and those same funerary texts have been found associated with those burials.

I wish we had more definitive knowledge of what the Ancient Egyptians believed was the significance of pyramids, but like so many other aspects of Ancient Egyptian history, and ancient history in general, that knowledge has been lost to time. In many ways, the pyramids remain the greatest mystery Ancient Egypt has left behind.

Join me next week, as we go on a slight tangent and talk about the equally mysterious (?) sphinx, often associated with the pyramids.

(Do you have any questions you want me to answer? Topics you want me to cover? Comment below, and don’t forget to follow me on Facebook and Twitter @headdeskliz .)

The Hidden Meaning of Color

A series on Ancient Egyptian Religion (Part 5)

So – after a few weeks away from Ancient Egyptian religion and beliefs, we’re back!

To set this up, I want you to imagine you’re writing a story, and right now, you want to describe a scene. Maybe you mention the weather, or the sunlight. The people standing around, and what they’re doing. Maybe it’s a street scene, so you describe the buildings – how tall they are, how they’re painted.

In my case, the story I was telling was set, of course, in Ancient Egypt. So the buildings are white stone, with painted patterns and murals for decoration. The colors? Oh, green, blue, gold, red – the works. We’ve all seen the movies.

Great, we’ve finished describing the scene – on to the next one!

Except – it turns out we’ve done it all wrong.

In Ancient Egypt, you can’t just haphazardly use blue paint. Or black. Or green. And you better not use red unless you know what you’re doing.

Why? Because, like most things in Ancient Egypt, the color of paint was not just for show. Each color meant and symbolized a spiritual concept – in fact, multiple concepts.

Osiris, depicted here with green skin.

Let’s take a look at what some of the colors meant.

Green: This one you can probably guess – green symbolized life! But, it also symbolized many other concepts in connection with “life”, such as growth, the afterlife, resurrection, and even goodness. This is why images of the “only mostly dead” god of the afterlife, Osiris, often depict him with green skin. There was even a turn of phrase: “do green things”. It meant to act well and positively.

Red: Red was a tricky color. It was commonly used to portray the color of men’s skin and used on amulets, but the god of chaos, Set, who killed Osiris, was associated with red as well. As such, red had connotations completely dependent on the situation. It could signify life and higher power and energy, but was also associated with destruction, danger, evil, and fire. Ancient artifacts and images need to be studied thoroughly for context to understand the meaning of the red used to paint them.

Blue: Blue was highly regarded by Ancient Egyptians. Like green, blue was associated with life. In particular, the Nile River. As such, its connotations included crops, birth, rebirth, offerings, and protection. Since it was the color of the sky, it was also associated with the divine heavens. Thoth, the god of wisdom, was often painted blue to connect the idea of divine wisdom to the idea of life.

The Ibis-headed god of wisdom, Thoth.

Yellow: Yellow and gold were often used in association with the gods. It symbolized the sun, perfection, and eternity. In paintings, women were painted with more yellowish skin, in contrast to the reddish skin of men, to acknowledge their more indoor-based lives.

Black: Like red, the color black had a strong duality. It was associated with the fertile Nile soil which was deposited when the river flooded each year – in fact, the ancient Egyptian name for their country, Kemet, comes from their word for black, kem. However, it was also the color associated with the underworld and a a color, like green, that was associated the Orisis, the god of the afterlife.

White: White was associated with cleanliness, purity, and the sacred. Ritual items tended to be white (alabaster was a favored material) as well as daily clothing, made of undyed linen. Priests often wore only white – even their sandals were white!

I’m sure you can see now what a minefield it can be to “color” Ancient Egypt appropriately! I am constantly amazed at how often the seemingly mundane in Ancient Egypt connects to the sacred or spiritual.

Next week, we’ll continue our discussion of Ancient Egyptian Religion with undoubtedly the most recognizable symbol of Ancient Egypt – the pyramid!

(Do you have any questions you want me to answer? Topics you want me to cover? Comment below, and don’t forget to follow me on Facebook and Twitter @headdeskliz .)

The Hair Episode

Or lack thereof

There’s a worrying lack of clarity when it comes to Ancient Egyptian hairstyles, given that there has been a strong stereotype perpetuated that Ancient Egyptians, both male and female, shaved themselves bald. To be frank, it’s even hard to research this topic and find reliable sources. Hearsay, it seems, is king.

Which, I suppose, is not surprising, seeing that a society where everyone was bald is rather sensational. But, I am sorry to have to say, this was not the case.

Now wait! You’re saying. I’ve been lied to my whole life?

Well, yes and no. Some people did shave themselves bald. But the idea that everyone was walking around with no hair on their head is patently inaccurate.

The sidelock of youth, also known as the Horus Lock

This is made more confusing to the average layperson given that anytime the history of shaving or razors is brought up, Ancient Egypt is always mentioned. Because, even if adults didn’t all shave the top of their heads bald, they were shaving addicts when it came to all other areas of the body. Further, you’ve probably seen the traditional image of the Ancient Egyptian child wearing the sidelock of youth, the hairstyle worn by all Ancient Egyptian children. This hairstyle required the entire head of the child to be shaved, except for a single braided section.

However, once adulthood was reached, there were a myriad of hairstyle options to choose from. Priests and priestesses shaved their head as part of their ritual duties, and many men shaved their heads as well. But other men simply kept their hair clipped short. Wigs were another option, and a popular one because the woven structure would not trap desert heat near the head. Note that you did not have to be shaved bald to wear a wig.

Women had many options, including wigs. But, whether their hair was fake or not, it was worn long, at least to the shoulder, though I can’t find evidence that it was ever worn any longer than the mid-back. The Ancient Egyptians were also pros at adding extensions to the hair. Many mummies have been found with natural hair still on their heads, with extensions woven into that. I’d love to show pictures, but given that it could come off as rather grim, I’ll leave you to research it if you’re so inclined. Further, other mummies have been found with a fat-based hair gel on their heads! Henna was also used as a hair dye to cover those pesky greys. The Ancient Egyptians, it seems, were pretty good at making sure you could achieve the hairstyle of your dreams.

If you chose a wig because you wanted to skip all the extension and hair-product-based drama, or because you were going grey or naturally balding, you had a lot of options, especially if you were wealthy. Real human hair was the most expensive material used, but there were also wigs made from materials such as vegetable fiber, wool, or other animal fibers.

We’ve actually found some Ancient Egyptian wigs, or some of their decorative aspects, intact at burial sites, and I’ll leave some images here below.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this short three-week journey though Ancient Egyptian fashion! Join me next week as we head back into the world of Ancient Egyptian religion.

(Do you have any questions you want me to answer? Topics you want me to cover? Comment below, and don’t forget to follow me on Facebook and Twitter @headdeskliz .)

The Makeup Episode

The cat eye look is old as dirt

The ancient cat-eye

Woohoo! Time for another episode focused around style and fashion.

This time, I thought we’d focus on a very famous aspect of Ancient Egypt – makeup. Frankly, their famous cat-eye look probably the oldest style in existence which has a close variant that is still stylish today. You can see it here on this image of a queen (you can tell she’s a queen by the specific type of fancy hat she’s wearing).

It’s important to note that although the Ancient Egyptians knew that wearing makeup had certain aesthetic benefits, they were also convinced that it had magical properties as well (as you have probably guessed by now, the Ancient Egyptians thought most things in the world had a magical or spiritual element). Further, makeup did not discriminate in Ancient Egypt. Every person of every class wore makeup daily.

Still going strong

On the subject of daily rituals, it’s worth noting that the Ancient Egyptians were also notorious for being clean. The Ancient Greek historian Herodotus even wrote that the Egyptians “set cleanliness above seemliness.” In a pretty dirty world, the Egyptians idealized being (at the time) shockingly clean. Like makeup, this was not dependent on class. Ancient Egyptians bathed every morning, washed several times a day if they could, and had daily rituals of creams, oils, perfumes, hair removal, manicures, and pedicures. They had toothbrushes, toothpaste, and breath mints. They put so much thought into the recipes for such things that one suggested etymology for our word chemistry is that it comes from the old name for Egypt, Kemet.

So – back to the makeup! The Ancient Egyptian makeup look included malachite-based eyeshadow, which creates a stunning shade of green. Black kohl was used as eyeliner, with galena as an important ingredient. Various substances were used to create a red lipstick, including ochre and even crushed beetles!

Now, galena is a lead ore and does have some health risks. However, the galena in the kohl also served as an antibacterial agent which protected the eyes and could ward off flies. So … ah … you decide if that’s a net positive or a next negative. Copious amounts of kohl around the eyes can also serve to block some sunlight from bouncing off the eye area and into the eye, making it almost serve a function similar to modern sunglasses.

As I mentioned a bit ago, like everything in Ancient Egypt, makeup was believed to have a magical component. For that reason, many Egyptians were buried with makeup supplies. We have some spectacular examples that I want to leave you with today.

I hope you enjoyed another aesthetics-based entry in my blog! Join me next week as we talk about hair … or the lack thereof.

(Do you have any questions you want me to answer? Topics you want me to cover? Comment below, and don’t forget to follow me on Facebook and Twitter @headdeskliz .)

The Bling Episode

Ancient Egyptian jewelry – pictures galore!

Okay, so for today I thought we’d take a hard left turn and talk a bit about Ancient Egyptian jewelry. Yah!

Of course I’ll be focusing on Middle Kingdom styles, since this is the setting for my story, but I have some interesting examples from the New Kingdom that I will throw in, too.

One of the things you need to know about to understand Ancient Egyptian jewelry is that it’s not all gold. I know the movies have shown you people walking around wearing solid plates of gold as necklaces (we’ve talked about this before – that’s a purely New Kingdom style), but that wasn’t generally the case, especially in the Middle Kingdom, which is known for more delicate filigree-type work and beading.

One of the most common materials used in Middle Kingdom jewelry is something called Egyptian faience. Faience is a ceramic made from melted sand or crushed quartz which develops a bright color and shiny finish during the firing process. It’s believed that the Egyptians used this as a replacement for the more difficult-to-get gemstones and glass.

So, are you ready? It’s time for the pictures!

Broad Collars and Necklaces

The style you probably think of when you think about an Ancient Egyptian Necklace is actually called a broad collar. They look like this:

These are all Middle Kingdom styles. As you can see – lots of beadwork!

Below are two examples of New Kingdom styles that may be more like what you are used to seeing in the movies.

Now, what we see less of in movies are straight-up necklaces. But, they had these too. We have lots of Middle Kingdom examples.

We have a comparatively large jewelry collection from Princess Sithathoriunet, who appears in my story. Some boxes of her jewelry and cosmetic items were left undisturbed by grave robbers for centuries. You can see a stunning example of Middle Kingdom gold and beadwork in her pectoral-style necklace, below.

Image courtesy of The Met

Bracelets and Anklets

Bracelets and anklets were commonly worn throughout Egypt, and in the Middle Kingdom had a similar beading style to what you have already seen above.

And, for reference, here’s some New Kingdom styles below. As usual, much more bling-y.


Surprisingly, Ancient Egyptian earrings are comparatively understated. Here’s a New Kingdom example.

Gold earrings. Image courtesy of The Met

But, the jewelry of Princess Sithathoriunet has a little bit more to teach us about Ancient Egyptian headgear during the Middle Kingdom. Check out her wig rings.

Gold wig rings. Image courtesy of The Met

And, the coup de grâce, her pretty amazing crown.

Image courtesy of

I hope you enjoyed this super-blingy entry of my blog! I have upcoming entries planned along similar lines, including makeup, hair, and fashion. I hope you’ll join me!

(Do you have any questions you want me to answer? Topics you want me to cover? Comment below, and don’t forget to follow me on Facebook and Twitter @headdeskliz .)

All Hail the Pharaoh

A series on Ancient Egyptian Religion (Part 4)

The name “pharaoh” sits with “caesar” and its variations (tsar, kaiser) as the only non-English titles that the general U.S.-populace recognizes as words for “king”. Fun fact, though – the word pharaoh doesn’t mean king, it means “great house.”

Yes, you heard that right. Loosely translated, I guess we could call the pharaoh “homeboy.”

All joking aside, eventually (by the time of the New Kingdom) “great house” became a reference to the man himself, and the word came to be used as we use it.

 Now, if I were to just firehose you with all the information we have on the pharaoh and his duties (or rarely, her) and position we would be here all week. So, my plan is to just fill you in on some of the important iconography related to the pharaoh, as well as his role in Egypt, both religious and secular. I think you’ll find, surprisingly, that even the most secular of duties was colored by the veneer of religion.

Image courtesy of thegreatcoursesdaily

Wearer of hats

So, you may have noticed in movies that rich Egyptian men will wear a headdress with blue and gold stripes. This was made especially famous by the death mask of King Tut, seen here.

This is called the nemes. And, surprise, surprise, they’re using it wrong in movies. It was only worn by the pharaoh – not every rich guy in Egypt. You can also see the snake and vulture figures on the nemes. The snake is also known as the uraeus – and we’ll get back to what they represent in a second.

If you stretch your mind waaay back to my first posts on Ancient Egyptian History, you may remember that there are such things as Upper Egypt and Lower Egypt. Upper Egypt is inland towards the headwaters of the Nile, and Lower Egypt surrounds the Nile River Delta, where the river flows into the Mediterranean Sea.

Image courtesy of The British Museum

Historians consider the unification of these two previously-separate areas by the Pharaoh Narmer in 3150 BC as the beginning of Ancient Egypt. To represent these two areas of the kingdom, the pharaoh wore the vulture and uraeus (that we just talked about), as well as the famous double crown, called the pschent, seen here.

Lower Egypt was represented by the red portion of the crown and the snake (uraeus), and Upper Egypt was represented by the white portion of the crown and the vulture. The snake was the representation of Wedjet, the patron goddess of Lower Egypt, and the vulture was the representation of Nekhbet, the patron goddess of Upper Egypt.

Image courtesy of touregypt

See? The more you know.

Holder of things

Pharaohs are also strongly associated with the familiar iconography of the pharaoh holding the crook and flail. These were images associated with Osiris (Remember him? King of the gods before his brother Set took him down and made him “only mostly dead.”) The crook represented kingship and the flail represented the fertility of the land.

Kind of a god

If you remember more of the story of Osiris and Set, you’ll remember that Horus, the son of Osiris and Isis, eventually defeats Set (in most retellings) and becomes king of Egypt.

This posed a bit of a problem, since (obviously), there was also a pharaoh ruling over Egypt, and last anyone looked he hadn’t taken down any Set. He also had a predecessor, who had a predecessor, who had a predecessor … so, he definitely wasn’t Horus, the supposed king of Egypt.

You see the problem.

To solve this, the Egyptians saw the pharaoh as a momentary aspect of Horus. The next pharaoh would be the next momentary aspect, and so on.

Maintainer of Ma’at and ruler of stuff

Last week, we talked about Ma’at, the universal balance and harmony Egyptians celebrated. As ruler, it was seen as the pharaoh’s job to do everything in his power to maintain justice, order, and balance in the kingdom. He was seen as the high priest of each temple in Egypt and an intermediary between the people and the gods. To celebrate his achievements, he would be expected to build many temples and monuments in his lifetime while also overseeing religious ceremonies, waging war, making laws, levying taxes, and, during the Middle Kingdom, setting his chosen son as coregent (in the pharaoh’s later years) to ensure an easy succession. Often the son was the firstborn son of the pharaoh’s Great Royal Wife, but at times the pharaoh would choose a different son.

I hope it’s clear here that the pharaoh’s position as king was intrinsically linked to the Ancient Egyptian religion, as so many aspects of life in Egypt were.

We’ll be taking a break from mythology for the next two weeks, and I’ll be posting some fun stuff I have waiting in the wings. It’s the end of the semester, and for us teachers, this equals crazy time. We’ll pick up on mythology again in February, and, for next week – prepare for lots of pictures of Ancient Egyptian bling!

 (Do you have any questions you want me to answer? Topics you want me to cover? Comment below, and don’t forget to follow me on Facebook and Twitter @headdeskliz .)

Truth, Justice, and the Ancient Egyptian Way

A series on Ancient Egyptian Religion (Part 3)

Ma’at. Image courtesy of the National Archaeological Museum, Florence

So! After the last two fairly involved posts, I wanted to leave you with one more important factor in the Egyptian religious landscape, but I wanted to keep it short and sweet. So, let’s have a brief overview on what is probably the most important ideal in Ancient Egyptian beliefs, and then call it a day.

It’s known as ma’at.

Perhaps in part due to the highly regular and seasonal rise and fall of the Nile (the predictability of which was a luxury that no other river-civilization had) the Ancient Egyptians placed a high value on natural order, harmony, and balance. This translated to a strong cultural emphasis on truth and justice.

These concepts came to be consolidated into a single word, ma’at, which came to be personified as a goddess, also called Ma’at. She was often seen as the daughter of Ra and the wife of Thoth (the Egyptian god of wisdom) but remember, Egyptian mythology was the Wild West of storytelling and your mileage may vary. Choose your own adventure, that sort of thing. Different sources have different explanations of her place in the mythology.

The Pharaoh and the Vizier (which was Joseph’s eventual position) were both seen as being the guardians of the characteristics of Ma’at – this put me in a very interesting position as someone trying to display Joseph’s devotion to the one God. That said, I don’t want to spoil too much about my story! Given that this discussion could reveal several plot points, I’ll leave it at that for now and move forward.

Ma’at’s role as a goddess was an interesting one. She was almost a concept rather than a personage in many cases. She had no cult centers and no real ranks of priests or priestesses. In the mythology, she had only one real role in direct relation to humanity, playing a key part in the judgment of the dead before the throne of Osiris by weighing their hearts with her feather of truth (you can see it on her head in the image above).

Yet the influence of her concepts permeated every part of Egyptian society and she was held responsible for crucial events such as the changing of seasons, the movement of the stars, and maintaining the natural order of the universe itself.

On that note, I’ll conclude here! I told you I’d keep this post short! 😉 Join me next week as we take a look at the Pharaoh’s critical role in Ancient Egyptian Religion.

(Do you have any questions you want me to answer? Topics you want me to cover? Comment below, and don’t forget to follow me on Facebook and Twitter @headdeskliz .)