Wondering about the roles of the different sceptres in ancient Egypt? Would you like to discover all the pharaohs' attributes? Or, perhaps, would you like to understand the myths behind each of these sceptres-symbols?
You have come to the right place: as enthusiasts of ancient Egypt, we'll answer all these questions!
The Egyptian sceptres are relics of the divine power granted to the pharaoh. Through these sceptres, the gods were supposed to give legitimacy to the ruler of Egypt.
In this article, you will discover:
- The legends of the different Egyptian sceptres
- The other Egyptian attributes and symbols frequently associated with the pharaohs
At the end of this article, the Egyptian divine symbols of pharaohs will no longer hold any secrets for you.
It is now time to dive into the heart of these legends!
1) The Egyptian sceptres
Strictly speaking, a sceptre is a "stick conferring power". It legitimizes the command functions of its holder by its divine connotations.
A) The Was Sceptre
The Was sceptre is undoubtedly one of the most important objects of power in ancient Egypt. It represents a direct link between the gods and the pharaoh: through this sceptre, the gods recognized the pharaoh as one of their own.
This sceptre is composed at its lower end of a two-pointed fork, originally used to capture snakes, and at the upper end of a head of Set, god of chaos.
The Was sceptre was strongly associated with the latter because in Egyptian mythology, the Was sceptre served as a weapon of Set against the evil Apep, the giant serpent of evil, who every night wanted to eat the falcon-headed Sun god Ra.
From left to right: Set, Horus and Anubis holding in their right hand a Was sceptre and in their left hand an ankh cross.
B) The Sceptre of Ptah
In Egyptian mythology, Ptah is the god of architects and craftsmen. He is one of the founding gods of the world along with Ra, the falcon-headed god of the Sun.
Ptah is easily recognizable by the sceptre he holds in his hands. Ptah's sceptre has the particularity of combining several divine forces at the same time: power, life and stability.
Indeed, it is composed respectively of the Was sceptre, the ankh cross and the djed pillar. Assembled together, these three symbols represent the powers and might of Ptah, the creator god.
C) The Sekhem Sceptre
The sceptre of Sekhem takes its name from the goddess Sekhmet. This lion-headed warrior goddess alone is a symbol of power. Feared by all, in Egyptian mythology, Sekhmet is at the head of the divine Egyptian army. She is often depicted as Ra's instrument of vengeance. Indeed, Ra is said to have created Sekhmet with the aim of slowing down the incessant conflicts of mankind.
The various representations of Sekhmet show that she is often depicted with a solar disc (like that of the god Ra), an ankh cross, an Uræus and a Was sceptre. The goddess Sekhmet is a lioness by virtue of the lions' ability to massacre the Egyptians lost in their lands.
D) The Heka Sceptre
The Heka sceptre (or "Heka"), considered to be the pharaoh's shepherd's staff, is the symbol of his power of control over the people but also of his mission as a guide.
It also has another role apart from its function as the shepherd's staff of the Egyptian people: it is the shepherd's staff of Osiris who guides the Egyptians in his kingdom, the blessed kingdom of the dead.
The Heka sceptre thus makes a symbolic link between the pharaoh and Osiris, the aim of both being to bring happiness and prosperity to their two kingdoms (kingdoms that are nevertheless very different from each other).
E) The "Nekhakha Scourge"
The Nekhakha Scourge takes the form of a whip and symbolizes both order and protection.
It goes together with the Heka sceptre, allowing the pharaoh to show his people his qualities of guide and protector.
F) "Cross ankh" Sceptre
For the Egyptians, the sceptre in the form of an "ankh cross" (or "ânkh cross") symbolizes life. This sceptre represents not only the life of the Egyptians as mortals but also their life in the Afterlife as immortals. Many gods are represented with this cross, such as the goddess Isis, the goddess Maat (goddess of truth), and as we have seen earlier, Ptah and Sekhmet.
This symbol of imperishable life force is entrusted by the gods to the pharaoh.
G) The "Mekes scepter"
The Mekes scepter takes the form of a stick which has for upper end a tiny book containing a divine decree (which according to its legend was written by Thoth, the god of wisdom).
It is passed down from generation to generation, allowing each pharaoh to be directly linked to Osiris, the first king of Lower and Upper Egypt. It is this "document" that officially makes the pharaoh the god of the Earth.
2) The other symbols of pharaohs
The sceptres are an essential part of the pharaoh's panoply. However, they are obviously not the only attributes that define the king of Egypt.
A) The crowns of the pharaohs
As king of Egypt, the pharaoh must wear a crown. These crowns are four in number:
- The white crown or "Hedjet" which represents Upper Egypt.
- The red crown or "Deshret" which represents Lower Egypt.
- The Pschent crown which is composed of both the white and red crowns to symbolize the union of the country.
- The Atef crown represents justice and is worn by the pharaoh during certain political rituals.
When not wearing a crown, the pharaoh may wear a headdress. There are three types of headdresses that the pharaoh wears for special occasions:
- The Nemes is undoubtedly the most famous of the pharaonic headdresses: this gold and blue cloth which covers the whole head and shoulders is an inescapable emblem of the pharaoh. By the cobra Uræus placed at the level of the forehead of this headdress, the pharaoh supposedly possesses divine powers such as to strike his enemies with a glance. The Nemes is only worn during ceremonies in homage to the gods or during funeral rituals.
- The Khat is a headdress very similar to the Nemes, although more modest. The wearing of the Khat is not exclusively reserved for the pharaoh but also for his court and the nobility (unlike the Nemes).
- When the pharaoh goes to war to fight the enemies of Egypt, he wears the Khepresh.
B) The false beard
The false beard is a long, narrow beard, slightly curved at the end, which makes it possible to assimilate the pharaoh to Osiris, god of the death wearing the same beard. This "false beard", worn during ceremonies, allows the pharaoh to assert his power as well as his various links that associate him with the deities. This false beard distinguishes him from ordinary mortals because this beard remains straight when the pharaoh bends over.
C) The sandals of the pharaohs
The sandals of a pharaoh are of particular importance in ancient Egypt. In fact, they represent the point of contact between the pharaoh and the territory he administers. Also, in many Egyptian mural representations, the pharaoh is represented crushing his defeated enemies with his sandals to commemorate a victory on a specific date.
3) The Egyptian symbols
As we have seen, the sceptres are not only instruments of power but also symbols that allow the authority of the pharaoh to be asserted. In addition to the pharaonic attributes, the pharaoh is also linked to the symbols from Egyptian mythology. In this section, we will highlight the most important symbols coming from legends of Egypt.
A) The Udjat eye
The Udjat eye is one of the most popular divine symbols in Egyptian mythology. It represents the magic eye of the god Horus.
Indeed, in his fight against Set for the throne of Egypt, Horus lost an eye. The god Thoth gave to a Horus a new eye which will allow its owner to see the future. In ancient Egypt, the possession of an Udjat Eye amulet was known as providing its holder the protection of the falcon-headed god Horus.
Calligraphic representation of the Udjat Eye, symbol of healing and vision of the invisible.
B) The Maat's feather
The Maat's feather is also one of the essential symbols of Egyptian mythology. Maat is the goddess of justice and embodies values such as trust, order and righteousness.
In Egyptian legends of the "Book of the Dead", this feather is used as a yardstick to determine whether or not a dead person had the right to access Aaru, the paradise ruled by Osiris. If the weight of the mortal's heart was less than the weight of the feather, then access was granted. If not, his soul was condemned to wander in the Underworld for eternity.
The Maat feather, guarantor of equity and justice.
C) The Egyptian beetle
The beetle is also a great symbol of ancient Egypt. It takes the form of a jewel that is offered to the pharaoh and on which a commemorative text is engraved on the flat face of the sacred scarab. The text deals with the great moments of the pharaoh's reign such as a wedding or a military victory.
The Egyptian beetle, symbol of the regeneration of the cycle of life.
The sceptres of ancient Egypt!
As you have seen, ancient Egypt is full of pharaonic objects.
Thanks to this article, the significance of these objects holds no secrets for you! You will be able to explain what each symbol represents and the myths and legends surrounding it!
If you wish to become an ambassador of this ancient heritage, we invite you to consult our wide collection of necklaces, bracelets and rings inspired by Egyptian legends.
To check out these collections, simply click on the image below!