ancient egypt: history and culture
Ancient Egypt: Divine and royal headdresses and crowns
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Divine and royal headdresses and crowns

    The Egyptians, like many other Africans, did not wear any head-dresses. They sometimes wore headbands or covered their hair with wigs, but hats or caps were not worn by the people. The pharaoh and their families on the other hand availed themselves of the increased stature headdresses bestowed upon them. The kings, like the gods, are rarely shown with uncovered heads.

Divine crowns

    Many of the gods can be identified by their headdress, but just as their identities sometimes merge with each other, a certain crown primarily worn by one god may also be depicted crowning another.
    The White and Red Crowns were more than just headdresses a king put on. They embodied the two lands, the victorious Upper and the vanquished Lower Egypt:
The triumph of the White Crown
White-crown goes forth,
She has swallowed the Great;
White-crown's tongue swallowed the Great,
Tongue was not seen!
Unas Pyramid Texts, Utterance 239
M. Lichtheim Ancient Egyptian Literature, Vol I, p.32
    The original wearer of the crowns of Egypt had been Osiris
Glory be to thee, O Osiris Un-Nefer, thou great god in Abtu (Abydos), King of Eternity, Lord of Everlastingness, God whose existence is millions of years, eldest son of Nut, begotten by Geb, the Ancestor-Chief, Lord of the Crowns of the South and the North, Lord of the High White Crown
Book of the Dead, tr. W.E. Budge
    After his demise and resurrection he relinquished them in favour of his son Horus, and took to wearing the plumed atef crown. As ruler of the underworld the dead were brought before him and implored him for help
The deceased then addresses Osiris, and says, "Hail, thou who art exalted upon thy standard, thou Lord of the Atefu Crown, whose name is 'Lord of Winds,' save me from thy Messengers (or Assessors) with uncovered faces, who bring charges of evil and make shortcomings plain, because I have performed the Law (or Truth) for the Lord of the Law (or Truth).
Book of the Dead, tr. W.E. Budge
Amen crown
Amen
Horus
Min
(Double feathered crown)
Amentet
Amentet
(Hieroglyph for the West)
Anedjti
Anedjti
Anhuret crown
Anhuret [1]
Anuket crown
Anuket [2]
Sekhemty crown
Atem [3]
Horus
(The double crown, the sekhemty of the united Egypt)
Ayebt crown
Ayebt [4]
Bes crown
Bes [5]
Ha crown
Ha [6]
Hah crown
Hah [7]
Harakhte crown
Harakhte [8]
Sekhmet
Hathor crown
Hathor
Isis
(The sun disk surrounded by cow horns)
Hemsut crown
Hemsut [10]
Hesat
Hesat, the White Cow
Horus crown
Horus
Isis
Isis
(A throne)
Khnum crown
Khnum
Khons
Khons
(The moon)
Maat
Maat [9]
(The feather used to weigh the hearts of the deceased)
Meret crown
Meret of Lower Egypt
Hapi of Lower Egypt
Meret crown
Meret of Upper Egypt
Hapi of Upper Egypt
Meshenet crown
Meskhenet [11]
Neith crown
Neith [12]
Nekhbet crown
Nekhbet [13]
Isis
Mut
Nephthys crown
Nephthys [14]
Nut crown
Nut [15]
Atef crown
Osiris
Horus
Re
(The atef crown)
Re
Re
Reshef crown
Reshef [16]
Satis crown
Satis [17]
Selket crown
Selket [18]
(A scorpion)
Seshat crown
Seshat [19]
Sukhos crown
Sukhos [20]
Tanent crown
Tanent,
Iunit [22]
Waset
Waset [21]
(The feathered waset sceptre)

Pharaonic crowns

    Seshed (sSd) diadems, metal headbands to which uraei were affixed, were worn since the Old Kingdom and some have been recovered by archaeologists, notably the one worn by the mummy of Tutankhamen. Other headdresses were seemingly mostly made from organic materials and few remains have survived. The forms of most of the crowns are known from depictions only.
 
    In early times there were few different royal crowns. They were kept in the Double Chapel guarded by the Lower Egyptian goddess Wadjet and the Upper Egyptian Nekhbet. After purifying himself the king to be crowned entered the chapel and the crown was placed on his head and a priest spoke these words
Nothing is lost to thee, nothing has ceased for thee. Behold, thou art renewed and more powerful than the gods of Upper Egypt and its spirits.
Pyramid Texts 222
    The crowns, like the sceptres, were symbols of might. Conferring them upon a person meant also investing him (or her) with their power. A king could share them with his successor or they were inherited after the king's demise. Amenhotep II wrote about his accession that Amen-Re crowned him king upon the throne of the living and if during the Old Kingdom there had been just two crowns and the nemes to wear, New Kingdom pharaohs had a whole cupboard full of them - although some of the crowns may have been virtual:
Risen as king upon the great throne,
He has joined the Great Magicians;
The double-crown clings to his head,
Re's
atef-crown to his brow.
His face is adorned with southcrown and northcrown,
He wears the headband and the helmet;
The tall-plumed
ibes-crown is on his head,
The headcloth embraces his shoulders.
Gathered are the crowns of Atum,
Handed over to his image,
As ordained by the maker of gods,
[Amun], the most ancient, who crowned him.
Pyramid Texts 222
M. Lichtheim, Ancient Egyptian Literature, Vol.2, p.40
    According to an inscription, Thutmose I crowned his daughter Hatshepsut on the auspicious New Years Day, though in reality she began her reign sometime during the twelfth month. Moreover, the events as described by the queen are unlikely to have happened in this fashion.
Come, glorious one; I have placed (thee) before me; that thou mayest see thy administration in the palace, and the excellent deeds of thy ka's that thou mayest assume thy royal dignity, glorious in they magic, mighty in thy strength. Thou shalt be powerful in the Two Lands; thou shalt seize the rebellious; thou shalt appear in the palace, thy forehead shall be adorned with the double diadem, resting upon the head of the heiress of Horus, whom I begat, daughter of the white crown, beloved of Buto. The diadems are given to thee by him who presides over the thrones of the gods.
J. H. Breasted, Ancient Records of Egypt, Part Two, § 235
    If Hatshepsut was stretching the truth well beyond breaking point, co-regents were appointed in such a manner. Ramses II, another monarch who was liberal in his attitude towards veracity, told the story of his coronation in the Great Abydos Inscription:
When my father appeared to the public, I being a child between his arms. [He] sa[id] concerning me: "Crown him as king, that I may see his beauty while I live with him."
[Thereupon approached (?)] the courtiers, to set the double diadem upon my head.
"Place for him the crown upon his head," so spake he ///////// because the love of me was so great in his bowels.
J. H. Breasted, Ancient Records of Egypt, Part Three, § 267
    Ramses III entrusted the future of his son, Ramses IV, to Amen:
Hear my petition! O my father, my lord, I am alone among the gods who are at thy side. Crown my son as king upon the throne of Atum, establish him as mighty Bull, lord L.P.H., of the two shores, King of Upper and Lower Egypt, Lord of the Two Lands: Usermare-Setepnamon.
pHarris
J. H. Breasted, Ancient Records of Egypt, Part Four, § 246
and to make sure that his son would succeed him he also enlisted the help of Re:
Establish my son to be king, as lord of the Two Regions, that he may rule the Two Lands, like thee, as sovereign, L.P.H., in Egypt: Usermare-Setepnamon, L.P.H., whom thou hast chosen for thyself, to be heir, to magnify thy name. Set the white crown and the divine double crown upon his head, like as thou wert crowned upon earth, as Horus, wearer of the double diadem.
pHarris
J. H. Breasted, Ancient Records of Egypt, Part Four, § 304
    The uraeus, a cobra in attack position, often formed part of the royal headdress, sometimes as double or even triple uraeus. It protected from evil and was also called the fiery eye of Re. It was a symbol of kingship, also worn by the divine rulers of Upper and Lower Egypt, Seth and Horus, as Eye of Re by Hathor, and as Upes, the goddess of fire, by Tefnut.
 
Use mouseover to see examples of the crowns
Nemes
Nemes
Head cloth
Blue crown
Khepresh
Blue crown
Cap crown
Cap crown
Deshret crown
Deshret
The red crown of Lower Egypt (sometimes called the green crown)
Hedjet crown
Hedjet
The white crown of Upper Egypt
Sekhemty crown
The double crown, the sekhemty of the united Egypt
Atef
The atef crown
Shuty crown
The shuty
The double feathered crown
Khat
Khat or Afnet headdress
Triple atef crown
Hemhem
Triple atef crown
  • The Nemes was a striped, two coloured headcloth covering the shoulders and neck. The nemes, the oldest example of which covers the head of a statue of Netjerikhet [25], and the khat were the most frequently worn royal headdresses.[24] The nemes was worn with a uraeus seshed. The uraeus was generally part of all royal headdresses [30]
  • The blue or, more rarely, black khepresh (xprS) was often depicted as worn by pharaohs in war situations, though this was apparently not its main use. It began to be worn during the late Second Intermediate Period. The first royal statue with a blue crown was made for Amenhotep III [24]
  • The cap crown, in representations shown in blue, white or gold, was seemingly made of linen and at times emroidered. The god Ptah is generally shown wearing it.
  • The Deshret and Hedjet are known since earliest historic times. They symbolize respectively Lower and Upper Egypt. The red Deshret was the headdress of the goddess Neith and referred to as n.t. Collectively they were referred to as the Two Great of Magic (wr.tj HkA.w). The uraeus was also called wr.t HkA.w, Great of Magic
  • The double crown, also called the Two powerful Ones (sxm.tj or pA sxmt.j) represented the unification of Upper and Lower Egypt.
  • The atef (Atf) is the white crown decorated with two ostrich feathers. It was also worn by Osiris who was a god of rebirth. [27] Like so much else Egyptian the atef-crown was adopted by the Nubian kings [28].
  • The khat (xA.t) was a single coloured headcloth. Its oldest depiction is on an ivory label of Den [26]. Remnants have been found in the tomb of Tutankhamen, where four statues of goddesses wear the khat. It has been suggested that during the Amarna period queens wore the khat [23]
  • Depictions of the Hemhem (hmhm) are known since the Amarna period but was most often represented under the Ptolemies. It appears to have had connections with the rising sun, i.e. rebirth, as it is at times shown in conjunction with the solar child in the lotus flower [31][29]. Interestingly, hmhm.tj, the roarer, was an epithet for Seth or Apophis.
While some khat, nemes, and cap headdresses have survived, no white, red or double crown has. It makes one wonder whether these crowns were—or perhaps became in the course of history—virtual: depicted in reliefs, set on the heads of sculptures, and referred to in inscriptions.

 


[1] Anhuret: Onuris, god of the city This, bearer of the skies, identified with Shu (Onuris-Shu) in the New Kingdom. He is Lord of Slaughter who defeats the enemies of the sun god. According to the myth he returned the Eye of Re.
[2] Anuket: one of the goddesses of the cataracts. Generally depicted in human form. An ostracon depicts her as a gazelle calling her Lady of the Sky and Princess of the Gods.
[3] Atem, also Atum, creator god of Heliopolis.
[4] Ayebt, Eiebt etc.: personification of the East.
[5] Bes: Popular protective god
[6] Ha: God of the western desert
[7] Hah: Personification of infinity and eternity
[8] Harakhte: Horus of the Horizon, merged with Re into Re-Harakhte.
[9] Maat: Embodiment of the divine order and justice.
[10] Hemsut: Protective goddess
[11] Meskhenet: Protective goddess of the mother giving birth and her child
[12] Neith: Goddess of Sais, since the New Kingdom mother of Re
[13] Nekhbet: Vulture goddess of Upper Egypt
[14] Nephthys: Sister of Isis, protective goddess
[15] Nut: The Heliopolitan goddess of the sky.
[16] Reshef: originally Canaanite god of lightning and plague, became an Egyptian god of war during the New Kingdom and later a popular protective deity who listens to pleas
[17] Satis: Lady of Elephantine, consort of Khnum
[18] Selket: Protective goddess, above all of the deceased. Also shown wearing horns and a sun disk.
[19] Seshat: Goddess of writing
[20] Sukhos: Crocodile god
[21] Waset: Goddess of the nome of Thebes.
[22] Tanent, Iunit: consorts of Montu
[23] Gay Robins, Ann S. Fowler, Proportion and Style in Ancient Egyptian Art, University of Texas Press 1994, p.151
[24] Karol Mysliewiec, XVIIIth Dynasty Before the Amarna Period, Brill Academic Publishers 1985, p.27
[25] Toby A. H. Wilkinson, Early Dynastic Egypt, Routledge 1999, p.196
[26] ibidem, p.187
[27] Jon Manchip White, 1963, Everyday Life in Ancient Egypt, Courier Dover 2002, p.88
[28] László Török, The Image of the Ordered World in Ancient Nubian Art: the construction of the Kushite mind, Brill Academic Publishers 2002, p.234
[29] Katheryn A. Bard, Encyclopedia of the Archaeology of Ancient Egypt, Routledge 1999, p.412
[30] Pascal Vernus, Jean Yoyotte, The Book of the Pharaohs, Cornell University Press 2003, p.56
[31] Mary A. Witt, Charlotte V Brown, Ronald G Witt, The Humanities: Cultural Roots and Continuities, Brief Edition, Houghton Mifflin 1993, p.75
 

 
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-Coronas egipcias
-Headdresses of the Ancient Egyptian Deities by Caroline Seawright
-Kingship in Ancient Egypt (University College London)
-The nemes (in French and English)

 

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