Ancient Egypt: Its History and Culture
Main menu Main Index and Search Page History List of Dynasties Cultural chronology Mythology Aspects of Life in Ancient Egypt Glossary of ancient Egyptian terms Herodotus on the pharaohs Ancient Egyptian texts Apologia and Bibliography

Printout
  For best results save the whole webpage (pictures included) onto your hard disk, open the page with Word 97 or higher, edit if necessary and print.
  Printing using the browser's print function is not recommended.

 

Staffs and sceptres

OK official with staff
Wooden statuette of 6th dynasty official
    Staffs are among mankind's oldest implements and from earliest times they served to convey their bearers' power. The oldest such staff in Egypt was found in the grave of a man at the pre-dynastic el Omari site. It was about thirty-five centimetres long and was similar in shape to the ames sceptre which in historical times was a symbol of royal power. Consequently it was suggested that the deceased was a local ruler.[1] Staffs were identified with authority to such an extent that the terms for the mighty included either a chair on which the nobleman was enthroned: Sps or the staff of office which the official wielded: sr.

    The shapes of the different kinds of staffs and sceptres varied and the terms used for them were numerous. Some of the sceptres were primarily associated with the gods, some belonged to the pharaonic regalia, and there were those which conferred higher, divinely inspired authority on ordinary officials whose ultimate function it was to maintain the social order, personified by Maat. Anybody having been entrusted with such power was proud to show it in public, and this was, according to Ipuwer who complained about the state of the world in his lamentations, how it should be:
The distinguished ones of the estates stand watching the jubilation from their houses, clad in best quality linen, (holding) staves [2] before (them), (well) established (?) in the midst!
    Many of the staffs of authority lost their physical sturdiness and were carried for their symbolic impact, but even after the invention of more effective arms, staffs continued to be appreciated as weapons
And behold, the servant of the common citizen whom you have brought in order to appoint him as a ser-official although this was no ser-official of you(r kind), he shall be announced to his majesty, for one hears (the saying): 'If the battle axe of white gold covered with bronze is lacking, then a sturdy staff from a watering place or another from an acacia pond will do.'
Letter from Amenhotep II to User-Satet [4]

The ames sceptre

    Gods and kings liked to be equipped with a large array of power paraphernalia, chief among them head dresses and staffs. The Old Kingdom Inscription of Weni describes Min-Amen in all his splendour:[5]
Lord of the uraeus crown with lofty double plume,
Beautiful of diadem, with lofty white crown,
The kingly coif with the two uraei are on his forehead.
He is adorned within the palace,
With the Sekhmet crown, the Nemes cap, and the Khepresh helmet.
Fair of face, he taketh the Atef crown,
Loving its south and its north.
Lord of the Sekhemt sceptre, receiving the Ames sceptre,
Lord of the Meks sceptre, holding the Nekhekh (the flail).
Beautiful ruler, crowned with the white crown.
    The ames, Ams,[6] like other maces such as the hedj, HD,[7] was a weapon, but, with the passing of time, it was replaced by more effective arms. As a symbol of royal might it invested the king with the air of invincibility, crushing all his enemies. Thutmose III boasted
It was my mace which felled the Asiatics, it was my Ames sceptre that struck the Nine Bows.
    The ames, like other clubs, was generally made of wood, among them hety wood,[8] bnbn wood,[9] jhhn wood [10] and others; but the Osiris (the deceased) of pMaiherperi, after having been given eternal life and akhu power, says:[11]
My ames sceptre is in my hand, (made) of gold.
Being involved in the making of the ames was of some consequence, at least to the Old Kingdom prince Rahotep. His statue bears the following inscription:
Great Prophet (Priest) of Heliopolis, unique one of festival, craftsman of the Ames sceptre
Statue of Rahotep, 3rd dynasty [12]

The crook and the was

See also The crook and flail and The was

Amenhotep IV with crook and flail
Amenhotep IV with crook and flail
Egyptian Museum, Cairo
    Shepherds must have continued to use the man-high crook, the aw.t,[13] which had already characterized the ancient herder god Anedjti, but the pharaohs who used the crook as a sceptre would have been hard put to catch the smallest lamb with it, given the fact that it had shrunk in length to about half a metre. As heqa, HqA.t,[45] it had become purely ceremonial.
    The heqa was one of the symbols of worldly rule, with the substantives HqA referring to 'ruler' and HqA.t to 'rulership', the verb HqA meant 'to rule' and, with a different spelling, 'to plunder' or 'to capture'. Ultimately, though, the crook embodied the king's role as shepherd of his people who guided his flock on the path of the righteous to the happiness the was promised. The was, was, stood for 'dominion' and since pharaonic times also for 'wellbeing'. The verb wAs meant 'having power' but interestingly also 'to be happy'; in the Egyptian mind a functioning, well ordered society was required for the satisfaction of the people's material needs and happiness. The was sceptre was especially associated with the gods and was frequently depicted in tombs. It was the pharaoh's duty to let everyone participate in the bounty of the gods which the was stood for.
    But at times punishment had to be inflicted on those who disturbed the divine order. The power to do so was symbolized by, among other things, a staff, the sekhem.

The sekhem, kherep and aba

    The sekhem, sxm,[14] was another power sceptre serving gods, kings and high officials. The verb sxm has the meaning of 'to be mighty', 'to prevail over'. As a substantive written with the knife determinative it was a term for 'sword', and the sxm hieroglyph on its own refers to power, often in a divine contexts as in the Pyramid Texts:
Unas is the great(est) power (sekhem) which prevails over the powers/powerful.
Pyramid of Unas, PT 273-4 [15]
Wooden kherep sceptre
Wooden kherep sceptre, staff broken off
Petrie Museum, UC58966
    If early-dynastic kings held the sekhem in their right hands, they generally had a censer or a mace in their left, while officials only had a staff. Like the heqa it was an emblem of state power, but gods were also associated with it. The goddess Sekhmet was the Powerful One, Osiris and Anubis bore the epithet of the 'Great sekhem who dwells in the Thinite nome. In the mortuary cults the sceptre was apparently waved over the offerings for the ka of the deceased.[16]
    The kherep-sceptre,[17] 'that which directs', and the aba,[18] 'that which commands', look similar to the sekhem, the 'powerful one'. They played different roles in the ceremonies, but are often difficult to distinguish. The kherep was generally used by dignitaries, the aba, emblem of commanders, played a part in the ritual offerings.[39] At least in the afterlife as envisaged by the Pyramid Texts it would have been difficult to misunderstand or ignore for long commands given with the aba:
He shall hit with his aba and control with his rod-sceptre.
Pyramid of Pepi I, PT 511 [19]
    The kherep found in the annexe of the tomb of Tutankhamen is about half a metre long, gold-plated and highly decorated with a hekeru frieze on the upper part, a hieroglyphic inscription on one of the faces and slaughter scenes of oxen on the other. Its staff is inlaid with glass of various colours, its top widens into papyrus flower inlaid with turquoise, lapis lazuli and other semi-precious stones.[20]

The mekes and the hetes

    The mekes [21] was a long staff with a nodule in its middle. Originally it was apparently a parrying stick, a defensive weapon, used in conjunction with a mace.[22] The first dynasty king Anedjib is depicted on stone vessels, holding a mks staff, and Djoser is shown with one on a relief beneath the Step Pyramid.[25]
The flail is in your hand, the mekes is behind your hand.
Pyramid of Pepi I, PT 578 [23]
    The mekes was used in the Great Offering ritual, together with the hedj club and the flail.[24]
lotus sceptre
Scarab mounted in gold ring, displaying standing figure holding lotus sceptre
Petrie Museum website, UC61114

    The hetes [46] was similar to the mekes with a shorter handle. Like the mekes it was a symbol of power and used in offering ceremonies. In the Pyramid Texts its power is directed against two snakes, referred to in the spell as strips of papyrus:
Two Hts-sceptres, two Hts-sceptres, are for two strips of papyrus, are for two strips of papyrus, as trampled bread.
Pyramid of Unas,[47]

The lotus-bud sceptre

    If the aba sceptre was instrumental in ordering around the living, the lotus-bud sceptre, nHb.t,[26] brought respect from the deceased:
Sit on the throne of Osiris, your aba sceptre in your hand, so that you give orders to the living, your lotus-bud sceptre [40] in your (other) hand, so that (you) give orders to those whose seats are hidden.
Pyramid of Unas, PT 213 [27]

The lotus sceptre

Wooden kherep sceptre
Bronze lotus sceptre, Late Period (?)
Petrie Museum, UC72396
    The lotus sceptre, snw,[28] was a staff ending in an open lotus flower on which two plumes were mounted at times. It was especially associated with female deities, like Isis. Bastet, Sekhmet,[29] Satet,[30] Anuka,[31] who often carried either it or the papyrus sceptre, but also with the god Nefertem, who also frequently wore a lotus flower and two plumes as head dress.

The papyrus sceptre

Sekhmet holding a papyrus sceptre
Sekhmet holding a papyrus sceptre
Petrie Museum, UC33190
    The papyrus sceptre, wAD,[32] was a symbol for Lower Egypt. Like the lotus sceptre it was mostly associated with female deities. The goddesses Sekhmet and Bastet were depicted holding it, as were Mut, Isis,[33] Rattawy,[34] Nephthys,[37] Nebet-ihi,[35] Hathor and Uto. Utterance 554 of the Pyramid Texts [36] describes how the Great Wild Cow gave birth to the king, then protected and accompanied him:
... your papyrus-sceptre (abA mnHy) is in your hand. May you smite and govern at your translation to the possessors of honour, for you belong to those who surround Re, who are about the Morning Star.
    The wadj was a popular amulet frequently tied around the neck of the deceased as prescribed in chapter 160 of the Book of the Dead. A gift of Thoth, it was supposed to protect the limbs and confer eternal youth on the dead.[38]

Magic wands

    The meeting with peoples from the Levant enriched the Egyptian language. One of these loanwords was meqer,[41] from Semitic mql) used as early as the Middle Kingdom for a magic wand:
It is this my staff of fire which is on [///] in this breath of [///] both his nostrils. Retreat before him!
Snake magic spell, Middle Kingdom [42]
    Interestingly, the priests of Selket, who may have known all the spells there were to know when confronted with a snake bite or a scorpion sting but had precious little to offer the patient otherwise, saw themselves as staves, magical tools with which the goddess could fight the demons of the poison. Iren-akhti, a physician buried at Giza described one of his roles as that of staff of Selket, xrpsrq.t.[44]
Physician at the palace, staff of Selket, and head physician, Iri. [43]

Footnotes:
[1] Trigger 1983, pp.24f.
[2] MdC transliteration twrj.t, Wb 5, 252.6-8
[3] After a transliteration and German translation on the Thesaurus Linguae Aegyptiae website: Altägyptisches Wörterbuch, Sächsische Akademie der Wissenschaften =>  2. Reden und Dialog => Der Dialog von Ipuwer mit dem Allherrn (die "Admonitions") => pLeiden I 344 Recto => Der Dialog von Ipuwer mit dem Allherrn = Admonitions
[4] After a transliteration and German translation on the Thesaurus Linguae Aegyptiae website: Altägyptisches Wörterbuch, Berlin-Brandenburgische Akademie der Wissenschaften =>  Briefe =>  Briefe des Neuen Reiches und der Dritten Zwischenzeit =>  Briefe vom/an den König =>  Boston MFA 25.632 => Brief von Amenophis II. an User-Satet
[5] Warner 2008, p.5311
[6] MdC transliteration Ams, Wb 1, 11.3-6, the Ams hieroglyph is a combination of a mace and a flail
[7] MdC transliteration HD, Wb 3, 206.9-13
[8] pTurin Museo Egizio 1791, BoD 145, line [4]
[9] pTurin Museo Egizio 1791, BoD 145, line [8]
[10] pTurin Museo Egizio 1791, BoD 145, line [12]
[11] pKairo CG 25095 (pMaiherperi), BoD 002, line [136]
[12] Francesco Tiradritti (ed); Egyptian Treasures from the Egyptian Museum in Cairo; Harry N Abrams, Inc
[13] MdC transliteration aw.t Wb 1, 170.6
[14] MdC transliteration sxm, Wb 4, 243.3-4
[15] After a transliteration and German translation on the Thesaurus Linguae Aegyptiae website: Altägyptisches Wörterbuch, Berlin-Brandenburgische Akademie der Wissenschaften D. Topmann (ed.): Pyramidentexte  => Unas-Pyramide  => Vorkammer  => Ostgiebel => PT 273-4
[16] Shaw & Nicholson 1995, p.257
[17] MdC transliteration xrp, Wb 3, 326.6
[18] MdC transliteration abA, Wb 1, 176.17-18
[19] After a transliteration and German translation on the Thesaurus Linguae Aegyptiae website: Altägyptisches Wörterbuch, Berlin-Brandenburgische Akademie der Wissenschaften D. Topmann (ed.):Pyramidentexte => Pyramide Pepis I. => Ebener Eingang => Mitte (südl. der Fallsteine) => Westwand => PT 511
[20] Zaki & Atiya 2008, pp.120f.
[21] MdC transliteration mks, Wb 2, 163.13-17
[22] James Karl Hoffmeier, Sacred in the vocabulary of ancient Egypt: the term DSR, with special reference to dynasties I-XX, Universitätsverlag, 1985, p.7
[23] After a transliteration and German translation on the Thesaurus Linguae Aegyptiae website: Altägyptisches Wörterbuch, Berlin-Brandenburgische Akademie der Wissenschaften D. Topmann (ed.):Pyramidentexte => Pyramide Pepis I. => "Wartesaal"/vestibule => Westwand => PT 578
[24] Willems et al. 2003, p.62
[25] Wilkinson 2001, p.180
[26] According to the Gardiner list of hieroglyphs the lotus-bud ideogramme is considered a variant of the sxm hieroglyph
[27] After a transliteration and German translation on the Thesaurus Linguae Aegyptiae website: Altägyptisches Wörterbuch, Berlin-Brandenburgische Akademie der Wissenschaften D. Topmann (ed.):Pyramidentexte => Unas-Pyramide => Sargkammer => Südwand => PT 213
[28] MdC transliteration snw, Wb 4, 157.8
[29] Aegyptiaca,Cambridge University Press Archive, p.97
[30] Rawlinson 2006, p.340
[31] Rawlinson 2006, p.385
[32] MdC transliteration wAD Wb 1, 263.7-264.4
[33] Willems et al., 2003, pp.126f.
[34] Willems et al 2003, p.83
[35] Willems et al 2003, p.126
[36] Faulkner 2004, p.214
[37] Willems et al 2003, p.120
[38] Budge 1994, p.261
[39] abA as a verb meant 'to command' but also 'to provide'. abA meaning 'offering table' has a slightly different hieroglyphic spelling from abA, the staff
[40] MdC transliteration mks nHb.t, Wb 2, 293.17.
[41] MdC transliteration mqr, Wb 2, 159.3
[42] After a transliteration and German translation on the Thesaurus Linguae Aegyptiae website: Projekt "Digital-Heka" (Leipzig) =>  Texte DigitalHeka => Schlangenzauber Mittleres Reich => Ramesseumspapyri =>  pRamesseum IX => 2,1-3,10
[43] After a transliteration and German translation on the Thesaurus Linguae Aegyptiae website: Altägyptisches Wörterbuch, Berlin-Brandenburgische Akademie der Wissenschaften => Grabinschriften => Gisa => West Field (PM III, 47-179) => Einzelobjekte => Scheintür des Iren-achti
[44] MdC transliteration xrp-srq.t, Wb 4, 204.5
[45] MdC transliteration HqA.t, Wb 3, 170.2-4
[46] MdC transliteration Hts
[47] Allen & Manuelian 2005, p.18 and p.62, footnote 15
 
Bibliography:
Aegyptiaca,Cambridge University Press Archive
James P. Allen, Peter Der Manuelian; The ancient Egyptian pyramid texts, Society of Biblical Lit, 2005
E. A. Wallis Budge, Mummy, Biblo & Tannen Publishers, 1994
R. O. Faulkner, The Ancient Egyptian Pyramid Texts, 1910, reprint Kessinger Publishing, 2004
George Rawlinson, History of Ancient Egypt. Volume 1, 1881, reprint Adamant Media Corporation 2006
Shaw & Nicholson 1995
Francesco Tiradritti (ed); Egyptian Treasures from the Egyptian Museum in Cairo; Harry N Abrams, Inc
Bruce G. Trigger, Ancient Egypt: a social history, Cambridge University Press, 1983
Charles Dudley Warner, A Library of the World's Best Literature - Ancient and Modern, Cosimo, Inc., 2008
Toby A. H. Wilkinson, Early dynastic Egypt, Routledge, 2001
Harco Willems, Filip Coppens, Marleen De Meyer, The Temple of Shanhur: The sanctuary, the wabet, and the gates of the central hall and the great vestibule (1-98), Peeters Publishers, 2003
Mey Zaki, Farid Atiya, Legacy of Tutankhamun: art and history, American Univ in Cairo Press, 2008
 

 

CSE xhtml validatedValidated
-