Ancient Egypt: Its History and Culture
Ancient Egyptian symbols: The crook and flail
    The crook
    The flail
    Divine associations

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Osiris with crook and flail
Osiris with crook and flail
Courtesy Jon Bodsworth

The crook and flail

    Few objects are as closely associated with the rulers' dominion over Egypt as the crook and the flail. Of Osiris, who inherited the rule over the world from his father Geb, it was said in the Book of the Dead:
The White Crown is set on your head. You seized the crook and the flail when you were (still) in the womb and had not (yet) emerged onto the earth.
pLondon BM 9901 (pHunefer), Tb 183 [1]
    The crook and flail are sometimes thought to represent two of the functions of the king: the crook stands for the shepherd, carer of the people, while the flail as scourge symbolizes the punishments deemed necessary to sustain society.[2]
    After the king took possession of the regalia upon his accession,[21] they remained with him all his life and even in the beyond. They were instrumental in the renewal of the king's powers. Towards the end of the heb sed ceremony, Upuaut again bestowed crook and flail upon the king, together with the was-sceptre which symbolized welfare—the god not only guaranteed a stable reign but also the prosperity of the people.[3] Dying, a pharaoh was replaced by his successor who henceforth wielded the royal insiginia of power; but in his House of Eternity his servants, the ushabtis looked after his regalia, as they did, for instance, in the tomb of Tutankhamen.[4]

The crook

    The crook, Egyptian HqA.t,[5] was a sceptre in the shape of a shepherd's crook. Its name is related to the verb HqA, to rule, the substantives HqA and HqA.t, ruler, and the divine epithet HqA used in connection with Osiris.
    In its original form it had been a man-high shepherd's staff, the awet,[6] the attribute of the shepherd god Anedjti,[7] who was the god of the ninth Lower Egyptian nome. As a royal attribute it was shortened and held by the pharaohs, generally in conjunction with the flail. As a symbol of state power it was also used by high officials at times.[8]

The flail

Narmer with crown, mace, flail and animal tail
Narmer Palette: The king with crown, mace, flail and animal tail
    The flail or flabellum, Egyptian nxAxA,[9] consisted of a short handle with three beaded strands or flyers attached to it. It was an ancient symbol of royal power and was often depicted with other regalia, generally the crook, but also the mace as in the depiction of the king of the north on the Narmer Palette or other sceptres. In the Pyramid Texts Pepi I is identified with Sopdu:
The flail is in your hand, the mks-sceptre is behind your hand.
Pyramid Texts PT 578 [10]


    The idea of the gods–above all Re and Amen–and hence their human substitutes–the pharaohs–being the herdsmen of humanity, referred to occasionally as the cattle of the god,[20] was strong in the Egyptian mind and seems to have gone back to prehistoric times. A number of royal symbols had their origins in the southern semi-nomadic cattle culture, among them the bull's tail, the crook, and, possibly, the flail and the royal head cloth.[11] It has also been suggested that the ctook and the flail may have been regalia of a prehistoric king in the Delta, who became deified as the One from Andjet, the god Anedjti.[12]
    While few questions arise concerning the origin of the crook, the flail's is much less clear cut. Some think it came from the herdsman's whip, others see it as a fly whisk,[13] originally perhaps just a leafy branch or a hairy animal tail. There is no evidence for Newberry's suggestion that the flail was a ladanisterion with which the Egyptians collected the resin from the leaves of the cistus, nor even that these aromatic shrubs were cultivated in early ancient Egypt at all.[14]

Divine associations

    The gods shown wielding the crook and the flail are rulers: Anedjti who was Foremost of the eastern nomes, Osiris after he absorbed him, Horus, the heir of Osiris, and Khonsu when he was identified with Horus. Min quite frequently was represented with the flail, less often with the crook. Anubis who was close to the god of the underworld Osiris, was shown in his canine shape with a flail at times.[15] Even djed-pillars as representations of Osiris might have arms and hands holding a crook and a flail.[16]
    In Old Kingdom depictions of cattle the flail decorates the backs of animals dedicated to the gods.[17]


    Both crook and flail were rarely used as amulets. Most of these were made of sheet gold and part of the tomb equipment of Late Period mummies.[18] Why commoners would have used them is not quite clear, but being emblems of Osiris they may have strengthened the identification of the deceased with the god who had risen from the dead, thus improving his chances of eternal life. Ushabtis of commoners who were buried during the Third Intermediate Period, very occasionally held a crook and a hoe.[19]
[1] After a transliteration and German translation on the Thesaurus Linguae Aegyptiae web site: Totenbuchprojekt, Nordrhein-Westfälische Akademie der Wissenschaften, B. Backes (ed.), pLondon BM 9901 (pHunefer) => Tb 183
[2] Andrews 1994, p.75
[3] Frankfort p.87
[4] Cline & Rubalcaba 2005, p.116
[5] MdC transliteration HqA.t Wb 3, 170.2-4
[6] MdC transliteration aw.t, Wb 1, 170.6
[7] Bunson 1991, p.37
[8] Lurker 1998, p.122
[9] MdC transliteration nxAxA Wb 2, 314.1-2
[10] After a transliteration and German translation on the Thesaurus Linguae Aegyptiae web site: Altägyptisches Wörterbuch, Berlin-Brandenburgische Akademie der Wissenschaften, D. Topmann (ed.) => Pyramidentexte => Pyramide Pepis I. => "Wartesaal"/vestibule => Westwand => PT 578
[11] Lurker 1998, p.26
[12] Frankfort 1978, p.200
[13] Lurker 1998, p.83
[14] Lucas & Harris, 1989, p.94
[15] Shaw & Nicholson 1995, p.34
[16] Andrews & Faulkner 1990, p.6
[17] Lurker 1998, 83
[18] Andrews p.75
[19] Stewart 1995, p.39
[20] cf. Provide for men, the cattle of God, for He made heaven and earth at their desire. - The Instruction of Merikare
[21] Kamil 1996, p.93
Carol Andrews, Amulets of ancient Egypt, University of Texas Press, 1994
Carol Andrews, Raymond Oliver Faulkner, The Ancient Egyptian Book of the Dead, University of Texas Press, 1990
Bunson 1991
Eric H. Cline, Jill Rubalcaba, The Ancient Egyptian World, Oxford University Press US, 2005
Henri Frankfort, Kingship and the gods, University of Chicago Press, 1978
Jill Kamil, The ancient Egyptians: life in the Old Kingdom, American Univ in Cairo Press, 1996
Lucas, A. & Harris, J. R., 1962, Ancient Egyptian Materials and Industries, Histories and Mysteries of Man LTD, London 1989
Lurker 1998
Shaw and Nicholson 1995
H. M. Stewart, Egyptian shabtis, Osprey Publishing, 1995
Richard H. Wilkinson, The Complete Gods and Goddesses of Ancient Egypt, Thames and Hudson London, 2003


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