Nekhbet and Wadjet

Of course, where would Upper and Lower Egypt be without a divine deity protecting them? The crowns do not only symbolise the power of the pharaoh but also represent the two goddesses who are connected to each geographical unit. In the corner of Upper Egypt we have the vulture goddess, Nekhbet. In the Lower Egypt corner we have the cobra goddess Wadjet. Both the goddesses can be seen as art motifs representing the position of the pharaoh. The two goddesses together are known as nebty, literally ‘The Two Ladies’.

Nekhbet, the vulture goddess of Upper Egypt

  Nekhbet: meaning ‘she of Nekheb’ was the chief deity of ancient Nekheb, an ancient town already during the Early Dynastic period that was known as the capital of all Upper Egypt. Therefore she herself  became acknowledged as the goddess of the leader of Upper Egypt. From the times of the Old Kingdom, Nekhbet was associated and identified with the White Crown and so she became mother-goddess to the pharaoh, as one can see in the Pyramid Texts where she is portrayed as a great white cow (associated with mother-goddesses), and during the New Kingdom and the Classical Period, she is known as a protectress and as a goddess of childbirth. From the earliest representations of her, Nekhbet is portrayed as a vulture standing in profile, or with her wings spread out. She is often depicted holding the circular shen – the symbol of eternity, in her claws. At times, Nekhbet could be shown as a woman wearing the White Crown of Upper Egypt on her head. Many times, after the unification of Egypt under one ruler, Nekhbet is depicted as a vulture beside her Lower Egyptian counterpart, Wedjet, as a vulture, or even as a serpent wearing the White Crown on wall paintings or on the pharaoh’s headdress. (Richard H. Wilkinson, ‘Nekhbet’, The Complete Gods and Goddesses of Ancient Egypt, (London, 2003), pp 213-215).




Wedjet, the Cobra goddess of Lower Egypt

   Wadjet: meaning ‘the Green One’ , reference to the colour of the serpent or of the Delta. Wadjet was associated with the Nile Delta region probably from the time that Nekhbet was associated with Upper Egypt. Unlike Nekhbet, Wadjet was more associated with the world of the living, she does not play a part in the Pyramid Texts as her counterpart Nekhbet. she was closely linked to the pharaoh as a protective deity. Wadjet also acts as young Horus’s nurse, thus lending her the role of a mother-goddess. She was also associated, along with other goddesses, as the ‘eye of Ra’. Wadjet is usually depicted as an erect cobra with its hood extended as though ready to strike. At times she is depicted wearing the Red Crown of Lower Egypt. Wedjet is depicted many times alongside her Upper Egyptian counterpart Nekhbet, as a cobra, or as a vulture wearing the Red Crown on wall paintings or on the pharaoh’s headdress. (Richard H. Wilkinson, ‘Wedjet’, The Complete Gods and Goddesses of Ancient Egypt, (London, 2003), pp 226-228).

Tut-ankh-amun's death mask with the vulture (Nekhbet) and the cobra (Wedjet) protcting him.

The Two Crowns of Egypt

In many, if not all cultures, the leaders were given certain items to separate them from the rest of the people. Of course after a while, when it became necessary in a more complex society, other governmental officials were also be singled out in a similar manner. The way to do this was by generally wearing a certain item to demonstrate the leader’s superiority over the rest of the people. In most cases this item was the crown, an elaborate, and usually heavy and uncomfortable, headwear. In Egypt, the situation was no different, both Upper Egypt and Lower Egypt the leaders had a crown to distinguish them from the rest of the ‘ordinary’ people, and these were known as the White Crown of Upper Egypt and the Red Crown of Lower Egypt.

The White Crown of Upper Egypt aka Hedjet

The Red Crown of Lower Egypt aka Deshret

It is unknown exactly when leaders of Upper and Lower Egypt began to wear these items, but it is assumed that these crowns came into the leaders’ wardrobe around 3500 B.C. It is also unknown what the material was used to make these crowns, some think that the White Crown was made of cloth whilst the Red Crown was made from a type of metal. Of course in my opinion it is possible that in 3200 B.C. they were made with one material and in 1200 B.C. they were made with a completely different material. Even more interesting is that none of these crowns were actually found in archaeological digs. Is is possible that after a while these crowns were only used on the famous wall paintings as symbols of pharaohship and were no longer real items that were worn by the pharaohs? Though this is unlikely, for human cultures love to hold on to the past and use the ‘same’ items as their ancestors did in a way to prove that they are their rightful successors…

The first time we see the two crowns in one place is on the Narmer Palette (yes, yes, I always go back to the Narmer Palette, but it is such a vital part of Egyptian history that it cannot be ignored). On the Narmer Palette on the one side Narmer is wearing the Red Crown, on the other side he is wearing the White Crown. Of course the meaning here is very clear, one does not have to spent three years learning art and Egyptology to understand that Narmer sees himself as the leader/king of both geographical units.

Of course, after the unification of the two Egypts, it became very common to see the pharaoh wearing what is known as the Double Crown. This crown was simply the White Crown inserted into the Red Crown (I always found that very neat, almost as though the designers of the White and Red Crowns had prior knowledge of what was to come and decided to make the new leader’s life easier to unite the two crowns…)

The Double Crown of Egypt aka Pschent

Upper and Lower Egypt

When studying Ancient Egyptian history, one can clearly see a distinction between two separate geographical units. The first is known as Upper Egypt,  the strip of land, on both sides of the Nile Valley, that extends from modern-day Aswan to the area between El-Aiyat and Zawyet Dahshur (south of modern-day Cairo). The second is known as Lower Egypt, the fertile area known as the Nile Delta which stretches between El-Aiyat and Zawyet Dahshur and the Mediterranean Sea. Of course the reason the Upper Egypt (South) is named thus is because of the Nile which origin is located in Africa, though where exactly is yet unknown (Rwanda or Burundi?). This is opposite of what one think for according to the map it should be the other way around, south being lower and north being upper. However, the Egyptians named the areas thus according to the direction of the Nile, therefore, upper is lower and lower is upper.

 The Nile is the longest river in the world and its soil is very fertile. That is the only reason that humans were able to settle in Egypt, where they first built their homes and where they derived their mythologies, ideas and technologies. It was in this situation that king Scorpion and Narmer were born, and they, like many other leaders throughout Ancient Egyptian history, sought to unite the two Egypts under their rule.

It is unknown when exactly members of the human species began to settle the Valley of the Nile, but lets just say it was a long time ago (c. 900,000 years ago). Already at this time there was a difference between what is now known as Upper and Lower Egypt. Differences between the two Egypts can be found in the techniques of stone-making, pottery manufacture, and the production of flint tools and weapons. The archaeological remains from the northern culture, known as Faiyum A, indicate that it was more advanced than its southern counterpart, the Badarian culture. Also, the Faiyum A culture continued to obtain a greater percentage of their food by hunting and fishing for it, as opposed to the Badarian culture who dealt mainly with agriculture.