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.

Early Dynastic Egypt – c.3100 – c. 2575 B.C.

Early Dynastic Egypt is the period that came after the Predynastic Period (c. 5500 – c.3100 B.C.)  and has the elements and the political shape of the Old Kingdom (c.2575 – c. 2150 B.C). This is the first time that Egypt is united under the rule of one king. It is unknown who this king was (or whether it was one king who did all the hard work, or whether there were several who took a go at it until finally succeeding…) What is generally thought to be true is that it was around this period that Upper Egypt and Lower Egypt were being united under one leader. As was written in a previous post, Egyptologists have come to believe that the one who united Egypt was a man known today as Narmer, the first king of the First real Egyptian Dynasty. Egyptologists have ‘translated’ the palette of Narmer as the unification of Egypt, because on the one side he is wearing the Red Crown of Lower Egypt and wielding the papyrus and the mace (also symbols of Lower Egypt). On the other side he is shown wearing the White Crown of Upper Egypt and wielding the flowering lotus and the mace (the symbols of Upper Egypt).

However, it is incorrect to believe that Egypt remained united under one ruler during the entire Pharaonic Period. Until the Hellenic invasion in the fourth century B.C., Egypt was divided at least three more times when there have been two dynasties of pharaohs fighting one another to be the sole ruler of the vast land of Egypt.

Predynastic Egypt – Trading

Getting back to the Egyptology of Predynastic Egypt, this period is very vague. What is known is that by the end of this period Egypt was already trading with the outside world. The evidence to this is found on many  archaeological sites. For example, gold. Egypt doesn’t have gold, the only place where they get their gold for their famous statues and jewelry was Nubia. Also, some objects made of obsidian were found in Egypt that have been traced back to Anatolia (Asia Minor). There were also objects made of lapis lazuli that came all the way from Afghanistan!

Bracelet of gold and Lapis Lazuli (c. 22nd Dynasty - 9th century B.C.)

They certainly got around, something that tends to surprise people of today that the Ancient World wasn’t quite as small as we think it was. The ancient inhabitants did not think that at all. They could, and did, travel beyond their own land and they traded with other Peoples. What better way was for someone to display the fact they are rich if not by acquiring objects brought back to Egypt from faraway lands? The Peoples of the ancient world were just as determined to travel beyond their backyards as we do today. From the archaeological evidence themselves we can find amazing things of how open the world was (even though I admit that they didn’t have the world-wide web) but for people who didn’t have buses and airplanes, and not even camels, I think they didn’t do badly at all.

Cleopatra

Taking another small breather from Egyptology, I have to dedicate a post for one of the greatest actress, and as Yahoo News put it “one of old Hollywood’s last larger-than-life legends“, Elizabeth Taylor who passed away on 23/03/2011.

Elizabeth Taylor appeared in many good films such as “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof”, “A Place in the Sun”, “Ivanhoe” and even an Agatha Christie thriller “The Mirror Crack’d” (though this is not the best version of the book). But there is one film where she will be remembered the most, “Cleopatra”. The lovely, beautiful and graceful Elizabeth Taylor portrayed one of the most unusual women in all of history, the queen of Egypt from the first century B.C. Cleopatra VII (c. 69 – 12/08/30 B.C.). Cleopatra was considered a beauty of the time who succeeded in capturing the hearts of two of the most hardest and powerful men of her time, Julius Gaius Caesar and Marcus Antonius. Or as we know them in the film – Rex Harrison and Richard Burton.

One of the most famous scenes in the film is the first meeting between Cleopatra and Julius Caesar. At the time Cleopatra and her brother, Ptolemy XIII, were not exactly on good terms. Well… actually, Cleopatra wanted her brother/husband dead so she could become sole ruler and Ptolemy just wanted to get rid of his meddlesome sister/wife once and for all so that he could rule Egypt in peace. (lovely family). Anyway, they both turned to the mighty Roman empire via Julius Caesar, who had his own plans for Egypt. Because Cleopatra was banned from coming into the palace where Caesar was, she devised a plan which intended to get her to Caesar and to entice him at the same time to be on her side of the conflict. Her guard smuggled her into the palace by rolling her up in a carpet. Ceasar/Harrison kept pointing his big sword at the carpet before finally allowing it to unroll thus reveling a beautifully tidy Cleopatra, slightly sweaty, who then got up behaving as though this occured eveyday and absolutely dazzled the hard warrior! (I don’t know about you, but after being carried around in a carpet I would have been disoriented and my hair would have looked like a mess. But then, we can’t all be like Cleo/Lizzy!). There is such a legend that Cleopatra met Caesar though I don’t know when that legend was born but in modern times it has become so famous that it is used often in the media. Xena used this trick when she pretended to be Cleopatra (this was after Cleopatra was murdered by a viper) to find her way into Mark Antony’s tent (Xena: Warrior Princess, season 5 episode 18; ‘Cleopatra and Antony’). It was also used in the HBO series of Rome when Cleopatra met Caesar (season 1, episode 8; ‘Caesarian’).

In short, Elizabeth Taylor gave a brilliant performance and was the first actress ever to receive one million dollars! She deserved it too.

Xena Warrior Princess (Lucy Lawless) possing as Cleopatra (2000)

Lyndsey Marshal as Cleopatra in 'Rome' (2005)

statue of the real Cleopatra (c. 69 - 30 B.C.)

 

Elizabeth Taylor in her most famous role - Cleopatra (1963)

Sir William Mathew Flinders Petrie

Taking a small break from Ancient Egypt, I have come to the decision that saying a few words on some of the Egyptologists who contributed so much to our knowledge on the Ancient Egyptians and their lives, is absolutely necessary.

When one is studying Egyptology, one name keeps coming up, the name of the man known as the ‘father of Egyptian Araeology’: Sir William Matthew Flinders Petrie (mentioned in the previous post). I couldn’t continue using his name in my blog without saying a few words about the man himself. Aside lending my college the use of his name, the Petrie Institute of the University College of London where both I and my cousin attended, he was also a remarkable man. Mad, but remarkable.

There are many stories on Petrie and his eccentricities, such as forcing all his students to run up and down the stairs every morning to get the ‘juices’ flowing, but he truly was one of the most remarkable men of his time. He succeeded in processing a large amount of data without the use of a computer! (There were no computers at the time, but in my opinion even if there were he still wouldn’t have used them). He loved digging not only in Egypt but also in Palestine (Israel today) which he loved so much that he wished to be buried on Mt. Zion. It wasn’t unusual for an Egyptologist to be interested in Palestine, for both areas are connected throughout history (even today). What makes Petrie stand out even more amongst the Egyptology community is the fact that he is buried without his head!

I heard this story many times and yet I am still amazed by it. Around the beginning of the 20th century there was a keen interest in the checking of brains. What makes a genius…well…a genius? So, Petrie, who loved science and the study of the human race, decided to donate his head to the Royal College of Surgeons of London and upon his death his body was buried in the Protestant Cemetary on Mt. Zion and his head was sent back to London. But there was one small problem that caused a delay in the delivery, World War II! Petrie died in 1942 and the post was a little slow, his head was lost! Eventually, to everyone’s relief, his head was found in a warehouse sometime after the end of the war and was sent back to London where, apparently, it can still be found today. What a rush!

Sir William Matthew Flinders Petrie

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