Connection Between Deities and Royalty.
Royalty in ancient Egypt wore crowns that connected them to the gods. In almost every artistic depiction of the gods, the gods can be seen wearing a crown that identifies them with some sort of aspect of nature or power. When a king or a queen wore a crown that was similar to the depicted crown of the deity, they were connecting themselves with power and the protection of that god or goddess. Kings, queens, and princesses also wore crowns that identified their rank and function, while also enhancing the wearer's appearance and status by association with precious materials and by making the wearer to appear physically taller. A very limited selection of archaeological examples of crowns has survived into modern times. These examples include only circlets and some kerchiefs. The circlets were crafted from gold, silver, and gemstones. Thus precious materials worn by the deities and the royal family enhanced and demonstrated their high status. Moreover, precious materials associated royalty with the divine. Gods, in Egyptian belief, had skin made from gold. Thus the addition of a gold element to a human's headgear suggested a close connection with the divine. Additionally, reliefs and sculpture portray royal and divine crowns that were very tall. These tall crowns often included feathers that made the wearer appear taller and allowed him or her to dominate a scene. This height also connected the wearer to the divine by being closer to the heavens; one text described Queen Hatshepsut's crown "piercing the heavens." Along with height, some accessories on crowns also linked the wearer with the divine. The solar disk, for example, was often a central element of a crown and associated the wearer with the sun god, Re. The Uraeus-snake (cobra) was also often part of the crown and symbolized the sun god's eye. The god's eye represented the fire and radiance of the sun that consumed potential enemies. The Uraeus thus represented divine protection for the wearer.
The number of Uraeus snakes on a crown can often help an Egyptologist determine its date. In the earliest periods, kings wore the Uraeus attached to a stripped kerchief called the Nemes. Egyptian kings wore the Nemes with Uraeus and the Uraeus on a circlet from the First Dynasty through the Sixth Dynasty (3100–2170 b.c.e.), but in this period did not wear it with the tall crowns. During the Sixth Dynasty (2350–2170 b.c.e.) royal women also began to wear the Uraeus. At the beginning of the Eighteenth Dynasty in the reign of Ahmose (1539–1514 b.c.e.), royal women started wearing a double Uraeus as part of their crowns. These snakes wore miniature versions of the king's primary crowns—the Red Crown and the White Crown—on their heads. Sometimes the double Uraeus flanks a vulture's head on the female crowns. This combination represented the goddesses Wadjit and Nekhbet who were symbols of Upper and Lower Egypt. When a deceased king wore the double Uraeus, however, it represented the goddesses Isis and Nephthys, the chief mourners for the king. During the Twenty-fifth Dynasty (760–656 b.c.e.), rulers from Sudan (ancient Kush) adopted the double Uraeus as part of their cap-like crown. Women's crowns also included the Uraeus with the head of a gazelle or ibis. By the Ptolemaic Period (332–30 b.c.e.) queens adopted triple Uraeus adornments to their crowns. Finally, some tall crowns adopted in the reign of Amenhotep III (1390–1352 b.c.e.) incorporated a base made from multiple Uraeus snakes. Amenhotep III's son, Akhenaten, adopted this base as a circlet and wore Uraeus snakes around some of his crowns. The expansion of the importance of the Uraeus correlated with the importance of the sun god, especially during the reign of Akhenaten. The Uraeus was thus a basic element of royal crowns in all periods, but was used in a variety of ways.
Animal and Plant Elements.
Some crowns incorporated elements in shapes derived from other animal's bodies. These features also associate the wearer with the god who had an association with that animal. Thus falcon feathers on the crown associated the king with the falcon god Horus. The curved ram's horn, a symbol of the god Amun, became part of the royal crown as early as the reign of Amenhotep I (1514–1493 b.c.e.) and associated the king with the chief of the Egyptian pantheon during the New Kingdom. Some crowns were woven from reeds or were made from other materials in the shape of plant elements. Some crowns worn by queens and princesses incorporate plant elements that suggest youthful beauty. Some kings' crowns and even the crowns worn by the muu-dancers during funeral dances were made from reeds.
Red and White Crowns.
At least as early as the Old Kingdom (2675–2170 b.c.e.), kings wore nine different crowns. These crowns probably represented different aspects of the king's office. Similar crowns appeared in the coronation of Hatshepsut (1478–1458 b.c.e.) and of Ptolemy V (209–180 b.c.e.). Thus kings separated by thousands of years wore essentially the same crowns. The most commonly represented crowns were the White Crown, Red Crown, and Double Crown. The Red Crown and White Crown were the oldest crowns that Egyptian kings wore. Kings wore them from at least Dynasty 0 in the Predynastic Period (3200–3100 b.c.e.) and continued to wear them until the end of ancient Egyptian history. The Red Crown took its name from the oldest Egyptian name for the crown, desheret ("red thing"). By the Middle Kingdom (2008–1630 b.c.e.), Egyptians called the Red Crown the net—the Egyptian name of the goddess Neith. The Red Crown identified the king as ruler of Lower (northern) Egypt. The White Crown takes its name from the Egyptian hedjet ("white thing"). The White Crown designated the king as ruler of Upper Egypt. These crowns might have been made from leather or fabric. The Pyramid Texts include references to the Red Crown and White Crown where their colors associated them with planets and stars. From the earliest periods until the reign of Thutmose IV (1400–1390 b.c.e.) the Red Crown and White Crown were worn alone or combined in the Double Crown. By Thutmose IV's reign, the Red Crown or White Crown could be worn over a Nemes kerchief. This trend continued through the subsequent Ramesside Period (1292–1075 b.c.e.) when the Red Crown or White Crown always was worn with additional elements.
The name "Double Crown" is a modern construction. The Egyptians called the Double Crown pas sekhemty ("the two powerful ones"). The king wore the Double Crown to symbolize his rule over both Upper and Lower Egypt. Gods associated with kingship also wore the Double Crown. The god Horus wore it because each king was a living manifestation of this god. The god Atum wore the double crown to emphasize his cosmic rule. The goddess Mut wore the Double Crown over a vulture cap. Because Mut was the divine mother and a consort of the chief god Amun, her headgear stressed her connection to the king. The Double Feather Crown, called shuty ("two feathers"), was nearly always worn in combination with another crown. The major elements of the Double Feather Crown are two tall feathers, from either an ostrich or falcon, and the horns of a ram and a cow. The first king known to wear this crown was Sneferu (r. 2625–2585 b.c.e.), and kings continued to wear it until the end of ancient Egyptian history. The crown originated in Lower Egypt in the town called Busiris and was worn by its local god named Andjety. Busiris later was the Lower Egyptian home for the god Osiris who also sometimes wore feathers. The chief god of the pantheon Amun, the fertility god Min, and the war god Montu all also wore the Double Feather Crown. Their characteristics might have been conveyed to the king when he wore the crown. The Double Feather Crown sometimes included Uraeus snakes and sun disks. The king wore this crown during one segment of the coronation. The Double Feather Crown could also be worn with the Atef Crown.
The Atef Crown combined a cone-shaped central element that resembles the White Crown with the Double Feather Crown. Sahure (r. 2485–2472 b.c.e.) was the first king known to wear the Atef Crown, and it continued in use until the end of ancient Egyptian history. The god of the afterlife, Osiris, as well as the ram god Herishef, the royal god Horus, and the sun god Re all were depicted wearing an Atef Crown. In the New Kingdom (1539–1075 b.c.e.), the Atef Crown also bore a sun disk and Uraeus snakes. Thutmose III (1479–1425 b.c.e.) also added the fruit of the ished -tree (probably the persea tree) to the crown, associating it with the eastern horizon where this tree grows. The meaning of the word "atef" in Egyptian remains in dispute. It might mean "his might" or "his majesty."
The blue and gold striped cloth arranged as a kerchief on the king's head and called the Nemes is also very ancient. The earliest known representation was part of a statue of King Djoser (r. 2675–2654 b.c.e.). The Nemes is included in the emblem of the royal ka (spirit) called the Standard of the Ka. The Nemes' association with the royal ka suggests that the Nemes somehow represents kingship itself. By the Eighteenth Dynasty (1539–1292 b.c.e.), the Nemes covered the king's head while he wore other crowns on top of it. The king also wore the Nemes when he appeared as a sphinx, such as at the Great Sphinx of Giza, or when he appeared as the falcon god Horus. The Khat Kerchief and the related Afnet Kerchief may be the funerary equivalent of the Nemes. The pairs of statues that guard New Kingdom royal tombs wear the Khat and Afnet Kerchiefs. Tutankhamun's mummy is also depicted wearing the Khat. The goddesses of mourning, Isis and Nephthys, also wore the Khat. This strong representation among funerary goods suggests that the Khat and Afnet aided in rejuvenation after death.
The Cap Crown first appeared in the Old Kingdom (2675–2170 b.c.e.). Circles or horizontal lines decorate the cap crown in most representations. It is blue or gold in representations that include color. The preserved Cap Crown that Tutankhamun's mummy (1332–1322 b.c.e.) wore, in contrast, was white and decorated with blue faïence and gold beads. The king often wore the Cap Crown when performing religious rituals. Queen Nefertiti, wife of Akhenaten (1352–1336 b.c.e.), also wore the Cap Crown. Kushite kings of the Twenty-fifth Dynasty (760–656 b.c.e.) wore a Cap Crown with a double Uraeus snake. The color of the Cap Crown and the circle decoration relates it to the Blue Crown. The Blue Crown, called the kheperesh in Egyptian, first appeared in the Second Intermediate Period (1630–1539 b.c.e.). It shares both the color and circle pattern with the older Cap Crown, and thus some Egyptologists believe they are related. The Blue Crown is most likely the crown that the king wore most often while performing his duties in life during the New Kingdom. Because the king also wears this crown while riding in a war chariot, the crown is sometimes called a war crown, though this is probably an error. The crown represents action, both in peace and in war. When combined with the Nemes, however, it represents a deceased king.
Fewer crowns were available to royal women than to men, and they are slightly better understood. Female crowns relate clearly to goddesses and wearing them associated the queen or princess with the characteristics of the related goddess. The oldest known female crown is the Vulture Cap. The vulture was the sacred animal of the goddess Nekhbet of Upper Egypt. The hieroglyph of a vulture was the writing of the word "mother," and thus the mother goddess Mut wore the Vulture Cap, too. The Vulture Cap thus associated the queen with Nekhbet and stressed her role as mother of the next king. Fertility and motherhood were also symbolized by cow horns added to the queen's wig, a symbol of the goddess Hathor. Royal women after the Sixth Dynasty could wear the Uraeus snake, a solar symbol associated with the eye of the god Re. Since the Egyptians recognized the eye as the Lower Egyptian goddess Wadjit, wearing the Vulture Cap (Nekhbet) with the Uraeus (Wadjit) could symbolize the union of Upper and Lower Egypt. When queens wore tall feathers, they were meant to represent the eastern and western horizons. The feathers thus also connected the crown to the cult of Re who rose and set on the horizon as the sun. The base for the feathers was interpreted as the marsh of Khemmis, the place where the goddess Isis raised her child Horus, the infant king. Thus the crown could combine symbolism from both solar religion and funerary religion.
Abd el-Monem Abubaker, Untersuchungen uber die altägyptischen Krone (Gluckstadt, Germany: J. J. Augustyn Verlag, 1937).
Edna R. Russmann, "Vulture and Cobra at the King's Brow," in Chief of Seers: Egyptian Studies in Memory of Cyrial Aldred. Ed. E. Goring (London: Kegan Paul International, 1997): 266–284.
see also Religion: Kingship Rituals