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Egyptian Votive Tunic

Egyptian Votive Tunic



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Clothing in the ancient world

The preservation of fabric fibers and leathers allows for insights into the attire of ancient societies. The clothing used in the ancient world reflects the technologies that these peoples mastered. In many cultures, clothing indicated the social status of various members of society.

The development of attire and fashion is an exclusively human characteristic and is a feature of most human societies. Clothing made of materials such as animal skins and vegetation was initially used by early humans to protect their bodies from the elements. The usage of clothing and textiles across the ages reflects the varying development of civilizations and technologies. Sources available for the study of clothing and textiles include material remains discovered via archaeology representation of textiles and their manufacture in art and documents concerning the manufacture, acquisition, use, and trade of fabrics, tools, and finished garments.


Objects from Ancient Egypt’s Forgotten Period

When people think of ancient Egypt, they often imagine pyramids, golden mummy masks, and sphinxes. While all of these things were present in ancient Egypt, they do not tell the complete story.

Smaller, often overlooked objects tell us much about ancient Egypt. Some of these less glamorous items can illuminate less understood periods of Egyptian history and I’ve had a chance to study some of these objects while I’ve been interning at National Museums Scotland. My particular interest is the Late Period (664-332 BC), which came after the glories of the New Kingdom and the strife of the Third Intermediate Period. Some scholars overlook this time, thinking that it is unimportant or less interesting compared to the accomplishments of earlier periods. Those scholars are mistaken.

During the Late Period, native Egyptian kings of the Saite Dynasty overthrew foreign Assyrian control and established a unified Egypt. This accomplishment is comparable to those of the great kings of the Old, Middle, and New Kingdoms who also united Egypt after times of division. However, over 100 years after the Saite unification, the Persians arrived and conquered Egypt. The native Egyptians won their freedom once again, but the Persians retook control of the country. Shortly afterwards, Alexander the Great arrived and freed Egypt from Persian rule. From then on, Egypt was ruled by the Macedonian-Greek descendants of Alexander’s general Ptolemy, until the Roman conquest.

Photo of the Palace of Apries, Memphis, Egypt, by the excavator Sir Flinders Petrie. Plan of the Palace of Apries, Memphis, Egypt, by the excavator Sir Flinders Petrie. The find spot of the armour is indicated in the top-right corner.

A number of objects in the collection at National Museums Scotland were excavated at a particularly interesting Late Period site. The Palace of Apries was built by the fourth Saite king, Apries, in Memphis, Egypt. Memphis was the capital city of ancient Egypt for most of its existence. Even when it wasn’t the capital, Memphis was a major religious centre for Egypt. The Palace of Apries is just one of the remarkable sites in Memphis. Sir Flinders Petrie excavated the palace in 1909 for the British School of Archaeology in Egypt. He discovered the remains of a huge fortified palace on a platform 13.66 metres high. Based on objects found in the palace, it was likely in use throughout the Late Period and into the Graeco-Roman Period. Some of these objects were given to the National Museum by the British School of Archaeology in Egypt, in return for sponsorship of the excavation.

Door hinge found in the Palace of Apries, Memphis, Egypt.

One particular object in National Museums Scotland may attest to the monumental nature of the palace. This bronze door hinge was found in the southern platform area of the Palace of Apries. It is 458mm wide and 445mm long, and it originally held a huge, cedar door. We don’t know which building the hinge came from, and the excavation records are not detailed enough to give us more clues. It is possible that the hinge initially came from another city such as Sais, which is mentioned in the inscription, before being reused in the palace at Memphis. The hinge is inscribed with the name of the third Saite king, Psamtek II. What is especially interesting about the door hinge is that Psamtek II’s name is inscribed over a different king’s name, Nekau II, who was Psamtek II’s father and predecessor. Why did Psamtek II feel the need to erase Nekau II’s name? Successions did not always go smoothly in ancient Egypt, and the door hinge may show an example of that. But the reuse and re-inscription of predecessors’ building materials was common and may not necessarily have had a sinister motivation.

Armour-scales found in the Palace of Apries, in Memphis, Egypt.

Petrie excavated these five iron armour-scales, along with over 2000 others, in one of the back rooms in the Palace of Apries. The longer scales have a central ridge, and holes along the top and bottom edges for threading. According to Petrie, they were probably used on areas of the armour that needed less flexibility. The short scales with rounded bottoms were probably for areas that needed more flexibility. The scales would have originally been sewn onto a tunic, overlapping each other.

Just like the Late Period itself, the scales have a history of misunderstanding. When they were added to the collection, it was believed that the two small scales were pieces broken off of the three larger scales. The scales were even displayed showing the pieces together. Luckily, during a conservation treatment in 2014, conservator Brian Castriota realized this mistake and separated the scales.

The armour-scales raise many questions. Where was the armour made? Was the armour made for an Egyptian or a foreigner? Although there is some evidence of scale armour in Egypt, Petrie thought that the armour-scales were Persian, based on descriptions of Persian armour given by the classical writers Herodotus and Ammianus. However, there is only limited evidence to support this. Nevertheless, Egypt belonged to a wider ancient world, and it is possible that the armour was either foreign-made or foreign-influenced. People tend to view ancient Egypt as an isolated nation, but this is far from the truth. During the Late Period especially, Egypt had lots of contact with the Mediterranean and the Near East. Similar armour-scales have been found in Persepolis from the Achaemenid Empire and in Nimrud from the Neo-Assyrian Empire. There were enough interactions between the Egyptians, Persians, and Assyrians to make it difficult to determine who influenced whom.

Three bronze arrowheads dated to the Late Period from Memphis, Egypt.

Petrie also found further evidence of military activity near the armour-scales: a number of bronze arrowheads of two distinct types. The two arrowheads on the left are trilobed with sharp, finned edges, and a socketed bottom. The arrowhead on the right is solid and trilobed, with a socketed bottom. Similar arrowheads were found in the Delta at the fortified site of Tell Defenneh, which was built by the first Saite king, Psamtek I. These arrowheads look small and unassuming, but they raise many questions. Where were the arrowheads made? Were they Egyptian or foreign? Do the two different types relate to different origins or purposes? Because of the extensive interaction between ancient cultures within the Near East, we might never know the answers.

There is so much left to learn about the Late Period. Fortunately, the Egyptian collection at the National Museum of Scotland provides some clues to the past and shines a light on a period that is not widely known. The objects raise many questions, some of which we may never be able to answer. But with archaeologists continuing to excavate the Palace of Apries and other important Late Period sites, perhaps one day we will have a better understanding of the complexities of this fascinating era in ancient Egyptian history.


Clothing at Different Levels of Society

Pharaoh

➠ Transparent clothes displayed the wealth and status.

➠ Cloth was wrapped around the waist.

➠ Plentiful gold jewelry was worn.

➠ The head garments were large.

Priests

➠ Leopard robes were used while praying to their God, Amun.

➠ Leather sandals or wool clothing were not permitted as they were considered to be unclean.

➠ The priests washed their bodies several times in a day, so that they could keep themselves free from body hair and purify their bodies for Amun.

➠ A wig was not worn like other people in the society.

Workers

➠ Many slaves were totally nude while working.

➠ Working men wore loin clothes manufactured from animal hide and linen, and simple tunic dresses that were fitted.

➠ The clothes were less transparent than the rich people.

Women

➠ Before dressing, women bathed and rubbed a scented oil on the body to have a pleasant odor.

➠ A piece of cloth was worn above the head.

➠ The hair was held upwards with pins or a metal band around the head.

➠ Ankle-length dresses were tied around the neck or behind the shoulders.

Flax and linen were used for making clothes. Flax fibers are very strong. Their strength increases when they are wet, as their high pectin content acts like a glue. These dry quickly, and resist decay better than other natural fibers. Linen comprises yellowish or grayish fibers, with a 60 to 80 cm long strip consisting of 20 to 40 single fibers.


Tunic

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Tunic, Latin Tunica, basic garment worn by men and women in the ancient Mediterranean world. It was fashioned from two pieces of linen sewn up the sides and across the top, with holes left for the head and arms. It reached to the knees or lower, was with or without sleeves, belted at the waist, and held at the shoulders by clasps. Essentially an undergarment, it was usually covered by a mantle but might be worn alone by the young or by workingmen. It was made of dark or light linen or white wool. Tunics that were worn by Roman senators and other dignitaries were decorated with broad purple stripes, and children’s tunics were often decorated with various colours. The garment was worn into the European Middle Ages by both laity and clergy until finally replaced by the fitted body garment in the 14th century. Even after secular fashions changed, the tunic was retained in ecclesiastical vestments such as the alb and dalmatic. In the 20th century, the word usually refers to a long blouse.


Mummy contents

A priestess offers gifts of food and milk to the spirit of a cat. On an altar stands the mummy of the deceased, and the tomb is decorated with frescoes, urns of fresh flowers, lotus blossoms, and statuettes. The priestess kneels as she wafts incense smoke toward the altar. In the background, a statue of Sekhmet or Bastet guards the entrance to the tomb (Credit: John Reinhard Weguelin / Domain).

Producing mummies to be dedicated to Sobek and Bastet was a lucrative business and it was clear that demand may have outstripped supply. A number of the cat and crocodile mummies have been CT scanned or x-rayed identifying the contents and the mode of death of the animal.

Many of the cat mummies contain the remains of very young kittens who were strangled or had their necks broken. They were clearly bred for slaughter to provide the mummies for the pilgrims.

A number of the mummies, however, show that they were not the remains of full cats but a combination of packing material and cat body parts moulded into the shape of a mummy.

Similar results have been discovered when crocodile mummies have been scanned or x-rayed showing some were made up of reeds, mud and body parts moulded into the correct shape.

Could these ‘fake’ animal mummies be the work of unscrupulous priests, getting rich from the pilgrims to the religious sites or was the intention and provenance of the mummy as coming from the temple more important than the contents?

What is apparent however, is that this practice of slaughtering young animals in order to sell their mummies to pilgrims is more a business activity than animal worship. There are very mixed messages coming from this practice.

Cat mummy-MAHG 23437‎ (Credit: anonymous / CC).

On one hand the animals were revered for their characteristics and behaviour which was considered admiral and associated with a deity. However, on the other hand slaughtering kittens and removing crocodile eggs for sale shows a very practical approach to the animal kingdom.

There are clearly two approaches to the animal world – the religious and the domestic approach. People who cared for animals in the home environment possibly cared for their animals as much as we do today even though they also served a practical purpose.

However, the religious approach is two-fold – the characteristics of certain animals were revered and admired but the innumerable animals raised for the votive cult were not revered and viewed simply as a commodity.

Dr Charlotte Booth is a British archaeologist and writer on Ancient Egypt. She has written several works and has also featured on various history television programmes. Her latest book, How to Survive in Ancient Egypt, will be published on 31 March by Pen and Sword Publishing.

Featured image: Sarcophagus of Prince Thutmose’s cat (Credit: Larazoni / CC).


Ian Trumble, Bolton Museum’s Collections Access Officer for Archaeology, Egyptology and World Cultures, on some of the oldest textiles ever discovered – now in the museum’s Ancient Egyptian collection

Bolton’s Egyptology collection came via the excavations of the Egypt Exploration Society (EES) from the late 1800s through to the 1980s.

A lot of museums acquired textiles from those excavations, but Bolton Museum’s first two curators, the father and son team of William and Thomas Midgley, were particularly interested in the development of modern textiles from ancient textiles, which is one of the reasons they got the job at Bolton – being a major textile town.

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The museum opened in 1884 but already in 1883 (when William Midgley was appointed curator), a local amateur Egyptologist called Annie Barlow, who was the daughter of James Barlow of Barlow & Jones Textile Company, became the Bolton representative for the EES. This whole web of connections meant that people were connecting textiles in Egypt with textiles in Bolton.

The EES was co-founded in 1882 by the author and travel writer Amelia Edwards who had travelled Egypt in the early 1870s and witnessed first-hand the destruction of Egyptian sites. People were travelling down the Nile, going into tombs, snapping a hand or two off a mummy and bringing them back as souvenirs. Edwards even witnessed her own travel companions smuggling items themselves.

Rolls of linen bandage like this one were often found in tombs during the pharaonic period. As a necessary part of the mummification process, it may have been important for any surplus materials used during the ritual to be buried with the person. © Bolton Museum and Art Gallery

This sleeve was part of a tunic and dates from the Coptic Period, around 1500 years ago. © Bolton Museum and Art Gallery

Her resulting 1877 book A Thousand Miles Up The Nile became a major best seller, which later allowed her to gain wide support for the EES (then known as the Egypt Exploration Fund), to properly excavate, record and save Egyptian heritage.

At this time Egyptology was very popular with the cotton mill owners of Lancashire.

Religion was seemingly a major factor in this interest. Northern mill owners were often non-denominational, Annie Barlow was Methodist, and the EES were excavating sites in Egypt that were mentioned in the bible. With the intention of protecting Egypt’s heritage, the EES were also gearing their activities towards the interests of their funders in excavating some sites with religious or biblical connections.

In the case of Annie Barlow, her family were also staunch abolitionists. Her father James was already sourcing cotton in Egypt in the 1860s to avoid American sourced cotton because of its slave connections. So that also connected some of the Lancashire mill owners with Egypt.

Health was another factor Egypt was often recommended as the place to go to recuperate if you weren’t feeling too well. A couple of weeks in Egypt sailing down the Nile was thought to be just the thing to get you back on track, and the people who could afford to do this were the big business owners, and certainly for the northern towns, they were in textiles.

This roll of mummy cloth is made from linen and dates to the Middle Kingdom around 3800 years ago. Washed, pressed and folded rolls of linen are often found in tombs and are connected with the god Osiris and rebirth. © Bolton Museum and Art Gallery

This small colourfully painted fragment was once part of a shroud that covered a mummified person. When complete it would have shown the image of Osiris, the god of the dead, in mummy form. Only his flail, beaded collar and decorative bandages are visible. By being buried in this shroud the deceased was hoping to take the form of Osiris and like him be reborn in the afterlife. © Bolton Museum and Art Gallery

We know that Annie wanted to be heavily involved in the family business, but as a well-to-do Victorian lady, she wasn’t really allowed to. She was still involved in other ways, certainly in the welfare of the workers, and via her interest in the history of textiles. She gave lectures on the subject, helped by her personal collection of Ancient Egyptian textiles, which came from the EES.

We have some really nice examples in the collection that she personally attached to little boards and wrote things about them. She would hand these pieces out for people to look at during her lectures and she certainly threw an awful lot of time and effort into the EES and the development of her collection of textiles.

“It contains resin mixtures that show the mummification process was happening 1,500 years before previously thought”

Because the majority of the Bolton collection comes from the EES, it is very well provenanced. In terms of knowing what kind textiles they are, where they’re from, the date and the potential for study that’s quite important, but what’s also good is how it spans the whole breadth of Egyptian history. We’ve got everything right back to around 5,000 BC, from the pre-dynastic period right up to the Coptic period.

We also have textiles from various sites spread across Egypt and examples of many different materials as well. The collection doesn’t just show linen, but also wool and then the later introduction of cotton.

At the moment we’re displaying the breadth of our textiles. One of our earliest textiles is particularly important. Recent research has shown it contains resin mixtures that show the mummification process was happening 1,500 years before previously thought – into the pre-dynastic period. The research was released last year by an interdisciplinary team lead by Dr Jana Jones (Maquarie University) and Dr Stephen Buckley (University of York and University of Tübingen).

We also have some nice pieces that show the different production techniques including a nice piece that belonged to Thutmose III, which is only a small fragment but in terms of the quality – you can see through it, it’s that fine. Modern commercial production techniques struggle to make something so fine.

This tunic fragment, now reconstructed as a whole, possibly belonged to Bolton’s mummy of the Unknown Man. In Ancient Egypt textiles were costly and would have been reused when they had served their original purpose. Once a bag tunic, it seems to have been cut into strips and may have been used to wrap the mummy. It dates from the New Kingdom and is around 3200 years old. © Bolton Museum and Art Gallery

This sleeve would once have been part of a tunic. It was excavated at Illahun and dates from the Coptic Period, around 1500 years ago. Decoration on Coptic tunics was often woven separately then sewn onto the tunic, as has happened here with the sleeve’s blue cuff. © Bolton Museum and Art Gallery

That is one of the things that fuelled the Midgleys’ interest in studying textiles because they were seeing these things being excavated, knowing they were 3,500 years old but were baffled as to how the Egyptians were producing them when the mills in Bolton were struggling to produce something so good.

A particularly nice piece that also relates to Thutmose III, it’s not a textile but a block of stone from a temple, and the detail and the range of colours in that is just incredible. And it’s the same in the later textiles, particularly the Coptic textiles which are very colourful, vivid and detailed with woven patterned detail in them.

On display in the new gallery there are Coptic child’s tunics with beautiful red colours and nice woven woollen detail. They’re a lot younger in terms of the collection, only about 1,300 years old, but it’s still fair to say that their survival is incredible the one thing that people are amazed by is the colour the red in these fabrics is particularly striking and vivid.

Apart from the preservation and the detail, when you look at things like a child’s tunic and think that it was excavated from a mummified child, it’s a pretty sobering thought.

A lot of the textiles in Ancient Egypt, certainly for the general population, would have been produced in the home where evidence shows they were produced on looms. But you would also have had textile workshops, run by the state, temples or wealthy individuals. You can’t really think about it in terms of modern textile production or huge buildings full of people producing textiles, but the textile ‘industry’ is of course an important connection to us in Bolton.

We stake a claim to the beginning of the Industrial Revolution with the invention of the spinning mule in 1779 by Samuel Crompton, so given that longstanding connection to textiles history I think it would be very strange for us not to have a strong textile connection in our Ancient Egyptian collection.

Inside the Egyptology Gallery at Bolton Museum and Art Gallery. © Bolton Museum and Art Gallery

Ian Trumble was speaking to Richard Moss

Bolton’s collection of ancient Egyptian material is arguably one of the most important in a British local authority museum (i.e. a non-National, non-University Museum), and numbers around 12,000 objects from over 65 sites in Egypt. Explore it in the Egyptology Gallery at Bolton Museum and Art Gallery and online.

Venue

Bolton Museum, Aquarium and Archive

Bolton, Lancashire

Bolton is a medium sized regional museum that has its origins in the Chadwick Museum and Mere Hall Art Gallery.


Piety, practical religion, and magic

Despite the importance of temples and their architectural dominance, the evidence for cult does not point to mass participation in temple religion. The archaeological material may be misleading, because in addition to major temples there were many local sanctuaries that may have responded more directly to the concerns and needs of those who lived around them. From some periods numerous votive offerings are preserved from a few temples. Among these are Early Dynastic and Old Kingdom provincial temples, but the fullest evidence is from New Kingdom temples of Hathor at Thebes and several frontier sites and from the Late and Ptolemaic periods (664–30 bce ).

Although votive offerings show that significant numbers of people took gifts to temples, it is difficult to gauge the social status of donors, whose intentions are seldom indicated, probably in part for reasons of decorum. Two likely motives are disinterested pious donation for the deity and offering in the hope of obtaining a specific benefit. Many New Kingdom offerings to Hathor relate to human fertility and thus belong to the second of these categories. Late period bronze statuettes are often inscribed with a formula requesting that the deity represented should “give life” to the donor, without stating a specific need. These may be more generally pious donations, among which can also be counted nonroyal dedications of small parcels of land to temples. These donations are recorded on stelae from the New Kingdom onward. They parallel the massive royal endowments to temples of land and other resources, which resulted in their becoming very powerful economic and political institutions.

Apart from the donation of offerings to conventional cult temples, there was a vast Late period expansion in animal cults. These might be more or less closely related to major deities. They involved a variety of practices centring on the mummification and burial of animals. The principal bull cults, which gave important oracles, focused on a single animal kept in a special shrine. The burial of an Apis bull was a major occasion involving vast expenditure. Some animals, such as the sacred ibis (connected with Thoth), were kept, and buried, in millions. The dedication of a burial seems to have counted as a pious act. The best-known area for these cults and associated practices is the necropolis of northern Ṣaqqārah, which served the city of Memphis. Numerous species were buried there, and people visited the area to consult oracles and to spend the night in a temple area and receive healing dreams. A few people resided permanently in the animal necropolis in a state akin to monastic seclusion.

There are two further important groups of evidence for pious and reciprocal relations between people and gods. One is proper names of all periods, the majority of which are meaningful utterances with religious content. For example, names state that deities “show favour” to or “love” a child or its parents. From the end of the New Kingdom (c. 1100 bce ), names commonly refer to consultation of oracles during pregnancy, alluding to a different mode of human-divine relations. The second source is a group of late New Kingdom inscriptions recounting episodes of affliction that led to people’s perceiving that they had wronged a god. These texts, which provide evidence of direct pious relations, are often thought to show a transformation of religious attitudes in that period, but allusions to similar relations in Middle Kingdom texts suggest that the change was as much in what was written down as in basic attitudes.

Piety was one of many modes of religious action and relations. Much of religion concerned attempts to comprehend and respond to the unpredictable and the unfortunate. The activities involved often took place away from temples and are little known. In later periods, there was an increasing concentration of religious practice around temples for earlier times evidence is sparse. The essential questions people asked, as in many religious traditions, were why something had happened and why it had happened to them, what would be an appropriate response, what agency they should turn to, and what might happen in the future. To obtain answers to these questions, people turned to oracles and to other forms of divination, such as consulting seers or calendars of lucky and unlucky days. From the New Kingdom and later, questions to oracles are preserved, often on such mundane matters as whether someone should cultivate a particular field in a given year. These cannot have been presented only at festivals, and priests must have addressed oracular questions to gods within their sanctuaries. Oracles of gods also played an important part in dispute settlement and litigation in some communities.

A vital focus of questioning was the world of the dead. The recently deceased might exert influence on the living for good or for bad. Offerings to the dead, which were required by custom, were intended, among other purposes, to make them well disposed. People occasionally deposited with their offerings a letter telling the deceased of their problems and asking for assistance. A few of these letters are complaints to the deceased person, alleging that he or she is afflicting the writer. This written communication with the dead was confined to the very few literate members of the population, but it was probably part of a more widespread oral practice. Some tombs of prominent people acquired minor cults that may have originated in frequent successful recourse to them for assistance.

Offerings to the dead generally did not continue long after burial, and most tombs were robbed within a generation or so. Thus, relations with dead kin probably focused on the recently deceased. Nonetheless, the dead were respected and feared more widely. The attitudes attested are almost uniformly negative. The dead were held accountable for much misfortune, both on a local and domestic level and in the broader context of the state. People were also concerned that, when they died, those in the next world would oppose their entry to it as newcomers who might oust the less recently dead. These attitudes show that, among many possible modes of existence after death, an important conception was one in which the dead remained near the living and could return and disturb them. Such beliefs are rare in the official mortuary literature.

A prominent aspect of practical religion was magic. There is no meaningful distinction between Egyptian religion and magic. Magic was a force present in the world from the beginning of creation and was personified as the god Heka, who received a cult in some regions. Magic could be invoked by using appropriate means and was generally positive, being valuable for counteracting misfortune and in seeking to achieve ends for which unseen help was necessary. Magic also formed part of the official cult. It could, however, be used for antisocial purposes as well as benign ones. There is a vast range of evidence for magical practice, from amulets to elaborate texts. Much magic from the Greco-Roman period mixed Egyptian and foreign materials and invoked new and exotic beings. Preserved magical texts record elite magic rather than general practice. Prominent among magical practitioners, both in folklore and, probably, in real life, were “lector priests,” the officiants in temple cults who had privileged access to written texts. Most of the vast corpus of funerary texts was magical in character.


The City with Many Gates

It is not only a comparison between the Old Testament account of Joseph the Patriarch and Egyptian historical records that point to both being one and the same person. According to the Quran, the sacred Muslim book, before their second visit to Egypt, Joseph’s half-brothers were given some advice by Jacob, their father:

“O, my sons! Enter (the city) not all by one gate: enter ye by different gates…”

This advice indicates that the city they visited on their trade missions, which had many gates, was either Memphis, the seat of the royal residence south of the Giza Pyramids, or Thebes, on the east bank of the Nile.

Egypt - Temple of Seti, east entrance, Thebes. (Public Domain)

The same story is found in Jewish traditions: “His brothers, fearing the evil eye, entered the city at ten different gates” (Midrash Bereshith Rabbah 89). As Jacob is said to have voiced his concern before his sons set off on their second mission it is reasonable to assume that he heard about the nature of Thebes on their return from their first visit. Thebes was known throughout the ancient world as “the city with many gates,” and the Greek poet Homer mentioned it around the eighth century BC as “the hundred-gated city.” These were not references to gates through a profusion of walls, but to entrances belonging to its many temples and palaces.


T he Royal Image

C lothing

W hen royalty, gods and goddesses were portrayed in statues, temple carvings and wall paintings, it was the beauty and self-confidence of the subject that was conveyed. Egyptian artistic conventions idealized the proportions of the body. Men are shown with broad shoulders, slim bodies, and muscular arms and legs and women have small waists, flat stomachs and rounded busts. Both wear elegant clothing and jewellery, and stand tall with their heads held high. Their stately appearance commands the respect of all who gaze upon their portraits.

I n the Old Kingdom, goddesses and elite women were portrayed wearing a sheath with broad shoulder straps. In the New Kingdom, they wore sheaths decorated with gold thread and colourful beadwork, and a type of sari the sheath had only one thin strap. These dresses were made of linen, and decorated with beautifully coloured patterns and beadwork.


By the reign of Amenhotep III (1390-1352 B.C.), women's garments were made of very light see-through linen.

T he men wore knee-length shirts, loincloths or kilts made of linen. Leather loincloths were not uncommon, however. Their garments were sometimes decorated with gold thread and colourful beadwork. The priests, viziers and certain officials wore long white robes that had a strap over one shoulder, and sem-priests (one of the ranks in the priesthood) wore leopard skins over their robes.

H airstyles

T he Egyptian elite hired hairdressers and took great care of their hair. Hair was washed and scented, and sometimes lightened with henna. Children had their heads shaved, except for one or two tresses or a plait worn at the side of the head. This was called the sidelock of youth, a style worn by the god Horus when he was an infant.

(left) Women wearing perfumed cones and wigs.
Painting: Winnifred Neeler, Royal Ontario Museum
(right) Wig replica.
Royal Ontario Museum

B oth men and women sometimes wore hairpieces, but wigs were more common. Wigs were made from human hair and had vegetable-fibre padding on the underside. Arranged into careful plaits and strands, they were often long and heavy. They may have been worn primarily at festive and ceremonial occasions, like in eighteenth-century Europe.

P riests shaved their heads and bodies to affirm their devotion to the deities and to reinforce their cleanliness, a sign of purification.

M ake-up

E lite men and women enhanced their appearance with various cosmetics: oils, perfumes, and eye and facial paints. Both sexes wore eye make-up, most often outlining their lids with a line of black kohl. When putting on make-up, they used a mirror, as we do today.

T he Egyptians used mineral pigments to produce make-up. Galena or malachite was ground on stone palettes to make eye paint. Applied with the fingers or a kohl pencil (made of wood, ivory or stone), eye paint emphasized the eyes and protected them from the bright sunlight. During the Old Kingdom, powdered green malachite was brushed under the eyes. Rouge to colour the face and lips was made from red ochre. Oils and fats were applied to the skin to protect it, mixed into perfumes, and added to the incense cones worn on top of the head. Both men and women wore perfumed cones on their heads. It has been suggested that the cones were made of tallow or fat, which melted gradually, releasing fragrance. No examples of the cones have been found.

J ewellery

F rom the earliest times, jewellery was worn by the elite for self-adornment and as an indication of social status. Bracelets, rings, earrings, necklaces, pins, belt buckles and amulets were made from gold and silver inlaid with precious stones such as lapis lazuli, turquoise, carnelian and amethyst. Faience and glass were also used to decorate pieces of jewellery.

T he elegant design of Egyptian jewellery often reflected religious themes. Motifs included images of the gods and goddesses hieroglyphic symbols and birds, animals and insects that played a role in the creation myth. Commonly seen were the scarab the Eye of Re lotus and papyrus plants the vulture and the hawk the cobra and symbols such as the Isis knot, the shen ring (symbol of eternity) and the ankh (symbol of life). A person's jewellery was placed in his or her grave to be used in the afterworld, along with many other personal items.


Watch the video: أنشودة فرعونية - pharaonic chant (August 2022).