Symbology in Ancient Egypt: The Scepter, the Double Crown and Egypt United

In the last post, we examined the origins of the two crowns in ancient Egypt, the white crown of the southern kingdom and the red crown of the northern kingdom. We saw how Egypt began humbly, as a diverse assortment of villages run by regional strongmen. Over time, the many small villages began to centralize around the Nile and the valley it occupies. Though this was mainly a result of climate change forcing farmers toward the only remaining source of water, the strongmen seized the opportunity for power and turned Egypt into a nation of two kingdoms. The kings of the Upper and Lower Kingdoms made their crowns early symbols of their power.

The discovery of the Narmer Palette in 1898 has shed much light on the conditions of pre-dynastic Egypt. It is significant in that it is a verification of the ancient Greek historian, Herodotus. His Histories credit Menes, or Narmer, as being the first king of Egypt, responsible for the unification of the Upper and Lower kingdoms. Little evidence exists to detail the specifics of the unification process or how it was initiated, but most scholars agree that Narmer was ultimately responsible for Egypt’s unification.

The Narmer Palette

The symbolic significance of the Narmer Palette lies in the different pictorial inscriptions of each side. One side depicts Narmer as a warring king, raising the royal scepter over his head and subjugating his foes. On the opposite side, he is depicted as a victorious king, his dead enemies littering the ground and his new subjects united with his old ones. Two symbols are evident here, the first being the royal scepter, and the second, the two crowns.

The scepter itself is a potent symbol of royal authority, as it is essentially a fancy stick (sticks being useful for beating underlings with, of course.) In later Egypt, after the invention of hieroglyphics, the scepter was adopted as the symbol for “ruler” or “king.” The scepter as a royal symbol is still in use today, as it was throughout all of Egyptian history.

The crowns are a significant part of the Narmer Palette for this reason. The side where Narmer is the warring king shows him wearing the crown of the Upper Kingdom; on the opposite side, the victorious king is wearing the red crown of the Lower Kingdom. Narmer successfully conquered Lower Egypt, thereby uniting the two kingdoms and creating the first type of “nation-state” in history.

The significance of the two differing crown was utilized by the early Egyptians to further their control of the unified country. In an act of asserting the royal authority, the monarchy of a unified Egypt created a new crown by combining the traditional crowns of the Upper and Lower Kingdom’s. This new crown symbolized the unification of the kingdom’s into one state, under the control of one ruler. The First Dynasty had begun.

Horus Wears the Double Crown

Symbology in Ancient Egypt: The Original Crown

A particular fascination of mine, no matter what time period or locale, is symbology. It is an ever-present force in our modern, consumer oriented culture, but the symbols co-opted to plaster across products and advertisements are rooted deep in the annals of history. One of the most widely recognized symbols across world history is the crown. It is understood as a symbol of power and authority, but why is a fancy hat associated with those characteristics?

The earliest crowns can be traced back to ancient Egypt, a culture that developed long before most others. Egypt grew around and depended on the Nile, the country’s only source of life. The Nile runs north to south, (though it flows south to north,) and as such, the ancient society itself developed largely in terms of the Nile’s north/south orientation.

Pre-dynastic Egypt was a tribal society, where different powerful men ruled in their own specific sphere. Discoveries dating to the 5th millennium B.C. evidence that early Egypt had a more inviting climate, allowing many early Egyptians to raise cattle and farm. Over the next two millenia, however, the temperate climate dried out, forcing the farmers towards the Nile, and allowing the local rulers to expand their influence and build larger cities. With a larger citizen base compacted along the Nile, the best rulers rose to the top, and asserted their strength, effectively turning Egypt into a North/South rivalry.

The symbols of these early rulers, “kings,” are the first examples we have of crowns. The crown of Upper Egypt (the southern kingdom) was a tall, white headdress, which bore a striking resemblance to a bowling pin. The white crown was the symbol of the Upper Kingdom’s goddess, Hedjet. Lower Egypt (the northern kingdom) had a red crown as its ruler’s symbol. This crown comes to a point, and was also portrayed as the symbol of the the Lower Kingdom’s cobra goddess, Wadjet.

The White & Red Crown of Upper and Lower Egypt

These two crowns were seen as symbols of power by the ancient Egyptians. They demonstrated power in a physical/visual aspect because they made the wearer of the crown taller than his subjects. Though modern crowns do not necessarily retain the same accentuated height as the earliest Egyptian examples, their symbolism as objects of power can be traced to their early counterparts. The crown of ancient Egypt was the original royal symbol.

In further posts, I will seek to examine more symbolism throughout ancient history, including the evolution of the Egyptian crown and it’s adapting symbolism. Thanks for reading!

The Original Reason for Religious Freedom in America

This topic may be a bit random, but it is quite applicable to the religious discussion that exists in America today. I first ran across this document while doing research for a college term paper. It was written by James Madison and entitled Memorial and Remonstrance Against Religious Assessments. James Madison is held, by virtually all hues along the political spectrum, to be the “Father of the Constitution.” Fathers are authorities, arbiters if you will. It follows that the words of Madison himself ought to be deferred to  in the church/state debates of American politics.

The reason for the Founders’ decision to separate the establishments of the church and the state has been a prevalent issue in America for most of it’s history.  Religious pluralists claim that religion was kept out of the state’s sphere because all religions are equal and that the Founders felt the same way. They cite the Treaty of Tripoli as the most obvious proof. On the other side are those that claim the Founders wanted Christianity as the state religion, and there were some men who vied for a Christian state during the country’s formative years.

The truth, the original reason for the separation of church and state can be found in the words of James Madison himself. Many of the Founders did claim some form of the Christian faith, but they did not seek to force that faith on anyone else. A forced faith is no faith, and they understood that if they were to force faith on citizens, it would either deceive them or alienate them. Such examples can be found in Rome, with the formal acceptance of Christianity as the state’s faith of choice. It resulted in hollow shells with Christian exteriors, showmen who, to borrow from Scripture, “took a form of godliness, but denied the power thereof.”

Madison had these historical examples in mind when he wrote that that a state-funded religion was to be avoided “because the policy of the bill is adverse to the diffusion of the light of Christianity.” He understood that an established religion would be deleterious to both America and to the Christian faith. The faithless would think they had gained faith, but would not have a true faith; those with a true faith would eventually have that faith degraded by a “marriage” to the faithless. Madison stated very clearly that America was founded with no official religion, that the state would not fund a specific religion, because that religion (if it were true) would be undermined by its close association to a political state.

Madison and many other Founders believed that the best way for both Christianity and America to benefit was for Christianity to be treated the same as all other religions. Madison had such a belief in the superiority, the truth that Christianity proclaimed, that he had no doubts  it’s light would shine as the brightest of any religion; when set on an equal plain, the teachings of Christ would be proved as being right and true. Granted, it takes a good amount of faith to be willing to make such a claim.

Maybe the Christianity of today should not focus on the difficulties it faces, but rather on the opportunities that it has been given in America. Yes, times are different than they were 200 years ago, but no one would deny that America still presents the greatest freedom of religion anywhere on earth. Hopefully this thought will cause us to evaluate our faith and take the necessary measures to make it’s light shine in this great country, where it has no hindrance.


A Patriotic Thief

The Mona Lisa had been missing for over two years. When she was first discovered to be absent from the Louvre galleries, the world had waited with rapt attention for any news of her whereabouts. In the two intervening years, however, other things had nudged her out of the headlines; the Titanic and her ill-fated maiden voyage; Scott and Amundsen’s race to the South Pole.

The world paid attention once again on the morning of December 12, 1913, when the headlines in Italy read, “Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa Recovered After Two Years: Confirmation is Official!” Slowly, the story of her strange journey began to emerge.

A poor man named Vincenzo Peruggia, who sometimes claimed that his name was Leonardo, had sought out a Florence art dealer named Alfredo Geri in late 1913. Peruggia claimed that he had stolen Mona Lisa from France because he could not stand to see the Italian treasure held captive in a dingy French museum. Peruggia had worked at the Louvre, even helped put Mona Lisa on the wall, and therefore had the knowledge to be able to pull off the heist. Once he had the painting, he claimed he didn’t know what to do with it, and it had sat in the closet of his run down Paris apartment for the bulk of the two years it was missing.

His only defense in court was that his crime was one of patriotic passion. The prosecution tried to paint him as a money-hungry dullard who had easy access to the museum’s troves, but the Italian public was more sympathetic.

Though facts emerged that showed he really stole la Giocanda in order to sell her to the highest bidder, a war was looming in Europe and a minor, dim-witted art thief was not the most pressing of matters to the public or even to the court. He was sentenced to 7 months in prison and released in less time than that. Mona Lisa was returned to France after a two-week vacation to her home in Italy. Most forgot the thief and believed him to be either mad or stupid. Mona Lisa had reaped a huge public exposure from the whole ordeal.

A few people in the minority had proposed the idea that Peruggia didn’t pull of the world’s biggest art heist by himself. How could he, anyways? He seemed to stupid to be able to do so, and he hid the masterpiece in his closet once he had stolen it. There must be more to the theft, thought some. As it turns out, there was.

A comic postcard from 1911 showing the popular idea that Da Vinci had fallen in love with Mona Lisa and had stolen her from the Louvre himself.

The "Macaroni" Thief

The Thief: Vincenzo Peruggia

Unusual Suspects

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An entire week had passed. The spot formerly occupied by Da Vinci’s masterpiece stood bare. At the Louvre’s reopening a week after the theft, people waited for hours just to see the lady’s former residence. Some estimated that more people came to view the void hooks than had previously come to view the painting that once hung there.

Thanks to the growing use of photography in newsprint, Mona Lisa and her smile had become the talk of the world. Millions of people who had never heard of “la Joconde” were now falling under her spell over their morning coffee.

Newspapers anxious for attention offered cash rewards and promises of anonymity if only the thief would return the painting to their Paris office. One office had a form of success when a thief confessed to them that he had stolen many small statuettes from the halls of the Louvre. His admission was put in print; when detectives saw the thief’s nom de plume, their suspect field narrowed considerably. The detectives believed that Mona Lisa was removed by an international band of art thieves. The group was known as “la bande de Picasso”. They were led by Pablo Picasso himself.

Mona Lisa Has Left the Building

I’m in the middle of reading a book entitled Vanished Smile, a chronicle about the 1911 disappearance of the famous Da Vinci. Only 3o pages in and it’s already a captivating book! I must admit, I had never known that the Mona Lisa was stolen before I saw this book in the store – rabbit trail …Border’s is closing for good! 😦 – I digress…. I will keep the story updated as I make progress through the book. Suffice it to say for now that there is a bare spot on the wall of the Louvre, and the Sherlock Holmes of France, Alphonse Bertillon, is hot on the case! Stay tuned…

The Bug-Eating Urchin

Just a humorous story I ran across involving an inventive genius and his childhood antics. A young Nikola Tesla, growing up in rural Croatia, set out to “harness the energies of nature to the service of man.” What medium did he choose to work with? May-bugs. Original, I guess, but not particularly effective.

Tesla’s strategy was to affix the bugs to a propeller, and use the bugs flight power to turn a disc attached to the propeller. Seems like an abject idea, but the young inventor was satisfied with his attempt at innovation. He writes that “These creatures were remarkably efficient, for once they were started they had no sense to stop and continued whirling for hours and hours.” Early success to the young inventor then. But wait! Tesla continues his story by adding, “All went well until a strange boy came to the place.”

Any guesses as to what this strange boy did?

Well if you guessed that he had an acquired taste for bugs and ate the source of Tesla’s motive power, then you guessed right! According to Tesla, “That urchin ate May-bugs alive and enjoyed them as tho they were the finest blue-point oysters.” As far as we know, this was the last of Tesla’s inventions-in-progress that was eaten by a random boy. Thankfully.

Tesla's namesake auto company has probably murdered it's share of bugs.