Pectoral (Ancient Egypt)

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The pectorals of ancient Egypt were a form of jewelry, often represented as a brooch. These were mostly worn by richer people and the pharaoh.

Ancient Egypt ancient civilization of Northeastern Africa

Ancient Egypt was a civilization of ancient North Africa, concentrated along the lower reaches of the Nile River in the place that is now the country Egypt. Ancient Egyptian civilization followed prehistoric Egypt and coalesced around 3100 BC with the political unification of Upper and Lower Egypt under Menes. The history of ancient Egypt occurred as a series of stable kingdoms, separated by periods of relative instability known as Intermediate Periods: the Old Kingdom of the Early Bronze Age, the Middle Kingdom of the Middle Bronze Age and the New Kingdom of the Late Bronze Age.

Brooch large ornament with a pin fastening

A brooch is a decorative jewelry item designed to be attached to garments, often to hold them closed. It is usually made of metal, often silver or gold but sometimes bronze or some other material. Brooches are frequently decorated with enamel or with gemstones and may be solely for ornament or sometimes serve a practical function as a fastening, perhaps for a cloak.

Pharaoh Title of Ancient Egyptian rulers

Pharaoh is the common title of the monarchs of ancient Egypt from the First Dynasty until the annexation of Egypt by the Roman Empire in 30 BCE, although the actual term "Pharaoh" was not used contemporaneously for a ruler until Merneptah, c. 1200 BCE. In the early dynasty, ancient Egyptian kings used to have up to three titles, the Horus, the Sedge and Bee (nswt-bjtj) name, and the Two Ladies (nbtj) name. The Golden Horus and nomen and prenomen titles were later added.


One type is attached with a nah necklace, meant to be suspended from the neck but to lie upon the breast. Statuary from the Old Kingdom onwards shows this form.

Old Kingdom of Egypt period of Ancient Egypt in the 3rd millennium BC

In ancient Egyptian history, the Old Kingdom is the period spanning c. 2686–2181 BC. It is also known as the "Age of the Pyramids" or the "Age of the Pyramid Builders", as it encompasses the reigns of the great pyramid builders of the Fourth Dynasty—King Sneferu perfected the art of pyramid-building and the pyramids of Giza were constructed under the kings Khufu, Khafre and Menkaure. Egypt attained its first sustained peak of civilization—the first of three so-called "Kingdom" periods which mark the high points of civilization in the lower Nile Valley.

A later form was attached as a brooch, with the thematic, iconographic function and statement outweighing its actual use as a piece of jewellery for adornment. The thematic statements were typically about the pharaoh or statements of ancient Egyptian mythology and culture. They are usually of gold with cloisonné inlays of gemstones.

Iconography Branch of art history

Iconography, as a branch of art history, studies the identification, description, and the interpretation of the content of images: the subjects depicted, the particular compositions and details used to do so, and other elements that are distinct from artistic style. The word iconography comes from the Greek εἰκών ("image") and γράφειν.

Jewellery Form of personal adornment

Jewellery or jewelry consists of small decorative items worn for personal adornment, such as brooches, rings, necklaces, earrings, pendants, bracelets, and cufflinks. Jewellery may be attached to the body or the clothes. From a western perspective, the term is restricted to durable ornaments, excluding flowers for example. For many centuries metal, often combined with gemstones, has been the normal material for jewellery, but other materials such as shells and other plant materials may be used. It is one of the oldest type of archaeological artefact – with 100,000-year-old beads made from Nassarius shells thought to be the oldest known jewellery. The basic forms of jewellery vary between cultures but are often extremely long-lived; in European cultures the most common forms of jewellery listed above have persisted since ancient times, while other forms such as adornments for the nose or ankle, important in other cultures, are much less common.

<i>Cloisonné</i> technique for decorating metalwork objects with inlays of cut gemstones, glass and other materials, or with vitreous enamel

Cloisonné is an ancient technique for decorating metalwork objects. In recent centuries, vitreous enamel has been used, and inlays of cut gemstones, glass and other materials were also used during older periods. The resulting objects can also be called cloisonné. The decoration is formed by first adding compartments to the metal object by soldering or affixing silver or gold wires or thin strips placed on their edges. These remain visible in the finished piece, separating the different compartments of the enamel or inlays, which are often of several colors. Cloisonné enamel objects are worked on with enamel powder made into a paste, which then needs to be fired in a kiln.

Ancient Egyptian definition of pectoral

The many determinatives for pectoral are not portrayed in the Gardiner's Sign List. However, one of the 10 words [1] for 'pectoral', or 'collar' uses the Usekh collar determinative, S11, the "collar necklace"
Pectoral %28Ancient Egypt%29
. However a similar hieroglyph for the verb "to collar", "to net" shows the relationship between the two Gardiner-listed hieroglyphs
Pectoral %28Ancient Egypt%29

The basic definition of a brooch is as a wide piece of jewellery. Therefore, one form of the 'pectoral' word listings uses the word for "breadth, broad", "to be wide or spacious", the Egyptian word usekh. (Cf. Usekh collar.)

Egyptian language Language spoken in ancient Egypt, branch of the Afro-Asiatic languages

The Egyptian language was spoken in ancient Egypt and was a branch of the Afro-Asiatic languages. Its attestation stretches over an extraordinarily long time, from the Old Egyptian stage. Its earliest known complete written sentence has been dated to about 2690 BC, which makes it one of the oldest recorded languages known, along with Sumerian.

Usekh collar

The Usekh or Wesekh is a personal ornament, a type of broad collar or necklace, familiar to many because of its presence in images of the ancient Egyptian elite. Deities, women, and men were depicted wearing this jewellery. One example can be seen on the famous gold mask of Tutankhamun. The ancient word wsẖ can mean "breadth" or "width" in the Ancient Egyptian language and so this adornment is often referred to as the broad collar.

Pectoral determinatives

Though Gardiner lists only the "broad collar", S11, the following listing of words for "pectoral" shows the other types of pectoral jewellery forms that have a Gardiner-unlisted type of pectoral hieroglyph sign: [2]

The list of Gardiner-unlisted determinatives for pectoral: [3]

A determinative, also known as a taxogram or semagram, is an ideogram used to mark semantic categories of words in logographic scripts which helps to disambiguate interpretation. They have no direct counterpart in spoken language, though they may derive historically from glyphs for real words, and functionally they resemble classifiers in East Asian and sign languages. For example, Egyptian hieroglyphic determinatives include symbols for divinities, people, parts of the body, animals, plants, and books/abstract ideas, which helped in reading, but none of which were pronounced.

ari aui-(none) (bracelets, armlets)
usekh-(Gard-unl. 1 to 7) (8 is the S11 collar)
utcha-(Gard-unl. 9 to 12) (12 has beads)
babaa-{Gard-unl. 13) ('necklace of beads', pectoral)
beb-{Gard-unl. 13) (a metal pectoral or breastplate, collar) (uraeus headdress (?))
menqebit-(none) (collar or pectoral to which the serpent amulet was attached)
hebner-{Gard-unl. 2 (similar to collar S11)) (collar, pectoral, neckband)
heter-t-(none) (a pectoral, a pectoral amulet)
hkakerit-(Gard. Aa30-used horizontally)
Pectoral %28Ancient Egypt%29
(ornaments, collar, pectoral, head-attire)
sheb-{Gard-unl. 15) (collar, necklace, pectoral)

'None' may have an alternate determinative used to define the word. From the above definitions, it can be seen that the collar, neckband, pectoral, beads, etc., can also include amulets inclusive into the pectoral's iconography. The above listed words are refenced in E. A. Wallis Budge's "dictionary" to 200 works: steles, papyri, Egyptian literature, personal literature, etc., [4] or the approximate 120 authors referenced. [5]

Statuary with pectorals

Louvre statue with pectoral Louvre 122007 55.jpg
Louvre statue with pectoral

Standing statues, or others were sometimes represented with various forms of jewellery, including the pectorals; some are enigmatic in what is being portrayed, whether to gods, or what the symbolism represents.

Famous pectorals; hieroglyph statements

Jewellery including the Pectoral of Amenemhat III Tresor-dahchour-sesostris3-4.jpg
Jewellery including the Pectoral of Amenemhat III

Statements in Egyptian language hieroglyhs were often the theme of famous pectorals, regardless of their actual use for adornment.

One famous complex pectoral for Amenemhat III has a statement of his rulership. The Pectoral of Amenemhat III states the following: [6]

Lord (of) Heaven, God-Good, Lord of the Two Lands, 'Ny-Maat-Ra', Lord (of all) Lands.
pt-nb, ntr-nft, nb-tawy, n-maat-a-t-Ra, nb-hastw. [7] ('Ny-Maat-Ra' is Amenemhat III's prenomen name.)

Kamrin's modern hieroglyph primer for Egyptian artifacts uses Amenemhat III's pectoral for Exercise 22, Object 3. The discussion explains that the extended wings of the Vulture Goddess relate to "Lord of the Sky"-(pt), the Vulture Goddess, (but also implying the pharaoh is Lord of the Sky). Her translation: "Lord (Lady) of the sky Nimaatre (Amenemhat III), the good god, lord of the Two Lands and of all foreign Lands." (nb pt n-m3't-r' nthr nfr nb t3wy h3swt nb(w)t) [8]

See also


  1. Budge, 1978, (1920), p. 1183, "pectoral", Index of English Words.
  2. Budge, 1978, (1920), p. 1183.
  3. Budge, 1978, (1920), p. 1183.
  4. Budge, 1978, (1920), Principal Works also used in Preparation of Dictionary, p. lxxvii-(77).
  5. Budge, 1978, (1920), Works also used in Preparation of Dictionary, p. xc-(90).
  6. Lambelet, 1981, Gold pectoral in the form of a chapel inlaid with carnelian, lapis lazuli, and turquoise, p. 228.
  7. Lambelet, 1981, p. 228.
  8. Kamrin, 2004. Ancient Egyptian Hieroglyphs: A Practical Guide, p. 84, p. 216.

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