ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel

The Symbolism Of Egyptian Jewellery

Updated on February 26, 2014

When you think about Egyptian jewellery, it is easy to visualise scarab beetles, Pharoah charms, malachite, lapis lazuli and lots of gold.

Colours and shapes presenting in Egyptian jewellery tell us lots about the people who lived in ancient Egypt - their beliefs, priorities and ways of life.

The main colours in Egyptian jewellery are gold, clay red, malachite green, white and blue and these colours represent beliefs and traditions in creation, fertility, creativity, energy, power, resurrection, life essence, the underworld, warmth and balance, spanning over 31 dynasties or 3,345 years.

Jewellery was highly valued in Egyptian society and adorned those who were powerful and religious, able to afford a princely transition to the afterlife. Preserved Egyptian jewellery found in intact tombs has explained much about the people of ancient Egypt and what influences impacted their lives.

The scarab beetle in Egyptian jewellery symbolises rebirth, as the dung balls it creates form a birthing chamber for offspring. This pectoral was from the tomb of Tutankhamen.
The scarab beetle in Egyptian jewellery symbolises rebirth, as the dung balls it creates form a birthing chamber for offspring. This pectoral was from the tomb of Tutankhamen.
The symbolic colours used in Egyptian jewellery are chosen for the common themes dominant in the lives of ancient Egyptians, such as fertility, the sun, death and devotion.
The symbolic colours used in Egyptian jewellery are chosen for the common themes dominant in the lives of ancient Egyptians, such as fertility, the sun, death and devotion.
A pectoral of King Senusret II from the tomb of Sit-Hathor Yunet. Note the Ankhs and the uses of symbols and colour to depict the complexity of an ancient Egyptian society.
A pectoral of King Senusret II from the tomb of Sit-Hathor Yunet. Note the Ankhs and the uses of symbols and colour to depict the complexity of an ancient Egyptian society.
An image of Isis, the Eyptian goddess of motherhood, marital devotion, healing and magical spells.
An image of Isis, the Eyptian goddess of motherhood, marital devotion, healing and magical spells.
The "Eye of Horus" pendant available from Amazon displays a good selection of the colouring used in ancient Egyptian gold jewellery.
The "Eye of Horus" pendant available from Amazon displays a good selection of the colouring used in ancient Egyptian gold jewellery.

The History Of Egyptian Jewellery

Egyptian craftsmen mastered the smithing of precious metals using large amounts of gold in jewellery making 3000 to 5000 years ago in Ancient Egypt – not only to cover over (gild) other materials, but also in decorative purposes.

Throughout the several thousand year history of Pharaonic Egypt, gold was the metal of choice. This was one of the earliest signs of established jewellery making in the world, according to historical archaeological evidence found in the ancient pyramids.

The main use of gold was in jewellery production – ceremonial, religious and funeral – both for the living and the deceased. Gold being very versatile, workable, rare and representative of the sun god Ra, was preferred above other metals as its colour reminded of warmth and creation.

Much literature has surrounded the mystery of Egyptian burial rites in pyramids and the finest jewellery was given to deceased royalty to assist their comfort and passage in the afterlife.

Much of what we know about Egyptian jewellery making was found in the preserved tombs of those who sought to traverse history with fine formal adornment that has lasted the ages and provided us with historical knowledge of those who went before.

Jewellery workshops in Egypt were considered important – goldsmith work was saved in pyramids along with other historical Egyptian relics of great value. Situated within temples and palaces, jewellery workshops were controlled by officials and were valued within Egyptian society, as those who were able to adorn themselves with the finest jewellery were powerful and religious people, or Pharoahs and rulers within the community.

Hence, Egyptian jewellery came to represent power and religious devotion throughout the region.

Most Egyptian jewellery was created with a variety of semi precious gemstones, minerals, metals, man made materials (such as glass) and animal products, obtained in the local hills and deserts of Egypt’s boundaries (with the exception of lapis lazuli, which was imported from other far countries, eg Afghanistan).

The colours of the semi precious gemstones, as well as the meanings of the colours in Egyptian culture shaped the creation and style of Egyptian jewellery so that it could be worn both in life and death to give power to the body. Both men and women wore jewellery in Ancient Egypt, for aesthetic adornment, as a symbol of power and wealth and also as protection from evil.

Ancient Egyptian jewellery occurred as bracelets, brooches, clasps, collars, coronets, girdles, earrings, pectorals (armbands), headdresses, diadems, cartouches, finger-rings (rings) and many more.

Many treasures buried in the tombs of Egypt were stolen by tomb-robbers over the ages, and some treasures were recycled by newly deceased persons requiring afterlife adornment, including royalty.

The famously intact tomb of Pharaoh Tutankhamun gave the world a historical and archaeological insight into Egyptian culture and symbolism. The wealth of Tutankhamun’s tomb is astonishing but small compared to the vast treasures accumulated by other enduring Pharoahs of Ancient Egypt.

The semi-precious gemstones used in Egyptian jewellery are imbued with meaning and mythology reflecting the culture and desires of ancient Egyptians.
The semi-precious gemstones used in Egyptian jewellery are imbued with meaning and mythology reflecting the culture and desires of ancient Egyptians.
Lapis Lazuli is a common semi-precious gemstone found in Egyptian jewellery and is representative of the night sky in ancient Egyptian mythology. It has gold flecks in it.
Lapis Lazuli is a common semi-precious gemstone found in Egyptian jewellery and is representative of the night sky in ancient Egyptian mythology. It has gold flecks in it.
This bronze Egyptian pendant modelled on the Udjat Eye of Horus Ra is a good example of the sun energy jewellery and is available from Amazon.
This bronze Egyptian pendant modelled on the Udjat Eye of Horus Ra is a good example of the sun energy jewellery and is available from Amazon.

The Meaning Of Common Gemstones In Egyptian Jewellery

RED JASPER, GARNET, BRECCIA, CARNELIAN
Representing the spirit of life through blood, energy, power and life. Worn more often by the deceased, red gemstones were said to appease the god Isis’ need for blood.

MALACHITE
Colour of vegetation, crops, fertility and new life (spring season). Linked to the papyrus plant, regarded as a symbol of health and flourishment. Worn to encourage a good harvest.

GREEN SEMI-PRECIOUS GEMSTONES
Including green turquoise, imitation glass, green jasper, green feldspar, prase, chrysoprase, emerald, olivine, serpentine, beryl and peridot were favoured by Egyptians for good health, fertility, resurrection and vigour.

LAPIS LAZULI
A dark blue semi-precious gemstone, sometimes imitated in glass. Lapis lazuli symbolised the night sky and creative delights. It also represented royalty, hence it was one of the most prized of semi-precious gemstones in Egyptian jewellery creation.

GOLD
Representative of the Sun God, Ra (linked to “creative power”, warmth, growth and “the creator”). Gold was transcribed from the Book of the Dead as being the main jewellery that should be used in Egyptian funerals, from amulets and pendants to bangles, earrings, rings, anklets, girdles, bracelets, collars and pectorials.

SILVER
Called “nub hedj”, meaning “white gold”.

COPPER
The first metal to be used by Egyptian jewelers in the Badarian Period. “Electrum” copper occurred in Lydia (Western Anatolia) and was added to gold and silver to make an alloy for jewellery.

BRONZE
Was used commonly in Egyptian jewellery and would sometimes be gilded (covered in gold leaf).

POLYCHROME GLASS
Was cold-worked to emulate semi precious gemstones, and was easier to work with than the actual gemstones. It is estimated that polychrome glass was used around 2000 BC. Common usage displays archaeologically in enamel inlays, beads, amulets and figurines.

ALABASTER QUARTZ (ROCK CRYSTAL)
The colour white in Egyptian mythology represented purity and omnipotence. White was also regarded the colour of minimality, simplicity and sacredness.

BLACK BURNT ANIMAL BONES
The colour black symbolised death and night. The god Osiris was “the black god”, king of the afterlife and the colour black was associated with the underworld and also resurrection. The silt from the overflowing Nile provided the means for crop fertility and allowed Egypt to name itself “kemet” (the Black Land). Black was also a colour of fertility due to the silt soil association.

The Egyptian ankh shape has unknown origins, but many think it is derived from a sandal strap. Pictorial Egyptian deities often carry the ankh in their hands.
The Egyptian ankh shape has unknown origins, but many think it is derived from a sandal strap. Pictorial Egyptian deities often carry the ankh in their hands.

Symbolism Of Shapes In Egyptian Jewellery

GIRDLE TIE OF ISIS
An amulet made of red jasper, placed on a mummy’s throat to symbolise power of the living for the afterlife

SCARAB BEETLE (DUNG BEETLE)
Scarab beetles are often carved out of semi precious gemstones and are a form of “glyptic art”, usually carved in softer stones with emery or flint. Glyptic objects included religious carvings of sacred objects and anthropomorphic religious symbols. The scarab beetle in particular symbolised rebirth, due to the rolled dung ball being a birthing chamber for a newborn beetle.

ANKH
A hieroglyphic symbol resembling the Christian cross that may have evolved from a common sandal strap shape, bow or knot. The ankh represents life and is often carried in the hands of Egyptian gods.

PHAROAHS
Human royal authorities considered to be divine beings in Egyptian society, susceptible to human weaknesses while containing god-like power. A Pharaoah acted as an important link between the Egyptian people and the gods and it was believed that in death they became a complete deity.

CARTOUCHE
A box (with circular ends) containing the important and many names of a Pharaoh. Cartouches were potent with solar symbology and protection for royalty. The cartouche shape was often used in finger rings and cartouches have been found in many Egyptian tombs, as sarcophagi, decorations and in palace walls, where the hieroglyphics contained the names of the cities and people that the reigning Pharoah dominated.

FINGER RINGS
These were popular in Egyptian jewellery as the left hand ring finger contains a vein that leads to the heart, while the heart lies on the left side of the body. Egyptian symbolism in finger rings explains the origins of modern engagement and wedding rings worn today.

Thanks For Reading...

Thank you for reading my article about Egyptian jewellery. The symbolism behind the colours, shapes and beliefs that created Egyptian jewellery is fascinating and applicable to jewellery we wear today.

The preservation of ancient history and the conclusions we can draw from the presentation of Egyptian jewellery found in tombs gives us an insight into a complex and interesting culture by a sensual people who put meaning and devotion into their life’s surroundings.

© 2013 Suzanne Day

Comments

    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    • Susan Recipes profile image

      Susan 

      4 years ago from India

      Very interesting hub. I enjoy reading your hub always. Thanks for sharing.

    • ChitrangadaSharan profile image

      Chitrangada Sharan 

      5 years ago from New Delhi, India

      This is such an interesting hub! I do have some knowledge of Gemstones but my husband is very much interested in these precious stones and keeps on reading books about them. I will pass this on to him. Egyptian jewelry has some kind of mystery about them, just like the Egyptian history.

      Interesting and informative hub! Voted up and Thanks for the Follow as well!

    working

    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, hubpages.com uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at: https://hubpages.com/privacy-policy#gdpr

    Show Details
    Necessary
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the googleapis.com or gstatic.com domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Features
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Marketing
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Statistics
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)