Ancient Egyptian Jewelry
Ancient Egyptian Jewelry was not just for style – it was about conveying meaning beyond just beautifying the wearer. It could show one’s status and wealth or make a statement about one’s religious beliefs.
It also offered protection, such as amulets and pectorals that were attached to necklaces (more on that later). Soldiers wore protection amulets and were sometime given jewelry as part of their pension.
Kings would give jewelry as gifts to officials or consorts. And regular Egyptians would buy jewelry as a way of keeping their savings safe (many still do this till today, and if you visit you will sometimes be surprised to see a woman wearing dozens of gold bracelets – that’s her savings account!).
In ancient Egypt, one’s social status and wealth was associated with being favored by the gods. As such, it was assumed that this was because the wealthy are of “good” character. So showing off your wealth was also a way to show off your goodness.
This was further propagated by the fact that the wealthy liked to enhance this goodness, to the gods and to the people, by giving gifts of jewelry – sometimes in quite a showy way! Some kept records of their gift-giving.
And of course, those who could afford it were buried with their jewelry along with food, drink, pets, pottery and other things…
Types of Ancient Egyptian Jewelry
The materials used to make the jewelry varied greatly. They include:
- Different kinds of stones
Some materials were mined inside of Egypt and some were imported through the many trade expeditions the Egyptians were famous for.
Rings sometimes doubled as official seals, and some kings had protective pectorals attached to their necklaces. A pectoral is a breast-plate that would have a scene or spells on it to protect the wearer.
Earrings and bracelets were also quite popular, and the ancient Egyptians did pierce their ears.
Different kinds of amulets were used for different purposes. Some were protective, such as those put on newborns to keep them safe from infant mortality, or those worn by soldiers in battle.
And some were used to attract something the wearer wished for, such as amulets of a cat with a litter of kittens representing the number of children a woman wished to have.
Ancient Egyptian jewelry was worn by both men and women, young and old, royal and ordinary. The great thing is that because they were buried in tombs, we have countless pieces still in beautiful condition. You can then take a look at the extraordinary craftsmanship of the pieces, and also marvel at how gold was so abundant in those times.
These days there is a revival of ancient Egyptian style jewelry, within and outside of Egypt. Some just take a hint of the ancient Egyptian and make something very modern and minimalistic out of it, some are almost perfect reproductions of pieces in museum collections.
I personally adore the Azza Fahmy Pharaonic Collection – pure genius in my opinion!
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