The Golden Fly of Valour
Ancient Egypt is the home to many handcrafts. The Ancient Egyptians
excelled in metalwork, stonemasonry, sculpture, and jewellery making.
Jewellery was one of Ancient Egyptâ€™s most magnificent crafts. It was
used for adornment, protection as well as an indication of wealth and
social status. Jewellery also was associated with religious activities
and musical instruments. Overall, Ancient Egyptian Jewellery not only
served as ornamental objects, but it also carried a profound
Of the most famous specimens of jewellery is the â€œGolden Fly of Valour,â€
also known as â€œThe Order of the Golden Fly.â€ It was a fly-shaped
pendant, which was mostly made of gold, even though some silver examples
have been found.
Fly shaped amulets started appearing as early as the pre-dynastic
Naqqada II phase, and the fly was depicted in hieroglyphs as early as
then as the sign for â€œdeterminator,â€ and has always been depicted on
various ritualistic artefacts throughout the Old and Middle Kingdoms. ,
such as the so called â€œmagic wand,â€ (Shaw, Nicholson 1995: 101). Even
though the fly started gaining significance and appearing as beads
strung on necklaces during the Middle Kingdom, it was not until the New
Kingdom when the fly became an important award for military valour
(Williams 1924: 61).
Scholars vary on the historical significance of this object. Alix
Wilkinson says that even though the Golden Fly of Valour was once
awarded for military achievement, it could have been awarded to any
courtier (1971: 99-98). Cyril Aldredâ€™s view regarding the significance
of the fly is similar to that of Wilkinson. Aldred adds that this object
was distributed by the pharaoh on special occasions, such as jubilee,
Heb-Seds, and coronation, not necessarily as a military award (1971:
19). An older, yet similar view regarding the significance of this piece
is that of Caroline R. Williamsâ€™. In 1924, Williams published a book in
which she claims that this piece could not have been awarded for
military achievement as the most famous examples of the Golden Fly of
Valour belonging to a woman, Queen Ah-hotep of the XVIIIth dynasty, and
at the time, scholars did not believe women were active in war.
Moreover, a necklace carrying 33 small fly pendants was found in the
tomb of three of Tutmosis the thirdâ€™s wives (Williams 1924: 98-99),
which the author believes was not theirs, but was their husbandsâ€™.
The author thinks that overall, the fly was indeed awarded for military
achievement because of its resemblance to the persistence of the
enemies. According to the British Dictionary of Ancient Egypt, the fly
is the hieroglyphic sign of the word â€œdeterminator,â€ and is the symbol
for the sound â€œaff,â€ (Shaw, Nicholson 1995: 101). The author assumes
that the fly was used as this word, as it is just like the determined
enemy, no matter how much it is â€œshooedâ€ away, it comes back, and oneâ€™s
exasperation with a bothersome fly is often expressed in a sound similar
to â€œaffâ€. These have made the author suppose that the fly was associated
with the military because of its determinacy as the enemy, as well as
the flyâ€™s tendency to hang around battlefields were blood is being shed.
Supporting the argument many scholars put forth, several non-military
personnel were depicted wearing the Golden Fly of Valour, as well as the
discovery of fly pendants in their tombs. For example, fly pendants were
found in the burial place of Senmut, the royal butler of Hatshepsut. One
of gold and one of silver were found in his tomb, as well as other
representations on the walls. A statue of a man at Tell Edfu was found
with fly pendants around his neck. Amongst the royals who owned the
flies were XIXth dynasty Queen Tawosret, three wives of Tutmosis III, as
well as the most renowned fly pendants from Queen Ah-hotepâ€™s burial at
Draâ€™ Abul Naga.
Flies also appeared in many neighbouring cultures. In Nubia, gold-headed fly
amulets were common (Wilkinson 1971:99), and in the Greek Island of Cyprus,
examples of fly shaped pendants were found that were imported, probably form
Egypt (Williams 1924: 62).
The Shebiu Collar
Similar to the Golden Flies of Valour, the â€œOrder of the Golden Collarâ€, or
the shebiu collar; was part of honorific decoration. The collar consists of
up to four rows of thick biconical disc-beads strung tightly together
(Wilkinson 112). Gods were not usually shown with shebiu collars, though
there is an example of one dating to the new Kingdom shown on a stele
The shebiu collar first started appearing in the New Kingdom when it was
adopted by Tutmosis IV. This tradition lasted throughout the New Kingdom,
with many New Kingdom pharaohs being depicted wearing one, or an example was
found in their tombs (Wilkinson 1971: 9).
Even though the exact
reason for which the collar is awarded remains somewhat unclear, Wilkinson
says that this collar was awarded â€œnot only to for military service but also
to courtiers whom had rendered distinguished service in civil careers,â€
(1971:9) This supports the authorâ€™s perception of the reason behind this
collar because many non-royals were depicted wearing this collar, or it was
found in their tombs. Khaâ€™, an architect from the reigns of Amenhotep II and
Amenhotep III, owned a shebiu collar. It was definitely his, the author
asserts, as it appeared in an X-ray that a shebiu collar was placed around
the neck of his mummy (Wilkinson 1966). Moreover, according to Cyril Aldred,
these collars were hung around the necks of the people whom the pharaoh
desired to honour on special state occasions (1971:18)
The people who have been
awarded the shebiu collar, or have been depicted wearing one, or a collar
was found in their tomb were mostly of the upper class, some were even
pharaohs. A collar was found at a burial at Qurna which belonged to an early
XVIIIth dynasty woman. Since the intact burial of this woman included high
quality expensive jewellery, she was probably of the royal family, or at
least from a very wealthy upper class family (Wilkinson 1971: 94). Another
important member of the society who was represented with collars was the
high priest of Amun at Karnak, Amenhotep, who was priest during dynasties
XVIIIth to XXIIth (Wilkinson 1971: 9). Many New Kingdom pharaohs started
wearing the collar after Tutmosis IV made it popular in the XVIIIth dynasty.
Amongst them were Amenhotep III, Amenhotep IV (later known as Akhenaten),
Ay, and Seti I.
The last pharaoh to be
depicted with one was Ramses II. Tutankhamun also had many shebiu collars,
most notably were two, one of which was on his inner coffin and another on
his mummy mask. (Wilkinson 1971:94). Horemheb was depicted in a limestone
relief being decorated before the king. It shows him standing in front of
the pharaohâ€™s kiosk with his arms raised in jubilation, while he is being
adorned with many shebiu collars. Ay was also depicted in the same way in
another relief (Aldred 1971: 229).
The Menat Necklace
Another important article of jewellery was the menat collar or necklace
which first appeared in the Old Kingdom worn by Nebet and Sesheseshet, both
priestesses of Hathor. There were two kinds of menat necklaces in Ancient
Egypt. The first kind was a collar consisting of many strings of small beads
that were collected up and threaded through two or more circular beads. The
second type is the same, except for an addition of a single or double
â€œcounterpoise.â€ This sometimes ended narrowly, often with an image of the
goddess Hathor depicted on the end. It was also associated with music
(Wilkinson 1971: 68).
The exact historical
significance of this collar is unknown. It was widely associated with the
goddess Hathor, priesthood, music and funerary cults. The first appearance
of this collar was from the Old Kingdom worn by two priestesses of Hathor.
The Ihwey male dancers, who were associated with Hathor, were also always
depicted wearing or holding the collars. The collar was often depicted along
with sistra; thus it was probably used as a kind of rattle. Menats were a
part of the funerary jewellery represented on the walls of tombs, coffins
and funerary stelae, as well as being given to the deceased as a gift. This
is mainly because the menats were considered to have the same life-giving
properties as an ankh (Wilkinson 1971: 69).
The menat was depicted and has appeared in many different places throughout
Ancient Egypt due to the many meanings it evokes. In the XIIth dynasty, King
Amenemhat III was depicted wearing a menat collar as a part of a priestly
costume he once wore. In the Middle Kingdom, male dancers were illustrated
in tombs wearing a menat collar as they performed rituals for the dead. In
one depiction, the male dancers held menats in their hands, as well as
around their necks, with the accompanying inscription saying that they are
offering menats to the goddess Hathor, so she could protect the spirit of
the deceased, as well as granting him a long life and demolishing his
enemies. Moreover, girls who appeared in the funeral procession of Queen
Nofru wore this collar. Menats were also found on female funerary
statuettes. Menats were a part of the performance of several rituals.
Goddess Hathor performed Sed-jubilee ritual for King Amenemhat III, as well
as XVIIIth and XIXth dynasty pharaohs. In the famous literary text of
Sinuhe, the daughters of the king who greeted him held out menat necklaces
to him. In the new Kingdom, several gods were associated with the menat
collars, most notably Khons and Osiris (Wilkinson 1971: 69).
Jewellery obviously played a large part in the development of the Ancient
Egyptian Culture, as well as being associated with purposes other than mere
decoration. Jewellery was an important Ancient Egyptian element that had
many purposes. Ancient Egyptians excelled at jewellery making, often because
the jewellery is associated with gods, so the craftsmen fear is they do not
do their best they will be punished by the deity whom this piece is
Aldred, Cyril. Jewels of the Pharaohs. London: Thames and Hudson, 1971
Ancient Egyptian Jewellery: Best Selection from the Egyptian Museum. Cairo:
Supreme Council of Antiquities, 1999.
Gwinnett, A. John. â€œBeads, Scarabs, and Amulets: Methods of Manufacture in
Ancient Egypt.â€ Journal of American Research Centre IN Egypt. Egypt, 1993.
Manniche, Lise. Music and Musicians in Ancient Egypt. London: British Museum
The Oxford Dictionary of Ancient Egypt. Cairo: American University Press,
Shaw, Ian and Paul Nicholson. British Museum Dictionary of Ancient Egypt.
London: British Museum Press, 1995
Wilkinson, Alix. Ancient Egyptian Jewellery. London: Methuen & Co. Ltd.,
Williams, Caroline Ransom. Gold and Silver Jewellery and Related Objects.
New York: The New York Historical Society, 1924
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