Week 5: Increase Use of Emblems

The Middle Kingdom, truly to me, happens to be one of the most fascinating times of ancient Egyptian history after reading and watching the lecture videos. It was the time of relative prosperity, general peace and long reigning kings. The Middle Kingdom was also a time when trade, arts, and material in general flourished. Amongst material culture, I was fascinated by the extreme use of magical amulets as a decorum in the application of divine symbolism. Amulets have been used since the Predynastic times but underwent an extreme increase of use during the Middle Kingdom. Why the sudden change? Could it have been because of socio-economic and political changes that were taking place? Maybe, since many amulets and emblems pertained to the “after-life” it was a coping mechanism? I don’t know but it’s interesting to see the different forms of emblems they used, for instance, we all have learned about the eye of Horus (if you don’t, essentially it is the symbol of protection, royal power and good health), but another one that I have never heard of is called, Djed pillar or the back bone of Osiris. It is associated with Osiris because it’s a mythological symbol dealing with the afterlife, the underworld and the dead (a bit morbid). Ancient Egyptians fascination with death and preparing for death is intriguing. They were surrounded with death so emblems such as these was a way, to me, to become comfortable with the idea of death. Yet, it’s interesting that during the Middle Kingdom, a time of peace (somewhat) that the use of emblems would be on the rise.

With the increase of using amulets and emblems it make me wonder what else was rapidly increasing or being constructed. I researched into this and found that the pharaohs of the 12th through 18th Dynasties were credited with preserving mathematical and medical discoveries that were preserved on dozens of ancient Egyptian papyri.

If you would like more information on these the link is below and you can look into the collection.


1 thought on “Week 5: Increase Use of Emblems

  1. I too found the Middle Kingdom to be very fascinating in terms of ancient Egyptian history especially in regards to their material culture. I also wrote about the magical amulets and how important they were to the Egyptians and their beliefs about death and particularly the afterlife. Since they were such strong believers in spirituality and what happens in the afterlife, it is interesting to me that you brought up that the amulets may have been sort of a coping mechanism for them. As you said they were going through many changes in their society both political and socio-economic so having an object or emblem that represents an idea that is constant and unchanging to them may have been beneficial for them to have even one that symbolizes death.

    The ancient Egyptians fascination with death is intriguing but we all have to remember that our culture here in the United States has a sort of fear of thinking or talking about death. Many other countries around the world stigmatize death to a lesser degree than we do. For example in Nancy Scheper-Hughes’s book Saints, Scholars, and Schizophrenics she talks about how the children of a small village in Ireland value a “happy death” more than many other things such as economic security, knowledge and even wealth. For them and I’m sure many other countries, dying happy is more important to them than being wealthy. So we can see that even though this fixation ancient Egyptians had with death and the afterlife is fascinating to us, it may be a normal occurrence to other countries around the world even today and that in itself is interesting.

    Scheper-Hughes, N. (2001). Saints, scholars, and schizophrenics: Mental illness in rural Ireland. Berkley, CA: University of California Press.

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