A golden Scarab beetle ornament with mirrored glass shell accents. Height : 6cm, Width : 10cm, Depth : 20cm. Gold finish, Mirrored detailing, Crystal eye decoration.
In ancient Egypt, scarab amulets and impression seals were popular. For archaeologists and historians of the ancient world, their inscriptions and typology are a valuable source of information. They’re also an important part of the world’s prehistoric art history.
For reasons that aren’t obvious, scarab beetle amulets became extremely popular in Ancient Egypt by the early Middle Kingdom (about 2000 BCE) and continued to be popular throughout the duration of the pharaonic period and beyond. Scarabs’ roles evolved constantly over the course of that lengthy time span. They were mostly amulets, although they could also be used as personal or official seals or incorporated into jewellery. For political and diplomatic reasons, several scarabs were made to honour or publicise royal accomplishments. Mummies were protected by a battery of amulets by the early New Kingdom, which included heart scarabs.
Ancient peoples in the Mediterranean and Middle East, particularly in the Levant, began to import Egyptian scarabs and make scarabs of their own in Egyptian or local styles.
The god Ra was worshipped in ancient Egypt as Sirius, the star that appeared 15 thousand years ago as the southern horizon approached. Dung beetles of the Scarabaeidae family (dung beetle) form a ball out of their excrement. As the precession cycle of the star Sirius swung south, people interpreted the scarab’s behaviour as indicating rebirth or regeneration because of its shared symbolism.
It is common to see the Egyptian god Khepri portrayed as a scarab beetle or a scarab beetle-headed man. Khepri’s passage over the horizon was regarded by the ancient Egyptians as the birth of Sirius. The Uluburun wrecked ship yielded a Nefertiti scarab.
Scarab Ornaments in History
Scarabs were prevalent by the end of the First Intermediate Period (about 2055 BCE). Simple geometric designs replaced cylinder seals and circular “button seals.”
Many pharaohs and other members of the royal family had their names etched on scarabs throughout the time in which they were manufactured.
Scarabs were also utilised as official seals in the Middle Kingdom, when the names and titles of officials were etched on them. When officials’ names and titles became rarer on scarabs, scarabs carrying the names of gods, such as “With Ra behind there is nothing to fear,” became more commonplace. Sometimes it’s tough to understand what these “wish” scarabs are trying to tell you.
Pharaohs’ names are frequently inscribed on scarabs, whereas the names of their wives and other members of the royal family are less common. Scarabs carrying a king’s name are more common in areas where he was well-established and reigned for a longer period of time.
For the most part, scarabs bearing the name of monarchs may be dated back to that time period. There are, however, a few notable exceptions.
Old Kingdom pharaohs’ names are inscribed on scarabs (particularly of well-known kings such as Khufu, Khafre and Unas). In the twenty-fifth or twenty-sixth Dynasty, when there was a lot of interest in and imitation of the works of the great monarchs of the past, these were likely produced.
Scarabs bearing the throne name Thuthmosis III (1504-1450 BCE) Men Kheper Re (“the appearance of Ra is established”) have also been discovered in large quantities. This great warrior pharaoh’s rule was lengthy and fruitful, although many of these scarabs probably don’t date back that far. After his death, Thuthmosis was worshipped as a god, as were all pharaohs. Like many Pharaohs, he appears to have had an ongoing religious cult based on his mortuary temple. This means that numerous scarabs with the inscription Men Kheper Re recall Thuthmosis III, but they may date from hundreds of years later in production. Many subsequent Egyptian pharaohs (including Piye of the Twenty-fifth Dynasty, 747–716 BCE) took the same throne name, leading to misunderstanding. To some extent, Men Kheper Re has become a protective charm in and of itself, with scarabs bearing the hieroglyphs without connection to Thuthmosis III. In many situations, it is possible that the carver did not understand the significance of the inscription but simply copied it. It’s possible that Rameses II’s throne name User Maat Re (“the justice of Ra is powerful”), which is frequently seen on scarabs that don’t appear to date from his reign, is similar on a smaller scale.
A scarab carrying the name “Amenhotep” does not need to be related with any particular pharaoh who also had that name.
For the most part, it’s not apparent what a scarab bearing the name of a monarch means. Many of these may have been made in honour of a ruler either while he was alive or after his death. It’s possible that some of them were given to the monarchy as presents. It’s possible that scarabs with the names of monarchs may have served as official seals and badges of office for the royal family, while others may have been personal seals owned by those monarchs. Pharaohs in ancient Egypt played many distinct functions, and scarabs named for them may have been linked to several of these duties, either directly or indirectly.