Find out About Ancient Egyptian Scarabs

Scarabs are the commonest of all ancient Egyptian antiquities. They take the form of the scarabeus beetle and are often carved on the underside with texts that can vary from a simple good wish, a personal name and title used as a seal, or religious or historical texts.

Scarab Symbolic Meaning

The scarab is called Khepri, and is associated with the sun god creator Ra by a curious, to Western minds, reason. The actual scarabeus beetle was often seen hurrying across the sand. With its rear legs it propelled a small ball of dung, and from this ball the tiny grub beetles are born – to the ancient Egyptians it appeared almost as a virgin birth. Not least, the ball propelled by the beetle was seen as the ball of the sun as it traversed the sky from east to west each day. Ipso facto, it must be pushed by a beetle, and that beetle became the god Khepri. Occasionally the god is represented in tomb paintings as a man with a beetle’s head. In some funerary papyri the beetle Khepri is shown being lifted up in a boat to the sky by the god Nun.

What Were Scarab Amulets Used For?

Scarabs were important amulets and seals, they were worn as protective charms, rather like silver lucky charms nowadays; in many cases they had good wishes or protective wordings or the name of a great pharaoh such as Tuthmosis III engraved in a cartouche on their base, and they are usually later than that pharaoh’s reign. Not all scarabs have an inscription on their base, particularly fine examples in amethyst are typical of the Middle Kingdom, and very realisticall examples with modelled undersides occur in the Late Period.

History, Rituals & Scarabs

Ancient Egyptian Scarabs can be very important historically, providing the name of obscure kings. High officials would have one in hard stone or faience which carried their name and titles of office. The scarab was also highly important in the ritual of embalming.

In the embalming process although the soft intestines (stomach, lungs, liver and smaller intestine) were removed, the heart was left in place because it was thought to be the seat of all emotions. Within the bandages of the mummy, above the heart, was placed a large ‘heart scarab’. This was made preferably of a hard green stone and it had engraved on its underside the name of the deceased followed by Chapter 30B of the Book of the Dead.

This was a prayer that the deceased’s heart would not stand up and speak against him when he came before the 42 gods and Osiris in the Hall of Judgement. There his heart was to be weighed in the balance against Ma’at, the feather emblem of the Goddess of Truth. He had to answer ‘no’ truthfully, that he had not done various things to the 42 questions put by the assembled gods – it is known as the Negative Confession, and he would not want his heart to contradict him from its place on the Scales of Truth.

Larger scarabs were used particularly during the reign of Amenophis (1386-1334) to carry explicit statements. There is a series of five such large scarabs known, all very rare, on which the king details his marriage to his wife Queen Tiy, his killing of 102 fierce lions, hunting wild cattle, building a sailing lake for his queen, and of the arrival of a Mitannian princess to join his harem.

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