Egyptian Amulets

See works of art
  • Amulet in the form of a head of an elephant
    59.101.1
  • Hand and foot amulets
    10.130.2355_10.130.2358
  • Sa Amulet
    25.3.253
  • Hedgehog amulet on a string
    22.1.301
  • Hippopotamus Head Amulet
    10.130.2310
  • Snake-head Amulet
    09.180.2455
  • Fish Pendant
    09.180.1182
  • Scarabs
    10.130.910_27.3.206
  • Tit (Isis knot) amulet
    00.4.39
  • Heart amulets
    10.130.1782_10.130.1804
  • Amulet of the God Bes
    26.7.878
  • Aegis of Sekhmet or Bastet
    10.130.2055
  • Taweret Amulet
    04.2.365
  • Nepthysis, Horus, and Isis
    17.194.2444
  • Baboon with a wedjet eye
    44.4.41
  • Anubis Amulet
    04.2.151
  • Djed pillar Amulet
    89.2.539
  • Crocodile amulet
    1989.281.96
  • Wedjat Eye Amulet
    23.2.68

Works of Art (20)

Essay

An amulet is a small object that a person wears, carries, or offers to a deity because he or she believes that it will magically bestow a particular power or form of protection. The conviction that a symbol, form, or concept provides protection, promotes well-being, or brings good luck is common to all societies: in our own, we commonly wear religious symbols, carry a favorite penny, or a rabbit’s foot. In ancient Egypt, amulets might be carried, used in necklaces, bracelets, or rings, and—especially—placed among a mummy’s bandages to ensure the deceased a safe, healthy, and productive afterlife.

Egyptian amulets functioned in a number of ways. Symbols and deities generally conferred the powers they represent. Small models that represent known objects, such as headrests or arms and legs, served to make sure those items were available to the individual or that a specific need could be addressed. Magic contained in an amulet could be understood not only from its shape. Material, color, scarcity, the grouping of several forms, and words said or ingredients rubbed over the amulet could all be the source for magic granting the possessor’s wish.

Small representations of animals seem to have functioned as amulets already in the Predynastic Period (ca. 4500–3100 B.C.). In the Old Kingdom (ca. 2649–2150 B.C.), most amulets took an animal form or were symbols (often based on hieroglyphs), although generalized human forms occurred. Amulets depicting recognizable deities begin to appear in the Middle Kingdom (ca. 2030–1640 B.C.), and the New Kingdom (ca. 1550–1070 B.C.) showed a further increase in the range of amulet forms. With the Third Intermediate Period (ca. 1070–712 B.C.), there was an explosion in the quantity of amulets, and many new types, especially deities, appeared.

Diana Craig Patch
Department of Egyptian Art, The Metropolitan Museum of Art

October 2004

Citation

Patch, Diana Craig. “Egyptian Amulets.” In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000–. http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/egam/hd_egam.htm (October 2004)

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