What’s in a Hat? Odd Postures in Egyptian Art

Today’s post started with a joke.

The first few amuse me.  By the end it doesn’t even make sense: just putting hieroglyphs around Ghostbusters doesn’t exactly give the impression of ancient Egyptian Ghostbusters.  I do, however, get a giggle from the Vulture posing as Isis.

We’re going to stick with the first panel, which I find works best at what it’s attempting to do and there’s some pretty specific history with the pose.

Star Wars as ancient Egyptian art

The pose is quite distinct.  The aggressor is always a pharaoh (not a general, noble, etc.), which is indicated by his hat (although there are multiple pharaonic hats).  The enemy is on his knees and held by the hair.  The pharaoh wields a mace (a heavy, metal head on a handle used for bashing), although here they tend to look like spoons.

Palatte of Narmer
Probably the most famous image of the gesture is on the Palette of Narmer, celebrating the original uniting of Upper and Lower Egypt via the long and exalted tradition of bashing the other guys’ heads in.

You find them all over the place.

Ramessess II vanquishing in enemies
Here, at Abu Simbel, Ramessess II smites a whole group at once.  With a spoon.

The exact pose used in the Star Wars image is, in my (limited) experience, rare.  However, it was clearly based off of a real piece of art:

Ivory image of pharoah smiting enemies
Image on ivory.  There’s a long discussion with images on the topic at USCDornsife

Even the little stack of stormtroopers is history-appropriate for indicating an army.

Now, let me digress and introduce you to a quite different piece of artwork, one which you’ve likely seen.

Bust of Nefertiti
From Philip Pikart at Wikimedia Commons

This is Nefertiti, wife of Akenaten.  There’s all sorts of weird with those two: they tried being monotheists; later Egyptians attempted to obliterate them from history; they embraced a very different style of artwork, including this incredibly realistic, non-traditionally-Egyptian bust; and there’s a good deal of debate as to who the heck ruled during or after Akenaten’s rule (due to the fact people tried so hard to obliterate that period of history).

Nefertiti is wearing the traditional crown of a wife.

The smiting posture is something only a pharaoh gets to do.

And then there’s this.  From Captmondo on Wikimedia Commons.

Nefertiti is smiting a female captive.  With a spoon mace.  Does that mean she ruled as pharaoh for a time, either during the life of her husband or after?  But even if that was the case, why the heck is she wearing the crown of a wife, not a pharaoh?  Because even female pharaohs get pharaonic hats…and beards, but that’s for another post.


Leave a Reply