The Two Ladies – Nekhbet and Wadjet

This week I am exploring the ‘Two Ladies’ Nekhbet and Wadjet. Now you may be wondering who these two ladies are, take a guess for me. Are they a pair of famous Queens, heroines from myth or something completely different all together?

I will clarify, the Two Ladies are goddesses for ancient Egypt. They are not necessarily the most famous goddesses. But if you read this blog or are interested in ancient Egyptian, I am sure you know who Isis, Hathor and Sekhmet are. The Two Ladies form just as an important part of the ancient Egyptian cosmology like these goddesses, and you have probably seen them represented on tomb /temple walls, textual sources and in objects but just not realised.

Figure 1 : Decorative lintel with hieroglyphs identify king Senwosret III wearing the crown of Lower Egypt (left) and the crown of Upper Egypt (right) From Medamud. Middle Kingdom, 12th Dynasty. Egyptian Museum, Cairo. JE 6189
https://egypt-museum.com/post/188134515781/relief-of-king-senusret-iii

Protectors of the King

The Two Ladies or separately the goddesses Nekhbet and Wadjet are the chief divine protectors of the king and represented the Upper and Lower domains of Egypt.

Figure 2: The flying vulture form of Nekhbet with outstretched wings and shen ring in her talons from Hatshepsut’s Temple at Deir el Bahri. Authors own photo
Figure 3: Golden Uraeus of Senwosret II, solid gold, 6.7 cm (2.6 in), black eyes of granite, head of lapis lazuli, hood of dark carnelian inlays, and inlays of amazonite. Cairo Museum JE 46694 http://www.globalegyptianmuseum.org/record.aspx?id=15281

The vulture Goddess Nekhbet was, from at least the Old Kingdom, associated with the White Crown of Upper Egypt and in this role also became a mythological mother of the king[1]. (Fig 1, Right). Nekhbet can be represented as a woman wearing a vulture cap. However, more often than not she is shown as a vulture, either standing or in profile view, or with wings outstretched in direct view[2]. In addition to being shown in full vulture form she is also shown carrying the circular ‘shen’ or eternity hieroglyph within her talons. Within scenes she is often shown in the corners, watching over in this protective form (Fig 2).

The goddesses Wadjet on the other hand is represented by a cobra and associated with the Red Crown of Lower Egypt (Fig 1, Left). Most commonly she is represented in the form of an erect cobra hood extended ready to strike (Fig 3). Her name means ‘the green one’ and is thought to refer to the natural colour of the serpent and or the verdant Delta region which she inhabited[3]. While Nekhbet is shown hovering by the king Wadjet is often represented on the forehead as the uraeus that protected the king. Later texts refer to her as the ‘mistress of fear’, as mythologically the royal serpent spat flames in defence of the king[4] (Fig4). If spitting fire doesn’t say back off, I am not quite sure how much clearer you can be.

Both goddesses were represented by dangerous creatures and for good reasons as protective deities. The vulture was the largest flying bird known to the Egyptians and there was a general fear of vultures devouring or dispersing bodies buried in the desert[5]. Whilst the cobra, well, it is pretty self-explanatory why that would be a feared creature.  The connections to the king take more than just a protective stance they also give him a name.  

Figure 4: The Two Ladies sit proudly together on the golden diadem of King Tutankhamun. Cairo Museum JE 61853
https://egypt-museum.com/post/173784105181/tutankhamun-diadem

Lord of the Two Lands  

Figure 5: Doorway Architrave The temple of Amenheotep III at El Kab Plate 1 Accessed February 4, 2021. https://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/510d47e2-8ec0-a3d9-e040-e00a18064a99
Figure 6: The ‘Nebty’ name of Amenhotep III at El Kab with hieroglyphs, transliteration and translation.
https://pharaoh.se/pharaoh/Amenhotep-III Accessed 04/02/2021

 A cartouche which the kings name is written in is an elongated form of ‘shen‘ ring which as I said above Nekhbet is shown carrying. This is not the only connection that the Two ladies have to the name of the king.  One of the five names of the reigning pharaoh was referred to as the ‘nbty’ name or the two ladies name. This particular example (Fig 5), has even more connection to Nekhbet as it is taken from the door architrave of Amenhotep III’s Temple at el Kab. Which served during processions of the goddess Nekhbet as a resting place for the goddesses barque[6]. The five epithets given to the king to some extent encapsulated the Egyptian views of kingship, stressing his role as a god, the others emphasising the division of Egypt into two lands both under the control of the Pharaoh[7]. The joining together of the two lands and so the two ladies is represented in the hieroglyphs and translation of Amenhotep III’s ‘nbty’ name. His ‘nbty’ name is marked as beginning with the hieroglyphic forms of the two ladies, the vulture and cobra stood atop baskets. His name itself translates to ‘Who has established laws and pacified the Two Lands’[8] (Fig 6).

Lady of the Two Lands

The Two ladies title was also used when referring to the queens of Egypt. From the Middle Kingdom it was common for the queen to have amongst her epithets titles that reflected her joining the king in this role of unification. Titles included ‘the one who is united with the White Crown’, from the Middle Kingdom onwards “lady of the Two Lands,” i.e., Egypt and, as early as the New Kingdom, “lady of the South and the North”, “lady of all lands”, and “mistress of the Two Lands”[9].   

Figure 7: Queen Tiy wife of Amenhotep III in the Tomb of Kheruef wearing the double uraeus with the two ladies shown as cobras wearing their respective crowns. 
UNIVERSITY OF CHICAGO. (1980). The tomb of Kheruef: Theban tomb 192. Chicago, Ill, Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago. Plate 26

Alongside this titular connection, like the king, queens of Egypt also connected themselves to the Two Ladies in their royal regalia. Among the most important insignia was the vulture headdress and the uraeus. Later on, the vulture headdress became a symbol of motherhood par excellence and from the 6th Dynasty the king’s wives, being prospective royal mothers, also began to wear the vulture headdress and the uraeus[10]. Further to this, later, in the 18th Dynasty the double uraeus became a common brow ornament for king’s daughters, royal wives and mothers (Fig6). The wife of Ramesses II or Ramesses the Great, Queen Nefertari is shown in her tomb (QV66) in vivid colour wearing the Nekhbet crown alongside cobra earrings in the guise of the ‘Lady of the Two Lands’ (Fig 8). The Tomb of Nefertari is mesmerising and Nefertari deserves her own blog post at some point. Over her tripartite wig she wears a gold headdress comprising of a tight fitting golden skull-cap in the shape of a vulture with outstretched wings holding a golden ‘shen‘ ring in its claws[11]. The Nekhbet headdress is also often considered as the crown of the “great royal wife” adding further to the significance of the vulture headdress for royal woem.    

Protective and fearsome is a combination that is often seen in the female deities of ancient Egypt. Nekbhket and Wadjet are no different. They are some of the most protective deities always either on the brow of the king staring down those who are before him or hovering nearby.

I hope you have enjoyed this week’s instalment about the two divine protectors of the king, the two ladies Nekhbet and Wadjet.

Figure 8: Queen Nefertari wearing the golden Nekhbet headdress and cobra earrings emblems of the Two Ladies. McDonald, J., (1996). House of eternity. Los Angeles: The Getty Conservation Institute and the J. Paul Getty Museum, p.71.

References  


[1] Wilkinson, R., 2007. The Complete Gods and Goddesses of Ancient Egypt. London: Thames & Hudson. Page 214

[2] Wilkinson, R., 2007. The Complete Gods and Goddesses of Ancient Egypt. London: Thames & Hudson. Page 214

[3] Wilkinson, R., 2007. The Complete Gods and Goddesses of Ancient Egypt. London: Thames & Hudson. Page226

[4] Wilkinson, R., 2007. The Complete Gods and Goddesses of Ancient Egypt. London: Thames & Hudson. Page 227

[5] Pinch, G., 2004. Egyptian mythology A guide to the Gods and Goddesses, and Traditions of Ancient Egypt. Oxford [etc.]: Oxford University Press. Page 212

[6] https://www.osirisnet.net/monument/elkab/temple_amenhotep3/e_temple_amenhotep3.htm Accessed 04/02/2021

[7] Shaw, I. and Nicholson, P., 2008. The British Museum Dictionary Of Ancient Egypt. London: British Museum Press. Page 277

[8] https://pharaoh.se/pharaoh/Amenhotep-III Accessed 04/02/2021

[9] Roth, Silke, 2009, Queen. In Elizabeth Frood, Willeke Wendrich (eds.), UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology, Los Angeles. http://digital2.library.ucla.edu/viewItem.do?ark=21198/zz001nf7cg Page 4

[10] Roth, Silke, 2009, Queen. In Elizabeth Frood, Willeke Wendrich (eds.), UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology, Los Angeles. http://digital2.library.ucla.edu/viewItem.do?ark=21198/zz001nf7cg page 2

[11] https://www.osirisnet.net/tombes/pharaons/nefertari/e_nefertari_02.htm Accessed 04/02/2021

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