The Tutankhamun Exhibit
Gold Dagger and Sheath
Daggers were used by the ancient Egyptians from predynastic times onwards, though examples dating from the Old Kingdom are exceedingly rare. During the Middle Kingdom and the New Kingdom they were generally made of copper or bronze; gold, apart from its use for purposes of embellishment, was probably reserved for royalty. Queen Ahhotpe, mother of Ahmosis I, the founder of the Eighteenth Dynasty, had, in her funerary equipment, a solid gold dagger and sheath, both of which are now in the Cairo Museum. Tutankhamun's mummy was provided with two daggers encased in gold sheaths, one with an iron blade and the other with a blade of hardened gold. It is the latter specimen which is shown here.
As an illustration of the goldsmith's artistic ability and technical skill, this dagger, and particularly its sheath, are among the outstanding pieces of the collection. On the top of the pommel are the king's cartouches in applied embossed gold and a wreath of lily-palmettes in cloisonne work. On the underside are two figures of falcons holding in each claw the hieroglyphic symbol for 'eternity' (shen). The falcon was often represented in Egyptian art holding this symbol and, with wings outstretched, protecting a king. Probably it was intended to serve an amuletic purpose in this instance also. A similar motif appears on the haft of a dagger in the Metropolitan Museum which bears the name of Tuthmosis I and it may have been a characteristic feature of royal daggers at this period. Below the pommel, the haft is decorated with alternate bands of geometric designs in granulated gold work and lily palmette designs in gold cloisonne work of semi-precious stones and glass, a central band of minute red and blue circular disks breaking the regularity of the palmette ornamentation. At the base of the hilt, applied in gold wire, is a band of continuous spirals within a rope pattern border, thus conveying to the eye the suggestion that the haft is bound to the blade.
In striking contrast with the ornate haft, the decoration of the blade, which is tinged with red, is simple. At the top, incised on both faces, is a plain horizontal band, which also suggests a tie, over a design consisting of a diamond pattern chain bordered beneath by two horizontal lines, the spaces between the diamonds being filled with dots. Under this frieze is engraved an elegant palmette with poppies surmounting two perpendicular grooves which converge at the base and resemble floral stems.
The obverse of the gold sheath is almost entirely covered with a feather pattern decoration in cloisonne work, relieved at the top by a palmette frieze and at the pointed base by a jackal's head. Of far greater interest is the elaborate design on the reverse. First comes a line of inscription reading: 'The Good God, possessor of a strong arm, Nebkheperure, given life'. A row of continuous spirals follows and then two loops of palmette design, by means of which the sheath was attached to the girdle. The main scene, embossed in high relief, is composed of the following elements: an ibex attacked by a lion, a calf with a hound on its back biting the calf's tail, a leopard and a lion attacking a male ibex from above and below, a hound biting a bull, and lastly a calf in full flight. Interspersed between the animals are stylized plants, and a more elaborate floral device occupies the pointed base.
Although there is no reason to doubt that this sheath was made in Egypt, the decoration of the reverse includes artistic features which have a foreign appearance. The band of continuous spirals, the style of the rosette on the shoulder of the second lion, the summary treatment of the skins of the animals and the floral motif at the base have parallels in the art of northern Syria at this period and they also have Minoan or Mycenaean affinities. Scenes of workshops painted on the walls of private tombs at Thebes sometimes include Asiatic craftsmen at work side by side with the far more numerous Egyptian artisans; they were very probably employed on account of their ability to reproduce artistic styles which were familiar to them but new to the Egyptians. Like so many other importations in the history of Egypt, however, these innovations were quickly absorbed and given the general character of native products.
Dagger length: 31.9 cm, blade 20.1 cm
Sheath length: 21 cm, width 4.4 cm