The Tutankhamun Exhibit
Tutankhamun's Ceremonial Crook and Flail
These emblems were found separately, the crook in the Antechamber and the flail in the Treasury. The flail is historically the more interesting because it bears on the gold cap at the base of its handle the king's name in its early form of Tutankhaton together with his throne name Nebkheperura, thus showing that it had belonged to him while he was still a child, but after he had ascended the throne. Since a flail was one of the symbols held by Egyptian kings in some of their coronation ceremonies, it is at least possible that this object was the actual flail used by Tutankhaton in his coronation at Amarna when he was about nine years of age and before he was crowned at Karnak. The crook is inscribed on both the terminal caps with the throne name only - a difference that, in spite of the equality in size of the two objects, may indicate that they were not originally made as a pair. A second pair and an odd crook, all larger, were found in the same wooden box as this flail. All three crooks are composed of alternating cylindrical sleeves of metal overlaid with gold and dark blue glass upon a bronze core. The handle of the flail, as far as the angular sleeve at the top, is similarly composed, but the gilded beads in the thongs of the swingle have wooden cores.
Although the crook and the flail were most often represented as emblems of the god Osiris, they were also carried on some ceremonial occasions, besides the coronation, by the reigning pharaoh. Very occasionally the crook was held by viceroys of Nubia and also by viziers. A painted scene of tribute from Asia in the tomb of Tutankhamun's viceroy of Nubia, Huy, shows the king holding both the crook and flail in his left hand and the sign for "life" (ankh) in his right, while the viceroy holds a crook, but no flail, in his left hand and a single ostrich plume in his right. Only rarely is the flail shown in the hands of priests or officials and such instances are limited to scenes of royal jubilee festivals. Notwithstanding these sporadic exceptions, the crook and the flail were essentially Osirian emblems, though possible not so in origin. Osiris is believed to have acquired them from Andjeti, the local god of a town in the Delta named Djedu, who was represented in human form with two feathers on his head and holding the crook and flail in his hands. At a very early date in Egyptian history Osiris absorbed Andjeti and adopted his insignia. Osiris, however, was regarded not only as a god but also as a deified deceased king and consequently his insignia, particularly the crook and flail, were treated as symbols of royalty.
It is not difficult to imagine how a shepherd's crook could have acquired the symbolical significance of rulership. Its name in Egyptian is heqat and the most common word for "ruler" is heqa. Not unnaturally it has been compared with the crosier, the Christian pastoral staff. A flail (called nekhakha), however, seems out of character for a kindly and beneficent god like Osiris and for this reason some authorities prefer to regard it as a ladanisterion, a flail-like instrument used until the present day by shepherds in the Mediterranean region and elsewhere for collecting ladanum, a gummy substance excreted from the leaves of the Cistus plant. According to classical writers, it was used in the preparation of incense and unguents. This suggestion, proposed by the late Professor P.E. Newberry who helped in the clearance of Tutankhamun's tomb, is plausible, but, as yet, there is no clear evidence that the Cistus plant grew in Egypt in pharaonic times.