Tut Exhibit - King Tutankhamun Exhibit, Collection: Jewelry - Five Gold Rings representing King Tutankhamun

The Tutankhamun Exhibit

Jewelry and Ornamentation

Five Gold Rings

Five Gold Rings

From the Middle Kingdom until the latter half of the Eighteenth Dynasty finger rings consisted generally of a loop of cord or metal and a swivel bezel, often a scarab, that revolved on the loop. Rings with the loop and bezel in one piece, made of metal, semiprecious stones, or faience, were uncommon until the Amarna Period, when they seem to have become fashionable. Fifteen rings, some with swivel bezels, were found on Tutankhamun's mummy, but only two were actually placed on his fingers; the remainder were bound in the linen wrappings, five over the right wrist and eight beside the left wrist. In addition, eight rings, which the ancient robbers had inadvertently left in the tomb wrapped in a piece of linen, were found in a gilded chest in the antechamber, where they had no doubt been placed by the necropolis staff. Five of these twenty-three rings are illustrated here; they are all made of gold and in every case the bezel is in the form of either a single or a double cartouche.

(Top to bottom)

(a) A bipartite ring; the two hollow loops with lily-form terminals are soldered together at the bezels only. Each bezel is decorated in openwork with a figure standing on the basket hieroglyph neb, which is often used to fill the oval base of a cartouche. On the left bezel the figure represents the king presenting an offering. The offering is received by the falcon-headed sun-god, Ra-Harakhty, shown in the right cartouche wearing the sun's disk and uraeus and holding the was scepter in his right hand and the ankh sign in his left. On the sides of each of the two loops are engraved an udjat eye on one side and a baboon on the other.

(b) One of the two rings found on the king's mummy; it was on the middle finger of his left hand. The bezel is engraved with a figure of the king kneeling and holding in his outstretched hands an image of the goddess Maat, who is represented seated on the neb sign. In her hands she holds the ankh sign. At the top of the cartouche is the protecting falcon holding in each talon the shen symbol.

Maat was the goddess who personified the action of the creator of the universe, Atum, when he established the right order in nature and society. The action depicted on the bezel reproduces an episode in a series of ceremonies performed every morning by the king or by the high priest who deputized for him. It took place in the Temple of Karnak in front of the shrine containing a statue of the god Amun. After opening the door of the shrine and performing some preliminary ceremonies, the king knelt before the statue and offered it an image of Maat, exactly in the manner shown on the bezel. Offerings of food and drink were placed every day before the god, and maat, in the abstract sense of right order, was regarded as divine food. Queen Hatshepsut, who lived more than a century before Tutankhamun, refers to Amun in an inscription at Beni Hasan in these words: "I magnified maat that he [Amun] loves, for I know that he lives on it."

In his field notes, Howard Carter made the following comment on this ring: "A magnificent specimen of goldsmith's work. The face is an absolute portrait of the king, showing extraordinary affinity to Akhenaton."

(c) Massive gold ring with hoop and bezel cast in one piece. The seated figure on the bezel represents the god Amun, or Amen-Ra as he is called in the hieroglyphic inscription in front of his crown. In his right hand he holds the ankh sign and in his left the was scepter. He wears on his head his regular headdress consisting of a close-fitting cap surmounted by two plumes and the sun's disk.

Amun, whose name means "the one who is hidden," first achieved prominence in the Twelfth Dynasty, four of whose kings were called by the name Amenemhat, which means "Amun is foremost." His cult was brought to Thebes from Hermopolis, in middle Egypt, where he had been worshipped since early times. In the Eighteenth Dynasty Amun gained real ascendancy over the other major gods and became the official state god. The powerful sun-god Ra of Heliopolis became associated with him at Thebes under the name Amen-Ra and Thebes itself was called Heliopolis of Upper Egypt. Tutankhamun's predecessor, Akhenaton, suppressed his cult, together with the cults of all the other gods except that of the sun's disk, Aton, but Tutankhamun restored Amun to his former preeminence and reopened the temples of the other gods.

(d) The right-hand cartouche contains the king's throne name, Nebkheperura, and the left-hand cartouche his original personal name, Tutankhaton. The change to Tutankhamun was made in about his ninth year when he was crowned by the priests of Amen-Ra at Karnak. By making this change the king formally detached himself from the cult of Aton and declared his adherence to the cult of Amun.

(e) The seated figure in the cartouche of this massive gold ring represents the falcon-headed god, Ra-Harakhty, whose name, which means Ra-Horus of the Horizon, is written in hieroglyphics in front of him. He holds the same insignia as in the ring at the top of the illustration. The sun's disk with uraeus, above his head, is also a feature common to both rings and a regular element in his iconography. Engraved on the loop, near the bezel, are the king's throne name on one side and his personal name on the other side. On the side of the throne is the heraldic device to commemorate the unification of Upper and Lower Egypt.

Since remote antiquity the center of the sun-cult had been located at Heliopolis, near the modern city of Cairo. It was there that the sun-god Ra had his sanctuary. Horus was the deity personified by the Upper Egyptian kings who conquered Lower Egypt, where Heliopolis was situated, at the beginning of the historical period. For political reasons it was necessary to unify the cults of the two gods, with the result that the composite god, Ra-Harakhty, came into being. The geographical proximity of the new capital, Memphis, to Heliopolis, together with the religious link that had been created, enabled the priests of Heliopolis to exercise their influence over the crown. However, when in the Eighteenth Dynasty the capital was established at Thebes, four hundred miles to the south, and Amun was recognized as the state god, Heliopolitan influence inevitably diminished. Probably in order to restore some of the god's lost prestige, Amenhotpe III and his sone, Amenhotpe IV, before he moved the capital to Amarna and adopted the name Akhenaton, built sanctuaries at Karnak to Ra-Harakhty, and his name was expanded to "Ra-Harakhty lives, rejoicing in the horizon, in his name the sun-light-which-is-Aton." Soon after its earliest occurrence, this name was divided into two parts, both written in cartouches like royal names in order to show that Amenhotpe IV regarded him as the divine king, although the epithet "King of the Gods" had long been borne by Amen-Ra. His "reign," such as it was, did not last for more than a few years, although Ra himself survived because he was regarded by Akhenaton as the ancient god in whom the true god, Aton, had always existed. Tutankhamun's accession to the throne, followed by his revival of the old cults, restored Ra-Harakhty to the position he had occupied in the Egyptian pantheon before the time of Amenhotpe IV.