Adapted with permission from "Artifacts of Ancient Civilizations" and "Egyptian
Illustrations by Irene
Along with the pyramids, sphinxes, and mummies, the scarabs are one of the most familiar objects representing Egypt
. Scarabs have been collected for centuries and were particularly popular in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Popularity decreased during the Great Depression and they have never regained their status as a hobby collectible of the elite. The benefit of diminished popularity for collectors today is that very rare
and interesting scarabs are far more affordable than might be expected for such important historical pieces.
is the Latin name for the dung beetle. Today most people do not have great appreciation for this insect, but this variety and several other members
of the family Scarabaeidae, were sacred to the ancient Egyptians. They connected the beetles' habits of rolling balls of dung around their eggs with the concept of eternal life in the after-world. The meaning of Kheper or Scarab was "becoming, being, metamorphosing, generation, new life, virility, and resurrection." Representations of the beetle were an essential symbol in Egyptian
art and a whole class of seals and amulets
were made in its image.
These little amulets
of beetle form often bear hieroglyphic designs on their base including good luck
wishes, the names gods, and the names of individuals both noble and common. The most obviously interesting scarabs are those with names of kings, of the royal family, and of officials. Pharaohs were worshiped as gods, and the names of the current pharaoh or a popular deceased pharaohs, such as Thothemes III, were used to bring good luck
to the bearer.
Scarabs were manufactured in a wide variety of materials including steatite
, and bone, from the Old Kingdom through the Roman period. The most common material used was Steatite
. Scarabs are always to be understood to be steatite
or schist unless otherwise described. Steatite
is also known as soapstone, a medium for carving for thousands of years. Steatite
also denotes a glassy ceramic material made from soapstone, used by ancient civilizations to make beads, amulets
, seals and scarabs. To make the ceramic-like material, steatite
was sometimes mixed with additives, it was either carved or molded into the desired shape, and was then heated to a temperature between 1000 and 1200 °C. At that temperature the surface of steatite
will vitrify, fusing into the glassy substances enstatite and cristobalite. On the Mohs scale, the change increases hardness from 1 to between 5.5 and 6.5.
To the novice, all styles of scarabs probably look much alike; but to an accustomed eye the specialities of each dynasty, and even of separate reigns, are very clear. The distinction of the styles of scarabs is as much a special subject as the discrimination of the manner of painters, and as invisible to those who are unfamiliar with the study.
All the brown scarabs (which are a majority) were originally green glazed; while most of the white ones (excepting possibly some of Amenhotep III) were originally blue. There are also the white and grey ones without any glaze remaining, which were either blue or green. The evidences for these transformations are innumerable in the half-way stages, not only scarabs, but also ushabtis. Where the color has changed and the original can be still see, it is usually noted; as green gone brown or blue gone white, for example.
Heart scarabs functioned as a replacement of the heart organ of a mummy, and represented the person or spirit of the deceased individual. The earliest heart scarabs appeared during the second intermediate period (c. 1700 B.C.) and became relatively more common during the New Kingdom
. If inscribed, heart scarabs, usually include text from chapter XXXb of the Book of the Dead...
My heart, my mother; my heart, my mother.
My heart whereby I come into being.
May there be nothing to withstand me at my judgement;
may there be no resistance against me by the Tchatcha;
may there be not parting of thee from me
in the presence of him who keepeth the Scales!
Thou are my ka within my body, which knitteth and
strengtheneth my limbs. Mayest thou come forth in
the place of happiness
to which I advance.
May the Shenit, who make men to stand fast,
not cause my name to stink.
Scarabs serve an extremely important role in the discovery of Egyptian history
, much as coins serve in the discovery of Western history
. The names of most known pharaohs have been found on scarabs. Although the most popular pharaohs' names were revived and used on commemorative scarabs hundreds of years after their death, most scarabs were made during the lifetime of the individuals named. Some pharaohs and officials are known to us only from scarabs and the dates of their reigns were determined only by the archaeological context of scarab finds and by the art and fabric
of the scarabs that name them. Scarabs not only have identified the names and dated the reigns of the pharaohs, changes in the style
and manufacture of scarabs serves as an index
to changes in the civilization. Without the study of scarabs, a large part
of our knowledge of ancient Egypt
would have been lost.
The major criteria for pricing scarabs are: quality
, condition, rarity
, historical interest and size. Quality
, perhaps even better called eye-appeal, is an overall appraisal of the beauty of the scarab and is often the most important price
increases value. Beautiful glaze colors, vivid glass
, and intense semi-precious stone
hues increase value. Larger size increases value. Rarity
increases value. Attractive, historically important (royal) or interesting hieroglyphics increase value.
Of the literature available on scarabs, the majority was published between the last quarter of the 19th century through the period just before the Second World War. As a general introduction, one could select from any of a number of works from this period, but W.M.F. Petrie’s classic work Scarabs and Cylinders
with Names, published in 1917, serves this purpose admirably and is included here, online in its entirety. NumisWiki
has a large selection of articles and references related to scarabs. In NumisWiki See Also:scaraboidHistorical ScarabsMalloy ScarabsLahun II Scarab VenerationScarabs and Cylinders
Religious Aspects of the ScarabVarieties of ScarabsDating ScarabsMaking of ScarabsOld Kingdom ScarabsEarliest Age of ScarabsMiddle Kingdom ScarabsNew Kingdom ScarabsLate Period to Roman Period Scarabs
Blankenburg, C. and Van Delden. The Large Commemorative Scarabs of Amenhotep III
. (Leiden, 1969)
Budge, E. A. Wallis. The Egyptian
Book of the Dead, (The Papyrus of Ani), Egyptian
Text, Transliteration, and Translation (1895)Fraser
, George. A Catalog
of the Scarabs belonging George Fraser
. (London, 1900)Gorton
, Andree F. Egyptian
and Egyptianizing Scarabs, A typology of steatite
and paste scarabs from Punic and other Mediterranean sites. (Oxford, 1996)
Hall, Harry Reginald. Catalogue
Scarabs, etc., in the British Museum. (1913)
Hall, Harry Reginald. Scarabs. (London, 1929)Martin
, Geoffrey Thorndike. Egyptian
Administrative and Private-Name seals, Prinipally of the Middle Kingdom and Second Intermediate Period. (Oxford, 1971)*
Matouk, Fouad S. Corpus du scarabee egyptien, Tome premier. (Beyrouth, 1971)*
Mayer, Isaac. Scarabs (1894)Newberry
, Percy E. Scarabs: An Introduction to the Study of Egyptian Seals and Signet Rings
. (London, 1906)Newberry
, Percy E. The Timins Collection
of Ancient Egyptian
Scarabs and Cylinder Seals. (London, 1907)
Petrie, W. M. Flinders. Historical Scarabs
Chronologically Arranged: A series of drawings from the principal collections
. (London, 1889, reprint 1976)
Petrie, W. M. Flinders. Scarabs and cylinders
with names: illustrated by the Egyptian collection
in University College, London (London, 1917)
Petrie, W. M. Flinders. Buttons and Design Scarabs Illustrated by the Egyptian Collection
in University College. (London, 1925)*
Scarabs, Alex G. Malloy
Fixed Price Catalog
, Spring 1974.
Robard, Simon. "The Heart Scarab of the Ancient Egyptians," in American Heart Journal. (1953)*
Rowe, Alan. A Catalogue
Scarabs, Scaraboids, Seals and Amulets
in the Palestine
Archaeological Museum. (1936)*Ward
, John. The Sacred Beetle, A Popular Treatise on Egyptian
Scarabs in Art and History
. (New York, 1902)*
*Reference not held by Forum