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Ancient Amulets

Reprinted by permission from "Artifacts of Ancient Civilizations" by Alex G. Malloy

The amulets is a talisman or charm that is worn by an individual, and is believed to have magical powers. Three of the four Egyptian words for amulet come from a word meaning "to guard to protect." The Egyptians made amulets with the intention that the magical powers would last forever. The initial purpose was to protect the individual in this life, but it also had the additional purpose of offering protection in the afterlife.

Egyptian amulets are the most collected and available of ancient amulets. They were produced from the Pre-Dynastic period through Roman times, a period of about 4500 years. Shell and ivory Pre-Dynastic amulets were made depicting hippopotami, antelope heads, lions, dogs, and bulls. By the end of this period, stone amulets were commonly adorned. From the Old Kingdom on, a vast array of amulets of gods, goddess, and sacred animals were produced in many media, including faience. Examples of amulets of protection were inanimate forms such as Ujat, or eye of the falcon-head Horus. The eye had been plucked out in a battle with Seth, and was healed by Thoth. This Ujat was used to ward off evil, and was even used for healing. Amulets of assimilation were produced to help the wearer take on qualities that the amulet represented. For example, a hare amulet would confer swiftness of movement and keenness of senses. Amulets of power were inanimate objects that conveyed royal and divine powers, and cosmic associations. The Red Crown of Lower Egypt, depicting a crown with a tall spike at the back and a curling spiral to the front, is an example of a symbol which was imbued with authority and power. The amulets of offerings, possessions, and property were to act as the substitutes for the wearer in the afterlife.

Mesopotamian amulets were carved in stone, and were in the forms of animals, usually recumbent. Often the bases were used as stamp seals. Luristan and Amlash produced bronze amuletic animals in the 9th-7th century B.C.

Roman amulets are found in bronze. They depict gods, goddesses, and the erotic phallus, a symbol of fertility worn by the military for good luck. Faience amulets were produced in Roman Egypt and Roman Syria as well. Parthian bronze gazelle amulets were found in the excavations at Dura Europus.


Alex G. Malloy, Inc. Egyptian Art and Artifacts, Summer 1980. (New York, 1980).
Andrews, C. Amulets of Ancient Egypt. (Bath, 1998).
Babelon, E. & J. Blanchet. Catalogue des bronzes antiques de la Bibliotheque National. (Paris, 1895). Available Online
Blanchard, R. Handbook of Egyptian Gods and Mummy Amulets. (Cairo, 1909). Available Online
Comstock, M. & C. Vermeule. Greek, Etruscan, & Roman Bronzes in the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Boston Museum of Fine Arts. (Boston, 1971).
Goldstein, S. Pre-Roman Glass in the Corning Museum of Glass. (Corning, 1979).
Petrie, F. Amulets, illustrated by the Egyptian Collection in University College. (London, 1914). Available Online
Petrie, F., G. Brunton & M. Murray.  Lahun II. (London, 1923). Available Online
Rowe, A. A Catalogue of Egyptian Scarabs, Scaraboids, Seals and Amulets in the Palestine Archeological Museum. (Cairo, 1936).
Samson, J. Amarna, City of Akhenaten and Nefertiti. Key Pieces from the Petrie Collection. (London, 1972).
Stern, M. Early Glass of the Ancient World, 1600 B.C. - A.D. 50, Ernesto Wolf Collection. (Ostfildern-Ruit, 1994).
Whitehouse, D. Roman Glass in the Corning Museum of Glass, Volume Three. (Rochester, 1997).

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