Egyptian Symbols: Uraeus

The uraeus or the rearing cobra is another important sign of royal regalia in ancient Egypt. It is usually seen on headdresses, crowns and the brow of statues of kings and queens and even extending to deities. It is a symbol of the legitimacy of the king’s rule and is otherwise known as Weret Hekau (usually with a human head) that means Great of Magic. It is usually an Egyptian spitting cobra and has been used interchangeably with the ideas of sovereignty, deity, royalty and divine authority. It is usually made of gold found mostly in the royal garb and even in certain burial sites.

In hieroglyphs, the uraeus had several varieties and interpretations. It may refer to a priestess, a goddess like Menhit and Isis, or a shrine of a goddess.

Originally, the uraeus is the symbol of the Lower Egypt patron goddess, Wadjet. She is believed to take the form of the cobra on land and having her on the crown of the king would signify her protection from enemies as well as extension of rule over the entire Lower Egypt. During the unification of the country, the uraeus was merged with the vulture – the symbol of Upper Egypt’s patron deity, Nekhbet. Together, the two creatures became the nebty or the two ladies protecting the pharaoh.

When the pharaohs became a manifestation of the sun god Ra, the uraeus was believed to spit poison or fire at the enemy of the king to protect him. It is often found on both sides of the sun disc usually worn by the sun god. In line with this, the uraeus became the Eye of Ra and had been connected to the goddesses who performed such functions including Hathor, Isis, Nekhbet, Sekhmet, Wadjet and Bastet. In various parts of history, it became referenced as the Eye of the Moon, the Eye of Hathor, Eye of Horus, and Eye of Ra depending on the dates and periods it was used. It may have also been connected with other goddesses like Neith and Ma’at.

Because the uraeus has always been a royal symbol, it became associated with the ruler gods of Egypt. Horus and Set, in some depictions, may be seen wearing it.

One of the mythology of the origin of the uraeus started with Story of Ra. Isis was believed to have created the first uraeus by forming it from the dust of the earth and the spittle of the sun. The goddess used it in acquiring the throne of Egypt for her husband Osiris.

The most famous uraeus is the golden one of Sensuret II made of solid gold with black granite eyes. The head is made of deep ultramarine color lapis lazuli with hood carnelian and turquoise inlays for hood. This uraeus was 6.7 cm measured from top to bottom.

The only known uraeus seen together with an entombed pharaoh was the one found in Tutankhamun. These were two golden uraeus believed to have been passed on from one pharaoh to the next.