Headwear was a significant aspect of culture for people throughout ancient Egypt's history. Crowns, headdresses and circlets all conveyed important symbols of power for the ruling class. For both royalty and commoners, various styles of wig and headdress were highly sophisticated parts of culture over the course of Egyptian civilization.

Crowns and Divinity

One of the titles for Osiris was "Lord of the Crowns."
One of the titles for Osiris was "Lord of the Crowns."

Crowns or headdresses in ancient Egypt were closely related to Egyptian beliefs about divinity and a given king's link to the divine realm. Gods and kings are never depicted without crowns in archaeological findings. In the Book of the Dead, the god Osiris is referred to as the "Lord of the Crowns," and historians believe that ancient Egyptians considered him an originator of the headwear. Some crowns were often identified with specific gods. One example is Serqet, a goddess of magic who is frequently depicted with a scorpion affixed to her headdress.

Physical Characteristics of Crowns

Headwear reflected other aspects of ancient Egyptian culture in showing a high level of attention to detail in the design. Unfortunately this is only known through study of hieroglyphics and statues, as no true Egyptian crowns have been recovered. Through the study of ancient art, historians infer that royal headwear was made of precious metals, jewels and other decorative elements such as ostrich feathers. Crowns were often depicted as extremely tall in hieroglyphics, which Egyptologists believe is more to emphasize the symbolic elements of the headwear than to demonstrate its true size.

Symbolism of Royal Headwear

Upright cobras were symbols of protection on Egyptian crowns.
Upright cobras were symbols of protection on Egyptian crowns.

Royal headwear often symbolized divine attributes and aspects of a ruler's reign. Kings could be depicted in several crowns, which suggests shifting roles over the course of their rule. The Double Crown is one example that symbolized a reign over the entire country, and is derived from earlier White and Red Crowns, which represent rulers of separate Upper and Lower Egypt. One distinct symbolic element of Egyptian headwear is the uraeus, typically depicted as a raised cobra on the ruler's forehead, which acted as a symbol of protection and conveyed his destructive powers. Uraei varied in number and form, and were sometimes depicted as an ibis or gazelle for ancillary royal women.

Non-Royal Headwear

The nemes headdress is most recognized with King Tut's funerary mask.
The nemes headdress is most recognized with King Tut's funerary mask.

Non-royal elite and commoners within different periods of ancient Egyptian society placed similar importance on headwear and style. The nemes headdress, brightly colored and made of stiff linen that draped over the shoulders to protect one from the sun, was likely worn by aristocrats. Basic headbands were also used to hold wigs in place, and could be fashioned of leather inlaid with gold or simple linen. Ancient Egyptians often wore wigs with beads or woven with gold; these wigs could be made of human hair or wool depending on the person's social standing and wealth.