What is the Meaning of the Ankh Symbol?

Stone tablet with ankh symbols carved into it
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In ancient Egypt, the ankh symbol played an important spiritual role. A hieroglyph signifying "life," the ankh was widespread on ancient Egyptian monuments, in writings, within art, and in religious settings. Though its real origins are unknown due to its longstanding prevalence, its popularity throughout ancient Egyptian life speaks to its importance.

1 The Life-giving Ankh

According to scholars and Egyptologists, the ankh's most prevalent meaning involves the idea of life. Some believe that it symbolizes male and female genitalia united. Other theories included the ankh as a symbol for a type of sandal. More popularly, it is believed to be a symbol of everlasting life or eternity. When depicted in the hands of Egyptian deities, the ankh is read as a scepter that can resurrect the dead. Therefore, Egyptian royalty would wear the ankh for protection and eternal life.

Dianne Laguerta is a graduate of Mount Holyoke College with a bachelor's degree in history and Middle Eastern studies. She studied and conducted research in Cairo, Egypt during the 2012 Egyptian elections, and has traveled throughout the Middle East.