The Origin of the Blue Crown in Ancient Egypt
The blue crown is one of the iconic symbols of ancient Egyptian royalty. Shown throughout the land, it was a potent symbol, identifying the pharaoh on monument depictions. However, in the last few years, it has sparked a debate amongst Egyptologists – where did the blue crown originate and what was its purpose?
The blue crown makes it first appearance in royal iconography during the New Kingdom, but we have historical evidence that it was already being used in the Second Intermediate Period. One example of this is on the Karnak stela of Neferhotep III of the Thirteenth Dynasty where the pharaoh is described as being ‘adorned with the khepresh’.
However, the determinative does not represent the blue crown. Instead, it depicts a type of royal headdress, “which consisted of a close-fitting cap or wig fitted with auraeus at the front. This head-dress, which enjoyed a revival in the Amarna and Ramesside Periods, is referred to in recent studies, among other names, as the ‘royal cap’ or ‘cap-crown’”.
Looking at the different illustrations of the crowns portrayed in the Second Intermediate Period, we notice that there was not a gigantic variation in the evolution of the crown. There are only two that have significant internal detail, including one which is painted blue (yellow was the characteristic colour of the cap when revived in the Ramesside Period), although blue was the colour used for the Amarna version of the cap.
The first significant development of the blue crown appears at the start of the Eighteenth Dynasty. “Amosis is twice shown wearing a head-dress which is quite evidently a khepresh, but which is neither a cap-crown nor blue crown proper but a transitional form. As compared, for example, with that of his predecessor figs. As compared, for example, with that of his predecessor (see figs. 9-Io), his cap is seen to be more angular in shape, with distinct corners at each end of the dome. This same angular type continues into the reign of Amenophis I which sees the first definite attestation of the circular coiling of the uraeus-tail and of the band(s) at the nape of the neck. This same king also wears a more developed form which shows a partial return to the rounded top of the cap-crown but now with a concave curve at the rear-top, a clear indication of the presence, for the first time, of the characteristic raised ridge at the side of the crown”.
Archaeologists have often misidentified the blue and cap crowns; they have similar shapes and decorations which have led to mistakes. However, archaeologists now know that the “khepresh was originally the name for the cap-crown or, to put it another way, the cap-crown was the original form of the khepresh, and, as such, the ancestor of the blue crown”.
Davies, W. V. (1982) The Origin of the Blue Crown, The Journal of Egyptian Archaeology, Egypt Exploration Society.