Ancient literature conjures up a few visions of Egyptian pharaohs mounted on horseback. Several written references and a few images support the notion of royalty on horseback. Since the ancient Egyptian language grew out of little pictures, even the literature provides images of horses with its hieroglyphic determinative in the shape of a horse.
The primary historic reference to a king on horseback takes unusual form as an inscription on the base of an oversized scarab, Amenhotep III's wild bull hunt scarab. Typically the Egyptians pressed the inscription on the base of a scarab into a clay seal to verify ownership with its impression. The large historic scarabs may have served a different purpose as portable mini stela to broadcast the king's accomplishments across his realm.
Imagine a thirteen or fourteen year old's perspective. Upon his father's death he is promoted to pharaoh and soon after he marries— two milestones which instantly propell him into manhood and ultimately godly status. To celebrate his new stature, he issues a series of commemorative scarabs to announce his marriage and then another series to demonstrate his hunting skills, mindful of the tradition of expert sportsmen pharaohs whose footsteps he follows.
The adolescent king, only thirteen or fourteen years old, proudly memorializes his first big hunt on even bigger palm sized scarabs to spread across his kingdom. He must have felt that proclaiming the great number of cattle he killed at the desert edge would attest to his strength and establish his credibility as the new king. The tale reads like a coming of age celebration, a young man boasting his big kill, unaware how contrived his accomplishment appears with his need for the assistance of an army and settlement, children and all. The king issued other commemorative scarabs later in his reign. On the majority of those his more mature attestation of valor focused on lion hunting without mention of help from others.
Nearly at the crosshairs of the hunt scarab base, one of the horse hieroglyphs signifies that the king mounted a horse. On face value this is quite credible, if atypical. Youthful impulsiveness might inspire him to jump right onto a horse rather than use a chariot. Or youthful arrogance might disdain the typical arrangement for a king accompanied by his chariot driver. Or perhaps simply controlling a single horse from its back required less skill than driving a team of two high strung horses into a herd of frightened cattle.
Speculation—on horseback or within a chariot? The hieroglyph argues persuasively for the pharaoh on horseback. The tradition of the pharaoh hunting from within a chariot argues against literal interpretion of his appearance on horseback. That argument could cite context, convention, and space constraints to augment the sparce language clues. Other logic might read explanatory hieroglyphic strokes into the few inexplicable blobs around the horse hieroglyphs, especially the center one.
Positive and negative versions of that center glyph fail to explain its odd background marks.
The cute little horse hieroglyphs on the scarab look more like a toy pony or foal than an elegant royal steed, as if the young king has barely relinquished his childhood hobby horse. (Nobody has unearthed any ancient Egyptian hobby horses, but a little horse pull toy on a wheeled platform attests to toy horses in a later era [British Museum EA 26687] and earlier horse toys also survive.)
This month's article explores Amenhotep III's Bull Hunt Scarab.
Next month you will see a couple of images of pharoahs on horseback.
Your webscribe, Donna Hyora
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