Study Guide

Nekhbet Sightings

Sightings

Jan 1, 1970

The Southern Oracle

At Nekheb, one of Egypt's two oldest cities (across the Nile from the other city, called Nekhen), Nekhbet had a temple where an oracle told people's fortunes. It's the oldest oracle we know of in Egypt, and is much older than similar oracle temples in Greece and Rome. Nekhbet herself, whose name means "She of the city of Nekheb," was so popular and easily recognized that her vulture symbol ended up as the first letter in the Egyptian hieroglyphic alphabet created during this time.

Jan 1, 1970 - Jan 1, 1970

The Big Vulture

Nekheb (called El Kab today) was Egypt's largest city and its official capital, until the later city of Memphis (near modern Cairo) became the new capital. As many as 10,000 people lived in Nekheb—a huge city by ancient standards. Think Manhattan, but without any taxicabs.

Jan 1, 1970

One of the Two Ladies

Nekhbet's association with the White Crown of Upper (southern) Egypt paired her with Wadjet, the cobra goddess associated with Lower (northern) Egypt's Red Crown. Together, as the Two Ladies, they protected every pharaoh who wore both crowns, and sometimes appeared on the diadems or tiaras the pharaohs wore, as two cobra heads and/or a cobra head and a vulture head, respectively, like the beautiful one on the funeral mask of King Tutankhamun.

Jan 1, 1970

Freebird

As one sign of a king's divine favor, Nekhbet was shown flying behind him, carrying the ostrich-feather of Ma'at (the goddess of truth and justice and order). The most popular images of Nekhbet this way are flying free above a pharaoh's chariot. Sometimes, Horus takes her place (or just Horus's sacred eye, given Nekhbet's wings, weird as that is). But it's Nekhbet's job to get the king's back.

Jan 1, 1970

Dancing on the Ceiling

The inside ceiling (roof) of many ancient Egyptian temples, palaces, and tombs showed images of Nekhbet in vulture form. Her wings stretched out to protect everything beneath. If you see vultures painted on a ceiling, you know you're in a sacred place!

Dec 20, 1891

Still Dancing on the Ceiling

Even thousands of years after she stopped showing up on temple ceiling, Nekhbet's vulture sometimes gets added to Egyptian-style buildings. The ceiling at the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna, Austria is painted to look like most of the ancient ceilings she appeared on. It keeps the mummies from getting homesick!

Dec 20, 2019

Protecting a (sorta) royal?

Nekhbet gets a new job! The Viscount of Llanteno built a beautiful tomb for himself in Madrid. It's called the Pantheon, and while it's got lots of Greek and Roman imagery, he was thoughtful enough to include Nekhbet on the outside walls! (Nekhbet closeups 1 and 2.)

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