Cartouche – Ancient Egypt

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A cartouche is was an oval shaped object or outline within which was written royal names. Hieroglyphs and symbols were a central part of the ancient Egyptian culture, and in this sense, the cartouche delivered a leading role. Although all writing was valuable, the ones inside the cartouche had unparalleled importance. Here’s a closer look.

What Was the Cartouche?

cartouche meaning

The cartouche was a hieroglyph the Egyptians used to write the names of kings. It is an oval placed vertically, with a horizontal line at one end.

In some cases, when the name of the pharaoh was too long, the Egyptians wrote the cartouche horizontally. This hieroglyph symbolized that anything that appeared inside it came from Egyptian royalty. The cartouche was an extended version of the Shen Ring, a circled hieroglyph.

What Does the Word Cartouche Mean?

In Ancient Egyptian, this symbol was called Shen or Shenu, which stands for encircle. However, the name cartouche is much more recent.

When the French leader, Napoleon took his troops to Egypt, the soldiers saw the form of the hieroglyph, they were struck by its appearance which reminded them of a specific gun cartridge. They decided to call it cartouche, the French word for cartridge

The Purpose of the Cartouche

  • The principal use of the cartouche was to distinguish the name of the pharaohs from other writings and hieroglyphs. In rare cases, the names of other people appeared inside a cartouche. This ensured that the pharaohs’ names were elevated and distinct from regular hieroglyphs and allowed them to be easily identified. It can be thought of as a form of respect.
  • In addition to this, the cartouche was also viewed as having the ability to protect the Pharaohs from the evils of the world. The oval enclosing the hieroglyphs became a symbol of protection for the pharaohs.
  • There’s also evidence that the Egyptians used the cartouche in their amulets for protection in later years. After millennia of belonging only to the pharaohs, the cartouche became a symbol of good luck and protection for the masses.
  • Since the names of the pharaohs appeared inside the cartouche, all cartouches were different. Each pharaoh had his cartouche carved in his belongings and tombs. The Egyptians believed this helped the deceased pharaohs in their travel to the afterlife. 

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Last update was on: October 19, 2021 7:04 am

Symbolism of the Cartouche

What is a cartouche ancient Egypt

The cartouche was not only a practical object, but also a highly symbolic one. It symbolized the powers of the sun, with its oval form representing the shape of the sun. It gave the pharaoh all the power and protection of Ra, the sun god. In some cases, the cartouche even had solar disks or other sun-related symbols surrounding it. In this sense, this symbol carried great power and significance in Ancient Egypt.

The excavations of the tombs of pharaohs, such as Tutankhamun, showed cartouches among the belongings of the king. For the Pharaoh Thutmose III, his whole tomb, chamber, and sarcophagus had the form of a cartouche. 

The Cartouche was significant for archeologists and scientists who first studied the ruins of Ancient Egypt. Once the purpose of the cartouche was clear, it was easier for scholars to navigate through the ancient Egyptian texts. The cartouche allowed them to read the writings and names of the ancient Egyptian royals. 

Cartouche FAQs

  1. What is a cartouche used for? The cartouche was an oval tablet used to write royal names, thereby distinguishing them from other hieroglyphs. It was a name plate for royals and some important non-royal figures.
  2. What does a cartouche look like? A cartouche is oval in shape, with a horizontal bar at the base. They could be vertical or horizontal.
  3. What does a cartouche symbolize? Cartouches held solar symbolism, and were later seen as symbols of good luck and protection.

In Brief

The cartouche was a useful symbol for early scholars who delved into the texts of Ancient Egypt, as it allowed them to distinguish between names and figures that emerged from the pages. Its importance for the Egyptians continued, as it detached from royalty and became a symbol of good luck and protection.