Crook & Flail in Ancient Egypt: Definition & Symbolism

Instructor: Grace Pisano

Grace has taught high school history in several states with a master's degree in teaching.

The crook and flail were the most prevalent symbols of royalty in Ancient Egypt. In this lesson, you will learn what each symbol stood for and how it represented a pharaoh's power and duty.

Symbols of Royalty

Today, a crown, flag, or impressive building are all symbols you might associate with the leader of a country. In Ancient Egypt, however, things were a little different! The crook and flail were symbols of the pharaoh (the ruling monarch in Ancient Egypt) throughout history. What do they look like? What do they represent? Let's answer those questions in the lesson below!

Crook and Flail

Crook and flail represented in the most iconic colors -- gold and blue

Knowing the original function of the crook and flail helps us see how they were used as symbols representing roles of the pharaoh. The crook was known as the heka in Egyptian. It originated from the staff (known as an awet) that shepherds used to protect their sheep. The crook represented his role as a shepherd in caring for the people of Egypt. The flail was known as the nekhakha in Egyptian. It was a rod with three strands of beads attached to the top. Although historians cannot agree exactly what this was used for, there are two primary interpretations of its origin. The first is that it was a weapon used to defend a flock of sheep. In this interpretation, the flail represented the pharaoh's responsibility to establish the order (through punishment, if necessary) that was essential to sustaining society. The second interpretation is that the flail was used as an agricultural tool to thresh grain. In this interpretation, the flail represented the pharaoh's role in providing for the people of Egypt and protecting land that could grow food for the people. Together, the crook and flail were used to represent the two most important roles of the pharaoh.

The earliest depictions of the royal crook and the royal flail were found separately, but the crook and flail later became nearly inseparable. A pharaoh held one item in each hand and crossed them over his chest. Once rising to power, a pharaoh had the crook and flail with him at all public appearances. The items remained with the pharaoh until his death and were buried with each ruler.

Because these items were so important to a pharaoh's rule, it is easy for us to get an accurate idea of what these looked like from many sources. If you look at illustrations and statues of almost any pharaoh, you will see these items crossed over their chest. Images of the crook and flail date back to over 5,000 years ago! Since pharaohs were buried with these items, archaeologists have uncovered the items in great condition. Both items were typically made of gold or ivory with blue copper bands.

Link to the Gods

In Egyptian society, pharaohs were the representation of the gods on earth. The crook and flail have associations with Egyptian gods. This means that, in addition to giving the pharaoh symbols of a shepherd, these items were used to connect the sacred with the secular.

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