Uraeus Egyptian Snake

Georgia van Raalte, Christopher Muscato
  • Author
    Georgia van Raalte

    Georgia van Raalte has a PhD in Literature from the University of Surrey, an MA in Religious Studies from the University of Amsterdam, and a BA in Literature and Theology from the University of St Andrews. She has published widely in her field and has lectured and presented at conferences across the globe. She has also been an editor for ten years and has published three non-academic books.

  • Instructor
    Christopher Muscato

    Chris has a master's degree in history and teaches at the University of Northern Colorado.

Learn about the Uraeus, the rearing Egyptian snake symbol. Explore the Egyptian snake goddess Wadjet. Discover how the Uraeus was part of the crowns of pharaohs. Updated: 03/28/2022

Table of Contents


Uraeus Definition and Background

The Uraeus is the name given to the symbol of an upright or rearing cobra, used in ancient Egypt to denote royalty and divine authority. The pharaohs, dynastic kings and queens of Egypt, wore the Uraeus symbol as a head ornament as part of their crown. As far back as the Old Kingdom (3rd millennium BCE) wearing the Uraeus serpent communicated the pharaoh's legitimacy in ruling the lands of Lower Egypt.

In hieroglyphics, the Uraeus was often used to refer to a priestess or a goddess such as Isis. One myth about the origin of the Uraeus symbol claims that Isis created the first Uraeus, forming it from dust and spit. Isis used the snake in order to win the throne of Egypt for Osiris, her husband.

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  • 0:04 The Uraeus
  • 0:36 Wadjet
  • 1:43 The Uraeus & the Pharaoh
  • 3:48 Lesson Summary
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Egyptian Snake Goddess

The Uraeus is the symbol of the Egyptian snake goddess Wadjet. One of the oldest deities in the Egyptian pantheon, Wadjet was worshiped as the patroness of the Nile Delta and the protector of Lower Egypt. The center of Wadjet's cult was Per-Wadjet. The snake symbol worn by the pharaohs was seen to symbolize Wadjet's protection of the pharaoh and her approval of his claim of sovereignty. Some goddesses were also depicted wearing the Uraeus upon their heads, suggesting that the Egyptians believed these goddesses embodied aspects of Wadjet or fell under her protection.

When the Upper and Lower Kingdoms of Egypt unified, an image of Nekhbet, the vulture goddess and patron of Upper Egypt joined the image of Wadjet as the Uraeus on the pharaoh's crown. The two goddesses were known as the Nebty, the two ladies, and were seen as joint protectors of the newly-unified kingdom. When the sun god Ra rose to prominence during the Middle Kingdom and the pharaohs began to be seen as manifestations of Ra, the Uraeus was believed to protect them by spitting fire from the sun onto their enemies.

A gold Uraeus headdress attachment made in the first century and discovered in the Eastern delta

Photograph of a golden Uraerus ornament

Egyptian Snake Symbol

Images of the rearing cobra or snake are prevalent across Egyptian art. Examples of the Uraeus serpent can be found on papyrus, walls of tombs, and ancient artifacts.

The word Uraeus comes from the Egyptian iaret, which means risen one. This refers to the way that a cobra will rise up, rearing to protect itself. In Egyptian mythology, the snake symbol represented royalty and divinity. It symbolized the pharaoh's role as lawmaker and maintainer of order, protecting the Egyptian people from the forces of chaos.

The snake was also seen as a symbol of protection. As Wadjet, the snake spat poison at anyone attempting to rob the royal tombs. The image is found in several scenes within the Book of the Dead, indicating that the Uraeus played an important role in the spirit's journey through Du'at, the underworld.

Another Egyptian Protection Symbol

The Uraeus was a symbol of protection for the ancient Egyptians. Another symbol of protection in Egypt during this period was the Eye of Ra. The Eye of Ra (also known as the Eye of Re) was a symbol of protection for the pharaoh, temples, and ordinary people and their homes.

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Frequently Asked Questions

What is an Egyptian Uraeus?

An Egyptian Uraeus is a stylized symbol of a rearing cobra. This symbol is found throughout Egyptian art and iconography and was part of the crown worn by the pharaohs.

Who is the Egyptian god of snakes?

Wadjet was the Egyptian snake goddess. She was one of the oldest deities to be worshipped by the ancient Egyptians. Wadjet was the protector and patroness of the Lower Kingdom.

What does a snake symbolize in Egypt?

In Egypt, the Uraeus snake symbolized divinity, sovereignty, and the right to rule. It symbolized regency over the Lower Kingdom. It was also a symbol of protection, both for pharaohs and for everyday people.

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