The crook and flail on the coffinette of Tutankhamun
in hieroglyphs
in hieroglyphs

The crook and flail (heka and nekhakha) were symbols used in ancient Egyptian society. They were originally the attributes of the deity Osiris that became insignia of pharaonic authority.[1] The shepherd's crook stood for kingship and the flail for the fertility of the land.[1]

The earliest known example of a crook is from the Gerzeh culture (Naqada II), and comes from tomb U547 in Abydos[citation needed]. By late Predynastic times, the shepherd's crook was already an established symbol of rule. The flail initially remained separate, being depicted alone in some earliest representations of royal ceremonial. Approximately by the time of the Second Dynasty, the crook and flail became paired.[citation needed]

The only extant pharaonic examples of both the crook and flail come from the Tomb of Tutankhamun.[2] Their staffs are made of heavy bronze covered with alternating stripes of blue glass, obsidian, and gold, while the flail's beads are made of gilded wood.[3]

Theories on significance

Traditionally crossed over the chest when held, they probably represented the ruler as a shepherd whose beneficence is formidably tempered with might.[2]

In the interpretation of Toby Wilkinson, the flail used to goad livestock, was a symbol of the ruler's coercive power: as shepherd of his flock, the ruler encouraged his subjects as well as restrained them.[4]

Still another interpretation, by E. A. Wallis Budge, is that the flail is what was used to thresh grain.[5]

Percy Newberry, a specialist on ancient Egypt, speculated that the "flail" or "whip" of Osiris was more likely an instrument for collecting labdanum similar to that used in nineteenth-century Crete.[6] He examined archaeological remains of such items and their representations in art, and found that they were mechanically incapable of acting as either a flail or whip and so must be some other instrument. Similarly to crooks, he further noted that these items were also associated with shepherds, who used them to gather labdanum while their flocks grazed on and among the bushes from which the gum was gathered.


  1. ^ a b Steele, Philip (2002). Ancient Egypt. The Rosen Publishing Group. p. 12. ISBN 1435851730.
  2. ^ a b "Tutankhamun "Wonderful Things" From The Pharaoh's Tomb" (PDF). Herkimer Community Museum. p. 75. Archived from the original (PDF) on 3 September 2013. Retrieved 10 May 2014.
  3. ^ Allen, Susan (2006). Tutankhamun's Tomb: The Thrill of Discovery. Metropolitan Museum of Art. p. 100. ISBN 1588391892.
  4. ^ Wilkinson, Toby A.H. (1999). Early Dynastic Egypt. Routledge. p. 190. ISBN 0-415-18633-1.
  5. ^ Budge, Wallis (1971). Egyptian Magic. Dover. p. 72. ISBN 0486226816.
  6. ^ Newberry, Percy E. (1929), "The Shepherd's Crook and the So-Called 'Flail' or 'Scourge' of Osiris", The Journal of Egyptian Archaeology, 15 (1/2): 91–92, doi:10.2307/3854018, JSTOR 3854018. Page 91, note 9: "Was the 'false beard' which was worn below the chin by the god Osiris originally a labdanum-laden goat's beard?"((citation)): CS1 maint: postscript (link)

See also