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Ancient Egyptian cartouche of Thutmose III, Karnak, Egypt.

In Egyptian hieroglyphs, a cartouche is an oblong enclosure with a horizontal line at one end, indicating that the text enclosed is a royal name, coming into use during the beginning of the Fourth Dynasty under Pharaoh Sneferu, replacing the earlier serekh. The Ancient Egyptian word for it was shenu, and it was essentially an expanded shen ring. In Demotic, the cartouche was reduced to a pair of parentheses and a vertical line.

Of the five royal titularies it was the throne name, also referred to as prenomen, and the "Son of Re" titulary, [1] the so-called nomen, i.e., the name given at birth, which were enclosed by a cartouche.[2]

At times amulets were given the form of a cartouche displaying the name of a king and placed in tombs. Such items are often important to archaeologists for dating the tomb and its contents.[3] There were periods in Egyptian history when people refrained from inscribing these amulets with a name, for fear they might fall into somebody's hands conferring power over the bearer of the name.[4]


History of usage

Shen and cartouche
in hieroglyphs
Cartouche of Alexander the Great in Luxor, Egypt.

the use of cartouches was a prerogative of the king until the late 12th dynasty. The first queen whose name was found in a cartouche was Meretseger, a wife of Senusret III, but there are no contemporary inscriptions referring to her, and she is only mentioned during the New Kingdom. The use of cartouches by prominent queens became commonplace during the New Kingdom, when it was used not only by Great Royal Wives, but by other queens as well; it is not clear what determined if a queen was entitled to it.[5] While the king's prenomen and nomen were written in two cartouches, the queen always used only one cartouche, even if her name was made up of two parts.

Royal children used the cartouche infrequently; the first example is Neferuptah, a daughter of Amenemhat II. She was, though, possibly groomed as an heir to the throne (her sister Sobekneferu became pharaoh later), so it might be that her usage of a cartouche reflects this. An example from the Second Intermediate Period is Iuhetibu, a daughter of Sobekhotep III. During the New Kingdom the name of Wadjmose, a son of Thutmose I appears in a cartouche, but the inscription seems to be posthumous. Eighteenth dynasty crown princes sometimes wrote their names in a cartouche but this custom seems to have disappeared later.[6]

The bearer of the title King's Mother often used a cartouche, even if during her husband's lifetime she was a minor queen not entitled to it. It is similar to the usage of the title Great Royal Wife, which was often granted to the mother of a succeeding heir retroactively, or even posthumously (an example is Mutemwia, the mother of Amenhotep III for the former, and Iset, the mother of Thutmose III for the latter).

The growing power of the priesthood of Amun during the late New Kingdom is reflected by the extension of the usage of the cartouche to them. From the 20th dynasty on, the High Priest of Amun and the God's Wife of Amun had their names written in cartouches, and from the 21st dynasty on, they also took on prenomens, written in separate cartouches.[7] Also dating from this era, the name of Amun himself appears in a cartouche on a papyrus found in Deir el-Bahari. An earlier example of a god's name written in a cartouche occurs in the Amarna period, when the official full name of Aten appeared in a double cartouche.


It is said that the label cartouche was first applied by soldiers who fancied that the symbol they saw so frequently repeated on the pharaonic ruins they encountered resembled a muzzle-loading firearm's paper powder cartridge (cartouche in French).[8]

Hieroglyph use of cartouche, and half-cartouche

In the Rosetta Stone, the cartouche hieroglyph is used for the word "name", Egyptian rn.[9] For the cartouche cut in half, the "half-cartouche hieroglyph", Gardiner's sign listed no. V11, (the cartouche hieroglyph is V10), is used in the Egyptian language for words meaning: "to cut, to divide, to separate".


  1. ^
  2. ^ Allen, James Peter, Middle Egyptian: An Introduction to the Language and Culture of Hieroglyphs, Cambridge University Press 2000, p.65
  3. ^ cf. Thomas Eric Peet, William Leonard Stevenson Loat, The Cemeteries of Abydos. Part 3. 1912-1913, Adamant Media Corporation, ISBN 1402157150, p.23
  4. ^ Alfred Wiedemann, Religion of the Ancient Egyptians, Adamant Media Corporation 2001, ISBN 1402193661, pp.293-295
  5. ^ Aidan Dodson & Dyan Hilton, The Complete Royal Families of Ancient Egypt, Thames & Hudson (2004) ISBN 0-500-05128-3, pp.25-26
  6. ^ Dodson & Hilton, p.25
  7. ^ Dodson & Hilton, p.26
  8. ^ White, Jon Manchip, Everyday Life in Ancient Egypt, Courier Dover 2002, p.175
  9. ^ Budge, 1929, 1989. The Rosetta Stone, p. 124-169.
  • Budge. The Rosetta Stone, E.A.Wallace Budge, (Dover Publications), c 1929, Dover edition(unabridged), 1989. (softcover, ISBN 0-486-26163-8)

See Also


1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From LoveToKnow 1911

CARTOUCHE (a French word adapted from the Ital. cartoccio, a roll of paper, Med Lat. carta, for charta, paper), originally a roll of paper, parchment or other material, containing the charge of powder and shot for a firearm, a cartridge, which itself is a corruption of cartouche. The term was applied in architecture to various forms of ornamentation taking the shape of a scroll, such as the volute of an Ionian capital. It was particularly used of a sculptured tablet in the shape of a partly unrolled scroll on which could be placed an inscription or device. Such "cartouches" are used for titles, &c,, on engravings of maps, plans, and the like. The arms of the popes and ecclesiastics of high birth were borne on an oval cartouche; and it is thus particularly applied, in Egyptian archaeology, for the oblong device with oval ends, enclosing the names of royal personages on the monuments. It is properly an oval formed by a rope knotted at one end. An amulet of similar shape, as the symbol of the "name," was worn by men and women as a protection against the blotting out of the name after death.

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