Perfume Vase of Tutankhamun

Alabaster perfume vase upon ornamental stand, with cartouches of Tutankhamun, lotus and papyrus flowers forming a Sema Tawy (unification of the two lands) and stems as renpet (time or eternity) signs.

This vase differs from others in the complicated knot that ties the various stems of the plants around its neck together. The lower part of the vase is flanked by columns with papyrus capitals. The royal cartouches are inscribed on the body of the vase.

Perfume Vase of King Tutankhamun
Perfume Vase from the Tomb of Tutankhamun, lotus and papyrus flowers forming a sema-tawy.

Along the upper part of the base, the environment in which the two plants grow is suggested. On the left, the papyrus springs from a marshy bed, and on the right, a checkered pattern probably depicts a system of irrigated plots for the growing of lotus plants.

The vases found in the tomb of King Tutankhamun were commonly used to store precious oils and cosmetics for the king to use in the netherworld. The theme of the decoration on the upper part is the union of the two lands, represented by the lotus and the papyrus.

Sema Tawy symbolism

Sema Tawy, also known as “The Unification of the Two Lands,” was a significant concept in ancient Egyptian mythology and political ideology. It represented the unification of Upper Egypt (the southern region) and Lower Egypt (the northern region) into a single kingdom.

The king, as the ruler of Egypt, was seen as the embodiment of this unification, symbolizing the harmonious balance between the two regions.

The symbol of Sema Tawy depicted two plants, the papyrus representing Lower Egypt and the lotus representing Upper Egypt, bound together by a knotted rope. This symbolized the joining of the two lands and the king’s role in maintaining unity and stability.

The concept of Sema Tawy was not only political but also had religious and cosmic implications. It represented the harmonization of opposites and the balance between different forces in the universe.

The king’s role in upholding Sema Tawy was seen as crucial for maintaining Maat, the cosmic order and balance. Sema Tawy was a fundamental concept in ancient Egyptian culture, symbolizing the unification of Egypt and the king’s role as the central figure in maintaining unity and cosmic balance.

New Kingdom, late 18th Dynasty, reign of Tutankhamun, ca. 1332-1323 BC. From the Tomb of Tutankhamun (KV62), Valley of the Kings, West Thebes. Now in the Egyptian Museum, Cairo. JE 62117