Uraeus of Senusret II

The golden uraeus of Senusret II was discovered by Flinders Petrie in 1920 during his excavations around the Pyramid of Senusret II at Lahun. This piece of jewelry was thus likely part of a headdress or crown.

The rearing cobra, known as a uraeus, was a symbol of sovereignty, royalty, deity and divine authority in ancient Egypt, worn at the forehead. It was believed that the uraeus was the Goddess Wadjet of Lower Egypt in the form of a cobra, and that it would spit fire at enemies.

Golden Uraeus of Senusret II. Egyptian Museum, Cairo. JE 46694
Golden Uraeus of Senusret II. Egyptian Museum, Cairo. JE 46694

This uraeus is of solid gold, 6.7 cm (2.6 in), black eyes of granite, a snake head of deep ultramarine lapis lazuli, the flared cobra hood of dark carnelian inlays, and inlays of amazonite. For mounting on the king’s crown, two loops in the rear-supporting tail of the cobra provide the attachment points.

The Uraeus serpent, in Egyptian “iaret” (connected to the verb “iar” which means to rise, to go up), was for the ancients a royal and divine symbol.

It represented a goddess, daughter of Re, the dangerous and burning face of the sun. Symbol of the power of the god and protection against enemies, it was also placed on the king’s crown to give him the same protections and became a symbol of divine and royal power.

The snake is also an animal that changes its skin and this behavior made it a symbol of rebirth. Even if, ideally, it was an attribute reserved to sovereigns, it was actually adopted also by some deceased people without royal titles, in order to make the assimilation of the god Osiris possible.

Having seen the desecration of the tombs of his great predecessors, King Senusret II knew he had to outsmart the thieves. Instead of placing the entrance on the north side of the monument, like most of the pyramids that had come before, the opening to Senusret’s was through a shaft hidden in the pavement on the south side.

In 1889 the young British archaeologist Flinders Petrie spent months trying to find the entrance. When he eventually made his way in he discovered that the ancient grave robbers had also succeeded in finding and plundering the king’s burial place.

Of the once rich tomb furnishings, only a red-granite sarcophagus, and an alabaster offering table remained. But then in 1920 he went back to make a thorough clearance of the debris in the rooms and passages. Within just half an hour of starting, this wonderful treasure was uncovered – a royal uraeus.

Middle Kingdom, 12th Dynasty, reign of Senusret II, ca. 1897-1878. Now in the Egyptian Museum, Cairo. JE 46694