664 BC to 525 BC
The 26th Dynasty, also known as the Saite Period, is traditionally placed by scholars at the end of the Third Intermediate Period or at the beginning of the Late Dynastic Period. In either case, the Saite Period rose from the ashes of a decentralized Egyptian state that had been ravaged by foreign occupation. Supported by the assistance of a powerful family centered in the Delta town of Sais, the Assyrians finally drove the Nubians out of Egypt. At the close of this campaign, Ashurbanipal’s kingdom was at the height of its power; however, due to civil strife back east, he was forced to withdraw his forces from Egypt. Psamtik I, a member of the family from Sais, seized this opportunity to assert his authority over the entire Nile Valley and found his own dynasty, the 26th of Egyptian history. Known as the Saite Period due to the importance of the capital city Sais, the 26th Dynasty, like many before it, sought to emulate the artistic styles of past pharaohs in order to bolster their own claims to power and legitimize their authority.
The first examples of amulets appeared in Ancient Egypt as early as 4000 B.C. Believed to possess magical powers that protected the wearer or bestowed upon the properties they symbolized, amulets were worn both by the living as well as the dead. Throughout their evolution, talismans were crafted from a variety of materials including precious metals such as gold and silver, semiprecious stone like jasper and carnelian, as well as other more affordable glazed compositions such as faience. The particular powers of an individual amulet were based upon its specific shape, although the material and even the color of the charm could affect its magical abilities. While many of the amulets created to be worn by the living could also be worn after death, there also existed a specific group of charms that were made specifically to be placed upon the mummified remains of the deceased. All together, amulets represent an important class of Ancient Egyptian art that furthers our understanding of their complex religious beliefs.
Faience, which dates back to predynastic times, at least 5,000 years, is a glasslike non-clay substance made of materials common to Egypt: ground quartz, crushed quartz pebbles, flint, a soluble salt-like baking soda, lime and ground copper, which provided the characteristic color. The dried objects went into kilns looking pale and colorless but emerged a sparkling “Egyptian blue.” Called tjehnet by the Ancient Egyptians, meaning that which is brilliant or scintillating, faience was thought to be filled with the undying light of the sun, moon and stars and was symbolic of rebirth. Ancient Egyptians believed the small blue-green objects helped prepare them for eternity in the afterlife.
The Ancient Egyptians were fascinated by the might and the majesty of the hawk. Horus, one of the most important deities in the Egyptian pantheon, is often depicted in the form of a hawk, more specifically a falcon. Son of Isis, Horus was conceived after his father Osiris was resurrected for one night. He would grow to avenge his father’s death, and as such, Horus was a symbol of victory and the kingship, the deification of the earthly Pharaoh. In fact, in the earliest form of hieroglyphics, the hawk symbol was a general determinative for a god.
Hawks, who rule the skies with their stealth and cunning, capable of swooping down from the clouds at lightning speed and clutching their prey in sharp talons, were considered the Kings of the Air. Thus, the animal’s connection to the Horus, the King of the Sky, is quite logical. From the earliest days of the pharaonic era, the hawk was associated with royalty, often represented in paintings hovering over the king with wings spread wide. Part of the popularity of these birds is quite practical: they protected the populace by preying upon deadly scorpions. Falconry was a popular sport as well. Furthermore, the human soul was believed to take the form of this magnificent bird. The importance of the hawk to the Ancient Egyptians has been immortalized in their art and mythology, and later civilizations such as the Greeks would continue to picture their gods in the form of powerful birds of prey.
This gorgeous 26th Dynasty faience amulet is colored a rich blue hue. The presence of the sun disk on top of the hawk’s head reveals that this is no ordinary bird, but the might god Hours himself. Despite the diminutive nature of the work, it is remarkably detailed. The hawk’s beak is clearly defined, as are the prominent brow that frames the eyes. The low rectangular base has been decorated with incised diagonal lines that suggests the texture of feathers. This lovely amulet would have once been worn by an Ancient Egyptian around the neck, or placed upon the body of the deceased. Thus it was a potent talisman that had the ability to influence the well-being of the deceased as well as the living. – (X.0331)