Ancient Egyptians believed that symbols held power. They wrote in symbols called hieroglyphs, which represented the gods and their lives, and used symbols on amulets.
Each symbol had a different meaning so gave a different sort of magical protection.
The ‘ankh’ symbol represented the key of life, or the key to the afterlife. Because the afterlife was so important to ancient Egyptians, It was one of the most important symbols in ancient Egypt and was used lots in designs in their decorations and jewellery.
The ankh looks like a Christian cross but with a hoop on the top instead of the bar pointing upwards.
Egyptologists (people who study ancient Egypt) aren’t sure exactly where the ankh came from. The symbol regularly appears in the hands of different gods or pharaohs and ‘ankh’ means ‘life’ in Egyptian, so the symbol is related to creating or ruling life.
Ancient Egyptians believed that life was the force that tied everything and everyone together and the gods’ job was to make sure that life kept functioning.
As the pharaoh represented Egypt, giving the ankh to the pharaoh showed the gods favouring life in Egypt.
In pictures on walls and in tombs, the gods were painted pouring water on pharaohs’ heads to cleanse and protect them.
The water was drawn as lots of ankhs linked together in chains because water brings life and life connected you to the gods.
Ankhs were also used as the shape for mirrors as ancient Egyptians thought it would let them see into another world.
Ankhs were made out of lots of different materials, such as bronze, gold, stone, ceramic and wood.
They were also painted onto every possible surface – pottery, walls, coffins, jewellery and furniture were all decorated with ankhs (if you were wealthy enough).
Amulets especially were shaped like ankhs or were decorated with them. As the ankh represented the key of life, it was considered good luck to have the symbol in your house and so people tried to draw it wherever possible!
The ankh symbol also started to appear outside of ancient Egypt as trade improved and war broke out, on coins and paintings in ancient Cypress and Rome.
Today, it is used in a lot of jewellery and art as interest in ancient Egypt has increased and more people visit old pharaohs’ tombs.