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A stone face carved with coloured hieroglyphics. Two cartouches - ovoid shapes with hieroglyphics inside - are visible at the bottom.
Birth and throne cartouches of Pharaoh Seti I, from KV17 at the Valley of the Kings, Egypt. Neues Museum, Berlin

In Egyptian hieroglyphs, a cartouche /kɑːrˈtʃ/ is an oval with a line at one end tangent to it, indicating that the text enclosed is a royal name.[1] The first examples of the cartouche are associated with pharaohs at the end of the Third Dynasty, but the feature did not come into common use until the beginning of the Fourth Dynasty under Pharaoh Sneferu. While the cartouche is usually vertical with a horizontal line, if it makes the name fit better it can be horizontal, with a vertical line at the end (in the direction of reading). The ancient Egyptian word for cartouche was shenu, and the cartouche was essentially an expanded shen ring. Demotic script reduced the cartouche to a pair of brackets and a vertical line.

Of the five royal titularies it was the prenomen (the throne name), and the "Son of Ra" titulary[2] (the so-called nomen name given at birth), which were enclosed by a cartouche.[3]

At times amulets took the form of a cartouche displaying the name of a king and placed in tombs. Archaeologists often find such items important for dating a tomb and its contents.[4] Cartouches were formerly only worn by pharaohs. The oval surrounding their name was meant to protect them from evil spirits in life and after death. The cartouche has become a symbol representing good luck and protection from evil.[5][need quotation to verify]

The term "cartouche" was first applied by French 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).[6][need quotation to verify][7]

in hieroglyphs

As a hieroglyph, a cartouche can represent the Egyptian-language word for "name". It is listed as no. V10 in Gardiner's Sign List.

The cartouche in half-section, Gardiner no. V11 (as seen below) has a separate meaning in the Egyptian language as a determinative for actions and nouns dealing with items: "to divide", "to exclude".[8]
The cartouche hieroglyph is used as a determinative for Egyptian language šn-(sh)n, for "circuit", or "ring"-(like the shen ring or the cartouche). Later it was used for rn, the word "name".[8] The word can also be spelled as "r" with "n", the mouth over the horizontal n.

See also

  • Serekh, a predecessor to the cartouche


  1. ^ Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Cartouche" . Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press.
  2. ^ "Royal Titulary". The Ancient Egypt Site. 2014-10-29. Archived from the original on 2014-11-15.
  3. ^ Allen, James Peter, Middle Egyptian: An Introduction to the Language and Culture of Hieroglyphs, Cambridge University Press 2000, p. 65.
  4. ^ Compare Thomas Eric Peet, William Leonard Stevenson Loat, The Cemeteries of Abydos. Part 3. 1912–1913, Adamant Media Corporation, ISBN 1-4021-5715-0, p.23
  5. ^ "2. Ancient Egyptian Cartouche". Archived from the original on 2011-07-21. Retrieved 2013-08-22.
  6. ^ White, Jon Manchip, Everyday Life in Ancient Egypt, Courier Dover 2002, p.175
  7. ^ Compare: Najovits, Simson R. (May 2003). "The Social Context of the Egyptian Politico-Religious System". Egypt, Trunk of the Tree. Espiritualidad y religion. Vol. 1: The Contexts. New York: Algora Publishing (published 2003). p. 251. ISBN 9780875862347. Retrieved 25 January 2020. The shenu has come to be known as the 'cartouche' – it was so named after a rifle cartridge, whose shape it resembled, by the French scientific team that accompanied Napoleon's occupying force in Egypt between 1798 and 1801.
  8. ^ a b Betrò, Maria Carmela (1995). Hieroglyphics: The Writings of Ancient Egypt. New York, London, Paris: Abbeville Press Publishers. p. 195. ISBN 0-7892-0232-8.
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