Thursday, 7 December 2017

Silver in Ancient Egypt

Gold was considered to be the skin of the ancient Egyptian gods and their bones and were thought to be made of silver.

At beginning of recorded history, silver may have been unknown to the ancient Egyptians. They could obtain gold and electrum, which was a natural alloy of silver and gold, from the mountains of the Eastern Desert and Nubia.

Early Egyptian language lacks a word for silver. They described it only as the "white metal", and when they did run across it, they seem to have regarded it as a variety of gold.


Silver diadem. The double uraei – two sacred cobras, protectors of the royal power in ancient Egyptian art.

Solid silver casket of Psusennes I. 21st Dynasty who ruled from Tanis between 1047 – 1001 BC.
When silver was introduced into Egypt, it probably was more valuable than gold. It was rare, and on lists of valuables, items of silver were listed above those of gold during the Old Kingdom.

Jewelry made of silver was almost always thinner than gold pieces, as indicated by the bracelets of the 4th Dynasty queen Hetephere I, in contrast to the extravagance of her gold jewelry.


Two gold bracelets of Queen Hetepheres I.
The rulers of the 21st and 22nd Dynasty, who were buried at Tanis used silver in their burials. Sheshonq II had a solid silver coffin with gilded details in the form of the hawk-god, Sokar.

Silver could be stained black using sulphur. This was occasionally applied as decoration. Beaten into sheets, silver was used to plate copper and other materials, especially mirror surfaces.
There is no evidence that the Egyptians themselves mined silver. From ancient records it is thought that silver was imported from Mesopotamia, Crete and Cyprus.

A silver treasure found at the site of Tod comprised vessels probably made in Crete. The hoard dates to the reign of Amenemhat II who ruled during the 12th Dynasty. (1962 BC)


Silver mummy mask of Queen Malakaye (Egyptian Late Period)
By the Middle Kingdom, silver was less valuable than gold. By this time a much better supply of the metal had developed.

During the 12th Dynasty, silver had acquired a value approximately half that of gold. By the 18th dynasty silver and copper had been established as a means of exchange.

Copper was valued at about one-hundredth the value of silver.

Ptolemy II, 285-246 BC, silver dekadrachm

Silver Tetradrachm, Alexandria mint, dated 55/54 BC. Diademed head of Ptolemy I.