The Menit Necklace of Ancient Egypt

The Menit Necklace of Ancient Egypt

by Jimmy Dunn

Hieroglyph for the Menit Necklace

The menit (menat, menyet) necklace is relatively prominent in Egyptian art, though many might not notice. It consisted of a heavy bead necklace with a crescent front piece and a counterpoise attached at the rear. Statues of the earlier periods sometimes show these two counterpoises hanging down the back of the wearer, but by the beginning of the New Kingdom, they are fused into one such weight, though in votive faience menit a thin groove is frequently incised about the outside edges, as though the two counterpoises had been stuck together one on top of the other.

The menit is a ceremonial object associated with the goddess Hathor whose priestesses are commonly shown holding the emblem. Queens and ladies of waiting, when officiating as priestesses also wore or carried it. On rare occasions it was also worn by men, particularly by priests of the Hathor cult, and it could also be worn by the god Khonsu. We believe that, like the sistrum, this elaborate necklace may have actually functioned as a kind of percussion instrument in certain religious contests.

Bronze, Faience, stone and glass. Length (of counterpoise) 14.5 cm. Excavated from the ruins of Amenophis III at Western Thebes in 1921 by the Metropolitan Museum Egyptian Expedition. In the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

Appearing first in representations of the 6th Dynasty, the menit is associated with Hathor in all subsequent periods of Egyptian history. Even when it was included with other items of tomb equipment as an amulet in the later dynasties of the New Kingdom, it is still associated with the goddess in her role as a deity of the western necropolis and with her part in the rebirth of the deceased. Hence, it was certainly a symbolic item associated with the goddess Hathor, who bore the epithet, "Great Menit". Many representations of Hathor in her bovine form show the animal wearing the menit around its neck and the necklace is thus sometimes associated with other divine cows. Not surprisingly, the menit is depicted dozens of times in the reliefs of the Late Period temple of Hathor at Dendera.

A Late Period counterweight made of Faience

In some representations, the king could offer the the necklace to Hathor. At Dendera, for example, one representation depicts the king offering Hathor the elaborate necklace along with other gifts displayed on small tables set before her. These gifts include naos- and hoop-type sistra and, on the table closest to the goddess, another necklace depicted in the exact form of the menit hieroglyph. The necklace is shown in its hieroglyphic form in many similar representations of gifts offered by the king to Hathor and to certain other deities in temple reliefs from the New Kingdom and later periods. Representations of the king offering the menit to Hathor probably are meant to equate him symbolically with the goddess' son, Ihy.

Yuny and his wife, Renenutet, Asyut, early Dynasty 19, late reign of Seti I or early reign of Ramesses II. She holds a menit necklace in her left hand

As an important attribute of Hathor, the menit seems to have functioned as a medium through which the goddess' power was transmitted, and many representations show her proffering the menit to the king. She performs this act in two ways. At times, she may wear the menit, lifting up the front section toward the king. Otherwise, she simply holds the object in her hands while offering it to the king.

Because the queen herself could function as the high priestess of Hathor, royal wives are sometimes depicted offering the necklace. For example, on a small gilt shrine discovered in the tomb of Tutankhamun, his queen, Ankhesenamun holds the sistrum and menit before the king. In that example, the menit is constructed as a personification of Hathor holding the symbol of life, the ankh, in each hand. Thus, we have a visual representation of the way in which the goddess' power was passed through the necklace. In scenes such as these, the menit seems to have been associated with the ideas of life, potency, fertility, birth and renewal.

During the festival of Hathor, the priestesses of the goddess would go from door to door shaking menits and sistra (rattle-like musical instruments) to endow the occupants of each house with the favors of life, health, and rebirth.






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