Flies, Lions and Oyster Shells: Investigating Military Rewards in Ancient Egypt from the Predynastic Period to the New Kingdom (4000-1069 BCE)

  • Taneash Sidpura

Student thesis: Phd


Gold fly-shaped pendants from ancient Egypt have been interpreted as military awards, possibly forming part of an honorary Order, that were given by the king to symbolise a brave soldier's persistence in battle. However, this interpretation is questionable as it relies on the self-presentation texts of two Egyptian soldiers, Ahmose Pennekhbet and Amenemhab Mahu, and yet examples of golden flies have been found in the burials of women and children, who were not normally associated with military activity in ancient Egypt. Furthermore, considering golden flies as symbols of persistence may reflect a modern outlook, in which flies are considered to be annoying pests, and the Egyptians may not have held the same perspective. This thesis critically reassesses current interpretations by examining the forms, functions and symbolism of golden flies from ancient Egypt by comprehensively considering their wider contextual background. In order to examine their forms, golden flies have been compared to fly pendants of other materials and catalogues of both have been compiled, which aim to be as complete as possible and are key objectives of this thesis. To consider their purported function as military awards, their contexts have been analysed and compared to other assumed military awards, such as golden lions and oyster shells. Lastly, to understand what golden flies may have symbolised, representations of actual flies in Egyptian sources are reviewed. The analysis suggests that it is unlikely that golden flies were used as military awards, as the concept most probably did not exist in ancient Egypt. Like golden lions and oyster shells, they were instead used as amulets and representations of flies in texts and iconography suggest they performed the dual purpose of protecting the wearer from the fly and helping them to assimilate selected characteristics to aid their renewal after death. On certain occasions in the 18th Dynasty, along with other gold objects, golden flies were presented to officials by the king as a symbol of their relationship and in that context should be interpreted as gifts.
Date of Award1 Aug 2022
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorJoyce Tyldesley (Supervisor) & Campbell Price (Supervisor)


  • Lions
  • Rewards
  • Military awards
  • Gifts
  • Oyster shells
  • Amenemhab Mahu
  • Ancient Egypt
  • Metaphor
  • Golden flies
  • Ahhotep
  • Flies
  • Ahmose

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