The Cartouche

A Cartouche is the name given to an oval which surrounds the name of an Egyptian Pharaoh. Understanding the Cartouche was important to deciphering hieroglyphs and is another feature which helps to make them much easier to read than you might think!

19th century bullets, the inspiration for the name "Cartouche"

19th century bullets, the inspiration for the name “Cartouche”

The word Cartouche is actually French and means “cartridge,” like a cartridge shell. The Cartouches were named during Napoleon’s expedition to Egypt, when his soldiers saw upright Cartouches carved on temple walls and thought they looked like bullet casings. The name stuck, and has been used ever since!

Like most hieroglyphic elements, the Cartouche can be used either horizontally or vertically, the main concern being aesthetic. The first Pharaoh’s we know to have used the Cartouche were Sneferu and his son, Khufu – the builders of many of the pyramids of Egypt.

Egyptian Cartouches, vertical in this instance.

Egyptian Cartouches, vertical in this instance.