Egypt: the Eagle of Saladin

The golden eagle in Egypt symbolizes the immortal warrior Saladin, one of the greatest Muslim sultan in history of the world. But perhaps it bears many more significances in ancient Egypt, one of the cradles of human civilization.

location-of-egypt
Locationof Egypt (maphill.com)

Among the modern countries, Egypt has the longest history. Ancient Egypt is identified as one of the cradles of civilization of mankind, established in around 3150 BC with its Pharaoh was Menes of Narmer dynasty. It lasted until being conquered by the Achaemenid Empire of the Persians in the 6th century BC. The Gyza pyramid is the only Wonder of the Ancient World that is still standing today.

giza-pyramid
Pyramid of Giza (nationalgeographic.com)

In around 1279 BC, Ramesses II the Great (1303 BC – 1213) became Pharaoh, and he is often regarded as the greatest, most celebrated, and most powerful pharaoh of the New Kingdom. His successors and later Egyptians called him the “Great Ancestor“, the father of the nation.

ramesses-ii
Pharaoh Ramesses II (in game Civilization V)

In 332, Alexander the Great conquered and ruled Egypt, established the Hellenistic Ptolemaic Kingdom. Queen Cleopatra was the last Greek ruler of Egypt. Her death also ended the nominal independence of Egypt and it became one of the provinces of the Roman Empire, from 30 BC to 641.

cleopatra
Queen Cleopatra (worldhistory.us)
muhammad-ali
Muhammad Ali Pasha, ‘Founder of Modern Egypt’ (wikipedia.org)

After the Muslim conquest of Egypt, parts of Egypt became provinces of successive Caliphates and other Muslim dynasties. In 1517, Ottoman sultan Selim I captured Cairo, absorbing Egypt into the Ottoman Empire. In 1882, Egypt fell under British control after the Anglo-Egyptian War. After the end of World War I and following the Egyptian Revolution of 1919, the Kingdom of Egypt was established. The modern Republic of Egypt was founded in 1953, and with the complete withdrawal of British forces from the Suez Canal in 1956, it marked the first time in 2300 years that Egypt was both fully independent and ruled by native Egyptians.

The central symbol of Egypt’s national flag and national emblem is a standing golden eagle symbolizing courage and victory, known as the “Eagle of Saladin“, named after the famous sultan Saladin, who was also called. However, the image of the golden eagle actually had a close connection with the Egyptian people long before, back to the dates of the ancient Egyptian civilization.

egypt
Coat of arms of Egypt (wikipedia.org)

2. Ra, the Sun god

The ancient Egyptians worshiped many gods, above all are the 9 Ennead gods, whose originator is the sun god Ra – Atum (the same as 12 Olympus gods and Zeus in Greek mythology). The meaning of the name “Ra” is not entirely certain, but many people think that if it does not mean the sun, it may have some meanings related to ‘creative power‘ or ‘creator‘.

Ra
Ra god in Smite game (smite.gamepedia.com)
ra-horakhty
Ra-Horakhty (wikipedia.org)
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Ra – Atum (wikipedia.org)

In later Egyptian dynastic times, Ra was merged with the major god Horus into Ra-Horakhty (“Ra, who is Horus of the Two Horizons“) whose head is of an eagle. To the Egyptians, the sun represented light, warmth, and growth. This made the sun deity very important, as the sun was seen as the ruler of all that he created, including the sky, the Earth, and the underworld. Ra is considered the ruler and guardian of ancient Egypt from darkness of evil gods so this place had been peaceful and prosperous for thousands of years. Ra was the first god, the creator of other deities and always the most important god in ancient Egypt. Alternatively man was created from Ra’s tears and sweat, hence the Egyptians call themselves the “Cattle of Ra

khepri
Ra – Khepri (wikipedia.org)
khnum
Ra – Khum (wikipedia.org)

The Egyptians believed that Ra is reborn everyday. In every morning, after taking his bath and breakfast, Ra begins on his journey across the sky in form of a man with the head of a beetle (Khepri) rolling the morning boat Mandjet. When Ra traveled in his sun boat, he was accompanied by various other deities including Sia (perception) and Hu (command), as well as Heka (magic power). He travels to Duat, the underworld of Egypt, and the evening boat Mesektet would carry him through the underworld and back towards the East in preparation for his rebirth. Apep, the enormous serpent of chaos, tries to stop the sun boat’s journey every night by consuming it or by stopping it in its tracks with a hypnotic stare. During the evening, the Egyptians believed that Ra set as Atum or in the form of a ram. (Khum)

3. The cult of Ra

heliopolis_senuselt_west10
An obelisk in Heliopolis city (obelisks.org)

The myths of Ra associate the dawn every morning with his revival. The chief cultic center of Ra was Heliopolis (“Sun City“) and today located in the Ayn Shams suburbs of modern Cairo city. Ra’s local cult began to grow from roughly the Second Dynasty, establishing him as a sun deity. By the Fourth Dynasty, pharaohs were seen as Ra’s manifestations on earth, referred to as “Sons of Ra“, because not only Ra was very revered but also he was said to restore order from chaos. His worship increased massively in the Fifth Dynasty, when Ra became the supreme god, identified primarily with the noon sun and a state deity. Pharaohs spent most of Egypt’s money on bulding pyramids, obelisks, and sun temples in Ra’s honor. The first Pyramid Texts began to arise, giving Ra more and more significance in the journey of the pharaoh through the Duat (underworld) after their death.

At the time of the New Kingdom of Egypt, the worship of Ra had become more complicated and grander. The walls of tombs were dedicated to extremely detailed texts that depicted Ra’s journey through the underworld. Ra was said to carry the prayers and blessings of the living with the souls of the dead on the sun boat to overcome the serpent Apep, bringing them back to life. The rise of Christianity in the Roman Empire finally put an end to the worship of Ra by the citizens of Egypt.

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The sun temple Abu Simbel, Upper Egypt today (awesomestories.com)

4. The golden eagle

Golden-eagle
Golden eagle (pinterest.com)

The archetype of the supreme Ra god is a species of eagle widely distributed in Egypt with a majestic and mighty appearance: the golden eagle, one of the best-known birds of prey in the Northern Hemisphere. They are usually dark brown, with light golden-brown plumage on their head and neck.

If lion is the king of the ground then eagle deserve the title “lord of the sky“. With 2.7m wingspan, power of the terrifying talons and extremely fast flying speed (aerial diving speed can reach 250 km/h), any animal could be the meal of this bird. Food of the golden eagle is usually mamals such as sheeps, rabbits, squirrels even wolves and foxes.  After using their powerful claws to capture their preys, they will drop them on the cliff until they die and then enjoy the meal. If there is not any cliff around, they will use their own strength to squeeze their preys to death. They can also eat like scavengers if their living preys are scarce.

golden-eagle
A flying golden eagle catching its prey (pinterest.com)

5. The immortal warrior Saladin

For the Jews and Christians, Jerusalem is their one and only holy land. But for the Muslims, their most important holy land is Mecca (now the capital of Saudi Arabia). The second one is Medina, a city located 250 miles North of Mecca. And Jerusalem is the third holy site of Islam because it was said that the prophet Muhammad ascended into heaven from this city. The crusaders from Vatican seized Jerusalem during the First Crusade in 1096 which was a a disgraceful and painful memory for the Muslim world. The Muslims had to wait nearly a century until their opportunity for revenge came. The reason for this opportunity was the rise of a famous figure in world history: the immortal warrior Saladin.

the-first-crusade
The First Crusade (wikipedia.org)
saladin
Saladin (pinterest.com)

Saladin was born in Iraq and was an Sunni Muslim of Kurdish ethnicity. His name literally means “Righteousness of the Faith“. He founded the Ayyubid dynasty, united Egpyt, Syria and Mesopotamia (Iraq today) altogether and became a sultan (ruler of the Muslim world). He was well-known as a good king, a brave warrior, honorable and fair. His mercifulness, generosity and chivalry were even mentioned several times in historical documents written by Christian scholars and he also received respect from military generals and leaders of the Crusaders, including the King of England, Richard I the Lionheart.

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Saladin (in the film King of Heaven, 2005)

In other words, despite being a fearsome enemy of the Crusaders, Saladin was not a terrible man in the view of Western Christians, but a symbol of righteousness.  Saladin became a legendary character of Muslims in many literature works in Europe back in that time. Under his leadership, the Muslim troops re-occupied Jerusalem after the Battle of Hattin in 1187, the whole Arabian Muslim world rejoiced as the third holy land was recaptured and the honor of Islam was restored.

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Saladin took back Jerusalem from the Christians, 1187 (arabi21.com)

6. The eagle of Saladin

eagle-of-saladin
Sketch of the original “Eagle of Saladin” in Cairo (wikipedia.org)

Archaeologists were the first to suggest that eagle was the symbol of Saladin. A depiction of an eagle was found on the West wall of Cairo’s capital (also built by Saladin), and many people believed that this was Saladin‘s personal symbol.

Even though the Muslim Ayyubid dynasty that Saladin founded only lasted 57 years after his death, but his legacy in the Muslim world still carries on until today. Glory and the relatively unity of the Arabian world under Saladin’s time is seen as a perfect image for a new unity that the Arabians are searching for. For this, the eagle of Saladin has become the symbol of the 1952 Egyptian revolution, a symbol of Egyptian identity. It was also used in other Arabian countries later on:

coat-of-arms-of-iraq
Coat of arms of Iraq (wikipedia.org)
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Emblem of Palestine (wikipedia.org)
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Coat of arms of Yemen (wikipedia.org)
coat-of-arms-of-jordan
Coat of arms of Jordan (wikipedia.org)

References:

Anne-Marie Eddé. (2011). “Saladin” trans. Jean Marie Todd Harvard University Press

George Hart. (1986). A Dictionary of Egyptian Gods and Goddesses. London, England: Routledge & Kegan Paul Inc.

Jean Chevailier & Alain Gheerbrant. (2002). Từ điển biểu tượng văn hóa thế giới. Đà Nẵng: Đà Nẵng.

Jeff Watson. (2010). The Golden Eagle. A&C Black.

Michael Jordan. (1993). Encyclopedia of gods: Over 2,500 deities of the world. New York: Facts On File.

Rachel Storm. (2003). Huyền thoại phương Đông. Hà Nội: Mỹ Thuật.

Saladin, chiến binh bất tử của thế giới Hồi giáo – http://soha.vn/kham-pha/saladin-chien-binh-bat-tu-cua-the-gioi-hoi-giao-20151203145756261.htm

Trường Thịnh, Vân Anh, Thúy Hoàng, Phương Trúc & group. (2007). Encyclopedia of world history. Hồ Chí Minh city: Từ điển bách khoa

Xem cách săn mồi “bá đạo” của các loài chim – http://kenh14.vn/kham-pha/xem-cach-san-moi-ba-dao-cua-cac-loai-chim-2013050510440739.chn

https://vi.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ai_C%E1%BA%ADp

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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