The Ostrich in Ancient Egypt

The ostrich was an animal brought to ancient Egypt from southern Africa. The ancient Egyptians used the eggs of ostriches to make small containers for perfume, and the feathers to make fans.

The people of Ancient Egypt traded in ostrich products with Nubia, Ethiopia and Punt. Wall reliefs show conquering pharaohs receiving ostriches and their products from conquered nations. The Ancient Egyptians did not view the ostrich as one of their sacred animals but greatly valued it for its feathers and eggs.

Ostrich Feathers in Ancient Egypt

The ostrich feather was associated with the Goddess Ma’at. It was the symbol used to depict her and images of her show her wearing an ostrich feather in her hair. Ma’at was the daughter of the sun god and was the goddess of truth and justice. When a man died and wished to enter the afterlife, Ma’at weighed their heart against the weight of an ostrich feather. Only if a man’s heart weighed less than the feather was he allowed to enter the afterlife.

Ostrich Feathers as a Fashion Accessory in Ancient Egypt

Ostrich feathers were worn by men and in early times were worn in the hair of Egyptian soldiers. In later times only men of royal blood were allowed to wear the ostrich feather. Princesses of Ancient Egypt had fans made out of the ostrich feathers, with bases made of gold and when the Pharaoh went out among the people, royal servants kept him cool with ostrich feather fans on long poles.

The Ostrich Feather in Religious Ceremony in Ancient Egypt

When a man died, two ostrich feathers were placed with the body. The ostrich plumes were provided as a sort of vehicle for the soul. The feathers were meant to float upon a gust of wind to the afterlife, with the soul as a passenger. Ostrich egg shells have also been found amongst grave goods.

Riding Ostriches in Ancient Egypt

In some sources is suggests that the Ancient Egyptians may have used ostriches to ride upon. Ostriches could easily carry a small child and even a fully grown man if only short periods.

Ostrich Eggs in Ancient Egypt

The Ancient Egyptians painted ostrich eggs and decorated them with a variety of different designs. Imitation ostrich eggs were also made out of clay and marble and painted with various patterns. During the New Kingdom it is a possibility that ostriches were domesticated and the eggs used as a food source. The eggs were also an ingredient for some medical recipes. Ostrich eggs were also sometimes made into jewellery. They could be made into beads, perforated discs and pendants to be put on a chain and worn around the neck. Some containers and vessels have also been found made out of the egg shell.


  1. Special Paper: The Ostrich in Egypt: Past and Present,Nicolas Manlius, Journal of Biogeography, Vol. 28, No. 8 (Aug., 2001), pp. 945-953 Published by: Blackwell Publishing
  2. Nicholson, P.T, Shaw,I, Ancient Egyptian Materials and Technology, Cambridge University Press (2000)
  3. Wilkinson.J, Manners and Customs of the Ancient Egyptians, Murray (1841)