This book,  a catalogue of the collection of Dr  Franco Magnarini, is an essential reference for all collectors.



Catalogo Ragionato Di Una Collezione Di Scarabei-Sigillo Egizi


This volume forms an illustrated catalogue of 430 scarabs, in the author's own collection, which are representative of types manufactured throughout the Pharaonic period. Arranged by design motif, the catalogue presents scarabs decorated with linear patterns, scrolls and spirals, Egyptian signs and symbols, circles and crosses, animals and humans, mythological figures and gods, and those inscribed with the names of pharaohs or mottoes. Each page contains one entry; the scarab is photographed, illustrated and described in Italian and in English. The introduction, which is also presented in English translation, describes the use, manufacture and function of Egyptian scarabs. 502p, b/w illus

(BAR S1241, 2004) ISBN-10: 1841713635 ISBN-13: 9781841713632

Bi-lingual, in Italian and English. 

Available from many online booksellers. 



Franco has made contributions to this website and now has a separate section for these.

Please see here for aticles by Dr Franco Magnarini

Franco has kindly allowed the publication here of the English translation to the preface of this book and the useful glossary.



What they are:


   Egyptian scarabs are small sculptures which reproduce the real insect, mainly not merely, the dung beetle (Species Scarabeus sacer L., Genus Coprophagous, Family Scarabaeid, Order Coleoptera, Class Insects) mostly respecting their morphological characteristics and dimensions.


From the point of view of its life cycle, this insect feeds on dung of herbivorous mammals. It cuts out pieces of dung, it shapes them into balls, sometimes larger than itself is, and it rolls them towards its underground den with its hind legs. Besides, the beetle distinguishes itself for the attention towards its progeny: the female forms a smaller pear-shaped ball, probably of ovine dung. One egg is laid in each ball, which provides all the food the larva needs, and, some fifteen to eighteen weeks later, a new beetle emerges from the ground1. This behaviour do not escaped the Egyptians, keen observers of nature, and they related to it a sacral importance.  They believed the insect a single-sex, male, self-generating being. They also associated the rolling of the dung ball disappearing underground with the diuturnal running of the sun disappearing at the western horizon. So they identified the insect with the divine power they called Khepri.  The hieroglyph representing the scarab, xprr, in its verbal form xpr, means "to become", "to come into existence". In its substantival form, xprw means "manifestation","form", and "apparition".  The god Khepri, the creator of everything which came into being, is depicted as a human body with a scarab-shaped head.  He is the rising sun, one of the three appearances of the solar disc. During its running from East to West, the god pushes the sun, which turns to Re at noon, then becomes Atun at sunshine and sinks underground for the twelve nocturnal hours. After the twelfth hour, the sun reappears as Khepri. This symbolism also implies the concept of the cyclic and eternal renewal, so re-birth into eternal existence, which will be deeply characteristic of religious beliefs of the ancient Egyptian civilisation2. As far as what I have mentioned in short, it is easy to realise that the scarabs, since the beginning of this civilisation, assumed an apotropaic signification, in other words, they was believed well-wishing. From real dried beetles found in jars of pre-dynastic graves3 to their amuletic images,the step was short and natural.


What they were used for


   People started to consider the scarab as a powerful amulet, wearing it in order to invoke protection. From the VI to XI Dynasty, so during about four centuries, this was the main,almost exclusive, use. It is also documented the isolated presence of these objects in early Old Kingdom, but they belonged to the more generic and crowded ambit of animal-shaped amulets. Scarabs of this period are relatively not much frequent, of small dimensions, in which a coarse idealisation of the form was prevalent over their naturalistic aspect, without inscriptions or decorations on the base, often used as elements of necklaces. Only towards the middle of the First Intermediate Period, scarab-shaped amulets with inscription began to flank the current cylinder-seals of Babylonian origin. They were used for impressing  their decorations  on  small pieces  of  wet clay  by  which to seal cases, chests, jars, doors, papyrus rolls and so forth.  Therefore the  use of  scarabs started also as a seal. Also, because many authors agree the fact that scarabs never lost their amuletic signification. At the beginning of the Middle Kingdom the use of scarab-seals is known and starting from the early XII Dynasty4 comes into full vogue and involves all social classes so much that it reached paroxysmic levels of fashion. This with the exception of the Amarna period in which the preference for pottery signet rings superseded the scarabs, heavily reducing their production.Their vogue began again during the Ramesside period and last till the XXVI Dynasty. Then, during the successive dynasties, they rapidly sank and almost entirely disappeared during the Ptolemaic era


How they were made


   The form of the scarab-seals is substantially the tridimensional reproduction of the real insect. This do not means that the object must be necessarily a naturalistic imitation: the ability of the craftsman, fashion, difficulties due to the materials, dimensions, epoch are all factors exerting an influence on the shape, determining a lot of results ranging from the most pushing stylisation to a surprising faithfulness to living original.  In any case it is almost always possible to recognize, even if sketched, the morphologic elements of the insect: head, elytra, legs. The scarab is always represented standing on a flat base on which, overturning it, is engraved a hieroglyphic inscription or an ornamental motif. The scarabs are nearly always longitudinally pierced with a hole to receive, at worst, a thread by which worn them on the finger or secure them at the neck. In other cases it was used a wire of gold, copper or bronze with the same function or they was mounted as swivels to metal rings in which they revolved, showing alternatively the back and the base5.

The motif

    In my opinion, without taking away anything from the general appearance of the scarab-seals, the most charming angle is surely connected with the engraving on the base. While the shape remains almost a constant during all the epochs, the motifs show the exorbitant imagination of those ancient craftsmen.  The patterns range from merely decorative geometric designs to naturalistic subjects connected with the vegetal and animal kingdom. From the representation of men to those of gods or mythological beings. From the hieroglyphic inscriptions of mottoes or wishing and religious sentences to the names of rulers or private officials with their titles. Olga Tufnell has classified more than 200 different classes and subclasses, each of them with an almost boundless number of variations6 .




    Being the scarabs objects destined to keep themselves in the time, the materials with which them were made were proper to the inorganic world. Even tough several authors have signalled scarabs made of wood and the existence of scarabs made of bone, ivory and amber being certain, most of them is made of stony materials. First in order of frequency, the mineral which is universally known as steatite, a kind of talc (magnesium silicate), white or greenish (in Egyptian layers it is also available blackish and brown). It looks a lamellar aggregate of nacreous brilliance, scaly or of compact texture, greasy to the touch. In its natural state, this soft stone is easily carved and engraved by means of hardened copper or bronze tools. Its finish consisted in a kind of coloured glazing7, silicate of calcium and sodium or silicate of calcium and potassium (in the gamut of greens and blues, as a rule8, but Petrie also quotes yellow, red and, in the Saite period, brown).  During the glazing, the melting point, combining magnesium with silica, hardened the steatite making the material more lasting. This glaze is infinitesimal in thickness. On plane or broad surfaces, like back or base, it leans to vanish or to change colour: the original green, probably containing iron, decomposes to brown; the blue glaze fades away to white. By means of an appropriate magnifying glass, the original colour can be still observed in the engraved interstices where the hot liquid glaze has formed, for molecular tension, a thicker layer, which has remained. Among other hard stones, scarabs of violet amethyst or of pale amethystine quartz were already known since the pre-dynastic period. They became popular in XII, later nearly disappeared; then they became again in use, less frequently, in XIX. Probably owing to the relative hardness of the stone, amethyst scarabs were seldom inscribed. Known since the pre-dynastic period, cornelian became popular in XVIII, then continued with good frequencies in XIX. Agate, a variety of chalcedony, was seldom used in the late period: XXVI and Tolemaic era. Jasper, an opaque variety of silica, was found in Eastern desert. It was used red in the pre-dynastic period as beads and amulets, and then it reappeared in XIX in imitation of the cornelian. Yellow in XVIII and XXVI; green in the Middle Kingdom and the late period for heart scarabs; brown in XII, XVIII and XXVI Dynasties. Scarabs of lapis lazuli, a stone coming from Afghanistan, were known since the pre-dynastic period. Rare in the Middle Kingdom, they became more frequent from XVIII onwards. They are often uninscribed or show a motif representing two diagonal lines crossing in the centre. Limestone, especially in its coloured varieties: red, yellow, green and brown, was widely used in the Third Intermediate Period and in the Saite age. Obsidian, diorite, chalcedony, quartz rock, serpentine, basalt, hematite, the so-called semiprecious stones, are all documented but used more seldom than the preceding ones are. Among the other materials, faience was obtained baking a kind of siliceous paste, then glazed. Known from pre-dynastic times, faience became very popular from the beginning of XVIII and in Amarna age its use for beads and rings equalled that one of steatite. Later, towards the end of XX, probably for a worse quality, its use decreased. Faience came again into fashion in Saite times thanks to a delicate light blue glaze. A similar material is the paste, not better defined by students. It is a homogeneously coloured powdery compound, in blues tones as a rule, more seldom in green. It seems without glaze with a delicately rough surface, which looks to be reduced in powder. Known but scantily used in Old Kingdom, paste became more usual in XVIII and from XXII to XXVI. Its oldest quality is lighter and harder than the late one, which seems more crumbly. Glass seems to have been experimented towards the end of the MiddleKingdom and derives from the very older glazing technique. First glass scarabs appeared in early XVIII and became more usual towards the middle of the Dynasty. They were made of opaque material (transparent glass was much more rare) as a light blue imitation of turquoise ora dark blue one imitating lazuli. As a rule, glass scarabs are small, uninscribed or simply decorated with two crossed diagonal lines. Gold, silver and electrum (this last is a gold and silver alloy available in the natural state) are documented among the metals used seldom in all times. Bronze, used much more rarely, only in later periods9.


The making of scarabs


   Even if there are neither documentation nor tools which can enlighten us about scarabs working, many authors have reached reliable assumptions with regard to this subject. As to carving and engraving of steatite, a relatively soft stone, one thinks that flint splinters and cutting instruments and needles of  hardened copper or bronze, were more than enough. As regard to the making of hard stones, one can add the scratching action with points and polishing by means of emery of decreasing granulometry. For the longitudinal perforation it is ascertained the use of copper tubular and flint points moved by a bow drill10. Another important processing technique was related to plastic materials to harden with baking: faience and paste. Modelling was obtained by means of two halves moulds, bound together by a coat of glaze11. With regard to the glass scarabs, there are no sources about their making technique but one can reasonably suppose that the melted glass was casted in refractory material by the "cire perdue"

modelling technique12, in use as far back as the Middle Kingdom. After having the mould broken, one obtained the finished object.


    I have already mentioned the fact that the ancient craftsman intended to reproduce the real insect, getting away as little as possible from what resulted from the naturalistic observation. For this, disregarding the so-called heart scarabs, the commemorative scarabs, the few known of the large statuary, the funerary scarabs with or without wings and those with a merely amuletic significance, the dimensions of scarab-seals, object of the present work, are not much different from those of real scarabs. That being stated, we note that the actual dimensions of the scarab-seals range from 5 mm to 30 mm, but the majority of the items has an average length of 15 mm., very near the dimensions of the real insect.




1 HEINRICH B. / BARTHOLOMEW G., "The Ecology of the African Dung Beetle ", Scientific American, November 1979 146-156.

2 NEWBERRY P.E., "Scarabs", London 1906  63.

3 FLINDERS PETRIE W.M., "Scarabs and Cylinders with Names", London 1917  2.

4 HALL H.R., "Catalogue of Egyptian Scarabs Etc..." vol.1,  London 1913  XIII. ...the manufacture of fine Scarab-seals does not  begin till the XIth dynasty, to which period belongs the Scarab of Aatshet , consort of  Neb-hapet-Ra  Montuhetep, in the British Museum collection...but with Senusert I the Scarab comes into full vogue...

5 NEWBERRY P.E., "Scarabs", London 1906  62.

6 TUFNELL O., "Studies on Scarab Seals" II,  Warminster 1984  28-30.

7 WARD W.A., "Beetles in stone: The Egyptian Scarab", Biblical Archaeologist 57, n.4, 1994 190.

8 NEWBERRY P.E., "Scarabs", London 1906  84.

9 FLINDERS PETRIE W.M., "Scarabs and Cylinders with Names", London 1917  8-9.

10 GWINNETT A.J. and GORELICK L., "Beads, Scarabs, and Amulets: Methods of Manufacture in Ancient   Egypt" , Journal of the American Research Centre in Egypt vol.XXX 1993 125-132.

11 FLINDERS PETRIE W.M., "Scarabs and Cylinders with Names", London 1917, 9-10.

12 ZIEGLER C., (by...) "I FARAONI" (exhibition catalogue) at Palazzo Grassi Venezia-Bompiani Publ. IT 2002 388.  






Acrophonyitn is worth i.  

Amarnian- Pertinent to Amarna, place where arised Akhetaton, the short-lived  capital of the king Amenhotep IV, then Akhenaton. From the point of  view of the time, it means the period  between Akhenaton's crowning (1353 B.C.) and the end of the Horemheb's kingdom (1292 B.C.). The so-called amarnian reform means  a substantial change in the religion and, above all, in the art.

Amethyst Ba Blue Crown Canone of Turin - Papyrus kept in the Museum of Turin reporting the list of kings up to XIX dynasty.

Cartouchecartouche because the sign resembled the powder charge used for muzzle-loading firearms.

Carnelian  - Mineral, a variety of chalcedony red-orange coloured.

Clypeus- The front head of the scarab utilized to cut the dung the insect feed on.

CryptographyDeterminativeDouble Crown Elytra - Pair of outside wings of the scarab, keratinized and hard, protecting the second inside pair,  membranous and able to make the insect flying.

Epithet- Expression, substantive or adjective which is affixed to the name. When it is referred to the Pharaoh, as a rule, to defining his divine descent or a political platform.

En-raFaience - Material made with a quartzose core coated by a vitreous coloured layer applyed through baking. The term is misleading because the european faience is made with glazed earthenware.

FlagellumGriffon  - Mythical winged bird-headed beast with the body of a quadruped.

Humeral callosity - Anatomic detail of the real insect which consisting of two minute signs upon the upper outside edges of the elitra. From XVIII Dynasty represented by two little V-signs and are a good dating indicator.

IbisIbis religiosa), it was the animal appearance of the god Thoth.

Lapis lazuli  - Mineral (aluminium-sodium silicate) more or less deep blue coloured, often studded with minute particles of gold. A sacred stone for Egyptians, it symbolized the hair of gods, especially of Amon, the starry sky and the depths of the primeval ocean. It was imported by Afghanistan.


Lotus Nynphaea alba), recognizable by petals with rounded top,  and the Blue Lotus (Nynphaea coerulea), with pointed petals. 

Monopteral A kind of shrine within which is the votive image og a god.

Naucratite NemesGrecism which with was named territorial districts of ancient Egypt.  During the time, they changed in number but as a rule were 42 (22 in the Upper Egypt and 20 in the Lower Egypt). Everyone had a name derived from its standard with heraldic pictures of gods, animals, plants or sacred objects.

PapyrusCiperus papyrus). Depicted as an overturned bell upon a long stem.

Protorax Red Crown - Royal headgear consisting of a base ending in a high appendix in the hinder part. A curl leans forwards from the base of this last. The red colour, evocative of sunny and inhospitable desert, simbolizes aggressivenes and evil, but also life, strength and victory. It was the symbol of Lower Egypt.

Scaraboid - Amulet-seals with oval inscribed base with the back not formed as a scarab but as another animal like duck, pocupine, ram, human head or other.

Sistrum - Musical shaking instrument. On a short handle was inserted an arch with rattles. It was the symbol of goddess Hathor.

Sincretism Trasliteration - Method of transcription of a hieroglyphic text into conventional signs for rendering it legible in modern languages.

Triad - Groups of  three divinities of the egyptian mythology as a rule composed by father, mother and son, assimilated to the human family. Present in the greatest religion places, among the more popular there were Amun, Mut  and Khonsu at Thebes, Ptah, Sekhmet and Nefertum at Menphis, Osiris, Isis and Horus at Abydos, Philae and Edfu.

Triliteral, sign - Combination of three consonants which renders only a sound or only a meaning.

TurquoiseUraeus - Grecism of the term iart meaning cobra (Naja haje accordin to Gardiner,  Naja nigricollis according to Murray), a venomous snake which, if endangered, becomes aggressive raising the fore part of its body and swelling its neck. In this way it is represented on the forehead of the Pharaoh. It was also the animal appearance of the goddess Wadjet, patroness of town Buto in the Delta.

White Crown - Royal headgear consisting of a high tiara ending with a sort of bulb at top. It was the symbol of Upper Egypt. White colour symbolized  purity,  holiness and joy.



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