The Evolution of Iron Age Proto-Aeolic Pillar Capitals 
in the Ancient Near East from Egyptian Lotus-Papyrus Pillar Exemplars

Walter Reinhold Warttig Mattfeld y de la Torre, M.A. Ed.

19 Sept 2004

For the Egyptians the Blue Lotus symbolized the attainment of "Life After Death" or immortality for the righteous dead. The Sun was "reborn" each day from a great Blue Lotus blossom in some myths. The dead hoped to be reborn each day of this great Blue Lotus blossom just like the Sun. 

In Egyptian art the deceased is frequently presented as a funerary offering, bouqets of Lotus blossoms bound together in 4-5 foot lengths with Papyrus blossoms. The below scene shows Osiris the god of the dead on his throne over a pool of water symbolizing the Primeval Ocean from which a great Blue Lotus blossom emerged, which in turn, gives birth to not only the sun but other gods as well. In this case four gods are shown in mummiform shape suggesting their rebirth or ascent from the Underworld.

The Blue Lotus (actually a species of water lily) is frequently held not only in hands of the dead in Egyptian tomb paintings, but also held by Phoenician, Syrian and Canaanite rulers while seated on thrones, probably a re-interpretation of Egyptian religious motifs. 

Below, Osiris, judge of the dead seated in a kiosk, before him a lotus (water lily) supports the four sons of Horus, associated with the resurrected dead in the Book of the Dead.

Proto Aeolic Capital and pillar from a tomb in Tamassos, Cyprus.
Note its similarity to the base of the Lotus-Papyrus Tree of Life held by Pharaoh in the above Phoenician Ivory. 

(p.7, fig. 20. Helmuth Th. Bossert. ALTSYRIEN, Kunst und Handwerk in Cypern, Syrien, Palastina Transjordanien und Arabien von den anfangen bis zum volligen aufgehen in der Griechisch-Romischen Kultur. Tubingen. Verlag Ernst Wasmuth. 1951)
Below, a Proto-Aeolic Lotus-Papyrus Tree Capital  from Meggido, Israel (p.302, fig.1012.  Bossert. ALTSYRIEN1951).
Below, a Phoenician terracotta plaque showing a Cherub (Winged Sphinx) adoring the Sacred Lotus-Papyrus Tree of Life. Note the base of the tree resembles the above Capitals from Iron Age Proto-Aeolic Pillars found in Israel and Cyprus. Genesis' Garden of Eden and its "Tree of Life" is probably drawing from Sacred Lotus-Papyrus  and Sacred Palm-Tree motifs, fused together by Phoenicans and Canaanites from the Egyptian and Mesopotamian Cultures.

(p.439. Sabatino Moscati. The Phoenicians. Rizzoli. 1999)
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Below, a Phoenician Ivory showing Pharaoh adoring a "Sacred Lotus-Papyrus Tree or Pillar. Note: Pharaoh in Egyptian myth was the Sun-god in human form. In death he would rise from the great Blue Lotus like the sun every day for all eternity. Thus the reason for Pharoah's hand raised in adoration or benediction of the plant which would assure him immortality. Aeolic Pillar Capitals have been found in Iron Age Israel and Cyprus, RESEMBLING the BASE of the Sacred Lotus-Papyrus Tree-Pillar, AS REPRESENTED IN THIS IVORY CARVING of the 8th century BCE. Some modern artistic representations of Solomon's Temple show Pillars along the walls terminating in Lotus-Papyrus Tree Capitals (Called "Proto-Ionic" or "Proto-Aeolic" in the Scholarly Literature). 

Wilkinson on the righteous dead "becoming a lotus," assuring them of immortality and lotus blossoms as "capitals" of stone pillars:

"...the white and blue lotus are represented in classical Egyptian art...Because the water lily closes at night and sinks under water -to rise and open again at dawn- it was a natural symbol of the sun and creation. According to Hermopolitan myth it was a giant lotus which first rose from the primeval waters and from which the sun itself rose...As a symbol of rebirth the lotus was also closely associated with the imagery of the funerary cult- the four sons of Horus are sometimes shown on the flower which rises from a pool before the throne of Osiris, and chapter 81 of the Book of the Dead contains spells for "transforming oneself into a lotus" and thus the reality of resurrection...In instances where the flower is intended to be understood as growing in its aquatic habitat (as in the capitals of temple columns and in scenes symbolic of creation and rebirth), the lotus is shown in its floating, upright position." (p. 121. "Lotus." Richard H. Wilkinson. Reading Egyptian Art, A Hieroglyphic Guide to Ancient Egyptian Painting and Sculpture. London. Thames & Hudson. 1992)

Phoenician art frequently shows Cherubs/Winged Sphinxes in association with a Sacred Lotus-Papyrus Tree-Pillar. In the below Ivory, a Lotus blossom is accompanied by two Papyrus blossoms arising from the base. In Egyptian myth the Sphinx was an aspect of the rising Sun and called Hor-em-Akhet, "Horus of the Horizon" and Pharaoh himself is portrayed on occasion in the guise a  Sphinx, savaging Egypt's enemies. Thus the Lotus, Papyrus and Sphinx were all aspects of Egyptian Solar worship and tied to the motif of IMMORTALITY for the righteous dead. The Phoenicians and Canaanites evidently transformed these plants associated with Immortality into THE TREE OF LIFE guarded by the Cherubim, fusing these motifs with the sacred Date Palm of  Syrian and Mesopotamian art forms. It should be noted that the Lotus and Papyrus are NOT TREES, they are aquatic plants, this is an "artistic interpretation" in service of religious beliefs on the part of the peoples of the Ancient Near East. The Sphinx and Lotus-Papyrus Tree of Life first appear in Canaanite and Phoenician art forms in the Late New Kingdom period of Egypt (The last half of the 2nd millennium BCE).

(p.516. Sabatino Moscati. The Phoenicians. New York. Rizzoli International Publications. 1999. [1988 Gruppo Editoriale Fabbri, Bompiani, Sonzogno, Etas S.p.A., Milan])
Harer on the Egyptian "Blue Lotus" :

"The blue lotus is day blooming, opening shortly after dawn and again closing tightly in mid-morning. Each blooms for three days...the white lotus is night blooming...The blue lotus' day blooming mimics the sun appearing in the blue sky- a botanical reflection of the cosmic daily rebirth of the sun and of rebirth in the afterlife. It was a perfect multi-level symbol of the complex intertwining political and religious belief system and thus its appearance in ancient Egyptian literature and imagery was ubiquitous." (p. 305. Vol. 2. W. Benson Harer. "Lotus." Donald B. Redford. Editor. The Oxford Encyclopedia of Ancient Egypt. Oxford UNiversity Press. 2001)

Another scholar notes the lotus is a water lily:

"The ancient Egyptians developed the art of counting to a high degree, but their system of numeration was very crude. For example, the number 1,000 was symbolized by a picture of a lotus flower, and the number 2,000 was symbolized by a picture of two lotus flowers growing out of a bush. 

Lotuses are 5 species of water lilies, three in the genus Nymphaea and two in Nelumbo; both genera are members of the water-lily family, Nymphaea lotus, the Egyptian white lotus, is believed to be the original sacred lotus of ancient Egypt. It and the Egyptian blue lotus, N. caerulea, were often pictured in ancient Egyptian art.

The common Egyptian "lotus" is actually correctly called a water lily: the white lotus opens at dusk, the blue water lilly opens in the morning." (

Below, a Pharaoh seated in a pavilion supported by pillars which appear to terminate in the above mentioned "Proto-Aeolic" or "Lotus" Capitals. The pillars with their longitudinal lines or ribbing suggest to me clusters of Papyrus stalks tied together with two blooming Lotuses, one above the other, as a Capital (cf. p.640. Plate XXXVIII. fig.45.A.  Kenneth A. Kitchen. On the Reliability of the Old TestamentGrand Rapids, Michigan. William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company. 2003. ISBN 0-8028-4960-1)
Below, apparently the same scene as above, but by a different artist, showing somewhat more clearly what I understand to be Lotus Capitals or Terminals of the Pavilion or Kiosk. The scene is of the investiture of the Vizier Paser who served under Pharaoh Ramesses II (ca. 1279-1213 BCE of the 19th Dynasty) from tomb 106 in the Theban Necropolis after an earlier drawing by Kristine Henkriken, who may be the artist for the "above" earlier rendering ? (cf. Fig. 6, following p. 76. James K. Hoffmeier. Israel in Egypt, the Evidence for the Authenticity of the Exodus Tradition. New York. Oxford University Press. 1996. ISBN 0-19-513088-X pbk)
Below, a restored (Berlin, Germany Vorderasiatisches Museum) baked enamel tile wall from the throne room of the south fortress at Babylon, in Lower Mesopotamia of King Nebuchadrezzar II ca. 605-562 BCE, showing Blue Lotus capped pillars. (cf. p. 442. Barthel Hrouda. et al. Der Alte Orient, Geschichte und kultur de alten Vorderasiens. (The Ancient East, History and Culture of the ancient Near East). Munchen (Munich). C. Bertelsmann. Verlag. GmbH. 1991.  ISBN 3572-00867-0)
Artist's rendering of Egyptian Blue Lotus and Papyrus Blossom Pillars (cf. Alberto Carlo Carpiceci. Merveilleuse Egypte de Pharaons. [Marvellous Egypt of the Pharaohs]. A French translation from the Italian. Firenze [Florence], Italia. Casa Editrice Bonechi. 1990)
Below, a tomb mural showing Osiris, Lord of the Dead, standing in a pavilion or kiosk supported by Pillars with Papyrus and Blue Lotus Blossom Capitals and whose trunks appear to be bound clusters of Papyrus stems. Note: some blossoms appear to be white, others blue. To the degree that the white lous blloms at night, this may allude to Osiris in the dark depths of the Underworld. (cf. p. 156.  Alberto Carlo Carpiceci. Merveilleuse Egypte de Pharaons[Marvellous Egypt of the Pharaohs]. A French translation from the Italian. Firenze [Florence], Italia. Casa Editrice Bonechi. 1990)
Below, Pharaoh Tutankhamun ("king Tut") as a youth being born of the Great Blue Lotus blossom as the Sun-god. (cf. p. 32. Plate 1. Katharine Stoddesrt Gilbert et eal. Editor. Treasures of TutankhamunNew York. Ballantine Books. 1978. ISBN 0-345-25684-0-795)