Pope Selfie
selfie: Pronunciation: /ˈsɛlfi/

(also selfy) noun (plural selfies): informal

  • a photograph that one has taken of oneself, typically one taken with a smartphone or webcam and uploaded to a social media website:“occasional selfies are acceptable, but posting a new picture of yourself every day isn’t necessary” Origin: early 21st century: from self + ie

Recently added to the Oxford dictionary, the buzzword ‘selfie’ has overtaken contenders including ‘twerk’ and ‘binge-watch’ to claim the title of Word of the Year 2013. Many public figures have been partial to a good selfie including Michelle Obama and (we kid you not) the Pope. No wonder usage of the word in the English language has risen by 17,000% in the past year. For this week’s Friday Five, we take a look at where it all started, and discover the archaeological origins of the Seflie…

1. Greek Mythology


Along with every selfie comes a spoonful of vanity. Narcissus was a hunter renowned in Greek mythology for his beauty. Spotting his reflection in a pool of water and not realising it was only an image, he became so mesmerized by his own devilish good looks, he couldn’t bear to drag himself away. With no food he soon wilted, lying to rest beside the one he loved… himself. It’s a shame no one ever mentioned mirrors to him.

2. Ancient Egypt

Bak and Taheri

As busy jobs go, it seems that ‘chief sculptor to Pharaoh Akhenaten’ still left plenty of time for a little self-indulgence. Sculptor Bak carved a stone statue of him and his wife Taheri in c. 1365 BC. This was especially significant as portraits were usually the reserve of the rich and powerful such as the royal family. Though Bak’s portly waistline suggests he might not yet have discovered Photoshop.

3. The Renaissance

Leonardo Selfie

Painter, sculptor, architect, musician, mathematician, engineer, inventor, anatomist, geologist, cartographer, botanist, and writer (*gasp for breath*)… is there anything in the world Leonardo Da Vinci couldn’t do?! He certainly mastered the selfie. The moody expression and slight pout – surely an early variant of a selfie ‘duck face’ – put this Renaissance Man bang on trend. Just 500 years too early.

4. The 1900s

Edwardian Selfie

It took the invention of the camera before we seriously got into the selfie swing of things (all that standing around for days on end drawing and sculpting yourself was just so tedious!). Our Edwardian lady showcases Kodak’s Box Brownie camera which could be bought for just $1 and revolutionised photography. Cheap and easy, the cardboard device took two inch photos on 177mm roll film, though unfortunately smiles cost extra. Miserbale ‘Retro Edwardian Selfie Face’ is surely just about to come back into fashion.

5. Modern day

Pope Selfie

Beyoncé, Kim Kardashian, Miley Cyrus, Justin Bieber… you name them, they’ve selfie-d. The selfie movement is an unstoppable force. It’s no wonder then that Pope Francis wants in on the fun, no doubt he tweeted this one as well (yet again not joking: follow @Pontifex!)

Love archaeology?

DigVentures crowdfunds archaeological projects that everyone can be part of, in the UK and overseas. With help from people all over the world, we investigate the past and publish our discoveries online for free. Become a DigVentures Subscriber and be part of great archaeology - all year round!


Aisling Serrant

An all round museum educator and enthusiast, Aisling's the Family Festival Coordinator at the Museum of London Docklands.

Full Author Profile +