Catholic Encyclopedia
Church Fathers
Classics Library
Church Documents
Prayer Requests
Ray of Hope
Social Doctrine

A Popular Account Of The Ancient Egyptians: Volumes 1&2 -Sir J. Gardner Wilkinson F.R.S.

AMONG the various pastimes of the Egyptians, none was more popular than the chase; and the wealthy aristocracy omitted nothing that could promote their favourite amusement. They hunted the numerous wild animals in the desert; they had them caught with nets, to be turned out on some future day; and some very keen sportsmen took long journeys to spots noted for abundance of game.

The taste, as far as it could be indulged, was general with all classes; and the peasants hunted down the wild beasts that lived on the borders of the desert, and invaded the flocks and fields at night, with the same alacrity as the priestly and military grandees, or other wealthy land owners, chased the game in their preserves. Some shot them with arrows, others laid traps for them, and various methods were devised for securing the enemies of the farm-yard. Watchers and dogs were always on the alert against wolves and jackals, the poachers of their flocks and poultry; and when the peasants heard the melancholy howls and yelping bark of the large packs of jackals, collecting every evening in anticipation of a foray among the geese, they waited for their well-known passage through a ravine, on the desert’s edge, or longed that some, in spite of Anubis, might fall into their traps.

The hyæna, an enemy of flocks and herds, a gourmand in the flesh of the peasant’s very useful donkey, and, when none of these could be had, a very destructive devourer of the crops, was especially hateful; and the agricultural heart rejoiced when a hyæna, caught in a trap, was brought home muzzled, as a harmless spectacle to the children of the village, and a triumph among the neighbours.


232.              Hyæna caught in a trap. Thebes.

When a grand chase took place in the domain of some grandee, or in the extensive tracts of the desert, a retinue of huntsmen, beaters, and others in his service attended, to manage the hounds, to carry the game-baskets and hunting poles, to set the nets, and to make other preparations for a good day’s sport. Some took a fresh supply of arrows, a spare bow, and various requisites for remedying accidents; some were merely beaters, others were to assist in securing the large animals caught by the lasso, others had to mark or turn the game, and some carried a stock of provisions for the chasseur and his friends. These last were borne upon the usual wooden yoke, across the shoulders, and consisted of a skin of water, and jars of good wine placed in wicker baskets, with bread, meats, and other eatables. The skin used for holding water was precisely the same as that of the present day, being of a goat, or a gazelle, stripped from the body by a longitudinal opening at the throat; the legs serving as handles, to which ropes for slinging them were attached; and a soft pendent tube of leather, sewed to the throat, in the place of the head, formed the mouth of the water skin, which was secured by a thong fastened round it.

Sometimes a portion of the desert, of considerable extent, was enclosed by nets, into which the animals were driven by beaters; and the place chosen for fixing them was, if possible, across narrow valleys, or torrent beds, lying between some rocky hills. Here a sportsman on horseback, or in a chariot, could waylay them, or get within reach with a bow; for many animals, particularly gazelles, when closely pressed by dogs, fear to take a steep ascent, and are easily overtaken, or shot as they double back.

The spots thus enclosed were usually in the vicinity of the water brooks, to which they were in the habit of repairing in the morning and evening: and having awaited the time when they went to drink, and ascertained it by their recent tracks on the accustomed path, the hunters disposed the nets, occupied proper positions for observing them unseen, and gradually closed in upon them. Such are the scenes partially portrayed in the Egyptian paintings, where long nets are represented surrounding the space they hunted in; and the hyænas, jackals, and various wild beasts unconnected with the sport, are intended to show that they have been accidentally enclosed, within the same line of nets with the antelopes and other animals.

In the same way Æneas and Dido repaired to a wood at break of day, after the attendants had surrounded it with a temporary fence, to enclose the game.

The long net was furnished with several ropes, and was supported on forked poles, varying in length, to correspond with the inequalities of the ground, and was so contrived as to enclose any space, by crossing hills, valleys, or streams, and encircling woods, or whatever might present itself; smaller nets for stopping gaps were also used; and a circular snare, set round with wooden or metal nails, and attached by a rope to a log of wood, which was used for catching deer, resembled one still made by the Arabs.

The dresses of the attendants and huntsmen were generally of a suppressed colour, “lest they should be seen at a distance by the animals,” tight fitting, and reaching only a short way down the thigh; and the horses of the chariots were divested of the feathers, and showy ornaments, used on other occasions.


233.              Carrying young animals Tomb near the Pyramids.

Besides the portions of the open desert and the valleys, which were enclosed for hunting, the parks and covers on their own domains in the valley of the Nile, though of comparatively limited dimensions, offered ample space and opportunity for indulging in the chase; and a quantity of game was kept there; principally the wild goat, oryx, and gazelle.

They had also fishponds, and spacious poultry-yards set apart for keeping geese, and other wild fowl, which they fattened for the table.

It was the duty of the huntsmen, or the gamekeepers, to superintend the preserves; and at proper periods of the year wild fawns were obtained, to increase the herds of gazelles and other animals, which always formed part of the stock of a wealthy Egyptian.

Being fed within pastures enclosed with fences, they were not marked in any particular way like the cattle, which, being let loose, in open meadows, and frequently allowed to mix with the herds of the neighbours, required some distinguishing sign by which they might be recognised. These last were, therefore, branded on the shoulder with a hot iron, engraved with the owner’s name; and the paintings of Thebes represent the cattle lying on the ground with their feet tied, while one person heats an iron on the fire, and another applies it to the shoulder of the prostrate animal. (Woodcut 235.)


234.              Gazelles and other animals kept in the preserves. Tomb near the Pyramids.


235.              Marking cattle with a hot iron. Thebes.

Fig. 1. Heating the iron on the fire, a.

2 and 4. Employed in marking the cattle.

3. Holds a tethering cord on his left arm, and keeps away the calves.

The Egyptians frequently coursed with dogs in the open plains, the chasseur following in his chariot, and the huntsmen on foot. Sometimes he only drove to cover in his car, and having alighted, shared in the toil of searching for the game, his attendants keeping the dogs in slips, ready to start them as soon as it appeared. The more usual custom, when the dogs threw off in a level plain of great extent, was for him to remain in his chariot, and, urging his horses to their full speed, endeavour to turn or intercept them as they doubled, discharging a well directed arrow whenever they came within its range.

The dogs were taken to the ground by persons expressly employed for that purpose, and for all the duties connected with the kennel; and were either started one by one, or in pairs, in the narrow valleys or open plains: and when coursing on foot, the chasseur and his attendant huntsmen, acquainted with the direction and sinuosities of the torrent beds, shortened the road, as they followed across the intervening hills, and sought a favourable opportunity for using the bow; or enjoyed the course in the level space before them.

Having pursued on foot, and arrived at the spot where the dogs had caught their prey, the huntsman, if alone, took up the game, tied its legs together, and hanging it over his shoulders, once more led by his hand the coupled dogs, precisely in the same manner as the Arabs do at the present day. But this was generally the office of persons who carried the cages and baskets on the usual wooden yoke, and who took charge of the game as soon as it was caught; the supply of these substitutes for our game cart being in proportion to the proposed range of the chase, and the number of head they expected to kill. Sometimes an ibex, oryx, or wild ox, being closely pressed by the hounds, faced round and kept them at bay, with its formidable horns, and the spear of the huntsman, as he came up, was required to decide the success of the chase.


236.              A huntsman carrying home the game, with his coupled dogs. Thebes.


237.              Bringing home the game: a gazelle, porcupines, and hare. Beni Hassan.

It frequently happened, when the chasseur had many attendants, and the district to be hunted was extensive, that they divided into parties, each taking one or more dogs, and starting them on whatever animal broke cover; sometimes they went without hounds, merely having a small dog for searching the bushes, or laid in wait for the larger and more formidable animals, and attacked them with the lance.

The noose, or lasso, was also employed to catch the wild ox, the antelope, and other animals; but this could only be thrown by lying in ambush for the purpose, and was principally adopted when they wished to secure them alive.


238.              Catching a gazelle with the noose. Beni Hassan.

Besides the bow, the hounds, and the noose, they hunted with lions, which were trained expressly for the chase, like the cheeta, or hunting leopard of India, being brought up from cubs in a tame state; and many Egyptian monarchs were accompanied in battle by a favourite lion. But there is no instance of hawking.


239.              Catching a wild ox with the noose or lasso. Beni Hassan.


240.              Hunting with a lion. Beni Hassan.

Fig. 5. The lion, which has seized an ibex.

The bow used for the chase was very similar to that employed in war; the arrows were generally the same, with metal heads, though some were only tipped with stone. The mode of drawing the bow was also the same; and if the chasseurs sometimes pulled the string only to the breast, the more usual method was to raise it, and bring the arrow to the ear; and occasionally, one or more spare arrows were held in the hand, to give greater facility in discharging them with rapidity, on the antelopes and wild oxen.


241.              A chasseur shooting at the wild oxen, accompanied by his dog, fig. 3. Beni Hassan.


242.              Animals from the sculptures. 5, 15, 20, from Thebes; the rest from Beni Hassan.

1. The ibex. 2. The oryx. 3, 4. Wild oxen. 5. Humped or Indian ox. 6. Gazelle. 7. Probably the antilope addax. 8. Goat. 9. Stag. 10. The kebsh. 11. Hare. 12. Procupine. 13. Wolf. 14. Fox. 15. Hyæna. 16, 17. Species of leopard. 18. Cat. 19. Rat. 20. Ichneumon. 10 is coloured red in the paintings: it is the kebsh, which is of a sandy colour.

The animals they chiefly hunted were the gazelle, wild goat or ibex, the oryx, wild ox, stag, kebsh or wild sheep, hare, and porcupine; of all of which the meat was highly esteemed among the delicacies of the table; the fox, jackal, wolf, hyæna, and leopard, and others, being chased as an amusement, for the sake of their skins, or as enemies of the farm-yard. For though the fact of the hyæna being sometimes bought with the ibex and gazelle might seem to justify the belief that it was also eaten, there is no instance of its being slaughtered for the table. The ostrich held out a great temptation to the hunter from the value of its plumes. These were in great request among the Egyptians for ornamental purposes; they were also the sacred symbol of truth; and the members of the court on grand occasions decked themselves with the feathers of the ostrich. The labour endured during the chase of this swift-footed bird was amply repaid; even its eggs were required for some ornamental or for some religious use (as with the modern Copts); and, with the plumes, formed part of the tribute imposed by the Egyptians on the conquered countries where it abounded. Lion hunting was a favourite amusement of the kings, and the deserts of Ethiopia always afforded good sport, abounding as they did with lions; their success on those occasions was a triumph they often recorded; and Amunoph III. boasted having brought down in one battue no less than one hundred and two head, either with the bow or spear. For the chase of elephants they went still further south; and, in after times, the Ptolemies had hunting palaces in Abyssinia.

Many other animals are introduced in the sculptures, besides those already noticed, some of which are well worthy of heraldry; as winged quadrupeds with the heads of hawks, or of a snake; and a crocodile with a hawk’s head; with others equally fanciful; and were it not for their great antiquity (as early as the 12th dynasty), might be supposed to derive their origin from Asia.


243.              A chase in the desert of Thebaïd. Thebes.

To the left of A was the chasseur in his chariot shooting with the bow, now defaced.

Figs. 1, 9, 15, 18. Gazelles. 2, 11. Hares. 3. Female hyæna, with its young. 4, 13. Foxes.

5. Porcupine. 6. Hyæna arrived at the top of a hill, and looking towards the chasseur.

7. The ibex. 8, 14. Hounds. 12. Ostriches (defaced). 16. The oryx. 19. Wild oxen.

The Egyptian sphinx was usually an emblematic figure, representative of the king, and may be considered, when with the head of a man and the body of a lion, as the union of intellect and physical force; it is therefore scarcely necessary to observe that it is not female, as that of the Greeks. Besides the ordinary sphinx, compounded of a lion and a man, was one with the head of a ram, another with the hawk’s head and lion’s body and the asp-headed and the hawk-headed sphinx with wings.


244.              Monsters, in the paintings of Beni Hassan and Thebes.

The wild animals now most noted in Egypt, either in the Valley of the Nile, or in the desert, are the gazelle, ibex, kebsh, hare, fox, jackal, wolf, hyæna, jerbóa, hedgehog, and ichneumon.

The oryx is a native of Ethiopia, as is the spotted hyæna or marafeén; which last is once represented in the Egyptian sculptures. The oryx has long annulated horns, tapering to a sharp point, and nearly straight, with a slight curve or inclination backwards. It frequently occurs in the sculptures, being among the animals tamed by the Egyptians, and kept in great numbers in their preserves.

The beïsa is very like the oryx, except in the black marks upon its face, and a few other points; and the addax, another antelope, inhabiting Upper Ethiopia, differs principally from the oryx in its horns, which have a waving or spiral form. It appears to be represented in the sculptures of Beni Hassan.

The wild ox, which is also of the genus antilope, the defassa of modern zoologists, though not a native of Egypt, is found in the African desert, and I believe in Eastern Ethiopia; it is of a reddish sandy and grey colour, with a black tuft terminating its tail, and stands about four feet high at the shoulder. At Beni Hassan it is made too much to resemble a common ox, but it is more correctly represented in the Theban sculptures.

The stag with branching horns, figured at Beni Hassan, is also unknown in the Valley of the Nile; but it is still seen in the vicinity of the Natron Lakes, as about Tunis, though not in the desert between the river and the Red Sea.

The ibex, which is common in the Eastern desert, is very similar to the bouquetin of the Alps, and is called in Arabic Beddan, or Táytal. The former appellation is exclusively applied to the male, which is readily distinguished by a beard and large knotted horns, curving backwards over its body; the female having short erect horns, scarcely larger than those of the gazelle, and being of a much smaller and lighter structure.

The kebsh, or wild sheep, is found in the Eastern desert, principally in the ranges of primitive mountains, which, commencing about latitude 28° 40´, at the back of the limestone hills of the Valley of the Nile, extend thence into Ethiopia and Abyssinia. The female kebsh is between two and three feet high at the shoulder, and its total length from the tail to the end of the nose is a little more than four feet: but the male is larger, and is provided with stronger horns, which are about five inches in diameter at the roots, and are curved backwards on each side of the neck. The whole body is covered with hair, like many of the Ethiopian sheep, and the throat and thighs of the fore legs are furnished with a long pendent mane; a peculiarity not omitted in the sculptures, and which suffices to prove the identity of the kebsh, wherever its figure is represented. (Woodcut 242, fig. 10.)

The porcupine is no longer a native of Egypt; nor is the leopard met with on this side of Upper Ethiopia. Bears are altogether unknown, and, if they occur twice in the paintings of the Theban tombs, they are only brought by foreigners, together with the productions of their country, which were deemed rare and curious to the Egyptians.

The wolf is common, and, as Herodotus says, “scarcely larger than a fox;” and the tombs in the mountain above Lycopolis, the modern O’Sioot, contain the mummies of wolves, which were the sacred animals of the place.

The Egyptian hare is a native of the Valley of the Nile, as well as of the two deserts; and is remarkable for the length of its ears, which the Egyptians have not failed to indicate in their sculptures. It is a smaller species than those of Europe; which accords with Denon’s remark on the comparative size of animals common to Egypt and Europe, that the former are always smaller than our own.

The wabber or hyrax, though a native of the eastern desert of Egypt, is not represented in the sculptures; but this is probably owing to its habits, and to their hunting principally in the valleys of the secondary mountains; the wabber only venturing a short distance from its burrow in the evening, and living in the primitive ranges where the seäleh or acacia grows. It was probably the saphan of the Bible, as Bruce has remarked, and that enterprising traveller is perfectly correct in placing it among ruminating animals. The hedgehog was always common, as at present, in the Valley of the Nile.

The lion is now unknown to the north of Upper Ethiopia: there, however, it is common, as well as the leopard, and other carnivorous beasts; and the abundance of sheep in those districts amply supplies them with food, and has the happy tendency of rendering them less dangerous to man. In ancient times, however, the lion inhabited the deserts of Egypt, and Athenæus mentions one killed by the Emperor Adrian, while hunting near Alexandria. They are even said, in former times, to have been found in Syria, and in Greece.

Among the animals confined to the Valley of the Nile, and its immediate vicinity, may be mentioned the ichneumon, which lives principally in Lower Egypt and the Fyoom, and which, from its enmity to serpents, was looked upon by the Egyptians with great respect. Its dexterity in attacking the snake is truly surprising. It seizes the enemy at the back of the neck, as soon as it perceives it rising to the attack, one firm bite sufficing to destroy it; and when wounded by the venomous fangs of its opponent, it is said by the Arabs to have recourse to some herb, which checks the effect of the deadly poison.

The ichneumon is easily tamed, and is sometimes seen in the houses of Cairo, where, in its hostility to rats, it performs all the duties of a cat; but, from its indiscriminate fondness for eggs, poultry, and many other requisites for the kitchen, it is generally reckoned troublesome, and I have often found reason to complain of those I kept.

Eggs are its favourite food, and it is said to have been greatly venerated by those who held the crocodile in abhorrence, in consequence of its destroying the eggs of that hateful animal: but it is now rarely met with in places where the crocodile abounds; and at all periods its principal recommendation was its hostility to serpents. It is frequently seen in the paintings, where its habits are distinctly alluded to by the Egyptian artists, who represent it in search of eggs, among the bushes, and the usual resorts of the feathered tribe.

The wild cat, the felis chaus of Linnæus, is common in the vicinity of the Pyramids and Heliopolis, but it does not occur among the pictured animals of ancient Egypt. Nor is the jerbóa, so frequently met with both in the upper and lower country, represented in the sculptures.


245.              Various kinds of dogs, from the sculptures.

The giraffe was not a native of Egypt, but of Ethiopia, and is only introduced in subjects which relate to that country, where it is brought with apes, rare woods, and other native productions, as part of the tribute annually paid to the Pharaohs.

The Egyptians had several breeds of dogs, some solely used for the chase, others admitted into the parlour, or as companions of their walks; and some, as at the present day, were chosen for their peculiar ugliness. The most common kinds were a sort of fox-dog, and a hound; they had also a short-legged dog, not unlike our turnspit, which was a great favourite, especially in the reigns of the Osirtasens; and, as in later days, the choice of a king, or some noted personage, brought a particular breed into fashion.

Mummies of the fox-dog are common in Upper Egypt; and this was doubtless the parent stock of the modern red wild dog of Egypt, so common in Cairo, and other parts of the lower country.

Pigs, though an abomination to the Egyptians, formed part of a farmer’s stock; but, attentive to the habits of animals, they allowed them to range and feed out of doors, under the care of a herdsman; knowing that cleanliness is as beneficial for, as the confinement in a sty is contrary to, the nature of a pig.

Their cattle were of different kinds; the most common being the short and long horned varieties, and the Indian or humped ox; and the two last, though no longer natives of Egypt, are common in Abyssinia and Upper Ethiopia. The buffalo, which abounds in Abyssinia and in modern Egypt, is never represented on the monuments.

Horses and asses were abundant, and the latter were employed as beasts of burden, for treading out corn (particularly in Lower Egypt) and for many other purposes. Like those of the present day, they were small, active, and capable of bearing great fatigue; and, as these hardy animals were maintained at a very trifling expense, their numbers in the agricultural districts were very great, and one individual had as many as seven hundred and sixty employed on different parts of his estate.


246.              Some of the birds of Egypt. Beni Hassan and the Tombs near the Pyramids.

Figs. 18, 19, 20. Bats. 21. The locust. From Thebes.


247.              Some of the birds of Egypt. Beni Hassan.

Egyptian horses were greatly esteemed; they were even exported to the neighbouring countries, and Solomon bought them at a hundred and fifty shekels of silver, from the merchants who traded with Egypt by the Syrian Desert.

It is remarkable that the camel, though known in Egypt as early at least as the time of Abraham (being among the presents given by Pharaoh to the Patriarch), has never been met with, even in the latest paintings or hieroglyphics. Yet this does not prove it was even rare in the country; since the same would apply to fowls and pigeons, of which no instance occurs on the monuments among the stock of the farmyard. Cocks and hens, however, as well as horses, appear to have come originally from Asia.

The birds of Egypt were very numerous, especially wild fowl, which abounded on the lakes and marsh-land of the Delta; they also frequented the large pieces of water on the estates of the rich landed proprietors, in all parts of the country.

Large flights of quails afforded excellent sport at certain seasons, and the bustard and other birds, found on the edge of the desert, were highly prized for the table.

Many are represented by the Egyptian sculptors; some sacred, others that served for food; and in the tombs of Thebes and Beni Hassan, the Egyptians have not omitted to notice bats, and even some of the insects that abound in the Valley of the Nile; and the well-known locust, the butterfly, and the beetle are introduced in the fowling and fishing scenes, and in sacred subjects. (Woodcuts 246, 249, 250, 251.)

Fowling was one of the great amusements of all classes. Those who followed this sport for their livelihood used nets and traps; but the amateur sportsman pursued his game in the thickets, and felled them with the throw-stick, priding himself on his dexterity in its use. The bow was not employed for this purpose, nor was the sling adopted, except by gardeners and peasants, to frighten the birds from the vineyards and fields. The throw-stick was made of heavy wood, and flat, so as to offer little resistance to the air in its flight; and the distance to which an expert arm could throw it was considerable; though they always endeavoured to approach the birds as near as possible, under cover of the bushes and reeds. It was from one foot and a quarter to two feet in length, and about one and a half inch in breadth, slightly curved at the upper end; but in no instance had it the round shape and flight of the Australian boomerang.


248.              A sportsman using the throw-stick. Thebes.

Figs. 2 and 3. His sister and daughter. 4. A decoy bird. 5, 5. Birds struck with the stick.

On their fowling excursions, they usually proceeded with a party of friends and attendants, sometimes accompanied by the members of their family, and even by their young children, to the jungles and thickets of the marsh-lands, or to the lakes of their own grounds, which, especially during the inundation, abounded with wild fowl; and seated in punts made of the papyrus, they glided, without disturbing the birds, amidst the lofty reeds that grew in the water, and masked their approach. This sort of boat was either towed, pushed by a pole, or propelled by paddles, and the Egyptians fancied that persons who used it were secure from the attacks of crocodiles.

The attendants collected the game as it fell, and one of them was always ready to hand a fresh stick to the chasseur, as soon as he had thrown. They frequently took with them a decoy-bird; and in order to keep it to its post, a female was selected, whose nest, containing eggs, was deposited in the boat.


249.              Sportsman using the throw-stick. British Museum.

Fig 2 keeps the boat steady by holding the stalks of a lotus. 4. A cat seizing the game in the thicket. 5. A decoy-bird.


250.              Part I. Fowling scene. Part II. Spearing fish with the bident. Thebes.

1. An amateur sportsman throwing the stick.

2. His son holding a fresh stick ready, and carrying the game.

3, 4. His daughters, or sisters.

5. Another son carrying the game.

6. A decoy-bird, with its nest in the boat.

7. The ichneumon carrying away a young bird from a nest.

8. Two bulti fish speared with the bident of fig. 11.

9, 10. Butterflies and dragon flies.

12. His sister holding a spear.

13. His son holding a spear, and carrying the fish strung upon a water plant.

The cat appears as if begging to be let out of the boat into the thicket.

A favourite cat sometimes attended them on these occasions, and performed the part of a retriever, amidst the thickets on the bank. (Woodcut 249, fig. 4.)

Fishing was also a favourite pastime of the Egyptian gentleman; both in the Nile and in the spacious “sluices, or ponds for fish,” constructed within his grounds, where they were fed for the table, and where he amused himself by angling, and the dexterous use of the bident. These favourite occupations were not confined to young persons, nor thought unworthy of men of serious habits; and an Egyptian of rank, and of a certain age, is frequently represented in the sculptures catching fish in a canal or lake, with the line, or spearing them as they glided past the bank. Sometimes the angler posted himself in a shady spot by the water’s edge, and, having ordered his servants to spread a mat upon the ground, sat upon it as he threw his line; and some, with higher notions of comfort, used a chair; as “stout gentlemen” now do in punts, upon retired parts of the Thames.


251.              An Egyptian gentleman fishing. Thebes.

The rod was short, and apparently of one piece; the line usually single, though instances occur of a double line, each with its own hook, which was of bronze. In all cases they adopted a ground bait, as is still the custom in Egypt, without any float; and though several winged insects are represented in the paintings hovering over the water, it does not appear that they ever put them to the hook; and still less that they had devised any method similar to our artificial-fly fishing; which is still as unknown to the unsophisticated modern Egyptians as to their fish.

To spear them with the bident was thought the most sportsmanlike way of killing fish. In throwing it they sometimes stood on the bank, but generally used the papyrus punt, gliding smoothly over the water of a lake in their grounds, without disturbing the fish as they lay beneath the broad leaves of the lotus. Those who were very keen sportsmen even made parties to the lowlands of the Delta; as they did at other times, for shooting, to the highlands of the desert.

The bident was a spear with two barbed points, which was either thrust at the fish with one or both hands as they passed by, or was darted to a short distance; a long line fastened to it preventing its being lost, and serving to recover it with the fish when struck. It was occasionally furnished with feathers like an arrow, and sometimes a common spear was used for the purpose; but in most cases it was provided with a line, the end of which was held by the left hand, or wound upon a reel. This mode of fishing is still adopted in many countries; and the fish-spears of the South Sea islanders have two, three, and four points, and are thrown nearly in the same manner as the bident of the ancient Egyptians. Their attendants, or their children, assisted in securing the fish, which, when taken off the barbed point of the spear, were tied together by the stalk of a rush passed through the gills. (Woodcut 250, fig. 13.)

The chase of the hippopotamus was a favourite amusement of the sportsman; for it then frequented Lower Egypt, though now confined to Upper Ethiopia. Like the crocodile, it was looked upon as an enemy, from the ravages it committed at night in the fields; and was also killed for its hide, of which they made shields, whips, javelins, and helmets.


252.              Thebes.

Attendant carrying a whip, or corbág.

The whips, known by the name of corbág (corbaj), are still very generally used in Egypt and Ethiopia, in riding the dromedary, or for chastising a delinquent peasant; for which purposes it was applied by the ancient Egyptians; and an attendant sometimes followed the steward of an estate, with this implement of punishment in his hand.

The mode of attacking and securing the hippopotamus appears, from the sculptures of Thebes, to have been very similar to that now adopted about Sennar; where, like the ancient Egyptians, they prefer chasing it in the river, to an open attack on shore: and the modern Ethiopians are contented to frighten it from the corn-fields by the sound of drums and other noisy instruments.

It was entangled by a running noose, at the extremity of a long rope wound upon a reel, at the same time that it was struck by a spear. This weapon consisted of a broad flat blade, furnished with a deep tooth, or barb, at the side; having a strong line of considerable length attached to its upper end, and running over the notched summit of a wooden shaft, which was inserted into the head, or blade, like a common javelin. It was thrown in the same manner; but, on striking, the shaft fell, and the iron head alone remained in the body of the animal; which, on receiving a wound, plunged into deep water, the line having been immediately let out. When fatigued by exertion, the hippopotamus was dragged to the boat, from which it again plunged, and the same was repeated till it became perfectly exhausted; frequently receiving additional wounds, and being entangled by other nooses, which the attendants held in readiness, as it was brought within their reach.


253.              Spear used in the chase of the hippopotamus. Thebes.

The line attached to the blade was also wound upon a reel, generally carried by some of the attendants, which was of very simple construction, consisting of a half ring of metal, as a handle, and the bar turning in it, on which the line was wound.

Neither the hippopotamus nor the crocodile were used as food by the ancient Egyptians; but the people of Apollinopolis ate the crocodile, upon a certain occasion, in order to show their abhorrence of Typho, the evil genius, of whom it was an emblem. “They had also a solemn hunt of this animal upon a particular day, set apart for the purpose, at which time they killed as many of them as they could, and afterwards threw their dead bodies before the temple of their god, assigning this reason for their practice, that it was in the shape of a crocodile Typho eluded the pursuit of Orus.”


254.              A reel held by an attendant. Beni Hassan

In some parts of Egypt it was sacred, “while in other places they made war upon it; and those who lived about Thebes and the Lake Mœris (in the Arsinoïte nome) held it in great veneration.”

It was there treated with the most marked respect, and kept at a considerable expense; it was fed and attended with the most scrupulous care; geese, fish, and various meats were dressed purposely for it; they ornamented its head with ear-rings, its feet with bracelets, and its neck with necklaces of gold and artificial stones; it was rendered perfectly tame by kind treatment; and after death its body was embalmed in a most sumptuous manner. This was particularly the case in the Theban, Ombite, and Arsinoïte nomes; and at a place now called Maabdeh, opposite the modern town of Manfaloot, are extensive grottoes, cut far into the limestone mountain, where numerous crocodile mummies have been found, perfectly preserved, and evidently embalmed with great care.

The people of Apollinopolis, Tentyris, Heracleopolis, and other places, on the contrary, held the crocodile in abhorrence, and lost no opportunity of destroying it; and the Tentyrites were so expert, from long habit, in catching, and even in overcoming this powerful animal in the water, that they were known to follow it into the Nile, and bring it by force to the shore. Pliny and others mention the wonderful feats performed by them, not only in their own country, but in the presence of the Roman people: and Strabo says that on the occasion of some crocodiles being exhibited at Rome, the Tentyrites, who were present, fully confirmed the truth of the report of their power over those animals; for, having put them into a spacious tank of water, with a shelving bank artificially constructed at one side, the men boldly entered the water, and, entangling them in a net, dragged them to the bank, and back again into the water; which was witnessed by numerous spectators.

The crocodile is in fact a timid animal, flying on the approach of man; and little danger need be apprehended from it, except by any one incautiously standing on a sloping bank of sand near the river, when it can approach unseen. Egypt produces two varieties, distinguished by the number and position of the scales on the neck, and by one being black, the other of a greener colour. They do not exceed eighteen or twenty feet, though travellers have mentioned some of awful size. The story of the “trochilus” entering its mouth as it sleeps on the sandbanks, and relieving it of the leeches in its throat, would be “remarkable, if true” that any leeches existed in the Nile; but the friendly offices of this winged toothpick may have originated in the habits of the small “running bird,” a species of charadrius, or dottrel, so common there; which, by its shrill cry on the approach of man, warns the crocodile (quite unintentionally) of its danger. And its proximity to the crocodile is readily explained by its seeking the flies and other insects, that are attracted to the sleeping beast.


255.              The Trochilus, or Charadrius melanocephalus, Linn.

The eggs of the crocodile are remarkably small; only three inches long, by two in breadth (or diameter); being less than those of a goose. They are equally thick at each end. They are laid in the sand, till hatched by the warmth of the sun; and the small crocodile, curled up with its tail to its nose, awaits the time for breaking the shell. But the ichneumon is far more dangerous to the eggs, than the trochilus is useful to their parents; and its destruction of the unhatched young obtained for it great veneration in those places where the crocodile was not held sacred.

There were various modes of catching it. One was “to fasten a piece of pork to a hook, and throw it into the middle of the stream, as a bait; then, standing near the water’s edge, they beat a young pig, and the crocodile, being enticed to the spot by its cries, found the bait on its way, and, swallowing it, was caught by the hook. It was then pulled ashore, and its eyes being quickly covered up with mud, it was easily overcome.”

It is singular that the wild boar is never represented among the animals of Egypt, though a native of the country, and still frequenting the Fyoom and the Delta. It is even eaten at the present day, in spite of the religious prejudices of the Moslems, by some of the people about Damietta. Even if it never inhabited Upper Egypt, it ought to be figured in some of the fowling and hunting scenes, which relate to the marsh lands of the Delta; and the fabled chase of it by Typho shows it was known in Egypt at the earliest times. Nor is the wild ass met with in the paintings either of Upper or Lower Egypt, though it is common in the deserts of the Thebaïd; and other animals have already been shown to be wanting in the sculptures. We are, therefore, more reconciled, by these omissions, to the absence of several from the monuments, which appear in all probability to have existed in the country.

And here it may not be out of place to give a list of the different animals, birds, reptiles, fish, and plants; noticing at the same time those that were sacred, and adding an account of the emblems connected with the religion.




257.              The name of “Egypt.”




              If sacred.

              To what Deity.

              In what Place (particularly).

              Where mentioned.

              Where found embalmed.


Orders 1 and 2.














Cynocephalus Ape




              The sculptures. Strabo, xvii. Horapollo, i, 15, 16.

              Thebes and Hermopolis.


Green Monkey of Ethiopia, or Cercopithecus?



              At Thebes?

              Juvenal, Sat. xv. 4. Sculptures



Order 3.















              Not sacred







              Not sacred



              Represented in ornaments.



Shrew-mouse, or Mygale


              Buto or Latona

              Athribis, Butos

              Strabo, XV, Herodot. ii. 59.




              Not sacred


              Not found in Egypt

              Herodot. ii. 67; and sculptures.




              Not sacred



              Plutarch de Is. s. 74.




              Not sacred


              Not found in Egypt

              Herodotus, ii. 72.







              Plut., Plato, & c.

              Thebes, El Hareíb, &c.






              Strabo, xvii, Plut. s. 72; and sculptures





















              Clem. Alex. Orat. Adhort. p. 17. Strabo, xvii.; and sculptures.



Hyæna vulgaris

              Not sacred



              In sculptures.



Spotted Hyæna, or Crocuta

              Not sacred.








              Pasht or Bubastis


              Cicero, Diodor., &c.; and sculptures

              Thebes, &c.




              Gom or Hercules


              Strabo, xvii, Diodor. i. 84.

Porphyr. de Abst. iv. 9.




              Not sacred







              Not sacred






Felis Chaus

              Not sacred.






Order 5.















              Not sacred



              Sculptures. Plin. x. 65.




              Not sacred






Dipus, or Jerboa

              Not sacred.







              Not sacred







              Not sacred. An emblem



              Sculptures. Horapollo.



Order 7.















              Not sacred







              Sacred Emblem of Typho



              Herodot. ii. 71. Diodor., &c.




              Emblem of Typho



              Plut., Ælian, Herodot., &c.



Wild Boar

              Not sacred



              Plut. de Is. s. 8.



Hyrax (Arab. Wabber)

              Not sacred.







              Not sacred.



              Sculptures, &c.




              Sacred to, or emblem of Typho






Order 8.















              Not sacred



              Vide suprà, p. 234.



Stag, or Cervus Elaphus

              Not sacred



              Vide suprà, p. 227.



Camelopardalis, or Giraffe

              Not sacred? perhaps an emblem



              Sculptures at Hermonthis, &c.




              Not sacred?




              At Thebes?


Antilope Addax?








              Not sacred






Oryx Beisa







Oryx and Leucoryx

              An emblem

              of Pthah-Sokari-Osiris.

              Thebes, &c.

              Plin, ii. 40. Sculptures.






              Mendesian nome?

              Clem. Orat. Adhort. p. 17; and Strabo, xvii, Diodor. i. 84.




              Not sacred






Sheep, Ram



              Thebes and Saïs

              Clem. Alex. Oratio Adhort., p. 17. Strabo, xvii. p. 559 and 552

              Thebes, &c.


Kebsh, or Ovis Tragelaphus

              Not sacred











              Thebes, & c.


The Sacred Bulls. Apis


              A God, and the type of Osiris


              Plut. Herodot. Diodor. i. 84 and 21.



The Sacred Bulls. Mnevis


              The Sun, or Apollo


              Diodor. i. 84 and 21, Plut. s. 33.



The Sacred Bulls. Basis, Bacchis




              Macrob. Sat. i. 26. Strabo, xvii.



The Sacred Bulls. Onuphis




              Ælian, xii. 11.




              Not sacred



              Not represented.



Indian or humped Ethiopian Ox

              Not sacred?






Order 9.















              Not sacred



              Strabo, xvii. Plin & Seneca.





Sphinx with Man’s head, Hawk’s head, Ram’s head.




              Sulptures. Clemens, &c.



Other monsters







The principal Birds are—

Class II.—AVES.


              Sacred to what Deity.

              In what Place.

              Where mentioned.

              Where found embalmed


Order 1.












Vultur Nubicus, or Barbarus (Arab. the Nisser)

              Sacred to Eileithyia

              At Eileithyias




V. percnopterus, Pharaoh’s Hen (Arab. Rákham)






Eagle (Arab. Okáb or Ogáb)


              In Thebes?

              Strabo, xvii, Diodor. i. 87



Falco Aroeris? the sacred Hawk of Re

              Sacred to Re, and other Deities

              Heliopolis, and other towns

              Diodor., Strabo, and others; and the sculptures

              Thebes, &c.


F. tenunculoïdes, or small brown Hawk






Falco miluus (F. cinereo-ferugineus, Forsk., F. arda of Savigny), the Kite.

              Not sacred?





Horned Owl, or Bubo maximus

              Not sacred?





White Owl, or Strix flammea






Small Owl, or Strix passerina, Minerva’s Owl






Order 2.












Lanius excubitor, Butcher Bird

              Not sacred





Motacilla, alba and flava, Wagtail

              Not sacred






              Not sacred






              Not sacred


              Horapollo, ii. 115.



Raven, or Corvus corax

              Not sacred





C. cornix, the Royston Crow

              Not sacred


              Sculptures. Horapollo.



Upupa epops

              Not sacred


              Sculptures. Horapollo.



Turdus viscivorus, Thrush

              Not sacred





Alauda cristata, Crested Lark

              Not sacred





Alauda arenaria, Sand Lark

              Not sacred





Hirundo rustica, Swallow

              Not sacred





Alcedo Ispida, Kingfisher

              Not sacred





Alcedo Rutteis, id. of the Nile

              Not sacred





Fringilla, several species

              Not sacred





Order 3.












Fowls, Cocks

              White and saffron-coloured cocks sacrificed to Anubis


              Plut. de Is. s. 61.



Columba turtur, Turtle-dove

              Not sacred





Columba domestica, Pigeon

              Not sacred





Pterocles melanogaster (Arab. Gutta), Sand-grouse

              Not sacred





Quail, Perdix Coturnix

              Not sacred





Ostrich, or Struthio Camelus

              Not sacred





Otis Hebara, Ruffed Bustard

              Not sacred





Order 4.












Charadrius Œdicnemus

              Not sacred





———(Trochilus?), or Melanocephalus

              Not sacred?


              Herodot. ii. 68.



———armatus, Spurwinged Plover

              Not sacred





———cristatus, Peewit






Ardea cinerea, Grey Heron

              Not sacred?





Ardea garzetta. Little Egret, perhaps the Benno, which was

              sacred to Osiris





Ardea minuta, small Bittern

              Not sacred





Ciconia alba, White Stork






Grus cinerea, Common Crane, and some other species






Tantulus, or Numenius Ibis, or Ibis religiosa, Cuv

              Sacred to Thoth


              Herodot., Plato, & c.; and sculptures

              Thebes, Memphis, Hermopolis, Abydus, &c.


Ibis falcinellus, small Ibis






Platalea leucorodia, Spoonbill

              Not sacred





Scolopax gallinago, Snipe






Fulica atra, Common Coot

              Not sacred





Phænicopterus ruber, Flamingo

              Not sacred





Order 5.












Goose, or Anser Ægyptius, the Chenalopex, or Vulpanser

              Emblem of Seb


              Herodot. ii. 72. Sculptures



Anas, various species of Ducks

              Not sacred





Anas creca, Teal






Pelicanus Onocratulus

              Not sacred?


              Horapollo. Sculptures.



Recurvirostra avosetta, Avoset

              Not sacred







Phœnix (perhaps the Benno?

              sacred to Osiris)





The “Pure Soul” of the king (a bird with man’s shead and arms)






Emblem of the Soul






Vulture with a Snake’s head






Hawk with Man’s and Ram’s head








Order 1.













              A tortoise headed God





Order 2.













              Sacred to Savak

              The Arsinoïte nome and its capital, Crocodilopolis. Lake Mœris, Thebes. &c.

              Herodot. Strabo, xvii, Diodor. i. 48. Sculptures, &c.

              Thebes, Maabdeh, &c.


Waran el bahr, Monitor of the Nile, Lacerta Nilotica

              Not sacred?





Waran el ard, Land Monitor, Lac. scincus

              Not sacred?





The Dthobb, or Lac. Caudiverbera

              Not sacred?





Lac. Gecko, or Boorse, and many other of the Lizard tribe

              Not sacred?





Order 3.












Asp, Coluber Haje, or Naja Haje

              Sacred to Neph and Ranno


              Sculptures. Plut. s. 74, &c.



The common Snake of Egypt

              Not sacred?





The Coluber, or Vipera Cerastes, the horned Snake

              Not sacred to Amun?


              Herodot., and sculptures &c.



The small spotted Viper of Egypt, Echis pavo?

              Not sacred





Order 4.













              Emblem of Pthah?


              Sculptures. Horapollo.




              Not sacred?







Snakes with Human head, Hawk’s head, Lion’s head






The Fish are noticed elsewhere; I shall therefore content myself with the names of those which were held sacred.



              Sacred to what Deity.

              In what Place.

              Where mentioned.

              Where found embalmed.




              At Oryrhinchus, &c.

              Plut., Strabo. Sculptures

              Several fish found embalmed at Thebes.


Phagrus, the Eel


              Among the Syenitæ, and at Phagroriopolis

              Clemens, Orat. Adhort. p. 17. Athenæus, Deipn. vii. Sculptures.





              In most parts of Egypt

              Plut., &c. Sculptures.





              At Latopolis

              Strabo, xvii. Sculptures?





              At Elephantine

              Clemens Alex. Orat. Adhort. p. 17. Sculptures?



Of the second division of the animal kingdom, the Mollusca, containing shellfish, nothing is known which connects any of them with the religion of Egypt: and of the third, or Articulata, the only one which appears to have been sacred to, or emblematic of, any Deity, is the Scorpion, in the third class, or ARACHNIDES.

Div. III.—Articulata



              Emblem of the Goddess Selk







              Sacred to what Deity.

              In what Place.

              Where mentioned.

              Where found embalmed.








Scarabæus, and probably different genera and species of Beetles

              Sacred to the Sun and to Pthah, and adopted as an emblem of the world, and sometimes also of Hor-Hat.


              Horapollo. Sculptures, &c. (The modern Nubians, confounding those who venerated it with the scarabæus itself, have called it a Káfer, “infidel.”)










              Not sacred?




















              Not sacred


              Sculptures, and in pottery.



Locusts, butterflies, moths, and other insects, are represented in the sculptures; but none appear to claim the honour of being sacred.

Some fabulous insects may also be cited, as well as fabulous quadrupeds, which were chiefly emblems appropriated to particular gods, or representative of certain ideas connected with religion, the most remarkable of which were scarabæi with the heads of hawks, rams, and cows. Of these, many are found made of pottery, stone, and other materials, and the sculptures represent the beetle with a human head. Such changes did not render them less fit emblems of the gods: the Scarabæus of the Sun appears with the head of a ram as well as a hawk; and the god Pthah was sometimes figured with the body of a scarabæus, and the head and legs of his usual human form.

Among the Vegetables of Egypt, the following were sacred, or connected with religion:—


              Sacred to what Deity.

              In what Place.

              Where mentioned.

              Where found embalmed.


The Persea

              Sacred to Athor






              Supposed to be sacred to Harpocrates


              Plut. de Is. s. 68.



Pomegranate, Vine, and Acanthus

              Used for sacred purposes


              Athen. xv. 680. Sculp.



Sycomore Fig

              Sacred to Netpe






              Sacred to Osiris


              Plut. s. 15, 21. Sculp.



Lotus. Perhaps the modern name Nufar may be related to Nofr, the epithet “good” attached to the god

              Emblem of the God Nofr Atmoo?, and connected with Harpocrates.


              Sculptures and Ancient Authors.




              Not sacred


              Plin, xix. 6; Juvenal, Sat. xv.
















              Symbol of Astrology, and type of a year.


              Clem. Strom. 6; Horapollo, &c.






              Plut. s. 38.






              Sculptures & Anc. Auth.




              Sacred? to Osiris


              Plut. s. 37, Diodor. i.17.



Periploca Secamone?






Many of these were conspicuous among the offerings made to the gods.

The most remarkable emblems, independent of the types of the deities, were the signs of, 1, Life; 2, 3, of Goodness; 4, of Power (or of Purity); 5, of Majesty and Dominion (the flail and crook of Osiris); 6, of Authority; 7, 8, 9, 10, of Royalty; 11, of Stability; which were principally connected with the gods and kings.


258.              Emblems of Life, Goodness, Purity, Royalty, and Stability.

Many others belonged to religious ceremonies; a long list of which may be seen in the chamber of Osiris at Philæ, and in the coronation ceremony at Medeenet Haboo.

The sign of Life (tau, or crux ansata) is held by the gods in one hand, and the sceptre of Power (or Purity) generally in the other. The lotus was always a favourite symbol; the palm branch was the sign of “the year;” and a frog with the young palm leaf, as it springs from the date stone, rising from its back, was the type of man in embryo. The eye of Osiris was sometimes a representation of “Egypt,” (see page 244;) and was placed at the head of their boats; and numerous other emblems occur in the sacred subjects represented on the monuments. Among flowers, two frequently occur, the papyrus head and another water plant, which were the emblems of Lower and Upper Egypt.



Flowers were presented in different ways; either loosely, tied together by the stalks, or in carefully formed bouquets, without any other gifts. Sometimes those of a particular kind were offered alone; the most esteemed being the lotus, papyrus, convolvulus, and other favourite productions of the garden: and a bouquet of peculiar form was occasionally presented, or two smaller ones, carried in each of the donor’s hands.


260.              Various flowers from the sculptures. Thebes.

In fig. 8 is an attempt at perspective. The upper part (a) appears to be the papyrus; b is a lotus; and c probably the melilotus. From fig. 1 a, it would seem that one bell-formed flower is a convolvulus; though 1 b, 4, 6, 7, and 9 a, may be the papyrus and the shafts of columns with that kind of capital have an indication of the triangular form of its stalk. 3. The lotus. 2, 11, 12, 13. Different bouquets. 10. A flower from an ornamental cornice. 5. Perhaps the same as 4. See Flowers in Chapter VI.

Chaplets and wreaths of flowers were also laid upon the altars, and offered to the deities, whose statues were frequently crowned with them. In the selection of them, as of herbs and roots, those most grateful, or useful, to man, were chosen as most acceptable to the gods; and it was probably the utility, rather than the flavour, that induced them to show a marked preference for the onion, the Raphanus, and cucurbitaceous plants, which so generally found a place amongst the offerings.

Of fruits, the sycamore, fig, and grapes were the most esteemed for the service of the altar. They were presented on baskets or trays, frequently covered with leaves to keep them fresh; and sometimes the former were represented placed in such a manner, on an open basket, as to resemble the hieroglyphic signifying “wife.”

Ointment often formed part of a large donation, and always entered into the list of those things which constituted a complete set of offerings. It was placed before the deity in vases of alabaster or other materials; the name of the god to whom it was vowed being frequently engraved upon the vase that contained it. Sometimes the king, or priest, took out a certain portion to anoint the statue of the deity, which was done with the little finger of the right hand.



Ointment was presented in different ways, according to the ceremony performed in honour of the gods; and the various kinds of sweet-scented ointments used by the Egyptians were liberally offered at every shrine. According to Clemens, the psagdæ of Egypt were among the most noted; and Pliny and Athenæus both bear testimony to the variety of Egyptian ointments, as well as the importance attached to them; which is confirmed by the sculptures, and even by the vases discovered it the tombs.

Rich vestments, necklaces, bracelets, jewellery of various kinds and other ornaments, vases of gold, silver, and porcelain, bags of gold, and numerous gifts of the most costly description, were also presented to the gods. They constituted the riches of the treasury of the temples; and the spoils taken from conquered nations were deposited there by a victorious monarch, as a votive gift for the success of his arms, or as a token of gratitude for favours already received. Tables of the precious metals, and rare woods, were among the offerings; and an accurate catalogue of his votive presents was engraved on the walls of the temple, to commemorate the piety of the donor, and the wealth of the sanctuary. They do not, however, properly come under the denomination of offerings to the gods, but are rather dedications to their temples; and it was in presenting them that some of the grand processions took place.

But it was not only customary to deposit the necklaces and other “precious gifts” collectively in the temple; the kings frequently offered each singly to the gods, decorating their statues with them, and placing them on their altars.


262.              “He gives Truth (or Justice) to his father.”

They also presented numerous emblems, connected with the vows they had made, the favours they desired, or the thanksgivings they returned to the gods: among which the most usual were a small figure of Truth; the symbol of the assemblies (fig. 1); the cow of Athor (2); the hawk-headed necklace of Sokari (3); a cynocephalus (4); parts of dress? (5); ointment (6); gold and silver in bags, or in rings (7 a and b); three feathers, or heads of reeds, the emblem of a field (8); a scribe’s tablet and ink-stand (9 a and b); a garland or wreath (10); and an emblem of pyramidal form, perhaps a particular kind of “white” cake (11).

Thanksgivings for the birth of a child, escape from danger, or other marks of divine favour, were offered by individuals through the medium of the priests. The same was also done in private; and secret as well as public vows were made in the hope of future favours. The quality of these oblations depended on the god to whom presented, or the occupation of the donor; a shepherd bringing from his flocks, a husbandman from his fields, and others according to their means; provided the offering was not forbidden by the rites of the deity.


263.              Emblematic offerings.


264.              Offerings on the Altar. British Museum

1, 2, 3. Vases of ointment, &c., on stands crowned with lotus flowers.

4. Bonquets of lotus and other flowers presented by the son of the deceased.

5. Table of offerings; the most remarkable of which are cakes, grapes, figs, fore leg and head of a victim, two hearts, a goose, lotus flowers, and cucumbers or gourds.

6. Four vases on stands, with their mouths closed with ears of corn; over them is a wreath of leaves.

7. The person of the tomb seated.

Though the Egyptians considered certain oblations suited to particular gods, others inadmissible to their temples, and some more peculiarly adapted to prescribed periods of the year, the greater part of the deities were invoked with the same offerings; the most usual of which were fruit, flowers, vegetables, ointment, incense, grain, wine, milk, beer, oil, cakes, and the sacrifice of animals and birds. These last were either offered whole, with the feathers, or plucked and trussed; and when presented alone, they were sometimes placed upon a portable stand, furnished with spikes, over which the bird was laid.


265.              Stands for bearing offerings.

The bronze instruments with long curved spikes, found in the Etruscan tombs, were probably intended for a similar purpose; though they were once thought to be for torturing Christian martyrs.

Even oxen and other animals were sometimes offered entire, though generally after the head had been taken off; and it does not appear that this depended on any particular ceremony.

In slaying a victim, the Egyptians suffered the blood to flow upon the ground, or over the altar, if placed upon it; and the mode of cutting it up appears to have been the same as when killed for the table. The head was first taken off; and, after the skin had been removed, they generally cut off the right leg and shoulder, and the other legs and parts in succession; which, if required for the table, were placed on trays, and carried to the kitchen, or if intended for sacrifice, were deposited on the altar, with fruit, cakes, and other offerings.

The joints, and parts, most readily distinguished in the sculptures, are the head, the fore leg (fig. 1), with the shoulder (which was styled sapt, “the chosen part;”) the upper joint of the hind leg (2), the kidneys (4), the ribs (5 and 8), the heart (3), and the rump (6); and those most commonly seen on the altars are the head, the leg, and the ribs. When the Egyptians offered a holocaust, they commenced with a libation of wine, a preliminary ceremony common, according to Herodotus, to all their sacrifices; and, after it had been poured upon the altar, the victim was slain. They first removed the head and skin (a statement, as I have already shown, fully confirmed by the sculptures); they then took out the stomach, leaving only the entrails and the fat; after which the thighs, the upper part of the haunches, the shoulders, and the neck, were cut off in succession. Then, filling the body with cakes of pure flour, honey, dried raisins, figs, incense, myrrh, and other odoriferous substances, they burnt it on the fire, pouring over it a considerable quantity of oil. The portions which were not consumed were afterwards given to the votaries, who were present on the occasion, no part of the offering being left; and it was during the ceremony of burning the sacrifice at the fête of Isis, that they beat themselves in honour of Osiris.


266.              Different joints placed on the altars or the tables. Thebes.

The ordinary subjects, in the interior of the temples, represent the king presenting offerings to the deities worshipped there; the most remarkable of which are the sacrifices already mentioned, incense, libation, and several emblematic figures or devices connected with religion. He sometimes made an appropriate offering to the presiding deity of the sanctuary, and to each of the contemplar gods, as Diodorus says Osymandyas was represented to have done; the memorial of which act of piety was preserved in the sculptures of his tomb.

Incense was presented to all the gods, and introduced on every grand occasion when a complete oblation was made. For they sometimes merely offered a libation of wine, oil, and other liquids, or a single gift, a necklace, a bouquet of flowers, or whatever they had vowed. Incense was also presented alone, though more usually accompanied by a libation of wine. It consisted of various ingredients, according to circumstances; and in offerings to the sun, Plutarch says that resin, myrrh, and a mixture of sixteen ingredients, called kuphi, were adapted to different times of the day.

In offering incense, the king held in one hand the censer, and with the other threw balls or pastiles of incense into the flame. Then, addressing the God, before whose statue he stood, with a suitable prayer, to invoke his aid and favour, he begged him to accept the incense he presented: in return for which the deity granted him “a long, pure, and happy life,” with other favours accorded by the gods to men.


267.              Offering of incense.

A libation of wine was frequently offered, together with incense; or two censers of incense, with several oxen, birds, and other consecrated gifts. And that it was customary to present several of the same kind is shown by the ordinary formula of presentation, which says, “I give you a thousand (i.e. many) cakes, a thousand vases of wine, a thousand head of oxen, a thousand geese, a thousand vestments, a thousand censers of incense, a thousand libations, a thousand boxes of ointment.” The cakes were of various kinds. Many were round, oval, or triangular; and others had the edges folded over, like the fateereh of the present day. They also assumed the shape of leaves, or the form of an animal, a crocodile’s head, or some capricious figure; and it was frequently customary to sprinkle them (particularly the round and oval cakes) with seeds.


268.              Offering of incense and a libation.

Wine was presented in two cups. It was not then a libation, but merely an offering of wine; and since the pouring out of wine upon the altar was a preliminary ceremony, as Herodotus observes, common to all their sacrifices, we find that the king is often represented making a libation upon an altar covered with offerings of cakes, flowers, and the joints of a victim killed for the occasion.


269.              Wine HPII offered in two cups.


270.              Vases used for libations.

Two kinds of vases were principally used for libations; but that used on grand occasions, and carried in procession by the Prophet, or by the king, was of long shape, with the usual spout (fig. 1).

The various kinds of wine were indicated by the names affixed to them. White and red wines, those of the Upper and Lower Country, grape juice or wine of the vineyard (one of the most delicious beveragès of a hot climate, and one which is commonly used in Spain and other countries at the present day), were the most noted.


271.              Offering of milk, ερω†.

Beer and milk, as well as oils of various kinds, for which Egypt was famous, were also common among the offerings.

No people had greater delight in ceremonies and religious pomp than the Egyptians; and grand processions constantly took place, to commemorate some legendary tale connected with superstition. Nor was this tendency of the Egyptian mind neglected by the priesthood; whose influence was greatly increased by the importance of the post they held on those occasions: there was no ceremony in which they did not participate; and even military regulations were subject to their influence.

One of the most important ceremonies was “the procession of shrines,” which is mentioned in the Rosetta Stone, and is frequently represented on the walls of the temples. The shrines were of two kinds: the one a sort of canopy; the other an ark or sacred boat, which may be termed the great shrine. This was carried with grand pomp by the priests, a certain number being selected for that duty, who, supporting it on their shoulders by means of long staves, passing through metal rings at the side of the sledge on which it stood, brought it into the temple, where it was placed upon a stand or table, in order that the prescribed ceremonies might be performed before it.


271a.              Shrine, or ark. Thebes.

The stand was also carried in the procession by another set of priests, following the shrine, by means of similar staves; a method usually adopted for transporting large statues, and sacred emblems, too heavy or too important to be borne by one person. The same is stated to have been the custom of the Jews in some of their religious processions, as in carrying the ark “to its place, into the oracle of the house, to the most holy place,” when the temple was built by Solomon.

The number of shrines in these processions, and the splendour of the ceremony performed on the occasion, depended on the particular festival they intended to commemorate. In many instances the shrine of the deity of the temple was carried alone, sometimes that of other deities accompanied it, and sometimes that of the king was added; a privilege granted as a peculiar mark of esteem, for some great benefit conferred by him upon his country, or for his piety in having beautified the temples of the gods. Such is the motive mentioned in the description of the Rosetta Stone; which, after enumerating the benefits conferred upon the country by Ptolemy, decrees, as a return for them, “that a statue of the king shall be erected in every temple, in the most conspicuous place; that it shall be called the statue of Ptolemy, the defender of Egypt; and that near it shall be placed the presiding deity, presenting to him the shield of victory. Moreover, that the priests shall minister three times every day to the statues, and prepare for them the sacred dress, and perform the accustomed ceremonies, as in honour of other gods at feasts and festivals. That there shall be erected an image, and golden shrine, of King Ptolemy, in the most honourable of the temples, to be set up in the sanctuary among the other shrines; and that on the great festivals, when the procession of shrines takes place, that of the god Epiphanes shall accompany them; ten royal golden crowns being deposited upon the shrine, with an asp attached to each; and the (double) crown Pshent, which he wore at his coronation, placed in the midst.” (See the Pshent, in Woodcut 258, fig. 10.)

It was also usual to carry this statue of the principal Deity, in whose honour the procession took place, together with that of the king, and the figures of his ancestors, borne in the same manner on men’s shoulders; like the Gods of Babylon mentioned by Jeremiah.

Diodorus speaks of an Ethiopian festival of Jupiter, when his statue was carried in procession, probably to commemorate the supposed refuge of the gods in that country; which may have been a memorial of the flight of the Egyptians with their gods, at the time of the Shepherd invasion, mentioned by Josephus on the authority of Manetho. Diodorus also says, “Homer derived from Egypt his story of the embraces of Jupiter and Juno, and their travelling into Ethiopia, because the Egyptians every year carry Jupiter’s shrine over the river into Africa, and a few days after bring it back again, as if the gods had returned out of Ethiopia. The fiction of their nuptials was taken from the solemnization of these festivals; at which time both their shrines, adorned with all sorts of flowers, are carried by the priests to the top of a mountain.”

The usual number of priests, who performed the duty of bearers, was generally twelve or sixteen, to each shrine. They were accompanied by another of a superior grade, distinguished by a lock of hair pendent on one side of his head, and clad in a leopard skin, the peculiar badge of his rank, who, walking near them, gave directions respecting the procession, its position in the temple, and whatever else was required during the ceremony; which agrees well with the remark of Herodotus, that “each deity had many priests, and one high priest.” Sometimes two priests of the same peculiar grade attended, both during the procession, and after the shrine had been deposited in the temple. These were the Pontiffs, or highest order of priests: they had the title of “Sem,” and enjoyed the privilege of offering sacrifices on all grand occasions.

When the shrine reached the temple, it was received with every demonstration of respect by the officiating priest, who was appointed to do duty upon the day of the festival; and if the king happened to be there, it was his privilege to perform the appointed ceremonies. These consisted of sacrifices and prayers; and the shrine was decked with fresh-gathered flowers and rich garlands. An endless profusion of offerings was placed before it, on several separate altars; and the king, frequently accompanied by his queen, who held a sistrum in one hand, and in the other a bouquet of flowers made up into the particular form required for these religious ceremonies, presented incense and libation. This part of the ceremony being finished, the king proceeded to the presence of the god (represented by his statue), from whom he was supposed to receive a blessing, typified by the sacred tau, the sign of Life. Sometimes the principal contemplar deity was also present, usually the second member of the triad of the place; and it is probable that the position of the statue was near to the shrine, alluded to in the inscription of the Rosetta Stone.


272.              One of the sacred boats or arks, with two figures resembling Cherubim. a and b represent the king; the former under the shape of a sphinx.

Some of the sacred boats, or arks, contained the emblems of life and stability, which, when the veil was drawn aside, were partially seen; others, the figure of the Divine Spirit, Nef, or Nou; and some presented the sacred beetle of the sun, overshadowed by the wings of two figures of the goddess Thmei or Truth, which call to mind the cherubim of the Jews. (Woodcut 272.)


273.              Dedication of the pylon of a temple to Amun by Remeses III., who wears on one side the crown of Upper, on the other that of Lower Egypt. Thebes.

The dedication of the whole or part of a temple was, as may be reasonably supposed, one of the most remarkable solemnities, at which the king presided. And if the actual celebration of the rites practised on the occasion, the laying of the foundation stone, or other ceremonies connected with it, are not represented on the monuments, the importance attached to it is shown by the conspicuous manner in which it is recorded in the sculptures, the ostentation with which it is announced in the dedicatory inscriptions of the monuments themselves, and the answer returned by the god in whose honour it was erected.

Another striking ceremony was the transport of the dedicatory offerings made by the king to the gods, which were carried in great pomp to their respective temples. The king and all the priests attended the procession, clad in their robes of ceremony: and the flag-staffs attached to the great towers of the façade were decked, as on other grand festivals, with banners.

The coronation of the king was a peculiarly imposing ceremony. It was one of the principal subjects represented in the court of the temples; and some idea may be formed of the pomp displayed on the occasion, even from the limited scale on which the monuments are capable of describing it. It is thus represented at Medeenet Haboo.

First comes the king, borne in his shrine or canopy, and seated on a throne, ornamented with the figures of a lion and a sphinx, which is preceded by a hawk. Behind him stand two figures of Truth and Justice, with outspread wings. Twelve Egyptian princes, his sons, bear the shrine; officers wave flabella around the monarch; and others, of the sacerdotal order, attend on either side, carrying his arms and insignia. Four others follow; then six of the king’s sons, behind whom are two scribes and eight attendants of the military class, bearing stools and the steps of the throne.

In another line are members of the sacerdotal order, four others of the king’s sons, fan-bearers, and military scribes; a guard of soldiers bringing up the rear of the procession. Before the shrine, in one line, march six officers bearing sceptres and other insignia in another a scribe reads aloud the contents of a scroll he holds unfolded in his hand, preceded by two of the king’s sons, and two distinguished persons of the military and priestly orders. The rear of both these lines is closed by a pontiff, who, turning round towards the shrine, burns incense before the monarch; and a band of music, composed of the trumpet, drum, double-pipe, and other instruments, with choristers, forms the van of the procession.

The king, alighted from his throne, officiates as priest before the statue of Amun-Khem, or Amun-Re generator; and, still wearing his helmet, he presents libations and incense before the altar, which is loaded with flowers, and other suitable offerings. The statue of the god, attended by officers bearing flabella, is carried on a palanquin, covered with rich drapery, by twenty-two priests; behind it follow others, bringing the table and the altar of the deity. Before the statue is the sacred bull, followed by the king on foot, wearing the cap of the “Lower country.” Apart from the procession itself stands the queen, as a spectator of the ceremony; and before her, a scribe reads a scroll he has unfolded. A priest turns round to offer incense to the white bull; and another, clapping his hands, brings up the rear of a long procession of hieraphori, carrying standards, images, and other sacred emblems; and the foremost bear the statue of the king’s ancestors.

This part of the picture refers to the coronation of the king, who, in the hieroglyphics, is said to have “put on the crown of the Upper and Lower countries;” which the birds, flying to the four sides of the world, are to announce to the gods of the south, north, east, and west.

In the next compartment, the president of the assembly reads a long invocation, the contents of which are contained in the hieroglyphic inscription above; and the six ears of corn which the king, once more wearing his helmet, has cut with a golden sickle, are held out by a priest towards the deity. The white bull and images of the king’s ancestors are deposited in his temple, in the presence of Amun-Khem, the queen still witnessing the ceremony, which is concluded by an offering of incense and libation, made by Remeses to the statue of the god.

Clemens gives an account of an Egyptian procession; which, as it throws some light on similar ceremonies, and is of interest from having some points of resemblance with the one before us, I here transcribe.

“In the solemn pomps of Egypt the singer generally goes first, bearing one of the symbols of music. They say it is his duty to carry two of the books of Hermes; one of which contains hymns of the gods, the other precepts relating to the life of the king. The singer is followed by the Horoscopus, bearing in his hand the measure of time (hour-glass) and the palm (branch), the symbols of astrology (astronomy), whose duty it is to be versed in (or recite) the four books of Hermes, which treat of that science. Of these, one describes the position of the fixed stars, another the conjunctions (eclipses) and illuminations of the sun and moon, and the others their risings. Next comes the Hierogrammat (or sacred scribe), having feathers on his head, and in his hands a book (papyrus), with a ruler (palette) in which is ink, and a reed for writing. It is his duty to understand what are called hieroglyphics, the description of the world, geography, the course of the sun, moon, and planets, the condition of the land of Egypt and the Nile, the nature of the instruments or sacred ornaments, and the places appointed for them, as well as weights and measures, and the things used in holy rites. Then follows the Stolistes, or ‘dresser,’ bearing the cubit of justice and the cup of libation. He knows all subjects relating to education, and the choice of calves for victims, which are comprehended in ten books. These treat of the honours paid to the gods, and of the Egyptian religion, including sacrifice, first fruits, hymns, prayers, processions, holydays, and the like. Last of all comes the prophet, who carries in his bosom a water jar, followed by persons bearing loaves of bread. He presides over all sacred things, and is obliged to know the contents of the ten books called sacerdotal, relating to the gods, the laws, and all the discipline of the priests.”

One of the principal solemnities connected with the coronation was the anointing of the king, and his receiving the emblems of majesty from the gods. The sculptures represent the deities themselves officiating on this as on other similar occasions, in order to convey to the Egyptian people, who beheld these records, a more exalted notion of the special favours bestowed on their monarch.

We, however, who at this distant period are less interested in the direct intercourse between the Pharaohs and the gods, may be satisfied with a more simple interpretation of such subjects, and conclude that it was the priests who performed the ceremony, and bestowed upon the prince the title of “the anointed of the gods.”

With the Egyptians, as with the Jews, the investiture to any sacred office, as that of king or priest, was confirmed by this external sign; and as the Jewish lawgiver mentions the ceremony of pouring oil upon the head of the high priest after he had put on his entire dress, with the mitre and crown, the Egyptians represent the anointing of their priests and kings after they were attired in their full robes, with the cap and crown upon their head. Some of the sculptures introduce a priest pouring oil over the monarch, in the presence of Thoth, Hor-Hat, Seth, and Nilus; which may be considered a representation of the ceremony, before the statues of those gods. The functionary who officiated was the high priest, or prophet, clad in a leopard skin; the same who attended on all occasions which required him to assist, or assume the duties of, the monarch in the temple.

There was also the ceremony of anointing the statues of the gods, which was done with the little finger of the right hand; and another, of pouring from two vases, alternate emblems of life and purity, over the king, in token of purification, previous to his admittance into the presence of the god of the temple. This was performed by Thoth on one side, and the hawk-headed Hor-Hat on the other; sometimes by Hor-Hat and Seth, or by two hawk-headed deities, or by one of these last and the god Nilus. The deities Seth and Horus are also represented placing the crown of the two countries upon the head of the king, saying “Put this cap upon your head like your father Amun-Re:” and the palm branches they hold in their hands allude to the long series of years they grant him to rule over his country. The emblems of Dominion and Majesty, the crook and flagellum of Osiris, have been already given him, and the asp-formed fillet is bound upon his head.

Another mode of investing the sovereign with the diadem is figured on the apex of some obelisks, and on other monuments, where the god, in whose honour they were raised, puts the crown upon his head as he kneels before him, with the announcement that he “grants him dominion over the whole world.” Goddesses, in like manner, placed upon the heads of queens the peculiar insignia they wore; which were two long feathers, with the globe and horns of Athor; and they presented them their peculiar sceptre.


274.              Sceptre of a Queen.

The custom of anointing was not confined to the appointment of kings and priests to the sacred offices they held: it was the ordinary token of welcome to guests in every party at the house of a friend; and in Egypt, no less than in Judæa, the metaphorical expression, “anointed with the oil of gladness,” was fully understood, and applied to the ordinary occurrences of life. It was not confined to the living; the dead were made to participate in it, as if sensible of the token of esteem thus bestowed upon them; and a grateful survivor, in giving an affectionate token of gratitude to a regretted friend, neglected not this last unction of his mortal remains. Even the head of the bandaged mummy, and the case which contained it, were anointed with oils and the most precious ointments.

Another ceremony, represented in the temples, was the blessing bestowed by the gods on the king, at the moment of his assuming the reins of government. They laid their hands upon him; and, presenting him with the symbol of life, they promised that his reign should be long and glorious, and that he should enjoy tranquillity, with certain victory over his enemies. If about to undertake an expedition against foreign nations, they gave him the falchion of victory, to secure the defeat of the people whose country he was about to invade, saying, “Take this weapon, and smite with it the heads of the impure Gentiles.”

To show the special favour he enjoyed from heaven, the gods were even represented admitting him into their company and communing with him; and sometimes Thoth, with other deities, taking him by the hand, led him into the presence of the great Triad, or of the presiding divinity, of the temple. He was welcomed with suitable expressions of approbation; and on this, as on other occasions, the sacred tau, or sign of life, was presented to him,—a symbol which, with the sceptre of purity, was usually placed in the hands of the gods. These two were deemed the greatest gifts bestowed by the deity on man.

The origin of the tau I cannot precisely determine; but this curious fact is connected with it in later times,—that the early Christians of Egypt adopted it in lieu of the cross, which was afterwards substituted for it, prefixing it to inscriptions in the same manner as the cross in later times; and numerous inscriptions headed by the tau are preserved to the present day in early Christian sepulchres at the Great Oasis.


275.              Tau, or Sign of Life.

The triumph of the king was a grand solemnity. Flattering to the national pride of the Egyptians, it awakened those feelings of enthusiasm which the celebration of victory naturally inspires, and led them to commemorate it with the greatest pomp. When the victorious monarch, returning to Egypt after a glorious campaign, approached the cities which lay on his way, from the confines of the country to the capital, the inhabitants flocked to meet him, and with welcome acclamations greeted his arrival and the success of his arms. The priests and chief people of each place advanced with garlands and bouquets of flowers; the principal person present addressed him in an appropriate speech; and as the troops defiled through the streets, or passed without the walls, the people followed with acclamations, uttering earnest thanksgivings to the gods, the protectors of Egypt, and praying them for ever to continue the same marks of favour to their monarch and their nation.

Arrived at the capital, they went immediately to the temple, where they returned thanks to the gods, and performed the customary sacrifices on this important occasion. The whole army attended, and the order of march continued the same as on entering the city. A corps of Egyptians, consisting of chariots and infantry, led the van in close column, followed by the allies of the different nations, who had shared the dangers of the field and the honour of victory. In the centre marched the body guards, the king’s sons, the military scribes, the royal arm-bearers, and the staff corps, in the midst of whom was the monarch himself, mounted in a splendid car, attended by his fan-bearers on foot, bearing over him the state flabella. Next followed other regiments of infantry, with their respective banners; and the rear was closed by a body of chariots. The prisoners, tied together with ropes, were conducted by some of the king’s sons, or by the chief officers of the staff, at the side of the royal car. The king himself frequently held the cord which bound them, as he drove slowly in the procession; and two or more chiefs were sometimes suspended beneath the axle of his chariot, contrary to the usual humane principles of the Egyptians, who seem to have refrained from unnecessary cruelty to their captives, extending this feeling so far as to rescue, even in the heat of battle, a defenceless enemy from a watery grave.

Having reached the precincts of the temple, the guards and royal attendants selected to be the representatives of the whole army entered the courts, the rest of the troops, too numerous for admission, being drawn up before the entrance; and the king, alighting from his car, prepared to lead his captives to the shrine of the god. Military bands played the favourite airs of the country; and the numerous standards of the different regiments, the banners floating in the wind, the bright lustre of arms, the immense concourse of people, and the grandeur of the lofty towers of the temple, decked with their bright-coloured flags streaming above the cornice, presented an imposing scene. But the most striking feature of this pompous ceremony was the brilliant cortége of the monarch, who was either borne in his chair of state by the principal officers of state under a rich canopy, or walked on foot, overshadowed with rich flabella and fans of waving plumes. As he approached the inner gateway, a long procession of priests advanced to meet him, dressed in their robes of office; censers full of incense were burnt before him; and a sacred scribe read from a papyrus roll the glorious deeds of the victorious monarch, and the tokens he had received of the divine favour. They then accompanied him into the presence of the presiding deity of the place; and having performed sacrifice, and offered suitable thanksgivings, he dedicated the spoil of the conquered enemy, and expressed his gratitude for the privilege of laying before the feet of the god, the giver of victory, those prisoners he had brought to the vestibule of the divine abode.

In the mean time, the troops without the sacred precincts were summoned by sound of trumpet, to attend the sacrifice prepared by the priests, in the name of the whole army, for the benefits they had received from the gods, the success of their arms, and their own preservation in the hour of danger. Each regiment marched up by turn to the altar, temporarily raised for the occasion, to the sound of the drum, the soldiers carrying in their hand a twig of olive, with the arms of their respective corps; but the heavy-armed soldier laid aside his shield on this occasion, as if to show the security he enjoyed in the presence of the deity. An ox was then killed; and wine, incense, and the customary offerings of cakes, fruit, vegetables, joints of meat, and birds, were presented to the god. Every soldier deposited the twig of olive he carried at the altar; and as the trumpet summoned them, so also it gave the signal for each regiment to withdraw, and cede its place to another. The ceremony being over, the king went in state to his palace, accompanied by the troops; and having distributed rewards to them, and eulogised their conduct in the field, he gave his orders to the commanders of the different corps, and they withdrew to their cantonments, or to the duties to which they were appointed.

Of the fixed festivals, one of the most remarkable was the celebration of the grand assemblies, or panegyries, held in the great halls of the principal temples, at which the king presided in person. That they were of the greatest importance is abundantly proved by the frequent mention of them in the sculptures; and that the post of president of the assemblies was the highest possible honour may be inferred, as well from its being enjoyed by the sovereign alone of all men, as from its being assigned to the deity himself in these legends: “Phrah (Pharaoh), lord of the panegyries, like Re,” or “like his father Pthah;” which so frequently occur on the monuments of Thebes and Memphis.



Their celebration was fixed to certain periods of the year; as were the festivals of the new moons, and those recorded in the great calendar, sculptured on the exterior of the S.W. wall of Medeenet Haboo, which took place during several successive days of each month, and were even repeated in honour of different deities every day during some months, and attended by the king in person.

Another important religious ceremony is often alluded to in the sculptures, which appears to be connected with the assemblies just mentioned. In this the king is represented running, with a vase or some emblem in one hand, and the flagellum of Osiris, a type of majesty, in the other, as if hastening to enter the hall where the panegyries were held; and two figures of him are frequently introduced, one crowned with the cap of the Upper, the other with that of the Lower country, as they stand beneath a canopy indicative of the hall of assembly. The same deities, who usually preside on the anointing of the king, present him with the sign of life, and bear before him the palm branch, on which the years of the assemblies are noted. Before him stands the goddess Milt, bearing on her head the water-plants, her emblem; and around are numerous emblems appropriated to this subject. The monarch sometimes runs into the presence of the god bearing two vases, which appears to be the commencement of, or connected with, this ceremony; and the whole may be the anniversary of the foundation of the temple, or of the sovereign’s reign. An ox (or cow) is in some instances represented running with the king, on the same occasion.

The birthdays of the kings were celebrated with great pomp. They were looked upon as holy; no business was done upon them; and all classes indulged in the festivities suitable to the occasion. Every Egyptian attached much importance to the day, and even to the hour of his birth; and it is probable that, as in Persia, each individual kept his birthday with great rejoicings, welcoming his friends with all the amusements of society, and a more than usual profusion of the delicacies of the table.

They had many other public holydays, when the court of the king and all public offices were closed. This was sometimes owing to a superstitious belief of their being unlucky; and such was the prejudice against the “third day of the Epact, the birthday of Typho, that the sovereign neither transacted any business upon it, nor even suffered himself to take any refreshment till the evening.” Other fasts were also observed by the king and the priesthood, out of respect to certain solemn purifications they deemed it their duty to undergo for the service of religion.

Among the ordinary rites the most noted, because the most frequent, were the daily sacrifices offered in the temple by the sovereign pontiff. It was customary for him to attend there early every morning, after he had examined and settled his epistolary correspondence relative to the affairs of state; and the service began by the high priest reading a prayer for the welfare of the monarch, in the presence of the people.

Of the anniversary festivals one of the most remarkable was the Niloa, or invocation of the blessings of the inundation, offered to the tutelary deity of the Nile. According to Heliodorus, it was one of the principal festivals of the Egyptians. It took place about the summer solstice, when the river began to rise; and the anxiety with which they looked forward to a plentiful inundation induced them to celebrate it with more than usual honour. Libanius asserts that these rites were deemed of so much importance by the Egyptians, that unless they were performed at the proper season, and in a becoming manner, by the persons appointed to this duty, they felt persuaded that the Nile would refuse to rise and inundate the land. Their full belief in the efficacy of the ceremony, secured its annual performance on a grand scale. Men and women assembled from all parts of the country in the towns of their respective nomes, grand festivities were proclaimed, and all the enjoyments of the table were united with the solemnity of a holy festival. Music, the dance, and appropriate hymns, marked the respect they felt for the deity; and a wooden statue of the river god was carried by the priests through the villages in solemn procession, that all might appear to be honoured by his presence, while invoking the blessings he was about to confer.

Another festival, particularly welcomed by the Egyptian peasants, and looked upon as a day of great rejoicing, was (if it may be so called) the harvest home, or the close of the labours of the year, and the preparation of the land for its future crops by the inundation; when, as Diodorus tells us, the husbandmen indulged in recreations of every kind, and showed their gratitude for the benefits the deity had conferred upon them by the blessings of the inundation. This, and other festivals of the peasantry, I shall notice in treating of the agriculture of Egypt.

Games were also celebrated in honour of certain gods, in which wrestling and other gymnastic exercises were practised.

The investiture of a chief was a ceremony of considerable importance, when the post conferred was connected with any high dignity about the person of the monarch, in the army, or the priesthood. It took place in the presence of the sovereign seated on his throne; and two priests, having arrayed the candidate in a long loose vesture, placed necklaces round his neck. One of these ceremonies frequently occurs in the monuments, which was sometimes performed immediately after a victory; in which case we may conclude that the honour was granted in return for distinguished services in the field: and as the individual, on all occasions, holds the flabella, crook, and other insignia of the office of fan-bearer, it appears to have been either the appointment to that post, or to some high command in the army.

A similar mode of investiture appears to have been adopted in all appointments to the high offices of state, both of a civil and military kind. In this, as in many customs detailed in the sculptures, we find an interesting illustration of a ceremony mentioned in the Bible, which describes Pharaoh taking a ring from his hand and putting it on Joseph’s hand, arraying him in vestures of fine linen, and putting a gold chain about his neck.

In a tomb, opened at Thebes by Mr. Hoskins, another instance occurs of this investiture to the post of fan-bearer; in which the two attendants, or inferior priests, are engaged in clothing him with the robes of his new office. One puts on the necklace, the other arranges his dress, a fillet being already bound round his head; and he appears to wear gloves upon his uplifted hands. In the next part of the same picture (for, as is often the case, it presents two actions and two periods of time) the individual holding the insignia of fan-bearer, and followed by the two priests, presents himself before the king, who holds forth his hand to him to touch, or perhaps to kiss.

The office of fan-bearer to the king was a highly honourable post, which none but the royal princes, or the sons of the first nobility, were permitted to hold. These constituted a principal part of his staff; and in the field they either attended on the monarch to receive his orders, or were despatched to take the command of a division; some having the rank of generals of cavalry, others of heavy infantry or archers, according to the service to which they belonged. They had the privilege of presenting the prisoners to the king, after the victory had been gamed, announcing at the same time the amount of the enemy’s slain, and the booty that had been taken; and those, whose turn it was to attend upon the king’s person, as soon as the enemy had been vanquished, resigned their command to the next in rank, and returned to their post of fan-bearers. The office was divided into two grades,—the one serving on the right, the other on the left, hand of the king; the most honourable post being given to those of the highest rank, or to those most esteemed for their services. A certain number were always on duty; and they were required to attend during the grand solemnities of the temple, and on every occasion when the monarch went out in state, or transacted public business at home.

At Medeenet Haboo is a remarkable instance of the ceremony of carrying the sacred boat of Pthah-Sokari-Osiris, which may represent the funeral of Osiris. It is frequently introduced in the sculptures; and in one of the tombs of Thebes this solemnity occurs, which, though on a smaller scale than on the walls of Medeenet Haboo, offers some interesting peculiarities. First comes the boat, carried as usual by several priests, superintended by the pontiff, clad in a leopard skin; after which two hieraphori, each bearing a long staff, surmounted by a hawk; then a man beating the tambourine, behind whom is a flower with the stalk bound round with ivy (or the periploca, which so much resembles it). These are followed by two hieraphori (or bearers of holy emblems), carrying each a staff with a jackal on the top, and another carrying a flower; behind whom is a priest turning round to offer incense to the emblem of Nofre-Atmoo. The latter is placed horizontally upon six columns, between each of which stands a human figure, with uplifted arms, either in the act of adoration, or aiding to support the sacred emblem; and behind it is an image of the king kneeling; the whole borne on the usual staves by several priests, attended by a pontiff in his leopard-skin dress. In this ceremony, as in some of the tales related of Osiris, we may trace those analogies which led the Greeks to suggest the resemblance between that deity and their Bacchus; as the tambourine, the ivy-bound flower or thyrsus, and the leopard skin, which last recalls the leopards that drew his car. The spotted skin of the nebris, or fawn, may also be traced in that suspended near Osiris in the region of Amenti.

At Medeenet Haboo the procession is on a more splendid scale: the ark of Sokari is borne by sixteen priests, accompanied by two pontiffs, one clad in the usual leopard skin; and Remeses himself officiates on the occasion. The king also performs the singular ceremony of holding a rope at its centre, the two ends being supported by four priests, eight of his sons, and four other chiefs; before whom two priests turn round to offer incense, while a sacred scribe reads the contents of a papyrus he holds in his hands. These are preceded by one of the hieraphori bearing the hawk on a staff decked with banners (the standard of the king, or of Horus), and by the emblem of Nofre-Atmoo, borne by eighteen priests, the figures standing between the columns, over which it is laid, being of kings, and the columns themselves being surmounted by the heads of hawks.

In the same ceremony at Medeenet Haboo, it appears that the king, when holding the rope, has the cubit in his hand, and, when following the ark, the cup of libation; which calls to mind the office of the Stolistes mentioned by Clemens, “having in his hand the cubit of justice, and the cup of libation;” and he, in like manner, is preceded by the sacred scribe.

The mode of carrying the sacred arks on poles borne by priests, or by the nobles of the land, was extended to the statues of the gods, and other sacred objects belonging to the temples. The former, as Macrobius states, were frequently placed in a case or canopy; and the same writer is correct in stating that the chief people of the nome assisted in this service, even the sons of the king being proud of so honourable an employment. What he afterwards says of their “being carried forward according to divine inspiration, whithersoever the deity urges them, and not by their own will,” cannot fail to call to mind the supposed dictation of a secret influence, by which the bearers of the dead, in the funeral processions of modern Egypt, pretend to be actuated. To such an extent do they carry this superstitious belief of their ancestors, that I have seen them in their solemn march suddenly stop, and then run violently through the streets, at the risk of throwing the body off the bier, pretending that they were obliged, by the irresistible will of the deceased, to visit a certain mosk, or seek the blessing of a particular saint.

Few other processions of any great importance are represented in the sculptures; nor can it be expected that the monuments would give more than a small proportion of the numerous festivals, or ceremonies, which took place in the country.

Many of the religious festivals were indicative of some peculiar attribute or supposed property of the deity in whose honour they were celebrated. One, mentioned by Herodotus, was emblematic of the generative principle, and the same that appears to be alluded to by Plutarch under the name of Paamylia, which he says bore a resemblance to one of the Greek ceremonies. The assertion, however, of these writers, that such figures belonged to Osiris, is contradicted by the sculptures, which show them to have been emblematic of the god Khem, or Pan; and this is confirmed by another observation of the latter writer, that the leaf of the fig-tree represented the deity of that festival, as well as the land of Egypt. The tree does indeed represent Egypt, and always occurs on the altar of Khem; but it is not in any way connected with Osiris, and the statues mentioned by Plutarch evidently refer to the Egyptian Pan.

According to Herodotus, the only two festivals, in which it was lawful to sacrifice pigs, were those of the Moon and Bacchus (or Osiris): the reason of which restriction he attributes to a sacred reason, which he does not think it right to mention. “In sacrificing a pig to the Moon, they killed it; and when they had put together the end of the tail, the spleen, and the caul, and covered them with all the fat from the inside of the animal, they burnt them; the rest of the victim being eaten on the day of the full Moon, which was the same on which the sacrifice was offered, for on no other day were they allowed to eat the flesh of the pig. Poor people who had barely the means of subsistence made a paste figure of a pig, which being baked, they offered as a sacrifice.” The same kind of substitute was, doubtless, made for other victims, by those who could not afford to purchase them: and some of the small glass and clay figures of animals found in the tombs, have probably served for this purpose. “On the fête of Bacchus, every one immolated a pig before the door of his house, at the hour of dinner; he then gave it back to the person of whom it had been bought.” “The Egyptians,” adds the historian, “celebrate the rest of this fête nearly in the same manner as the Greeks, with the exception of the sacrifice of pigs.”

The procession on this occasion was headed, as usual, by music, a flute-player, according to Herodotus, leading the van: and the first sacred emblem they carried was a hydria, or water-pitcher. A festival was also held on the 17th of Athyr, and three succeeding days, in honour of Osiris, during which they exposed to view a gilded ox, the emblem of that deity; and commemorated what they called the “loss of Osiris.” Another followed in honour of the same deity, after an interval of six months, or 179 days, “upon the 19th of Pachon; when they marched in procession towards the sea-side, whither, likewise, the priest and other proper officers carried the sacred chest, inclosing a small boat or vessel of gold, into which they first poured some fresh water, and then all present cried out with a loud voice, ‘Osiris is found.’ This ceremony being ended, they threw a little fresh mould, together with rich odours and spices, into the water, mixing the whole mass together, and working it up into a little image in the shape of a crescent. The image was afterwards dressed and adorned with a proper habit; and the whole was intended to intimate that they looked upon these gods as the essence and power of Earth and Water.”

Another festival in honour of Osiris was held “on the new Moon of the month Phamenoth, which fell in the beginning of spring, called the entrance of Osiris into the Moon;” and on the 11th of Tybi (or the beginning of January) was celebrated the fête of Isis’s return from Phœnicia, when cakes, having a hippopotamus bound stamped upon them, were offered in her honour, to commemorate the victory over Typho. A certain rite was also performed in connection with the fabulous history of Osiris, in which it was customary to throw a cord in the midst of the assembly and then chop it to pieces; the supposed purport of which was to record the desertion of Thueris, the concubine of Typho, and her delivery from a serpent, which the soldiers killed with their swords as it pursued her in her flight to join the army of Horus.

Among the ceremonies connected with Osiris, the fête of Apis holds a conspicuous place.

For Osiris was also worshipped under the form of Apis, the Sacred Bull of Memphis, or as a human figure with a bull’s head, accompanied by the name “Apis-Osiris.” According to Plutarch, “Apis was a fair and beautiful image of the Soul of Osiris;” and the same author tells us that “Mnevis, the Sacred Ox of Heliopolis, was also dedicated to Osiris, and honoured by the Egyptians with a reverence next to that paid to Apis, whose sire some pretend him to be.” This agrees with the statement of Diodorus, who says, Apis and Mnevis were both sacred to Osiris, and worshipped as gods throughout the whole of Egypt; and Plutarch suggests that, from these well-known representations of Osiris, the people of Elis and Argos derived the idea of Bacchus with an ox’s head; Bacchus being reputed to be the same as Osiris. Herodotus, in describing him, says, “Apis, also called Epaphus, is a young bull, whose mother can have no other offspring, and who is reported by the Egyptians to conceive from lightning sent from heaven, and thus to produce the god Apis. He is known by certain marks: his hair is black; on his forehead is a white triangular spot, on his back an eagle, and a beetle under his tongue, and the hair of his tail is double.” Ovid represents him of various colours. Strabo says his forehead and some parts of his body are of a white colour, the rest being black; “by which signs they fix upon a new one to succeed the other, when he dies;” and Plutarch thinks that, “on account of the great resemblance they imagine between Osiris and the Moon, his more bright and shining parts being shadowed and obscured by those that are of a darker hue, they call the Apis the living image of Osiris, and suppose him begotten by a ray of generative light, flowing from the moon, and fixing upon his mother, at a time when she was strongly disposed for it.”

Pliny speaks of Apis “having a white spot in the form of a crescent upon his right side, and a lump under his tongue in the form of a beetle.” Ammianus Marcellinus says the white crescent on his right side was the principal sign, and Ælian mentions twenty-nine marks, by which he was recognized, each referable to some mystic signification. But he pretends that the Egyptians did not allow those given by Herodotus and Aristagoras. Some suppose him entirely black; and others contend that certain marks, as the predominating black colour, and the beetle on his tongue, show him to be consecrated to the sun, as the crescent to the moon. Ammianus and others say that “Apis was sacred to the Moon, Mnevis to the Sun;” and most authors describe the latter of a black colour.

It is difficult to decide if Herodotus is correct respecting the peculiar marks of Apis. There is, however, evidence from the bronzes, found in Egypt, that the vulture (not eagle) on his back was one of his characteristics, supplied, no doubt, like many others, by the priests themselves; who probably put him to much inconvenience, and pain too, to make the marks and hairs conform to his description.


277.              In the possession of Miss Rogers

1. Bronze figure of Apis. 2. The marks on his back.

To Apis belonged all the clean oxen, chosen for sacrifice; the necessary requisite for which, according to Herodotus, was, that they should be entirely free from black spots, or even a single black hair; though, as I shall have occasion to remark in treating of the sacrifices, this statement of the historian is far from accurate. It may also be doubted if the name Epaphus, by which he says Apis was called by the Greeks in their language, was of Greek origin.

He is called in the hieroglyphic legends Hapi; and the bull, the demonstrative and figurative sign following his name, is accompanied by the crux ansata, or emblem of life. It has seldom any ornament on its head; but the figure of Apis-(or Hapi-) Osiris generally wears the globe of the sun, and the Asp, the symbol of divine majesty; which are also given to the bronze figures of this bull.


278.              Hieroglyphical name of Apis.

Memphis was the place where Apis was kept, and where his worship was particularly observed. He was not merely looked upon as an emblem, but, as Pliny and Cicero say, was deemed “a god by the Egyptians:” and Strabo calls “Apis the same as Osiris.” Psammaticus there erected a grand court (ornamented with figures in lieu of columns 12 cubits in height, forming an inner peristyle), in which he was kept when exhibited in public. Attached to it were the two stables (“delubra,” or “thalami”), mentioned by Pliny: and Strabo says, “Before the enclosure where Apis is kept, is a vestibule, in which also the mother of the sacred bull is fed; and into this vestibule Apis is introduced, in order to be shown to strangers. After being brought out for a little while, he is again taken back; at other times he is only seen through a window.” “The temple of Apis is close to that of Vulcan; which last is remarkable for its architectural beauty, its extent, and the richness of its decoration.”

The festival in honour of Apis lasted seven days; on which occasion a large concourse of people assembled at Memphis. The priests then led the sacred bull in solemn procession, all people coming forward from their houses to welcome him as he passed; and Pliny and Solinus affirm, that children who smelt his breath were thought to be thereby gifted with the power of predicting future events.

Diodorus derives the worship of Apis from the belief of “the soul of Osiris having migrated into this animal, who was thus supposed to manifest himself to man through successive ages; though some report that the members of Osiris, when killed by Typho, having been deposited in a wooden ox, enveloped in byssine cloths, gave the name to the city of Busiris, and established its worship there.”

When the Apis died, certain priests, chosen for this duty, went in quest of another, who was known from the signs mentioned in the sacred books. As soon as he was found, they took him to the city of the Nile, preparatory to his removal to Memphis, where he was kept 40 days; during which period women alone were permitted to see him. These 40 days being completed, he was placed in a boat, with a golden cabin prepared to receive him, and he was conducted in state upon the Nile to Memphis.

Pliny and Ammianus, however, declare that they led the bull Apis to the fountain of the priests, and drowned him with much ceremony, as soon as the time prescribed in the sacred books was fulfilled. This Plutarch limits to 25 years (“the square of five, and the same number as the letters of the Egyptian alphabet”), beyond which it was forbidden that he should live; and having put him to death, they sought another to succeed him. His body was embalmed, and a grand funeral procession took place at Memphis, when his coffin, “placed on a sledge, was followed by the priests,” “dressed in the spotted skins of fawns (leopards), bearing the thyrsus in their hands, uttering the same cries, and making the same gesticulations as the votaries of Bacchus during the ceremonies in honour of that god.”

When the Apis died a natural death, his obsequies were celebrated on the most magnificent scale; and to such extravagance was this carried, that those who had the office of taking charge of him were often ruined by the heavy expenses entailed upon them. On one occasion, during the reign of the first Ptolemy, upwards of 50 talents were borrowed to defray the necessary cost of his funeral; “and in our time,” says Diodorus, “the curators of other sacred animals have expended 100 talents in their burial.”

As soon as he was buried, permission was given to the priests to enter the temple of Sarapis, though previously forbidden during the whole festival.

The burial-place of the Apis bulls has lately been discovered by M. Mariette, near Memphis. It consists of an arched gallery hewn in the rock, about 20 feet in height and breadth, and 2000 feet in length (besides a lateral gallery). On each side is a series of chambers, or recesses, which might be called sepulchral stalls; every one containing a large sarcophagus of granite, 15 feet by 8, in which the body of a sacred bull was deposited; and when visited by Mr. Harris (in March, 1852) 30 sarcophagi had been already found. One only had an inscription, with the blank oval of a king; but on the walls were several tablets, and fragments of others lay on the ground, containing dedications to Apis, in behalf of some person deceased; one with the name of Amasis, and another of Ptolemaïc time. Mention was also made of the birth, death, and burial of the bulls. They mostly lived 17 to 20 years (25 being the prescribed limit of their life), so that the 30 would only go back to about the beginning of the 26th dynasty. Many more have, therefore, to be discovered.

Before this is a paved road, with lions ranged on each side, about 8 feet high, which forms the approach; and before this again is a temple, supposed to be the Sarapeum, with a sort of vestibule; and at the door-way, between these two, are, on either side, a crouched lion and a tablet, on one of which king Nectanebo, followed by a priest of Apis-Osiris (Sarapis?), is represented making an offering; and in the upper line are eight deities, with an altar before them—Amunra, Maut, Khons, Horus, Athor, Mandoo (Month), Khem, and Osiris. In the vestibule are statues of 11 divinities, of Greek form (one of whom is Jupiter), seated in a half circle. These are of Greek or Roman time; but near the spot have been found the names of Amyrtæus, and of some late unknown Egyptian kings; and that of the second Remeses on the surface of the ground above.

From whatever cause the death of Apis took place, the people performed a public lamentation, as if Osiris himself had died: and this mourning lasted until the other Apis, his successor, had been found. They then commenced the rejoicings, which were celebrated with an enthusiasm equal to the grief exhibited during the previous mourning.

Of the discovery of a new Apis, Ælian gives the following account:—“As soon as a report is circulated that the Egyptian god has manifested himself, certain of the sacred scribes, well versed in the mystical marks, known to them by tradition, approach the spot where the divine cow has deposited her calf, and then (following the ancient ordonnance of Hermes) feed him with milk during four months, in a house facing the rising sun. When this period has passed, the sacred scribes and prophets resort to the dwelling of Apis, at the time of the new moon, and placing him in a boat prepared for the purpose, convey him to Memphis, where he has a convenient and agreeable abode, with pleasure grounds, and ample space for wholesome exercise. Female companions of his own species are provided for him, the most beautiful that can be found, kept in apartments, to which he has access when he wishes. He drinks out of a well or fountain of clear water; for it is not thought right to give him the water of the Nile, which is considered too fattening.

“It would be tedious to relate what pompous processions and sacred ceremonies the Egyptians perform, on the celebration of the rising of the Nile, at the fête of the Theophania, in honour of this god, or what dances, festivities, and joyful assemblies are appointed on the occasion, in the towns and in the country.” He then says, “the man from whose herd the divine beast has sprung, is the happiest of mortals, and is looked upon with admiration by all people;” which refutes his previous statement respecting the divine cow: and the assertions of other writers, as well as probability, show that it was not the mother which was chosen to produce a calf with particular marks, but that the Apis was selected from its having them. The honour conferred on the cow which bore it was retrospective, being given her after the Apis with its proper marks “had been found” by the priests; and this is consistent with the respect paid to the possessor of the favoured herd, in which the sacred bull had been discovered. “Apis,” continues the naturalist, “is an excellent interpretation of futurity. He does not employ virgins, or old women, sitting on a tripod, like some other gods, nor require that they should be intoxicated with the sacred potion; but inspires boys, who play around his stable, with a divine impulse, enabling them to pour out predictions in perfect rhythm.”

The Egyptians not only paid divine honours to the bull Apis, but, considering him the living image and representative of Osiris, they consulted him as an oracle, and drew from his actions good or bad omens. They were in the habit of offering him any kind of food with the hand: if he took it, the answer was considered favourable; if he refused, it was thought to be a sinister omen. Pliny and Ammianus observe, that he refused what the unfortunate Germanicus presented to him; and the death of that prince, which happened shortly after, was thought to confirm most unequivocally the truth of those presages. The Egyptians also drew omens respecting the welfare of their country, according to the stable in which he happened to be. To these two stables he had free access; and when he spontaneously entered one, it foreboded benefits to Egypt, as the other the reverse; and many other tokens were derived from accidental circumstances connected with this sacred animal.

Pausanias says, that those who wished to consult Apis first burnt incense on an altar, filling the lamps with oil which were lighted there, and depositing a piece of money on the altar to the right of the statue of the god. Then placing their mouth near his ear, in order to consult him, they asked whatever question they wished. This done, they withdrew, covering their two ears until they were outside the sacred precincts of the temple; and there listening to the first expression any one uttered, they drew from it the desired omen.

Children, also, according to Pliny and Solinus, who attended in great numbers during the processions in honour of the divine bull, received the gift of foretelling future events; and the same authors mention a superstitious belief at Memphis, of the influence of Apis upon the Crocodile, during the seven days when his birth was celebrated. On this occasion, a gold and silver patera was annually thrown into the Nile, at a spot called from its form the “Bottle;” and while this festival was held, no one was in danger of being attacked by crocodiles, though bathing carelessly in the river. But it could no longer be done with impunity after the sixth hour of the eighth day. The hostility of that animal to man was then observed invariably to return, as if permitted by the deity to resume its habits.

Apis was usually kept in one or other of the two stables—seldom going out, except into the court attached to them, where strangers came to visit him. But on certain occasions he was conducted through the town with great pomp. He was then escorted by numerous guards, who made a way amidst the crowd, and prevented the approach of the profane; and a chorus of children singing hymns in his honour headed the procession.

The greatest attention was paid to the health of Apis; they took care to obtain for him the most wholesome food; and they rejoiced if they could preserve his life to the full extent prescribed by law. Plutarch also notices his being forbidden to drink the water of the Nile, in consequence of its having a peculiarly fattening property. “For,” he adds, “they endeavour to prevent fatness, as well in Apis, as in themselves; always studious that their bodies may sit as light about their souls as possible, in order that their mortal part may not oppress and weigh down the more divine and immortal.”

Many fêtes were held at different seasons of the year; for, as Herodotus observes, far from being contented with one festival, the Egyptians celebrate annually a very great number: of which that of Diana (Pasht), kept at the city of Bubastis, holds the first rank, and is performed with the greatest pomp. Next to it is that of Isis, at Busiris, a city situated in the middle of the Delta, with a very large temple, consecrated to that Goddess, the Ceres of the Greeks. The third in importance is the fête of Minerva (Neith), held at Saïs; the fourth, of the Sun, at Heliopolis; the fifth, of Latona in the city of Buto; and the sixth is that performed at Papremis, in honour of Mars.

In going to celebrate the festival of Diana at Bubastis, it was customary to repair thither by water; and parties of men and women were crowded together on that occasion in numerous boats, without distinction of age or sex. During the whole of the journey, several women played on crotala (clappers) and some men on the flute; others accompanying them with the voice and the clapping of hands, as was usual at musical parties in Egypt. Whenever they approached a town, the boats were brought near to it; and while the singing continued, some of the women, in the most abusive manner, scoffed at those on the shore as they passed by.

Arrived at Bubastis, they performed the rites of the festival, by the sacrifice of a great number of victims; and the quantity of wine consumed on the occasion was said to be more than during all the rest of the year. The number of persons present was reckoned by the inhabitants of the place to be 700,000, without including children; and it is probable that the appearance presented by this concourse of people, the scenes which occurred, and the picturesque groups they presented, were not altogether unlike those witnessed at the modern fêtes of Tanta and Dessook in the Delta, in honour of the Sayd el Beddawee, and Shekh Ibrahim e’ Dessookee.

The number stated by the historian is beyond all probability, notwithstanding the population of ancient Egypt; and cannot fail to call to mind the 70,000 pilgrims, reported by the Moslems to be annually present at Mekkeh; whose explanation of the mode adopted, for keeping up that exact number, is very ingenious; every deficiency being supplied by a mysterious complement of angels, obligingly presenting themselves for the purpose; and some contrivance of the kind may have suggested itself to the ancient Egyptians, at the festival of Bubastis.

The fête of Isis was performed with great magnificence. The votaries of the Goddess prepared themselves beforehand by fastings and prayers, after which they proceeded to sacrifice an ox. When slain, the thighs and upper part of the haunches, the shoulders, and neck were cut off; and the body was filled with unleavened cakes of pure flour, with honey, dried raisins, figs, incense, myrrh, and other odorific substances. It was then burnt, and a quantity of oil was poured on the fire during the process. In the mean time those present scourged themselves in honour of Osiris, uttering lamentations around the burnt offering; and this part of the ceremony being concluded, they partook of the remains of the sacrifice.

This festival was celebrated at Busiris, to commemorate the death of Osiris, who was reported to have been buried there, as well as in other places, and whose tomb gave the name to the city. It was probably on this occasion that the branch of absinthium, mentioned by Pliny, was carried by the priests of Isis; and dogs were made to head the procession, to commemorate the recovery of his body.

Another festival of Isis was held at harvest time, when the Egyptians throughout the country offered the first-fruits of the earth, and with doleful lamentations presented them at her altar. On this occasion she seems to answer to the Ceres of the Greeks, (as has been observed by Herodotus); and the multiplicity of names she bore may account for the different capacities in which she was worshipped, and remove the difficulty any change appears to present in the wife and sister of Osiris. One similarity is observable between this last and the fête celebrated at Busiris—that the votaries presented their offerings in the guise of mourners; and the first-fruits had probably a direct reference to Osiris, in connection with one of those allegories which represented him as the beneficent property of the Nile.

The festival of Minerva at Saïs was performed on a particular night, when every one, who intended to be present at the sacrifice, was required to light a number of lamps in the open air around his house. They were small vases filled with salt and oil, on which a wick floated, and being lighted continued to burn all night. They called it the Festival of Burning Lamps. It was not observed at Saïs alone: every Egyptian who could not attend in person was required to observe the ceremony of lighting lamps, in whatever part of the country he happened to be; and it was considered of the greatest consequence to do honour to the deity, by the proper performance of this rite.

On the sacred lake of Saïs they represented, probably on the same occasion, the allegorical history of Osiris, which the Egyptians deemed the most solemn mystery of their religion, and which Herodotus always mentions with great caution.

The lake of Saïs still exists, near the modern town of Sa-el-Hagar; and the walls and ruins of the town stand high above the level of the plain.

Those who went to Heliopolis, and to Buto, merely offered sacrifices. At Papremis the rites were much the same as in other places; but when the Sun went down, a body of priests made certain gestures about the statue of Mars, while others, in greater numbers, armed with sticks, took up a position at the entrance of the temple. A numerous crowd of persons, amounting to upwards of 1000 men, armed with sticks, then presented themselves with a view of performing their vows; but no sooner did the priests proceed to draw forward the statue, which had been placed in a small wooden gilded shrine, upon a four-wheeled car, than they were opposed by those in the vestibule, who endeavoured to prevent their entrance into the temple. Each party attacked its opponents with sticks; when an affray ensued, which, as Herodotus observes, must, in spite of all the assertions of the Egyptians to the contrary, have been frequently attended with serious consequences, and even with loss of life.

Another festival, mentioned by Herodotus, is said to have been founded on a mysterious story of King Rhampsinitus, of which he witnessed the celebration.

On that occasion the priests chose one of their number, whom they dressed in a peculiar robe, made for the purpose on the very day of the ceremony, and then conducted, with his eyes bound, to a road leading to the temple of Ceres. Having left him there, they all retired; and two wolves were said to direct his steps to the temple, a distance of twenty stades (2 to 2½ miles), and afterwards to reconduct him to the same spot.

On the 19th of the first month was celebrated the fête of Thoth, from whom that month took its name. It was usual for those who attended “to eat honey and eggs, saying to each other, ‘How sweet a thing is truth!’ ” And a similar allegorical custom was observed in Mesoré, the last month of the Egyptian year, when, on “offering the first-fruits of their lentils, they exclaimed ‘The tongue is fortune, the tongue is God!’ ”

Most of their fêtes appear to have been celebrated at the new or the full moon, the former being also chosen by the Israelites for the same purpose; and this, as well as a month being represented in hieroglyphics by a moon, may serve to show that the months of the Egyptians were originally lunar; as in many countries, to the present day.

The historian of Halicarnassus speaks of an annual ceremony, which the Egyptians informed him was performed at Saïs, in memory of the daughter of Mycerinus.

But this was evidently connected with the rites of Osiris; and if Herodotus is correct in stating that it was a heifer (and not an ox), it may have been the emblem of Athor, in the capacity she held in the regions of the dead. The honours paid to it on such an occasion could not have referred solely to a princess, whose body was deposited within it: they were evidently intended for the Deity of whom it was the emblem; and the introduction of Athor, with the mysterious rites of Osiris, may be explained by the fact of her frequently assuming the character of Isis.

Plutarch, who seems to have in view the same ceremony, states the animal exposed to public view on this occasion was an ox, in commemoration of the misfortunes reported to have happened to Osiris. “About this time (the month of Athyr, when the Etesian winds have ceased to blow, and the Nile, returning to its own channel, has left the country everywhere bare and naked), in consequence of the increasing length of the nights, the power of darkness appears to prevail, whilst that of light is diminished and overcome. The priests, therefore, practise certain doleful rites; one of which is to expose to public view, as a proper representation of the present grief of the goddess (Isis), an oxcovered with a pall of the finest black linen, that animal being looked upon as the living image of Osiris. The ceremony is performed four days successively, beginning on the 17th of the above-mentioned month. They represent thereby four things which they mourn:—1. The falling of the Nile and its retiring within its own channel: 2. The ceasing of the northern winds, which are now quite suppressed by the prevailing strength of those from the south: 3. The length of the nights and the decrease of the days: 4. The destitute condition in which the land now appears, naked and desolate, its trees despoiled of their leaves. Thus they commemorate what they call the ‘loss of Osiris;’ and on the 19th of the month (Pachons?) another festival represents the ‘finding of Osiris.’ ”

Small tablets in the tombs sometimes represent a black bull, bearing the corpse of a man to its final abode in the regions of the dead. The name of this bull is shown by the sculptures in the Oasis to be Apis, the type of Osiris; it is therefore not unreasonable to suppose it, in some way, related to this fable.

There were several festivals in honour of Re, or the Sun. Plutarch states that a sacrifice was performed to him, on the fourth day of every month, as related in the books of the genealogy of Horus, by whom that custom was said to have been instituted; and so great was the veneration paid to the Sun, that they burnt incense to him three times a day—resin at his “first rising, myrrh when in the meridian, and a mixture called kuphi” at the time of setting. The principal worship of Re was at Heliopolis, of which he was the presiding deity; and every city had certain holy days peculiarly consecrated to its patron, besides those common to the whole country.

Another festival in honour of the Sun was held on the 30th day of Epiphi, called the birth-day of Horus’s eyes, when the Sun and Moon were in the same right line with the earth; and “on the 22d day of Phaophi, after the autumnal equinox, was a similar one, to which, according to Plutarch, they gave the name of ‘the nativity of the staves of the Sun:’ intimating that the Sun was then removing from the earth; and as its light became weaker and weaker, that it stood in need of a staff to support it. In reference to which notion,” he adds, “about the winter solstice, they lead the sacred Cow seven times in procession around her temple; calling this the searching after Osiris, that season of the year standing most in need of the Sun’s warmth.”

Clemens mentions the custom of carrying four golden figures in the festivals of the gods. They were, two dogs, a hawk, and an ibis, which, like the number four, had a mysterious meaning. The dogs represented the Hemispheres, the hawk the Sun, and the ibis the Moon; but he does not state if this was usual at all festivals, or confined to those in honour of particular deities.

In their religious solemnities music was permitted, and even required, as acceptable to the gods; except, if we may believe Strabo, in the temple of Osiris, at Abydus. It probably differed much from that used on ordinary festive occasions, and was, according to Apuleius, of a lugubrious character. But this I have already mentioned in treating of the music of the Egyptians.


G.              The Pyramids, during the Inundation, from near the Fork of the Delta.

Copyright ©1999-2018 e-Catholic2000.com