Object: Egyptian Amulet

Figure 1 Amulet of Egyptian God Bes from the Classics Collection of the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History

Figure 1 Amulet of Egyptian God Bes from the Classics Collection of the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History

C/1987/7/15
Amulet of Bes
Egyptian
Unknown Date
Materials: Faience (fused glass)

This small amulet depicts the Egyptian God Bes. In ancient times, Bes was very important to pregnant women, mothers and children. He was a god of protection against evil spirits and creatures that wanted to do harm to families.

The god Bes is unlike many of the other Egyptian gods in several ways. He is usually shown as forward facing, which is a very rare trait to see in Egyptian art. Most Egyptian art illustrating humans or gods depicts their subjects in profile view, where the shoulders and upper body of the person or god is shown from the front, the nose is easily distinguished, and both feet can usually be seen. Ancient Egyptians painted in this manner so they could be as accurate as possible when recreating the likeliness of an individual as well as emphasizing what were seen as the most important features of a person or god.

Figure 2 Cosmetic Jar with Egyptian God Bes, photo courtesy of the Cleveland Museum of Art.

Figure 2 Cosmetic Jar with Egyptian God Bes, photo courtesy of the Cleveland Museum of Art.

Bes was one of the only dwarf gods worshiped in ancient Egypt. He was very ugly in appearance, with bulging eyes and his tongue sticking out. This strange depiction was in order to scare away evil and poisonous creatures. His legs are commonly shown as being bowed outward, and he is often shown wearing the skin of a large cat such as a panther or a lion. He also always wore a feather headdress, which is another uncommon trait to see in images of Egyptian gods. By being a dwarf, wearing his unique outfit, and being shown as facing forward, some scholars believe he originated from a culture other than Egyptian. Before being incorporated into the Egyptian pantheon of gods, it is guessed that he may have been an African deity of some sort.

Ancient Egyptians believed amulets had to be made in a specific way in regards to the material and the shape. Magic contained in an amulet could be figured out from the form, the materials, what colors were used, and several other attributes. By creating the amulet based on these specifications, the amulet was supposed to grant the wearer’s wish when using it. Amulets could be carried or be worn in many different ways such as on a bracelet, a necklace or a ring. Similar amulets were often also included on the mummified bodies of ancient Egyptians to assist the deceased and guide them into the afterlife.

This amulet from the Classics Collection at the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History provides some interesting insights not only into the origin of the Egyptian God Bes but also into the use of amulets in ancient Egypt.

[Katelyn Williams]

Resources:

http://www.ucl.ac.uk/museums-static/digitalegypt/art/whatisaeart.html

http://www.livescience.com/507-ancient-egyptians-held-dwarves-high-esteem.html

http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/egam/hd_egam.htm

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Ethnology @ SNOMNH is an experimental weblog for sharing the collections of the Division of Ethnology at the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History.

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