Monday, 26 June 2017


“An appeaser is one who feeds a crocodile, hoping it will eat him last.” - Winston Churchill 

Sobek (also called Sebek, Sochet, Sobk, and Sobki), in Greek, Suchos (Σοῦχος) and from Latin Suchus, was an ancient Egyptian deity with a complex and fluid nature. He is associated with the Nile crocodile and is either represented in its form or as a human with a crocodile head. Sobek was also associated with pharaonic power, fertility, and military prowess, but served additionally as a protective deity with apotropaic qualities, invoked particularly for protection against the dangers presented by the Nile River. Sobek enjoyed a longstanding presence in the ancient Egyptian pantheon, from the Old Kingdom (c. 2686–2181 BCE) through the Roman period (c. 30 BCE – 350 CE).

The entire Faiyum region – the “Land of the Lake” in Egyptian (specifically referring to Lake Moeris) – served as a cult centre of Sobek. Most Faiyum towns developed their own localised versions of the god, such as Soknebtunis at Tebtunis, Sokonnokonni at Bacchias, and Souxei at an unknown site in the area. At Karanis, two forms of the god were worshipped: Pnepheros and Petsuchos. There, mummified crocodiles were employed as cult images of Petsuchos. Sobek Shedety, the patron of the Faiyum’s centrally located capital, Crocodilopolis (or Egyptian “Shedet”), was the most prominent form of the god. Extensive building programs honouring Sobek were realised in Shedet, as it was the capital of the entire Arsinoite nome and consequently the most important city in the region.

Specialised priests in the main temple at Shedet functioned solely to serve Sobek, boasting titles like “prophet of the crocodile-gods” and “one who buries of the bodies of the crocodile-gods of the Land of the Lake”. Outside the Faiyum, Kom Ombo, in southern Egypt, was the biggest cultic centre of Sobek, particularly during the Ptolemaic and Roman periods. Kom Ombo is located about 48 km north of Aswan and was built during the Graeco-Roman period (332 BCE – 395 CE). The temple at this site was called the “Per-Sobek”, meaning the house of Sobek.

Sobek is, above all else, an aggressive and animalistic deity who lives up to the vicious reputation of his patron animal, the large and violent Nile crocodile. Some of his common epithets betray this nature succinctly, the most notable of which being: “He who loves robbery”, “he who eats while he also mates”, and “pointed of teeth”. However, he also displays grand benevolence in more than one celebrated myth.

After his association with Horus and consequent adoption into the Osirian triad of Osiris, Isis, and Horus in the Middle Kingdom, Sobek became paired with Isis as a healer of the deceased Osiris (following his violent murder by Set in the central Osiris myth). In fact, though many scholars believe that the name of Sobek, Sbk, is derived from s-bAk, “to impregnate”, others postulate that it is a participial form of the verb sbq, an alternative writing of sAq, “to unite”, thereby meaning Sbk could roughly translate to “he who unites (the dismembered limbs of Osiris)”.

It is from this association with healing that Sobek was considered a protective deity. His fierceness was able to ward off evil while simultaneously defending the innocent. He was thus made a subject of personal piety and a common recipient of votive offerings, particularly in the later periods of ancient Egyptian history. It was not uncommon, particularly in Ptolemaic and Roman Egypt, for crocodiles to be preserved as mummies in order to present at Sobek’s cultic centres. Sobek was also offered mummified crocodile eggs, meant to emphasise the cyclical nature of his solar attributes as Sobek-Ra. Likewise, crocodiles were raised on religious grounds as living incarnations of Sobek. Upon their deaths, they were mummified in a grand ritual display as sacred, but earthly, manifestations of their patron god. This practice was executed specifically at the main temple of Crocodilopolis.

These mummified crocodiles have been found with baby crocodiles in their mouths and on their backs. The crocodile – one of the few non-mammals that diligently care for their young – often transports its offspring in this manner. The practice of preserving this aspect of the animal’s behavior via mummification is likely intended to emphasise the protective and nurturing aspects of the fierce Sobek, as he protects the Egyptian people in the same manner that the crocodile protects its young.

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