Bronze of Sakhmet seated, Dyn. 20-23

Bronze of Sakhmet seated, Dyn. 20-23
Period:Egypt, 3rd Intermediate Period, 3rd Intermediate Period
Dating:1085 BC–715 BC
Origin:Egypt, Lower Egypt
Physical:18.1cm. (7.1 in.) - 450 g. (15.9 oz.)

Links to other views:

⇒ Larger View
if scripting is off, click the ⇒ instead.

• • •

Links to others from 3rd Intermediate Period

Horus-the-Child, 1070-774 BC
Mummy bead net, Dyn. 25-31
Mummy bead net, Dyn. 25-31
Mummy bead net, Dyn. 25-31
Mummy bead net, Dyn. 25-31
Mummy bead net with scarab, Dyn. 25-31
Necklace with beads and seven amulets
Scarab wing mummy net piece
Scarab with Goddess Hathor, 1070-656 BC
Sky Goddess Nut as a sow, 1085-760 BC

Links to others representing Sakhmet

Amulet-pendant of Sakhmet, Dyn. 22
Bronze of Sakhmet seated, early Dyn. 18
Bronze statuette of Sakhmet, Dyn. 20
Faience amulet of Bastet, c. 750 BC.
Sakhmet amulet pendant, Dyn. 18
Stone seal of King Mentuhetep II, Dyn. 11

Links to others of type Statuette-animal

Bronze of Ibis-Thoth, 3rd Inter. Period
Bronze of Sakhmet seated, early Dyn. 18
Bronze Ra ensign, Early Dynastic
Bronze statuette of Apis, Dyn. 18
Bronze statuette of Apis, Late Period
Bronze statuette of Apis, New Kingdom
Bronze statuette of Bastet, Dyn. 22
Bronze statuette of Bastet, Dyn. 26
Bronze statuette of Sakhmet, Dyn. 20
Gilded bronze of Bastet, Dyn. 22
Horus, Lord of the Two Lands. N.K.
Ibis-headed Thoth with human body, Dyn.18
Oxyrynchus sacred fish, New Kingdom
Thoth as a baboon, stone, 2700-2500 BC
Unidentified king as Khnum, Dyn. 20
Wood statuette of Horus stiding, Dyn. 11
  This bronze statuette portrays a seated (and therefore living and ruling) queen as Sakhmet the lioness goddess of war, protected by the solar disk and the uraeus (cobra).

“In some depictions Sakhmet wore a sun disk on her head, and in this form she was a warlike manifestation of the sun, causing flames to devour the enemies of Egypt” (Bunson 1999:239).

She wears a square necklace made of a double row of pendants, and barrettes or lacing tying the bottom of her headdress, against her chest. An oversized uraeus stands beneath the solar disk. The right forearm and the pedestal have been damaged, but not enough to alter the character of the piece. Note the difference in craftsmanship with Sakhmet #832.

While several goddesses were represented with the head of a lioness, Sakhmet is certainly the most prominent throughout Egyptian history. Originally a local divinity from Letopolis, she soon was attached to Memphis, and said to be Ra’s daughter and the consort of Ptah (god of creation and original local god of Memphis).

Despite her peaceful appearance, she was a goddess of vengeful fury and unimaginable cruelty, who could unleash her brutal wrath on whomever rebelled against Ra (or the pharaoh). A legend found in royal tombs at Thebes tells of one such occasion: Once upon a time, Ra found out that humans were rebelling against him. He sent his Vengeful Eye—Goddess Hathor—to repress the insurrection. She descended upon Egypt, metamorphosed into Sakhmet (meaning “the powerful”), and proceeded to slaughter any human she could find. The desert was red with blood. Eventually, Ra ordered her to stop, fearing a complete extinction of the human race. But she answered “when I slay men, my heart rejoices,” and furthered her carnage with ever increasing savagery. When she rested for the night, Ra ordered his priests to fill seven thousand jars with a mix of beer and red ochre from Elephantine Island, and scatter them on Sakhmet’s path. The next day, when Sakhmet set to resume the massacre, she found the jars and drank the red beer, thinking that it was the blood of her enemies. She soon became so intoxicated from the alcohol that she collapsed. Thus, Ra saved the human race from Sakhmet’s murderous rage. Egyptians celebrated that myth yearly during the Hathor festival, with much drinking of “red beer”. (According to Guirand (1959), pomegranate juice was a key ingredient.)

This image of Sakhmet as the irrepressible destructive power of God (but also of the pharaoh, and by extension, of Egypt) when angered by enemies made her an effective instrument of state propaganda. Ramesses II’s account of the Battle of Qadesh reads:

Sakhmet the Great is the one who is with him,
She is with him on his horses, her hand is with him;
Anyone who goes to approach him,
Will experience the breath of fire burning his body!

And if Sakhmet’s breath could burn enemies in battle, it could also burn men by sending them a fever. Indeed, she was thought to instigate epidemics. And since she could bring on diseases, she was assumed to have the reciprocal power to repeal them. So, when someone fell sick, Egyptians took a two-pronged approach to treatment: calling a physician, and asking priests of Sakhmet to pray for the patient. The Overseer of the Priests of Sakhmet was also thought to have considerable medical knowledge. The guild of bone-setters was under the jurisdiction of her cult.

If, in the massacre myth above, Sakhmet was an “alternate personality” of Hathor, in some versions of the myth of the far-away goddess (see Anhur), she turns into Goddess Bastet as her anger dies down. The fusion of Sakhmet with the cat goddess Bastet is more than anecdotal. They share the title mistress of Ankhtawy (Memphis), and are both mothers of the lotus god Nefertum. Yet, their personality differs markedly.

In Thebes (Upper Egypt), there was a close association between the mother goddess Mut, and Sakhmet. Mut was usually portrayed as a slender woman, but sometimes as a lioness. King Amenhotep III (Dyn 18) had a statue of Sakhmet for each day of the year arranged around the temple of Mut, further demonstrating the connection between the two lionesses.

While Sakhmet is most often depicted as a woman with the head of a lioness wearing the solar disk and the uraeus (cobra), she can take a variety of other forms. She is occasionally seen with a whole crocodile or the Udjat Eye (the eye of Ra) instead of a head, or as God Min brandishing a dagger, or wholly as a lioness.

Bibliography (for this item)

Bunson, Margaret
1999 The Encyclopedia of Ancient Egypt. Gramercy, New York, NY. (239)

Khalil, Hassan M.
1976 Preliminary Studies on the Sanusret Collection. Manuscript, Musée l’Egypte et le Monde Antique, Monaco-Ville, Monaco. ((II) 195-201)

Bibliography (on Sakhmet)

Guirand, Felix
1968 New Larousse Encyclopedia of Mythology. Crescent Books, New York, NY. (36)

Hart, George
1986 A Dictionary of Egyptian Gods and Goddesses. Routledge & Kegan Paul, London, United Kingdom. (187)

Ions, Veronica
1969 Mythologie Egyptienne (Translation of the 1968 edition by the Hamlyn Publishing Group). ODEGE, Paris, France. (106)

Sauneron, Serge
2000 The Priests of Ancient Egypt. Cornell University Press, Ithaca, NY. (159)

©2004 CIWA, All rights reserved.