Stone seal of King Mentuhetep II, Dyn. 11

Stone seal of King Mentuhetep II, Dyn. 11
Period:Egypt, Middle Kingdom, Dynasty 11, Mentuhotep II/Nebhepetre
Dating:2060 BC–2010 BC
Origin:Egypt, Upper Egypt, Thebes
Material:Stone (undetermined)
Physical:1.6cm. (.6 in.) - 4 g. (.1 oz.)

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Links to others from Dynasty 11

Servant carrying offerings, 2134-1991 BC
Servant carrying offerings, 2180-1900 BC
Wood statuette of Horus stiding, Dyn. 11

Links to others representing Sakhmet

Amulet-pendant of Sakhmet, Dyn. 22
Bronze of Sakhmet seated, Dyn. 20-23
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

Links to others of type Seal

Cartouche of King Nekau II, Dyn. 26
Lapis seal of King Ramesses II, Dyn.19
Seal of Queen Maa-writ-nefrw-ra, Dyn.19
  This seal and amulet is a symbolic representation of the head of Sakhmet. On one side, the stylized motif depicting the lioness goddess comprises two holes for the eyes (probably formerly inlaid), a carved triangle, and a straight line for the mouth. On the other side, the throne name of King Mentuhotep II (Neb-Hetep-Re) is deeply carved.

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)

Khalil, Hassan M.
1976 Preliminary Studies on the Sanusret Collection. Manuscript, Musée l’Egypte et le Monde Antique, Monaco-Ville, Monaco. (
[IV] 19)

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)

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