Black steatite cippus

From Egypt
Late Period, 6th to 3rd centuries BC

Black steatite cippus with incised detail filled with white pigment

Cippi (a type of stelae) were popular from the sixth century BC onwards, although they appear as early as the New Kingdom (1550-1070 BC), when they were made of wood rather than stone. They were intended to prevent as well as cure snake bites and scorpion stings. Horus the child (Harpokrates) is shown in almost three dimensions, standing on crocodiles and holding dangerous animals.

According to myth, Horus and his mother, Isis, were attacked while hiding in the marshes of the Delta. Thoth, the god of medicine, cured Horus and granted him power over dangerous creatures. On this cippus, the symbol for Isis in the marshes can be seen to the right of Horus' head. She kneels on a mat surrounded by vegetation, with a canopy formed by two protective cobras resting on scorpions. Other gods are also shown, such as Bes above Horus' head and Selkis, the scorpion goddess, on the left side towards the bottom.

Snakes and scorpions were not a great danger to the average person. Snakes lived in fields and marshes, and only attacked when provoked. Records show that tomb workers were often stung by desert dwelling scorpions but they were not off work for long. These animals were, however, regarded as representatives of the forces of chaos, which constantly threatened the ordered world.

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More information


G. Pinch, Magic in Ancient Egypt (London, The British Museum Press, 1994)

S. Quirke and A.J. Spencer, The British Museum book of anc (London, The British Museum Press, 1992)


Height: 19.500 cm
Width: 13.000 cm
Depth: 6.100 cm

Museum number

EA 36250



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