Bronze statuette group of the king before the Apis bull

From Egypt
Late Period, after 600 BC

The king offering before the Apis bull

The Apis bull was sacred to the god Ptah of Memphis. Only one Apis bull existed at a time, unlike other sacred animals, such as the ibises of Thoth and the cats of Bastet. Each time an Apis bull died the priests searched the country for its successor, which they identified by the bull's particular markings. The search for a new Apis bull is described by the Greek historian Herodotus (about 485-425 BC), who visited Egypt in the mid-fifth century BC.

The Apis was regarded as a representative of Ptah on earth. The bull was kept in splendid accommodation, its every action watched in case it was a message from the god. The bull was used as an intermediary in oracular consultations (foretelling the future); questions were put to it, and its movements interpreted. When it died, the bull was mummified and placed in a sarcophagus. This huge coffin was laid alongside those of the bull's predecessors, in a series of galleries known as the Serapeum at Memphis.

According to Herodotus, anyone who harmed the Apis bull would suffer severe consequences. The Persian conqueror Cambyses scorned the gods of Egypt and wounded the Apis bull, causing its death. He was later injured in the same way, just as he was about to reach the high point of his career.

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Bronze statuette group of the king before the Apis bull

The king kneeling before the Apis bull

 

More information

Bibliography

T.G.H. James and W.V. Davies, Egyptian sculpture (London, The British Museum Press, 1983)

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

Dimensions

Height: 12.300 cm
Length: 14.700 cm

Museum number

EA 22920

YCA69143

Location

Find in the collection online



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