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Terracotta figurine of the Egyptian god Bes

 

Height: 17.000 cm

Miss E.T. Turner Bequest excavations

GR 1894.11-1.269 (Terracotta A 151)

Room 72: Ancient Cyprus

    Terracotta figurine of the Egyptian god Bes

    From Tomb 88 at Amathus, Cyprus
    About 600-500 BC

    Bes in his most typical pose, squatting with his hands on his knees

    The Egyptian dwarf god Bes makes his first appearance in Cyprus in the Late Bronze Age in representations that are evidently directly inspired by Egypt. In the Iron Age (from 1050 BC) other demons and gods of foreign origin were introduced, and the Cypriots were inclined to confuse the various types so that 'Bes' often borrows features characteristic of others. Cypriot Bes appears to have had an apotropaic function: serving as a means to ward off evil.

    The worship of Bes seems to have been introduced to Cyprus along with other originally Egyptian cults by the Phoenicians early in the Archaic period (about 850-475 BC). This was before the island fell under Egyptian control or influence about 570-526/5 BC.

    In Egypt Bes at his most typical appears frontal and squatting. He is naked, apart from a lion-skin, whose tail is usually visible between his legs. His hands rest on his thighs and his features are normally grotesque, animal rather than human. He is usually bearded and has mane-like hair. From the time of the New Kingdom he usually wears a feather crown and in the Saite period (663-525 BC) his square cut-beard is on occasion replaced by a spiral beard, and these two versions became interchangeable.

    This terracotta figurine is, therefore, in the typical pose of Egyptian Bes, although he is completely naked and bare-headed and has no tail between his legs. Some Phoenician representations include these features and illustrate how Egyptian iconography was often transmitted to Cyprus.

    A.S. Murray, A.H. Smith and H.B. Walters, Excavations in Cyprus (London, Trustees of the British Museum, 1900)

    A. Hermary, 'Bes (Cypri et in Phoenica)' in Lexicon Iconographicum Mytho-2 (Artemis Verlag Zürich und München, 1981)

    V. Wilson, 'The iconography of Bes with particular reference to the Cypriot evidence', Levant-2, 7 (1975)

    V. Tatton-Brown, Ancient Cyprus, 2nd ed. (London, The British Museum Press, 1997)

    H.B. Walters, Catalogue of the terracottas-1 (London, Trustees of the British Museum, 1903)