Apotropaia and Phylakteria

Conference Paper

Archaeological evidence: 3c. Apotropaic qualities of objects: Amulets, Gems
Friday 2021-06-25
13:35 | 17:05
Place: Swedish Institute at Athens & Zoom

A child deity on the so-called uterus gems

Anett Rózsa, 2021-06-25, Time: 15:30 - 15:50


There were more than 20 child deities in Ancient Egypt, whose cultures and theologies emerge from the New Kingdom (precisely from the 19. Dyn., ca. 13-12th c. B.C), continued in the Third Intermediate and Late Periods onwards, and became more and more popular in the Graeco-Roman times. They can be found on more than one thousand artefacts, not just in temple cult, but also in private contexts, such as in households and as grave goods. 

They provided a lot of help in situations regarding to fertility, abundance, and the legitimisation of royal and hereditary succession. Moreover, they could function as protectors, especially in difficult life situations. According to Egyptians, they were useful against enemies, diseases, and other dangers. One such situation was pregnancy and childbirth, in which, according to antiquity, various malefic demons could show up.

There are almost 400 so-called magical gems with the motif of “Harpocrates” and some of them depict him with a uterus and some deities, many times with the Egyptian protector god of households and, in particular, of mothers, children and childbirth, Bes. He or his headless variant (akephalos) is shown in frontal view, with bent knees; substituting Bes’ head: the child deity sitting with one leg bent in knee, right hand raised to mouth, head crowned with the sundisk. Goddesses often appear on these types of gems, together with an Ouroboros and a ramheaded deity. These artefacts were made to help during pregnancy or childbirth and were often inscribed with magical words.  

This presentation aims to analyse these gems, with a particular focus on the child deity. Additionally, some Graeco-Egyptian contexts will be looked at which present child deities as helpers to woman and children, such as in magical papyri, temple scenes.

About the Author(s)

Centre for Ancient Studies: Department of Egyptology, SFB 933 "Material Text Cultures" (research fellow), Sub-Project A03-UP1 "Egyptian Practices to Gain Favor", Ruprecht-Karls-Universität Heidelberg, Ägyptologisches Institut


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