BES: ANCIENT EGYPTIAN GOD, FIGHTER, DANCER, COMPANION
In ancient Egypt, there were about 1,400 gods and goddesses who were revered by the ancient inhabitants of the banks of the river Nile for almost 6,000 years.
We recognise a few to this day. Amun-Ra, the solar god of creation. Horus, the falcon god of kingship. Hathor, the celestial goddess of motherhood, beauty and joy. Osiris, the reanimated god of the ‘otherworld’, where the souls of the dead journeyed to be judged.
Many more of these gods and goddesses were found beyond the confines of any temple walls, and among the rhythms of the daily lives of the everyday Egyptian.
Perhaps none more so than the striking character of the god Bes.
Much like the other gods and goddesses of ancient Egypt who exhibited leonine features – most notably the goddesses Sekhmet and Bastet, the lioness and cat deities of warfare and household protection, respectively – Bes was also seen as a warrior and protector. He had a special responsibility for pregnant women, mothers and their infant children.
In this guise, we typically find Bes with a snarling face, an assertive posture and a large knife raised in one hand.
The Egyptians believed that he stood guard during childbirth, ready to strike any malevolent forces that sought to harm both mother and child.
He was so well regarded in this role that we often find his image accompanying depictions of the falcon god Horus as an infant, who had to be hidden away from his treacherous uncle Seth.
One particularly common household item was the 'cippi' or 'cippus stelae' (magical protective statues). These were small depictions of Bes watching over Horus, who throttles and tramples malevolent forces in the form of snakes, scorpions, and other wild beasts. The Egyptians believed that pouring clean water over these stelae would transform them into a remedy for curing various ailments.
In this way, Bes not only protected children but also helped them grow strong and resilient.
Just as he aided in the nursing of Horus, his image was integrated into key tools for infant care, such as feeding bottles.
These bottles could also be used to feed those of all ages who, for one reason or another, could not ingest solid foods.
The image of Bes the Fighter was so widely recognised that we see him adopted into other cultures.
The Romans, for example, were so enamoured with him that we find depictions of him prepared to fight, with the addition of a Roman military uniform, not only in Egypt but across the Empire.