Sobek, the Crocodile God Who Sweated the Nile While Creating the World
Sobek, the ancient Egyptian crocodile god of strength and power. His ferocious attributes led Sobek to become a patron of the Egyptian army, a defender of the Pharaoh, and the people of Egypt. The powers of Sobek were believed to have extended to the very creation of the world and was associated with the sun god Ra. Sobek was depicted as an ordinary crocodile, or as a man with the head of a crocodile often wearing the Hemhem crown set on ram horns and flanked by ostrich feathers with a sun disk and the Uraeus rearing cobra symbol.
Sobek was a deity in the pantheon of ancient Egypt. This god was also known by the ancient Egyptians as Sebek, Sebek-Ra, Sobeq, Sochet, Sobki, or Sobk, and by the Greeks and Romans as Suchos and Suchus respectively. Like many Egyptian deities, Sobek is depicted as having the head of an animal and the body of a human. The animal associated with Sobek is the crocodile and this god is sometimes represented in its animal form.
Sobek is sometimes represented as a crocodile. (Kaitlyn153 / Public Domain)
Worship of Sobek Traced Back to the Old Kingdom
The worship of Sobek by the ancient Egyptians may be traced all the way back to the Old Kingdom. Sobek’s name is found in the Pyramid Texts, the oldest known corpus of ancient Egyptian religious texts. In the Unas Pyramid Texts, Utterance 317, for instance, the pharaoh Unas is said to be “Sobek with green feather, with watchful face, with uplifted brow”.
The front of this box shows a king making an offering to the crocodile-god Sobek. Above the scene is an inscription in demotic. The box may have been used in temple rituals. (Walters Art Museum / Public Domain)
Was Sobek Born from the Waters of Nun or Son of Set?
It is also from the Unas Pyramid Texts (Utterances 308 and 317) that Sobek is said to be the son of Neith, another old deity of the ancient Egyptian pantheon. In some accounts, Neith is said to have given birth to her children without a mate. In others, however, it is believed that Set was the father of Sobek. Yet in other accounts, Sobek is said to have emerged out of the primeval waters of Nun. The consort of Sobek differs from place to place, though the goddesses most commonly paired with him are Hathor, Renenutet, Heqet, and Tawaret. Additionally, Sobek is sometimes referred to as the father of Khonsu, Khnum, or Horus.
This relief from the Temple of Kom Ombo shows Sobek with typical attributes of kingship, including a was-scepter and royal kilt. The ankh in his hand represents his role as an Osirian healer and his crown is a solar crown associated with one of the many forms of Ra. Source: ( Hedwig Storch / CC BY-SA 3.0)
Sobek Insured the Fertility of the Land
It is well-known that the ancient Egyptians had a number of creation myths, and some of them involve Sobek. One myth, for instance, states that the crocodile god created the world and the Nile was formed from his sweat. Sobek’s association with the Nile also meant that he was regarded as a fertility god who was responsible for ensuring the fertility of the land. In another myth, Sobek created the world by laying eggs on the bank of the waters of Nun.
Represented as a Crocodile – This God had a Darker Side
As Sobek is represented as a crocodile, however, he is also believed to have a darker, more violent aspect. In some myths, Sobek is regarded to have been an ally of the god Set during his conflict with Horus. When Set was defeated, his supporters transformed themselves into crocodiles in order to escape from the victorious Horus. The ferocious nature of Sobek, however, was not entirely feared by the ancient Egyptians, but revered by them. For instance, he was considered to be the patron of the army. Additionally, he was regarded as a symbol of the pharaoh’s power and was called upon to protect the dead in the Underworld.
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A wall relief from Kom Ombo showing Sobek with solar attributes. (Hedwig Storch / CC BY-SA 3.0)
Sobek Provided Protection Against the Dangers of the Nile
The ancient Egyptians also sought the protection of Sobek against the dangers of the Nile, in particular crocodiles. Therefore, it is only natural that the cult centers of this god were established in areas infested with crocodiles. The best-known cult center of Sobek, however, was at Kom Ombo, where there was a temple dedicated to him and Horus. Although the two gods are said to be enemies in one myth, another belief states that Sobek was an aspect of Horus. This is due to the myth in which Horus turned into a crocodile so as to retrieve the body parts of Osiris that were thrown into the Nile. In yet another myth, Sobek is said to have aided Isis when she gave birth to Horus.
Classical authors such as Herodotus and Strabo report that the priests of Sobek would revere crocodiles, as these were the earthly embodiments of the god. These sacred crocodiles would be fed by the priests and sometimes even adorned with jewelery. When these crocodiles died, they would be mummified. These accounts have been confirmed by archaeologists. At the Temple of Kom Ombo, for instance, there is a small shrine dedicated to Hathor, in which mummified crocodiles were discovered. The mummies are today displayed in the Crocodile Museum that is situated just outside the temple.
Top image: Close up of Sobek as represented on a relief from the Temple of Kom Ombo shows Sobek with typical attributes of kingship, including a was-scepter and royal kilt. Source: CC BY-SA 3.0
By Wu Mingren
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Available at: https://www.ancientegyptonline.co.uk/komombotemple.html
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Available at: https://www.ancientegyptonline.co.uk/sobek.html
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Available at: https://www.pyramidtextsonline.com/translation.html
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Available at: https://www.louvre.fr/en/oeuvre-notices/sobek-re
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Available at: https://www.ancientegyptonline.co.uk/sobek.html