The small town of Kom Ombo is situated on the East side of the Nile, 45 kilometers to the North of the city of Aswan, about 800 kilometers to the South of Cairo, the capital of Egypt. Surrounded by fields of sugarcane and corn, Kom Ombo is a pleasant agriculture town that now hosts many Nubians that were displaced after when the water of the Nile flooded their hometowns after the construction of the Nasser Lake. The word “Kom” in Arabic means the small hill and the word “Ombo”, in the Hieroglyphic ancient Egyptian language means the gold. Therefore, the word Kom Ombo, as a whole, means the hill of the gold. The word Ombo was actually originates from the Pharaonic word “Nbty” which is an adjective derived of the word Nebo that meant gold. During the Coptic period, the word was slightly changed to become Enbo and when the Arabic language became common in Egypt, the word became “Ombo”. Egypt's first museum devoted exclusively to crocodiles was inaugurated in 2012 by Antiquities Minister Mohamed Ibrahim.
The museum displays 22 mummified crocodiles of various sizes out of forty to have been unearthed in Aswan. The crocodiles are arrayed on a sand hill inside a large glass showcase, allowing visitors to see how crocodiles passed their days in ancient Egypt. A collection of crocodile coffins and wooden sarcophagi, along with crocodile foetuses and eggs, are also on display, in addition to stelae and statues depicting the crocodile-god Sobek, bearing a human body and the head of a crocodile. Replicas of Sobek’s original tombs and niches are also on display.
The association of Sobek's eggs with the act of creation made mummified crocodile eggs and fetuses a popular votive offering to the god. Crocodiles were seen as very fertile and virile creatures. The ancient Egyptians admired the males for their sexual prowess and the females for their fecundity, they lay between 25 and 80 eggs at a time. As parents they carefully guard their young and are fierce fighters. Often mothers take their infants into their mouth in order to protect them from prey. Thus Sobek, like an actual crocodile, was a creator as well as a guardian of the people.
Egyptian God Sobek
The God Sobek (also known as Suchos) is depicted either as a crocodile or as a crocodile headed man wearing a headdress of ram-horns topped by a sun disk into tall plumes. Crocodiles were both revered and feared as they had both benevolent and violence sides, and were extremely powerful creatures. The ancient Egyptians prayed to Sobek for protection, strength, and fertility, and also viewed him as a creator God. Sobek first appears in the Old Kingdom (2500 BCE) and was worshiped until the end of the Roman era (4th century CE). His cult became increasingly important during the middle Kingdom (2000 BCE) when he was worshiped extensively not only at Kom Ombo but also in the Fayam. Originally Sobek only protected his worshipers from crocodiles. Later he became known as the “Lord of the Waters” as the Egyptians believed that he had created the Nile from his sweat. In one Egyptian creation myth, Sobek appeared on the mound that arose from the primeval water called Nun and laid his eggs, beginning the process of creation. He was also known as the “Lord of the Inundation” perhaps because crocodiles were known to predict the height of the flood, as they always built their nests above the flood level. The inundation is also linked to another of Sobek titles, “He who made the plants green” are underlining his association with fertility and rebirth. In the New Kingdom Sobek replaced many of the aspects of Hapi.
Sobek-Re was associated with the sun god Re, both as his incarnation and as his guardian. Crocodiles were physically associated with the sun as these creatures clamber out of the dark water where they spend the night to bask on a sandbank throughout the day, only to return to the dark depths once again at dusk, mirroring the passage of the sun through the day and it's disappearance at night. Sobek is shown protecting Re during the sun gods trip through the land of the dead, helping to destroy and devour his enemy the great snake Apophis and his confederates, thus ensuring the sun with every day. Thus Sobek was venerated as one who restored this senses of the dead and protected them from the evil forces that attacked them as they traveled through the netherworld.
Amenhotep III and Sobek
The Egyptians both respected and feared the power of the crocodile. The crocodile's ability to snatch and devour its prey was considered symbolic of the might of the pharaoh. Indeed the word sovereign was written with two crocodiles linking both the crocodile Sobek the God with the king. In times of need Sobek was thought to give the pharaoh strength and fortitude so that he might overcome all obstacles. Sobek was further tied to the king as in the myth concerning the god Osiris, with that of the afterworld, who was murdered by his brother Seth. Sobek carried the dead body of Osiris safely to the banks of the Nile, making Sobek the protector of the divine rulers. Amenhotep III felt a special bond to Sobek-Re and chose to be depicted with that god in particular. The king established this relationship in his mortuary temple at Kom el-Hettân in western Thebes by erecting a life size statue of a crocodile with a falcon head there. His temple also reflected the royal association with Sobek as god of the inundation, as it was annually flooded by the Nile, symbolic of the regeneration, fertility and rebirth of the pharaoh and the Nile. Thus the association of Sobek with Hapi who was not recognized as much during the reign of Amenhotep III. However, later in the New Kingdom Ramesses II elevated Hapi to once again become the God of the annual Nile flood. During Ptolemaic and Roman times Sobek-Re again achieved great prominence and prestige.
This votive offering of the priest Nebnefer, shows a pair of crocodiles resting on a base that is decorated on all four sides. The object, offered to Sobek in a temple, dates to the reign of Amenhotep III (1410-1372 BCE), a king who was devoted to Sobek-Re. He is identified here with Sobek as well as the goddess Hathor. The front is carved in the form of the sistrum (percussion instrument) of Hathor, his wife in a version of the holy family, where Khonsu is their child. The hieroglyphics on the front are also a rebus writing for the king's throne name, Nebmaatre (The Lord of Truth is Re). The back shows two priestesses with sistra and the sides depict Nebnefer praising Sobek and the name of Amenhotep III.
Stelae to Sobek
Stelae (decorated stone slabs) often were given as votive offerings to the different forms of Sobek and erected in the temple or in the cemetery where the sacred crocodiles were buried. The stelae were carved with images of the God and the dedicator. Inscriptions giving the name of the devotee, and a short prayer to the God were also frequently carved on the stelae.
This is a stella erected by Iy-hebnef at the Sobek Temple in Dahamsha near Luxor. The uppermost register shows Sobek and a goddess, the “Mistress of the Breeze” seated beneath the sacred Ima tree. An offering table is placed before Sobek, behind which Iy-hebnef's father Pla censes the gods, followed by Iy-hebnef in an attitude of prayer. Pla was the high priest of Sobek at Dahamsha. The second register shows Sobek, enthroned, being approched by a procession led by Pla and comprised of his family (Iy-hebnef, followed by Pla's mother Iya and Pla's wife, Tinet-nebu), all bringing offering to the God Sobek. The lowest part of the stela is inscribed with the dedicatory text of Iy-hebnef, who asks Sobek to favor and protect him.
Temples to Sobek are most common in the Fayum and at Kom Ombo, although chapels to that God are present in Gebel el-Silsilah as well as within other larger temples throughout Egypt. Al-Fayoum, located 62 miles southwest of Cairo, in the Faiyum Oasis, is the capital of the modern Faiyum Governorate. Originally called Shedet in Ancient Egypt, the Greeks called it Crocodilopolis or Krocodilopolis, the Romans Arsinoë. It is one of Egypt's oldest cities due to its strategic location. The entire Faiyum region – the “Land of the Lake” in Egyptian (specifically referring to Lake Moeris) – served as a cult center of Sobek. Most Faiyum towns developed their own localized versions of the god. This central panel from the middle Kingdom temple at Kiman Farez, seen above, shows an image of Sobek as a crocodile stretched out on a standard with two arms. It is flanked by two stelae depicting the God in his various forms, being worshiped by his devotees who give him offerings in exchange for his protection and blessing.
This is a small but very interesting museum. If you are visiting Kom Ombu, you should take the time to visit. If you are intrigued by Sobek, I highly suggest you check out the “Book of the Faiyum”, a book known from multiple sources in Ptolemaic and Roman Egypt. As always, I hope you enjoyed, please leave a message.
Crocodile Museum Opening: http://english.ahram.org.eg/NewsContent/9/44/33460/Heritage/Museums/Crocodile-Museum-opens-in-Aswan.aspx
Book of the Faiyum: https://izi.travel/en/d902-egypt-s-mysterious-book-of-the-faiyum/en