During more than three millennia, the Egyptians maintained favoured relations with the animal world. Intimate, deep, fundamental associations, which was based on the conviction of the common nature of man and the animals. This relationship is especially seen with regard to livestock, since we are dealing with a society whose origins are pastoral.
Indeed, in addition to its usefulness in agricultural work, domestic cattle provided many products very much used: meat, milk, grease, blood, skin, bone, manure, horns, tendons.
Very much a symbol of wealth, of power and source of prestige, herds in general, and cattle in particular are very often represented in the tombs, notably to the Old Kingdom. Livestock always appears in a good position in the list of the tributes perceived by Pharaoh, as well as in the spoils of his conquests.
Before the Old Kingdom, one only finds representations of oxen with long lyre-shaped horns, or with short horns, or with voluntarily clipped animals whose horns had become distorted, - a custom still in use in some African pastoral populations.
The first illustration of Zebus (Bos indicus) dating from the XVIIIth Dynasty, represented in the Theban tombs in the form of draught (U.S. "draft") animals, sometimes brought in tribute from the Asian.
The zoologists admit that the ancestor of indigenous cattle is the auroch, which moved in herds of wild animals on the desert fringes of the valley until the end of the New Kingdom. Powerful and dangerous beasts, they were hunted by professionals, the king or the nobles, or captured using the lasso. The rear face of the first pylon of the ramesseum shows one of these hunting scenes.
The herds and the humble people of daily life are often displayed in a prominent position.
Small calf suckling its mother, man milking a cow, livestock crossing a ford under the attentive surveillance of its guard, who is careful to take care for distant crocodiles, are often touching scenes which one frequently finds.
Much care was lavished on the livestock, as is testified on a "veterinary" manuscript of Kahun from the end of the XIIth Dynasty.
The ritual sacrifice of an ox provides an indispensable element indeed in divine worship, the meat was also consumed afterwards by the priests and occasionally by humbler people at the time of certain festivals.
The right fore-leg "khepesh" constituted the piece of choice, the cutting of which is often illustrated. The salting of meat also seems to have existed.
From the Old and into the Middle Kingdom at least, a priest inspected the animal, notably while sniffing its blood on the butcher's hand, to see if it was pure and could be offered in offering and consumed.
Thus in the mastaba of Ptahotep in Saqqarah, one sees this priest represented, declaring: "it is pure".
In view of their importance for the offerings, it is very likely that the temples permanently maintained small quantities of animals in enclosures to have them at hand.
Also many scenes show the counting and inspection of the cattle by an official assisted by a scribe.
One of the most spectacular representations comes from the tomb of Meketre of the XIIth Dynasty. One sees some models there in painted wood, the official Meketre, under a pavilion looking at revelry, before him his animals and their guards.
A symbol of his wealth, these animals would continue to assure his well being in the here after. A major source of prestige, livestock were marked with the iron with their owner's name.
If an owner could have hundreds of head of livestock, it is in the thousands which the some temples possessed. The Harris papyrus teaches us that in the course of his reign, Ramesses III made grants of 421,659 head of livestock just to the great Temple of Amon in Karnak.
Innumerable scenes from the tombs show these animals pulling the plough, or trampling on soil in order to bury seeds, or trampling the ears to detach the grain.
The intimate relationship binding the guard to his herd is illustrated in the "tale of the two brothers" which tells life ofBeta taking care, day and night, of his herd, sometimes sleeping with them in the stall, and even conversing with them !
Thutmosis III had his dismantled ships pulled by oxen to the city of Karkhemish, on the Euphrates. In the scenes representing the battle of Kadesh, Ramesses II had represented harnessed bovines pulling military supplies on wagons.
These scenes of draught representing some wagons with wheels are however more often found in relation to foreigners, which well shows that it is cleanly not an Egyptian custom. Besides, the wagon doesn't appear in Egypt until after the Hittite invasion. The Egyptians preferred the sledge, which is very clear when one looks at the numerous scenes of the tombs of the New Kingdom, which show the sarcophagus of the dead on a sledge, hauled toward its final home by harnessed bovine.
Symbol of fertility, of the maternal bosom, supplier of the bracing milk, the cow plays a major role in the imagination and the Egyptian myths.
The animal is associated with numerous divine forms, to the formost of which is Hathor and Nut.
From the New Kingdom the idea appears that the sky is the place of gestation where the sun which dies at the end of the day will regenerate during the night. For this reason, it is represented by a feminine entity or by a cow, at the centre of which must take place the different processes, which will allow the handing-over of the world in the morning of a new sun, ready to begin its race in the diurnal sky.
The cow is the receptacle of a sun in becoming, as the deceased's east, which will be born again into the world from the here after.
Some representations show the dead, assimilated into the sun in its form of Re-Horakhty, who returns at morning between two sycamores in the form of a small calf.
The "Book of the Celestial Cow" tells us the history of the revolt of men against an aging Re. After having destroyed the rebels, Re decides to leave the terrestrial world to return to pursue, alone, his race across the sky. To help it to go back up skywards, Nut takes the aspect of a cow and embody henceforth under shape of arch the place of circulation of the star. But Nut was prone to the dizziness… which is why Shu sustains him, while eight genii - the "Hehu" - support her paws.
The goddess Mehyturet ("great stream", "great swimmer") represents a form of the goddess Neith when she appeared "the first time" in the form of a cow on the surface of the primordial ocean, the Nun. She pronounces seven creative words, considered as divine fully-fledged entities.
The bulls of the gods existed since the pre-dynastic times: a palette to the bull (Louvre), palette of Narmer (Cairo), heads of bulls decorating the periphery of some mastabas from the first Dynasty from North Saqqara.
Very early, the royal majesty was placed in relation to the wild animal, that of which the palette of Narmer (Cairo museum) gives a magnificent illustration. Hunted by the kings, it represents uncontrolled power but also invincibility of the sun of the desert. As such, its image is associated with the one of the warlike Pharaoh. During the whole New Kingdom, the epithets of "powerful bull, great in strength", of "bull of Horus" express royal strength, and the one of "bull of his mother" his sexual and impregnating power.
The Egyptian king is also very often represented with the tail of a bull hanging from his belt. The strength of the wild bull, its indomitability and its sexual vigor made of it the main stay of numerous divine manifestations.
The capture of the wild bull, as it was seen by Mereruka, is an essentially symbolic act, showing the mastery of order (Ma'at) on the wild elements of the unorganized semi-desert zones.
The bull Bukhis icon of Montu in Ermant was a wild bull.
Contrary to this, Mnevis and Apis are of domestic bulls in origin. Since the Old Kingdom, they are synonymous with fertility and abundance for the Egyptians, a people being agriculturists.
The oldest found evidence (1st Dynasty) under the name of Apis, is a particular bull which becomes the receptacle of the god Ptah in the Memphite region. The same applies to Ra in the bull Mnevis in Heliopolis. Teti is identified with the bull of Heliopolis.
In the New Kingdom, during the festivals of Min an entirely white bull was paraded, decorated with favours, of which we do not know the name and origin and which is documented particularly little. The bull of Athribis, 10th nome of Lower Egypt is called Km wr "The great black" because of the colour of its atire, identical with the one of Mnevis. Apis of Memphis was black and white with special marks on its forehead, back and tongue, and a black and white multicoloured tail, as was the Bukhis bull.
It is here that one finds the greatest number of sacred bulls of Egypt, which one can differentiate into two categories
The most numerous, connected to their nome, act as a written sign to designate the nome
Example :the bull of the 6th nome of Lower Egypt, the capitol Xois being called Khasu, H3sw, "the one of the mountain" (documented little).
Example :the bull of the 10th nome of Lower Egypt, the capitol Athribis, being called Kem-ur, km wr "the great black" known of old, it is mentioned in the Pyramid Texts. It is the Lord of Athribis. In the Old Kingdom it was assimilated by Osiris. In the Ptolemaic Theban texts, it is associated with Mereh mrh, k3 mrhw "anointed by the bull". Some royal wives are called "girls of the bull", mrhrt; as well as some divine worshippers who carry the bull mrh in their titulature.
Example : the bull of the 11th nome of Lower Egypt, the capitol Leontopolis was called hsb (w) "the slaughtered", "the killed", same root as knife hsb and to knock down hsbt. Can be connected with the cult, as an animal of sacrifice, to an animal cut down during a ritual ?
In the delta, exists a whole set of bulls for which one only has the name. So on the statue of Seneb (Cairo museum), 5th Dynasty, on which it is written that he is the prophet of a great bull with the head of Setepet: Ka wr khenty setepet.
Fewer bulls are known to exist:
The "white bull" paraded in Thebes for the Festival of the Valley would be the Bukhis bull.
The Medamud sanctuary of Montu, is the main sanctuary of the Bukhis bull which starting from Nectanebo II goes on to embody Montu.
The bull Lord of Kasa known in the 14th nome of Upper Egypt (capitol Cusae) : Ka K3s3 neb.
In the 17th nome of Upper Egypt the bull Bata, Lord of Saka took supremacy over Anubis in the New Kingdom; it is mentioned in the tale of "the two brothers" (papyrus of Orbiney) of which the youngest is called Bata and which was later reincarnated in the bull Bata. It is also mentioned in the Jumilhac papyrus.
The three principle bull entities, whose notoriety largely exceeds their place of origin, are Bukhis, Mnévis and especially Apis, of which Sérapis, who will be a later be reincarnated.
It is least known of the three great bulls sacred in Ancient Egypt. The Bukhis bull, originally emanated from Montu in Ermant, was a wild bull also represented in imagary with the head of a falcon. One finds the necropolis of Bukhises, the Bucheum, in the periphery of this city. The criteria of choice of the animal seem near enough to those of Apis.
The origin of the name is unknown. Manethon affirms that it commenced during the second Dynasty but no archaeological proof has been recovered. In the Pyramid Texts it is merely named the bull of Heliopolis. In the Sarcophagus Texts, from the Middle Kingdom, it appears with the name of "nem ur" nm wr which later will become "mer wr" then "wr mer", Mnevis the final name being from the Greek and Greco-Roman periods.
Its physical and anatomical features are well known to us thanks to the descriptions of Greek authors: They refer to a black bull with the hairy fur with on the nape a bump, sometimes with particularly imposing testes; it carries the solar disk between the horns. During the Ptolemaic period it often has man's body with the head of bull carrying a solar disk surmounted with ostrich feathers.
Along side the living Mnevis was carried an emblem consisting of a long stick on the top of which was placed the head of a bull, this emblem amalgamated with that of the Iun-pillar (or hwn-pillar) to give the emblem mentioned in the Pyramid Text from the pyramid of Unas without it bearing a particular name. The three emblems coexist on a monument of the Sed-festival of Osorkon II in Bubastis.
In the Greco-Roman temples Mnevis looks after the provision of the tables of offerings for all of the gods, just as Apis later.
Its most prominent characteristic is its very close relationship with thegod Ra of Heliopolis, a privileged relationship expressed by its epithets: Whm n Re (Herald of Re, or the one who repeats the life of Re, the one who raises Ma'at in Atum).
In Edfu or Dendera, Atum is sometimes described as the bull of Heliopolis, Mnevis, carrying the solar epithet (Lord of the sky or great god).
probably wanted to move Mnevis of Heliopolis to Amarna: the border stela K speaks of the planning of a necropolis for Mnevis in the East of Akhetaton but the place has not been discovered.
Mnevis has been put in relation with the cult of the eye since the Pyramid Texts. In another passage from the Pyramid Texts it assists the sun at the moment where it, in the form of the eye, fights darkness; in the morning, it is the great bull who strikes Keneset. Later it is called lun of Keneset, bull of the sky. In the Greco-Roman period it is identified with Osiris (Plutarch: of Iside) ; it is associated with Apis, and brought closer to Serapis.
The Apis bull is the living manifestation, the hypostasis of the god Ptah of Memphis. For this reason, it was used as intermediary between men and the creator god, primarily through oracles who replied for it.
Apis is mentioned since the beginnings of the Old Kingdom. The Pharaoh is immediately identified intimately with the image of the bull represented by Apis. This name of "victorious bull", which is assigned to the Pharaoh, will last throughout the whole of history. At the time of the coronation ceremonies and at the time of the Sed-festival, the king carries out a race which is a reminder of the Apis bull.
The animal was chosen according to very precise criteria concerning at one time its colour (black), the presence of some marks (such as a white triangle on the forehead), a certain moment of birth. After its death, Apis had right to an identical mummification to that of the Pharaohs, as well as to a sarcophagus.
The Serapeum, the necropolis of the Apis, was excavated in 1851 by the French egyptologist Augustus Mariette on the north plateau of the Saqqarah.
The Serapeum, the necropolis of the Apis, was excavated in 1851 by the French egyptologist Augustus Mariette on the north plateau of the Saqqarah. The dates of establishment and death of the Apis constitute an especially important criteria for the dating of Egyptian chronology from about the 7th century BC.
The popular devotion towards Apis was important, which is expressed by the great number of stelae recovered from the Serapeum, left by the faithful.
Very early on, the vigor of Apis had been associated with the maintenance, in the beyond, of the natural terrestrial phenomenon, and notably the rise in the water level of the Nile.
Later, Apis is primarily associated with Osiris, progressively becoming Osiris, from where the Osiris- Apis form of which will used by Ptolemy I, Soter.
This complementarity then this fusion is illustrated by the frequent presence on the late period sarcophaguses of a representation of the Apis galloping, bearing on its back a mummiform sarcophagus.
It was an evocation of the return of the fertilising flood and fertility, since the body of Osiris was identified with the land of Egypt.
After Alexander's conquest, Ptolemy I Soter instituted the cult of a new god, a syncretic artificial combination, Serapis. In addition to the Greek loans, the sovereign had wanted this god as a representation of the fundamentals of Ancient Egypt represented by Osiris (Wsir) and the Apis bull.
Found in a papyrus from the Serapeum is the mention of a priest of UserApis and UserMnevis, named Petisis, who served the Apis and the dead Mnevis.
In the Fayum close to Dimeh, a temple was dedicated to Serapis UserMnevis.
The great popularity of these bulls during later times explains why they were still mentioned in Coptic works: in a codex of Nag-hammadi, Apis is mentioned as a symbol of the sun and Mnevis as a symbol of the moon.