Stele of god Bes in panther skin

Ancient Egyptian arched stele of god Bes in panther skin. The dwarf God, protector of households, believed to guard against evil spirits and misfortune.

Bes is depicted with wings and tail of bird, standing, phallus erect, holding Ankh sign and scepter, panther skin, sandals, overwhelming in lower panel snakes, jackal, turtle, crocodile, scorpion, hippopotamus and lion (these animals are in line and surrounded by ouroboros or a snake biting its tail). The body of god Bes is covered with the eyes of Horus.

Portable stele of god Bes in panther skin. The Louvre Museum. E 10954
Portable stele of god Bes in panther skin. The Louvre Museum. E 10954

Bes (Bisu, Aha) was an ancient Egyptian dwarf god. He was a complex being who was both a deity and a demonic fighter. He was a god of war, yet he was also a patron of childbirth and the home, and was associated with sexuality, humor, music and dancing. Although he began as a protector of the pharaoh, he became very popular with every day Egyptian people because he protected women and children above all others.

Though Bes had no temples and there were no priests ordained in his name, he was one of the most popular gods of ancient Egypt. He was often depicted on household items such as furniture, mirrors and cosmetics containers and applicators, as well as magical wands and knives.

Over time, Bes came to be seen as the champion of everything good and the enemy of everything evil. It seems that he was originally known as “Aha” (“fighter”) because he could strangle bears, lions, and snakes with his bare hands. He is described as a demon, but he was not considered to be evil.

On the contrary, he was a supporter of Re who protected him from his enemies. As a result, he was a god of war who protected the pharaoh and the people of Egypt from evil forces. He was often depicted on knives in the hope that this would extend his protection to the bearer of the blade. His image also appears on numerous “magic wands” and on an incredible number of amulets.

He was particularly protective of women and children and was often depicted with the young Horus protecting him as he matured. As a result, Bes also became a god of childbirth. It was thought that he could scare off any evil spirits lurking around the birthing chamber by dancing, shouting and shaking his rattle.

If the mother was experiencing a difficult birth, a statue of Bes was placed near her head and his assistance was invoked on her behalf. Rather sweetly, Bes remained at the child’s side after birth to protect and entertain them. It was said that if a baby laughed or smiled for no reason, it was because Bes was pulling funny faces. By the New Kingdom he was a regular feature of the illustrations on the walls of the mammisi (“birth house”).

Bes also drove away the evil spirits who caused accidents and created mischief (just as medieval gargoyles were thought to scare evil spirits away from churches). Many ancient Egyptians placed a statue of Bes near the door of their house to protect them from mishap.

His protection could also be invoked by tattooing his image directly onto the body. Performers often had tattoos of Bes because of his association with dancing and music. It is also thought that sacred prostitutes may have had a tattoo of Bes placed near their pubic area in order to prevent venereal diseases, but it is also possible that the tattoos related to fertility.

Late period, 26th Dynasty, ca. 664-525 BC. Now in the Louvre Museum. E 10954