Sobek, Ancient God of the Crocodile in Egyptian Mythology

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This statue of Sobek was found at Amenemhat III's mortuary temple (which was connected to his pyramid at Hawara in the Faiyum), serving as a testament to this king's devotion to Sobek. Ashmolean Museum, Oxford.

Crocodiles are believed to be over 200 million years old. These fierce and powerful creatures were feared and worshiped in the Nile Valley.

Crocodiles are large aquatic reptiles whose species is perhaps 200 million years old or older. They are found in many parts of the world and were known and feared by the ancient Egyptians residing in the Nile Valley.

Ancient Egyptian’s Fear of Crocodiles

Part of the fear can be attributed to their size with adult males usually measure from approximately 11 feet to 16 feet with some specimens as large as 18 feet. Most mature Nile crocodiles weigh in the range of 500 pounds, but some older specimens have weighted as much as a ton.

In the water, the Nile crocodile is quick and agile. It relies on both movement and pressure sensors to catch any prey in or near the water. Out of water it can move quickly over short distances at speeds up to 7 miles per hour while whipping its tail in a “snake like” motion.

Crocodiles in water lie in wait with most of their body concealed underwater, until their prey approaches, and then rush out in attack. Combining their appearance, size¸ weight, ferocity and speed and surprise element in attack leave even larger prey with no hope of escape.

Sobek, God of Crocodiles

Sobek, also known by a variety of names, was worshipped to gain protection and strength. Sobek has been depicted as either a man with a crocodile head or a full crocodile wearing a headdress and carrying a scepter, the symbol of authority, and an ankh, the symbol of life.

Ancient Egyptians were known to both worship and hate crocodiles, often killing them.

Sobek and the Afterlife

The preoccupation of the Egyptians with the afterlife is apparent in the amount of effort which went into preparing bodies for the grave and in the construction of tombs and the pyramids.

In the Book of the Dead, he is depicted with a number of crocodiles believed to torment the souls in the underworld.

The Nature of Sobek

Sobek is a god whose nature is ambivalent. He was worshiped by some to gain his protection. He was a god of fertility and rebirth, creator of the Nile and through his depiction as a crocodile was a god symbolic of the strength of the Pharaoh. These worshipers must have seen some benefit in their supplications and therefore considered him a benign god

Other who feared and killed crocodiles must have felt him to be an onerous god, one only to be feared.

Perhaps, modern man cannot fully understand the true nature of Sobek in the cosmology of the ancient Egyptians. The fact that so many reliefs, statues, and writings include him just indicates an acknowledgement by the people of the pervasiveness of the crocodile in their world.

Sources:

  1. Pope, Joyce (2001). Crocodile: habitats, life cycles, food chains, threats Austin : Raintree Steck-Vaughn. ISBN: 0739831275
  2. Wilkinson, Richard H.(2003),The Complete Gods and Godesses of Ancient Egypt. New York : Thames & Hudson. ISBN: 0500051208.