A rare Egyptian faience Apis Ushabti, Late Period, ca. 722-332 BC

of pale green faience, a mummiformed sacred Apis, or Osiris-Apis, shown standing. Probably from the Serapeum at the Saqqara. 

Background:  Although there is evidence of cults dedicated to animals as early as the Predynastic Period, their popularity did not peak until the Late Ptolemaic Periods.  Animals sacred to certain deities were bred, sacrificed, mummified and buried in huge necropoleis within the temple precincts.  The cult of the Apis bull was one of the oldest animal cults and ultimately, the most renowned. Unlike other cults that might sacrifice thousands of animals, that of the Apis bull centered around a single, chosen animal.

A fertility god called Apis was venerated as early as the First Dynasty, although the deity ultimately merged with Ptah, a creater-god.  The Apis bull was considered the physical manifestation of Ptah, at Memphis, the Apis was treated to a coronation ceremony and a luxurious lifestyle in a sacred precinct.  Each bull was selected after an exhaustive search throughout Egypt.  According to Herodotus, the fifth centruy BC Greek historian, the Apis bull "is the calf of a cow which is never afterwards able to have another.  ---- a flash of light descends upon the cow from heaven, and this cuases her to receive Apis.  The Apis calf has distinctive white marks: it is black, with a white diamond on its forehead, the image of an eagle on it sback, the hairs on its tail double and a scarab under its tongue (Book 3, ch. 29).

The death of the Apis bull was accompanied by even greater ceremony than its installation.  Beginning in the reign of Amenhotep III, the bull was mummified just as a human would have been and entombed in an enormous sarcophagus in a necropolis known as the Serapeum.  Located at Saqqara, the Serapeum was actively used for Apis burials from the New Kingdom until the Ptolemaic Period.  Just as with a human burial, the Apis was provided with extensive funerary equipment, including Canopic jars and shabtis, both of which were typically bull-headed.  The Apis bull and the Serapeum were the focus of intense public piety beginning in the Late Period.  Within the subterranean chambers and corridors of the Serapeum, hundreds of visitors dedicated stelae and votive images of the bull as signs of their devotion.  

Published:  Lacovara, Peter 'The realm of Osiris: Mummies, coffins, and Ancient Egyptian funerary art in the Michael C. Carlos Museum', Emory University (2001) 

Exhibited:  Michael C. Carlos Museum, Emory University, 1999 - 2015

Condition:  Lower half missing, otherwise intact and in very good condition overall. Integrated custom mount.

Dimensions:  Height: 3 3/4 inches (9.5 cm)

Provenance: Private NY collection, acquired Royal-Athena Galleries, New York, December 1999, thereafter on loan to the Michael C Carlos museum, 1999 - 2015, loan number: L1999.037.

Photo courtesy of the Michael C. Carlos Museum.


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