An important and large glazed composition amulet depicting a couchant lion, naturalistically modelled. The features of the animal, such as the ribs, mane and musculature are incised and well delineated. The tail of the animal is curled around the right haunch. A ribbed loop for suspension or attachment on the back. On an integral base which is rectangular, and rounded at the back.
Lion amulets may have had a function in protecting against snakes (Andrews, p. 64-66), and more in general against dangers appearing during the night. They are known to have offered protection for the bedroom, for the deceased during his eternal sleep, and, on a larger scale, to the temple, in which the god slept during the night.
A statue of Ramesses III and his wife in the Egyptian Museum in Cairo (JdE 69771) contains magical inscriptions against snakes and scorpions; these spells are supplemented by texts in papyrus Brooklyn 47.218.138 (6th-4th century B.C.). One of the spells, intended to "close the mouth of any male or female snake", identifies the king with "a lion who spreads astonishment by his force (...) He is the lion who protects himself (...) He is a lion who wards off gods and spirits when he has stricken all male snakes and all female snakes". The variant of this text on the papyrus contains a postscript about how the spell is to be applied: "Words to be spoken over a lion of faience, threaded to red linen. To be applied to a man's hand. It is to be given as a protection of the bedroom" (Borghouts, p. 93, no. 142; Goyon (1971), p. 154 ff; Theis, p. 405-408).
Both copies of the spell (statue, line 16; papyrus, column 13) indicate that the lion is "the one who wards off (malevolent) people and spirits, the one who wards off every male and every female snake for him".
Just as the bedroom needed to be protected against snakes and other dangers lurking in the dark, the temple was to be protected too, and here we can also find the image of a lion.
Temples usually had openings in the walls, near the edges of their roof, provided with spouts designed to convey rainwater from the roof. Such gargoyles were mostly decorated, and were often in the shape of a lion (Ventker, passim; Theis p. 133-155; see here for an example in the British Museum). They are archaeologically known from the 5th dynasty (pyramid complex of Sahure) until Graeco-Roman times (Theis, p. 133). Plutarch is probably referring to this when he writes "The Egyptians also hold the lion in honour, and they adorn the gates of their temples with gaping heads of lions" (De Iside et Osiride 38).
Egyptian texts connected to these images explain that the lion protected the temple against enemies. In the temple of Edfu one of them reads: "I am the fierce lion, the lion great of power that drives back the enemies of Edfu ... that protects the tempel of Edfu against the impurity of the enemy" (Edfou IV, 106, 15-19; Theis p 136).
This enemy would above all be Seth, the god of the desert, chaos, confusion and storm. Rain was considered the harmful action of Seth, whose destructive forces could penetrate into the temple with the rainwater. Another text in the same temple, also relating to a gargoyle, reads: "I am the lion ... that kills whoever comes with bad intentions ... the great protector who directs away the flow of rainwater and throws it on the earth ... who devours the storm on the day of a thunderstorm, when he (Seth) is coming to do evil" (Edfou IV, 130, 4-7; Fiedler, p. 74).
These texts are important for our amulet, because in the temple ritual too the amulet of a lion has a role to play. A text in the temple of Edfu describes a ritual in which the king brings protection of the temple and of the god in the shape of amulets, such as a wedjat-eye, an amulet of gold, a Taweret made of faience, and a beetle of turquoise. The text contains the words: "... the divine falcon and the lion of faience protect you, they repeat your magical protection" (Edfou VI, 145, 3-5). This text is part of a spell from a ritual to protect Horus during the night (Theis p. 153; 430).
One of the texts cited above mentions that the lion amulet has to be attached to red linen. The Egyptian word used is idmi(t), a common type of red textile (Germer, p. 126-131; Chapman, p. 54; Theis, p. 155 and note 186 with further literature; Van den Hoven, p. 133). It is frequently used in the text of the embalming ritual (papyrus Boulaq 3; Töpfer, p. 102, 191) and also found on a linen rag in an embalming cache, reading: "Red linen from Thebes. Every protection by idmi linen of Amun to Padiamennebnesuttawy" (Ikram - López-Grande, p. 214-215; Chapman, p. 189). The material can even be identified with Osiris (Sethe, p. 215-220, scene 35, esp. p. 219, § 110b). In the Middle Kingdom Coffin Texts idmi plays an important role in protecting the bed of the deceased (Spell 728).
Carol Andrews, Amulets of Ancient Egypt (London, British Museum Press, 1994);
Joris F. Borghouts, Ancient Egyptian Magical Texts (NISABA, Religious Texts Translation Series) (Leiden, E.J. Brill, 1978);
Sarah Lynn Chapman, The Embalming Ritual of Late Period Through Ptolemaic Egypt (PhD thesis, University of Birmingham, 2016);
Norman Fiedler, Sprüche gegen Seth. Bemerkungen zu drei späten Tempelritualen (Inauguraldissertation, Universität Heidelberg, 2011);
Renate Germer, Die Textilfärberei und die Verwendung gefärbter Textilien im alten Ägypten (Ägyptologische Abhandlungen, Band 53) (Wiesbaden, Harrassowitz Verlag, 1992);
Jean-Claude Goyon, "Un parallèle tardif d'une formule des inscriptions de la statue prophylactique de Ramsès III au Musée du Caire (Papyrus Brooklyn 47.218.138, col. x+13, 9 à 15)", Journal of Egyptian Archaeology 57 (1971), p. 154-159;
Jean-Claude Goyon, Le recueil de prophylaxie contre les agressions des animaux venimeux du Musée de Brooklyn. Papyrus Wilbour 47.218.138 (Studien zur spätägyptischen Religion, Band 5) (Wiesbaden, Harrassowitz Verlag, 2012);
Carina van den Hoven, "Uw bescherming is de bescherming van de goden: de magische bescherming van het lichaam in het Oude Egypte" (Ta-Mery, 2017-2018), p. 122-139;
Salima Ikram - María J. López-Grande, "Three Embalming Caches from Dra Abu el-Naga" (Bulletin de l'Institut Français d'Archéologie Orientale, Tome 111) (Le Caire, 2011), 205-228;
Kurt Sethe, Dramatische Texte zu altägyptischen Mysterienspiele. II - Der Dramatische Ramesseumpapyrus. Ein Spiel zur Thronbesteigung des Königs (Untersuchungen zur Geschichte und Altertumskunde Ägyptens, 10,2) (Leipzig, J.C. Hinrichs, 1928);
Christoffer Theis, Magie und Raum. Der magische Schutz ausgewählter Räume im Alten Ägypten nebst einem Vergleich zu angrenzenden Kulturbereichen (Orientalische Religionen in der Antike, Band 13) (Tübingen, Mohr Siebeck, 2014);
Susanne Töpfer, Das Balsamierungsritual. Eine (Neu-)Edition der Textkomposition Balsamierungsritual (pBoulaq 3, pLouvre 5158, pDurham 1983.11 + pSt. Petersburg 18128) (Studien zur spätägyptischen Religion, Band 13) (Wiesbaden, Harrassowitz Verlag, 2015);
Bettina Ventker, Der Starke auf dem Dach. Funktion und Bedeutung der löwengestaltigen Wasserspeier im alten Ägypten (Studien zur spätägyptischen Religion, Band 6) (Wiesbaden, Harrassowitz Verlag, 2012).
Late Period - Ptolemaic Period, circa 380-200 B.C.
Length 6.5 cm.
Anonymous sale, Münzen und Medaillen AG, Basel, 16 June 1981, lot 94; thence private collection.
Some small chips to the suspension loop and the edges of the integral base; a restoration to the ears and the top of the knees; some minor pitting and nicks; else intact.