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Bes

Bes or Bisu: popular ancient deity, originally from Egypt.

A relief of Bes from Karatepe

The odd-looking gentleman on the picture is the god Bes. The relief was excavated in Aslantaş, the ancient Neo-Hittite city of Azitawatay, where it guarded one of the city gates. It was made towards the end of the eighth century BCE.

The location, in southern Turkey, is remarkable because Bes is considered an Egyptian god, although he had no temples in that country by the end of the eighth century, and he remained conspicuously absent from the Egyptian state cult. However, this goblin-like deity had already been venerated for centuries and was one of the popular cults of the people of ancient Egypt. Already popular in the Levant in the Iron Age, his cult spread to Punic Sicily in the fifth century, and to Iran and Armenia in the Hellenistic period and all over the Mediterranean under the Roman Empire.

Bes was a so-called "apotropaic" god, which means that he fended off evil. He protected pregnant women, but also fought wild animals, and it is of course no coincidence that he garded the city gate of Aslantaş, where he had to keep out hostile forces.

To increase the shock effect that kept danger away, Bes was depicted frontally, which was common in neither Egyptian nor Neo-Hittite art. Sometimes he was shown while he was dancing, which gives a funny effect, because he is also depicted with crooked limbs and a large penis. His head was too large, he had bulging eyes, and he wore a feather crown and sometimes a dagger. Often, he had lion's manes, an animal tail, and an outstretched tongue. On the Neo-Hittite relief, he carries two monkeys on its shoulders. Sometimes he is shown with Beset, a naked dancer who is essentially Bes himself in a female form.

This page was created in 2019; last modified on 2 April 2019.

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