Sobek - the Egyptian crocodile god

Discussion in 'Ancient Coins' started by Jochen1, Dec 3, 2019.

  1. Jochen1

    Jochen1 Well-Known Member

    Dear Friends of ancient mythology!

    This coin has been in my collection for 10 years. I always thought it was a crocodile on the back. But now Broucheion from CoinTalk has made me aware that the crocodile has a sun disk on its head. So it's not a simple crocodile, it's Sobek, the crocodile god! I had overlooked the sun disk, but I'm not alone: Förschner doesn't mention it either!

    So now naturally follows an article about Sobek - the Egyptian crocodile god.

    The coin:
    Egypt, Alexandria, Arsinoites Nome, Hadrian, AD 117-138
    AE - Dichalcum, 2.01g, 12.87mm, 30°, 2.01g
    struck in Alexandria AD 126/127 (year 11)
    Obv.: laureate head n.r.
    Rev.: Crocodile with sun disk above the head, r. (Crocodile God Sobek)
    in the upper field LIA (year 11) >
    in ex. APC (for Arsinoites)
    Ref.: Milne -; Dattari 6212; Geissen 3383f.; SNG Copenhagen 1085; Förschner 1344
    (Sun disk not mentioned!)
    Not common, VF, light green Patina
    This coin is a so-called Nome coin. In the Old Kingdom Egypt was divided into 32 districts (Greek: Nomoi), which had emerged from the principalities of the Neolithic (Wikipedia). At their head stood a ruler (Strategos), who was relatively independent of the central power of the Pharaoh. Each district (Nomos) was assigned a deity who was especially worshipped. Many of these local gods did not have their own name, but were named after their main place of worship. The goddess of the city Bast in the Nile delta, the famous cat goddess, was simply called "Bastet = the goddess of Bast".

    This coin was struck in Alexandria (like all Nome coins) for the Arsinoites district. This had been added to the ancient districts in Greek-Roman times as the 21st district Noret-Pehet and belonged to Upper Egypt.

    Arsinoites was located on the Fajum at the confluence of a contributary to the Nile
    and the ancient Fajum Lake. The Fajum was an extensive marshland, an ideal hunting ground, which was largely drained only under Ptolemaios II to settle his Greek mercenaries there.

    The crocodiles living there since ancient times instilled admiration and fear in the people. So it is understandable that they were worshipped there in the shape of the crocodile god Sobek (Egyptian "sbk"). The Greeks called the city Krokodeilopolis because of this worship of the crocodile. They called Sobek Souchos. Sobek was also considered the ruler of water and the god of fertility. He was worshipped as a protector, but was also regarded as evil in part. In the New Kingdom he appears in the underworld books. In the late period he was even regarded as the creator god.

    Sobek was depicted as a god with a human body and crocodile head. As a national emblem he carries the Was. scepter in the left and the Ankh in the right.
    In the New Kingdom around 1400 B.C. Sobek additionally received the sun disk, because he was considered at this time a revelation of the sun god Re and was known as Sobek-Re. We therefore have reason to believe that Sobek-Re is also meant on this coin.

    Its importance was so great at that time that a number of pharaohs took its name as an addition, e.g. Queen Nofrusobek or Pharaoh Chankre Sobekhotep, which translated means "Sobek is satisfied".

    To the crocodile god Sobek were consecrated numerous temples with ponds for the holy animals. Besides Krokodeilopolis, the most important were found at Kom Ombo in Upper Egypt and at Tebtunis. The ancient Egyptians knew two different crocodile species: the larger Nile crocodile and the smaller West African crocodile. The West African crocodile was usually used for religious purposes, probably because it was less dangerous. The crocodiles who died in this temple were embalmed like humans and buried as mummies. At Kom-Ombo and in the caves of the crocodile necropolis of El-Maabdeh thousands of these crocodile mummies were found, especially young animals.
    Temple of Sobek-Re (Roland Unger, Wikipedia), Qasr Qarun, at Al-Fayum

    The Romans renamed Krokodeilopolis to Arsinoites, the city of the Arsinoites. Besides Memphis, Pelusium and Alexandria, it was the court of the governor. Numerous papyri in Greek, Coptic and Arabic script came from there. Today it is Al-Fayum, a large city with over 475000 inhabitants.

    (1) Old Kingdom ca. 2707 - 2216 B.C. (3rd to 6th Dynasty)
    (2) New Kingdom ca. 1550 - 1070 B.C. (18th to 20th Dynasty)

    (1) Wikipedia
    (2) Gisela Förschner, Die Münzen der römischen Kaiser in Alexandria - Historisches Museum in Frankfurt, 1987
    (3) Der Kleine Pauly

    Best regards
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  3. ancient coin hunter

    ancient coin hunter Khnum-Hotep

    Thanks for the write-up. Having traveled pretty extensively in Egypt I have been to Tebtunis, Al-Fayum, and Kom Ombo, which saw its most extensive expansion under Ptolemy VI Philometor. I've been a donor to the Tebtunis Papyri project - thus I have a soft spot for Sobek. I have a Hadrian drachm with a crocodile but it does not possess a sun disk, hence it most likely is not Sobek-Ra.



    As you can see, Nilos is reclining with a crocodile immediately on his left side.
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  4. ancient coin hunter

    ancient coin hunter Khnum-Hotep

    Also, you guys and gals are probably tired of seeing me post this drachm!


    But I have to say it's one of my favorite coins.
  5. Severus Alexander

    Severus Alexander Blame my mother. Supporter

    Harpokrates was also apparently associated with Sobek, via the religious town, Canopus. Here's a Harpokrates-Sobek combo issued in the area (Menelaites nome).

    Screen Shot 2019-12-03 at 4.01.03 PM.jpg
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