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Museum piece #13 – BM EA25565

BM EA25565 Bronze figure of Bastet shaking a sistrum and holding an aegis, with kittens at her feet (Source: British Museum Online Collection).

BM EA25565 is a bronze figure of the ancient Egyptian goddess, Bastet, or Bast, which dates to the Late Period or the Ptolemaic Period. Bastet is represented shaking a sistrum, a ceremonial musical instrument, and holding an aegis, a collar embellished with the head of a lioness. Bastet was associated with protective ointments, and her name means ‘she of the ointment jar’.

Bastet is one of the daughters of the sun-god, Re, along with Sekhmet and Hathor. Together they are associated with the eye of Re, the sun-god’s ‘instrument of vengeance’. In the tale of The Destruction of Mankind, Re sends forth his eye, in the form of Sekhmet, to seek vengeance on mankind after they plot against him.

Bastet is an aspect of the feline goddess – she represents the protective aspect, emphasised by the presence of her kittens in the statue composition, whereas Sekhmet represents the aggressive aspect.

The female cat was particularly noted for her fecundity, and Bastet was worshipped as goddess of fertility, again emphasised by her depiction with kittens. She was also associated with festivity and intoxication, symbolised by the sistrum, an instrument associated with ‘merry-making’.

The cult centre of Bastet, from at least the Old Kingdom, was the town of Bubastis in the Nile Delta, where this statuette was discovered. During the 22nd Dynasty, Osorkon I and Osorkon II built a temple of Bastet at the town. Bubastis was known as pr-bȝstt to the Egyptians, literally translating as ‘house of Bastet’.

Votive bronze statuettes were very popular in the Late and Ptolemaic periods, particularly statuettes of fierce or protective deities, such as Bastet and Sekhmet. They were often inscribed and left at the temple of the deity that they represented.

Bibliography and further reading:

Pinch, G., & E. A. Waraksa. 2009. ‘Votive Practices’. UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology, 1(1). Available from: http://www.escholarship.org/uc/item/7kp4n7rk.

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