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Sobek, the crocodile god, was an important figure in Egyptian culture, connected to the river Nile and the crocodiles that inhabited it. He had to do with several affairs of daily life. Here’s a closer look at his myth.
Who Was Sobek?
Sobek was one of the ancient deities of Egyptian mythology, and one of the most noteworthy. He appears in the texts inscribed in Old Kingdom tombs, known collectively as the Pyramid Texts. It is possible that even in this time the Ancient Egyptians worshipped him throughout all the land.
Sobek, whose name meant simply ‘crocodile’, was the god of such animals and of water, and his depictions showed him either in animal form or as a man with a crocodile head. Apart from being the lord of the crocodiles, he was also associated with strength and power. Sobek was the protector of the army and the defender of Pharaohs. For his associations with the Nile, people saw him as a deity of fertility on earth.
The myths about the origins and parentage of Sobek differ vastly.
- In the Pyramid Texts, Sobek was the son of Neith, another ancient deity of Egypt. In these texts, Sobek played a central role in the creation of the world as most creatures emerged from the eggs he laid on the riverbanks of the Nile.
- Some other accounts mention Sobek as having emerged from the primeval waters of Nun. He was born out of the so-called Dark Waters. By his birth, he gave the world its order and created the river Nile.
- Other myths refer to Sobek as a son of Khnum, the god of the source of the Nile, or of Set, the god of chaos. He was also one of his acolytes in the conflicts for the throne of Egypt.
Sobek’s Role in Ancient Egypt
Sobek appears as a remarkable figure of the early myths, and he enjoyed a long period of worship from the Old Kingdom to the Middle Kingdom. During the reign of Pharaoh Amenemhat III in the Middle Kingdom, the worship of Sobek gained prominence. The Pharaoh began building a temple dedicated to the worship of Sobek, which was completed during the reign of his successor, Amenemhat IV.
- Sobek and Fertility
The Ancient Egyptians worshipped Sobek for his role in ensuring the fertility of the land. People believed that since he was the deity of the Nile, he could give prosperity to crops, cattle, and people. In these myths, Sobek provided fertility to all Egypt.
- Sobek’s Dark Side
During the conflict between Set and Osiris for the throne of Egypt, which ended with Set usurping the throne and killing and mutilating his brother Osiris, Sobek supported Set. Due to his crocodile nature, Sobek also had a violent character, although this associated him not so much with evil as it did with power.
- Sobek and the Pharaohs
The crocodile god was the protector of the army and a source of power for them. In ancient Egypt, it was believed that the Pharaohs were incarnations of Sobek. Due to his associations with the god Horus, the worship of Pharaoh Amenemhat III would make him a big part of the Egyptian deities. Under this light, Sobek was valuable for the great kings of Egypt from the Middle kingdom onwards.
- Sobek and the Dangers of the Nile
Sobek was the deity who protected mortals from the several dangers of the river Nile. His most important places of worship were in the surroundings of the Nile or places infested with crocodiles, which was one of the most dangerous aspects of this river, and as their god, Sobek could control them.
Sobek and Ra
In some accounts, Sobek was a deity of the sun, along with Ra. The two gods merged to create Sobek-Ra, the crocodile god of the sun. This myth appears in The Book of Faiyum, in which Sobek is one of the aspects of the Ra. Sobek-Ra is depicted as a crocodile with a solar disk and sometimes a uraeus serpent on its head, and was worshipped especially during the Graeco-Roman Period. The Greeks identified Sobek with their own sun god, Helios.
Sobek and Horus
At one point in history, the myths of Sobek and Horus were merged. Kom Ombo, in the South of Egypt, was one of the worship places of Sobek, where he shared a sacred temple with Horus. In some myths, the two deities were enemies and fought each other. In other stories, however, Sobek was just a feature of Horus.
This idea might have derived from the myth in which Horus turns into a crocodile to look for the parts of Osiris in the Nile. In some accounts, Sobek helped Isis deliver Horus at his birth. In this sense, the two gods were often connected.
Sobek’s most important symbol was the crocodile and this factor distinguished him from the other gods. As a crocodile god of the Nile, Sobek symbolized:
- Pharaonic power
- Military power and prowess
- Protection as a deity with apotropaic powers
Sobek was an important deity in the Faiyum region, and he had his primordial cult center there. Faiyum stands for the land of the lake, as it was a prominent oasis in the Western Desert of Egypt. The Greeks knew this area as Crocodilopolis. However, Sobek enjoyed widespread worship as a popular and important deity.
As part of the worship of Sobek, people mummified crocodiles. Several excavations of Ancient Egypt have found mummified crocodiles in tombs. Animals of all ages and sizes were also sacrificed and offered to Sobek as tributes. These offerings could have been either for his protection from crocodiles or for his favor with fertility.
Below is a list of the editor’s top picks featuring the statue of Sobek.
Sobek is the offspring of Set or Khnum and Neith.
Sobek’s consort is Renenutet, the cobra goddess of plenty, Meskhenet, or even Hathor.
Sobek’s symbol is the crocodile, and as Sobek-Ra, the solar disk and the uraeus.
Sobek was the lord of the crocodiles, with some believing he was the creator of order in the universe.
Sobek represents power, fertility and protection.
Although he did not start as one of the principal deities of the Egyptian pantheon, Sobek’s story grew more substantial with time. Given the importance of the Nile in Ancient Egypt, Sobek was a remarkable figure. He was a protector, a giver, and a mighty god. For his associations with fertility, he was omnipresent in the worship of the people.