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ANCIENT LUXOR
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SOBEK

Charles Woods and Connie Tindale
 

Sobek, or Suchos in the Greek spelling of his name, was a crocodile god especially revered in the Ptolemaic (Greek) temple at Kom Ombo in Upper Egypt.  Sobek shared this temple in a dual dedication which included Haroeris, better known as Hawer or “Horus the Elder”.  Hawer was the husband of Heket the fog goddess responsible for the creation of children along with Khum, the ‘potter’ god responsible for fashioning children on his potter’s wheel.

Apart from this rise in importance of Sobek throughout the Ptolemaic/Roman period, Sobek was venerated from the earliest of times, at least the Old Kingdom, and maybe even before that.  He was at once an aggressive and dangerous god, but also linked to procreation and vegetative fertility, the latter by being obviously linked to the Nile and its fertile green banks and fields.  Partly for this reason, Sobek is often linked to the colour green.

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Reliefs showing Sobek receiving homage at the temple of Kom Ombo

Other than Kom Ombo in Upper Egypt, Sobek’s other main cult center was at Shedet – called in Greek Crocodilopolis (meaning City of the Crocodile) in the Fayum.   The 12th and 13th dynasty kings had made this the center of their residence in the North as well as having a second residence at Kom Ombo in the South.  Other cult centers existed at Gebel el-Silsila, and Gebelein. 

The kings and queens of the 13th dynasty particularly favored the cult of Sobek, and kings and queens alike would incorporate the name of the god in their titles, for example Sobek-hotep (Sobek is merciful or satisfied) .  In this connection, Sobek was closely related to the Royal god Horus and there are a number of depictions of Sobek as a crocodile with the head of a falcon adorned with the double crown.   In addition he also had a close association to Re, and in this regard is seen depicted in the form of a crocodile with the horned sun disc and tall plumes adorning his head.  In this form he becomes Sobek-Re. Sometimes he is seen wearing the royal uraeus and at other times a tri-part wig.

Sobek is said to be the son of Neith or Nuit, another very ancient goddess deity.  Apart from rising to particular importance during the Old Kingdom, the Middle Kingdom and the Ptolemaic/Hellenist period, he enjoyed a certain popularity during the 18th Dynasty with both Thuthmosis III and Hatshepsut both being patrons of the god.   Amenhotep III also commissioned a statue of the larger than life seated god next to him where he stands and is offered life by the god in the form of the ankh.  This statue is currently in the Luxor museum.    A later statue exists of a triad with Sobek and his ‘wife’ Hathor and son Khonsu, a position taken up by Tutankhamun.

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Sobek with Hathor...............................................Sobek with Amenhotep III (Luxor Museum) .........................................Sobek - Kom Ombo

The Association of Sobek with Re led the Greeks to identify him with the Roman form of Re, called Helios, the god worshiped at the City of On or An and renamed by the Greeks as Heliopolis (meaning city of the sun).   In this regard the Greeks viewed Sobek as Helios with a halo of sun rays instead of the usual sun disc associated with Re, and in his hand he would be made to hold an attribute of a crocodile.

One or two interesting and amusing stories have come down to us from some of the ancient visitors to the shrine of Sobek in the fayum. For example, Strabo, writing in the lst century BCE records his visit there accompanied by the then Roman Prefect of Egypt.  He visited the Temple that housed the sacred crocodile.    As with all Sobek temples there was a small pool where the living Sobek could lie at leisure.   When visitors arrived for a godly consultation, they would be required to call upon his name, “Suchos! Suchos!”.  If the animal responded and turned towards the visitor this was considered a fairly good sign.   However, an extremely alarmed Strabo discovered that when his name was called, he not only turned, but he actually charged head on towards them.    This was apparently considered a VERY good sign!     Fortunately all ended well when a couple of priests responsible for the god pounced quickly upon him, opened his mouth and fed him a few delicacies, including a little wine we are told!    

Kom OmboKom Ombo
Temple to Sobek at Kom Ombo
   
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