Pataikos, slayer of snakes


To speak of magic as a distinct sphere of activity, divorced from other aspects of life, both spiritual and practical, is to impose a modern construct over what, to the ancient Egyptians, was integral to the motivations and activities of daily life. The ancient Egyptians believed that their world was inhabited by benevolent and malevolent forces that had to be propitiated, contained or destroyed. These forces were manifest in almost 1,500 gods,1Richard H. Wilkinson, The Complete Gods and Goddesses of Ancient Egypt, Thames & Hudson Ltd., London, 2003, p. 6. demi-gods and demons, whose names appear in religious and magical texts. However, there were also countless unnamed spirits whose mischievous meddling in human affairs were thought to wreak all kinds of havoc if left uncontrolled. Diseased crops, barren livestock, accidents, breakages and ill health were some of the calamities that were blamed on these house sprites and demons.

Unlike the European notion of ‘black magic’ and ‘white magic’, to the ancient Egyptians there was no distinction. Just as there were dual aspects to the personas of many Egyptian deities – simultaneously beneficial and destructive – demons could be called upon to protect a household or destroy one’s enemies. A letter written around the nineteenth to twentieth dynasties (c. 1300–1069 BCE)2The NGV follows Shaw’s chronology for ancient Egypt: Ian Shaw (ed.), The Oxford History of Ancient Egypt, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2000, pp. 479–83. at the workmen’s village of Deir el Medina demonstrates the potential threat posed by an uncontrolled demon:

Please manufacture for me a Weret-demon [or a Taweret-figure] (sic) because the one which you manufactured for me has been stolen, and thus it may work a manifestation of Seth [god of chaos] against me.3Ostracon Deir el Medina 251, in trans. Edward F. Wente, Letters from Ancient Egypt, Scholars Press, Atlanta, Georgia, 1990, p. 141.

It is not surprising, therefore, that the prime motivation for the use of magic in daily life was for protection. This was achieved in a variety of ways but the most common was through the use of amulets. Amulets – charms with apotropaic powers – were worn to ward off everyday calamities and could be taken to the grave for protection in the afterlife. To become effective, amulets were made from prescribed materials and then activated using the spoken word in the form of chants or incantations, while ritual gestures were being performed over them. Preserved magic texts show that the use of glossolalia – nonsense words like ‘abracadabra’ – could be spoken to enhance the potency of the spell. Manuals on how to perform the magic were written and collected in temple scriptoriums. One such set of instructions reads:

This spell is to be said over pellets of gold, balls of garnet, a seal [with] (sic) a crocodile and a hand. To be strung on a strip of fine linen. To be made into an amulet, applied to the throat of a child.4Papyrus Berlin 3027, 15, vs. 2, 2-7, in trans. J. F. Borghouts, Ancient Egyptian Magical Texts, E. J. Brill, Leiden, 1978, p. 43.

Because priests and temple officials were the only ones who could access the magical texts (and were literate), it follows that they also functioned as magicians when they weren’t acting in their official capacity in temples.5R. K. Ritner, ‘Magic’, in Donald B. Redford (ed.), The Ancient Gods Speak: A Guide to Egyptian Religion, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2002, pp. 194–5. This dual role as priest/magician reinforces the syncretism of magic and religion in ancient Egypt.

No other Egyptian amulet is as well known today as the ubiquitous wadjet eye – the eye of the falcon god Horus. His mythology relates how as a child, with the help of his mother the goddess Isis, he overcame sickness and the stings of scorpions while hiding out in the marshes from his murderous uncle, the god Seth. Because he was able to recover from almost certain death he was regarded as the ultimate protective force against sickness, and the bites and stings of venomous and dangerous creatures. In appealing to Horus the Healer, a supplicant sought the same protection for themselves:

The child will live and the poison will die. Then Horus will be healed for his mother Isis and then the one who suffers will be healed in the same manner.6A Spell for Warding off a Scorpion, Metternich Stela 6, 69–71, in Borghouts, p. 62.

In order to access Horus’s healing powers, large, stone cippi (round-topped plaques or stelas) that depicted Horus the Child7In Egyptian: Har-pa-khered; in Greek: Harpokrates. standing on the heads of crocodiles, while holding in his hands writhing snakes, scorpions, lions and other wild desert animals, were set up in the temple grounds (see below). These so-called Horus-on-the-crocodiles cippi were in use in Egyptian temples in the New Kingdom from c. 1550 BCE until the end of the Ptolemaic Period (30 BCE). Bands of magical texts were inscribed on the cippi such as:

Words spoken by Isis, the Great, mother of God, mistress of magic … She seals the mouth of all reptiles which bite with their mouths and sting with their tails.8Lászlo Kákosy & Ahmed M. Moussa, ‘A Horus Stela with Meret Goddesses’ in Studien zur Altägyptischen Kultur, vol. 25, 1998, p. 150.

However, similar to phylactery amulets,9Phylactery amulets are small tubular containers worn around the neck that contained spells written on strips of papyrus. the spells on the plaque were not to be read. Efficacy was achieved by water being poured over the plaque, which absorbed the power of the written spells. The charged water was then collected and ingested by the petitioner to cure a bite or sting already received or to provide prophylactic protection.

Closely related to Horus-on-the-crocodiles cippi, but either set up in a niche in the home or strung onto a cord and worn around the neck, were the Pataikos-on-the-crocodiles amulets. These large amulets shared most of the characteristics of the Horus-on-the-crocodiles cippi, but instead of featuring the god Horus, the god Pataikos is the central figure.

The Egyptian god, known as Pataikos, could be classed as belonging to the third tier of the Egyptian pantheon. Not belonging to the supreme group of state-promoted gods, or to the next tier of local deities with their own temples or shrines, Pataikos belongs to the group of hundreds of Egyptian gods and demi-gods who were worshipped in the temples of other gods10Pataikos may have been worshipped in his own right in the temple of Neith at Sais, where a stela shows a dwarf standing behind the goddess in the presence of the king (V. Dasen, Dwarfs in Ancient Egypt and Greece, Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1993, p. 85, Pl. 3.1); and Herodotus relates how ‘Pataikos’ figures were installed in the temple of Ptah at Memphis (see below). or in informal settings, such as in the home. Oblique evidence of his cult is to be found in texts and on wall inscriptions,11Dasen, p. 87. but material evidence comes from the proliferation of small objects such as the figures and amulets described herein. Amulets that are clearly recognisable as the god Pataikos began appearing in the early New Kingdom (from c. 1550 BCE), became phenomenally popular during the Third Intermediate Period (1069–664 BCE) and Late Period (664–332 BCE), before waning in the Ptolemaic Period (332–30 BCE).12H. Győry, ‘To the interpretation of Pataikos standing on crocodiles’ in Bulletin du Musée Hongrois des Beaux-Arts, vol. 94, 2001, pp. 27–8.

Even though Pataikos was essentially an Egyptian god, his following extended far beyond the borders of ancient Egypt. From the late Bronze Age (1300–1200 BCE) Pataikos figures began to appear in Syro-Palestine and by the early Iron Age (1200–1000 BCE) they extended as far as Cyprus, Sardinia, the Cyclades, the Aegean islands, to a lesser extent on mainland sites in Italy and Greece,13E. Apostola, ‘The multiple connotations of Pataikos amulets in the Aegean’, in Jochem Kahl & Nicole Kloth (eds), Studien zur Altägyptischen Kultur, vol. 48, 2019, pp. 53–66. and the Phoenician-frequented parts of the western Mediterranean.14A. Villing, ‘The Greeks in Egypt: renewed contact in the Iron Age’, in Jeffrey Spier, Timothy Potts & Sara E. Cole (eds), Beyond the Nile: Egypt and the Classical World, The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, 2018, p. 74. In Israel, the Pataikos figure is the most frequently found Egyptian amulet after the wadjet eye.15For a discussion on the distribution of Pataikoi figures in Israel, see R. Arav & M. Bernett, ‘An Egyptian figure of Pataikos at Bethsaida’, in Israel Exploration Journal, vol. 47, no. 3/4, 1997, pp. 212–3. During the Third Intermediate Period, when the cult of Pataikos reached its apogee, its popularity spread southwards into Nubia (modern Sudan), where it may have been closely associated with royalty. Multiple Pataikos-on-the-crocodiles cippi were found at el Kurru in the tomb of a Nubian queen who lived during the reign of Piankhy (743–712 BCE).16Yvonne J. Markowitz, & Denise M. Doxey, Jewels of Ancient Nubia, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, 2014, p. 118. Interestingly, it is possible to discern different stylistic preferences of aegyptiaca17These are Egyptian and Egyptianising objects – mainly amulets, bronze vessels and figures – found throughout the Mediterranean world from the tenth century BCE onwards. –including Pataikos amulets – by the Greeks, Phoenicians and Nubians.18Villing, p. 74; Apostola, p. 62; Markowitz, pp. 115–18.

If Pataikos had an original Egyptian name, it remains a mystery. The present name comes down to us not from contemporary Egyptian sources but from the Greek historian Herodotus, who was describing figures that were seen in the temple of the Egyptian god Ptah at Memphis, during the Persian conquest of Egypt by Cambyses around 523 BCE. He describes the encounter:

Many such acts of madness did he [Cambyses] both to Persians and allies, remaining at Memphis and opening ancient tombs and examining the dead bodies. Likewise also he entered into the temple of Hephaistos [Ptah] and very much derided the image of the god: for the image of Hephaistos very nearly resembles the Phoenician Pataicoi,19The term ‘pataikos’ (plural ‘pataikoi’) has been translated as meaning ‘little Ptah’. See Dasen, p. 85. which the Phoenicians carry about on the prows of their triremes; and for him who has not seen these, I will indicate its nature, – it is the likeness of a dwarfish man.20Herodotus, History, III, 37.

It is interesting that Herodotus compares the idol that he saw set up in the temple of Ptah with the talismans displayed by the Phoenicians on the prows of their boats. As previously noted, the Phoenicians had adopted the cult of Pataikos, and spread his popularity around the Mediterranean via contact with their trading partners, centuries before Herodotus was writing in the fifth century BCE. Therefore, it is not so outlandish to suggest that what Herodotus assumed were indigenous Phoenician talismans on their triremes were actually Phoenician-inspired variants of the god Pataikos. Unfortunately no representations of these magical emblems have been found21Dasen, p. 84. for comparison.

In the early years of the discipline of Egyptology Pataikoi were referred to as Ptah-Seker figures, which linked them to the Memphite god Sokar. He was sometimes represented as a squat, pygmy-like male.22C. Andrews, Amulets of Ancient Egypt, British Museum Press, London, 1994, p. 39; Wilkinson, p. 210. More recently, and lacking any other satisfactory name, Egyptologists have been using ‘Pataikos’ as a convenient moniker for these figures. Nevertheless, some scholars are reluctant to call this Egyptian god by a non-Egyptian name and therefore use it as a descriptor, ‘pataikos’, rather than a proper noun, ‘Pataikos’;23Andrews, p. 39; Dasen, p. 85. however, for the purposes of this article I will accept it as the god’s name.

In his most basic form Pataikos is depicted as an achondroplasic male dwarf, displaying typical traits of the condition, such as a relatively long trunk, shortened arms and short, bowed legs and a large head with a prominent forehead. The ancient Egyptians were acute observers of the natural world and, in general, faithfully represented the physical characteristics of achondroplasia.24See Dasen, pp. 104–59 for the status of dwarfs in Egyptian society and their representation in imagery and text. Evidence to date suggests that dwarfism was accepted mostly positively in Egyptian society. From the very beginnings of Pharaonic history dwarfs were integrated into society, sharing the same titles as their taller statured counterparts, marrying, having children and being buried in the same manner as their social equals.25Dasen, p. 157. One of the wisdom texts of ancient Egyptian literature, The Teaching of Amenophis the Son of Kanakht (1926), gives the following instruction: ‘Laugh not at a blind man, nor tease a dwarf’,26Papyrus British Museum, 10474, 24. 9, in trans. F. L. Griffith, Journal of Egyptian Archaeology, vol. 12, no. 3/4, Oct. 1926, p. 221. indicating that while their differences could attract negative attention, they were to be treated kindly. The religious association of dwarfs with the god Pataikos and the other chief dwarf god, Bes – two of the fiercest protectors of the household in ancient Egypt – raised a dwarf’s status. However, this elevation had a negative aspect to it as well, as it meant that they could be viewed as trophies or ‘pets’ and acquired by the elite to enhance the prestige of their household.27Dasen, pp. 156–8.

Archetypally, Pataikos’s stance is front on with his fists at his hips and he is always shown naked with proportionate genitalia. He can either have a bald head, close cropped hair, a side-lock or wear the black skull cap of the god Ptah. At other times he appears with a scarab beetle atop his head and may wear a multi-strand collar around his neck. His potency as a destroyer of dangerous creatures is demonstrated by brandishing snakes or knives, or clenching snakes in his mouth while trampling crocodiles underfoot.

The National Gallery of Victoria holds seven Egyptian Pataikoi in its Collection.28NGV Pataikos figures: Egypt, Figure group of Pataikos on crocodiles, Late Period, 664 BCE – 332 BCE, faience, 6.9 x 5.4 x 3.0 cm, accessioned, 1982, (D85-1982); Egypt, Pataikos amulet, Ptolemaic Period, 332 BCE – 30 BCE, faience, 5.8 x 2.6 x 1.8 cm, Felton Bequest, 1939, (D87-1982); Egypt, Head of Pataikos amulet, Late Period, 664 BCE – 332 BCE, faience, 2.0 x 2.0 x 1.9 cm, accessioned, 1994, (D131-1994); Egypt, Pataikos amulet, Third Intermediate Period, 1069 BCE – 664 BCE, faience, 8.3 x 3.5 x 2.0 cm, accessioned, 1982, (D129-1982); Egypt, Pataikos amulet, Late Period, 664 BCE – 332 BCE, faience, 3.0 x 1.2 x 0.9 cm, accessioned, 1994, (D460-1994); Egypt, Pataikos amulet, Ptolemaic Period, 332 BCE – 30 BCE, faience, 3.9 x 1.5 x 1.4 cm, accessioned, 1994, (D130-1994); Egypt, Pataikos amulet, Late Period, 664 BCE – 332 BCE, faience, 3.0 x 1.4 x 1.0 cm, accessioned, 1994, (D132-1994). With the exception of (D87-1982) which was purchased from the Cairo Museum in 1939, there is no known provenance information for any of these works. They include a range of pieces from the main periods of production and consist of both complex Pataikos-on-the-crocodiles figure groups and simple Pataikos amulets. As is usual of most Pataikoi, the NGV works are made from Egyptian faience,29Pataikoi were also made from other materials, such as: ivory (John Hopkins Archaeological Museum, Maryland, Inv. no. A. 196); steatite (National Museum of Antiquities, Leiden, Inv. no. F 1994/9.3); carnelian (National Museum of Antiquities, Leiden, Inv. no. AA.VIII-21); bronze (British Museum, London, Inv. no. EA 74182); and gold (National Museum of Antiquities, Leiden, Inv. no. A0 1hh). which is a glazed non-clay ceramic made from a quartz-based paste.30P. T. Nicholson & E. Peltenburg, ‘Egyptian Faience’, in P. T. Nicholson & I. Shaw (eds), Ancient Egyptian Materials and Technology, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 2000, p. 177. Objects made from this medium could be shaped by hand or produced in re-usable moulds. Actual moulds for Pataikos amulets have been found in situ at Mit Rahineh and Qantir.31R. Anthes, et al., Mit Rahineh 1956, The University Museum, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, 1965, object nos. VB 259-62, Pls. 50, 51; C. Herrmann, Formen für ägyptische Fayencen aus Qantir Band II, Katalog der Sammlung des Franciscan Biblican Museum, Jerusalem und zweier Privatsammlungen, Orbis Academic Press Fribourg – Vandenhoeck & RuprechtGöttingen, 2007, Pls 2V–2VI. Almost certainly the NGV’s Figure group of Pataikos on crocodiles, Late Period, 664 BCE – 332 BCE, was produced in a mould and it is feasible that the other Pataikos figures were made using the same method.

While each of the NGV’s Pataikos amulets is worthy of discussion (even the unattached head offers an insight into Egyptian material culture), an examination of four of the most noteworthy pieces follows. After analysing the stylistic characteristics of each amulet, a period of production will be proposed, using the dating systems devised by Hedvig Győry.32For dating simple Pataikoi amulets see: H. Győry, ‘Changes in styles of ordinary Pataikos amulets’, in Mamdouh Eldamaty & Mai Trad (eds), Egyptian Museum Collections around the World, Volume I, Supreme Council of Antiquities, Cairo, 2002, pp. 491–501. For dating complex Pataikoi amulets see: Győry 2001, pp. 27–40; H. Győry, ‘A Pataikos with hawks on the shoulders’ in Bulletin du Musée Hongrois des Beaux-Arts, Academic Press Fribourg – Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, vol. 98, 2003 A, pp. 15–21.

The largest and most visually arresting of the NGV Pataikoi is Figure group of Pataikos on crocodiles (D85-1982) (see below). Measuring 6.9 cm (height) x 5.4 cm (width) x 3.0 cm (depth), it is a multi-figural composition on a low base that belongs within the corpus of Pataikos-on-the-crocodiles amulets. The figures are semi-attached, with a void between the front and back panels, bridged by a sturdy cross-piece that would have functioned as a suspension hole.33H. Győry 2003 A, pp. 17–18; Andrews, p. 39. The glaze is mainly whitish-grey on the front, with a very pale blue tinge on the reverse. Even though this pale grey-blue colour is unusual for simple amulets of Pataikos, a group of Pataikos-on-the-crocodiles amulets, very similar to this one, display the same colouring,34Brooklyn Museum, London, Inv. no. 37.949E; British Museum, London, Inv. no. 60203. indicating that a conscious preference was in effect at the time of manufacture.

At the centre of the front panel, stands the god Pataikos. He is naked and displays the physiognomies of an achondroplasic dwarf, namely short arms, short bowed legs, a relatively long torso and a large head. Details include well-defined genitalia, a deeply impressed circular navel within a slightly rounded belly and individual modelled fingers and toes on his hands and feet; however, there are no indications of nipples. The head of Pataikos is triangular with a wide brow. His facial features are executed carefully, with large almond-shaped eyes, complete with eyelids, eyebrows contoured in relief, a wide, flat nose, a smiling mouth with thick lips and deep indentations in the corners, and a small, rounded chin. His ears face forwards away from his skull. Flat against the top of his head lies a scarab beetle whose legs and carapace are formed in relief. In his clenched fists, Pataikos holds two snakes to his chest. They are grasped just behind their heads – which face each other – and their bodies drape down the sides of Pataikos’s stomach and around to the back of his thighs. On Pataikos’s shoulders perch two birds facing forwards. They have the features of a hawk or some other small bird of prey – with large eyes and small beaks – and their bodies, wings and tails are incised to indicate feathers.

Pataikos stands on the muzzles of two crocodiles who are bent around snout to snout and whose tails cross over on the reverse. The eyes, jagged mouths, front feet and back feet of the outward-facing sides of each crocodile are all carefully modelled in relief and even the front feet of the animals on the side which would realistically have been hidden from view are shown underneath their upraised heads. The surfaces of the crocodiles are cross-hatched to render the texture of scaly skin.

Flanking Pataikos are the figures of two goddesses who face to the left and right. They stand in the traditional pose of Egyptian statuary, with their hands flat against the sides of their thighs and with the left foot forward of the right foot. They wear tripartite wigs and are clothed in sheath dresses. Although the tops of their heads are missing where their headdresses would have sat, there is enough of the headdress of the goddess at Pataikos’s left shoulder to identify Nephthys. She usually wears the hieroglyphic symbol of her name on her head, which on faience amulets is sometimes fashioned with vertical fluting at the front, similar to what is found here. As Nephthys is usually accompanied by her sister Isis, we can be confident that the goddess on the other side of Pataikos is indeed Isis.

Forming a semi-detached pillar on the reverse of the amulet, and standing in profile, is another figure of a goddess (see below). She faces Pataikos’s right shoulder and wears the same close-fitting dress and tripartite wig as Isis and Nephthys. She has long, outstretched wings, which reach the ground on either side of her body, and on her head she wears a headdress in the shape of a disc. She is smaller than the other figures and, in fact, the disc forms a knop at the end of the cross-piece extending from the back of Pataikos’s head. Without additional iconography it is difficult to precisely identify this deity. She could be any one of the winged goddesses with solar disc headdresses who protect the back of Pataikoi figures: Isis-Maat, Isis-Hathor or Sekhmet.35For examples of goddesses on Pataikoi amulets with differentiated solar discs see for Sekhmet: British Museum, London, Inv. no. 60205; for Isis-Hathor: Fribourg, Institut Biblique, Inv. no. 1609; for Isis-Maat: Fribourg, Institut Biblique, Inv. no. 1608; and for an unidentified winged goddess with plain solar disc see: British Museum, London, Inv. no. EA 60203. Another possibility is Mut, who also wears a solar disc headdress.

It is not surprising that over the approximately 1,200 years during which Pataikos amulets were produced, their iconography changed as Pataikos became identified with various gods in various locations, each with their own symbolism and mythology. Pataikos, with birds on his shoulders, a scarab beetle on his head and flanked by the goddesses Isis and Nephthys, became a standard composition from the Late Period (664 BCE).36Győry 2003 A, p. 28. At its simplest level the figure group represents the Horus the Child theological cycle,37ibid. p. 29. with Pataikos substituting Horus the Child as explained in Spell 14 of the Metternich Stela ‘the protection of Horus is the dwarf, who traverses the two lands at twilight’.38ibid. In this mythology the scarab represents the rejuvenating nature of the young Horus as the morning sun (Re-Horakhty) and Pataikos embodies the old sun-god in the evening. Double protection is provided by the goddesses Isis and Nephthys, who appear in both their anthropomorphic form and in the form of kites – avian manifestations linked to the Osiris tradition.39ibid. p. 27. To the ancient Egyptians, the apotropaic powers of the deities, combined with their dominance over frightening chaotic forces – as represented by the snakes and crocodiles – created a potent defence against sickness and injury.

The following two Pataikoi are simple amulets, without the addition of supplementary figures. Pataikos amulet (D87-1982) is the plainer of the two, with no additional elements whatsoever. However, what it lacks in complexity it makes up for in craftsmanship (see below). The figure is well made, with carefully modelled features coated in a thick, glossy, green glaze. Measuring 5.9 cm (height) x 2.6 cm (width) x 1.8 cm (depth), the figure of Pataikos stands on a low, square base in a sturdy pose, with his feet planted apart and his fists clenched beside his hips. Even though his hands are rudimentary, his feet have been rendered surprisingly realistically. The toes are well articulated and the big toes have been given an upward tilt, typical of the physiognomy of big toes. His legs even have ridges across the knees to indicate the patellas. The head is triangular, so that the cranium overhangs the face and back of the neck. At the nape sits the suspension ring, which is decorated with four vertical grooves. The facial features are finely modelled. The eyes are large and almond-shaped, with hollows underneath, throwing emphasis onto both the eyes and the cheeks, the wide nose has the addition of nostrils and the plump lips appear to be smiling benignly. The overall impression is that of a face of an individual rather than a caricature. Less realistic physical features are the navel, which is large, deep and teardrop-shaped, and the nipples, which are rudimentarily represented by two impressed circles. In profile he has very pronounce buttocks and thick thighs, and an overhanging stomach paunch. The features of this fine example all indicate that it was made in the Ptolemaic Period (332–30 BCE) when more naturalistic physiques and portrait-like faces were introduced,40Győry 2002, p. 499. no doubt influenced by imported Hellenistic artistic traditions, that were themselves rooted in classical Greek art. Similar examples are to be found in the Brooklyn Museum, New York, and the Virginia Museum of Fine Art, Virginia.41Brooklyn Museum, New York, Inv. no. 37.932E; Virginia Museum of Fine Art, Virginia, Inv. no. 84.47.

The second simple Pataikos figure, Pataikos amulet (D129-1982), is a fierce-looking individual (see below) with all the supplementary iconographical elements concentrated around his quite substantial head. In fact he has quite a large head in relation to the size of his body and extremely large ears compared to the size of his head. Measuring 8.3 cm (height) x 3.5 cm (width) x 2.0 cm (depth), he stands with his feet together on a square base, his fists on his hips and his shoulders raised, or conversely, his head sunk into his chest. The glaze on the body is light green and is even paler green on the face. He wears the skullcap of the god Ptah and just as Ptah’s cap is black, traces of black glaze can be found in the grooves around the ears of this figure and around the edges of the scarab beetle that sits flat against the crown of the head. The scarab’s head and elytra are etched in low relief as are the six legs flanking its body. Part of the back of the head and neck have been broken away where the suspension loop would have been attached.

The face of the figure is wide and relatively flat, with large eyes that have thick raised rims that extend around to the ears. The eyebrows are also rendered by thick raised lines, which curve over the eyes. The nose is fairly flat, broad and triangular, with nostrils spaced wide apart and underneath sits a small mouth with straight lips. Of course the most noticeable feature is the snake, etched in a deep outline, hanging from the Pataikos’s mouth. There is no ignoring the meaning of this amuletic figure as the slayer of snakes.

The slightly unsettling position of the head in relation to the body, combined with a thick seam of filler around the neck from a previous repair, provided the motivation to examine the figure under UV light. The corresponding photograph shows a rather large gap between the head and the body that leaves one wondering if the two actually belong together (see above). Several anomalies would indicate that they do in fact come from different amulets. Firstly, after comparing this figure with similar amulets, one would expect to find the snake’s body draped across the front of the shoulders;42See British Museum, London, Inv. No. EA 63475. however, there is no indication of that here. Also, the different shades of green on the face and body, while not necessarily indicative in themselves of different sources, when combined with the misalignment of the parts, would suggest that perhaps this figure is composed of two different amulets. Having said that however, the pieces are not so disparate that they bear no relation to each other. The stylistic features of the body and head all conform to a date of production in the Third Intermediate Period (1069 – 664 BCE) when a baby-like body shape was attached to an overly large head through a wide or virtually non-existent neck.43Győry 2002, pp. 494–5. It is feasible that both parts come from the same archaeological context; that is, the same grave, temple complex or domestic settlement, where upon discovery they were presumed to belong to each other. Nonetheless, the date of the head is confirmed as belonging to the Third Intermediate Period by the almond-shaped eyes and the dangling snake that resembles a moustache.44ibid. p. 494. During this period, instead of representing the god Horus, the scarab is linked with Ptah, the patron-god of craftsmen, who was particularly associated with dwarfs as reported by Herodotus (above).

The last Pataikos amulet to be discussed, Pataikos amulet (D130-1994), is 3.9 cm (height) x 1.5 cm (width) x 1.4 cm (depth) and even though it is not the best preserved specimen in the Collection it is nonetheless worthy of study. First impressions of a small, brown, battered, non-descript figure, missing its left arm, belie the number of features squeezed into its composition (see below). It is in fact a miniature version of Pataikos-on the-crocodiles, minus the goddesses at each side. Like Figure group of Pataikos on crocodiles (above), Pataikos stands on the muzzles of two crocodiles but in this instance the crocodiles face forwards instead of touching snout to snout. He holds a snake in each hand against the fronts of his thighs and a bird perches on each of his shoulders. Instead of the usual skull cap or bald head, curls frame his face and he wears a double-strand collar.

Behind the figure of Pataikos is a semi-detached pillar in the shape of a goddess (see below). In most respects she is the same as the goddess on the reverse of the larger Pataikos-on-the-crocodiles. Standing in profile facing Pataikos’s (missing) right shoulder, she wears a sheath-like dress and drapes her wings protectively behind him. The upper half of the wings are decorated in a herringbone pattern and the lower halves in two tiers of vertical bars, to represent the feathers. Unfortunately the back of the amulet has been broken off directly above the goddess’s head, so that the figure is missing the headdress and the suspension hole or loop. However, a faint sliver of the base of the headdress is still visible. Although difficult to see, there is just enough of it to recognise part of the merged iconography of the horned sun disc worn by the goddesses Isis, Hathor and Mut. A similar example is found on the Pataikos amulet in the Fribourg, Institut Biblique.45Inv. no. 1609.

Initially it was thought that the amulet’s surface had been completely lost; however, examination under a microscope revealed traces of a deep red glaze remaining in its grooves and flecks of black glaze on the base and the head. This would suggest that originally the amulet was deep red with a black base and possibly black hair.46For a blue-glazed Pataikos figure with black-glazed scarab and crocodiles see British Museum, London, Inv. no. EA 63475. The red glaze was probably meant to imitate the more expensive semi-precious gemstone, carnelian.47Other examples with red glaze: National Museum of Antiquities, Leiden, Inv. no. AA.VIII-21; Louvre, Paris, Inv. nos. AF 2542, N 3701; R. Anthes, object no. Ab 192.

There are several key diagnostic indicators that help to date this amulet. During the Late Period one of the variations that was introduced to complex Pataikos amulets was the position of the crocodiles. Instead of their muzzles facing each other, the crocodiles face forwards with only their tails touching.48Győry 2003 A, pp. 19–20. Of even greater significance though, is the classicising of Pataikos’s physique. After the invasion of Egypt by Alexander the Great in 332 BCE and during the ensuing 300-year rule by the Ptolemy family, Egyptian craftsmen incorporated a limited number of Hellenistic characteristics into the canon of traditional Egyptian art. One of these was the introduction of more naturalistic representations of the human body. This innovation is especially apparent in the modelling of the Pataikos’s chest; his pectoral muscles are shown realistically, as is his diaphragm and the musculature of the torso. Additionally, a feature that is totally alien to the traditional representations of the god, is a head covered in curly hair. All of these elements place this figure firmly within the Ptolemaic Period (332–30 BCE). With the classical rendering of Pataikos’s physique and the traditional Egyptian portrayal of the goddess, this small amulet embodies the changes wrought, as unstoppable external influences under the Ptolemies altered Egyptian culture.

During the Ptolemaic Period the popularity of the cult of Pataikos waned significantly before dying out completely in the Roman Period (30 BCE – 395 CE). Perhaps the final vestiges of the cult are to be found depicted on Nilotic mosaics in the villas of wealthy Romans. Here, comical dwarf figures are reduced to riding on the backs of crocodiles, while waving ‘sticks’, with forked ends.49For a brief discussion on the depiction of dwarfs and pygmies in Roman art see: H. Whitehouse, ‘The provenance of some fragments of wall-painting in the Muzeo Nazionale, Naples’ in Papers of the British School at Rome, vol. 45, 1977, pp. 65–8, Pl. XX. An ignominious end to a once-important deity.

Joylene Kremler is Project Officer, Curatorial and Collection Management, National Gallery of Victoria.

I would like to thank Dr Anna Stevens, Lecturer, The Centre for Ancient Cultures, Monash University, Melbourne, Australia, for her valuable suggestions – Joylene Kremler.

Notes

1

Richard H. Wilkinson, The Complete Gods and Goddesses of Ancient Egypt, Thames & Hudson Ltd., London, 2003, p. 6.

2

The NGV follows Shaw’s chronology for ancient Egypt: Ian Shaw (ed.), The Oxford History of Ancient Egypt, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2000, pp. 479–83.

3

Ostracon Deir el Medina 251, in trans. Edward F. Wente, Letters from Ancient Egypt, Scholars Press, Atlanta, Georgia, 1990, p. 141.

4

Papyrus Berlin 3027, 15, vs. 2, 2-7, in trans. J. F. Borghouts, Ancient Egyptian Magical Texts, E. J. Brill, Leiden, 1978, p. 43.

5

R. K. Ritner, ‘Magic’, in Donald B. Redford (ed.), The Ancient Gods Speak: A Guide to Egyptian Religion, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2002, pp. 194–5.

6

A Spell for Warding off a Scorpion, Metternich Stela 6, 69–71, in Borghouts, p. 62.

7

In Egyptian: Har-pa-khered; in Greek: Harpokrates.

8

Lászlo Kákosy & Ahmed M. Moussa, ‘A Horus Stela with Meret Goddesses’ in Studien zur Altägyptischen Kultur, vol. 25, 1998, p. 150.

9

Phylactery amulets are small tubular containers worn around the neck that contained spells written on strips of papyrus.

10

Pataikos may have been worshipped in his own right in the temple of Neith at Sais, where a stela shows a dwarf standing behind the goddess in the presence of the king (V. Dasen, Dwarfs in Ancient Egypt and Greece, Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1993, p. 85, Pl. 3.1); and Herodotus relates how ‘Pataikos’ figures were installed in the temple of Ptah at Memphis.

11

Dasen, p. 87.

12

H. Győry, ‘To the interpretation of Pataikos standing on crocodiles’ in Bulletin du Musée Hongrois des Beaux-Arts, vol. 94, 2001, pp. 27–8.

13

E. Apostola, ‘The multiple connotations of Pataikos amulets in the Aegean’, in Jochem Kahl & Nicole Kloth (eds), Studien zur Altägyptischen Kultur, vol. 48, 2019, pp. 53–66.

14

A. Villing, ‘The Greeks in Egypt: renewed contact in the Iron Age’, in Jeffrey Spier, Timothy Potts & Sara E. Cole (eds), Beyond the Nile: Egypt and the Classical World, The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, 2018, p. 74.

15

For a discussion on the distribution of Pataikoi figures in Israel, see R. Arav & M. Bernett, ‘An Egyptian figure of Pataikos at Bethsaida’, in Israel Exploration Journal, vol. 47, no. 3/4, 1997, pp. 212–3.

16

Yvonne J. Markowitz, & Denise M. Doxey, Jewels of Ancient Nubia, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, 2014, p. 118.

17

These are Egyptian and Egyptianising objects – mainly amulets, bronze vessels and figures – found throughout the Mediterranean world from the tenth century BCE onwards.

18

Villing, p. 74; Apostola, p. 62; Markowitz, pp. 115–18.

19

The term ‘pataikos’ (plural ‘pataikoi’) has been translated as meaning ‘little Ptah’. See Dasen, p. 85.

20

Herodotus, History, III, 37.

21

Dasen, p. 84.

22

C. Andrews, Amulets of Ancient Egypt, British Museum Press, London, 1994, p. 39; Wilkinson, p. 210.

23

Andrews, p. 39; Dasen, p. 85.

24

See Dasen, pp. 104–59 for the status of dwarfs in Egyptian society and their representation in imagery and text.

25

Dasen, p. 157.

26

Papyrus British Museum, 10474, 24. 9, in trans. F. L. Griffith, Journal of Egyptian Archaeology, vol. 12, no. 3/4, Oct. 1926, p. 221.

27

Dasen, pp. 156–8.

28

NGV Pataikos figures: Egypt, Figure group of Pataikos on crocodiles, Late Period, 664 BCE – 332 BCE, faience, 6.9 x 5.4 x 3.0 cm, accessioned, 1982, (D85-1982); Egypt, Pataikos amulet, Ptolemaic Period, 332 BCE – 30 BCE, faience, 5.8 x 2.6 x 1.8 cm, Felton Bequest, 1939, (D87-1982); Egypt, Head of Pataikos amulet, Late Period, 664 BCE – 332 BCE, faience, 2.0 x 2.0 x 1.9 cm, accessioned, 1994, (D131-1994); Egypt, Pataikos amulet, Third Intermediate Period, 1069 BCE – 664 BCE, faience, 8.3 x 3.5 x 2.0 cm, accessioned, 1982, (D129-1982); Egypt, Pataikos amulet, Late Period, 664 BCE – 332 BCE, faience, 3.0 x 1.2 x 0.9 cm, accessioned, 1994, (D460-1994); Egypt, Pataikos amulet, Ptolemaic Period, 332 BCE – 30 BCE, faience, 3.9 x 1.5 x 1.4 cm, accessioned, 1994, (D130-1994); Egypt, Pataikos amulet, Late Period, 664 BCE – 332 BCE, faience, 3.0 x 1.4 x 1.0 cm, accessioned, 1994, (D132-1994). With the exception of (D87-1982) which was purchased from the Cairo Museum in 1939, there is no known provenance information for any of these works.

29

Pataikoi were also made from other materials, such as: ivory (John Hopkins Archaeological Museum, Maryland, Inv. no. A. 196); steatite (National Museum of Antiquities, Leiden, Inv. no. F 1994/9.3); carnelian (National Museum of Antiquities, Leiden, Inv. no. AA.VIII-21); bronze (British Museum, London, Inv. no. EA 74182); and gold (National Museum of Antiquities, Leiden, Inv. no. A0 1hh).

30

P. T. Nicholson & E. Peltenburg, ‘Egyptian Faience’, in P. T. Nicholson & I. Shaw (eds), Ancient Egyptian Materials and Technology, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 2000, p. 177.

31

R. Anthes, et al., Mit Rahineh 1956, The University Museum, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, 1965, object nos. VB 259-62, Pls. 50, 51; C. Herrmann, Formen für ägyptische Fayencen aus Qantir Band II, Katalog der Sammlung des Franciscan Biblican Museum, Jerusalem und zweier Privatsammlungen, Orbis Academic Press Fribourg – Vandenhoeck & RuprechtGöttingen, 2007, Pls 2V–2VI.

32

For dating simple Pataikoi amulets see: H. Győry, ‘Changes in styles of ordinary Pataikos amulets’, in Mamdouh Eldamaty & Mai Trad (eds), Egyptian Museum Collections around the World, Volume I, Supreme Council of Antiquities, Cairo, 2002, pp. 491–501. For dating complex Pataikoi amulets see: Győry 2001, pp. 27–40; H. Győry, ‘A Pataikos with hawks on the shoulders’ in Bulletin du Musée Hongrois des Beaux-Arts, Academic Press Fribourg – Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, vol. 98, 2003 A, pp. 15–21.

33

H. Győry 2003 A, pp. 17–18; Andrews, p. 39.

34

Brooklyn Museum, London, Inv. no. 37.949E; British Museum, London, Inv. no. 60203.

35

For examples of goddesses on Pataikoi amulets with differentiated solar discs see for Sekhmet: British Museum, London, Inv. no. 60205; for Isis-Hathor: Fribourg, Institut Biblique, Inv. no. 1609; for Isis-Maat: Fribourg, Institut Biblique, Inv. no. 1608; and for an unidentified winged goddess with plain solar disc see: British Museum, London, Inv. no. EA 60203.

36

Győry 2003 A, p. 28.

37

ibid. p. 29.

38

ibid.

39

ibid. p. 27.

40

Győry 2002, p. 499.

41

Brooklyn Museum, New York, Inv. no. 37.932E; Virginia Museum of Fine Art, Virginia, Inv. no. 84.47.

42

See British Museum, London, Inv. No. EA 63475.

43

Győry 2002, pp. 494–5.

44

ibid. p. 494.

45

Inv. no. 1609.

46

For a blue-glazed Pataikos figure with black-glazed scarab and crocodiles see British Museum, London, Inv. no. EA 63475.

47

Other examples with red glaze: National Museum of Antiquities, Leiden, Inv. no. AA.VIII-21; Louvre, Paris, Inv. nos. AF 2542, N 3701; R. Anthes, object no. Ab 192.

48

Győry 2003 A, pp. 19–20.

49

For a brief discussion on the depiction of dwarfs and pygmies in Roman art see: H. Whitehouse, ‘The provenance of some fragments of wall-painting in the Muzeo Nazionale, Naples’ in Papers of the British School at Rome, vol. 45, 1977, pp. 65–8, Pl. XX.