Sobek was a god of the Nile who brought fertility to the land. As the “Lord of the Waters”, he was thought to have risen from the primaeval waters of Nun to create the world and made the Nile from his sweat. One creation myth stated that Sobek laid eggs on the bank of the waters of Nun, thus creating the world. The Ancient Egyptian culture has strong ties with the magnificent Nile River. The culture revolved around the inundations of the river and the fertility it provided. Not surprisingly, this idea manifested itself in the Egyptian religion by taking the form of the god Sobek himself.
The god started as a local deity, but he became unimaginably crucial to the culture due to his connections with the Nile River. His popularity significantly rose during the Middle Kingdom. His mythology affected kings and the politics of the ancients. It turned out to be a marking point in the role of Sobek within the Egyptian culture.
History of Sobek
The god Sobek has enjoyed a longstanding presence in Egypt’s Old Kingdom (2686-2181 BCE). Several different Pyramind texts of the Old Kingdom mentions this god. For example, Spell 317 from the readers praises the Pharoah and cites him as the living incarnation of the crocodile god.
The people of Egypt revered the god and associated him with the Nile crocodile. Due to his association with the river, they also worshipped him as a power of fertility and military. However ferocious the god was, people still considered him a kind deity.
The Ancient Egyptians believed that the god would protect them against the dangers presented by the Nile River. Due to this, the god gained true power during the Middle Kingdom. But, people worshipped Sobek from the Old Kingdom itself.
The Cult Of Sobek
One of the earliest cults in ancient Egypt was the cult of Sobek. The god first appeared in a sealing during the reign of King Narmer, the first ruler of the First Dynasty. The sealing showcases the Nile crocodiles facing a specifically shaped shrine. Later, this shrine became the symbol of the ancient city of Shedet (modern-day Fayum).
After the end of the Old Kingdom, the god Sobek became famous as a local deity of Sumenu, a locality in the Theban region. Sobek’s followers worshipped him there since the Heracleopolitan period.
It was when dynasties nine and ten ruled Egypt from the Delta region. But it came to an end with the dynasty 11s control over Upper and Lower Egypt by the Theban Kings.
During the reign of Amenemhat III, the cult of Sobek at Sumenu grew vastly and became the second most popular cult after Shedet.
The Rise of Sobek
The Middle Kingdom period saw the rise of god Sobek by a considerable amount. It was closely related to the reign of Pharaoh Amenemhet III. The Old Kingdom Pyramid texts associated Unas (Sobek) with water, flood and fertility. These characteristics cemented the god’s importance during the reign of Pharaoh Amenemhet III.
The Coffin Texts mentions Sobek by name several times. One can link the rise in the god’s popularity with the relocation of Egypt’s capital. During Amenemhet I reign, the capital shifted from Thebes to Itjawy in Fayyum.
The Fayyum was an oasis that heavily relied on the Nile for its fertility. The crocodiles were native to the land, and historians have discovered several crocodile mummies in the region.
Hence, this area especially considered the Nile River the source of life. Amenemhet III paid careful attention to measuring the water levels of the river. Additionally, he built canals and retention walls with a Nilometer installed at the Second Cataract. However, people left the amount of water brought in by the river up to the gods.
The close relation of Sobek with the Nile left no question about his role in the reign of the Pharoah. Amenemhet III believed that without the favour of Sobek, his capital and kingdom would perish. Hence he instructed the construction of a temple for Sobek that would worship the deity.
The great Historian Herodotus visited the Fayyum and wrote about the massive mortuary complex. He noted that the complex was “greater than he could describe”. The complex had 12 enclosed courts, fifteen hundred rooms above and below the ground.
Fusion Of the God Sobek
Many other archaeological pieces of evidence prove the importance of Sobek during the Middle Kingdom. Furthermore, this period saw the fusion of the god with the falcon-headed god, Horus. This fusion brought Sobek even closer to the kings of Egypt and gave him a more significant place of prominence.
This fusion elevated the complexity of the god’s nature in Egyptian culture. It leads to his inclusion into the divine triad of Horus and his parents, Osiris and Isis.
Sobek’s connection with Ra acquired him the role of a solar deity in the ancient Egyptian religion. Later, the appearance of Sobek-Ra, a fusion of Sobek with the direct sun god Ra, further strengthened this connection.
Sobek-Horus prevailed throughout the New Kingdom and gained prominence during the reigns of the last dynasties. Despite the fall of Egypt’s native dynasties during the Ptolemaic and Roman Egypt, the worship of Sobek and Sobek-Ra endured.
The whole Faiyum region served as a big cult centre of Sobek worship. Several towns in Faiyum developed their versions of god, including Soknebtunis at Tebtunis and Sokonnokonni at Bacchias. People worshipped Sobek Shedety as the principal patron in Crocodilopolis (Egyptian ‘Shedet’).
Historians believe that Ptolemy II drove the effort to increase Sobek’s main temple. The main temple had special priests who served Sobek and enjoyed titles like “prophet of the crocodile-gods”.
Kom Ombo in southern Egypt was another big cult centre of Sobek during the Ptolemaic and Roman periods. People called the temple at this site “Per-Sobek”, which means the “house of Sobek“.
Sobek was a powerful deity who lived up to his patron animal, the aggressive Nile crocodile. However, several myths grandly celebrate his benevolence towards the people too. Some tales indicate Sobek as the one who united the limbs of Osiris. Later, Sobek also saw association with Isis as a healer of the deceased Osiris. This association made people believe that Sobek was also a protective deity who would look after them and ward off any evil. The evolution of Sobek throughout ancient Egyptian history gives us an exciting insight into the politics and religion of Ancient Egypt.