Why did the ancient Egyptians snap off the hippo statuette legs before putting them into tombs?
That's a great observation and excellent question. Powerful icons were placed in tombs to serve specific purposes for the journey to the afterlife. The standing hippopotamus represented Seth, the brother of Osiris who murdered him and then claimed his throne. It was thus a symbol of chaos. Egyptians controlled negative forces in the tomb by including a hippopotamus with the legs purposely broken.
What did scarabs and hippos represent to ancient Egyptians?
This kind of beetle was highly symbolic to ancient Egyptians, it represented rebirth and renewal. They believed that the sun was pushed across the sky every day by a giant scarab, the god Khepri. In real life, the scarab beetle lays its eggs in a ball of dung and rolls the ball ahead of it wherever it goes. When the young beetles hatch they pop out through the dung which seemed like a miracle to the Egyptians!
As for hippos -- they were a common sight along the Nile river, for one thing. They are powerful animals and dangerous ones, they were hazards to boats and to humans.
Some sculptures of hippos are decorated with designs of plants that were common to the Nile region. Do you see any like this?
Was it a blue hippo?
Yeah! Is that color special for Egyptians?
Yes, incredibly special!
For the Egyptians the lighter shade of blue was almost interchangeable with green, the color of the sea, plants, vegetation, and thus health and life. Turquoise, a popular stone, mined primarily in the Sinai was closely linked to the goddess Hathor, the Lady of Turquoise.
The darker shade of blue was associated with the dark primordial waters out of which creation first appeared, as well as the night sky through which the sun-god travelled to be reborn every morning. The close links between dark blue and black also evoke the black mineral-rich soil of the Nile valley which was great for agriculture. All of the above hold the significance of creation and resurrection. In sculpture this color usually appears as lapis-lazuli, an imported stone often used to represent dark hair.
Why's the hippo belly up?
As you can see, the figurine's legs have been broken off. Showing the hippo this way highlights the missing legs and allows us to see how the bright blue glaze attaches to the white faience body. Egyptians would snap off the legs of hippo statuettes before placing them in tombs so the dangerous hippo could not harm the deceased on the journey to the afterlife.
We are looking for some more information. Is this a small blue hippo?
You are exactly right! It is a small blue hippo it's made of a material called faience and glazed. These objects were made for tombs in ancient Egypt.
Thanks, For a school project, we need the name and approx dates. Looking for description but don't see it.
This one is called simply "Hippo." It's approximately dated to 1938-1539 BCE. These figurines were especially popular in the Middle Kingdom period.
The feet were broken off in an effort to control chaos and danger. Hippos were, and still are, the most dangerous animal in Africa so a figurine with broken legs was a symbol for a hippo that couldn't hurt you on your journey to the afterlife.
Thanks so much. Really cool.
Can you give us a brief description of their view of the afterlife? Was it physical? Only spiritual?
That's a pretty broad question. In a nutshell, the ancient Egyptians believed that, after death, your soul would be reborn and made an arduous journey to the realm of the afterlife where your soul would live again, not unlike this life.
That's a great summary! Thanks. My two 6th graders are appreciative!
You're so welcome! I'm glad it helped! They also believed that you soul would need goods to take with them to the afterlife so tombs were filled with real and symbolic food, clothing, and other objects and encouraged passersby to leave more. That's why were have so many things from ancient Egyptian tombs now!
Why did they cut hippo's legs when they put it in tomb?
Objects were placed in tombs to serve specific purposes during the soul's journey in the afterlife. Hippos represented both positive forces--fertility, regeneration, and portection--and negative forces--physical danger, and chaos. This hippo was included for its regenerative connotations, but its legs were broken as a way to control its chaos.
I see. Interesting. Thank you!
If hippos were potentially a threat to the person buried in the tomb, why were they buried in the tomb even with broken legs? Did they aid the departed in some way?
A broken hippo placed in the tomb served as a sort of amulet against forces of chaos and danger.
You will see a lot of this sort of duality when it comes to Egyptian ideas about animals: the same beast can have both positive and negative associations.
Hippos were also seen as relating to fertility. In the context of rebirth, you can see why this would have been valuable.
You could even think about harnessing their destructive powers for your own protection.
Interesting. Are hippos particularly fertile animals? Or are they just very aggressive, and thus considered virile?
Hippos are known to be very protective of their young, which was the aspect that ancient Egyptians were especially looking to harness with tomb equipment.
There is also a particular association between flora and fauna living in the Nile (the source of life in Egypt) and fertility.
Ah, that makes sense.
Why is the hippo blue?
The blue color was associated with the marshes where the hippos lived, and where life is said to have originated according to Egyptian mythology.