Bes the Champion

Bes is a complex being who is both a deity and a demonic fighter. He was a god of war as well as protector of childbirth and the home; and he was associated with sexuality, humor, music and dancing. Bes is depicted as a bearded dwarf often shown sticking out his tongue and holding a rattle. When carved or painted on a wall, he is never shown in profile, but always full-face, which is rare in Egyptian art. The only other god or goddess depicted in this manner is Hathor as seen at the Temple of Dendera.

Bes had no temples and there were no priests ordained in his name. However, even though he was not beautiful or stately like the other gods and goddesses, Bes was one of the most popular gods of ancient Egypt and often depicted on household items such as mirrors and cosmetics containers as well as furniture. He was depicted on knives in the hope that this would give protection to the owner of the blade. His image also appears on numerous magic wands and on a large number of amulets.

Amulet of the God Bes
Amulet of the God Bes

Over time Bes came to be seen as the champion of everything good and the enemy of everything evil. During the Old Kingdom he was known as “Aha” or “fighter” because he could strangle bears, lions and snakes with his bare hands. He has been described as a demon, but he was not considered to be evil. Bes was a helper of Ra and protected him from his enemies. He was a god of war who protected Pharaoh and the people of Egypt from evil forces.

He was particularly protective of women and children; and as a result, he also became a god of childbirth. It was thought that he could scare off any evil spirits lurking around the birthing chamber by dancing, shouting and shaking his rattle. If the mother was experiencing a difficult birth, a statue of Bes was placed near her head and his assistance was invoked on her behalf. It was believed that Bes remained at the baby’s side after birth to protect and entertain them. It was said that if a baby laughed or smiled for no reason, it was because Bes was dancing or making funny faces.

The statue/relief of Bes featured in this post is at the Temple of Hathor at Dendera. This is where I met him, face to face, as I fell at the foot of his statue. I thought perhaps it was Bes who caused me to trip and fall. However in his role as “demon-queller” Bes was thought to scare off mischievous beings that caused minor misfortune such as tripping people; therefore, something else must have been at work in this particular circumstance.

Bes the Champion shows us how beauty can manifest in different ways. The “ugliest” god of ancient Egypt was also one of the most loved; and while short in stature, Bes was also one of the strongest gods. He may not have had his own temples yet he was honored with shrines in both the palaces of the Pharaohs and the homes of the common people.

Temple of Hathor at Dendera