Bes is a name covering several similar deities and demons worshipped in ancient Egypt. Among them were lion-demons known from the town of Kahun during the Middle Kingdom, and from the shaft tombs behind the Ramesseum.
He was a grotesque-looking dwarf-god, but benign in nature. He was depicted wearing a plumed crown, normally with a beard, and his broad, mask-like face was surrounded by a lion’s mane and ears. His tongue protrudes in a playfully aggressive manner. He looked like a bandy-legged dwarf dressed in either a panther skin or a kilt, and a lion’s tail and he frequently carried musical instruments.
Together with TAWRET , his most important function was as protector of childbirth, and amulets of these two deities were immensely popular. His popularity covered common peopleīs homes as well as the royal court. Images of him have been found on walls at some workmenīs homes at Deir el-Medina, perhaps in rooms used for women and childbirth. He is also seen painted on a frieze on a wall in the palace of Amenhotep III at Malkata. There are decorations in the figure of Bes at everyday items like the footboard of beds and on the headrests, on mirror handles and on cosmetic tools and implements.
There is a spell which is to be recited four times over a clay dwarf which is placed on the crown of the head of a woman in labour, to help against complications. In it Bes is called: ‘great dwarf with a large head and short thighs’ and ‘monkey in old age’, here used as a means for defense against the dangers of childbirth.
Besī ugliness and aggressive appearance was, in typical Egyptian manner, used as a defense for the family and thought to ward off evil spirits and chase away serpents and scorpions from the house. He was often depicted as the demon Aha, strangling a snake in each hand.
The ‘Sa’ hieroglyph, meaning protection, is often seen held by Bes, and he can also be shown with his arms outstretched and with hawkīs wings suspended from them. This conveys the solar symbolism of Heru of Behdety, not to link Bes with that particular god, but it was used for magical purposes.
Musician, merry-maker and bringer of good luck
Despite brandishing a sword and having a ferocious appearance, Bes has a genial temperament expressed through merrymaking and music. In the tomb of Queen Tiyeīs parents, in Dyn 28, Bes is seen striking a tambourine, and more than 1000 years later, he still makes music, this time on a harp, in the temple of HET-HER ( Hathor) on the island of Philae.
Bes is first and foremost a deity connected with everyday life, but there are examples that he also appeared in some form in the Underworld. In the mythological papyri of Dirpu, the deceased comes to a gate guarded by a deity with the head of Anpu and the body of knife-wielding, serpent-strangling Bes.
The Late Period
He was also considered to bring good luck and prosperity to married couples and their children, and especially in the Late Period being connected to sexuality and childbirth. Therefore his image is found on all of the mammisi ( birth houses) during this period, and his head is also seen above the Horus child on ‘cippi’ or stelae. It is also in this period that there were ‘incubation’ or Bes-chambers built at Saqqara. Their walls were lined with mud-plaster figures of Bes and a naked goddess, and it has been suggested that perhaps pilgrims rested there, hoping to have healing dreams for their sexual or fertile powers. In the Roman Period, Bes figurines exist where he is clad in legionary garb. His popularity went beyond the borders of Egypt, and his image is found at Kition in Cyprus, on an ivory plaque (ca 1200 bc.)and Phoenician ivory craftsmen decorated the caskets and furniture of Nimrod in Assyria.
No temples dedicated to bed although many of the roman and greek temples contains chapels for him .