Bes was one of the most popular deities of ancient Egypt. He was more the god of the people than of the rulers. Here are some quick facts about him:
- Bes was a protector god, he was so scary that he was scaring away the evil spirits themselves. He was also a dwarf and his statues are often found at the doorsteps of Egyptian houses, similar to statues of dwarfs in modern house yards.
- He was a god of dance and music, his symbols are drums and bells.
- He was a god of war and his animal is a lion.
- He was a god of fertility.
- According to some authors, he was a prototype for Christian devil
- He was never worshiped in temples, but many masks are found indicating some form of a ritual.
- He was often portrayed with his tongue sticking out, feathers on his head and unlike all other deities of Egypt, he was never drawn in profile, but in portrait!
- Because of everything mentioned in the previous fact a widespread opinion is that he was not an Egyptian god at all!
A statue of Bes
So if not Egyptian god, whose god was it? Nobody’s sure. Most popular theory is that he is imported from Nubia and that he is of African origin, why – because he is not drawn in profile and he wears feathers on his head, just like some African tribal chiefs. That is why. And also, one of his titles was “Lord of Nubia” while “besa” means “cat” in Nubian. (not a lion)
MY INTERPRETATION (hypothetical rant on subject)
Truth be told, Bes was much more popular in Phoenicia and Cyprus than in Nubia, and he was also known as “Lord of Punt”. In Europe of those days feathers were also a big fashion trend. Warriors wore them in the exact manner of native American Indians, and as we saw, Bes was a god of war. Egyptians themselves portrayed their notorious foes, “people of the seas”, with feathers on their heads. These seafaring tribes had started attacking Egypt in the period of the New kingdom. In the end, a lot of them got captured and forced to join the ranks of the Egyptian army, roughly at the same time when this almost forgotten god became more popular than ever.
Egyptian depiction of “people of the seas”
So what is the deal with feathers? According to some, a warrior would get one feather whenever he proved himself on the battlefield (ie killing an enemy), hence the more feathers the fiercer the warrior. There are some indications that this custom was preserved for quite a long time in Europe, all the way to Hussars, famous today as Polish Calvary. However, not many people are aware that they originate from XIV century Balkans, and that in those days their ranks consisted predominantly of Serbs. Btw, Hussar means “pirate”.
Hussar – Illustration
So wait a minute, are you saying that this Egyptian god was Serbian just because he had some feathers on his head?? Of course not!! The whole point is to illustrate that this ancient custom was still alive on Balkans at least until the XIV century, and also, to bring our story closer to this part of the world.
You see, from times immemorial, roughly on the territory of between what is now Serbia and Bulgaria once existed a Thracian tribe of Bessi. Bessi were known as fierce warriors, and as Thracians, they are definitely one of the candidates for a tribe of “people of the seas”. Thracians had a strong naval force long before the Romans and Greeks and a small remote island of Samothrace is just one small reminder of that. And not just any tribe of sea people, but Shardani, whom researchers connect to Sardinia and city of Sard, but neglect the fact that ancient name of Sofia was Serdika. But that is not all, in 570 AD, Antoninus Placentius mentions that in the valleys of Mount Sinai there was a monastery in which the monks spoke Greek, Latin, Syriac, Egyptian and… Bessian. (??)
On proven genetic connections between Sardinia and Balkans check out my post: Genetics speaks – Who is who on Balkans
Alright, so we have a similar name and possibly some feathers, so what does that prove? Nothing really, until a third and most important element of the story kicks in, an ancient Thracian custom still preserved in Bulgaria – Kukeri. Traditions of Kukeri is so ancient that it has many parallels in some parts of Africa and yet it has been present in Europe since times immemorial, especially on Balkans, but even Carnival of Venice draws its roots from here. Basically, at a specific time of the year people would put on their demonic masks and walk trough the village, from door to door, singing and dancing and clapping their bells. All this with a goal to chase away evil spirits and provide fertility for the next year. (Word “kukur” means “grain” ie “kukuruz” = “corn” in Serbian). So no need for a temple. Also, they were labeled as demonic with the arrival of Christianity. You see the similarities?
Kukeri (for even better idea try a google images search)
If Bessi were a Thracian tribe, we can almost be certain that they had practiced this ritual just as Bulgarians do nowadays.The most popular festival today is in the city of Pernik, in the very heart of the territory of the ancient Bessi. Also, if we look for the etymology of the name “Bes” in Slavic languages of Balkans instead of Nubia, we get a meaning “demon, evil spirit”, which is in my opinion much more appropriate for this type of deity. (Bulgarian – “Byas”, Croatian – “Bjes”, Serbian – “Bes”) This word is known in Northern Slavic countries as well – see Bies
Furthermore, if we know that Egyptians did not write the vowels, Bes was the Lord of P-N-T. Could it be that this actually means Pont (Black sea)?
Well, it could be a Thracian origin after all. However, a tongue sticking out (as well as the whole Kukeri ritual) is more reminiscent of cultures of India, Bali, Tibet and that part of the world in general, where it’s purpose is to ward off the evil spirits. If you would like to know more on this topic, how this connection could have happened and what could be the link between the citizens of Bessipura (capital of Bessi) and lions, you can read my previous post on Singidunum.