Campbell Price examines one of his favourite objects from Manchester Museum’s collection.
This small (8 .2 x 7.5cm) copper alloy statuette depicts the sacred Apis bull. It is recognisable – among other features not preserved – by the remains of a sun disk between its curved horns. The bull was at the centre of an elaborate cult, and was believed to be the earthly incarnation of the Memphite god Ptah. Only one living Apis was recognised at any one time, in a system not unlike the selection of the Dalai Lama. The sacred bull was selected by priests who travelled the length of the land looking for an animal with the correct markings. Once installed, Apis was housed in a temple on the outskirts of Memphis. There he was afforded every luxury – including a ‘harem’ of cows – and was regularly visited by pilgrims, who interpreted his movements in relation to petitions put to him. After death, the bull was mummified and given an elaborate burial in a set of catacombs – called the Serapeum – located on the Saqqara desert plateau (see opposite, top right).
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