Ptah-Sokar: Ancient Egyptian Dwarf God

AMULET 24

Ptah-Sokar amulet resembling the one in the Pitt Rivers Museum, Oxford.

This amulet is a small turquoise-blue figure of Ptah-Sokaris from Pitt-Rivers founding collection displayed at Bethnal Green. Precise dating is difficult, most in museums having no provenance, and attribution to particular periods not clearly established. Displayed in Case 126A (1884.58.74.) in the Pitt Rivers Museum, Oxford.

Evidence of dwarfs in ancient Egypt is abundant. Most representations are achondroplastic. Achondroplastic dwarfism is one of the commonest dominant genetic mutations. A recognized social group, not regarded as socially diminished or subnormal, dwarfs appear in Egyptian iconography attached to households. Valued as attendants, overseers, animal tenders, entertainers, jewellers, some achieved high status and privileged burial. Dwarfs are jewellers only in the Old Kingdom (2630-2134 BC) and never metallurgists.

This particular turquoise-blue glazed amulet is the crop-haired protective dwarf god Pataikos. Predynastic (before 3100 BC) figurines comprise small males and females. Achondroplastic dwarf figurines are usually naked, short-limbed, with flat-topped heads. Egyptologists call them Patakoi or Ptah-Patakoi. Pataikos is a foreign term describing Phoenician, not Egyptian, gods. Ptah-Patakoi are not recorded in Egyptian texts, the etymology being unclear. From New Kingdom (1539-1069 BC) onwards they are found as small, usually male, amuletic figurines.

Herodotus wrote of Phoenician dwarf-form protective images, with Phoenician sailors worshipping dwarf figures. Herodotus compared Phoenician Patakoi and Greek Kabeiroi (originally Phrygian deities associated with Hephaestus) with Egyptian figurines. Patakois represents Ptah as a craftsman god which were originally called Ptah-Seker. By the 6th Dynasty (2575-2134 BC) Pataikos appears as an amulet in his own right. Ptah-Sokar, patron god of craftsmen, was known from the Old Kingdom occurring as an amuletic dwarf. Pataikos, representing Ptah, was equated with a dwarf-form of Hephaestus. Patakoi merged with Sokar (associated with Ptah). Sokar, patron of craftsmen and god of the dead, had human form with falcon’s head. Some dwarf figurines have the heads of falcons  but naked Pataikos are Ptah-Sokar.

Ancient Egyptian dwarfs were assumed neither fully adult or pre-pubescent and assumed part of both human and animal realms. Patakoi symbolised youthful solar gods. The symbolic aspect was the solar affinities of dwarfs reflecting the idea of regeneration. They assumed the role of protectors of small children and were strongly connected with fertility and magical amulets. The dwarf Ptah-Sokaris amulets were concerned with both the living and the dead – the Ptah-Patakoi guarded the living, especially children, and what appears to be an insignificant figurine is in reality a beautiful and magical amulet.

Sources used

Nunn, J. F.  Ancient Egyptian Medicine.  British Museum, London (2000).

Andrews, C.  Amulets of Ancient Egypt.  British Museum.  London (1994).

Flinders Petrie, W. MThe Religion of Ancient Egypt.  London (1908).

Reeves, CEgyptian Medicine.  Shire (1992).

Dasen, V.  Dwarfs in Ancient Egypt and Greece.  Clarendon, Oxford (1993).

Jeffreys, D. & Tait, J.  Disability, madness, and social exclusion in Dynastic Egypt. In: Hubert, J. (ed), Madness, Disability and Social Exclusion.  Routledge, London (2000).

Dasen, V.  Dwarfism in Egypt and Classical  Antiquity.  Medical History.  32. (1988).

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