ancient egypt: history and culture
Ancient Egyptian bestiary: Bats
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Bats

    There are many species of bat, both insectivores and fruit eaters, living in Egypt. The Rousettus aegyptiacus, a fruit bat, is the largest among them and is found in some of the oases, the Nile valley, and the Delta, where one can also encounter Rhinopomatidae and others. A few species like some of the Horseshoe bats are also to be found in the eastern desert and the Sinai peninsula.
    19th century travellers to Egypt often reported on the presence of large bat colonies in deserted ancient buildings. James Augustus St. John wrote in Egypt and Nubia
Ten thousand bats which had been sleeping quietly on the walls, roused and terrified by our lights, disengaged in clouds, and flying about in all directions, struck against our face, breast, head, and hands, threatening to extinguish the tapers.
James Augustus St. John, Egypt and Nubia, Chapman and Hall, 1845, p.466
Bat

Drawing of a bat [2]
Tomb of Baket, Beni Hassan
Source: J. Vandier Abbadie, A propos d'une chauve-souris sur un ostracon du museée du Caire, BIFAO 36 (1936-1937) [1]

    Given the fact that many bats live in Egypt it may be surprising to find them so rarely depicted or mentioned. Thanks to the captions of the wall pictures at Beni Hassan two Egyptian words for bat are known. sAxm.w and dAgj, but, in this form, they do not appear in any texts.
Bat Ostracon with drawing of bat
Source: J. Vandier Abbadie, A propos d'une chauve-souris sur un ostracon du museée du Caire, BIFAO 36 (1936-1937) [1]

 
    The Copts occasionally used bats as ingredients for some of their medicines, but whether the ancient Egyptians did likewise is open to doubt [3].
    It is not known what their attitude towards bats was. Egyptian bats are quite small and appear not to have served them as food, they do not seem to have been sacred, but neither are there stories about them being abhorrent.
[2] belonging to the family of the Emballonuridae according to Warren R. Dawson, Bridle of Pegasus, 1930
[3] According to an uncertain translation bat's blood was used in remedies to prevent the regrowing of eye lashes after they had been removed to prevent them from irritating the pupil. One recipe of the Ebers papyrus calls for bat's (?) blood, lizard's blood and frankincense, another for ground-up potsherds, bat's (?) blood and honey. Another, unidentified, disease may have may have been treated with A cut-open bat (?): bandage therewith until he (the patient) is well, immediately. (Dawson, Bridle of Pegasus)
The Demotic Magical Papyrus of London and Leiden contains a spell calling for bat's blood among spells one of which kills (camel's blood, a dead man's blood added to wine which is drunk by the victim), another which blinds (jar's blood in the eye), and others (a hawk drowned in wine which is then drunk etc.) which apparently resulted in blindness as well:
You put a bat's blood; this is the manner of it again.
 

 
  
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Illustrated identification key to the bats of Egypt[1] Vandier d'Abbadie (Jeanne) Á propos d'une chauve-souris sur un ostracon du Musée du Caire
Illustrated identification key to the bats of EgyptChristian Dietz, Illustrated identification key to the bats of Egypt
© January 2007
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