ancient egypt: history and culture
Ancient Egyptian bestiary: Pigs
Main menu Main Index and Search Page History List of Dynasties Cultural chronology Mythology Aspects of Life in Ancient Egypt Glossary of ancient Egyptian terms Herodotus on the pharaohs Ancient Egyptian texts Apologia and Bibliography

  For best results save the whole webpage (pictures included) onto your hard disk, open the page with Word 97 or higher, edit if necessary and print.
  Printing using the browser's print function is not recommended.



Pig, wood - Source: Petrie Museum of Egyptian archaeology
Wooden figurine of what looks like a wild boar or a barely domesticated pig
Height: 7 cm
Source: Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology, University College London
Female sitting on pig
Female sitting on an ostensibly domesticated pig
Source: Jan Bergman Isis auf der Sau
    Indigenous wild pigs (sus scrofa) roamed the water rich regions of Egypt until recent times, when in many places they were hunted to extinction. Domesticated pigs were widely grown and eaten in ancient Egypt, above all during the New Kingdom. It seems that they were rarely if ever sacrificed to the gods, though. In the topsy-turvy world of Neferti this was what happened:
Look, maidservants [... ...] are offering pigs;
On the other hand according to the Book of the Dead pigs were among the sacrificial animals, at least before they became abhorrent to Horus:
When Horus was still in his childhood, the animals for sacrifice to the gods consisted of his cattle, his small livestock and his pigs.
After a transliteration and German translation on the Thesaurus Linguae Aegyptiae website: Totenbuchprojekt, Nordrhein-Westfälische Akademie der Wissenschaften => pTurin Museo Egizio 1791 Tb 1-113 => Tb 112
    The pigs fertility and its omnivorousness were two of this animal's characteristics most often referred to. Ammut was sometimes depicted as a pig personifying Nut, the sky. By swallowing the deceased and giving birth to him once more she granted him eternal reincarnation. Sows were also sacred to Osiris.
    Seth was occasionally given the form of a pig. Given the ambiguous role Seth played in the order of things, knowing the correct formula to ban pigs may have been of some importance to the deceased trying to win his way through the Underworld:
Another charm to repel the pig:
To be spoken by Osiris NN in the presence of Osiris.
Do be distant, lips of metal!
I am Khnum, Lord of the Shenu, who transmits the words of the gods to Re. I make the message ready for the lord from. (sic)
After a transliteration and German translation on the Thesaurus Linguae Aegyptiae website: Totenbuchprojekt, Nordrhein-Westfälische Akademie der Wissenschaften => pLondon BM 10793 => Tb 036 I

    The Greek Herodotus had quite a bit to say about the Egyptians and their pigs, how the peasants drove them over the threshing floor so that their hard little hooves would separate the grain from the husks, but he was especially interested in the taboos surrounding the sacrifice of these animals:
    Each man sows his own field and turns into it swine, and when he has trodden the seed into the ground by means of the swine, after that he waits for the harvest, and when he has threshed the corn by means of the swine, then he gathers it in.
    The pig is accounted by the Egyptians an abominable animal; and first, if any of them in passing by touch a pig, he goes into the river and dips himself forthwith in the water together with his garments; and then too swineherds, though they may be native Egyptians, unlike all others, do not enter any of the temples in Egypt, nor is anyone willing to give his daughter in marriage to one of them or to take a wife from among them; but the swineherds both give in marriage to one another and take from one another.
    Now to the other gods the Egyptians do not think it right to sacrifice swine; but to the Moon and to Dionysos
(i.e. Osiris) alone at the same time and on the same full-moon they sacrifice swine, and then eat their flesh: and as to the reason why, when they abominate swine at all their other feasts, they sacrifice them at this, there is a story told by the Egyptians; and this story I know, but it is not a seemly one for me to tell.
    Now the sacrifice of the swine to the Moon is performed as follows:--when the priest has slain the victim, he puts together the end of the tail and the spleen and the caul, and covers them up with the whole of the fat of the animal which is about the paunch, and then he offers them with fire; and the rest of the flesh they eat on that day of full moon upon which they have held sacrifice, but on any day after this they will not taste of it: the poor however among them by reason of the scantiness of their means shape pigs of dough and having baked them they offer these as a sacrifice.
    Then for Dionysos on the eve of the festival each one kills a pig by cutting its throat before his own doors, and after that he gives the pig to the swineherd who sold it to him, to carry away again; and the rest of the feast of Dionysos is celebrated by the Egyptians in the same way as by the Hellenes in almost all things except choral dances, but instead of the
phallos they have invented another contrivance, namely figures of about a cubit in height worked by strings, which women carry about the villages, with the privy member made to move and not much less in size than the rest of the body: and a flute goes before and they follow singing the praises of Dionysos. As to the reason why the figure has this member larger than is natural and moves it, though it moves no other part of the body, about this there is a sacred story told. Now I think that Melampus the son of Amytheon was not without knowledge of these rites of sacrifice, but was acquainted with them: for Melampus is he who first set forth to the Hellenes the name of Dionysos and the manner of sacrifice and the procession of the phallos. Strictly speaking indeed, he when he made it known did not take in the whole, but those wise men who came after him made it known more at large. Melampus then is he who taught of the phallos which is carried in procession for Dionysos, and from him the Hellenes learnt to do that which they do. I say then that Melampus being a man of ability contrived for himself an art of divination, and having learnt from Egypt he taught the Hellenes many things, and among them those that concern Dionysos, making changes in some few points of them: for I shall not say that that which is done in worship of the god in Egypt came accidentally to be the same with that which is done among the Hellenes, for then these rites would have been in character with the Hellenic worship and not lately brought in; nor certainly shall I say that the Egyptians took from the Hellenes either this or any other customary observance: matters concerning Dionysos from Cadmos the Tyrian and from those who came with him from Phenicia to the land which we now call Boeotia.

Herodotus, Histories II
Project Gutenberg

The Middle Kingdom tale of Horus and the Pig attempts to explain why some Egyptians did not eat pork.
    O Batit of the evening, you swamp-dwellers, you of Mendes, ye of Buto, you of the shade of Re which knows not praise, you who brew stoppered beer - do you know why Rekhyt (i.e. Lower Egypt) was given to Horus? It was Re who gave it to him in recompense for the injury in his eye. It was Re - he said to Horus: "Pray, let me see your eye since this has happened to it" (i.e. since it was injured in the fight with Seth).
    Then Re saw it. Re said: "Pray, look at that injury in your eye, while your hand is a covering over the good eye which is there."
    Then Horus looked at that injury. It assumed the form of a black pig. Thereupon Horus shrieked because of the state of his eye, which was stormy (i.e. inflamed). Horus said: "Behold, my eye is as at that first blow which Seth made against my eye!"
    Thereupon Horus swallowed his heart before him (i.e. lost consciousness). Then Re said: "Put him upon his bed until he has recovered."
    It was Seth - he has assumed form against him as a black pig; thereupon he shot a blow into his eye. Then Re said: "The pig is an abomination to Horus."
    "Would that he might recover," said the gods.
    That is how the pig became an abomination to the gods, as well as men, for Horus' sake...

Source: Internet Ancient History Sourcebook
A. de Buck, The Egyptian Coffin Texts ,Chicago, 1918, p. 326.

- Offsite links
I do not take upon myself any responsibility for the content or availability of these websites.
-Isis auf der Sau by Jan Bergman (Isis on the sow).
© 2002