Ancient Egypt: Cultural and political history, mythology and daily life
Ancient Egypt: Slaughtering cattle
Main menu Main Index and Search Page History List of Dynasties Cultural Chronolgy Mythology Aspects of Life Glossary of ancient Egyptian Terms Herodotus on the Pharaohs Ancient Egyptian Reader Apologia and Bibliography
For best results save the whole page (pictures included) onto your hard disk, open the page with Word 97 or higher, edit if necessary and print.

Slaughtering cattle

Model of abattoir, Source: 'La vie quotidienne en Egypte' by Pierre Montet     The animal was led by a rope in lieu of a nose ring, often the noose was fastened to the lower lip as well. The butchers tied a rope to one of its legs, passed it over the animal's back and pulled it up. Then the cow was wrestled to the ground, its legs bound together, its head pulled back, and with a hand-long knife [1] its throat was cut. The blood was collected in shallow vessels.
    Much of the slaughtering went on in temple slaughter yards, where the animals offered by the rich were killed
I multiplied the divine offerings presented before thee, of bread, wine, beer, and fat geese; numerous oxen bullocks, calves, cows, white oryxes, and gazelles offered in his slaughter yard.
Offerings of Ramses III to Amen at Medinet Habu
Papyrus Harris
J.H. Breasted, Ancient Records of Egypt; Part Four, § 190
... that I might supply with food his altars upon earth; that I might make to flourish for him the sacred slaughtering-block with great slaughters in his temple, consisting of oxen and calves without limit.
Thutmose III: Coronation Inscription
J.H. Breasted, Ancient Records of Egypt; Part Two, § 149
    If the animal was butchered in a temple abattoir, a priest would be standing by, supervising and performing ritual acts, like sprinkling the contents of an elongated vessel on the wound.One such priest was the butler Merer
the Sole Companion, Butler and Overseer of the slaughterers of the House of Khuu in its entirety, who says: I was the priest for slaughtering and offering (3) in two temples on behalf of the ruler.
Stela of the butler Merer of Edfu
M.Lichtheim, Ancient Egyptian Literature Vol.I, p.87
From a butcher shop model: Butchers wielding a hatchet and a cleaver
Source: University of Chicago, Oriental Institute website [2], extract
Relief of butchers slaughtering cattle     With hatchets, cleavers and knives the extremities and the head were cut off, and the animal was skinned. The hind legs were cut into three parts: the thigh (sut), the knee-joint (iuwa) and the foot (inset). Like modern butchers, the Egyptians cut up the carcass according to the quality of the meat, ribs, rump, back etc. Among the innards, the spleen and the liver were especially esteemed.

Relief of butchers slaughtering cattle
Source: M. Audrain

    Herodotus described the ritual slaughter of cattle. After verifying that the animal is fit to be sacrificed
they lead the sealed beast to the altar where they happen to be sacrificing, and then kindle a fire: after that, having poured libations of wine over the altar so that it runs down upon the victim and having called upon the god, they cut its throat, and having cut its throat they sever the head from the body. The body then of the beast they flay, but upon the head they make many imprecations first, and then they who have a market and Hellenes sojourning among them for trade, these carry it to the market-place and sell it, while they who have no Hellenes among them cast it away into the river: and this is the form of imprecations which they utter upon the heads, praying that if any evil be about to befall either themselves who are offering sacrifice or the land of Egypt in general, it may come rather upon this head.
Now as regards the heads of the beasts which are sacrificed and the pouring over them of the wine, all the Egyptians have the same customs equally for all their sacrifices; and by reason of this custom none of the Egyptians eat of the head either of this or of any other kind of animal: but the manner of disembowelling the victims and of burning them is appointed among them differently for different sacrifices; I shall speak however of the sacrifices to that goddess whom they regard as the greatest of all, and to whom they celebrate the greatest feast.--When they have flayed the bullock and made imprecation, they take out the whole of its lower entrails but leave in the body the upper entrails and the fat; and they sever from it the legs and the end of the loin and the shoulders and the neck: and this done, they fill the rest of the body of the animal with consecrated loaves and honey and raisins and figs and frankincense and myrrh and every other kind of spices, and having filled it with these they offer it, pouring over it great abundance of oil. They make their sacrifice after fasting, and while the offerings are being burnt, they all beat themselves for mourning, and when they have finished beating themselves they set forth as a feast that which they left unburned of the sacrifice.

Herodotus, Histories II, Project Gutenberg

After the sacrifice they disposed of the rest of the carcass by burial or by throwing it into the Nile.


Picture sources:
[  ] Model of abattoir: Pierre Montet La vie quotidienne en Egypte
[  ] The picture of the relief is an excerpt from a photograph taken by Michel Audrain, The Glory of Egypt
[1] Words connected with butchering like the butcher's knife or the slaughtering block entered the world of simile, aphorism and saying, as in the following maxim from the Instruction of the papyrus Insinger:
A fool wanting to go with a wise man is a goose wanting to go with its slaughter knife.
M. Lichtheim, Ancient Egyptian Literature, Vol.III, p.201

-Index of Topics
-Main Index and Search Page

Feedback: Please report broken links, mistakes - factual or otherwise, etc. to me. Thanks.

© 2000
Update: April 2004