Saqqara Animal Cemeteries

Address: Saqqara, Saqara, Al - Badrashin, Giza, Egypt

Latitude: 29.8508000

Longitude: 31.2310000

Time Zone: Central Africa Time

Categories: Attraction

Tags: Cultural

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Saqqara Animal Cemeteries

Animal cults were common throughout ancient Egyptian history, but they became most popular towards the Late and Graeco-Roman Periods. Probably the most important animal burials were those of the bull cults – the ‘Apis Bulls’ of Memphis, the ‘Mnervis Bulls’ of Heliopolis and the ‘Buchis Bulls’ of Armant in Upper Egypt. Ceremonies surrounding the bull cults are vague, but it is clear that bulls were worshipped from a very early time – probably in relation to the solar cults. Many other animals were mummified, occasionally as beloved pets, sometimes as food offerings to the deceased, but primarily for religious purposes and dedicated to specific gods. Other animal cemeteries known to have existed at Saqqara include cats (connected with Bastet), dogs or jackals (connected with Anubis) and baboons (connected with Thoth).

The Serapeum

The Serapeum is the name given to the galleries of tombs of the ‘Apis Bulls’, situated to the north-west of Djoser’s Step Pyramid at Saqqara. Apis was a god originally associated with fertility, known as early as Dynasty I, and later connected with the god Ptah.



The Apis bulls were a succession of individual animals carefully selected by priests and had the role of serving as a physical manifestation of Ptah, whose principal sanctuary was at Memphis. The bull was chosen for its markings and for its divine birth. According to the Greek historian Herodotus, the Apis was conceived from a bolt of lightning and it should be black in colour with a white diamond on the forehead, the image of a vulture on its back, double hairs on its legs and a scarab-shaped mark under its tongue. Paintings on coffins of the Late Period show the Apis as pied rather than black, which may have made such an animal easier to find. Its mother was revered as a manifestation of the Goddess Isis. At the death of each Apis, the animal was embalmed on the huge stone tables at Memphis and buried in the Saqqara catacombs with great ceremony. The mother and calves were also buried in special separate galleries of tombs. The bulls were treated like royalty both during their lifetime (around 20 to 25 years) and in their funerary ceremonies. They were embalmed in the position of a sphinx, in a seated pose with their legs tucked beneath them. From Dynasty XXVI, massive granite sarcophagi were used, but the only one found to have been inscribed from this period belongs to the reign of Amasis (Khnemibre).

Evidence of the first Apis burial in the Memphite Serapeum at Saqqara dates back to Amenhotep III of Dynasty XVIII, when many animal deities were prominent. The earliest intact burial to be found was from the reign of Horemheb, which also saw the first decorated Apis tomb. At this time the tomb of each bull was separate and only became part of the catacombs during the reign of Rameses II. Rameses’ son Khaemwaset, buried several Apis bulls in his role as High Priest of Ptah at Memphis. It was once thought that Khaemwaset who was something of an antiquarian, was also buried in the Serapeum in a wooden coffin, but Egyptologists now believe the burial to have been that of an Apis Bull. Prince Khaemwaset donated several items of jewellery and shabtis inscribed in his name to the bull burials. Merenptah, another son of Rameses II, is also seen officiating in the Apis ceremonies as both High Priest and Prince. The catacombs continued in use at least until the Ptolemaic Period, while the cult of the Apis survived until the Emperor Honorius banned it and closed the Serapeum in AD 398.

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