Faience Bes-bell

Accession Number
Current Location
House of Life (first floor), Music case
Object Types
Religious or cult object | Implements and utensils, Musical intruments, Instrument, Bell
Late Period to Graeco-Roman Period
Ptolemaic Period
Height: 32mm | Width: 26mm | Weight: 12g
Number of Elements
Divine Name

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A so-called ‘Bes-bell’ in a pale green faience. The head of Bes is adorned with feathers. This small bell features two holes at the top: one for suspension and another for the now-missing tongue that would have struck the inside of the bell to produce sound. One method of attaching the tongue of the bell in ancient Egypt was by means of a split-pin pushed through the hole at the top of the bell, below the handle (see Anderson 1976, 29). Part of the Woking Collection, which arrived to the Egypt Centre on long-term loan from Woking College in 2012 (Engel 2020). The list accompanying the objects said that this particular item dates to the Twenty-second Dynasty (c. 945–715 BC), though the form of light green faience found on this bell is usually dated to the last half of the First Millennium BC (c. 747–30 BC). The material may suggest that this particular bell was a votive or amuletic item as faience is a fragile material, especially if shaken vigorously. Many bells like this do not feature a tapered edge, which limits the loudness of the sound produced (the fundamental note of a bell resonates on the ‘lip’ of the instrument); producing a loud sound was not the primary function of this object. For a basic typology of bell shapes (Hickmann 1949, p. 39). WK44 corresponds to type 1 in that scheme. The deity Bes is often associated with percussion instruments, particularly the hand drum and occasionally a harp. Interestingly, Petrie (1914, 28) suggested that Bes bells were amuletic and perhaps worn around the necks of children to protect them. Bes was a protective deity, particularly for women in childbirth and for young children, among other functions. Most ancient Egyptian bells were made in bronze, though faience and pottery examples are known. ‘Bes-bells’ have been found in different forms: the head of Bes ‘in the round’, which includes WK44, or the face of Bes with three other animals (examples are Cairo CG 69280 and British Museum EA 38160). The exact reasons for these differences are unclear, though the sound produced by the bell may be a protective device against these other creatures. In fact, it is possible to see the sound of Bes-bells as becoming the embodiment of the ‘voice’ of the protective deity himself when shaken. A close parallel for WK44 is seen in the British Museum (EA 66619; dated to the Ptolemaic Period (Anderson 1976, p. 38, fig. 66). Another example is found in the Carnarvon-Carter collection at Highclere castle (H9). Additionally, the Petrie Museum has several bronze bells similar to ours (UC52168, UC52169, UC33266, UC8976). Petrie dated them between the Twenty-sixth Dynasty to Roman Period (Petrie 1914, 28, NO. 124 (see also Petrie 1927, 5p. 8, pl. L nos. 299 and 300). The Petrie Museum also has faience bells without Bes heads dated to the Roman Period (UC59163).


Anderson, R. D. 1976. Catalogue of Egyptian antiquities in the British Museum III: Musical instruments. London: British Museum. Engel, Dulcie (2020) The Woking Loan: a collection within a collection at the Egypt Centre. Available at: https://www.egypt.swan.ac.uk/wp-content/uploads/2020/12/WOKING-LOAN.pdf Hickmann, Hans 1949. Instruments de musique: Nos 69201-69852. Catalogue général des antiquités égyptiennes du Musée du Caire. Le Caire: Institut français d'archéologie orientale. At head of title: Service des Antiquités de l'Égypte. Petrie, W. M. Flinders 1914. Amulets: illustrated by the Egyptian collection in University College, London. London: Constable. Petrie, Flinders 1927. Objects of daily use: with over 1800 figures from University College, London. British School of Archaeology in Egypt and Egyptian Research Account [42]. London: British School of Archaeology in Egypt; Bernard Quaritch.


Last modified: 01 Feb 2021

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