W2052 Bed Legs showing Bes and Taweret
Sir Henry Wellcome purchased these bed legs, decorated with pictures of Taweret and Bes, in 1906 from the collection of Robert de Rustafjaell. One is marked in pencil ‘Akhmim’ suggesting that it possibly came from this area. Snakes can also be seen decorating the legs (not shown in the pictures here).
Bed legs such as these here are frequently constructed in the shape of lion legs. Just as the lion was symbolically associated with the rebirth of the sun at dawn, a lion shaped bed might confer refreshed awakening from sleep for the occupant.
The ancient Egyptians saw the hours between sunset and sunrise as particularly dangerous, a time when they may be at risk from malevolent forces. To protect themselves from such powers positive deities were called upon. The two most common were the hippopotamus goddess Taweret and the dwarf god Bes. It is possible that beds were generally decorated with such deities, however, Taweret and Bes were also particularly connected with women in childbirth.
Thus, these legs may be part of a ‘woman’s bed’ upon which a woman would have given birth and/or rested shortly after birth.
At New Kingdom Deir el-Medina, ‘women’s beds’ appear to have been purchased along with birth amulets [Toivari-Viitala 2001, 178]. Unfortunately, we don’t know what such beds were like, though there are clues in the ‘Wochenlaube’ scenes and in model clay beds [Pinch 1983, 406, pl. V]. On both, snakes are shown. On the clay models, the bed legs may take the form of Bes, and a snake is depicted on either long edge of the bed. But only one complete bed exists which depicts snakes; it is that of Sennedjem. Here two snakes are shown painted on the bed frame, one on each side. Depictions of Bes on actual beds are, however, much more common. (Graves-Brown 2010).
On the Wochenlaube scenes the snake has been identified as a protective fetility snake by Brunner-Traut (1955, 24). There are also parallel scenes where Isis and baby Horus are shown flanked by protective serpents.
Brunner-Traut, E. Die Wochenlaube, Mittelilingen des Instituts für Orientforschung, 3, 11-30.
Graves-Brown, C. 2010. Dancing for Hathor, Women in Ancient Egypt. New York and London.
Killen, G., 1980-1984. Egyptian Furniture. 2 volumes. Warminster.
Pinch, G., 1983. Childbirth and Female Figurines at Deir el-Medina and el-Amarna, Orientalia, 52, 405-414.
Toivari-Viitala, J., 2001. Women at Deir el-Medina. A Study of the Status and Roles of the Female Inhabitants at the Workmen’s Community During the Ramesside Period. Leiden.