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Protection of Children

The god Bes in military form.
Ceramic figure of the god Bes in military form (KM 1971.02.0208)

CHILDHOOD WAS A DANGEROUS TIME in Roman Egypt. Infant mortality was high and young children were vulnerable to disease and threats like scorpions and snakes. Beginning in prehistoric times, the Egyptians had developed magical strategies for protecting children, and the remains from Roman Egypt show how long these practices persisted. Amulets invoked gods like Bes and Taweret, who specifically protected mothers and children. Images of mother goddesses protected by analogy: just as Isis would protect her son Horus, the user hoped she would protect a mortal child as well. Images of the boy Horus (called “cippi”) were thought to be powerful against dangerous reptiles and insects.

Document written on papyrus

P.Mich. inv. 281, A.D. 114-116, sent from a soldier stationed in Nubia. Courtesy of the University of Michigan Library Papyrology Collection.


Satornilos to Aphrodous, his mother, very many greetings. Before all things I pray for your health and prosperity. I wish you to know that I sent you three letters this month. I have received in full the monthly allowances that you sent to me by Julius and a basket of olives by the boy of Julius. I wish you to know that another male child has been born to me, whose name is Agathos Daimon....