Sobek “God of the Nile” was an ancient Egyptian deity with a complex and elastic history and nature. He is associated with the Nile crocodile or the West African crocodile and is represented either in its form or as a human with a crocodile head. Sobek was also associated with pharaonic power, fertility, and military prowess, but served additionally as a protective deity with apotropaic qualities, invoked especially for protection against the dangers presented by the Nile. Sobek has been famed for having been revered by the first female Pharaoh by the Nebty name Sat-Sekhem-Nebet-Tawy Sobekneferu, present both in the female Pharaoh’s nomen, Sobekneferu (sbk-nfrw – Beauty of Sobek), and her praenomen Kasobekre (The Ka of Sobek-Ra).
History Sobek enjoyed a longstanding presence in the ancient Egyptian pantheon, from the Old Kingdom of Egypt (c. 2686–2181 BCE) through the Roman period (c. 30 bce–350 ce). He is first known from several different Pyramid Texts of the Old Kingdom, particularly from spell PT 317. The spell, which praises the pharaoh as the living incarnation of the crocodile god, reads: Unis is Sobek, green of plumage, with alert face and raised fore, the splashing one who came from the thigh and tail of the great goddess in the sunlight … Unis has appeared as Sobek, Neith’s son. Unis will eat with his mouth, Unis will urinate, and Unis will copulate with his penis. Unis is lord of semen, who takes women from their husbands to the place Unis likes according to his heart’s fancy. The origin of his name, Sbk in Egyptian, is debated among scholars, but many believe that it is derived from a causative of the verb “to impregnate”.
Cult center the entire Faiyum region – the “Land of the Lake” in Egyptian (specifically referring to Lake Moeris) – served as a cult center of Sobek. Most Faiyum towns developed their own localized versions of the god, such as Soknebtunis at Tebtunis, Sokonnokonni at Bacchias, and Souxei at an unknown site in the area. At Karanis, two forms of the god were worshipped: Pnepheros and Petsuchos. There, mummified crocodiles were employed as cult images of Petsuchos.
Sobek Shedety, the patron of the Faiyum’s centrally located capital, Crocodilopolis (or Egyptian “Shedet”), was the most prominent form of the god. Extensive building programs honoring Sobek were realized in Shedet, as it was the capital of the entire Arsinoite nome and consequently the most important city in the region. It is thought that the effort to expand Sobek’s main temple was initially driven by Ptolemy II. Specialized priests in the main temple at Shedet functioned solely to serve Sobek, boasting titles like “prophet of the crocodile-gods” and “one who buries of the bodies of the crocodile-gods of the Land of the Lake”.