Archaeological Journal/Volume 7/Observations on a Bronze Figure of a Bull found in Cornwall


The accompanying engraving represents the figure of a small bronze bull, obtained by the Rev. J. Buller, at St. Just, near Penwyth. It is of the same dimensions as the original, and is nearly complete, one hoof only being broken. At the feet were small pins or plugs, to affix it to a stand or base, either a pedestal or the top of a small standard, of which it may have been the decoration. It will be perceived on inspection that the animal is decorated with certain emblems: on the head is a disk, apparently divided into six portions; and on the right side of the body of the animal is engraved the lunar crescent. I was unable, however, to detect the inverted triangular mark on the forehead, which is often allied with the disk as emblem of the Egyptian Apis.

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The local interest attached to this specimen, which some have conjectured to be of Phœnician workmanship, has induced me to pass in review some of the principal points under which it may be considered. The Phœnicians, whose reputation for extensive trade, enterprising voyages, and skilful arts, has descended to us, invested with a legendary halo, through the Hebrew, the Greek, and the Roman writers, have, comparatively speaking, left no monumental remains behind them. Almost all their art-monuments are of a period later than the seventh century before Christ, or the dawn of Hellenic civilisation, and few have been found in the vicinity of the chief cities of Phœnicia. Their remains are so essentially intermingled with those of other nations, and exhibit such traces of foreign influence, as the extant monuments in Malta, Corfu, Corsica, Sicily, and Etruria, the coins of the south coast of Asia Minor, and Carthage, and Sicily show, that it is almost impossible to point out with certainty any predominant characteristic of Phœnician art. Mechanicians rather than artists; manufacturers of perishable commodities; gain, the principle of their policy and existence; the Phœnicians have not left a ripple on the shore of the history of mankind. It is necessary to bear this in mind, before attempting to pronounce that any monument is of Phœnician art.

The fact of no object that can be satisfactorily identified with the Phoenicians, having been yet found in Britain, and the legitimate doubts as to the direct maritime commerce between Tyre and the coast of the Cassiterides, would create considerable caution in receiving a newly found monument as of Phœnician origin. At the same time, certain peculiarities of type which distinguish Asiatic forms, arts, and religions from the Greek, consisting in the union of human and animal forms, and in the decoration of animal types, occur in the Phœnician cultus, which seems to have been more allied to the Egyptian and Assyrian idolatries than to the Hellenic. The scanty remains of works of art of this people that have reached us, show considerable local peculiarities. At Cyprus, they appear intermediate between the Greek and the Assyrian, proto-Hellenic. On the coinage of the states of Asia Minor, and the islands where the presence of their language and strange forms proves their Semitic origin, the art is almost Greek, scarcely so locally distinct as that of the Etruscans.

In the Sardinian idols and votive figures of the Phœnician gods, the extreme elongation of the figures and rudeness of the art might appear at first oriental peculiarities; but the same is observed in the numerous figures of more unequivocally Greek gods found in the sepulchres of Italy.

Objects, indeed, of a similar nature to the one under consideration, have been found in Sicily. A golden bull in the possession of the Prince Trabbia, was discovered at Palermo;[1] a golden patera, now in the British Museum, was found at Agrigentum, which has, in chased work, a series of four bulls gradient, round the omphalos or boss; having at one part a dotted crescent before the bulls,[2] This patera, however, exhibits not only a certain softness of form, mingled with archaic treatment, which distinguishes oriental art, but also the peculiar type of the oriental bull,—the horn thrust forward. This type, the bronze found in Cornwall does not exhibit; but, on the contrary, has the horns and general treatment more resembling Egyptian art. It will be necessary to consider it first in relation to the arts of Egypt.

According to the Egyptian annals, the worship of Apis Mnevis and the Mendesian goat was introduced into the cultus in the reign of Kaiechoos, or Cechous, second monarch of the second Egyptian dynasty.[3] Although the name of this monarch has been discovered in the tombs near the pyramids of Gizeh,[4] till the appearance of the work of Lepsius, it is not possible to determine whether on a contemporaneous monument. The singular fact, however, that the tombs of the fourth dynasty do not present any figures of deities, although the names of several are mentioned on them,—such as Phtha, Athor, Neith, Ra, and Anubis,[5]—would prevent our deciding whether the worship then prevailed. At the mine of the Wady Magara,[6] discovered and opened in the reign of Seneferu, king of the third dynasty, divinities are represented; yet they continue to be found on public monuments till the twelfth, and then but seldom. No instance of animal worship, indeed, occurs till the eighteenth dynasty, when the idolatry of the worship was thoroughly established. The name of Apis is conferred on a private individual, who lived during the twelfth dynasty,[7] but no monument representing him has been found of an earlier date than the Ptolemies. The small bronze and stone votive figures of Apis, found in the different museums of Europe, do not appear to be earlier. Apis was, however, a part of that great circle of animal worship which reached northwards, through Syria, to Nineveh, and extended eastwards to the frontiers of China. He was the sacred animal of Phtha Socharis Osiris, the god of Memphis. While, however, in the Hindhu religion,[8] the god rides on his sacred animal, and in the Assyrian and Phœnician creed stands upon it, and among the later Greeks it draws his chariot, in Egypt the animal was totally detached, and accompanied his processions or gave his oracles. The reason of this animal worship was very obscure to the Greeks, who were of course struck with it, and made certain inquiries into the causes. The popular legends informed them that the gods assumed the forms of animals to escape the wickedness of mankind; that they deified them from having used their images as standards, or from the benefits which they conferred upon mankind.[9] Others affirmed that it was a political institution to create discord among the inhabitants of the different nomes.[10] Similar reasons are given by the writer of the tract on Isis and Osiris,[11] and by Porphyry,[12] who propounds a truer hypothesis, that they represented the universal power of the divinity as displayed in animated nature.[13]

The true reason, concealed in the origin, has been probably obliterated in the growth of the system, in which are mixed up several notions: such as the incarnation of a part of the divine soul in the actual animal;[14] the idea represented by the animal in hieroglyphics, such as a sheep or goat having the same appellation as the soul—ba; the word for jackal sabu also signifying craft;[15] the animal's use for oracular purposes; and the physical power symbolised by it in the great system of nature; the selected animal representing Κατ' ἐξοχὴν, the predominant characteristic of his tribe. Traditions and considerations of a nature unintellegible to modern science, induced or justified the selection. The discovery of the mode of reading the hieroglyphics enables us to take a more certain ground in the inquiry.

The name of Apis, in hieroglyphics Hepi, is significant, being the past participle of the verb hep. On a tablet, formerly in Lord Belmore's Collection, now in the British Museum,[16] Phtha is said, ach pe em hep (e n) tet. f, "to suspend the heaven by the poise of his hand." The same word hep also occurs in the sense of rudder.[17] Hence the name Apis probably signified the adjustment, or discriminating power, of the god Phtha. In his physical relation as an emanation, he is called "the living son of Phtha."[18] Pantheistically, he is combined with Osiris, as Osir-Hepi; then he is a bull-headed man, like the Minotaur. His name also resembles, although it is not identical with, that of the Nile,—in Egyptian, called Hapi; which suggests that he was also considered a personification of the river itself,[19] or rather the inundation,—and that in the dream of Pharaoh, the seven fat kine, alluded to the seven full Niles or years of plenty; the seven lean kine, to seven deficient inundations.[20] The connexion of bull with river is found, indeed, in the Greek mythology throughout its length and breadth; and, in the Assyrian religion, the great predominance of bull-worship seems to show that it personified Assyria itself,—the representative of the Eastern Turan; as its antagonist power, the lion, was the Persian Iran.[21] The last Egyptian analogy which I shall mention,[22] is the genius Hepi, generally cynocephalus-headed, who personified the second of the cardinal points of the Egyptian compass,[23] the north. It is clearly connected with the Coptic hap, " to hide."

According to Chæremon,[24] who was well instructed in the hieroglyphics, and who had charge of the library at Alexandria, or else of that of the Serapeum, in the age of Nero, a bull was used to express "the earth," ἀντὶ γῆς βοῦν (ἔγραφον), evidently from the sound ka, bull, being similar to that of kah, earth. Horus Apollo[25] interprets the bull by "manliness."

The bull, in the hieroglyphics, was called by the generic word Aha, cattle,[26]men, or men men,[27] which bears the same signification,—and Ka, the bull, the radical of the Persian Gau, and the English word cow.[28] It is used throughout the hieroglyphical texts in the sense of "male, masculine." Thus, in the square titles, or the Horus standards, as they are called, of the monarchs of the eighteenth and following dynasties, it is followed by the arm holding the stick, the abridged form of the adjective necht, powerful, often found written in its full form. Then it signifies "the powerful male;"[29] this being that part of the obelisk translated by Hermapion, κρατερὸς.[30] In other instances, it occurs as " the most masculine of millions," in the hyperbolical flattery of the Pharaohs.[31] Its sense of masculine or male is particularly evident in the titles of the god Khem, who appears to have united the principles of the two sexes of the Egyptian pantheon in his title of Ka mutf, meaning, "He who is male and female," the ἀρσενόθηλυς, and not that usually translated.[32] This god, whose name meant " the enshrined," was usually kept carefully secluded from the eyes of the multitude. His festival was called "the festival of the coming forth of Khem,"—heb en her en Khem. It was celebrated on the month of Tybi. A white bull, perhaps Mnevis,—for Mnevis is only the translation of the Egyptian word mena,—walked in the procession. His head was decorated with the sun's disk and two tall plumes.[33] Here, undoubtedly, the bull represented the masculine principle of the god, as the vulture,[34] with which he was decorated, the feminine, or antagonistic, nature. In the same sense, Thoth addresses Osiris, "Oh, male of the West!"[35] Numerous instances, indeed, might be adduced to prove that the bull was used in this sense in contradistinction to the vulture, which represented the idea female.[36]

It would thus appear that Apis represented the Nile or Inundation, and the adjustment or regulating power of Phtha. His colour seems to have been generally pied black and white, in reference to the moon; to which the ibis, a pied bird, was also sacred, representing the alternate light and darkness of that luminary. On the coffin of Tenamen, an incense-bearing priest of Amen-Ra, the eponymous god of Thebes, Apis is represented as a pied bull, wearing on his head a disk and plumes, and coming out of a sekos, or shrine, placed on a granite hill. The inscription reads, "Said Phtha Socharis, who is lord of the West." The speech has never been inserted.[37] On the feet of coffins of the age of the twenty-sixth dynasty, Apis is often represented as a pied bull, without any attire, bearing on his back a mummy;[38] the inscriptions usually being, "Apis is carrying." This has been supposed, without, however, adequate proof, to represent Apis bearing the mummy of Osiris. The white bull, Ka-het, who walked, like the sacred bull of Brahma, in the festival of the god Khem, I have already mentioned. A black bull, having the name Mena (cattle), is the representation of Mnevis, the sacred bull of Thebes, which was sacred to Amen-Ra, or the Egyptian Jupiter. The bull, Pa-ka, that is, "The Bull,"[39] the Pacis of Macrobius, has also been figured by Champollion in his Pantheon. In the Ritual of the Dead is a bull and seven cows, whose name it was necessary that the deceased should know and pronounce.[40] They may be connected with the lunar phases.

The worship of the golden calf among the Jews was probably only a modification of the Apis worship. Traces of this bull worship extended from the Nile to the Euphrates. It still lingers in the mysteries of the Syrian Druses. It would appear that Baal, the Phœnician, sat on a calf, like the Jupiter Dolichenus of Commagene.[41] The enormous laver of the Temple of Solomon, called the Brazen Sea, stood on twelve oxen.[42] This was evidently of Phœnician workmanship, and these workmen had introduced into their productions one of the chosen animals of their cultus. In the Assyrian monuments of Nimroud, discovered by Mr. Layard, some of the Assyrian divinities are represented standing upon calves in circular rings. Which, however, of the many gods of the Assyrian Pantheon is intended, it is not at present possible to determine. On the cylinders found at Babylon or Hillah, the bull appears as an adjunct,—sometimes as the living emblem of the divinity, at others as the Zodiacal sign, Taurus. It would appear from the man-headed bull, and the representation of the bull in Assyria, that it was to a certain extent a national emblem. The single or triple horns of the bull were placed on the heads of the kings and deities, and evidently had a national meaning. When Seleucus appears as King of Babylon, on the tetradrachms struck during his reign, he placed a pair of bull's horns on his helmet, in imitation of the ram's horn which Lysimachus had placed on the diadem of Alexander.

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There is, however, considerable reason for supposing the Cornish relic of the Roman period. Champollion, in his catalogue of the Museum of Charles X. in the Louvre, calls some of the porcelain figures, those of the bull, Onuphis, the symbolical image of Amen Generator. He also mentions two figures of calcareous stone, brought from the tomb of Sethos I., and figures of the bull, Mnevis, in bronze and porcelain.[43] In his description of the figures of Apis in the same collection, he mentions a figure of Apis having a crescent on the flank. On two cippi of the Roman period, in the British Museum, certainly not older than the age of Hadrian, and ornamented with bas-reliefs, relative to Egyptian rites, are two bulls,[44] —one with a star on his flank, probably Mnevis, the bull of Heliopolis; and another, of which a representation is here given, with the crescent, for Apis.

On the coins of Memphis of the 8th or 11th year, and on those of Alexandria, dated in the LIZ, or 17th year of Hadrian,[45] and also on those of the 19th year of his reign, Apis is represented advancing to an altar. These coins, which were struck on the occasion of the disturbances which took place consequent on the dispute about the bull Apis in Egypt, in the reign of Hadrian,[46] are of the same style as the altar already cited. The crescent was the white spot, the presence of which, on the right side, constituted the true Apis.[47] The bull is only found on the coins of Hadrian. The last appearance of the bull-god on works of ancient art is on the coins of Julian the Apostate.[48] The only dated monuments, however, on which he appears having a crescent, are those of the reign of Hadrian, Several other monuments, indeed, are known of an undetermined antiquity.[49] The Athenians received the Apis-worship at the time of Ptolemy. It appears to have been even introduced into Rome at the time of the Empire. Hence it probably wandered into Britain, introduced by its votaries, both fanatic and mendicant, who hovered around the legions of the Empire and the villages of the provinces. S. BIRCH.

The Committee desire to express their thanks to the Council of the Royal Institution of Cornwall, for their liberality in permitting the interesting relic, the subject of the foregoing memoir, and preserved in the Museum at Truro, to be brought to London by Dr. Barham, for the gratification of the Institute.

They would, at the same time, acknowledge their obligation to His Grace the Duke of Northumberland, for calling attention to so remarkable a vestige of antiquity, which, through his suggestion, has been brought under their notice.

  1. Gerhard. Ueber die Kunst der Phönicier, 4to, Berlin, 1848, s. 14, n. 54.
  2. From the collection of Sir W. Hamilton. Engraved Houel Voyage Pittoresque, folio, 1787, t. iv., p. 48, Pl. 237, fig. 2.
  3. Africanus in Syncello, pp. 55, 56; Eusebius apud Syncell. Idem ex interprete Armenio; Bunsen, Egypt's Place. Lond., 1848, vol. i., pp. 612, 613.
  4. Bunsen, Aegyptens Stelle. Bd. II, s. 106; the name reads Ka-Kau.
  5. Cf. Burton's Excerpta, pl. xxvii.
  6. Leon de Laborde. Voyage dans L'Arabia Pétrée,fo. Paris, 1830, Pl. Ouadi Magara.
  7. Prisse. Mon. pl. vii.
  8. Cory. Mythological Inquiry, 12mo, Lond. 1837, p. 1, and foll.
  9. Diod. i. 86; i. 12.
  10. Ibid. Cic. N. D. I. 26.
  11. The false Plutarch, de Is. s. 72, evidently a Syrian writer, connected with the introduction of the Isiac worship into Asia Minor.
  12. De Abst., c. ix.
  13. Wilk. M., c. iv. pp. 109, 110.
  14. champ. Not. Deser. du Musée Charles X, 16mo, Par. 1827, p. 38.
  15. Birch. Gallery of Antiquities, 4to, Lond., 1840, p. 49.
  16. No. 286.
  17. Lepsius, Todtenbuch, tab. xxxvi. c. 99, 1. 16. Pap. Burton. B. M. loco.
  18. Hep sa en Ptah on a tablet in the Museum of the Sta Caterina at Florence, which I copied.
  19. Lepsius, Einleitung, 4to, Berlin, 1848, s. 159.
  20. Genesis, xli. ver. 1, and foll.
  21. Gliddon, Otia Ægyptiaca.
  22. Cf. Lepsius, l. c. Champollion, Diet. p. 373.
  23. Thus the four genii were sent to the four cardinal points in the scenes of the Ramesseum, and at Medinat Haboo.
  24. A remarkable fragment of the work of this writer on the hieroglyphics, which contained their meaning and their pronunciation, will be found in Job. Tzetzes, Exeg. in Homeri Iliad. ad finem. It is an interpretation of nineteen hieroglyphics, nearly all correct, according to independent modern researches. This passage has escaped the notice of recent writers on Egyptian subjects. For some account of Chæremon, cf. Vossius de Hist. Græc, Ed. Westermann. 8vo, Lipsiæ, 1838, pp. 209, 210; Smith, Biographical Dictionary, 3vo, Lond., vol. i., p. 678.
  25. Lib. I., c. 46. I believe the true reading of this passage to be ευθεῖαν φύσιν taking the context. Cf. Horapollo. By Al. Turner Cory. 12mo, Loud. 1840, a Leemans. 8vo. Amst. 1835, p. 47.
  26. Bunsen, Egypt's Place, 8vo, Lond. 1848. p. 543.
  27. Champollion, Gram. p. 126.
  28. Bunsen, Egypt's Place, ibid.
  29. On the Obelisks passim. Ungarelli Int. Ob. 8vo. Rom. 1842. Champ. Dict., p. 112.
  30. Ammian. Marcellin., lib. xvii., s. iv., p. 108, ed. Ernesti.
  31. Cf. titles of Rameses II. at Beitoually, Rosellini, M. R., No. LXII.
  32. According to Champollion, Lettres Ecrites, Gr. p.282, maritus matris suæ,from a false reading of the word Ka, which is male. (Cf. Champ. Dict. p. 112). not. maritus. Lanci. Lettre sur les hieroglyphes gives a reading still more extraordinary. Champollion, Notice des Monumens Egyptiens du Musée Charles X., 12mo, Paris, 1827, p. 7, considered him an union of Amen the first of the Theban Triad, and Horus the last of the Abydos one; i. e. Amen as the father, Horus as the child; but it would appear from the text he has cited in the explanation of Neith, (cf. Champollion, Panthéon Egyptien, 4to, Par., p. 25, E. Lepsius, Todtenbuch, taf. lxxix., c. 165, and lxxviii., c. 164,) that Neith or Mut united in herself the two principles.
  33. Champollion, Mon. Eg.; Rosellini, M. d. C. lxxxiv.; Wilkinson, Manners's and Customs, Vol. v., Pl. 76.
  34. For example, on a bronze figure of this god in the British Museum, No. 1619, his bandages have the vulture engraved over them.
  35. Lepsius, Todtenbuch, taf. i., l. i.
  36. Thus the vulture ends the word ses, mare, on the statistical tablet of Kamak, and the word neshn, a hind. Cf. Prisse, Mon. Eg. Pl. xv. bis.; Lepsius, Auswahl. tab. xii. Cf. however, Champ, Dict., p. 117,
  37. Birch, Gallery, p. 52.
  38. Coffin of Pefaakhons, Egyptian Room, Brit. Mus., No. 6681, 6691; boards of coffins, Brit. Mus., Nos. 6940, 6941.
  39. Champollion, Grammaire Egyptienne, p. 126.
  40. Lepsius, Todtenbuch, taf. lxix., 1. .9, and taf. lxix , c. 148.
  41. Muller, Handbuch, s. 294; Marini, Atti di Frat. Arv. II., p. 539; Bottiger Kunstmyth, I., s. 308, 313—330, taf. iv.
  42. Kings, vii., 23, and foll.; 2 Chron. iv., 2, and foll.
  43. Notice descriptive des Monumens Egyptiens du Musée Charles X., 16mo, Paris, 1827, p. 41, B. 96, and p. 44, No. 164, 165.
  44. Ancient Marbles, Part X., 4to, Lond. 1845, Pl. LI.
  45. Zoega Numi Aegyptii, 4to, Rom. 1787, pp. 139-148, Tab. vii. Apis lunulâ in latere conspicuus et disco inter cornua stat ante aram. Spanheim de Usu præstantur, viii. 654. Beger. Thes. Brand. III. 136. Tochon D'Annecy. Med. d. Nomes. 4to. Paris. 1822, 139. Lenormant Mus. Ant. Eg. Fo. Paris. 1841, p. 64. Apis appears also with a crescent on his side on the coins of Hadrianotheræ Bithyniæ. Eckhel. D.N.V. vi. 530.
  46. Ael Spartian, Vit. Hadrian.
  47. Plin. Hist. Nat., VIII. 46.
  48. Oisel. Sel. Num., 222-3. Mazzolen Num. Pisan. I., p. 224. Mionnet. M. R., t. ii. p. 294.
  49. Beside the instances already quoted in the Museum of the Louvre, Champ. Mus. Ch. X., and the British Museum, Nos. 1608, 1618-19, 1621-26. Also those of the Leyden Museum. Leemans Mon. Eg., Pl. XXII., No. 245; XXI., fig. 224, 216, 234-35, 244. Montfaucon, II., P. II., p. 310.