Bat / Hathor : fragment from a sistrum - Late Period Dynasty 26–29

Bat (or Bata) was an ancient Egyptian cow goddess associated with Upper Egypt. She was originally a deification of the Milky Way (which was compared to a pool of cow’s milk). Her name is the feminine form of the word “ba”, the name of one of the major elements of the soul. She was associated with the ankh (the symbol of life or breath) and with the sistrum (which was also associated with Hathor. Her cult centre was in Sheshesh (the seventh nome of Upper Egypt) known as the “Mansion of the Sistrum”.

Menkaure with Hathor on the left and Bat on the righ

Her worship certainly dates to the early period of ancient Egyptian history as she is mentioned in the Pyramid Texts as “Bat of two faces; the one who is saved who has saved myself from all evil things”. Her dual faces may represent her ability to see both the past and future, but it is also possible that the two faces represent the two banks of the Nile or both Upper and Lower Egypt.

She is rarely depicted in ancient Egyptian art (she occasionally appears as a celestial cow surrounded by stars), however, her human face with bovine features often adorned jewellery and amulets. A cow goddess, who is thought to be Bat, appears on a pectoral from the twelfth dynasty flanked by Horus and Set (representing upper and lower Egypt) implying that she was a force which unified the two lands. It is possible that it is Bat, rather than Hathor, who is depicted on the Narmer Palette and Gerzeh Palette (also known as the “cow palette” or the “Hathor Palette”), as the name of the goddess depicted is not confirmed on either artifact.

Bat or Hathor on the Gerzeh palette

It is possible that Hathor and Bat were once one and the same, and that differences emerged because the area was divided into two different Nomes. Her appearance with Hathor and Menkaure would appear to support this. Hathor was worshiped in the sixth nome while Bat was worshiped in the seventh Nome. Alternatively, Bat was originally an entirely separate deity who merely shared many characteristics with her more illustrious neighbour. Unfortunately for Bat, her similarity to Hathor was so close that she was almost entirely assimilated into her by the New Kingdom.

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Copyright J Hill 2010