Egyptian Mythological Creatures

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  • 0:03 Mythological Creatures…
  • 0:41 The Serpopard
  • 1:45 The Griffin
  • 2:33 The Sphinx
  • 3:45 Egyptian Demons
  • 4:32 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Christopher Muscato

Chris has a master's degree in history and teaches at the University of Northern Colorado.

Ancient Egyptians, like most cultures, believed some incredible magical creatures inhabited their world. In this lesson, we'll examine some of these creatures and see what they meant to the Egyptian civilization.

Mythological Creatures of Ancient Egypt

Ancient Egypt was one of the world's first true civilizations. You probably know a few things about Egyptian spiritual beliefs and practices: mummies, the vast Pantheon of deities, or the alignment of grandiose tombs with constellations. You may be less familiar with the mythological creatures of Egypt. While a number of mythological animals inhabit the Egyptians' belief system, they weren't written about very often. Many of these stories were later recorded by Greeks traveling to Egypt. Through carvings and other works of art we can piece together information on the fantastic creatures the ancient Egyptians believed shared their world.

The Serpopard

The ancient Egyptians depicted many mythological creatures. The most common ones are half-human/half-animal religious gods. Creatures that don't fall under this category include the serpopard. This word is a contraction of 'serpent' and 'leopard.' This creature had the body and head of a leopard (or some claim a lioness), with an extremely long, snake-like neck. As this name is derived from English, we don't actually know what the ancient Egyptians called this animal. It appears in certain hieroglyphics and on carved ivory objects historians call magic wands. These depict creatures believed to have magical or protective powers.

The serpopard was often associated with hunting, an activity of social, political, and spiritual significance to the Egyptians. Hunting outside of the Nile Valley was a magical ritual that symbolized taming hostile forces of the universe. Some historians think that mystical and dangerous (although not evil) creatures like the serpopard represented the chaos that reigned outside of the civilized world of Egypt's borders.

The Griffin

Next on our list is the griffin, which is something you may recognize from Greek mythology. While the Greeks popularized the griffin, this creature first appears in ancient Egypt with a feline body and the head of a hawk, an animal of extreme spiritual importance. Sometimes Egyptian griffins had wings. The griffin is one of the only mythological creatures found consistently in all three major periods of ancient Egyptian history (the Old, Middle, and New Kingdoms), which means we can track how it changes over time. Sometimes its head is more like a vulture, and sometimes the neck is longer. It is often associated with war, pulling the chariot of the god Shed, whose role was to protect Egypt from monsters and magical dangers. The griffin was an important symbol to the Egyptians that changed with their culture.

The Sphinx

Perhaps most famous of the mythological creatures of ancient Egypt is the sphinx. Most of us are familiar with the Great Sphinx of Giza, the monumental sculpture near the Great Pyramids. From an early date, the pharaohs of Egypt used the sphinx as a symbol of their power and divinity, particularly after death. However, this was only one version of the sphinx. The sphinx was always found with the body of a lion. It could have the head of either a human, a ram, or a hawk. Some also had wings, forming a blurry line between sphinxes and griffins.

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