Incorrect Username, Email, or Password
This object does not yet have a description.

Identification and Creation

Object Number
Apis Bull
Work Type
statuette, sculpture
6th-3rd century BCE or modern
Creation Place: Ancient & Byzantine World, Africa, Egypt (Ancient)
Late Period to Ptolemaic
Persistent Link

Physical Descriptions

Mixed copper alloy, silver inlay
Cast, lost-wax process
11.1 x 12.6 cm, 4.8 g (4 3/8 x 4 15/16 in.)
Technical Details

Chemical Composition: Main
XRF data from Tracer
Alloy: Mixed Copper Alloy
Alloying Elements: copper, tin, lead, zinc
Other Elements: iron, silver

XRF data from Tracer
Alloy: Silver
Alloying Elements: silver, lead
Comments: The side of the object has silver inlay.
K. Eremin, January 2014

Technical Observations: The patina is black with a thin layer of green in many areas. There is no evidence of deeply penetrated corrosion from long-term burial. The silver inlay is a light gray color. There are small casting flaws at several locations that give the impression of corrosion losses, but they are instead a result of the casting process.

The bull is a solid cast, and the base is integral with the casting. Along with the superficial nature of the corrosion products, the beveled shape of the side walls of the base at the underside indicates the bronze is unlikely to be antique. The surface is decorated with fine punch work, incised lines, and silver inlay.

Henry Lie (submitted 2011)

Acquisition and Rights

Credit Line
Harvard Art Museums/Arthur M. Sackler Museum, Gift of Elizabeth Mongan
Accession Year
Object Number
Asian and Mediterranean Art

The Harvard Art Museums encourage the use of images found on this website for personal, noncommercial use, including educational and scholarly purposes. To request a higher resolution file of this image, please submit an online request.


Published Catalogue Text: Ancient Mediterranean and Near Eastern Bronzes at the Harvard Art Museums
The Apis bull stands on an oblong base; both the bull and base are decorated with lines and symbols. Two borders encircle the front of the sun disc between its horns, ending at a small impression where a uraeus would have been. The bull has incised lines all over the face and body, some of which still contain inlaid silver. The lines on the stylized face outline the brow, piriform eyes, and nostrils. The nose and mouth are wide, indicated by long gashes, and the ears are pressed flat against the skull below the spiral horns. The bull’s neck is encircled by several rows of incised bands, including a middle section that resembles a Greek meander pattern. On the back of the bull, below the bands, is a falcon with wing extended on the left side and a vulture on the right side. Below this is a winged sun disc. The bull has a long downward-pointing tail, with impressions to indicate locks of hair. The legs are stocky and thick, with hooves indicated.

The base has an incised line around the periphery. There are also raised symbols, perhaps hieroglyphics, or some approximation thereof, within a rectangular border between the feet on the right side, as well as a triangular symbol at the front. The underside of the base is concave. This object may be a modern piece in the style of a Late Period Egyptian Apis bull.

The figure of a striding bull with a sun disc and uraeus between its horns refers to the cult of the bull in its association with the sun god, and by extension, kingship. The wild bull, as the embodiment of aggression and sexual potency, was incorporated into royal imagery. Although there were several bull cults throughout Egypt, the best known is that of the Apis bull of Memphis, the location of the ancient capital. From at least the First Dynasty onward, the Apis bull was associated with the king, and a yearly procession of the sacred animal celebrated its cult (1). It is known from inscriptions as the incarnation of the god Ptah and, after its death, was associated with Osiris. In later periods, particularly as the pharaonic tradition waned, the Apis bull procession grew in popularity among the common people. Only one bull at a time was identified as the sacred Apis bull, probably determined by special markings. It was kept in its own sanctuary near the temple of Ptah, and when it died, it was buried with lavish ceremony in the necropolis at Saqqara, just outside Memphis. Cambyses, the Persian king who conquered Egypt in 525 BCE, allegedly committed one of the gravest sins when he killed the Apis bull, as recorded by Herodotus (3.27-29). The Ptolemaic rulers, however, continued the tradition of maintaining the sacred bull, and its cult remained active into the Roman period.
The Late Period bronzes are highly standardized, producing the angular form of a striding bull. Herodotus writes that one of the markings found on the sacred Apis bull of Memphis was the likeness of an eagle on its back (3.28). This report finds a parallel in the markings seen on many of the bronze bull statuettes produced in the first millennium BCE, often executed in a secondary metal inlay. All such bull figurines display outstretched wings across their shoulders and haunches, although the marking can vary in terms of details, including winged discs, scarabs, and vultures. In between the two outstretched wings, across the backs, rests a rectangular saddle blanket. These markings appear on three of the Harvard pieces, clearly on 1919.525 and more faintly on 1967.11 (2). Some attempts have been made to classify the Apis bull figurines based on the covariance of the different elements, but the typology remains insecure (3).


1. See A. Dodson, “Bull Cults,” in Divine Creatures: Animal Mummies in Ancient Egypt, ed. S. Ikram (Cairo, 2005) 72-105.

2. This piece is the third example with markings and appears to be modern.

3. G. Roeder, Ägyptische Bronzefiguren, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin Mitteilungen aus der Ägyptischen Sammlung 6 (Berlin, 1956) 325-26. Compare the styling of Hathor as a cow nursing a calf in J. F. Aubert and L. Aubert, eds., Bronzes et or Egyptiens (Paris, 2001) 176, pl. 24 right, dated to Dynasties 26-30. Although the incised markings are slightly different on the back of the animals, the overall form and musculature are very similar.

Lisa M. Anderson and Marian Feldman

Publication History

  • James Cuno, ed., Harvard University Art Museums Annual Report, 1998-99, Harvard University Art Museums (Cambridge, 2000), p. 22-23.

Subjects and Contexts

  • Ancient Bronzes

Related Works

Verification Level

This record has been reviewed by the curatorial staff but may be incomplete. Our records are frequently revised and enhanced. For more information please contact the Division of Asian and Mediterranean Art at