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Identification and Creation

Object Number
Apis Bull
Work Type
statuette, sculpture
mid 7th-late 1st century BCE
Creation Place: Ancient & Byzantine World, Africa, Egypt (Ancient)
Late Period to Ptolemaic
Persistent Link

Physical Descriptions

Leaded bronze
Cast, lost-wax process
6 x 7.9 x 2.3 cm (2 3/8 x 3 1/8 x 7/8 in.)
Technical Details

Chemical Composition: ICP-MS/AAA data from sample, Leaded Bronze:
Cu, 79.45; Sn, 9.94; Pb, 9.59; Zn, 0.017; Fe, 0.27; Ni, 0.05; Ag, 0.14; Sb, 0.11; As, 0.4; Bi, 0.028; Co, 0.011; Au, less than 0.01; Cd, less than 0.001
J. Riederer

Technical Observations: The patina is cupritic reddish brown, green, and brown oxidized metal in localized worn areas. The figure is missing its ears and horns. The latter are in part replaced by lead (solder?) stumps. The protrusion on the back of the neck has a broken edge. A large piece of the base is broken off at the proper right front corner. The small proper left front corner is also missing. Some of the surface detail has been lost through corrosion and cleaning. Vertical striations on the top on each side appear to be due to over cleaning with a rotary grinding device.

The bull was cast in one piece with the flat rectangular base. Its features and surface were originally decorated with inscribed designs. A few decorative elements remain visible in the metal. Patterns are preserved on the proper left shoulder and rump. The protrusion on the neck may also have extended into a larger element. The remains of a sprue are preserved at the center of the underside of the base.

Francesca G. Bewer (submitted 2001)

Acquisition and Rights

Credit Line
Harvard Art Museums/Arthur M. Sackler Museum, Museum Collection
Accession Year
Object Number
Asian and Mediterranean Art

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Published Catalogue Text: Ancient Mediterranean and Near Eastern Bronzes at the Harvard Art Museums
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).

The ears, horns, and probably sun disc on this example are broken, as is the flat rectangular base on which the bull stands.


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

2. The third example with markings, 1999.94, 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.

Marian Feldman

Subjects and Contexts

  • Ancient Bronzes

Related Works

Verification Level

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