Amy Hammett

The Clay Balls of Ancient Egypt: A Symbolic Defence Against Apophis?

The “striking of the ball” ritual, dated from the New Kingdom to the Late period, is depicted on a number of temple walls. The scene depicts the Pharaoh, armed with a club or stick, hitting balls before a deity or a group of deities. The inscriptions which accompany these scenes suggest that they represent the “evil eye of Apophis”, and that they are destroyed to protect the sun god Re. It has been suggested that these balls may have been made from clay, and this paper will discuss why this theory is supportable and will discuss the possibility that the clay balls were used as a form of weapon against Apophis and the evil he represented.

Clay balls have been excavated from homes and burials, and are decorated with inscriptions, seal impressions, or painted designs. The fact that these artefacts have been found in houses does not entirely rule it out as being an accompaniment to the “striking of the ball” ritual, because it is possible that ancient Egyptian royal rituals adopted domestic rituals and vice versa. In a day to day setting Apophis could have represented the very real threat of snakes to the average Egyptian and it is possible that the “striking of the ball ritual” had its origins in the home. Similarly, equipping one’s tomb with clay balls could have provided a form of defence in the afterlife.