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Amulet of a lion-headed goddess, Egypt, 4000-30 BCE

The ancient Egyptians believed that illness and disease had both natural and supernatural causes, which were controlled by the gods. Prevention and treatment of illness and disease therefore included prayers to statues of gods in the home (like this pottery example.) In Egyptian culture there were two goddesses depicted with lion heads: Bastet and Sekhmet. Bastet was the goddess of fertility. From c. 900 BCE, Bastet was shown with the head of a cat. Sekhmet was the goddess of pestilence and divine retribution. She punished the human race for their wrongdoings by sending down infectious diseases.

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    Glossary: amulet

    Small object or piece of jewellery worn as a protecting charm to ward off ill health and bad luck.

    Glossary: fertility

    The natural capacity to give birth.