Recently I was reading Brugsch's History of Egypt and he describes the figure of Horus as being that of a "sparrowhawk". Now, I have the greatest respect for Brugsch and consider him the best Egyptologist by a margin, but anyone who knows anything about birds, can tell Horus is not a sparrowhawk. I am no serious bird watcher, but even I can tell the difference between a sparrowhawk and a falcon.

The question, however, is what kind of falcon is he? There would seem to be two candidates: the Barbary Falcon and the Lanner Falcon, both of which are commonly found in Egypt. I have three theories:

(1) The two types of falcon (Barbary and Lanner) are quite similar to each other, so Horus is considered to be indifferently either one of them and the Egyptians drew no special distinction between the two species.

(2) Horus is a Barbary Falcon because that type of falcon tends to have stronger, more distinctive facial markings and a rounder head, both characteristics of the stereotype of Horus.

(3) Horus is a Lanner Falcon, and specifically a female because the female Lanner Falcon is very large and majestic compared to all other types of falcons and hunts in a majestic way, descending from tall cliffs.

Would there be a reason for preferring one of these theories (or some other)?

  • 3
    Since Horus is a god, the only possible answer is "Any kind of bird he wants to be", or that his followers want to depict him as :-) A quick trawl through Google Images shows lots of different representations, most of which I would doubt could be related to any real bird. So maybe the question needs to be reworded to ask whether the Egyptians consistently intended to depict him as a particular species of falcon.
    – jamesqf
    Commented Apr 12, 2016 at 5:26
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    I know you're probably more comfortable here, but this might be a better question for the Mythology stack.
    – T.E.D.
    Commented Apr 12, 2016 at 14:34
  • Well, we are talking about real birds here, not mythological birds. Commented Apr 12, 2016 at 15:00
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    @jamesqf The facial markings of Horus are specific and are consistent, as I said, with only two possible species: the Barbary and Lanner falcons. Just to be clear about this, the facial markings of both Horus and these falcons consists of a white face, with one vertical black streak descending from the eye, and a brow or arched black streak curving backwards from the eye. What I need here is someone who is expert in ancient Egyptian religious iconography and has some knowledge of the relevant birds. Commented Apr 12, 2016 at 15:58
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    @Tyler Durden: Perhaps I don't know, but I am as capable as anyone else of looking at a few pages of images.
    – jamesqf
    Commented Apr 12, 2016 at 18:18


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