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Temple of Rameses III (Medinet Habu)

Usimare Ramesses III (also written Ramses and Rameses) was the second Pharaoh of the Twentieth Dynasty. He is considered to be the last monarch of the New Kingdom to wield any substantial authority over Egypt. His long reign saw the decline of Egyptian political and economic power, linked to a series of invasions and internal economic problems.

Ramesses III was the son of Setnakhte and Queen Tiy-Merenese. He was assassinated in the Harem Conspiracy led by one of his secondary wives, Tiye, her son Pentawer, and a group of high officials.

The temple of Rameses III at Medinet Habu is a huge complex of stone and mudbrick ramparts on the West Bank of the Nile at Luxor. Situated at the southern end of the Theban necropolis, its massive walls and towers are often overlooked by the tourists who pass close by on their way to the Valleys of the Kings and Queens. This is a pity because it was once a place of great importance, not only as the mortuary temple of Rameses III during Dynasty XX but as an earlier place of worship as well as a fortress and administrative centre for Thebes which spanned several dynasties.

Rameses III built his mortuary temple on an ancient sacred site called The Mound of Djeme and it is oriented east to west. The entrance today is through the fortified east gate, which in ancient times was reached by a canal which brought boats from the Nile to a basin and quay. The kings and god statues would probably have arrived by barge to make their entrance from this quay at festival times, although there was another fortified gate to the western side which was destroyed in antiquity. We enter the complex across what remains of the ancient quay and past two small single roomed buildings which were probably to house the gatekeepers who then, as now, controlled the admission of visitors to the temple grounds.

The eastern gateway overlooks the inside of the temple grounds. The high towers are typical of Egyptian defences from early times, but this gate is unusual in that it has broad windows which overlook the main entrance to the temple through the first pylon. The interior of the high gate is reached by a modern staircase on the south side of the tower and leads to the second storey. The floors have long gone and you can now look up at the whole extent of the inside of the tower at the scenes which show the king at leisure, surrounded by young women. One inscription tells us that these were ‘The King’s children’ but other scenes may be of the royal harem. It was to these rooms that Rameses III must have retired when in residence at Medinet Habu. The windows give a magnificent view of the temple grounds. It was also at this gate that petitioners, forbidden entry to the temple would come to address their prayers and requests to the carved images of the gods.

In the north-east corner of the temple grounds is the small temple which is a mixture of both the earliest and latest construction at Medinet Habu. This temple was already present when Rameses III began work at the site in the Dynasty XX. It was begun by Hatshepsut in the mid-Dynasty XVIII and extended by her successor Tuthmosis III.

The small temple can be entered from the Roman court which juts out from the eastern side of the main gateway, or from the main temple grounds to the south. Beneath the foundations of Hatshepsut’s temple archaeologists have found traces of an even older construction that dates back to the early Dynasty XVIII and to the Middle Kingdom, and the rites performed here were probably very ancient, so it is not surprising that they survived long after Rameses III’s mortuary cult had disappeared. Texts suggest that Amun was worshipped in association with the group of eight primeval creation gods known as the Ogdoad, as well as in his earlier form of Kematef (a serpent creator deity) also known as ‘The Ba of Osiris’, said like the Ogdoad to be buried at the Mound of Djeme.

The oldest part of the small temple is centred around the three shrines at the rear of the structure, dedicated to Amun, Mut and Khons. This cult temple was used for the weekly (a week was 10 days) Amun festivals of regeneration. Hatshepsut’s sanctuary was named ‘Holiest of Places’. Restoration and epigraphy of the three inner shrines is still being carried out by Chicago House and is not yet published, but it appears that three separate forms and statues of Amun were kept here. Restorations by Pinudjem I and Euergetes and alterations by Ptolemy X and others right through to the Emperor Antonius Pious, indicate the importance and prolonged activity of the temple, long after the Rameses III temple had fallen into disuse probably at the end of his dynasty.

Leaving the small temple by the southern entrance we are faced with the First Pylon of the temple of Rameses III called, “The Mansion of Millions of Years of King Rameses III, United with Eternity in the Estate of Amun”. The south tower is higher and better preserved than the north tower and is dominated by a giant relief of the king, wearing the white crown of Upper Egypt, smiting enemy captives before the gods Amun and Ptah. On the northern side the king is before Amun-Re-Horakhty. The god is presenting Rameses with the curved sword, symbolising strength in battle and beneath them are rows of small bound figures representing Egypt’s conquered enemies. The lower part of these captives are depicted with an oval shield containing their names or nationality, although this is not an accurate representation of the state of the empire in the reign of Rameses III, and includes Nubian and Asiatic names borrowed from earlier conquests of Tuthmosis III and Rameses II. In the inscribed texts above the reliefs the gods promise to strike terror into the king’s enemies and to invoke the help of other warrior deities in his defence. Isis and Nekhbet to the south and Nephthys and Wadjet to the north stand guard over the processional way into the temple in the flagpole recesses. There is a staircase to the balcony above the main doorway and the towers would have been ideal points for observing the night sky.

Going through the entrance in the first pylon, originally an immense wooden door, we enter the first court, an open space enclosed by four walls. This was the forecourt of the temple and also of the adjoining palace. The columned portico of the palace building to the south is echoed on its northern side by seven huge pillars, each supporting a colossal Osirid statue of Rameses III wearing a plumed atef crown. At the king’s sides are small unidentified figures of a prince and princess.

The reliefs in the first court mostly show the king’s war scenes and battle conquests. The east wall contains a description of the second Libyan war, with the king shown receiving prisoners and spoils after the battle. On the west wall opposite, Rameses presents captives from the Sea Peoples to Amun-Re and Mut. On the north wall the king storms a fortress in Amor and celebrates the victory in his palace. The south wall of the first court is the palace façade which includes the window of Royal Appearances, where the king presided over ceremonies held in his court. A wooden balcony was attached to the front for better visibility and exposure and the king would appear here when granting formal audiences. The festive occasions would have included contests which are explained by the accompanying texts. There were several other smaller entrances to the first court.

The first court also functioned as a vestibule to the temple. The north wall depicts episodes from the daily rites that were celebrated in the temple, with the king censing, libating and offering to the gods. It was the priests of course, who performed these rituals daily in the absence of the king. The gods had to be fed, dressed and cared for each day and after the process was completed the offerings would be distributed to the priests and temple staff. In this way the temple was able to provide divine offerings and pay its staff at the same time, a highly practical arrangement.

Following the general layout of Egyptian temples the floor slopes gradually upwards towards the sanctuary, the home of the god at the back of the temple. A ramp of shallow steps leads out of the first court and through the gate of the second pylon into the second court. This is the festival hall of the temple and its function is reflected in the relief carvings around its walls which are surrounded by colonnades.

During the period of Coptic occupation the second court housed the Church of Djeme and parts of the older building were destroyed at this time, including the Osirid statues attached to the columns. Fortunately the reliefs were only covered over with whitewash and this has helped to preserve the vivid colours we see here today.

A calendar is inscribed on the southern exterior wall of the temple and this names over 60 festival days in the Egyptian civil year as well as the Lunar festivals and some of these are depicted around the walls of the second court.

The principal god of Thebes was Amun, whose main abode was the temple of Karnak on the other side of the river, but the cult statue of Amun was brought across the Nile several times a year to visit his West Bank temples. There was a weekly festival of Amun at Medinet Habu. Although Amun is everywhere present at Medinet Habu, it is not his main festivals, the Valley Festival, or Opet, which are depicted in detail in the second court, but curiously the festivals of the gods Sokar and Min.

One of the best endowed feasts of Medinet Habu, and shown in the southern half of the second court, took place during the reign of Rameses III in mid-September. Its rites were involved with the cycle of death and resurrection in the festival of Sokar which took place over ten days. Sokar is a mysterious god associated in early times with Ptah and Osiris, a god of the City of the Dead. In the public ceremonies the barque of Sokar was carried out of the temple on the shoulders of priests and around the walls of the temple in a feast of renewal and reaffirmation, also confirming the king’s divine right to rule.

The details of the Sokar and Min festivals are supplemented by information on the exterior of the south wall in a list of festivals. The ‘Khoiak’ celebrations were similar to those at Abydos, involving the preparations of ‘Osiris Beds’ – wooden frames in the shape of the god, containing Nile silt and grain. The illustration of the ‘Henu-Barque’ (Sokar’s portable shrine) and the ‘Mejekh’ sledge which was originally hauled but in this case carried around the precincts. There is a Sokar chapel in the west part of the complex where the image, barque and sledge would have been stored.

The festival of Min is depicted on the walls of the northern half of the second court. This feast was celebrated for one day only as opposed to the ten days of the Sokar feast. It was tied to the first day of the Lunar month at the beginning of the harvest season, in mid-February during the time of Rameses III. Min is the potent primal god who is the spirit of procreation and fertility and his cult can be traced back to the beginning of Egyptian history.

Mimed hymns were a part of Min’s festival and the reliefs show the lector priest reading the texts for the festival, performed by priests, singers and dancers. The king is shown cutting emmer (a grain crop) putting it to his nose and placing it before Min. Later in the ritual the king liberated four groups of geese which are depicted in Medinet Habu as doves. It is suggested that the rites of Sokar and Min depicted here in the second court may represent the dual role of the king as both a mortal and a god.

The west wall of the second court is comprised of the Portico, a pillared colonnade which is raised above the level of the rest of the court. The scenes on this wall are ritualistic and still show a lot of colour. Here the king offers flowers, incense and cloth and performs ceremonies before various gods. At either side of the doorway the reliefs show coronation scenes in which Rameses is purified by Horus and Thoth, presented with kingship by Atum and other deities, and the events are recorded by the goddess Seshat. On a lower register is a procession of the king’s children, though whether they are actually sons and daughters of Rameses III is a question under debate.

From the Portico we go through the third pylon and looking up to the door soffit we see the beautifully painted cartouches of Rameses III. Once past the Portico we enter the inner parts of the temple where the resident gods and goddesses had their shrines.

Only properly purified people, that is the king or certain members of the priesthood, were allowed access to the temple proper. When it was in use the temple and its hypostyle halls would have been very dark and lit only from the roof or high windows. Today there is little left of the main temple apart from the surrounding suites of rooms and the stumpy bases of the hypostyle columns.

Along the north wall in the first hypostyle hall are five chapels devoted mostly to deities who shared the temple with its principal gods. At the entrance to the fourth chapel is a headless statue of Ptah, which is dated earlier, during the reign of Amenhotep III in Dynasty XVIII. Inside this chapel the ancient Henu barque of Sokar is depicted and so it is presumed that it was in this room that the hidden parts of his festival were performed, and from here that the barque was carried out in the procession.

In the next of the northern chambers there are scenes of butchering, but it is unlikely to have been used as a slaughterhouse but was probably a symbolic reminder of the significance of ritual slaughter on a magical level. The seventh room is dedicated to Montu, the ancient warrior god of the Theban Nome, and Amun-Re, and is probably a store for the cult objects for these gods. The last of the suites on the northern side is oriented east to west and the wide doorway and inscriptions show that it was again used to house a barque.

Going to the opposite corner in the south-east of the first hypostyle hall, there are more suites of rooms. Here we find the temple treasury where cult objects and precious metals would have been kept, to be brought out for use during the feast days. The king’s role as donor of these precious objects is stressed in the decoration of the treasury rooms. There is also a room here dedicated to the king’s ancestor, Rameses II.

In the second hypostyle hall the complex of Re-Horakhty is entered through a vestibule on the northern side. Here is stressed the king’s rulership over “what the sun disk encircles”. In these chambers the gods of earth and sky utter spells confirming the king’s effectiveness and duration as ruler. There are steps up to the roof from here, or we can turn left into the solar suite where the room is open to the sky and a sun altar was found during excavations. On a door lintel the king worships the barque on which Re completes his daily journey. Behind the king are groups of baboons which, because they greeted the rising sun with their howling, were thought of as the god’s heralds. The east wall contains a hymn to the rising sun.

Opposite this on the south side of the second hypostyle hall is a series of seven rooms known as the Osiris suite, devoted to the king’s survival in the hereafter, the Land of Osiris. The first room depicts the first stages in the king’s resurrection and his coronation in the Netherworld, as well as the ‘opening of the mouth’ ceremony. The king is shown seated under the sacred Ished tree, receiving jubilees from Amun-Re while Thoth writes the king’s name on it’s leaves. The second chamber shows the king before the gods. There is an offering hall with three niches. The king’s final triumph is shown in the inner room which depicts his arrival in the land of the dead. Rameses is seen rowing a boat on his journey towards the primeval gods of the Ennead, and in the register below he is at his destination, the fields of Iaru, where he is seen content to be labouring like a peasant, ploughing the ground with oxen, cutting grain and appearing before a seated Nile god. Another room in this complex is the chapel of Osiris, which has a partially restored astronomical ceiling, similar to one at the Ramesseum.

Going further into the back of the temple we come to its most important part, the home of the principal gods. The innermost chambers are unfortunately the most ruined part of the building, but remains show that here were the sanctuaries of the Theban Triad, the chapels of Amun, with his consort Mut and son Khons on either side. There is a third small hypostyle hall before these chapels with suites of rooms leading from it which are dedicated to other deities.

The rooms behind these three barque shrines of the Theban Triad appear to have been dedicated to Amun in his different forms. A permanent cult statue of Amun would probably have been housed in the room behind the barque shrine. The rear rooms were probably magazines for the storage of valuable ritual objects.

On the north-west side a suite is dedicated to a form of Amun who headed the group of nine gods known as the Ennead, nine primordial beings who came into existence at the beginning of time. We can only guess at the rites which took place here, but it is likely that it functioned as a hall of offerings. Here at the focus of the temple many pieces of statuary were discovered, some of which have been reassembled.

On leaving the temple, going back out through the first pylon, we can walk around the outside walls of the building where many large reliefs remain to document the life of Rameses III. One large interesting relief which is on the back of the first pylon on the south side depicts the king hunting in the marshes in pursuit of game. Here we see the bull hunt, with the king balancing himself in his chariot and wielding a long spear. Below him his escorts march with bow and arrows towards the birds and fish in the lake in front of them.

The area south of the temple between the first and second pylons is occupied by the palace area, which were actually two distinct palaces, both built by Rameses III. Originally they were built with mudbrick, but the remains today are only to be seen as low walls and doorways. The later palace has been restored so that visitors can see how it was laid out, the throne room with the dais still in situ and parts of the king’s living quarters which include a bathroom and stone bath, or shower, complete with drains. The rooms in the palace are small and it is thought that the king would not have used it for more than a flying visit to attend the festivals. Also the service units, such as kitchens and stables were not attached to the palace but were located in other parts of the temple complex. It was more of a dummy palace, intended to serve the king’s spirit throughout eternity. The second palace also had an upper storey.

The rest of the space inside the mudbrick enclosure walls was occupied with neatly planned rows of offices and private houses which have mostly vanished today, except for one house, that of Butehamun, but remains show that Medinet Habu was more than just a temple, it was a whole town which survived long after the reign of Rameses III.

The area in front of the First Pylon seems to have been the stables and quarters of the king’s bodyguard to the south, and groves and pens for cattle to the north, as well as an area which was once a large garden with a pool. Coming back to the forecourt of the temple grounds we pass four chapels which are both mausoleums and mortuary shrines. The earliest one was built during the reign of Osorkon III, c.754 BC. These shrines were built for the ‘God’s Wife of Amun’, or ‘Divine Adoratrce’, titles held by the kings’ daughters of the Third Intermediate Period who were Amun’s living consorts and lived unmarried in ceremonial splendour. They were representatives of royal power, visible symbols of Theban loyalty to the king who lived in the north. The chapels belonged to Shepenwepet I, Amenirdis I (built by her adopted daughter Shepenwepet II), Shepenwepet II (built by Nitocris) with another burial chamber here for Nitocris herself. There was also a western extension for Nitocris’s birth mother Mehytenweskhet. A fourth chapel, now vanished, was apparently assigned to Ankhnesneferibre, the last holder, at least from this period, of the Divine Votress title.

A small sacred lake which still contains water lies in the north-east corner of the temple complex.

References: https://egyptsites.wordpress.com, wikipedia.org.

hunting

Color in Ancient Egypt

The ancient Egyptians had a great appreciation for life which is clearly depicted through their art. Images of people enjoying themselves – whether in this life or the next – are as plentiful as those most often seen of the gods or funerary rituals. The early Egyptologists who first encountered the culture focused their attention on the many examples of funerary art found in tombs and concluded that Egyptian culture was death-obsessed when, in reality, the ancient Egyptians were wholly absorbed in living life to its fullest.

A detail from the throne of Tutankhamun which shows the phara

Amenhotep III (1386-1353 BCE) at Malkata was brightly painted, the outer walls of white and the interiors of blue, yellow, and green, with murals and other ornamentation throughout. These colors were not chosen randomly but each had a very specific symbolism for the Egyptians and were used to convey that significance. Egyptologist Rosalie David comments on this:

Colour was regarded as an integral element of all art representations, including wall-scenes, statuary, tomb goods, and jewelry, and the magical qualities of a specific color were believed to become an integral part of any object to which it was added.


Color in ancient Egypt was used not only in realistic representations of scenes from every life but to illustrate the heavenly realms of the gods, the afterlife, and the stories and histories of the deities of the Egyptian pantheon. Each color had its own particular symbolism and was created from elements found in nature. Egyptologist Margaret Bunson writes how “artisans began to observe the natural occurrence of colors in their surroundings and pulverized various oxides and other materials to develop the hues they desired” (54). This process of Egyptian artists creating colors for their art dates to the Early Dynastic Period (c. 3150-c. 2613 BCE) but becomes more pronounced during the time of the Old Kingdom (c. 2613-2181 BCE). From the Old Kingdom until the country was annexed by Rome after 30 BCE, color was an important component of every work of art fashioned by the Egyptians.

A detail from the throne of Tutankhamun which shows the phara

Realism In Color

Each color was created by mixing various naturally occurring elements and each became standardized in time in order to ensure a uniformity in art work. An Egyptian male, for example, was always depicted with a reddish-brown skin which was achieved by mixing a certain amount of the standard red paint recipe with standard brown. Variations in the mix would occur in different eras but, overall, remained more or less the same. This color for the male’s skin was chosen for realism in the piece, in order to symbolize the outdoor life of most males, while Egyptian women were painted with lighter skin (using yellow and white mixes) since they spent more time indoors.

These paintings from the tomb of Nebamun (c. 1350 BCE) show the New Kingdom period accountant Nebamun hunting birds in the marshes of Egypt. He is accompanied by his wife and daughter. Scenes like these of the deceased enjoying himself were common in New Kingdom tomb chambers.
To the Egyptians, fertile marshes were a symbol of eroticism and rebirth, which gives additional meaning to this image.
On display at the British Museum, London, UK.

The gods were typically represented with gold skin, reflecting the belief that gods did, in fact, have gold skin. An exception to this is the god Osiris who is almost always shown with green or black skin symbolizing fertility, regeneration, and the underworld. Osiris was murdered, returned to life by Isis, and then descended to rule over the land of the dead; the colors used in his depictions all symbolize aspects of his story. Whether a scene shows a man and his wife at dinner or the gods in the solar barge, each color used had to accurately represent the various themes of these events.

Color Creation & Symbolism

The different colors below are listed with their Egyptian name following, the materials used in creating them, and what they symbolized. The definitions follow the work of Richard H. Wilkinson in his Symbolism & Magic in Egyptian Art and Margaret Bunson’s Encyclopedia of Ancient Egypt, supplemented by other works.

A scene from the Hall of Osiris at Abydos which shows the raising of djed pillars, symbols of stability.

Red (desher) – made from oxidized iron and red ocher, used to create flesh tones and symbolizing life but also evil and destruction. Red was associated with both fire and blood and so symbolized vitality and energy but could also be used to accentuate a certain danger or define a destructive deity. The god Set, for example, who murdered Osiris and brought chaos to Egypt at the beginning of time, was always represented with a red face or red hair or completely in red. One also sees this pattern in written work where the color red is sometimes used to signify a dangerous character or aspect in a story. In wall paintings and tomb scenes red must be carefully interpreted within the context of the scene. Although it was frequently used for emphasis of danger or even evil, it is also as commonly seen symbolizing life or a higher being (as in depictions of the Eye of Ra) or elevated status as in the Red Crown of Lower Egypt.

An Egyptian protective amulet in the form of the Eye of Horus (wedjat). Earthenware, 6th-4th century BCE. (Louvre Museum, Paris)

Blue (irtiu and khesbedj) – one of the most popular colors, commonly referred to as “Egyptian Blue”, made from copper and iron oxides with silica and calcium, symbolizing fertility, birth, rebirth and life and usually used to depict water and the heavens. Wilkinson writes, “by the same token, blue could signify the river Nile and its associated crops, offerings, and fertility, and many of the so-called `fecundity’ figures which represent the river’s bounty are of this hue” (107). Statues and depictions of the god Thoth are routinely blue, blue-green, or have some aspect of blue in them linking the god of wisdom with the life-giving heavens. Blue also symbolized protection. Fertility amulets of the protector-god Bes were often blue as were the tattoos women would wear of Bes or diamond-shaped patterns on their lower abdomen, back, and thighs. It is thought these tattoos were worn as amulets to protect women during pregnancy and childbirth.


Yellow (khenet and kenit) – made from ocher and oxides originally but, from the New Kingdom (c. 1570-1069 BCE) was mixed from arsenic trisulphide and symbolizing the sun and eternity. Yellow was darkened for the golden flesh-color of the gods or lightened with white to suggest purity or some sacred aspect of a character or object. Isis, for example, is always depicted with gold skin in a white dress but, sometimes, her dress is a light yellow to emphasize her eternal aspect in a scene or story. It is thought that priests and priestesses of the gods of Egypt would sometimes dress as their deities and Wilkinson suggests that priests of the god Anubis would color their skins yellow on certain occassions to “become” the god for the event. Although Anubis was traditionally represented as black-skinned, there are a number of texts depicting him with the golden hue of the other gods.

Green (wadj) – mixed from malachite, a copper mineral, and symbolizing goodness, growth, life, the afterlife, and resurrection. The Egyptian afterlife was known as The Field of Reeds and, in some eras, as The Field of Malachite and was always associated with the color green. Wilkinson writes how green was “naturally a symbol of growing things and of life itself” and goes on to point out how, in ancient Egypt, “to do `green things’ was a euphemism for positive, life-producing, behavior in contrast to `red things’ which symbolized evil” (108). Green is the color of the dying and reviving god Osiris and also of the Eye of Horus, one of the most sacred objects in Egyptian mythology. In early tomb paintings the spirit of the deceased is shown as white but, later, as green to associate the dead with the eternal Osiris. In keeping with the symbolism of ressurection, green is also often used to depict the goddess Hathor, Lady of the Sycamore. Hathor was closely associated with the Sycamore tree, with renewal, transformation, and rebirth. Mummies of tattooed women suggest the ink could have been green, blue, or black and tattoos have been linked with the worship of Hathor.

A detail from the Book of the Dead of Aaneru from Thebes, Third Intermediate Period, XXI Dynasty, 1070-946 BCE. (Egyptian Museum, Turin)

White (hedj and shesep) – made from chalk mixed with gypsum, often employed as a lightener for other hues, and symbolizing purity, sacredness, cleanliness, and clarity. White was the color of Egyptian clothing and so associated with daily life but was frequently employed in artistic pieces to symbolize the transcendent nature of life as well. Priests always wore white and so did temple attendants and temple personnel taking part in a festival or ritual. The objects used in rituals (such as bowls, plates, altars, tables) were made of white alabaster. White, like the other colors, was used realistically in depicting clothing and objects of that color in real life but frequently is employed to highlight the importance of some aspect of a painting; in some cases, it did both these things. The White Crown of Upper Egypt, for example, is routinely referred to as white – and so is realistically depicted – but also symbolized the close connection to the gods enjoyed by the king – and so symbolically represents purity and the sacred.

A scene from a wooden Egyptian sarcophagus depicting Anubis, the god of mummification and the afterlife. c. 400 BCE

Black (kem) – made from carbon, ground charcoal, mixed with water and sometimes burnt animal bones, symbolized death, darkness, the underworld, as well as life, birth, and resurrection. Wilkinson writes, “the symbolic association of the color with life and fertility may well have originated in the fertile black silt deposited by the Nile in its annual flooding and Osiris – god of the Nile and of the underworld – was thus frequently depicted with black skin”. Black and green are often used interchangably in Egyptian art, in fact, as symbols of life. Statues of the gods were frequently carved from black stone but, just as often, from green. Although black was associated with death it had no connotation of evil – which was represented by red – and, frequently appears along with green, or instead of green, in depictions of the afterlife. Anubis, the god who guides the dead to the hall of judgment and is present at the weighing of the soul’s heart, is almost always depicted as a black figure as is Bastet, goddess of women, one of the most popular deities in all of Egypt. Tattoos of Bes were done in black ink and images of the afterlife frequently make use of a black background to not only accentuate the gold and white of the foreground but also symbolize the concept of rebirth.

These basic colors were often mixed, diluted, or otherwise combined to create colors such as purple, pink, teal, gold, silver, and other hues. Artists were not bound by the minerals they mixed their paints from but only by their imaginations and talent in creating the colors they needed to tell their stories.

BLACK SYMBOLIZED DEATH, DARKNESS, THE UNDERWORLD, AS WELL AS LIFE, BIRTH, & RESURRECTION.

Color in Context

Aesthetic considerations were of great importance to the Egyptians. Art and architecture is charactized by symmetry and even their writing system, the hieroglyphics, were set down in accordance with visual beauty as an integral aspect of their function. In reading hieroglyphics, one understands the meaning by noting which direction the figures are facing; if they face left, then one reads to the left and, if up or down or right, in whichever of those directions. The direction of the figures provides the context of the message and so provides a means of understanding what it being said.

A pharaoh was known primarily by his throne name. This was traditionally a statement about his divine father, the sun-god Ra, so all cartouches with throne names display a sun-god at the top. A king’s birth name was the only name he had already as a prince and is preceded by the epithet “son of Ra”. Rulers deemed unimportant or illegitimate, including ruling queens, have been omitted from this list.


In the same way, color in Egyptian art must be interpreted in context. In a certain painting, red might symbolize evil or destruction but the color should not always instantly be interpreted along those lines. Black is a color often misinterpreted in Egyptian art because of the modern-day association of black with evil. Images of Tutankhamun, found in his tomb, sometimes depict him with black skin and these were originally associated with death and grief by the early archaeologists interpreting the finds; although the association with death would be correct, and grief did accompany the loss of anyone in ancient Egypt as today, a proper interpretation would be the association of Tutankhamun in death with Osiris and the concept of rebirth and resurrection.

White retains the same meaning in the present day that it had for the ancient Egyptians but, as noted, must also be interpreted in context. The white dress of Isis would signify purity and the sacred yet the white skirt of Set would simply be a representation of how a male Egyptian dressed. Recognizing the symbolism of Egyptian colors, however, and why they were most commonly used, allows one a greater appreciation of Egyptian art and a clearer understanding of the message the ancient artist was trying to convey.

Source/Images: https://www.ancient.eu/article/999/color-in-ancient-egypt/

Philae-k

The Temples of Philae

Philae is an Egyptian island located in Lake Nasser. During ancient Egyptian times, Philae was the cult center of Isis. It measures only about 1,500 feet by 500 feet. Due to its vulnerability to flooding, high walls with granite foundations were constructed around the island and its temples.

Temple of Philae

The nearby construction of the High (Aswan) Dam in 1970 left the island of Philae and its temples defenseless against flood waters all year round. UNESCO performed a “rescue mission” to move the island’s temples from Philae to a drier, more stable island nearby called Agilika.

The Temple of Isis at Philae

Although there are several temples and buildings located on Philae, the largest and perhaps the most famous is the Temple of Isis. Here, the ancient Egyptians worshiped Isis as well as Osiris and Horus (her son). Ptolemy II, Nectanebo I built the temple around 370 BC.

Temple of Isis, Philae

The main features of this temple include:

Gate of Ptolemy II: Two pink granite lions stand in front of the first pylon by this gate. Two pink granite obelisks at one time joined the lions together. These obelisks are significant because the hieroglyphs found on the base of the obelisks were compared to the Rosetta stone, and were instrumental in deciphering the Egyptian consonantal alphabet.


First Pylon: Reliefs and inscriptions are abundant in the Temple of Isis. For example, on the eastern tower of the first pylon, Dionysus is depicted as holding the enemies of Egypt by the hair while raising his club. Others in the scene include Hathor, Horus and Isis. Above this menacing depiction there are two smaller scenes. One is of the pharaoh offering his crown to Horus and Nephths, and one is of the pharaoh offering incense to Isis and Horus as a child.

Side of the First Pylon and the forecourt of the temple

Birth House: A common feature in Ptolemaic temples, the Birth House in the Temple of Isis depicts Horus as a hawk wearing a double crown standing among papyrus. There is also a relief of Isis carrying a newborn Horus in her arms while being protected by Wadjet, Nekhbet, Amun-Ra, and Thoth. Here, the king conducted rituals to validate his descendancy from Horus.

Second Pylon: The Western Tower depicts Ptolemy XII offering animals and incense to various gods including Hathor and Horus. Also depicted is the king offering flowers to Nephthys and Horus, and another of the king pouring water and presenting incense on an altar while in the presence of Horus, Isis and Osiris. A piece of granite along the Eastern Tower called a stele is carved of Ptolemy VI Philometor standing with Cleopatra II and Isis and Horus. The inscription is notable because it contains what is known as the grant of the Dodekaschoinoi, which lays claim to the land needed for the temple.

Inner Courtyard: A Hypostyle hall stands through a gateway from the second pylon. Ten columns remain here and all are painted to look like and represent a variety of the first flowers and plants. The floor represented the primeval mound and the ceiling the sky, with images of the Day Boat (Madjet) and the Night Boat (Semektet).

Sanctuary: Through the Inner Courtyard is Isis’ Sanctuary. The actual sanctuary is a small chamber with two windows. A pedestal, placed here by Ptolemy III Euergetes I, remains today. It bears the image of Isis in her sacred barque (boat).

Nectanebo’s Kiosk

The Kiosk of Nectanebo I

Nectanebo’s Kiosk is a pillared, roofless hall that originally had 14 columns, of which six remain. The walls of this vestibule are decorated with reliefs of the king sacrificing various items to the gods. Screen walls of the Kiosk are connected by Hathor columns and topped with uraei (serpentine) carvings.


Temple of Hathor at Philae

Built by Ptolemy VI Philometor and Ptolemy VIII Euergetes II, the Temple of Hathor consists of a colonnade hall and a forecourt. Augustus decorated the hall to honor Isis and Hathor with depictions of festivals. Augustus is also depicted as presenting gifts to Isis and Nephthys. At The Temple of Hathor at Philae, the ancient Egyptians drank, ate and danced to music played by Bes (Dwarf God of humor, dancing and music) and his harp and tambourine.

Trajan’s Kiosk

Temple of Hathor

Considered by many to be the most appealing structure on Philae, Trajan’s Kiosk is today a roofless structure. In ancient Egyptian times, it was likely roofed and used as a shelter for Isis’ barque at the eastern banks. It is sometimes referred to as the “Pharaoh’s Bed”; Trajan was a Roman Emperor but the kiosk itself likely dates back to earlier times. It is heavily decorated with reliefs of Trajan burning incense to honor Osiris and Isis, while also offering wine to Isis and Horus.

Additional Structures on Philae

The island of Philae has much to offer with not just the Temple of Isis but also the Temple of Hoe-Anhur, and the Temple of Augustus. There are also chapels dedicated to Mandulis (the Sun God of Lower Nubia) and Imhotep (a commoner who achieved divine status after death, he was vizier to Djoser).

seshat-luxor-featured

Seshat

Seshat (also given as Sefkhet-Abwy and Seshet) is the Egyptian goddess of the written word. Her name literally means “female scribe” and she is regularly depicted as a woman wearing a leopard skin draped over her robe with a headdress of a seven-pointed star arched by a crescent in the form of a bow. This iconography has been interpreted as symbolizing supreme authority in that it is common in Egyptian legend and mythology for one to wear the skin of a defeated enemy to take on the foe’s powers, stars were closely associated with the realm of the gods and their actions, and the number seven symbolized perfection and completeness. The leopard skin would represent her power over, and protection from, danger as leopards were a common predator. The crescent above her headdress, resembling a bow, could represent dexterity and precision, if one interprets it along the lines of archery, or simply divinity if one takes the symbol as representing light, along the lines of later depictions of saints with halos.

A relief from the back of the throne of a seated statue of Ramesses II depicting the Egyptian goddess of writing Seshat. 13th century BCE, Luxor Temple, Egypt.

Among her responsibilities were record keeping, accounting, measurements, census-taking, patroness of libraries and librarians, keeper of the House of Life (temple library, scriptorium, writer’s workshop), Celestial Librarian, Mistress of builders (patroness of construction), and friend of the dead in the afterlife. She is often depicted as the consort (either wife or daughter) of Thoth, god of wisdom, writing, and various branches of knowledge. She first appears in the 2nd Dynasty (c. 2890- c. 2670 BCE) of the Early Dynastic Period (c. 3150 – c. 2613 BCE) as a goddess of writing and measurements assisting the king in the ritual known as “stretching of the cord” which preceeded the construction of a building, most often a temple.

The ancient Egyptians believed that what was done on earth was mirrored in the celestial realm of the gods. The daily life of an individual was only part of an eternal journey which would continue on past death. Seshat featured prominently in the concept of the eternal life granted to scribes through their works. When an author created a story, inscription, or book on earth, an ethereal copy was transferred to Seshat who placed it in the library of the gods; mortal writings were therefore also immortal. Seshat was also sometimes depicted helping Nephthys revive the deceased in the afterlife in prepration for their judgment by Osiris in the Hall of Truth. In this capacity, the goddess would have helped the new arrival recognize the spells of The Egyptian Book of the Dead, enabling the soul to move on toward the hope of paradise.


Unlike the major gods of Egypt, Seshat never had her own temples, cult, or formal worship. Owing to the great value Egyptians placed on writing, however, and her part in the construction of temples and the afterlife, she was venerated widely through commonplace acts and daily rituals from the Early Dynastic Period to the last dynasty to rule Egypt, the Ptolemaic Dynasty of 323-30 BCE. Seshat is not as well known today as many of the other deities of ancient Egypt but, in her time, she was among the most important and widely recognized of the Egyptian pantheon.

Responsibilities & Duties

According to one myth, the god Thoth was self-created at the beginning of time and, in his form as an ibis, lay the primordial egg which hatched creation. There are other versions of Thoth’s birth as well but they all make mention of his vast knowledge and the great gift of writing he offered to humanity. Thoth was worshipped as early as the Pre-Dynastic Period (c. 6000- c. 3150 BCE) at a time when Egyptian writing consisted of pictographs, images representing specific objects, prior to their development into hieroglyphics, symbols representing sounds and concepts. At this time, Thoth seems to have been considered a god of wisdom and knowledge – as he remained – and once a writing system was developed it was attributed to him.

A limestone relief slab depicting Seshat, the Egyptian goddess of writing. ca. 1919-1875 BCE. (Brooklyn Museum, USA).

AMONG SESHAT’S RESPONSIBILITIES WERE RECORD KEEPING, ACCOUNTING, MEASUREMENTS, CENSUS-TAKING, AND PATRONESS OF LIBRARIES & LIBRARIANS.

Perhaps because Thoth already had so many responsibilities, the Egyptians transferred the supervision of writing to the goddess Seshat. Egyptologist Richard H. Wilkinson notes how Seshat appears in reliefs and inscriptions in the Early Dynastic Period as a goddess of measurements and writing, clearly indicating she was already an important deity at that time:

Representations show the king involved in a foundation ritual known as “stretching the cord” which probably took place before work began on the construction of a temple or of any addition. These depictions usually show the king performing the rite with the help of Seshat, the goddess of writing and measurement, a mythical aspect which reinforced the king’s central and unique role in the temple construction (Symbol & Magic, 174).

Seshat’s responsibilities were many. As record-keeper she documented everyday events but, beginning in the Middle Kingdom (c. 2613-c. 2181 BCE), she also recorded the spoils of war in the form of animals and captives. She also kept track of tribute owed and tribute paid to the king and, beginning in the New Kingdom (c. 1570-1069 BCE), was closely associated with the pharaoh recording the years of his reign and his jubilee festivals. Egyptologist Rosalie David notes how she “wrote the king’s name on the Persea tree, each leaf representing a year in his allotted lifespan” (Religion and Magic, 411). Throughout all these periods, and later, her most important role was always as the goddess of precise measurements and all forms of the written word. The Egyptians placed great value on attention to detail and this was as true, if not more so, in writing as any other aspect of their lives.

Importance of Writing in Egypt

The written word was considered a sacred art. The Greek designation hieroglyphics for the Egyptian writing system means “sacred carvings” and is a translation from the Egyptian phrase medu-netjer, “the god’s words”. Thoth had given the gift of writing to humanity and it was a mortal’s responsibility to honor that gift by practicing the craft as precisely as possible. Rosalie David comments on the Egyptian ideal of writing:

The main purpose of writing was not decorative and it was not originally intended for literary or commercial use. Its most important function was to provide a means by which certain concepts or events could be brought into existence. The Egyptians believed that if something were comitted to writing it could be repeatedly “made to happen” by means of magic (Handbook,199).

The spells of The Egyptian Book of the Dead are the best examples of this concept. The Book of the Dead is a guide through the afterlife written for the deceased. The spells the soul speaks help one to navigate through assorted dangers to arrive at the perfect paradise of the Field of Reeds. One needed to know how to avoid demons, how to transform one’s self into various animals, and how to address the entities one would meet in the next world and so the spells had to be precise in order to work.

A detail from the Book of the Dead of Aaneru from Thebes, Third Intermediate Period, XXI Dynasty, 1070-946 BCE. (Egyptian Museum, Turin)

The Book of the Dead evolved from the Pyramid Texts of the Old Kingdom but, even before this time, one can see the Egyptian precision in writing at work in the Offering Lists and Autobiographies of tombs in the latter part of the Early Dynastic Period. Writing, as David notes, could bring concepts or events into existence – from a king’s decree to a mythological tale to a law, a ritual, or an answered prayer – but it also held and made permanent that which had passed out of existence. Writing made the transitory world of change into one everlasting and eternal. The dead were not gone as long as their stories could be read in stone; nothing was ever really lost. The sacred carvings of the Egyptians were so important to them that they dedicated whole sections of temples or temple complexes to a literary institution known as The House of Life.

House of Life

The House of Life was a combination library, scriptorium, institute of higher learning, writer’s workshop, print shop/copy center, publisher, and distributor. The Egyptians referred to the institution as Per-Ankh (literally “House of Life”) and it is first mentioned in inscriptions from the Middle Kingdom. These were located in temples or temple complexes and would have been presided over by Seshat and Thoth no matter which god the temple was dedicated to. Since the gods were thought to literally reside in their temples, this arrangement would be comparable to having a permanent house-guest in one’s home who takes care of responsibilities one may value but simply has not time for. Wilkinson notes how “by virtue of her role in the foundation ceremony [Seshat] was a part of every temple building” (Complete Gods, 167). She was also an integral part of the temple through her supervision of the House of Life. Historian and Egyptologist Margaret Bunson describes their function:

Research was conducted in the House of Life because medical, astronomical, and mathematical texts perhaps were maintained there and copied by scribes. The institution served as a workshop where sacred books were composed and written by the ranking scholars of the times. It is possible that many of the texts were not kept in the Per-Ankh but discussed there and debated. The members of the institution’s staff, all scribes, were considered the learned men of their age. Many were ranking priests in the various temples or noted physicians and served the various kings in many administrative capacities (204-205).

The scribes were most commonly associated with the sun god Ra in earlier times and with Osiris in later periods no matter which god resided in a particular temple. Bunson claims that probably only very important cities could support a Per-Ankh but other scholars, Rosalie David among them, cite evidence that “every sizable town had one” (Handbook, 203). Bunson’s theory is substantiated by the known structures identified as a Per-Ankh at Amarna, Edfu, and Abydos, all important cities in ancient Egypt, but this does not mean there were not others elsewhere; only that these have not been positively identified as yet.

The Papyrus Lansing is an anthology of texts praising the profession of the scribe, dating to the New Kingdom of Egypt.

Seshat’s role at the House of Life would have been the same as anywhere else: she would have received a copy of the texts written there for the library of the gods where it would be kept eternally. Rosalie David writes:

It would seem that the House of Life had both a practical use and a deeply religious significance. Its very title may reflect the power of life that was believed to exist in the divinely inspired writings composed, copied, and often stored there…In one ancient text the books in the House of Life are claimed not only to have the ability to renew life but actually to be able to provide the food and sustenance needed for the continuation of life (Handbook, 203-204).

It is a certainty that the majority of the priests and scribes of the Per-Ankh were men but some scholars have pointed to evidence for female scribes. Since Seshat was herself a divine female scribe it would make sense that women practiced the art of writing as well as men.

Female Scribes

Women in ancient Egypt enjoyed a level of equality unmatched in the ancient world. It is well substantiated that women could be, and were, scribes in that we have names of female physicians and images of women in important religious posts such as God’s Wife of Amun; both of these occupations required literacy. Egyptologist Joyce Tyldesley writes:

Although the only Egyptian woman to be depicted actually putting pen to paper was Seshat, the goddess of writing, several ladies were illustrated in close association with the traditional scribe’s writing kit of palette and brushes. It is certainly beyond doubt that at least some of the daughters of the king were educated and the position of private tutor to a royal princess could be one of the highest honour.



It is known, for example, that the female pharaoh Hatshepsut (1479-1458 BCE) hired a tutor for her daughter Neferu-Ra and that Queen Nefertiti (c. 1370- c. 1336 BCE) was literate as was her mother-in-law, Queen Tiye (1398-1338 BCE). Still, when it comes to the majority of women in Egypt, images and inscriptions leave some doubt as to how many could actually read and write. Egyptologist Gay Robins explains:

In a few New Kingdom scenes, women are depicted with scribal kits under their chairs and it has been suggested that the women were commemorating their ability to read and write. Unfortunately, in all cases but one, the woman is sitting with her husband or son in such a way that it would cramp the available space to put the kit under the man’s chair, and so it may have been moved back to a place under the woman’s. This happens in a similar scene when the man’s dog is put under the woman’s chair. So one cannot be sure that the scribal kit belonged to the woman. If there was a large group of literate women in ancient Egypt, they do not seem to have developed any surviving literary genres unique to themselves (113).

While this may be true, one cannot discount the possibility that female scribes were responsible for works of literature, either in creating or copying them. Egyptian society was quite conservative and written works generally adhered to a set structure and theme throughout the various periods of history. Even in the New Kingdom, where literature was more cosmopolitan, literature still adhered to a basic form which elevated Egyptian cultural values. Arguing that there were few female scribes based on there being no “women’s literature” in ancient Egypt seems in error as the literature of the culture could hardly be considered “masculine” in any respect save for the kings’ monumental inscriptions.

In the famous story of Osiris and his murder by Set it is not Osiris who is the hero of the tale but his sister-wife Isis. Although the best-known creation myth features the god Atum standing on the ben-ben at the beginning of time, an equally popular one in Egypt has the goddess Neith creating the world. Bastet, goddess of the hearth, home, women’s health and secrets, was popular among both men and women and the goddess Hathor was regularly invoked by both at festivals, parties, and family gatherings. The deity who presided over the brewing of beer, the most popular drink in Egypt, was not male but the goddess Tenenet and the primary protector and defender of Isis when she was a single mother safe-guarding Horus was the goddess Serket. Seshat is only one of a number of female deities venerated in ancient Egypt reflecting the high degree of respect given to women and their abilities in a number of different areas of daily life.

Seshat the Foundation

As noted, although Seshat never had a temple of her own, she was the foundation of the temples constructed in her role as Mistress of Builders and her participation in the ritual ceremony of “stretching the cord” which measured the dimensions of the structure to be raised. The floor plan of the temple was laid out through the “stretching the cord” ceremony after an appropriate area of land had been decided upon. Wilkinson comments on the process of situating a temple and Seshat’s ritual role in this:

The rite involved the careful orientation of the temple by astronomical observation and measurement. Apparently this was usually accomplished by sighting the stars of a northern circumpolar constellation through a notched wooden instrument called a merkhet and thus acquiring a true north-south orientation which was commonly used for the temple’s short axis. According to the texts, the king was assisted in this ritual by Seshat (or Sefkhet-Abwy), the scribal goddess of writing and measurement (Temples, 38).

In addition to setting the foundation of the temple, Seshat also was responsible for the written works that temple produced and housed in its House of Life and, further, for gathering these works into her eternal library in the realm of the gods. Although Thoth was responsible for the initial gift of writing, his consort Seshat lovingly gathered the works that gift produced, presided over them in the libraries on earth, and kept them eternally safe on her shelves in the heavens. As writing was both a creative and preserving art, one which brought concepts to life and caused them to endure, which bestowed eternal life on both the writer and the subject, Seshat would be considered by the ancient Egyptians as the goddess responsible for the preservation of Egyptian culture and its enduring fascination among the people of the present day.

horemheb-hathor-feature

Hathor and the Osiris Myth

Hathor is an ancient Egyptian goddess associated, later, with Isis and, earlier, with Sekhmet but eventually was considered the primeval goddess from whom all others were derived. She is usually depicted as a woman with the head of a cow, ears of a cow, or simply in cow form. In her form as Hesat she is shown as a pure white cow carrying a tray of food on her head as her udders flow with milk. She is closely associated with the primeval divine cow Mehet-Weret, a sky goddess whose name means “Great Flood” and who was thought to bring the inundation of the Nile River which fertilized the land.

After Set murdered Osiris and then hacked him into pieces, he scattered the body parts all across the land and flung some into the Nile. Isis gathered all the parts of her husband back together with the help of her sister Nephthys and brought Osiris back to life but he was incomplete because a fish had eaten his penis and it could not be restored. Isis then transformed herself into a kite (a falcon) and flew around Osiris’ body, drawing his seed into her and becoming pregnant with Horus. Osiris then descended into the underworld to become Lord of the Dead while Isis was left alone to raise her son and Set usurped Osiris’ place as king of the land.

Isis hid Horus from Set until the boy was grown; at which point Horus challenged Set for rule of the land. This struggle is sometimes represented as a battle but, in the story known as The Contendings of Horus and Set, it is a trial overseen by the Ennead, a tribunal of nine powerful gods, who are to decide who is rightful king. Chief among these gods is Hathor’s father Ra who, at one point becomes so upset with the proceedings, he refuses to participate. Geraldine Pinch relates the rest of the story:

Ra becomes angry when he is insulted by the baboon god Babi and lies down on his back. This implies that the creator sun god was sinking back into the inert state that would mean the end of the world. Hathor, Lady of the Southern Sycamore, visits her father and shows him her genitals. He immediately laughs, gets up, and goes back to administering justice. Hathor has aroused the sun god and driven away his evil mood (138).

Although clearly a sexual gesture, the abstract interpretation is of the importance of balance between the feminine and the masculine principles in maintaining order and harmony. Hathor reveals herself to her father in an unexpected gesture which lightens his mood and puts things in perspective. The balance between the duality of feminine and the masculine, between light and dark, fertility and aridity is emphasized throughout Egyptian culture in the gods and the myths relating to them.



The Temple of Hathor at Dendera, Egypt, a famous center of her cult.

Another Myth… Hathor and the Eye of RA

This balance is seen in the concept of the Eye of Ra, the female counterpart to the male aspect of creation embodied in Ra. The Eye of Ra, like the Distant Goddess, was associated with a number of female deities but, again, often Hathor. Geraldine Pinch notes that “the ancient Egyptian word for eye (irt) sounded like a word for “doing” or “acting”. This may be why the eyes of a deity are associated with divine power at its most interventional. Since the word irt was feminine in gender, divine eyes were personified as goddesses” (128). The Distant Goddess story is actually an Eye of Ra story in that the feminine aspect of the divine goes forth, acts upon its environment, and returns to bring transformation.

This same pattern is seen in the creation tale featuring Atum (Ra) and the ben-ben when he sends his children out with his eye to create the world. Hathor was often referred to as “The Eye of Ra” or “The Eye of Atum” and her sun disk is often represented as an eye from which the sun is born. In the story of the sun god’s voyage through the night sky and the underworld, Hathor stands in the prow keeping watch for any sign of danger from Apophis. Throughout Egyptian history she was known as the daughter of Nut and Ra, Wife of Ra, mother of gods, and great Mother Goddess (perhaps related to the even older goddess Neith) so it is no surprise that popular stories such as the Distant Goddess or concepts like the Eye of Ra would tend to feature her.

Horembheb facing the goddess of Hathor from Horembheb’s tomb, Valley of the Kings, Thebes, Egypt, ca. 1300 BCE.

Some ancient stories depict her as the mother of Horus the Elder and others as the wife of Horus of Edfu, resulting in the birth of Horus the Younger who was later regarded as the son of Osiris and Isis. Hathor’s early identification as the mother of Horus, the god most closely associated with the ruler of Egypt, attests clearly to her importance prior to the rise in popularity of the Myth of Osiris when Isis became Horus’ mother. Hathor was worshipped in every region of Egypt before the ascent of Isis and her cult was popular with both the poor working class of Egypt and the ruling elite.

Source and Images: wikipedia, ancient.eu.

hathor-bust

Hathor

Hathor (/ˈhæθɔːr/ or /ˈhæθər/;[2] Egyptian: ḥwt-ḥr; in Greek: Ἅθωρ, meaning “mansion of Horus”) is an ancient Egyptian goddess who personified the principles of joy, feminine love, and motherhood. She was one of the most important and popular deities throughout the history of ancient Egypt. Hathor was worshipped by royalty and common people alike. In tomb paintings, she is often depicted as “Mistress of the West”, welcoming the dead into the next life. In other roles, she was a goddess of music, dance, foreign lands, and fertility. She was believed to assist women in childbirth. She was also believed to be the patron goddess of miners.

Hathor is an ancient Egyptian goddess associated, later, with Isis and, earlier, with Sekhmet but eventually was considered the primeval goddess from whom all others were derived. She is usually depicted as a woman with the head of a cow, ears of a cow, or simply in cow form. In her form as Hesat she is shown as a pure white cow carrying a tray of food on her head as her udders flow with milk. She is closely associated with the primeval divine cow Mehet-Weret, a sky goddess whose name means “Great Flood” and who was thought to bring the inundation of the Nile River which fertilized the land.

Head of the ‘cow goddess’ Hathor, 1417-1379 BCE. (Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York).

Through this association, Hathor came to be regarded as the mother of the sun god Ra and held a prominent place in his barge as it sailed across the night sky, into the underworld, and rose again at dawn. Her name means “Domain of Horus” or “Temple of Horus” which alludes to two concepts. The first allusion is to the part of the sky where the king (or dead king) could be rejuvenated and continue rule (or live again) while the second is to the myth that Horus, as sun god, entered her mouth each night to rest and returned with the dawn. In both cases, her name has to do with rebirth, rejuvenation, inspiration, and light. Her relationship with the sky identified her with Venus, the evening and morning star.

The sistrum is her instrument which she used to drive evil from the land and inspire goodness. She is the patron goddess of joy, celebration, and love and was associated with Aphrodite by the Greeks and with Venus by the Romans. She was always, from the earliest times, associated with women and women’s health in body and in mind. In time, women came to identify with Hathor in the afterlife the same way that, previously, all people identified with the god Osiris. She was an immensely popular and influential goddess. Scholar Geraldine Pinch comments on this, writing:

Hathor was the golden goddess who helped women to give birth, the dead to be reborn, and the cosmos to be renewed. This complex deity could function as the mother, consort, and daughter of the creator god. Many lesser goddesses came to be regarded as “names” of Hathor in her contrasting benevolent and destructive aspects. She was most commonly shown as a beautiful woman wearing a red solar disk between a pair of cow’s horns (137).

The red solar disk, as well as a number of Hathor’s personal attributes, would come to be associated with the later goddess Isis. In time, Isis absorbed more and more of the characteristics of Hathor until she supplanted her as the most popular and widely worshipped in Egypt.



Mythical Origins

Although in time she came to be considered the ultimate personification of kindness and love, she was initially literally a blood-thirsty deity unleashed on mankind to punish humans for their sins. An ancient tale similar to that of the biblical flood tells of the great god Ra becoming enraged at human ingratitude and evil and releasing Sekhmet upon humanity to destroy them. Sekhmet descends on the world in a fury of destruction, killing everyone she finds and toppling their cities, crushing their homes and tearing up fields and gardens. At first, Ra is pleased because humanity had forgotten him and the gifts of the gods and had turned to only thinking of themselves and following after their own pleasure. He watches Sekhmet’s swath of destruction with satisfaction until the other gods intervene and ask him to show mercy. They point out that Sekhmet is going too far in teaching this “lesson” to humanity and how, soon, there will be no human beings left on earth to benefit from it.

This bust comes from a triad statue that showed King Amenhotep III flanked by the god Osiris and the goddess Hathor.

Ra regrets his decision and devises a plan to stop Sekhmet’s bloodlust. He orders Tenenet, the Egyptian goddess of beer, to brew a particularly strong batch and then has the beer dyed red and delivered to Dendera. Sekhmet, by this time, is crazed with the thirst for more blood and, when she comes upon the blood-red beer, she quickly seizes it and begins drinking.

She becomes drunk, falls asleep, and wakes up as Hathor the benevolent. Humanity was spared destruction and their former tormentor became their greatest benefactress. Following her transformation, Hathor bestowed only beautiful and uplifting gifts on the children of the earth and assumed such high status that all the later goddesses of Egypt can be considered forms of Hathor. She was the primordial Mother Goddess, ruler of the sky, the sun, the moon, agriculture, fertility, the east, the west, moisture, and childbirth. Further, she was associated with joy, music, love, motherhood, dance, drunkenness and, above all, gratitude.

Worship of Hathor

Unlike other deities of ancient Egypt, whose clergy needed to be of the same sex as the deity they served, those who served Hathor could be men or women. Hathor’s cult center was at Dendera, Egypt, but she was widely regarded and worshipped throughout Egypt to the extent that she was also honored as a goddess of the afterlife in the Field of Reeds (the Egyptian land of the dead). Originally, when one died in ancient Egypt, whether male or female, one assumed the likeness of Osiris (lord and judge of the dead) and was blessed by his qualities of moral integrity. So popular was Hathor, however, that, in time, the female dead who were deemed worthy to cross into the Field of Reeds assumed Hathor’s likeness and qualities while the male dead continued to be associated with Osiris. Geraldine Pinch writes:

The Coffin Texts and the Book of the Dead have spells to help the deceased live forever as a follower of Hathor. In a Late Period story, Hathor rules the underworld, emerging to punish those who behave unjustly on earth. By the Greco-Roman period, dead women in the afterlife identified themselves with Hathor instead of Osiris. It was only after Isis took over many of her attributes that Hathor lost her place as the most important of Egyptian goddesses (139).

Hathor’s popularity is attested to by the number of minor goddesses who shared her attributes and were considered aspects of the Mother Goddess. The most important of these were the Seven Hathors who were present at the birth of a human being and decreed their fate. Hathor was, in early times, worshipped in the form of a cow or as a cow with stars above her. Later she was pictured as a woman with the head of a cow and, later still, as a woman complete with a human face but sometimes with the ears or horns of a cow. The Seven Hathors shared these attributes but also had a red ribbon which they used to bind evil forces and dark demons. The Seven Hathors were venerated highly in life for their ability to assist in matters of love and protection from harm and, after death, for their protective abilities against the forces of darkness.

Golden chain links in the shape of Hathor heads. From the treasure of the Nubian queen Amanishakheto, pyramid N6, Meroe, modern-day northern Sudan. Meroitic period, around 1 CE. (State Museum of Egyptian Art, Munich, Germany).

As a goddess who transcended life and death, Hathor was widely worshipped and came to be identified with a deity inscriptions call The Distant Goddess. This is a goddess who abandons her father Ra and assumes the form of a wild feline to elude any attempts to find her or catch her. She vanishes into the distant desert and hides in the arid plains. This goddess was identified with Mehit, a protective goddess, with Sekhmet, Bastet, Mut, and others but quite often with Hathor. A god is sent forth by Ra to find his daughter and bring her home and, when this happens, she brings with her the inundation of the Nile River which overflowed its banks and brought life to the people. Before she released the life-giving waters, however, she had to be placated and shown appreciation. Geraldine Pinch writes:

When the Distant Goddess returned, she brought the inundation with her, but she had to be pacified with music, dancing, feasting, and drunkenness. This was the mythical justification for the wild, ecstatic elements in Hathor’s cult. It was proper for the whole of creation to rejoice when Hathor appeared again in all her radiant beauty and joined forces with her father (138).

Pinch notes that this union of Hathor and her creator-father “could be thought of in sexual terms or, more abstractly, as a merging of the creator with his own active power” (138). An example of this is the role Hathor plays in one of the versions of the story of The Contendings of Horus and Set which continues the tale of the Osiris Myth.

The five Gifts of Hathor

A part of the initiation into her cult appears to have been a ritual known as The Five Gifts of Hathor in which a communicant would be asked to name the five things they were most grateful for while looking at the fingers of their left hand. As the poor of Egypt did not own their own land, but labored for others in the fields, their left hand was always visible to them as they reached out to harvest grain which would then be cut by the blade in their right hand. By naming the five things one was grateful for, and identifying them with the fingers of the left hand, one was constantly reminded of the good things in one’s life and this kept one from the `gateway sin’ of ingratitude from which, it was thought, all other sins followed. For the more affluent of Egypt, considering the Five Gifts would have been a way to keep from envying those more prosperous than oneself and a means by which one was reminded to be humble in the face of the gods. This humility would show itself by one’s service to others. Historian Margaret Bunson comments on this:

In the Daily Royal Rites, as shown on temple reliefs, Hathor nursed the king or his priestly representative from her breasts, thus giving him the grace of office and the supernatural powers to protect Egypt (107).

She served the king and his court as nurse and, by doing so, fed all the people of Egypt as the prosperity of the land was intimately tied to the health, well-being, and stability of the king. If a goddess of Hathor’s stature could freely serve others, it was thought, so could anyone else. Hathor continued this service to humanity after death as Geraldine Pinch notes:

As the goddess of the West, Hathor welcomes the setting sun into her outstretched arms. For both gods and peole, Hathor eased the transition from death to new life. The time and manner of a person’s death was decreed by a sevenfold form of Hathor. As Lady of the Necropolis, she opened the gates of the underworld. As a tree goddess, she revived the newly dead with shade, air, water, and food. The spirits of the dead could imbibe eternal life from the milk of the seven Hathor cows (138-139).

Hathor’s humble service is depicted through inscriptions and texts throughout Egypt’s history from the Early Dynastic Period (c. 3150-2613 BCE) through the last dynasty to rule Egypt, the Ptolemaic Dynasty (323-30 BCE). In her earthly form as a dairy cow, Hathor was known as Hesat, the wet-nurse to the gods, and is always associated with motherhood, motherly instincts, and the care of others. Milk was known as `The beer of Hesat’ and The Milky Way as seen in the night sky also came to be associated with her as it was considered a heavenly Nile River, the giver and sustainer of all life. As mistress of song and dance, of celebration and gratitude, bringer of life and comforter in death, Hathor embodied the heavenly Nile in all ways as she brought the best gifts of the gods to the people of earth.

Source and Images: wikipedia, ancient.eu.

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The Ankh… the key of life!

The Ankh is one of the most recognizable symbols from ancient Egypt, known as “the key of life” or the “cross of life”, and dating from the Early Dynastic Period (c. 3150 – 2613 BCE). It is a cross with a loop at the top sometimes ornamented with symbols or decorative flourishes but most often simply a plain gold cross. The symbol is an Egyptian hieroglyph for “life” or “breath of life” (`nh = ankh) and, as the Egyptians believed that one’s earthly journey was only part of an eternal life, the ankh symbolizes both mortal existence and the afterlife. It is one of the most ancient symbols of Egypt, often seen with the djed and was symbols, carried by a multitude of the Egyptian gods in tomb paintings and inscriptions and worn by Egyptians as an amulet.

The ankh’s association with the afterlife made it an especially potent symbol for the Coptic Christians of Egypt in the 4th century CE who took it as their own. This use of the ankh as a symbol of Christ’s promise of everlasting life through belief in his sacrifice and resurrection is most probably the origin of the Christian use of the cross as a symbol of faith today. The early Christians of Rome and elsewhere used the fertility symbol of the fish as a sign of their faith. They would not have considered using the image of the cross, a well-known form of execution, any more than someone today would choose to wear an amulet of an electric chair. The ankh, already established as a symbol of eternal life, leant itself easily to assimilation into the early Christian faith and continued as that religion’s symbol.

The Origin of “Ankh”

The origin of the ankh is unknown. The Egyptologist Sir Alan H. Gardiner (1879 – 1963 CE) thought it developed from a sandal strap with the top loop going around one’s ankle and the vertical post attached to a sole at the toes. Gardiner came to his conclusion because the Egyptian word for “sandal” was “nkh” which came from the same root as “ankh” and, further, because the sandal was a daily part of an Egyptian’s life and the ankh symbol came to symbolize life. This theory has never gained wide acceptance, however.

The theory of Egyptologist E.A. Wallis Budge (1857-1934 CE), who claims it originated from the belt buckle of the goddess Isis, is considered more probable but still not universally accepted. Wallis Budge equated the ankh with the tjet, the “knot of Isis”, a ceremonial girdle thought to represent female genitalia and symbolizing fertility. This theory, of the ankh’s origin stemming from a fertility symbol, is in keeping with its meaning throughout ancient Egyptian history and beyond to the present day. Egyptologist Wolfhart Westendorf (b. 1924 CE) supports Wallis Budge’s claim noting the similarity of the ankh to the tjet and the use of both symbols from an early date in Egypt’s history.

The ankh has always been associated with life, the promise of eternal life, the sun, fertility, and light.

The ankh came into popular useage in Egypt during the Early Dynastic Period with the rise of the cults of Isis and Osiris. The association of the ankh with the tjet mentioned earlier is supported by early images of Isis with the tjet girdle prior to the appearance of the ankh.

The Goddess Isis, wall painting

The Ankh and Significance in Ancient Egypt

The importance of the ankh was the instant recognition of what the symbol stood for. Even those who could not read would have been able to understand the symbolism of objects such as the djed or the ankh. The ankh was never solely associated with Isis – as mentioned, many gods are depicted carrying the symbol – but as the djed became linked to Osiris, the ankh fell more into the realm of Isis and her cult.

By the time of the Old Kingdom (c. 2613 – 2181 BCE) the ankh was well-established as a powerful symbol of eternal life. The dead were referred to as ankhu (having life/living) and caskets and sarcophogi, ornamented regularly with the symbol, were known as neb-ankh (possessing life). During the Middle Kingdom (2040-1782 BCE) the word nkh was used for mirrors and a number of hand-mirrors were created in the shape of the ankh, the most famous being that found in the tomb of Tutankhamun.



The association of the ankh with the mirror was no chance occurrence. The Egyptians believed that the afterlife was a mirror image of life on earth and mirrors were thought to contain magical properties. During the Festival of the Lanterns for the goddess Neith (another deity seen with the ankh) all of Egypt would burn oil lamps through the night to reflect the stars of the sky and create a mirror image of the heavens on earth. This was done to help part the veil between the living and the dead so one could speak to those friends and loved ones who had passed on to paradise in the Field of Reeds. Mirrors were often used for divination purposes from the Middle Kingdom onwards.

The djed was a very popular amulet but so was the ankh. Although the most common amulet in Egypt was the sacred scarab (the beetle), the ankh was almost as widely used. During the New Kingdom (1570-1069 BCE), when the cult of the god Amun was increasing in power and stature, the ankh became associated with him. The ankh was used in temple ceremonies regularly at this time and became associated with the cult of Amun and royalty.

Use of The Key of Life Symbol

During the Amarna Period (1353 – 1336 BCE), when Akhenaten banned the cult of Amun along with the rest of the gods and raised the god Aten as the sole god of Egypt, the ankh continued in popular use. The symbol is seen in paintings and inscriptions at the end of the beams of light emanating from the solar disc of Aten, bringing life to those who believe. After Akhenaten’s death, his son Tutankhaten (whose name contains the ankh symbol and means “living image of the god Aten”) took the throne, reigning 1336-1327 BCE, changed his name to Tutankhamun (“living image of the god Amun”) and reinstated the old religion, retaining the ankh with the same meaning it had always held.

The ankh remained a popular symbol even though Akhenaten’s reign was despised and Tutankhamun’s successor Horemheb (1320 – 1292 BCE) tried his best to erase all evidence of the Amarna Period from Egyptian history. The greatest ruler of the New Kingdom, Ramesses II (1279 – 1213 BCE) employed the ankh regularly in his inscriptions and it continued in use throughout the remainder of Egypt’s history.

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Ships of the Gods in Ancient Egypt

The Nile River was the source of life for the ancient Egyptians and so figured prominently in their religious beliefs. At night, the Milky Way was considered a heavenly Nile, associated with Hathor, and provider of all good things. The Nile was also linked to Uat-Ur, the Egyptian name for the Mediterranean Sea, which stretched out to unknown lands from the Delta and brought goods through trade with foreign ports.

Watercrafts were no doubt among the earliest conveyances built in Egypt, with small boats appearing in inscriptions in the Predynastic Period (c. 6000 – c. 3150 BCE). These boats were made of woven papyrus reeds but later were made of wood, grew larger, and became ships.

The ships of the Egyptians were used for commercial ventures like fishing, trade, and travel and also in warfare, but from at least the Old Kingdom of Egypt (c. 2613-2181 BCE), they also feature in religious beliefs and practices. Ships known as Barques of the Gods are associated with a number of different Egyptian deities and, although each had its own significance, their common importance was in linking the mortal world with the divine.

The Barque of RA

Easily the most important divine vessel was the Barque of Ra which sailed across the sky each day as the sun. In one religious tale, Ra becomes enraged with humanity and their ceaseless stupidity and decides to destroy them by sending Sekhmet to devour them and crush their cities. He repents and stops her by sending her a vat of beer, which she drinks, passes out from, and wakes up later as Hathor, the friend to humans. In some versions, the story ends there, but in others, Ra is still not satisfied with humanity and so boards his great barge and sails away into the heavens. Still, since he cannot completely distance himself from the world, he appears each day watching over it as the sun. The solar barque the people saw during the day was called the Mandjet, and the one which navigated through the underworld was known as the Meseket.

By the time of the Middle Kingdom of Egypt (2040-1782 BCE), this myth included the added dimension of the Great Serpent known as Apophis. As the Barque of Ra descended into the west in the evening, it entered the underworld where Apophis waited to attack it. Apophis was present at the beginning of creation when, in one myth, Ra is the god who stands on the primordial mound and raises order out of chaos. Apophis wanted to return the universe to its original undifferentiated state and could do this if he destroyed the barge of the sun god and the sun god with it.

Ra travelling through the underworld in his barque, from the copy of the Book of Gates in the tomb of Ramses I, Egypt, c. 1290 BCE.

Other gods, as well as the souls of the justified dead, would travel on the barge with Ra to protect him and his ship from Apophis during its journey through the underworld. A number of paintings and inscriptions depict all of the most famous gods, at one time or another, fending off the Great Serpent either alone, in groups, or in the presence of the justified dead.

Mortals were encouraged to participate in this struggle from their homes and temples on earth. Rituals such as The Overthrowing of Apophis were observed in which figures and images of Apophis were made of wax and then ritually mutilated, spat on, urinated on, and burned. This was among the most widely practiced execration rituals in Egypt and linked the living with the souls of those who had passed on and with the gods.

Every night the gods, souls, and humanity joined together to battle chaos and darkness and preserve life and light, and each time they won, the sun rose in the morning, and the dawn light was an assurance that all was well with Ra and life on earth would continue. As the barge sailed across the sky, however, Apophis returned to life in the underworld and would be waiting again once night fell; and so the battle would have to be fought again.

The Barque of AMUN

Ra’s barge existed in the spiritual realm but there were others which were built and maintained by human hands. The best known of these was the Barque of Amun constructed and kept at Thebes.

Amun’s Barque was known to the Egyptians as Userhetamon, ‘Mighty of Brow is Amun,’ and was a gift to the city from Ahmose I (c. 1570 – c.1544 BCE) following his victory over the Hyksos and ascension to the throne which initiated the era of the New Kingdom of Egypt (c. 1570-1069 BCE). Egyptologist Margaret Bunson writes, “It was covered in gold from the waterline up and was filled with cabins, obelisks, niches, and elaborate adornments” (21). There was a cabin for the shrine of the god, decorated with gold, silver, and precious gems, from which Amun, in the form of his statue, would preside over festivals and welcome the praise of his people.

DURING AMUN’S ANNUAL FESTIVAL, THE FEAST OF OPET, THE BARQUE WOULD MOVE WITH GREAT CEREMONY, CARRYING AMUN’S STATUE.

During Amun’s annual festival, The Feast of Opet, the barque would move with great ceremony, carrying Amun’s statue from the Karnak temple downriver to the Luxor temple so the god could visit and then bringing him back again. At the ritual of the Wadi Festival (The Beautiful Feast of the Valley), one of the most significant of all Egyptian festivals, the statues of Amun, Mut, and Khonsu (the Theban triad) were transported on the barque from one side of the Nile to the other in order to participate in honoring the deceased and inviting their spirits back to earth to join in the festivities.

On other days the barque would be docked on the banks of the Nile or at Karnak’s sacred lake. When not in use, the ship would be housed in a special temple at Thebes built to its specifications, and every year the floating temple would be refurbished and repainted or rebuilt. Other barques of Amun were built elsewhere in Egypt, and there were other floating temples to other deities, but Amun’s Barque at Thebes was the most elaborate. The attention lavished on the ship reflected the status of the god who, by the time of the New Kingdom, was so widely venerated that his worship was almost monotheistic with other gods relegated nearly to the status of aspects of Amun.

The Barque of OSIRIS

Among his closest competitors for first place in the hearts of the people, however, was Osiris. Osiris was considered the first king of Egypt who, murdered by his brother Set and revived by his sister-wife Isis and her sister Nephthys, was the Lord and Judge of the Dead. Osiris’ son Horus was among the most important deities of the pantheon, associated with the just reign of the king and, in most eras, identified with the king himself.



When a person died, they expected to have to appear before Osiris for judgment concerning their deeds in life. Although the judgment of the soul would be influenced by the 42 Judges, Thoth, and Anubis who would participate in accepting or rejecting one’s Negative Confession and the weighing of the heart, it was Osiris’ word which would be final. Since one’s continued existence in the afterlife depended upon his mercy, he was perpetually venerated throughout Egypt’s history.

Osiris, seated on a throne, sails across the sky as the personification of the full moon, accompanied by the seated goddesses Nephthys on left and Isis on the right; Ma’at stands near the bow of the ship.

Worship of Osiris dates conclusively to the Early Dynastic Period in Egypt (c. 3150 – c. 2613 BCE) but no doubt originated in the Predynastic Period. The story of his death and resurrection by Isis became so popular that it pervaded Egyptian culture and, even when other gods might be honored more elaborately in state ceremonies, the festival of Osiris remained significant and his cult widespread. Mortuary rituals were based on the Osiris cult and the king was linked to Horus in life and Osiris in death. The king was, in fact, thought to travel to the land of the dead in his own barge which resembled the ship of Osiris.

Osiris’ barque was known as the Neshmet Barge which, though built by human hands, belonged to the primordial god Nun of the waters. Bunson writes, “An elaborate vessel, this bark had a cabin for the shrine and was decorated with gold and other precious metals and stones…it was refurbished or replaced by each king” (43). The Neshmet barge was considered so important that participation in its replacement or restoration was counted as one of the most significant good deeds in one’s life.

During the Festival of Osiris at Abydos, the Neshmet would transport Osiris’ statue from his temple to his tomb and back again, thus recreating the story of his life, death, and resurrection. At the beginning of the festival, two maidens of the temple would play the roles of the goddesses in reciting the call-and-response liturgy of The Lamentation of Isis and Nephthys which invited Osiris to participate in the ceremony while also ritually recreating his resurrection. Once he emerged from his temple in the form of his statue, the Neshmet Barge was waiting to transport him and the ceremony would be underway.

Ships of the Gods, Kings, & of the People

Many other gods and goddesses had their own ships which were all built along the same lines as the above. All were elaborately adorned and outfitted as floating temples. Bunson describes the barques of some of the other gods:

Other Egyptian deities sailed in their own barks on feast days with priests rowing the vessels on sacred lakes or on the Nile. Khons’ Bark was called “Brilliant of Brow” in some eras. The god Min’s boat was named “Great of Love”. The Hennu Bark of Sokar was kept at Medinet Habu and was paraded around the walls of the capital on holy days. This bark was highly ornamented and esteemed as a cultic object. The barks could be actual sailing vessels or carried on poles in festivals. The gods normally had both kinds of barks for different rituals. (43)

Hathor’s barque at Dendera was of similar opulence and the temples of major deities had a sacred lake on which the ship could sail during feast days or on special occasions. This association of the gods with watercraft led to the belief that the king departed his earthly life for the next world in a similar boat. Prayers and hymns for the deceased monarch include the hope that his ship will reach the afterlife without mishap and some spells indicate navigational instructions. For this reason, boats were often included among the grave goods of the deceased.

This boat was found practically intact; except for one oar, it was in remarkable condition. Built for Khufu, the ship was sealed into a pit in the Giza pyramid complex at the foot of the Great Pyramid of Giza.

The best known of these is the Ship of Khufu, but so-called Solar Barges were buried with many kings throughout Egypt’s history. Khufu (2589-2566 BCE), the builder of the Great Pyramid of Giza, had his barge buried near his tomb for use in the afterlife, as with any of his other grave goods. He was neither the first to do so nor, by far, the last and it became customary to include even a model boat among the grave goods in the tombs of the upper class.

These full-sized or model boats were thought, like all grave goods, to serve the soul of the deceased in the afterlife. Even a model ship could be used to transport one safely from a certain point to another through the use of magical spells. Statuettes of various animals, like the hippopotamus, were often included in tombs for this same purpose: they would come to life when summoned by a spell to help the soul when required.

The ships, large or small, provided the same service and, by including them in one’s tomb, one was assured of easy travel in the realm of the gods. More importantly, though, one’s personal boat linked the soul with the divine in the same way the ships of the gods had done when one lived on the earth.

Article/Source: ancient.eu

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Temple of Seti I

The mythical Temple of Seti I in Abydos – The Mortuary Temple of Seti I is the memorial temple (or mortuary temple) of the New Kingdom Pharaoh Seti I. It is located in the Theban Necropolis in Upper Egypt, across the River Nile from the modern city of Luxor (Thebes). The edifice is situated near the town of Qurna.

Carving of Seti I in the Temple of Seti, Abydos ( Wikipedia)

Seti I was probably one of the least well-known pharaohs of the New Kingdom period of ancient Egypt. However, his temple in Abydos is among the most famous, cited by many as the most impressive religious structure still standing in Egypt.

Seti’s place in history was overshadowed by that of his son, Ramesses II , arguably one of the greatest pharaohs in Egyptian history. Yet, Seti was an important character in his own right, as he was one of the pharaohs who had to bring order back to Egypt and re-establish Egyptian sovereignty over its eastern neighbors (Syria and the Levant) following the social disruption caused of Akhenaten’s religious reforms. Seti was also responsible for commissioning the construction of a grand temple in Abydos.

Abydos has a special place in the sacred landscape of ancient Egypt, as it was believed to be the place where Osiris was buried. Thus, Abydos was an important cult center for Osiris. A number of temples dedicated to Osiris, all of which were located in one area, were built prior to the reign of Seti. The Temple of Seti, however, was built on new ground to the south of the said temples.

Seti’s temple was built mainly of limestone, though parts of it were built in sandstone. Although work began under Seti, the temple was only completed during the reign of his son, Ramesses II. This is visible in some of the temple’s reliefs depicting Ramesses slaying Asiatics and worshipping Osiris. Like the temples of his predecessors, Seti’s temple was dedicated to Osiris, and consisted of a pylon, two open courts, two hypostyle halls, seven shrines, each to an important Egyptian deity (Horus, Isis, Osiris, Amun-Ra, Ra-Horakhty and Ptah) and one to Seti himself, a chapel dedicated to the different forms of the god Osiris, and several chambers to the south. In addition to the main temple, there was also an Osireion at the back of it. Various additions to the temple were made by later pharaohs, including those from the Late, Ptolemaic and Roman periods.

The Osireion at the back of the Temple of Seti I. Credit: Hannah Pethen / flickr

The Temple of Seti played an important role in his family’s claim as a legitimate royal household. Prior to the ascension to the throne by Seti’s father, Ramesses I, Seti’s ancestors were merely warriors, generals at most. Without royal blood in his veins, Seti had to consolidate his position, and one of the ways to do so was to build temples. As Akhenaten’s religious reforms did away will the old gods, Seti’s dedication of his temple to Osiris and other important Egyptian deities symbolized a return to the traditional way of life, thus allowing himself to be seen as a restorer of order.

Seti I Temple Reliefs at Abydos. Seti I offering a menat up to a deity and receiving the djed and ankh in return. Credit: Kyera Giannini / flickr

In addition to the worship of Egypt’s traditional gods, Seti’s temple had another feature that made his rule legitimate. This was the Abydos King List, which was found carved on a wall of the temple. The Abydos King List contains the names of 76 kings of ancient Egypt, predecessors whom Seti acknowledged to be legitimate pharaohs. On the other hand, earlier rulers who were considered illegitimate, such as Hatshepsut and Akhenaten were conveniently omitted from the List. The Abydos King List was arranged in three rows, each containing 38 cartouches. Whilst the first two rows consisted of the names of his predecessors, the third row is just a repetition of Seti’s throne name and praenomen.

The Abydos King List

Apart from being an important legitimising tool for Seti’s dynasty, the Abydos King List was also an incredibly important document for our understanding of the kings of ancient Egypt, especially those from the Old Kingdom and the First Intermediate Period. Although the List provides the order of the Old Kingdom rulers, it is far more valuable for the fact that it is the only known source for the names of many of the kings from the first two dynasties of the First Intermediate Period (Dynasties 7 and 8).

The Temple of Seti at Abydos was a strategic building project on the part of Seti I in order to bolster his family’s claim to the Egyptian throne. This desire for legitimacy has also indirectly benefitted us today, as Seti left behind a list of kings that helped patched some holes in the history of Egyptian kingship, as well as a spectacular monument that continues to be visited by thousands of people every year.

Sources: Wikipedia, ancient-origins.net.



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Anubis

Anubis is one of the most prominent and mystical gods of ancient Egypt. He was known since the earliest periods in the history of the civilization that was based near the Nile River.

Anubis (/əˈnuːbɪs/ or /əˈnjuːbɪs/;[2] Ancient Greek: Ἄνουβις, Egyptian: jnpw, Coptic: ⲁⲛⲟⲩⲡ Anoup) is the Greek name of a god associated with mummification and the afterlife in ancient Egyptian religion, usually depicted as a canine or a man with a canine head. Archeologists identified the sacred animal of Anubis as an Egyptian canid, that at the time was called the golden jackal, but recent genetic testing has caused the Egyptian animal to be reclassified as the African golden wolf.

A scene from a wooden Egyptian sarcophagus depicting Anubis, the god of mummification and the afterlife.

Anubis is the Egyptian god of mummification and the afterlife as well as the patron god of lost souls and the helpless. He is one of the oldest gods of Egypt, who most likely developed from the earlier (and much older) jackal god Wepwawet with whom he is often confused. Anubis’ image is seen on royal tombs from the First Dynasty of Egypt (c. 3150-2890 BCE) but it is certain he had already developed a cult following prior to this period in order to be invoked on the tomb’s walls for protection. He is thought to have developed in response to wild dogs and jackals digging up newly buried corpses at some point in the Predynastic Period in Egypt (c. 6000-3150 BCE) as the Egyptians believed a powerful canine god was the best protection against wild canines.

Depiction and Associations

He is depicted as a black canine, a jackal-dog hybrid with pointed ears, or as a muscular man with the head of a jackal. The color black was chosen for its symbolism, not because Egyptian dogs or jackals were black. Black symbolized the decay of the body as well as the fertile soil of the Nile River Valley which represented regeneration and life. The powerful black canine, then, was the protector of the dead who made sure they received their due rights in burial and stood by them in the afterlife to assist their resurrection. He was known as “First of the Westerners” prior to the rise of Osiris in the Middle Kingdom (2040-1782 BCE) which meant he was king of the dead (as “westerners” was the Egyptian term for departed souls in the afterlife which lay westward, in the direction of sunset). In this role, he was associated with eternal justice and maintained this association later, even after he was replaced by Osiris who was then given the honorary title ‘First of the Westerners’.

In earlier times, Anubis was considered the son of Ra and Hesat (associated with Hathor), but after his assimilation into the Osiris myth he was held to be the son of Osiris and his sister-in-law Nephthys. He is the earliest god depicted on tomb walls and invoked for protection of the dead and is usually shown tending to the corpse of the king, presiding over mummification and funerals, or standing with Osiris, Thoth, or other gods at the Weighing of the Heart of the Soul in the Hall of Truth in the afterlife. A popular image of Anubis is the standing or kneeling man with the jackal’s head holding the golden scales on which the heart of the soul was weighed against the white feather of truth. His daughter is Qebhet (also known as Kabechet) who brings cool water to the souls of the dead in the Hall of Truth and comforts the newly deceased. Anubis’ association with Nephthys (known as “Friend to the Dead”) and Qebhet emphasizes his long-standing role as protector of the dead and a guide for the souls in the afterlife.

Weighing of the heart scene, with en:Ammit sitting, from the book of the dead of Hunefer.

Name & Role in Religion

The name “Anubis” is the Greek form of the Egyptian Anpu (or Inpu) which meant “to decay” signifying his early association with death. He had many epithets besides “First of the Westerners” and was also known as “Lord of the Sacred Land” (referencing the area of the desert where necropoleis were located), “He Who is Upon his Sacred Mountain” (referencing the cliffs around a given necropolis where wild dogs and jackals would congregate), “Ruler of the Nine Bows” (a reference to the phrase used for traditional enemies of Egypt who were represented as nine captives bowing before the king), “The Dog who Swallows Millions” (simply referring to his role as a god of death), “Master of Secrets” (since he knew what waited beyond death), “He Who is in the Place of Embalming” (indicating his role in the mummification process), and “Foremost of the Divine Booth” referencing his presence in the embalming booth and burial chamber.

As his various epithets make clear, Anubis was central to every aspect of an individual’s death experience in the role of protector and even stood with the soul after death as a just judge and guide. Scholar Geraldine Pinch comments on this, writing, “Anubis helped to judge the dead and he and his army of messengers were charged with punishing those who violated tombs or offended the gods” (104). He was especially concerned with controlling the impulses of those who sought to sow disorder or aligned themselves with chaos. Pinch writes:

“A story recorded in the first millenium BCE tells how the wicked god Set disguised himself as a leopard to approach the body of Osiris. He was seized by Anubis and branded all over with a hot iron. This, according to Egyptian myth, is how the leopard got its spots. Anubis then flayed Set and wore his bloody skin as a warning to evildoers. By this era, Anubis was said to command an army of demon messengers who inflicted suffering and death.”

Wooden figures of the Egyptian gods Anubis (jackal), Thoth (ibis), and Horus (falcon). Holes in their bases suggest they were carried on poles as standards for use during funeral processions. Ptolemaic Period, 3rd-2nd century BCE. (Egyptian Museum, Turin)

In the Early Dynastic Period (c. 3150-2613 BCE) and Old Kingdom (c. 2613-2181 BCE) Anubis was the sole Lord of the Dead and righteous judge of the soul, but as the Osiris myth became more popular, the latter god took on more and more of Anubis’ attributes. Anubis remained a very popular god, however, and so was assimilated into the Osiris myth by discarding his earlier parentage and history and making him the son of Osiris and Nephthys born of their affair. According to this story, Nephthys (Set’s wife) was attracted by the beauty of Osiris (Set’s brother) and transformed herself to appear to him as Isis (Osiris’ wife). Osiris slept with Nephthys and she became pregnant with Anubis but abandoned him shortly after his birth in fear that the affair would be discovered by Set. Isis found out about the affair and went searching for the infant and, when she found him, adopted him as her own. Set also found out about the affair, and this is given as part of the reason for his murder of Osiris.

After his assimilation into the Osiris myth, Anubis was regularly seen as Osiris’ protector and “right-hand man” who guarded the god’s body after death, oversaw the mummification, and assisted Osiris in the judgment of the souls of the dead. Anubis was regularly called upon (as attested to from amulets, tomb paintings, and in written works) for protection and vengeance; especially as a powerful ally in enforcing curses placed on others or defending one’s self from such curses.

Although Anubis is very well represented in artwork throughout Egypt’s history he does not play a major role in many myths. His early role as Lord of the Dead, prior to assimilation into the Osiris myth, was static as he only performed a single solemn function which did not lend itself to elaboration. As the protector of the dead, who invented mummification and so the preservation of the body, he seems to have been considered too busy to have involved himself in the kinds of stories told about the other Egyptian gods. Stories about Anubis are all along the lines of the one Geraldine Pinch relates above.



Worship of God

The priests of Anubis were male and often wore masks of the god made of wood in performing rituals. The god’s cult center was in Upper Egypt at Cynopolis (“the city of the dog”), but there were shrines to him throughout the land and he was universally venerated in every part of the country.Scholar Richard H. Wilkinson writes:

“The chapel of Anubis in the temple of Hatshepsut at Deir el-Bahri may have given continuity to an earlier shrine of the god in that area and provides an excellent example of the continuing importance of the god long after his assimilation into the cult of Osiris. Because he was said to have prepared the mummy of Osiris, Anubis became the patron god of embalmers and in the Memphite necropolis an area associated with the embalmers seems to have become something of a focal point for the cult of Anubis in the Late Period and Ptolemaic times and has been termed ‘the Anubeion’ by modern Egyptologists. Masks of the god are known, and priests representing Anumbis at the preparation of the mummy and the burial rites may have worn these jackal-headed masks in order to impersonate the god; they were certainly utilized for processional use as this is depicted representationally and is mentioned in late texts. The many two- and three-dimensional representations of Anubis which have survived from funerary contexts indicate the god’s great importance in this aspect of Egyptian religion and amulets of the god were also common. “

Although he does not play a major role in many myths, his popularity was immense, and as with many Egyptian deities, he survived on into other periods through association with the gods of other lands. The Greeks associated him with their god Hermes who guided the dead to the afterlife and, according to Egyptologist Salima Ikram,

[Anubis] became associated with Charon in the Graeco-Roman period and St. Christopher in the early Christian period…It is probable that Anubis is represented as a super-canid, combining the most salient attributes of serveral types of canids, rather than being just a jackal or a dog.

This “super-canid” offered people the assurance that their body would be respected at death, that their soul would be protected in the afterlife, and that they would receive fair judgment for their life’s work. These are the same assurances sought by people in the present day, and it is easy to understand why Anubis was such a popular and enduring god. His image is still among the most recognizable of all the Egyptian gods, and replicas of his statuary and tomb paintings remain popular, especially among dog owners, in the modern day.

Sources: Ancient.eu, Wikipedia.