The god Amun-Ra

AMUN-RA

Would you like to know more about Amun-Ra? Do you want to discover the myths that surround the god of the gods of the Egyptian pantheon?

Then you've come to the right place! Our team of Egyptian mythology's enthusiasts is here to answer these two questions. 

Amun-Ra is a god created from the two most important deities of the ancient Egyptian pantheon: the gods Amun and Ra. Creator of the Universe, the Cosmos, and the Earth, Amun-Ra is an emblematic figure of ancient Egypt.

In this article, you will discover:

  • The myth of the god Amun-Ra
  • The role and legends of the god Amun in ancient Egypt
  • The role and legends of the god Ra in ancient Egypt

The myth of Amun-Ra will soon have no more secrets for you.

Let's dive in this fabulous narrative!

1) Who is Amun-Ra?

Amun-Ra was one of the most popular deities of ancient Egypt. This god is the combination of Amun (the invisible god of the creation of all forms of life) and Ra (the falcon god of the creation of the stars and the Earth), two of the most important deities of the Egyptian pantheon.

The original form of Amun-Ra is Amun. However, when the latter's popularity reached its peak, Amun's powers and attributes became merged with those of the god with the solar disc Ra.

Amun-Ra then becomes the creator of everything that exists: he is the creator of life (through the attributes of Amun) and the creator of the universe (through the attributes of Ra).

Dieu Amon-RâThe association of these two deities gives Amun-Ra. Note that all the representations of Amun-Ra take the form of the god Ra. Therefore, Amun-Ra has the head of a falcon.

According to Egyptian mythology, Amun-Ra created himself and then gave birth to life and to the Universe. Indeed, still according to Egyptian mythology, at the beginning of our era, there was only a vast infinite ocean and the original darkness. By responding spontaneously to the call of life, Amun-Ra sprang from the ocean and began his heavy task as a creator. It was he who is at the origin of the Universe, the Cosmos, and the Earth.

The cult of Amun-Ra was present throughout Egypt. His main temple was that of Karnak, the richest place of worship in the country. Because of its popularity and its status as king of the gods, many pharaohs made him their symbol and placed themselves under his protection.

Temple de KarnakThe temple of Karnak, a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1979.

2) The god Amun

In this part, we are going to present Amun when he was not in his "Amun-Ra's form." In ancient Egypt, Amun was an inescapable god and was at the heart of the life of the inhabitants of the country of the Nile. The cults attributed to him was omnipresent in all parts of Egypt: he was honored as the god of gods, the founding father of life.

A) Presentation of Amun

Amun (translatable literally as "The Hidden One" in ancient Egyptian) is not really representable in the true sense of the word as he is supposed to be invisible for everybody. However, many wall frescoes depict him by default with the appearance of a pharaoh wearing a crown made up of two long goose feathers. Amun is also frequently represented with the pschent crown (the red and white sacred headdress of the pharaohs).

These goose feathers refer to the animal into which Amun transformed himself to create life: mankind comes from the egg he laid in this form and then hatched to give birth to humanity.

The cult of Amun gained a lot of importance during the IXth dynasty of pharaohs of Thebes (-2160 BC) where Amun became their main god. The cult of Amun will take a national dimension under the XIth and XIIth dynasty with the rise of the dynasty of Amenemhat ("Amen-emhat" meaning "under the responsibility of Amun").

Amun then became the most important god of ancient Egypt and was even baptized the "lord of the thrones of the double country" (in reference to the two regions of Egypt, the "Upper Egypt" and the "Lower Egypt").

B) Akhenaten's heresy

Amun knew how to cross the ages without ever being forgotten, what was not won under "Akhenaten's heresy".

The heretical period of Akhenaten is a dark passage in the history of the cult of Amun. Born under the name Amenophis IV (a name paying homage to Amun), Akhenaten is the son of Amenophis III (an important pharaoh of the 14th century BC). When he succeeded his father and came to power, the young Amenophis IV wanted to reform and modernize Egypt and especially its religion.

AkhenatonA statue of Akhenaten, who reigned from 1355 to 1338 BC.

Indeed, after his accession to the throne of Egypt, Akhenaten discovered a highly corrupted clergy of Amun, greedy for power and wealth. The preachers' offerings to the god only serve to maintain the luxury tastes and the great alcoholic feasts of the priests. The latter ensure their hold on the population by creating a climate of fear and divine terror based on superstition.

Amenophis IV ordered the abandonment of Amun and all the other animal-headed gods he thought to be soiled by the vices of his time. He decided to place himself under the protection of a single god, and thus began the monotheistic cult of Aten (the god of heat, the personification of the Sun). Amenophis then became Akhenaten (changing his name in reference to Aten, the name "Akhen-Aten" meaning "At the service of Aten").

During the reign of Akhenaten, all cults different from that of Aten are formally forbidden. Many temples were closed and the statues with the effigy of the other deities were destroyed. This would later earn him the nickname of "heretic king," because his successors would seek to erase his memory forever from Egyptian history.

C) Alexander the Great

Counterintuitively, Amun is a god who has also greatly marked history through his association with Alexander the Great.

Alexander the Great is an essential figure of Antiquity. His name is engraved in history for his conquests in the Middle East and in Asia. 

Alexander is the son of Philip II of Macedon, the king of Macedon (from 359 to 336 BC). Alexander had already distinguished himself in his father's army as commander of cavalry. Alexander achieved his first great success in Thebes (the Greek city, not the Egyptian city also called Thebes) by defeating the "Sacred Battalion" (an elite unit of the Theban army).

Following the death of Philip II, Alexander inherited the title of king as well as his father's powerful army. He then set out to conquer the Persian Empire, a long-standing enemy of the Macedonians.

Alexandre le Grand et BucéphaleMural representation of Alexander the Great and his horse Bucephalus.

After creating a coalition with many Greek cities and succeeding in bringing together an army of more than 35,000 soldiers across the Hellespont (a strait separating Greece from Persia), Alexander was finally able to quench his thirst for conquest.

In order to conquer the immense Persian Empire, Alexander proceeded methodically. His first aim was to conquer the entire west coast of the empire (a coast which linked Persia to the Mediterranean Sea). Thus, the Persians would no longer be able to obtain supplies or bring in reinforcements from the other side of their territory.

While sailing along the Persian coasts, Alexander quickly encountered the armies of his opponents, who came to halt his advance. But his military strategies crush everything in their path (notably at the Battle of the Granicus, where Alexander defeats a coalition composed of many Persian governors).

He then went as far as Isos, the stronghold of the Persian emperor Darius III. After many days of fighting, he succeeded in capturing the city and the imperial family. Unfortunately for Alexander, Darius III managed to escape. Nevertheless, Alexander now held a strong means of pressure against the emperor of Persia. His journey continued in Egypt, the last seafront of the Persian Empire.

Carte conquête Alexandre le GrandIn the country of the Nile, Alexander is welcomed by the Egyptian people as the liberator from Persian oppression. His popularity is such that he becomes very influential and quickly gains the confidence of the high echelons of Egyptian power.

He goes to the oasis of Siwa to meet the oracle of Amun. The latter tells Alexander that he is the son of Amun, the god of the Egyptian gods.

Alexander was then proclaimed "son of Amun," the legitimate heir to the Egyptian throne. This ancestry gave him not only power over Egypt but also the status of "pharaoh." For the Egyptians, his arrival was the result of the will of the gods and no one could contest his reign. Alexander was officially crowned in Memphis (the capital of Lower Egypt), in the temple of Ptah.

Alexander the Great's passage into Egypt did not go unnoticed: he modernized the country and brought his military and technological knowledge to it. He also made built one of the most famous cities of antiquity: Alexandria.

The conquest of Egypt was quick and easy. This allowed Alexander to fill up his troops and refine his strategy. His army was then never so powerful: he was ready to set off again to overthrow Darius III and continue his conquest of the East.

After many failed attempts at negotiations by Darius III to end the conflict and recover his family, the armies of the two rivals face each other for a final battle: the Battle of Gaugamela.

Darius III roi perseOn this mural: Darius III, Persian emperor of Persia from 336 to 330 BC.

The Battle of Gaugamela resulted in the overwhelming victory of the Macedonian troops and marked the end of the Persian Empire.

Darius III was finally assassinated by his own generals who sought to win Alexander's favor when his victory became inevitable.

After this victory, Alexander the Great, "son of Amun" and pharaoh of Egypt, then proclaimed himself "king of Asia."

3) Ra, the Sun God

Now that you know more about who Amun was, we invite you to discover the myths surrounding Ra in order to understand why these two deities merged to form "Amun-Ra."

A) The myth of Ra

Ra (like Amun) is one of the most influential gods in the Egyptian pantheon. God of the Sun, he is the god who created everything mineral (unlike Amun who created everything that is vegetable and animal).

Ra is most often depicted with a falcon's head, wearing a "Sun disk" (a disk which represents the Sun he created) surrounded by a snake (the cobra Uræus). The cult of Ra was very present in ancient Egypt. There were many temples dedicated to this falcon-headed god and (even) a whole city placed under his protection: the city of Heliopolis.

Héliopolis ville égyptienneThe city of Heliopolis, located in the Nile Delta (i.e. in the north part of Egypt). Its name literally means "the Sun City."

In Egyptian mythology, Ra is the father of Geb and Nut who gave birth to four famous Egyptian deities: Set, Osiris, Nephthys, and Isis. Later, Osiris married his sister Isis and Set took Nephthys as his wife.

Ra placed Osiris (considered by all as the perfect being) at the head of Egypt. The first pharaoh of Egypt, Osiris, ruled the country with a masterly hand. Just and good, Osiris brought justice to all Upper and Lower Egypt.

Unfortunately, all good things come to an end: his brother Set, jealous of Osiris' influence and charisma, assassinated him and cut him into 14 separate pieces before taking the throne.

In Egyptian mythology, the reign of Set as king of Egypt is the darkest period in its history. He brought terror, famine, and war to the Egyptians. During his reign, men violated the 42 supreme rules dictated by Maat, the goddess of justice.

To punish men for this affront to the gods, Ra decided to send Sekhmet (the Egyptian lion goddess) to Earth.

This goddess is the animal form of Ra's left eye. According to its legend, the eye of Ra came out of its orbit to transform itself into Sekhmet, a fearsome weapon of destruction. Its mission was to eradicate all men who failed to respect Maat's rules and thus to show Ra's omnipotence on Earth.

Sekhmet la déesse lionneThe goddess Sekhmet is the personification of the eye of Ra. Beginning her mission of extermination without zeal, Sekhmet will end up taking her mission too much to heart.

Sekhmet will soon get a intense taste for the destruction of mankind and will be nothing more than a monster greedy for blood and destruction.

It was then that Ra, observing the carnage taking place on Earth, decided to put an end to this genocide. In the end, he no longer wished to eradicate those he had lovingly created. He then called Sekhmet back to heaven: humanity was certainly weakened, but it was saved!

B) Ra against Apep

According to Egyptian mythology, it is Ra who governs the seasons, years, months, and hours aboard his solar boat. During the day, he travels the world of the living to illuminate the Earth with his light. At night, he accompanies the dead to the kingdom of the dead. In this way, Ra gives an explanation as to why the Sun disappears at dusk and reappears at dawn.

While his mission by day may seem like a formality for a god of his stature, his task in the kingdom of the night is of a completely different nature.

On his journey through the shallows of the world of the dead, many creatures, each more evil than the next, seek to eat the Sun god.

One of these creatures is particularly feared by Ra: Apep, the giant snake. Apep is the most dangerous creature in Egyptian mythology and is the true incarnation of evil. His goal is none other than to devour Ra, so that darkness may invade the world of the living forever.

Apophis, le serpent géant The giant serpent Apep is Ra's main enemy during his journey through the kingdom of the dead aboard the solar boat.

In his expedition, Ra can nevertheless count on several deities to ensure his protection. His team is not the least and is composed of other Egyptian gods:

- Set (the god of chaos), in charge of facing and repelling Apep in person.

- Isis (the goddess of magic), who thanks to her powers can repel hordes of weak spirits who are the allies of Apep.

- Sobek (the crocodile god of strength), who with his crocodile fangs can pierce the stomach of Apep to retrieve Ra if the latter is swallowed by the giant snake.

- Thoth (the god of knowledge), who elaborates every night a new plan to surprise Apep.

- Maat (the goddess of justice), who possesses healing powers that are indispensable to the rest of the team.

This is how the perpetual cycle of the days is ensured. Ra's mission is thus eternal.

The god Amun-Ra

Now you know everything you need to know about the Egyptian god of gods. You are now able to explain :

  • Who was this inescapable god of Egyptian mythology
  • What was the role of Amun, the god of the invisible, in the course of history
  • What are the legends surrounding Ra, the Sun God

This story finished, if you too think that ancient Egypt is a great and majestic era: you must absolutely visit our Egyptian collections!!

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