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Statue of Armun in Karnak.
God of creation and the wind
Name in hieroglyphs
Major cult center Thebes
Symbol two vertical plumes, the ram-headed Sphinx (Criosphinx)
Parents none (self-created)
Consort Amunet

Amun, reconstructed Egyptian Yamānu (also spelled Amon, Amoun, Amen, and rarely Imen or Yamun, Greek Ἄμμων Ammon, and Ἅμμων Hammon), was a god in Egyptian and Berber mythology who in the form of Amun-Ra became the focus of the most complex system of theology in Ancient Egypt. Whilst remaining hypostatic, Amun represented the essential and hidden, whilst in Ra he represented revealed divinity. As the creator deity "par excellence", he was the champion of the poor and central to personal piety. Amun was self created, without mother and father, and during the New Kingdom he became the greatest expression of transcendental deity in Egyptian theology. He was not considered to be immanent within creation nor was creation seen as an extension of himself. Amun-Ra, likewise with the Hebrew creator deity, did not physically engender the universe. His position as King of Gods developed to the point of virtual monotheism where other gods became manifestations of him. With Osiris, Amun-Ra is the most widely recorded of the Egyptian gods.[1]


Amun created himself alone. His first wife was Wosret, but he later married Amunet and Mut. With Mut he is a father of the moon god Khonsu.

Rise of cult after expulsion of Hyksos

When the army of the founder of the Eighteenth dynasty expelled the Hyksos rulers from Egypt, the victor's city of origin, Thebes, became the most important city in Egypt, the capital of a new dynasty. The local patron deity of Thebes, Amun, therefore became nationally important. The pharaohs of that new dynasty attributed all their successful enterprises to Amun and they lavished much of their wealth and captured spoil on the construction of temples dedicated to Amun.

As the Egyptians considered themselves oppressed during the period of the Hyksos rule, the victory accomplished by pharaohs worshiping Amun was seen as a champion of the less fortunate. Consequently, Amun was viewed as upholding the rights of justice for the poor.[1] By aiding those who traveled in his name, he became the Protector of the road. Since he upheld Ma'at (truth, justice, and goodness) ,[1] those who prayed to Amun were required, first, to demonstrate that they were worthy by confessing their sins. Votive stela from the artisans village at Deir el-Medina record:

[Amun] who comes at the voice of the poor in distress, who gives breath to him who is wretched..You are Amun, the Lord of the silent, who comes at the voice of the poor; when I call to you in my distress You come and rescue me...Though the servant was disposed to do evil, the Lord is disposed to forgive. The Lord of Thebes spends not a whole day in anger; His wrath passes in a moment; none remains. His breath comes back to us in mercy..May your ka be kind; may you forgive; It shall not happen again.[2]

Much later, because of the evidence of the adoration given to Amun in many regions during the height of his cult, Greek travelers to Egypt would report that Amun—who they determined to be the ruler of the Egyptian pantheon—was similar to the leader of the Greek pantheon, Zeus, and therefore they became identified by the Greeks as the same deity. Likewise, Amun's consort Mut became associated by these Greeks with Zeus's consort in the Classical pantheon, Hera.

Praises of Atum on stelae are strikingly similar in language to those later used in the reign of Akhenaton, in particular the Hymn to the Aten:

"When thou crossest the sky, all faces behold thee, but when thou departest, thou are hidden from their faces.. When thou settest in the western mountain, then they sleep in the manner of death..The fashioner of that which the soil produces,...a mother of profit to gods and men; a patient craftsmen, greatly wearying himself as their maker..valiant herdsman, driving his cattle, their refuge and the making of their living..The sole Lord, who reaches the end of the lands every day, as one who sees them that tread thereon..Every land chatters at his rising every day, in order to praise him."[3]

Subsequently, when Egypt conquered Kush, they identified the chief deity of the Kushites as Amun. This Kush deity was depicted as ram-headed, more specifically a woolly ram with curved horns*—so Amun became associated with the ram: indeed, due to the aged appearance of the Kush ram deity.

Since rams were considered a symbol of virility due to their rutting behavior, Amun also became thought of as a fertility deity, and so started to absorb the identity of Min, becoming Amun-Min. This association with virility led to Amun-Min gaining the epithet Kamutef, meaning Bull of his mother,[4] in which form he was found depicted on the walls of Karnak, ithyphallic, and with a scourge, as Min was.

Sun god

in hieroglyphs

As the cult of Amun grew in importance, Amun became identified with the chief deity who was worshipped in other areas during that period, Ra-Herakhty, the merged identities of Ra and Horus. This identification led to another merger of identities, with Amun becoming Amun-Ra. In the Hymn to Amun-Ra he is described as "Lord of truth, father of the gods, maker of men, creator of all animals, Lord of things that are, creator of the staff of life."[5] By then Ra had been described as the father of Shu, Tefnut, and the remainder of the Ennead, so Amun-Ra likewise, became identified as their father.

Ra-Herakhty had been a solar deity and this nature became ascribed to Amun-Ra as well, Amun becoming considered the hidden aspect of the sun during the night, in contrast to Ra-Herakhty as the visible aspect during the day. Amun clearly meant the one who is hidden. This complexity over the sun led to a gradual movement toward the support of a more pure form of deity.

During the later part of the eighteenth dynasty, the pharaoh Akhenaten (also known as Amenhotep IV) disliked the power of the temple of Amun and advanced the worship of the Aten, a deity whose power was manifested in the sun disk, both literally and symbolically. He defaced the symbols of many of the old deities and based his religious practices upon the deity, the Aten. He moved his capitol away from Thebes, but this abrupt change was very unpopular with the priests of Amun, who now found themselves without any of their former power. The religion of Egypt was inexorably tied to the leadership of the country, the pharaoh being the leader of both. The pharaoh was the highest priest in the temple of the capital and the next lower level of religious leaders were important advisers to the pharaoh, many being administrators of the bureaucracy that ran the country.

When Akhenaten died, the priests of Amun reasserted themselves. His name was struck from Egyptian records, all of his religious and governmental changes were undone, and the capitol was returned to Thebes. The return to the previous capital and its patron deity was accomplished so swiftly that it seemed this almost monotheistic cult and its governmental reforms had never existed. Worship of the Aten ceased and worship of Amun-Ra was restored. The priests of Amun even persuaded his young son, Tutankhaten, whose name meant "the living image of Aten"—and who later would become a pharaoh—to change his name to Tutankhamun, "the living image of Amun".

As Amun-Re he was petitioned for mercy by those who believed suffering had come about as a result of their own or others wrongdoing.

Amon-Re "who hears the prayer, who comes at the cry of the poor and distressed...Beware of him! Repeat him to son and daughter, to great and small; relate him to generations of generations who have not yet come into being; relate him to fishes in the deep, to birds in heaven; repeat him to him who does not know him and to him who knows him...Though it may be that the servant is normal in doing wrong, yet the Lord is normal in being merciful. The Lord of Thebes does not spend an entire day angry. As for his anger - in the completion of a moment there is no remnant..As thy Ka endures! thou wilt be merciful!"[6]

In the Leydon hymns, Amun, Ptah, and Re are regarded as a trinity who are distinct gods but with unity in plurality.[7] "The three gods are one yet the Egyptian elsewhere insists on the separate identity of each of the three".[8] This unity in plurality is expressed in one text: "All gods are three: Amun, Re and Ptah, whom none equals. He who hides his name as Amun, he appears to the face as Re, his body is Ptah".[9] The hidden aspect of Amun and his likely association with the wind caused Henri Frankfort to draw parallels with a passage from the Gospel of John: For the wind "bloweth where it listeth and thou hearest the sound thereof but canst not tell whence it cometh and wither it goeth" (John 3:8).[10] A Leydon hymn to Amun describes how he calms stormy seas for the troubled sailor:

The tempest moves aside for the sailor who remembers the name of Amon. The storm becomes a sweet breeze for he who invokes His name...Amon is more effective than millions for he who places Him in his heart. Thanks to Him the single man becomes stronger than a crowd.[11]


Although the capital was moved back to Thebes and the power base of Amun's cult had been revivified, the authority of Amun began to weaken after the Twentieth dynasty. Under the Twenty-first dynasty the secondary line of priest pharaohs of Thebes upheld his dignity to the best of their power, and the Twenty-second favoured Thebes, but they became weak and ineffective.

As the leadership weakened, division between Upper Egypt, the southern portion, and Lower Egypt, the northern portion, reasserted itself. The unification of Egypt failed, falling into regional autonomy again. Nubia took over the rule of southern Egypt. Southern Egypt includes Thebes and it would have decayed rapidly had it not been for the piety of the rulers of Nubia toward Amun, who had been worshiped in their own country for a long time. Initially, they made Thebes their Egyptian capital and they honoured Amun greatly, although neither their wealth nor their culture was sufficient to reverse the decline of the cult.

In the rest of Egypt, however, the popularity of the cult of Amun was rapidly overtaken by the rise of the new cult of Isis and Osiris. Outside Thebes, Amun's identity first became subsumed into Ra (Ra-Herakhty), who initially remained an identifiable figure in the Isis and Osiris cult, but ultimately, Amun became an aspect of Horus.

Cult in Nubia, Libya, and Greece

In areas outside of Egypt where the Egyptians had previously brought the cult of Amun his worship continued. In Nubia, where his name was pronounced Amane, he remained a national deity, with his priests, at Meroe and Nobatia, regulating the whole government of the country via an oracle, choosing the ruler, and directing military expeditions. According to Diodorus Siculus, these religious leaders even were able to compel kings to commit suicide, although this tradition stopped when Arkamane, in the 3rd century BCE, slew them.

In Libya there remained a solitary oracle of Amun in the Libyan Desert at the oasis of Siwa. The worship of Ammon was introduced into Greece at an early period, probably through the medium of the Greek colony in Cyrene, which must have formed a connection with the great oracle of Ammon in the Oasis soon after its establishment. Ammon had a temple and a statue, the gift of Pindar, at Thebes (Paus. ix. 16. § 1), and another at Sparta, the inhabitants of which, as Pausanias (iii. 18. § 2) says, consulted the oracle of Ammon in Libya from early times more than the other Greeks. At Aphytis, Chalcidice, Ammon was worshipped, from the time of Lysander, as zealously as in Ammonium. Pindar the poet honoured the god with a hymn. At Megalopolis the god was represented with the head of a ram (Paus. viii. 32. § 1), and the Greeks of Cyrenaica dedicated at Delphi a chariot with a statue of Ammon.

Such was its reputation among the Classical Greeks that Alexander the Great journeyed there after the battle of Issus and during his occupation of Egypt, where he was declared the son of Amun by the oracle. Alexander thereafter considered himself divine. Even during this occupation, Amun, identified by these Greeks as a form of Zeus, continued to be the principal local deity of Thebes during its decay.

Derived terms

Several words derive from Amun via the Greek form, Ammon: ammonia and ammonite. The Romans called the ammonium chloride they collected from deposits near the Temple of Jupiter Amun in ancient Libya sal ammoniacus (salt of Amun) because of proximity to the nearby temple.[12]

Ammonia, as well as being the chemical, is a genus name in the foraminifera. Both these foraminiferans (shelled Protozoa) and ammonites (extinct shelled cephalopods) bear spiral shells resembling a ram's, and Ammon's, horns.

The regions of the hippocampus in the brain are called the cornu ammonis – literally "Amun's Horns", due to the horned appearance of the dark and light bands of cellular layers.


Specific references
  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Vincent Arieh Tobin, Oxford Guide: The Essential Guide to Egyptian Mythology,Edited by Donald B.Redford, p20, Berkley books, ISBN 0-425-19096-x
  2. Ancient Egyptian Literature: Volume II: The New Kingdom, Miriam Lichtheim, p105-106, University of California Press, 1976, ISBN 0-520-03615-8
  3. "The Burden of Egypt", John A. Wilson, p211, University of Chicago Press, 1951, 4th imp 1963, Republished as "The Culture of Ancient Egypt", ISBN 9780226901527
  4. Hart, George (2005). The Routledge Dictionary of Egyptian Gods and Goddesses. Routledge. pp. 21. ISBN 0415361168. 
  5. Budge, Wallis, E.A,""An Introduction to Egyptian Literature", p214, Dover editio 1997, first pub 1914, ISBN 0-486-29502-8
  6. "The Burden of Egypt", John A. Wilson, p300, University of Chicago Press, 1951, 4th imp 1963, Republished as "The Culture of Ancient Egypt", ISBN 9780226901527
  7. Egyptian Religion: Siegried Morenz, Translated by Ann E. Keep, Cornell University Press, 1992, p144-145,ISBN 0801480299
  8. "Before Philosophy", Henri Frankfort, John A. Wilson, Thorkild Jacobsen, p. 75, Pelican, 1951
  9. "Of God and Gods", Jan Assmann. p. 64, University of Wisconsin Press, 2008, ISBN 029922554
  10. "Before Philosophy", Henri Frankfort (contributor), p. 18, Penguin, 1951
  11. "The Living Wisdom of Ancient Egypt", Christian Jacq, p. 143, Simon & Schuster, 1999, ISBN 0-671-02219-9
  12. "Ammonia". h2g2 Eponyms. BBB.CO.UK. 2003-01-11. Retrieved 2007-11-08. 
Other sources

This article incorporates text from the Encyclopædia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, a publication now in the public domain.

  • Adolf Erman, Handbook of Egyptian Religion (London, 1907)
  • David Klotz, Adoration of the Ram: Five Hymns to Amun-Re from Hibis Temple (New Haven, 2006)
  • Ed. Meyer, article "Ammon" in W. H. Roscher's Lexikon der griechischen und römischen Mythologie
  • Pietschmann, articles "Ammon" and "Ammoneion" in Pauly-Wissowa, Realencyclopädie.

External links

This page uses content from the English Wikipedia. The original article was at Amun. The list of authors can be seen in the page history.

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