Amun, also called Ammon, is an ancient Egyptian god who played a significant role in Egyptian mythology and religion. He was originally a local deity worshiped in the city of Thebes, but his importance grew over time, and he eventually became one of the most powerful and widely venerated gods in ancient Egypt.
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Who Was Amun?
Amun was often considered a god of the air, and his name itself is thought to mean “the hidden one” or “the invisible.” This reflects his association with the mysterious and unseen forces of the universe.
Amun was often depicted as a man wearing a tall, feathered crown or a double-plumed headdress. He was sometimes shown as a ram-headed deity, known as Amun-Ra, particularly when associated with the sun. Amun-Ra represented the merging of Amun with the sun god Ra, emphasizing his solar aspects.
Throughout ancient Egyptian history, Amun was linked to the pharaohs and their divine right to rule. The pharaohs often claimed to be the earthly embodiment of Amun, reinforcing their divine status. The city of Thebes, with its grand temples dedicated to Amun, became a religious and political center during the New Kingdom period.
Amun was also associated with fertility, creation, and the annual flooding of the Nile River, which was essential for the prosperity of Egypt. He was sometimes depicted with a ram’s head because the ram was a symbol of fertility and virility.
As Egyptian religion evolved, Amun’s influence waxed and waned, and his significance in the pantheon changed with the political climate. During the reign of Akhenaten (around 1353-1336 BCE), Amun’s worship was briefly suppressed in favor of the sun god Aten. However, after Akhenaten’s death, Amun was restored to prominence.
The worship of Amun continued until the decline of ancient Egyptian civilization, and his temples and cults remained important religious institutions for centuries. When ancient Egypt was absorbed into the Roman Empire, the worship of Amun gradually merged with the worship of other gods.
Amun in Ancient Egypt: Creation and Roles
The number of deities that can be identified within Egyptian mythology is astonishing. With over 2000 different deities that are officially recognized, the storylines are ample and diverse. Many stories contradict each other, but that doesn’t mean that the general ideas of Egyptian mythology are impossible to identify.
Amun Created Himself
Amun is believed to have created himself and the rest of the universe too. Still, he distanced himself from everything as the original and indivisible creator. Since he is related to hiddenness, this would only make sense. He first created it, but then he was void of the thing he created. Quite the conundrum, but a reality for the Egyptians who worshiped the deity.
Eventually, Amun would also be related to the most important solar god by the name of Ra. When Ra and Amun merged, Amun became both a visible and an invisible deity. In this ambiguous form, he can be related to Ma’at: the ancient Egypt concept of something that resembles balance or the Yin and the Yang.
Amun is first mentioned in one of the pyramids at Thebes. In the texts, he is described in relation to the war god Montu. Montu was a warrior who was seen by the ancient inhabitants of Thebes as the protector of the city. His role as protector helped Amun to become quite powerful over time.
READ MORE: City Gods from Around the World
But, how powerful exactly? Well, he would later become known as the king of gods, which emphasizes his importance to the Egyptians. Amun was given this role based on several of his characteristics, as well as his relationship with Ra.
The most important one in relation to his role as the king of gods was that Amun could not be related to a clear concept. While many other Egyptian gods were linked to clear concepts like ‘water’, ‘the sky’, or ‘darkness’, Amun was different.
Amun Definition and Other Names
Why exactly he was different can partly be explored through dissecting his many names. Little is known about this early version of Amun, but we do know that the meaning of his name is ‘the hidden one’ or ‘mysterious of form’. This could mean that Amun could transform into whatever god the Theban people required him to be.
The deity also was referred to by many other names. Besides Amun and Amun-Ra, one of the names that were applied to the deity was Amun Asha Renu, literally meaning ‘Amun rich in names’. It should be noted that Amun-Ra is also sometimes written as Amen-Ra, Amon-Re, or Amun-Re, which derive from other languages or dialects in ancient Egypt.
He was also known as the concealed god, in which he was related to the untouchable. In this sense, he would represent two other things that could not be seen or touched: the air, sky, and wind.
Is Amun Special Because He Can Be Interpreted in Many Ways?
Indeed, only through the many things that Amun represents can the god be fully understood. In turn, all the aspects that he relates to are too many to grasp while being covert and overt at the same time. It affirms the mystery surrounding the deity and allows for multiple interpretations to arise.
Is this any different than other mythological figures? After all, seldom one finds a god that is univocally conceptualized. Often multiple interpretations can be seen surrounding one god or being.
Yet, Amun definitely distinguishes himself from the rest of the mythological figures in this regard. The vast difference between Amun and other deities is that Amun intends to have multiple interpretations, while other deities claim only one story. Indeed, they are often depicted in many different forms over time, yet the intention is to be one story that is ‘for certain’.
For Amun, being multi-interpretable is a part of his being. This allows for a playful existence and a figure that is able to fill the voids that the Egyptians experienced. It tells us that spirituality or a sense of being can never be one thing and one thing only. Indeed, life and experiences are plural, both between people and within the same individual.
Amun is generally seen as part of the Ogdoad. The Ogdoad were the original eight great deities, who were primarily worshiped at Hermopolis. Don’t confuse the Ogdoad with the Ennead, which is also a collective of nine major Egyptian gods and goddesses that are regarded as of the highest importance in ancient Egyptian mythology.
The difference between the two is that the Ennead was worshiped exclusively at Heliopolis, while the Ogdoad is worshiped in Thebes or Hermopolis. The former can be seen as a part of contemporary Cairo, while the latter was another ancient capital of Egypt. The two cities, thus, had two distant cults.
Amun’s Role Amongst the Ogdoad
The Ogdoad is based on several myths that already existed before Egyptian mythology would see the light of day. The main myth that the Ogdoad related to is the creation myth, in which they helped Thoth to create the whole world and the people in it.
The gods of the Ogdoad helped, but unfortunately, all died soon after. They retired to the land of the dead, where they would obtain and continue their god-like status. Indeed, they allowed the sun to rise every day and let the Nile flow.
Yet, it can’t be said that Amun too, would reside in the land of the dead. While all other members of the Ogdoad were clearly linked to certain concepts, Amun would mainly be linked to hiddenness or obscurity. The idea of an ambiguous definition allowed anyone to interpret him as exactly what they wanted him to be, which means that this could also be a living deity.
Amun in Thebes
Originally, Amun was recognized as a local deity of fertility in the city of Thebes. This position he held from about 2300 BC onwards. Together with the other gods of the Ogdoad, Amun controlled the cosmos and managed the creation of humanity. Many of the oldest Egyptian pyramid texts mention him.
As a deity in the city of Thebes, Amun was linked to Amunet or Mut. She was believed to be the mother goddess of Thebes, and linked to Amun as the god’s wife. Not just that, their love was actually celebrated widely with a massive festival in honor of the marriage between the two.
The Feast of Opet was celebrated yearly and would honor the couple and their child, Khon. The center of the festivities were so-called floating temples or barks, where some statues from other temples would be erected for around 24 days.
During this whole period, the family would be celebrated. Afterward, the statues would be returned to where they belonged: the Karnak Temple.
Amun as a Universal God
While Amun was originally recognized only in Thebes, a cult grew quickly over time which spread his popularity across Egypt. Indeed, he became a national god. It took him a couple of centuries, but eventually, Amun would rise to national stardom.
He would gain his status as the king of the gods, deity of the skies, or just really as one of the most powerful deities. From here on, he is often depicted as a young, strong man with a full beard.
In other depictions, he is portrayed with the head of a ram, or just a full ram really.
What Does Amun Represent?
As a local god of Thebes, Amun was mostly related to fertility. Yet, especially after his more national recognition, Amun would become linked to the sun deity Ra and seen as the king of gods.
King of Gods Amun
If something is identified as the sky god it automatically cancels the opportunity for that particular deity to be an earth god. Since Amun was related to the covert and obscure, he wasn’t clearly identified. At one point, and to this day, Amun is recognized as the ‘Self-created one’ and ‘King of the Gods’. Indeed, he created all things, including himself.
The name Amun looks very much like another ancient Egyptian deity by the name of Atum. Some might see him as one and the same, but this is not exactly the case. Although Amun took on many of Atum’s attributes and eventually somewhat replaced him, the two should be seen as two separate deities.
So Amun is very closely related to Atum. Yet, he was also very closely related to the sun god Ra. In fact, Amun’s status as the king of gods is rooted in this exact combination of relationships.
Atum and Ra can be considered two of the most important deities of ancient Egypt. But, after a religious reform in the New Kingdom, Amun can be seen as the one who combines and epitomizes the most important aspects of both of these gods. Naturally, this resulted in the single most looked-upon god in ancient Egypt.
Protector of the Pharaoh
The question that remains is: What exactly does it mean to be the king of gods? For one, this can be related back to the ambiguous nature of Amun. He can be anything, so he can also be identified as the king of gods.
On the other hand, Amun had an important role as the father and protector of the pharaoh. Actually, a whole cult was dedicated to this role of Amun. Amun was said to come swiftly to help Egyptian kings on the battlefield or to aid the poor and friendless.
Female Pharaohs or the wives of a pharaoh also had a relationship with the cult of Amun, albeit complex. For example, Queen Nefertari was seen as the wife of Amun and the female Pharaoh Hatshepsut claimed the throne after she spread the word that Amun was her father. Maybe Pharaoh Hatshepsut inspired Julius Caesar too, since he claimed to be the child of the important Roman deity Venus.
Amun protected the pharaohs by communicating with them through the use of oracles. These, in turn, were controlled by priests. Yet, the happy story was disturbed during the reign of Pharaoh Akhenaten, who replaced the worship of Amun with an Aton.
Luckily for Amun, his all-encompassing rule over the other gods of ancient Egypt changed again when Akhenaten died and his son reigned over the empire. The priests would return to the temples, reinstating the oracles of Amun to be shared with any Egyptian inhabitant.
Amun and the Sun God: Amun-Ra
Originally, Ra is seen as the sun god in ancient Egyptian mythology. The falcon-headed Ra with a solar halo was considered one of the most important deities among any inhabitant of Egypt.
Yet, many of the attributes of Ra would diffuse to other Egyptian gods over time, making his own status somewhat questionable. For example, his falcon form would be adopted by Horus, and his reign over any other deity would be adopted by Amun.
Different Gods, Different Representations
While the aspects were adopted by Amun, Ra would still be given some praise as the original king of gods. That is to say, Amun’s form as ruler of others is generally referred to as Amun-Ra.
In this role, the divinity relates both to his original ‘hidden’ aspects and to the very overt aspects of Ra. Indeed, he can be seen as the all-encompassing deity whose aspects literally cover every facet of creation.
As indicated, Amun was considered one of the eight primordial Egyptian gods in the city of Thebes. Although he is recognized as an important god there, not a lot of information is available about Amun in his role as a city deity. Really, the only thing that can be said for sure is that he was seen as the ‘hidden one’.
On the other hand, Ra roughly translates to ‘sun’ or ‘day’. He is definitely considered to be older than Amun, originating about a century earlier. Ra was firstly considered to be the supreme god and rule everything. But, this changed with the merging of Lower and Upper Egypt and with the start of the New Kingdom.
Are Amun and Ra the same god?
While Amun-Ra could be referred to as one single god, the two should still be seen as different deities. For centuries, both Amun and Ra were separated and living alongside each other. The main difference between Ra and the two was that they were worshiped in different cities.
Indeed, the capital moved to Thebes, the city where Amun was widely recognized as the supreme god. Once Thebes was the capital, many began seeing Amun and Ra as one and the same. This was rooted in their similar role as the god of the sun or god of the sky, but also in their shared characteristics relating to the king of all deities.
By the year 2040 BCE, the two deities were merged into a single god, combining their names together to form Amun-Ra. Depictions of Amun-Ra largely follow in the steps of Amun, a strong, youthful-looking man with a beard, and he was usually depicted wearing a large crown with the outline of the sun upon it. The depicted symbol of the sun could also be described as a sun disk.
Temples and Worship of Amun
In his role as Amun-Ra and with many of the characteristics of Atum, Amun would become of utmost importance in Egyptian religion. In terms of worship, he would not necessarily be banned to strictly a distant celestial realm. Actually, Atum is everywhere, unseen but felt like the wind.
In the New Kingdom, Amun rapidly became the most popular deity of Egypt. The monuments that were built to honor his being were astounding and plenty. Predominantly, Amun would be honored at the temple of Amun at Karnak, which is one of the largest religious structures that was ever built in ancient Egypt. The ruins can still be visited today.
Another impressive monument of honor is Amun’s Barque, also known as Userhetamon. It was a gift to the city of Thebes by Ahmose I after he defeated the Hyksos and claimed the throne to rule the Egyptian empire
The boat that was dedicated to Amun is covered in gold and was used and worshiped at the Feast of Opet, as described earlier. After 24 days of worship during the festival, the bark would be docked on the banks of the Nile. Indeed, it would not be used but rather housed in a special temple that was built to fit the vehicle perfectly.
This was not the only bark that was built for the deity, since many other ships that resemble such floating temples could be seen all over Egypt. These special temples would be used during several festivals.
Covert and Overt Worship
The role of Amun is somewhat ambivalent, ambiguous, and contested. Yet, this is exactly what he wants to be. The very fact that the important deity of the New Kingdom is everything and nothing at the same time is the best description of the god who is known as the ‘concealed one’.
The fact that his temples were, too, able to move is very much in line with this idea. Indeed, they could be shown and stored at the times that the Egyptians wanted them to be. Putting the power in the hands of the people to decide how and when exactly the deity should be worshiped is very much in line with the whole spirit that Amun ought to represent.