Anubis: The Jackal God of Ancient Egypt

Anubis is an ancient Egyptian god associated with mummification, the afterlife, death, and the judgment of souls. He is often depicted with the head of a jackal or a dog-like creature and played a significant role in Egyptian mythology and religious practices.

Who Was Anubis?

Anubis, the Jackal god of Egyptian mythology, was lord of the afterlife, protector of the cemeteries, and war-prince son of Osiris the God-king. Worshipped across all of Egypt, he held a special place in the seventeenth nome, where he was the patron god and protector of the people. Priests of Anubis would perform the mummification rituals, while Anubis has a special role in the afterlife, helping Osiris judge those who come before him.

Anubis is one of the most recognizable Egyptian gods, and modern media has enjoyed playing with the ancient story in fun ways – from an army in The Mummy Returns to being the pet of Black Adam in DC’s new animated movie, “League of Super-pets.” After more than ten thousand years, the Egyptian god still remains one of the most recognizable figures of mythology ever.

What Does the Word “Anubis” Mean?

The word “Anubis” is actually the Greek word for the ancient Egyptian god, “Inpw.” Scholars disagree with the original meaning of the term. During the 19th century, archeologists guessed that it might be connected to the ancient Egyptian for “puppy,” “prince,” or even “putrefy.” Today, many people claim that it means “to decay,” but the reality is that the original meaning has been lost to time.

How Was Anubis Born?

According to the Osiris myth, as recorded by Plutarch, Anubis is the son of the queen-god Nephthys. Nephthys seduced her brother-in-law, Osiris, and, when she gave birth to Anubis, dumped the child in the wilderness so that her husband (Seth, the brother of Osiris) would never discover the adultery or the child. Worried that Seth would kill Anubis when he found out, Isis searched with a pack of dogs, found Anubis, and brought him home. Then she brought up the child as if he were her own. Despite Nephthys sleeping with her husband, Isis had no ill feelings. When Seth eventually killed Osiris, the two women together searched for his body parts to bring him home.

Plutarch’s tale of Anubis’s birth also includes the information that “Some believe that Anubis is Cronus.” This gives some indication of how powerful the Egyptian god was when the mythology first found its way to Greece. While this is the most common myth, some texts say that Anubis is not the son of Osiris but instead a child of the cat god Bastet or cow goddess Hesat. Others say he is the son of Seth, stolen by Isis.

READ MORE: Egyptian Cat Gods: Feline Deities of Ancient Egypt

Does Anubis Have Siblings?

Anubis has a brother, Wepwawet, known in Greek as Macedon. Greek historians believed Wepwawet was the founder of Macedonia, the birthplace of Alexander the Great. Wepwawet was “the opener of the ways” and a warrior prince. While Anubis was the jackal god, Wepwawet was known as the wolf god. As “the opener of ways,” he sometimes played minor roles in the mummification process, but his story became less popular in the Greek and Roman tellings of the Osiris myth.

READ MORE: How Did Alexander the Great Die: Illness or Not?

Who is the Wife of Anubis?

Anput (sometimes called Anupet or Yineput) was the jackal goddess of the seventeenth nome and possible wife of Anubis. Little has been discovered about Anput, and some historians believe that she may not have been the wife of Anubis but simply a female version of the same god.

Who Were the Children of Anubis?

Anubis only had one child, a snake god called Qebehut (Qebhet, or Kebehut). Qehebut, “she of the cool waters,” was given control of the four nemset jars used in mummification rituals and would use these to purify the heart in preparation for the judgment of Osiris. According to the Book of the Dead,” she would also bring cool water to those waiting for judgment by Osiris in the afterlife.

Who Killed Anubis?

While he may be the god of the dead, there are no surviving stories that tell if he himself ever died or if he traveled to the afterlife while never having lost his own mortal body. Gods in ancient Egypt most definitely died, as Anubis gained his powers by being the embalmer for Osiris. However, his father was re-incarnated, and the death of the God-king is one of the few deaths ever recorded among the Egyptian gods.

It would make sense that the ancient Egyptians believed Anubis never died. While guiding the dead through the afterlife, Anubis played a major role as an active protector of cemeteries, especially the place we now call the Pyramid Complex at Giza. Anubis lived in both worlds, much as the Greek goddess Persephone would in Greek mythology.

What Were the Powers of Anubis?

As the god of death, Anubis could move into and out of the Egyptian underworld, guiding the dead to Osiris for judgment. The god also had power over dogs and was the protector of the ancient tombs of the gods.

As well as guiding the dead, Anubis had an integral role in helping Osiris judge those who came before him. Among his many roles was the highly ritualistic “weighing of the heart.” Ancient Egyptians believed that after their death, their heart would be weighed on a set of scales against “the feather of Ma’at.” “Ma’at” was the goddess of truth and justice. The results of this weighing would then be recorded by the ibis god Thoth.

This ritual was extremely important to the Egyptian belief systems, and the Book of the Dead contained spells used to encourage the heart of the dead to offer good witness to the life once lived. These spells would often be carved onto jewelry shaped like scarabs and placed in the wrapping during embalming.

What are the Epithets of Anubis?

Anubis had many “epithets” or titles that would be used instead of his name. These would be used in poetry, spells, and labels, as well as titles found underneath statues or paintings. Many of these epithets would be written in Hieroglyphics, so the different “phrases” would represent a symbol in the image alphabet.

  • Neb-Ta-Djeser: Lord of the Sacred Land: “Lord of the Sacred Land” was the name given to Anubis for his role as the protector of the Necropolis, the land filled with pyramids and mausoleums. This is where the Great Pyramids still stand in Cairo.
  • Khenty-Imentu: Foremost of The Westerners: By “westerner,” the epithet refers to the necropolis being on the west bank of the Nile River. No cemeteries were allowed on the eastern bank, and “the westerners” was a term used synonymously with the dead.
  • Khenty-Seh-Netjer: He Who is Upon His Sacred Mountain: No one is entirely sure what is referred to as “his sacred mountain,” with the best guess being the cliffs that overlooked the necropolis during ancient times. There is no significant mountain in the Egyptian afterlife.
  • Tepy-Dju-Ef: He Who Is Before The Divine Booth: “The Divine Booth” is the burial chamber. In this instance, the epithet refers to the mummification that occurs before you are buried. Anubis first mummified Osiris, setting a precedent for how all future rituals would occur. Those who performed the rituals would often be priests of Anubis.
  • Imy-Ut: He Who is in The Mummy Wrappings: Similarly to the above, this epithet refers to the mummification ritual. However, this also hints at the idea that the wrappings themselves are spiritually blessed by Anubis and highlights the nature of the ritual as a religious cleansing experience. 
  • Lord of the Nine Bows: This epithet was given only in writing, with the most famous example being in the Pyramid Texts. The “nine bows” in ancient Egypt was a phrase used to refer to the traditional enemies of Egypt. Anubis was “lord” over these, as he had proven himself in battle many times. Historians have never been able to agree on what nine entities (whether countries or leaders) constituted “the nine bows,” but there is a consensus that the title explicitly referred to foreign enemies outside of the jurisdiction of Egypt.
  • The Dog Who Swallows Millions: This rarely used epithet is a reference to his role as the god of death. While it sounds like an unusual title today, ancient Egyptians believed swallowing was a powerful metaphor for spiritual travel, and so this phrase was a way of showing how Anubis would guide millions of souls to the Afterlife. 

What Was the Weapon of Anubis?

In early images of Anubis, especially those in which the god is portrayed as the full jackal, he is depicted with the “Flagellum of Osiris.” This flail signifies Anubis’ kingship over the land of the dead. This weapon was never used by Anubis in mythology but appears on statues and engravings as a symbol. The flagellum of Osiris is also seen being held by Pharaohs as a sign of their own kingship over the people of Egypt.

Where Could Anubis Be Found in Ancient Egypt?

Anubis was an important god across Egypt, but there were specific centers where his followers were greater in number. Of the 42 nomes of ancient Egypt, he was the patron of the seventeenth. His images would be found in the temples of pharaohs, and cemeteries would contain shrines devoted to him.

READ MORE: Valley of the Kings: The Burial Place of the Pharaohs of Egypt

Anubis and the Seventeenth Nome

The cult center for Anubis worshippers was in the seventeenth nome of Upper Egypt, where he was worshiped not only as a protector and guide but the patron of the people. The capital city of this nome was Hardai/Sakai (Cynapolis in Greek). According to Ptolemy, the ancient city once only inhabited an island in the middle of the River Nile but soon extended to banks on either side.

Hardai was sometimes known as “The City of Dogs,” and even live canines, wandering the streets for scraps, would find themselves well taken care of. According to Mary Thurston, an anthropologist, worshippers first offered figurines and sculptures to Anubis and, in later centuries, would bring their own pets to the Anubian priests for mummification.

Other Famous Sites for Worshippers of Anubis

In Saqqara, the necropolis of Memphis, the Anubeion was a shrine and cemetery of mummified dogs that appear to have been prepared to please the god of death. Over eight million mummified dogs have been found at the site so far, and there are indications that worshippers would bring their own pets to the site so that they may join them later in the afterlife. Archeologists are still trying to determine the age of the dogs, although parts of Saqqara were built as far back as 2500 BCE.

Cult centers dedicated to Anubis have also been found in the 13th and 8th nomes of Upper Egypt, and archeologists at Saut and Abt have found further examples of pet cemeteries. The cult of Anubis appeared to be far-reaching across Egypt, focusing more on Anubis’ role as protector and guide. Mummification was a common practice across the country, and those priests who performed the mummification process were almost always followers of the jackal-headed deity.

How are Anubis and Hermes Connected?

The ancient Romans were obsessed with the mythology of the people that came before them, especially the Greeks and the Egyptians. While many of the Greek gods were renamed (e.g. Dionysus and Bacchus), many of the Egyptian gods were combined with the Greek pantheon as well. The Greek god, Hermes, was combined with Anubis to become “Hermanubis!”

The Greek god Hermes and the Egyptian god Anubis did have some things in common. The two gods were both conductors of souls and could travel to and from the underworld at will. The deity of Hermanubis was only depicted in a few select Egyptian cities, although some examples have survived. The Vatican Museum has a statue of Hermanubis – a human body with a jackal head but carrying the easily identified caduceus of Hermes.

Is Anubis Good or Evil?

The mythology of Ancient Egypt does not recognize good and evil gods, and its stories do not pass judgment on their actions. By today’s standards, however, Anubis might ultimately be considered good.

While Anubis was a blood-thirsty warrior, sometimes even removing the heads of soldiers he fought, this was only ever against enemies who initiated attacks (either foreign invaders or his step-father, Seth). His primary roles of protector of the dead, guide of the afterlife, and patron of the seventeenth nome, were all positive roles in making the best for the people of ancient Egypt. There is no indication in writing or art that suggests Anubis was feared in ancient Egypt. It was not until the rise in popularity of “Hell” as a concept during the post Roman Empire that the god was seen as anything negative. Christian-inspired mythology and the black-colored nature of the god caused some non-followers to believe he was somehow evil. In many English tales, therefore, he was only ever portrayed as evil.

READ MORE: How Did Christianity Spread: Origins, Expansion, and Impact 

How Do Artworks Depict the Ancient Egyptian God?

The earliest depictions of Anubis are as a full dog. These statues present a black canine lying on its stomach with its pointed ears erect. Black was the color of fertile soil and also of death, while the pointed ears were to delineate the dog as specifically the jackal. Sometimes, resting on the back of the dog is the flagellum of Osiris. These statues can be found on the top of sarcophagi and are sometimes shaped to form the large handles of the lid. These statues would “guard and protect” those lying within.

Later depictions of Anubis show a man with the head of a jackal, which is the more recognizable form of the Egyptian god. Anubis, in this form, can be seen in a procession of the gods, along with his family, leaning over the solar disc that represents Osiris or with his famous scales that would weigh the heart of the dead.

The royal tombs of Rameses ii, uncovered at Abydos, contain the only remaining example of Anubis in a fully human form. Inside the burial chamber of Rameses ii, all four walls are covered in tomb paintings, one of which shows the famous example of the “human Anubis.” He is seated next to Hekat, the patron goddess of Abydos, and is identified by being labeled with one of his many epithets. In this depiction, he carries a crook and an Ankh, the Egyptian symbol of life. This symbol is often held by gods who were said to have some control over life and death.

Anubis was sometimes also depicted in artworks of Ancient Greece. One famous example of this is “The House of the Golden Cupids” in Pompeii. This particular house was covered in frescos on every wall, one of which showed Anubis with Isis and Osiris. While the two elder gods are in full human form, Anubis has the distinctively black Jackal head.

READ MORE: Ancient Greek Art: All Forms and Styles of Art in Ancient Greece

What is an Anubis Fetish?

An Anubis Fetish, or Imiut Fetish, is a stuffed animal’s skin with its head removed. Often a cat or a bull this object would be tied to a pole and lifted upright. Modern scholars are unsure how exactly the fetish was used in funerary contexts, but examples of fetishes or images of their creation have been found as far back as 1900 BCE.

How is the Egyptian God of the Dead Portrayed Today?

Modern media loves to take the myths and stories of old and use elements of them to tell new stories. The myths of ancient Egypt are no exception, and many of its gods have been used as antagonists in comics, games, and movies.

Is Anubis in The Mummy Movies?

The over-arching antagonist of “The Mummy” movie series starring Brendan Fraser is based quite loosely on the god of the dead. The “Anubis” in this series is very different from the Egyptian god, but also has the power over death and protected tombs searched by the heroes of the films.

In this series, Anubis has control over a re-animated army. The god makes a deal with the completely fictional “Scorpion King” and appears on screen riding a chariot drawn by ghost horses. “The Scorpion King” was the debut role for Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson.

Is Anubis in DC’s League of Super-Pets?

The 2022 animated movie “League of Super-Pets” includes a character, Anubis. All superheroes in the DC universe have pets. The mythical “Black Adam has a black canine, Anubis, as a pet. Connecting the hulking actor once more with the Egyptian God, Dwayne Johnson voices Anubis appears in an after-credits scene for the movie. A large, black dog, Anubis appears to be an original character for the movie and had not previously been in DC comics.

Is Anubis in Moon Knight?

Unlike Konshu, Ammit, and Taweret, Anubis does not appear in the recent TV series “Moon Knight.” However, Taweret does refer to the “Weighing of the Heart” and the concept of Ma’at.

In Marvel’s comics, the god of the dead does appear in Moon Knight as an antagonist. He requires other enemies to gather human souls in deals that offer them an afterlife. However, the character made their first appearance in Fantastic Four. In the issue, the reader is provided a flashback to the time of gods, and Anubis is attempting to get his hands on the heart of Amun-Ra, which is in the hands of the panther goddess Bast. In the Marvel comic universe, the powers of the Black Panther come from Bast. Bast leaves the heart in Wakanda and Anubis sends an army of the dead to retrieve it.

READ MORE: Amun: The Hidden King Of Gods In Ancient Egypt

Is Anubis in Assassin’s Creed?

The popular Ubisoft game, “Assassin’s Creed Origins” contains a character called Anubis, which the player must fight to progress in the story. The game also features enemy priests of Anubis and a Roman soldier called “The Jackal,” based on the god of the dead. In this game, the god is portrayed as a man with the head of a jackal, long claws, and the ability to summon wild dogs.

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