Anuket: The Ancient Egyptian Goddess of the Nile

Anuket is one of the Egyptian deities associated with the River Nile – one of the many because Egyptians, at different periods and places, have worshiped the Nile through different names and forms. She is unique in the sense that she is not of Egyptian origin.

Rivers are the lifeline of any civilization. Ancient cultures established rivers as gods and goddesses for several reasons. From providing drinking water to irrigation, from rejuvenation to marine resources, and from protection to travel, Egypt is nothing without the River Nile. Anuket is one of the presiding goddesses over the Nile.

Who is Anuket?

Anuket
Anuket, an ancient Egyptian goddess depicted as a woman with a tall plumed headdress

That is a rather difficult question to answer. What we know is that she is associated with the Upper Nile and the southern borders of Egypt, that is, the border between Sudan and Egypt. In the Old Kingdom, she was referred to as the daughter of Ra. During the New Kingdom, she was relegated as the daughter of Khnum (the source of the Nile) and Satet (goddess of the Upper Nile) whereas some scholars are of the opinion that she was another consort of Khnum, sister of Satet, or an independent deity on her own.

READ MORE: Ancient Egypt Timeline: Predynastic Period Until the Persian Conquest

Origins of Anuket

Many scholars believe that Anuket is of Nubian origin, where she was revered as the patron deity of the Nile. The river Nile is a northward flowing river, meaning it originates down south from the interiors of the African continent from where it begins to flow northwards and merges into the Mediterranean Sea. Once an independent kingdom, Nubia was annexed into Egypt between the 3rd century BCE and the 3rd century CE.

Today, the northern parts of Nubia form the territories of Upper Egypt. Like many other things and deities that got absorbed into Egyptian culture, Anuket was one of them. Her very representation, her plumed crown, is very distinctly separate from that of the original deities. Her headdress reflects her Nubian, foreign origin.

anuket - goddess of the river nile

The Elephantine Triad

The cult of Anuket began on Elephantine, an island in the River Nile that is currently a part of the Aswan city administration. It is here that she was considered first the daughter of Satit and Khnum. We find the first literary references to her in the Sixth dynasty. Though her parents are mentioned in the Pyramid Texts, there is no mention of Anuket there.

Role as a Goddess

Anuket is considered the personification of the River Nile. She is worshiped as the Egygoddess of the cataracts of the Nile and south of the Egyptian borders during the Old Kingdom. She is referred to as the ‘Lady of the Fields.’ Her sacred animal is the gazelle. She holds a papyrus scepter, and sometimes even the ankh and uraeus. She controlled the fertilizing power of the Nile, especially when it flooded.

READ MORE: Water Gods and Sea Gods From Around the World

Some scholars also associate her with hunting. She is regarded as one of the foster mothers of the pharaohs. Her milk is believed to have healing and nourishing qualities. Some also saw her as the deity who would protect women during childbirth.

nile
Sunset on the Nile in Luxor, Egypt

Cult, Worship, and Temples

Along with Elephantine, the island of Sehel, southwest of Aswan, in the first cataracts of the Nile, is another important center of worship in Anuket. In Komir, she is worshiped independently. She is associated with Hathor in Thebes.

Her name means ‘to embrace’ and refers to the waters embracing the field during the inundation period. Variations of her name are Anaka or Anqet. The hieroglyphics used for her name translate to the letter A, water, feminine and seated goddess. The Greeks called her Anoukis or Anukis.

READ MORE: Who Invented Water? History of the Water Molecule

Images symbolize the Egyptian goddess Anuket as a gazelle with a headdress made of tall ostrich feathers. She is depicted as the ‘Lady of Nubia,’ a young woman wearing a headdress made of ostrich feathers. Hence, she earned ‘Lady of the Gazelle’ and ‘Mistress of Nubia.’

Anuket was worshiped throughout Lower Nubia. In a small temple at Biet el-Wali, she is depicted nursing the pharaoh. Inscriptional evidence tells us that a shrine was dedicated to her by the 13th Dynasty pharaoh Sobekhotep III. Much later, during the 18th Dynasty, Amenhotep II dedicated a chapel to the goddess.

Traders and sailors worshiped Anukis for safe passage to and from Nubia. The cataracts were dangerous waterscapes to be traversed especially when the river flooded or it rained. Rock inscriptions containing prayers to Anuket have been found.

She also became associated with Nephthys at Philae. Her cult at Dier- el Madina is widespread. Archaeologists have discovered murals of Anuket in the tombs of village workmen at Thebes. Anuket is also suspected to be the family deity for Neferhotep and his lineage.

In temple T of Kawa, Anuket appears as the patron goddess of Taharqa on a stele. An inscribed bronze image is found in Nebi Yunus’ excavation of Kuyunjik. A gold-inlaid bronze statue of Anuket was found in Nineveh. Statues of Anuket are very rare.

Anuket is to Egypt what Hestia is to the Greeks. Both hold dominion over the very life force of their respective civilizations, water for Egypt and the Hearth for the Greeks and yet we hardly know anything about them.

Hestia
Greek goddess Hestia

READ MORE: 41 Greek Gods and Goddesses: Family Tree and Fun Facts

Festival of Anuket

River Processions were carried out before the beginning of the harvest season. The deities were placed in ceremonial barques. The people honored Anuket by throwing gold and jewelry into the river. The celebrations would end in a feast. People from all walks of life participated together. Fish, which is otherwise forbidden, was especially consumed in her honor.

References

Hart, George (1986). A dictionary of Egyptian gods and goddesses. London: Routledge & Paul.

Pinch, Geraldine (2004). Egyptian mythology : a guide to the gods, goddesses, and traditions of ancient Egypt. Oxford University Press.

Lesko, Barbara (1999). The great goddesses of Egypt. Norman: University of Okhalahoma Press.

Gahlin, Lucia (2001). Egypt : gods, myths and religion : a fascinating guide to the alluring world of ancient Egyptian myths and religion. London: Lorenz Books.

Wilkinson, Richard. The Complete Gods And Goddesses of Ancient Egypt. Thames & Hudson.

Wallis (1989). The gods of the Egyptians : or, Studies in Egyptian mythology. New York: Dover Publications Inc.

Monaghan, P. (2014). Encyclopedia of Goddesses and Heroines. United States: New World Library.

Encyclopedia of African Religion. (2009). United Kingdom: SAGE Publications.

Current Research in Egyptology 14 (2013). (2014). United Kingdom: Oxbow Books.

Dorman (2023). Mural Decoration in the Theban Necropolis. USA: University of Chicago.

Holloway, S. W. (2002). Aššur is king! Aššur is king! : religion in the exercise of power in the Neo-Assyrian Empire. Boston: Brill.

https://landioustravel.com/egypt/egyptian-deities/goddess-anuket/

https://ancientegyptonline.co.uk/anuket/

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