Amun (also spelt Amen, Amoun, Amon, and rarely Imen, and spelt in Greek as Ammon, and Hammon) was the name of a deity, who gradually rose to become one of the most important deities, before fading into obscurity.
| Amun |
Origin of name
Amun's name is first recorded in Egyptian records as imn, meaning "The hidden (one)". Since vowels were not written in Hieroglyphics, Egyptologists have reconstructed the name to have been pronounced
- Yamānu (yah-maa-nuh) originally. The name survives into the Coptic language as Amoun.
God of Air
Originally, he was simply nothing more than a deification of the concept of air, and thus wind, one of the four fundamental concepts held to have composed the primordial universe, in the Ogdoad cosmogeny, whose cult was strongest in Hermopolis. His name reflects this function, since it means the hidden one, reflecting the invisibility of the air, and of the wind. Like all other members of the Ogdoad, his male aspect was usually depicted as a frog, or frog-headed. Symbolically, invisibility was represented by the colour blue, since it was the colour of the sky, seen through the air, and so this was the colour usually given to Amun's image.
As with the other concepts in the Ogdoad, he was dualistically considered to have a female aspect, referred to as Amunet (also spelt Amentet, Amentit, Imentet, Imentit, Amaunet, and Ament), which was simply the feminine form of the word Amun. The other female aspects of the Ogdoad were all depicted as snakes, thus Amunet was depicted likewise.
Gradually, as god of air, he came to be associated with the breath of life, which created the ba, particularly in Thebes. By the First Intermediate Period this had led to him being thought of, in these areas, as the creator god, titled father of the gods, preceding the Ogdoad, although also part of it. As he became more significant, he was assigned a wife (Amunet being his own female aspect, more than a distinct wife), and since he was the creator, his wife was considered the divine mother from which the cosmos emerged, who in the areas where Amun was worshipped was, by this time, Mut.
Amun became depicted in human form, seated on a throne, wearing on his head a plain deep circlet from which rise two straight parallel plumes. There is also other depiction's of Amun with a blue tone.
Having become more important than Menthu, the local war deity of Thebes, Menthu's authority became said to exist because he was the son of Amun. However, as Mut was infertile, it was believed that she, and thus Amun, had adopted Menthu instead. In later years, due to the shape of a pool outside the sacred temple of Mut at Thebes, Menthu was replaced, as their adopted son, by Chons, the moon god.
With the eviction of the Hyksos rulers from Egypt, by the armies of the Eighteenth Dynasty, Thebes, where the victors were based, became the most important city, and so Amun became nationally important. To Amun the Pharaohs attributed all their successful enterprises, and on his temples they lavished their wealth and captured spoil. And so, when the Greeks reported back on their visits to Egypt, Amun, as king of the gods, became identified by the Greeks with Zeus, and so his consort Mut with Hera.
As the Egyptians considered themselves oppressed during the period of Hyksos rule, the victory under the supreme god Amun, was seen as his championing of the underdog. Consequently, Amun was viewed as upholding the rights to justice of the poor, being titled Vizier of the poor, and aiding those who travelled in his name, as the Protector of the road. Since he upheld Ma'at, those who prayed to Amun were required first to demonstrate that they were worthy, by confessing their sins.
When, subsequently, Egypt conquered Kush, they identified the chief deity of the Kushites as Amun. This deity was depicted as Ram headed, specifically a woolly Ram with curved horns, and so Amun started becoming associated with the Ram. Indeed, due to the aged appearance of it, they came to believe that this had been the original form of Amun, and that Kush was where he had been born.
However, since rams, due to their rutting, were considered a symbol of virility, Amun became thought of as a fertility deity, and so started to absorb the identity of Min, becoming Amun-Min. This association with virility lead to Amun-Min gaining the epithet Kamutef, meaning Bull of his mother, in which form he was often found depicted on the walls of Karnak, ithyphallic, and with a scourge.
| Amun-Ra |
As Amen's or Amun's cult grew bigger, Amun rapidly became identified with the chief God that was worshipped in other areas, Ra-Herakhty, the merged identities of Ra, and Horus. This identification led to a merger of identities, with Amun becoming Amun-Ra. As Ra had been the father of Shu, and Tefnut, and the remainder of the Ennead, so Amun-Ra was likewise identified as their father.
Ra-Herakhty had been a sun deity, and so this became true of Amun-Ra as well, Amun becoming considered the hidden aspect of the sun (e.g. during the night), in contrast to Ra-Herakhty as the visible aspect, since Amun clearly meant the one who is hidden. This complexity over the sun led to a gradual movement towards the support of a more pure form of deity. Oddly enough, Amun's name is also chanted in most modern day christian churches as Amen, the alternate translation.
During the Eighteenth Dynasty, the pharaoh Akhenaten (also known as Amenhotep IV) introduced the worship of Aten, the sun's disc itself, identifying it as Amun-Ra. He defaced the symbols of the old gods and based his new religion around one new god, the Aten, the great solar disc in which gradually gave birth to Egyptian sun worship. However, this abrupt change was unpopular, particularly with the previous priesthoods, who found themselves without power. Consequently, when Akhenaten died, his name was struck out, and all his changes undone, almost as if they had not occurred. The correct form of mentioning Akhenaten were figures akin to 'crazy one from Akhenaten'. Worship of the Aten was replaced, and that of Amun-Ra was restored. The priests persuaded the new underage pharaoh Tutankhaten (Akhenaten's step son), whose name meant "the living image of Aten", to change his name to Tutankhamun, "the living image of Amun".
After the Twentieth Dynasty moved the centre of power back to Thebes, the powerbase of Amun's cult had been renewed, and the authority of Amun began to weaken. Under the Twenty-first Dynasty the secondary line of priest kings of Thebes upheld his dignity to the best of their power, and the Twenty-second Dynasty favoured Thebes.
As the sovereignty weakened the division between Upper and Lower Egypt asserted itself, and thereafter Thebes would have rapidly decayed had it not been for the piety of the kings of Nubia towards Amun, whose worship had long prevailed in their country. Thebes was at first their Egyptian capital, and they honored Amun greatly, although their wealth and culture were not sufficient to affect much.
However, in the rest of Egypt, his cult was rapidly overtaken, in popularity, by the less divisive cult of the Legend of Osiris and Isis, which had not been associated with Akhenaten's actions. And so there, his identity became first subsumed into Ra (Ra-Herakhty), who still remained an identifiable figure in the Osiris cult, but ultimately, became merely an aspect of Horus.
In areas outside of Egypt, where the Egyptians had previously brought the worship of Amun, Amun's fate was not as bad. In Nubia, where his name was pronounced Amane, he remained the national god, with his priesthoods at Meroe and Nobatia, via an oracle, regulating the whole government of the country, choosing the king, and directing his military expeditions. According to Diodorus Siculus, they were even able to compel kings to commit suicide, although this behaviour stopped when Arkamane, in the 3rd century BC, slaughtered them.
Likewise, in Libya, there remained an oracle of Amun in the desert, at the oasis of Siwa Oasis. Such was its reputation among the Greeks that Alexander the Great journeyed there, after the Battle of Issus, and during his occupation of Egypt, in order to be acknowledged the son of the god. Even during this occupation, Amun, identified as a form of Zeus, continued to be the great god of Thebes, in its decay.
Several words derive from Amun via the Greek form Ammon: ammonia and ammonite. Ammonia, as well as being the chemical, is a genus name in the foraminifera. Both these foraminiferans (shelled Protozoa) and ammonites (extinct shelled cephalopods) have/had spiral shells resembling a ram's, and Ammon's, horns. Ammonia the chemical derives its name in a more round-about way – see end of article ammonia. 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. The religious term amen is also said to originate from the time before the Exodus when the Jews were slaves in ancient Egypt.
- Adolf Erma, 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.
amun is also short for AMerican UNderground