Anhur – Origin Story, Powers, Symbols & Meanings
Anhur, also known as Onuris, is a war deity in ancient Egyptian mythology. His role in the Egyptian pantheon underscores the cultural significance of war and protection in the ancient Nile civilization. The protective and rescuing attributes of Anhur, especially in his “Savior” aspect, made him a revered figure in times of distress or conflict.
Origin story and worship
Anhur originated from the area of Thinis in Upper Egypt. Over time, his worship spread to other parts of Egypt.
His roles in the Egyptian pantheon
Anhur was primarily a god of war and hunting. His name, in Egyptian, means “Sky Bearer.”
In certain contexts, he was also associated with the sun, linking him to the solar deity Ra.
Anhur is typically depicted as a bearded man wearing a robe and a headdress with four feathers, often holding a spear or lance.
He was closely associated with the lioness goddess, Mehit, who was sometimes considered to be his consort. In some traditions, they were thought to have merged and traveled together to rescue the Eye of Ra.
Anhur was also linked with Shu, the god of air and supporter of the sky, due to the similarity in their roles as “bearers” (Anhur as “Sky Bearer” and Shu holding up the sky).
As a result of his identification with Shu, he was sometimes known as Anhur-Shu. In this regard, he can be viewed as the son of the sun-god Ra and brother of water goddess Tefnut.
Another aspect of Anhur was “Anhur-Shed,” translating to “Anhur the Savior.” In this form, he was believed to go out and rescue those in distress.
He was also known as the “Slayer of Enemies” – a god that Egyptian rulers besieged to visit severe punishment upon the enemies of Egypt.
The primary cult center for Anhur was in the city of Thinis, where festivals celebrating his heroic deeds and adventures were held.
In some accounts, Thinis was said to be the final resting place of Anhur. At the time, it was believed that the city was home to Egyptian version of the afterlife or heaven.
Furthermore, the city’s inhabitants probably worshiped him as the “bull of Thinis” after his death.
Believed to be situated near the modern town of Girga and Abydos, Thinis was one of the earliest and most significant cities during the early dynastic period of ancient Egypt.
Over time, as the political center shifted and newer cities like Memphis rose in prominence, Thinis’s influence waned, but it retained religious importance. The city’s decline is believed to have begun around the First Dynasty of the Old Kingdom, which was between circa 2686 BC and circa 2613 BC.
READ MORE: Most Famous Ancient Egyptian Cities
Anhur and the Greek god of war, Ares
Owing to the fact that Anhur and Greek god Ares played similar roles in their respective pantheons, ancient Greeks saw Anhur as the equivalent of Ares.
In one account of the myth, it’s said that in an attempt to avoid the fearsome monster Typhon, many ancient Greek gods and goddesses fled Greece and transformed into animals. Some of those Greek deities temporary ended up in Egypt, where they came to be equated to existing Egyptian deities. In the case of Ares, he was viewed as the equivalent of Anhur.
Such syncretic stories were not uncommon in the ancient world, where cultures would often merge and adapt myths and deities from neighboring or conquered peoples. The blending of Greek and Egyptian myths is an outcome of the interactions and influences between the two cultures, especially after Alexander the Great’s conquest of Egypt and the subsequent Ptolemaic rule.
As it was typical for ancient Roman emperors to follow in Egyptian tradition and have themselves depicted as ancient Egyptian gods, Roman emperor Tiberius (reign: 14 AD to 37 AD) is believed to have portrayed himself as the god Anhur. The Roman ruler, who was the successor of Rome’s first emperor Augustus, was shown on the walls of Egyptian temples wearing the four-plumed crown of Anhur.
As Egypt had become the personal property of the Roman emperors, Tiberius would have been seen as a ruler or pharaoh-like figure in the context of Egyptian governance. Bear in mind, Egyptian Pharaohs were traditionally integrated into the pantheon of gods and depicted in religious contexts.
READ MORE: 10 Most Famous Ancient Egyptian Pharaohs
Questions & Answers
What did Anhur’s four-plumed crown symbolize?
His distinctive four-plumed crown symbolized his deity status and power.
Why was Roman emperor Tiberius depicted as Anhur?
By depicting Tiberius with Anhur’s crown, the Egyptian priesthood was merging the Roman emperor with their own religious framework. It demonstrated Tiberius’s role as a protector and powerful figure, and it may have also been a political move to show loyalty or alignment with the new Roman rulers.
Why was Anhur associated to Greek god Ares?
In some accounts of the myth, Ares – in an attempt to escape the fearsome monster Typhon – either transformed himself into a fish or Anhur in Egypt.