Maahes: the Ancient Egyptian Lion-Headed God of War
In order to track the first recorded reference of Maahes, the ancient Egyptian lion-headed god, one would have to go to the New Kingdom era. People of that era believed that Maahes was the son of the creator god Ptah and the goddess Sekhmet. Maahes was a feared god whose sphere of influence included war, protection and the weather. What else was Maahes revered for? And what does his name in ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs mean?
Here, we explore major myth about Maahes, his powers, symbols and worship in ancient Egypt.
Fast Facts about Maahes’ Family
Mother: Sekhmet or Bast (Bastet)
Father: Ptah, the god of creation and craftsmen
Siblings: Nefertum, Imhotep (half sibling)
Epithets: The Scarlet Lord; Lord of the Storm; Wielder of the Knife; The Lord of Slaughter; Helper of the Wise; Avenger of Wrong Deeds
Cult centers and worship: Per-Bast (Bubastis), Dendera (Iunet) and Taremu
Symbols: a lion, knife, the atef crown, a sword,
Other names and variations: Mahes, Miysis, Mihos, Maihes
Birth story and Family
The ancient Egyptian god Maahes was believed to be the son of creator god Ptah and the goddess Sekhmet. This was his origin story in Upper Egypt. However, in Lower Egypt, his mother was thought to be the cat-headed goddess Bast (Bastet).
Some accounts of Maahes’ origin story place him as the son of the sun god Ra (or Re) and the goddess Bastet. Such associations gave rise to him being tagged as a sun god in some areas in ancient Egypt. This most likely explains his association with the Eye of Ra and the solar disk that he was sometimes depicted with.
The first part of his name in hieroglyphs stands for a male lion. The symbol also elicits concepts of “courage”, “bravery” and “strength”.
Over the centuries and millennia, he has developed quite a number of name variations, including Maihes, Miysis, Mihos, and Mahes. In general, scholars reason that his name translates to “one who can see in front” or “he who is true beside her”. The “her” most likely refers to the ancient Egyptian goddess Ma’at (the goddess of truth, order and justice). Owing to the above, Maahes was often seen as the defender or protector of the innocent – a deity who maintained truth and order.
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Maahes’ Symbols and Epithets
As it was common with many ancient Egyptian deities, Maahes had many symbols, including a knife, a lotus flower, solar disk, the Atef crown, and a lion.
The most common epithets of Maahes are as follows:
- The Scarlet Lord;
- Wielder of the Knife;
- The Lord of Slaughter;
- Helper of the Wise;
- Avenger of Wrong Deeds;
- Protector of the innocent and;
- Protector of Sacred Places.
Common Depictions and Worship
Ancient Egypt typically depicted the god Maahes as a man with a lion head wielding either a sword or a knife. On top of his head were usually the Atef crown or a double crown (crowns of Lower and Upper Egypt) and the uraeus (royal serpent symbol).
Owing to his association with the sun god Ra, he has sometimes been depicted with the solar disk.
In some cases, he is seen holding a bouquet of lotus flower instead of a knife. This portrayal of his is in reference to his positive trait as a deity who helps the wise and just.
The most famous of Maahes’ cult centers and worship places were found in Taremu and Per-Bast. Those two places were also famous for the worship of the deities Sekhmet and Bastet respectively.
In many cases, Maahes’ temples in Per-Bast were placed in close proximity to his mother Bastet’s temple.
Power and Significance
Maahes was given similar abilities and traits as his mother the goddess Sekhmet. The god of war, protection and weather was in some cases seen as a dangerous god no ancient Egyptian dared cross path with. For this trait he was given the epithet “The devourer of captives”.
When he was seen as the son of the sun god Ra, Maahes is believed to have fought against Apep, Ra’s greatest enemy in the Underworld.
Additionally, Maahes is believed to inflict immense punishments on the wicked and heartless people in the land. Owing to this role, he was given the epithet “Avenger of Wrong deeds”. It was believed that he was the enforcer of Ma’at’s principles of truth and order.
In addition to protecting Ra in the underworld, it was believed that Maahes protected the Egyptian pharaohs during battle. Thus his protection extended to the innocent and brave.
Other Interesting Myths and Facts about the Egyptian god Maahes
- His name in Egyptian hieroglyphic often elicits concepts such as “royalty”, “strength” and “power”.
- In his honor, the ancient Egyptians kept tamed lions in Maahes’ temples all across Taremu. According to ancient Greek historian Aelian, the lions were fed fresh oxen meat every day.
- Maahes’ temples and cult centers were prevalent in the Lower Egyptian city of Leontopolis (the “city of lions”).
- In most cases the Egyptians did not use his name; instead they used epithets such as “The Lord of the Massacre” and “Lord of Slaughter”.
- His connection with his sibling Nefertum (“He Who is Beautiful”) is evident whenever he holds a lotus flower. The lotus flower was one of the most important symbols of the god Nefertum.
- Other gods that were associated with Maahes included Shemsu (a lion deity) and Onuris (a war deity).
- To the ancient Greeks, Maahes was seen as the god of storms. This is probably where his association with the weather stemmed from, earning him the title, “Lord of the Storm”.
- Some Egyptologists have stated that Maahes’ roots can be traced to the Nubian lion-god Apedemak.
- Ancient Egyptians believed that the god Maahes always stood beside the wise ones. As a result, he was called “the Helper of the Wise”.