The Ram in Ancient Egypt

The Ram in Ancient Egypt

by Jimmy Dunn writing as Taylor Ray Ellison

Ancient Egypt was famous throughout the ancient world for its many varied gods and goddesses, as well as for their worship of animals (or more correctly animals as manifestations of gods). Bulls, cows, cats, dogs, geese, crocodiles and even scarab beetles, along with many other animals were the object of such worship as embodiments of gods. Some animals, such as the Apris Bull seem to have been worshipped specifically in their physical animal form. They might have been seen in a very similar manner to the single statue of a specific god in a temple's shrine, being the earthly manifestation of that god, which in the case of the Apris Bull, was Ptah.

A sacred bull receiving offerings in much the same way as the statue in a temple shrine

They are often referred to as temple animals, and one specific beast was chosen for this honor. Other animals such as the goose, an early manifestation of Amun, were kept in numbers and appear to have not been given the sacred status of the individual temple animals. One animal associated with perhaps some of Egypt's best known and most important gods was the Ram, who like the bull, seems to have also been specifically worshipped as a temple animal, though we currently know much less about this cult then that of the Apris bull. The ram was associated with various gods from Egypt's earliest periods even though sheep were considered not to be clean, or pure, by the ancient Egyptians.

Throughout history, rams have been important to mythological and religious concepts, associated with ancient gods from all over the world. The ram even became a symbol of Christ in ancient times. They also sometimes suffered from religion, being the objects of sacrifice to various gods. In fact, perhaps one of the most famous ancient accounts of a ram involves one in the Old Testament that Abraham found trapped by its horns in a thicket on Mount Moriah where he had gone to sacrifice his only son Isaac. [Gen 22:1-14] An angel stopped the hand of Abraham just as he was about to kill his boy and the ram was sacrificed in his stead.

The ram, like the bull, was perhaps even more venerated by the ancient Egyptians for its fertility, as well as for its warlike attributes. As a temple animal at such locations as Mendes and Karnak, a single animal appears to have been cared for and treated very similar to the holiest of god's statues within the temple. These individual rams were almost certainly taken to visit the gods at other temples, and could give oracles (usually by some act to a yes or no question). other temples, and could give oracles (usually by some act to a yes or no question).

The Ram headed god, Khnum

The very earliest gods that were depicted with ram features were probably based on the ram species known as Ovis longipes palaeoagytiaca known from predynastic times. Khnum, an important god throughout Egypt, but especially at Elephantine, who created mankind and even gods on his potters will, was apparently depicted as this species, with its long wavy horns and heavy build, as was Banebdjedet (Ba-neb-Tetet), an early ram headed god at Mendes. Banebdjedet was the manifestation of the Lord of Djedet, as well as the ba, or soul of another of ancient Egypt's most famous gods, Osiris. In fact, Osiris is often depicted with a pair of ram horns attached to the base of his atef crown also from this earliest species of ram.

The Ram of Mendes, probably a manifestation of Banebdjedet

Fairly recent excavations at Mendes have exposed an early Old Kingdom and First Intermediary Period Temple dedicated to the ram god, as well as the "hypogeum", apparently a facility that might be considered the ram oriented equivalent of the Serapeum, where the sacred Apris bulls were buried at Saqqara. The most recent information on its excavation indicates that twelve granite and three limestone ram sarcophagi were discovered in the hypogeum.

Later in Egyptian history, a second species of ram known as Ovis aries platyra aegyptiaca, a curved horn ram, appeared around the 12th Dynasty of Egypt's Middle Kingdom. The most important deity of Egypt's New Kingdom and later periods, Amun, seems to have been associated with this species of Ram. Amun is sometimes referred to as "lord of the two horns" and on his splendid, gilded, wooden festival boat a ram's head adorned both its prow and stern. As most people who have ever visited Luxor (ancient Thebes) are probably aware, the processional road to the Temple of Amun was flanked with ram headed lion sphinxes, each one guarding between its front legs a statue of the pharaoh.

The processional way at the temple of Amun at Karnak

There were actually a number of other gods of ancient Egypt associated with the ram, either having ram heads, or sometimes simply ram horns. These included Arsaphes (Herishef, Harsaphes), a god of Heracleopolis, Kherty (or perhaps Cherti), a ram headed god that probably originated at Letopolis and had a dual nature being both hostile and protective, Andjety, who's main cult center was at Busiris in the Delta and who was in many aspects the precursor of Osiris, Auf (Efu Ra), who was an aspect of the sun god, Re as a ram headed deity surmounted by a sun disk, and Harmakhet, a variant of Horus, who was the God of the dawn and of the morning sun, who was depicted in the form of a sphinx or a sphinx with the head of a ram.






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