Egypt: The Four Sons of Horus, Deities (Genii) of Egypt

The Four Sons of Horus

by Jimmy Dunn writing as Taylor Ray Ellison


Above: The Four Sons of Horus rising from a Lotus blossom (Blue Lilly)

The Four Sons of Horus are sometimes described as the funerary deities, or genii (sing, genius). Their names are Imsety (imsti), Hapy (hpy, not to be confused with the Nile river god, Hapi), Duamutef and Kebehsenuef. All references we have to these deities are funerary in context, and it appears that no cults ever honored them.

While the family genealogy of these deities is not well established, they are clearly stated to be the sons of Horus in any number of texts. For example, while Isis was said to be their mother, in Spell 125 of the Book of the Dead, they are seen as having sprung from a lotus flower (Blue Lilly). In various text, Horus of Khem, Harsiese and Horus the Elder are all cited as being their father. The four sons were also associated with four protective goddess, usually being paired as Imsety and Isis, Hapy and Nephthys, Duamutef and Neith, and Kebehsenuef and Selket.


Above: Duamutef with the head of a jackel

The Sons of Horus were associated with various points of the compass, as well, with Imsety linked to the South, Hapy with the North, Duamutef the East and Kebehsenuef the West. In addition, Hapy and Duamutef were associated with the northern Delta city of Buto, while Imsety and Kebehsenuef were linked to the southern, or Upper Egyptian city of Hierakonpolis.

We find references to these deities from the Old Kingdom all the way through to Greco- Roman times. The earliest extensive religious text, known as the Pyramid Texts, mentions them a total of fourteen times. From these texts, we learn of their basic nature.

For example, Spell 2078 and 2079 describe them as,

"friends of the king, (who) attend on this King...., the children of Horus of Khem (letopolis); they tie the rope-ladder for this King. they make firm the wooden ladder for this King, they cause the King to ascend to Khepri when he comes into being in the eastern side of the sky".

From Spell 1333, we learn that they, "spread protection of life over your father the Osiris King, since he was restored by the gods", while Sepll 552 tells us that, "I will not be thirsty by reason of Shu, I will not be hungry by reason of Tefnut; Hapy, Duamutef, Kebehsenuef, and Imsety will expel this hunger which is in my belly and this thirst which is on my lips". However, in the New Kingdom Book of the Going Forth by Day (the Book of the Dead, Spell 137), tells us more about these gods:

"O sons of Horus, Imsety, Hapy, Duamutef, Kebehsenuef: as you spread your protection over your father Osiris-Khentimentiu, so spread your protection over (the deceased), as you remove the impediment from Osiris-Khentimentiu, so he might live with the gods and drive Seth from him."

Spell 17 elaborates further on these gods, telling us that:

"As for the tribunal that is behind Osiris, Imsety, Hapy, Duamutef, Kebehsenuef; it is these who are behind the Great Bear in the northern sky....As for these seven spirits, Imsety, Hapy, Duamutef, Kebehsenuef, Maayotef, He-Who-is-under-his-Moringa-Tree, and Horus-the-Eyeless, it is they who were set by Anubis as a protection for the burial of Osiris."


Above: A depiction of Imsety

In the tenth division of the Book of Gates, these supernatural beings are also shown restraining the ummti (wmmti) snakes, who were allies of Apophis, an enemy of Re, with chains.

As protectors then, it is not surprising that from the Middle Kingdom through the Greco-Roman era, these deities are referenced in almost every tomb, and their powers are invoked upon almost all coffins and canopic equipment. We find actual representations of them during the 18th Dynasty on the sides of the coffin trough, with Anubis-Amywet and Anubis-Khenty-seh-netjer standing between the genii. They were also depicted on New Kingdom sarcophagi in stone and wood. During this period three dimensional representations of their heads adorned the lids of canopic jars, because they were thought to be either the guardians or the actual reincarnation of the specific organs removed during he mummification process. In this regard, Imsety, Hapy, Duamutef and Kebehsenuef were linked with the liver, lungs, stomach and intestines respectively, though sometimes the associations of Hapy and Duamutef are found switched about. They were also associated with other body parts. For example Hapy and Duamutef were linked to the hands, while Imsety and Kebehsenuef were linked with the feet (Spell 149 form the Pyramid Text).


Above: The Four Sons of Horus from the Tomb of Ay

On canopic equipment, their heads were originally depicted as human, though a few canopic chests from the Middle Kingdom depict them with falcon heads. During these early periods, they usually wear the divine tripartite wig, though in the tomb of King Ay in the Valley of the Kings on the West Bank of Luxor (ancient Thebes), Imsety and Hapy are depicted wearing the Red Crown of Lower Egypt, while Duamutef and Kebeshsenuef wear the White Crown of Southern Egypt.

However, between the early 18th Dynasty and the middle 19th Dynasty, their heads were depicted differently, with Imsety's head remaining human, while Hapy took on the appearance of an Ape, Duamutef that of a Jackal, and Kebeshsenuef that of a falcon. This form of representation persisted into the Greco-Roman period, with the exception of the 22nd and 23rd Dynasties, when at least six different combinations of the gods can be found, the most common showing Duamutef and Kebeshsenuef swapping heads.


Above: Hapy as Baboon and Kebeshsenuef with a falcon head from the Tomb of Nefertari

Late in the 3rd Intermediate Period, these deities even gained more prominence. In addition to their presence on coffins and conopic equipment, faience amulets of the deities were attached to the bandages or other mummy wrappings. From the time of Ramesses III, was images of the Four Sons of Horus were placed in the mummy's body cavity.

Interestingly, the Four Sons of Horus continued to be depicted on funerary equipment into the Ptolemaic and Roman eras, and the last known instances are found as late as the 4th century AD, well into the Christian era.






Reference Number

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ISBN 0-19-515401-0

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