Gods of ancient Egypt: Anhur

Anhur, Inhert, Onuris Anhurt, Inhert, Onuris Anhur, Inhert, Onuris
Anhur at Karnak copyright Steve F E Cameron

Anhur (Han-her, Inhert) is often known by his Greek name, Onuris. He was an ancient Egyptian god of war and hunting from This (in the Thinite region near Abydos) who defended his father (the sun god Ra) from his enemies (giving him the epithet "slayer of enemies"). He was one of the gods who stood at the front of the sun god's barque and defended him from Apep. He was the patron of the ancient Egyptian army, and the personification of royal warriors but also represented the creativity of man and so was not always a violent deity. During his festival the Egyptians held playful mock battles between the priests and the people in which they hit each other with sticks!

His name translates as "he who leads back the distant one" (although another possible translation is "Sky Bearer"). This name seems to refer to the legend that the "Eye of Ra" (his daughter who may be Hathor, Sekhmet, Tefnut, Mut, or Bast) abandoned Egypt and traveled to Nubia in the form of a ferocious lioness. But Ra missed her, and so he sent an envoy to bring her back. This legend is told about the great hunter and the leonine goddess Menhet. When the hunter caught her and persuaded her to return he was given the name Anhur and allowed to marry the Goddess. However, in one version of the story it was Shu who traveled to Nubia with Thoth and persuaded Tefnut to return.

Anhur is generally depicted as a striding king wearing a long kilt decorated with a feather-like pattern, a short wig topped by the uraeus (serpent) and a crown of four tall feathers. In some depcitions he holds his spear or lance (leading to the epithet "the lord of lances") above his head (imitating the determinative for words such as "strike") and in his left hand he holds a length of rope that probably relates to his role in bringing the "Eye of Ra" back to Egypt. Occasionally he is depicted without the spear or rope, but often his hands are in the position they would be in if he were carrying them.

He was a son of Ra, but was also considered to be the son of Hathor. As a war god, he was closely associated with Montu (Montju) (of Thebes) and Sopdu, and was associated with Ares (the Greek god of War) by both the Greeks and the Romans. Emperor Tiberius was depicted wearing the crown of Anhur on the walls of the temple of Kom Ombo (dedicated to Sobek and Horus). Although Anhur originated in This, his main center of worship was in the town of Sebennytos (modern Samannud) in the Delta, where he considered to be an aspect of the air god, Shu. As Anhur was a more popular god, he largely absorbed the attributes of the less favoured wind god.

He grew in popularity during the New Kingdom when he became more closely associated with Horus as the composite deity Horus-Anhur, the model warrior and the "saviour" of those in battle. The Nubians renamed Horus-Anhur as Ary-hes-nefer (also given as Arensnuphis, Arsnuphis, Harensnuphis) possibly meaning "Horus of the beautiful house". This deity was thought to be married to Isis, linking him to Osiris. The Pharaohs Nectanebo I and II (of the Thirtieth Dynasty, Late Period) built a temple to Onuris-Shu named Per-shu, the "house of Shu" (known as Peros), but it is thought that there may have been an earlier shrine in the area. Ptolemy IV Philopator and Ptolemy V Epiphanes built the temple of Ary-hes-nefer on the island of Philae (beside the temple of Isis. Silver and bronze amulets of the god have been discovered throughout Egypt.

copyright J Hill 2010
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