Maahes (Mahes, Mihos, Miysis, Mysis) was a solar war god who took the form of a lion. He was first referred to as a specific god in the Middle Kingdom but he remained fairly obscure until the New Kingdom. He seems to have been of foreign origin, and may have been an Egyptian version of Apedemak, the lion-god worshipped in Nubia.
His name can be translated directly as “(one who can) see in front”. However, the first part of his name is also the first part of the word “ma” (lion) as well as the verb “maa” (to see) and it is spelled with the symbol of a sickle for the sound “m”, linking it with the word Ma’at (truth or balance). As a result, another possible translation is “True Before Her” (referring to Ma’at).
Maahes was rarely referred to by name. Rather, he was usually referred to by his most common epithet, “The Lord of the Massacre”. He was given a number of other bloodcurdling titles including; “Wielder of the Knife”, “The Scarlet Lord” (referring to the blood of his victims) and “Lord of Slaughter”. Yet, he was not seen as a force of evil. He punished those who violated the rules of Ma’at and so promoted order and justice. Thus, he was also known as the “Avenger of Wrongs” and “Helper of the Wise Ones”.
The Greeks associated Maahes with the Furies (who were also potentially dangerous but not specifically evil) and gave him their epithet “The Kindly One,”
Lions were closely linked to royalty in Egyptian mythology and Maahes was considered to be the patron of the pharaoh. As such, he was described as the son of Bast (who could take the form of a lion or sand cat and was a patron of Lower Egypt) and the son of Sekhmet (who was usually depicted as a lioness and was a patron of Upper Egypt). His father was thought to be either Ptah or Ra (whichever was the chief god at that time).
Maahes was so closely associated with Nefertum (also a son of Bast or Sekhmet) that it is sometimes suggested that he was only an aspect of this god, who did occassionally take leonine form. This connection gives Maahes an association with perfumed oils which was sometimes indicated by the depiction of a bouquet of lotus flowers near to his image. He was also linked to Shemsu (also a lion headed god), Anhur (Onuris) (who was a god of war), and Shu (who could take the form of a lion).
The cult centre of Maahes was Leontopolis (Nay-ta-hut, “city of lions”) in Lower Egypt, where tame lions were lovingly cared for in his temple. He was also venerated in Djeba (Utes-Hor, Behde, Edfu), Iunet (Dendera), Per-Bast (Bubastis), and Nubia (particularly in Meroe). He appears as a son of the triad in Memphis alongside Nefertum and occasionally Imhotep.
Maahes was considered to be the personification of the burning heat of the sun, linking him to the goddesses who were given the title the “Eye of Ra” (including his mother, Sekhmet or Bast). By Greek times, he was described as a god of storms. Yet, despite his aggressive aspect, Maahes was also thought of as a protective deity. He helped protect Ra from Apep as he travelled into the underworld night and defended the pharaoh in battle. He was also considered to be the guardian of sacred places and a protector of the innocent.
Maahes was often depicted as a lion-headed man carrying a knife and wearing the Double Crown of Upper and Lower Egypt, the atef crown or a solar disk and Ureas (royal serpent). Less often, he was depicted as a lion devouring a victim.
Copyright J Hill 2010