Statue of Amun-Ra
Ancient Egyptian, Late Period (664 – 332 BC)
Denys Eyre Bower’s rare and fascinating Ancient Egyptian collection includes many images of the gods. Amulets of the gods were worn by worshippers in daily life or buried with their owners for protection. Small statues of the gods were used on household altars or donated to temples as an offering in return for good fortune. This month’s object is a small statue of the god Amun-Ra in bronze. He can be identified by his headdress which has in its centre the sun disk, and is topped by two tall feathers. He is wearing the ceremonial beard which was reserved for gods and pharaohs. In his raised hand he would have held a tall staff.
Side view of the statue
It could be argued that the god Amun, especially when he was combined with the sun god Ra to become Amun-Ra, was the most important of all the Ancient Egyptian gods. From as early as the Old Kingdom (around 2686 – 2181 BC) Amun was worshipped as one of the gods who was believed to have created the world. He also was believed to be the god of the winds and sailors prayed to him for good weather and for protection against storms. In the Middle Kingdom (around 2050 – 1710 BC) Amun became the patron god of the city of Thebes. The city became the capital of a unified Egypt, and so the Pharaohs decided to combine its patron god Amun with the god of the sun, Ra. The sun was believed to be the giver of all life in Ancient Egypt, which ruled over the world. It was therefore appropriate to combine the god of the new capital with the god of the sun. Amun-Ra was partnered with the goddess of motherhood, Mut (whose name translates literally as mother). Their son was believed to be Khonsu, the god of the moon.
Relief carving of Amun-Ra from the Karnak temple complex
Amun-Ra was honoured by the construction of the famous temple complex at Karnak on the east bank of the Nile. Amun-Ra became the king of all the gods, and he was worshipped and the Karnak temple complex added to and improved throughout the rest of Ancient Egyptian history and into the Roman period (around 300 BC to 30 BC). The priesthood of Amun-Ra was very powerful and came to own and dominate most of the network of temples in Ancient Egypt. Amun-Ra was considered so important that belief in him spread outside of Egypt, particularly to Libya and Nubia. In Greece he was believed to be another version of Zeus and became known as Zeus-Ammon.
Statue of Amun-Ra with gilded details, Late Period, British Museum Collections Online, museum number EA60006
Due to the size of this statue it is likely that it was either made to be placed on an altar within the home for protection, or for donation to a temple. Worshippers donated images of the gods to the temples in the hope that it would bring them favour and good fortune. As statues of the gods were considered sacred, the metal that made them was not later melted down and used, as was common with other metal objects. Instead because of the high volume of small statues that were donated to temples, the priests would often bury them or discard them in the precincts of a temple. Archaeologists find caches of small, beautifully made statues which were donated to temples. It was also common for people to donate mummified animals, particularly mummified cats as an offering to the cat-headed goddess Bastet. At one point in the 20th century when there was a boom in Egyptian archaeology, so many mummified cats were being dug up that they were just being discarded or shipped to England to be used as fertiliser!
This month’s object was researched by our work experience student, Harry Springett.
This object is just one of the many objects that form part of Denys Eyre Bower’s five impressive collections which include Ancient Egyptian, Japanese, Buddhist, Stuart and Jacobite, and Books. For more information on these objects, review our Object of the Month series, visit the Historic House and Collections or contact our Curator, Naomi Collick by email or by calling 01892 870347.
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