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Ancient Near

Journal of Ancient Near Eastern Religions 11 (2011) 109125


Demonology during the Late Pharaonic

and Greco-Roman Periods in Egypt
Rita Lucarelli
Book of the Dead Project, Bonn University, Germany
Visiting Scholar at the Institute for the Study of the Ancient World (ISAW),
New York University

his paper gives an overview of the beliefs in demons as perceived by the ancient Egyptians during the later phases of the Pharaonic period and under the Greco and Roman rule. It focuses in
particular on the so-called guardian demons represented and named on the walls of the Ptolemaic temples such as the temple of Hathor at Dendera. hese igures of protectors are in fact
later reinterpretations of the demonic guardians of the doors and regions of the netherworld as
described in the so-called Book of the Dead. hrough this and other examples taken from iconographic and textual sources mentioning demons, it is discussed how the conception and ritual
practices concerning demons changes signiicantly in Greco-Roman Egypt as compared to the
earlier Pharaonic period.
demonology, Greco-Roman Egypt, Ptolemaic temples, Book of the Dead

1. Ancient Egyptian Demons versus Greek Daimones

he latest phases of ancient Egyptian religion are characterized by an increasing need of magical protection against supernatural hostile forces. In particular, it is during the Late and Greco-Roman Periods that we can speak of
demonization of the supernatural world. Speaking of demonization in
ancient Egypt is however a scholarly convention. It does not mean the end of
the belief in the omnipotence of the oicial gods mentioned in the creation
accounts, but rather the rise of a myriad of intermediate spirits and morally
ambiguous beings, which can inluence daily life on earth as well as the
deceaseds journey in the Netherworld. In other words, we are not dealing
with a cultural process according to which new beliefs gain a prominent role
on the older: in fact, the older religious principles are combined and elaborated by the newer.
Koninklijke Brill NV, Leiden, 2011

DOI: 10.1163/156921211X603904


R. Lucarelli / Journal of Ancient Near Eastern Religions 11 (2011) 109125

Ancient Egyptian demonology of the Late Pharaonic and Greco-Roman

period is related to earlier religious beliefs, as attested in the magical and ritual
texts and iconography of the Old, Middle and New Kingdom. Because of the
highly allusive character of these early sources, it is not easy to deine ancient
Egyptian demons as an independent ontological category, distinguished from
the gods.1 Similar to gods, what we call demons have supernatural powers, can
be invoked for help in magical spells and may play a protective role for sacred
places. However, historically, they were not objects of cults until the Late
Period. Moreover, their range of action is generally limited and their role
rather ixed compared to the universal power of the gods. Finally, although
there are benevolent demons, as the guardians of holy places, demons may
have a hostile and aggressive function towards humankind more often than
the gods.
he use of the word demon, then, is a scholarly convention to ill the gap
existing in ancient Egyptian, which does not have a collective term that corresponds to the Greek daimon nor to the English pejorative term demon
(which in Christian tradition was connected to the devil). he Platonic idea of
daimon, as described in the Symposium,2 corresponds only in a broad sense to
the ancient Egyptian conception of these supernatural intermediary beings
acting between men and gods; as a matter of fact, also in Plato the term daimon is used with a certain ambiguity when considering its occurrences in
other works.3
One issue in the ontological characterization of demons, both in Egyptian
and Greek thought, concerns their physicality. In Egyptian funerary compositions many demons have bodies, generally of hybrid nature. he same can be
For a more detailed discussion on the deinition of demons in ancient Egypt, see my article
online in the UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology: http://escholarship.org/uc/item/1r72q9vv.
. . . . [daimones] are interpreters and ferrymen, carrying divine things to mortals and mortal
things to gods; requests and sacriices from below and commandments and answers from above.
Being midway between, [the daimones] make each half supplement the other, so that the whole
becomes uniied. hrough them are conveyed all divination (mantike) and all priestly crafts
concerning sacriices, initiations, incantations, all prophetic power (manteia) and magic. For the
divine does not mix with the mortal, and it is only through the mediation of [the daimones] that
mortals can have any interaction with the gods, either while awake or while asleep (202d,
13203a). Translation taken from Sarah Iles Johnston, Ancient Greek Divination,West Sussex
2008, pp. 910.
In Apology daimon is a lower deity, in Kratylos a departed soul, in Politeia and Phaidon
demons are said to be guardian spirits (see references in F. Brenk, In the Light of the Moon:
Demonology in the Early Imperial Period, ANRW II, 16.03, 1986, pp. 20682145, in particular pp. 20852087). For a study of demonology in the Greco-Roman world at large, see
J.Z. Smith, Towards Interpreting Demonic Powers in Hellenistic and Roman Antiquity,
ANRW 2.16.1 (1978), pp. 425439.

R. Lucarelli / Journal of Ancient Near Eastern Religions 11 (2011) 109125


seen in the iconography of demons of the ancient Near East,4 while in the
Christian sources evil demons are conceived as rather spiritual creatures, whose
physical manifestations can be the symbol of the human conlict with the
inner self. Even in the traditional iconography of the Christian hermit and
saint facing the demons temptations, such as Saint Anthony, where demons
are represented as monstrous creatures, we should indeed remember that the
concern of the hermit was with the incoherencies of his own soul more than
with supernatural creatures.5
In contrast, Homer and some early Greek folk beliefs seem to recall the
ancient Egyptian conception of demons as independent entities belonging to
the outside world. In his Greeks and the Irrational, E.R. Dodds proposes that
Plato actually had re-elaborated an older popular belief, already present in
Homer,6 according to which demons are not part of the inner self but rather
the contrary; namely, they personify external supernatural powers provoking
, disgrace or madness, which plays a central role in the tragedy of Aeschylus.7 he basic meaning of the Greek verb is indeed to be possessed and refers to the action of a generally evil demon on a body or a place.8
As Brenk has proposed in his study on Greco-Roman demonology,9 we may
better speak of daimonology as far as the early Greek intellectual tendency to
interpret intermediate supernatural beings is concerned. he daimon mentioned irst in the folk Homeric tradition is basically an impersonal nature
spirit,10 which is only later encompassed into the Platonic idea of a soul

See iconographical examples in: J. Black and A. Green, Gods, Demons and Symbols of Ancient
Mesopotamia. An Illustrated Dictionary, British Museum Press, London 1992, pp. 6465.
P. Brown, he Making of Late Antiquity, Harvard University Press 1978, p. 89, cited in
G.A. Smith, How hin is a Demon, Journal of Early Christian Studies 16, (Winter 2008),
pp. 479512; especially interesting, at pp. 47980, is the quotation of a curious passage on
Origens greedy demons feeding on blood exhalations and becoming thick like a cloud; visibility is a synonym of impurity in such a context. On monastic demonology at large see D. Brakke,
Demons and the Making of the Monk: Spiritual Combat in Early Christian Egypt, Cambridge
See F.A. Wilford, Daimon in Homer, Numen 12:3 (September 1965), pp. 217232.
Cf. for instance the passage: , possessed by a demon while being in
disgrace, Eschl. heb. 1006.
See the passage: a , the house is possessed by an evil demon, Eschl.,
Ch. 566. For further possible origins of the word see G.J. Riley in: K. van der Toorn, B. Becking,
P.W. van der Horst (eds.), Dictionary of Deities and Demons in the Bible, Leiden 1999, p. 235.
See fn. 3 above.
Especially in the Odyssey, a daimon (always mentioned individually and never as a collective) may act similar to the gods but, diferently from the latter, it remains anonymous and


R. Lucarelli / Journal of Ancient Near Eastern Religions 11 (2011) 109125

belonging to an individual and having mostly a psychic inluence, in contrast

to the anthropomorphic gods.11
herefore, daimonology difers from the demonology of the Near Eastern
beliefs, which deals more clearly with a category of demons manifesting as
hybrid, animal or anthropomorphic creatures and being occasionally the
object of apotropaic rites in order to control their ambiguous inluence on
humankind. However, Near Eastern demonology inluenced Greek thought in
the representation of potentially evil spirits in animal and hybrid forms, with
birds or snakes body components.12 We may think, for instance, of the occurrence in Greece, since the 14th Century BCE, of the igure of the Assyrian
griin-demon, which was often paired with the sphinx.13

2. he Iconography of Demons
In the ancient Mediterranean cultures, fantastic animals like the griin and
the sphinx belong to the iconography of the demonic, and demonic bodies are
often connected to the idea of the monstrous. However, what appears as grotesque in our eyes, like multiple animal heads on a human body, may represent the natural combination of certain religious symbols, rather than the
construction of evil through ugliness (as some art historians suggest.)14 For
instance, in the iconography of ancient Egyptian demons, polymorphism
derives from the composite hieroglyphic style of representation itself, as
employed also for the gods depictions.15 During the Graeco-Roman Period,
polymorphic images of gods and demons increase within magical and ritual
Brenk, op. cit., pp. 21402141.
Among the Greek authors, Plutarch has been one of the irst, in his De defectu oraculorum, to speak of the oriental inluence on the Greek thought.
See Black and Green, op. cit., pp. 99101. On the Near Eastern inluence on Greek
demonology see W. Burkert, he Orientalizing Revolution, Cambridge 1992, and its later review
in S. Iles Johnston, Deining the dreadful: remarks on the Greek child-killing demon, in:
M. Meyer and P. Mirecki (eds.), Ancient Magic and Ritual Power, Leiden 1995, pp. 361387.
See for instance G. Bazins remarks in: he Devil in Art (in: Witchcraft and Demonology
in Art and Literature, ed. By B.P. Levack, Vol. 12, London 1992, pp. 2543), who recognized a
demonic style in art (images of mythological representations of the Arch-enemy showing ugliness, plurality, chaos), which was en vogue in the Eastern civilizations and which he sets in contrast to the Greek art, free from diabolic inluence (p. 29: the Greek genius salvaged the
divine element from the demonic animalism which still surrounds it in the idols of Egypt and
Babylon and found the most perfect form in creation to embody it, the only form in which a
spark of the divine intelligence shinesMan).
See E. Hornung, Komposite Gottheiten in der gyptischen Ikonographie, in: Images as
media. Sources for the cultural history of the Near East and the Eastern Mediterranean (1st millennium BCE), Orbis Biblicus et Orientalis (OBO) 175, pp. 120.


R. Lucarelli / Journal of Ancient Near Eastern Religions 11 (2011) 109125


contexts related to the temple.16 Starting from the irst millennium BCE, a
greater number of representations of multiple-headed igures can be noted. A
representative example is that of the divine and demonic epithet h rw, with
many faces, which is attested since the Middle Kingdom, but becomes especially popular during the Late and Greco-Roman periods.17 he same epithet
is used for the irst time on a coin of the 22nd Dynasty, where it refers to a
triple headed igure of the god Ash.18 his was a god of Libyan origin that in
Egypt became a manifestation of Seth and which in its earliest depictions is
represented with a single head, human or sethian.19 he later representation of
Ash with three heads is a typical example of how polymorphism becomes an
important feature of the religious iconography in late Pharaonic religion,
which will then inluence the iconography of magical amulets in the Greek
and Roman world.20
he hybrid forms characterizing the iconography of demons in sources of
the Late and Greco-Roman period in Egypt do not intrinsically denote evil as
in Western imagery. hose body parts that, at irst sight, may seem to be
superluous,21 are instead the visual manifestation of multiple powers and
can be connected to the phenomenon of the pantheistic gods of late Egyptian religion.22

See remarks of H.G. Fischer, he Ancient Egyptian Attitude Towards the Monstrous,
in: Fs. Porada, pp. 1226. Among the Graeco-Roman temples in Egypt, that of Hibis in
El-Kharga shows the most various repertory of polymorphic igures; cf. examples listed in Hornung, op. cit., p. 19.
See references in C. Leitz (ed.), Lexicon der gyptischen Gtter und Gtterbezeichnungen,
OLA 110116, 7 vols., Leuven 2002, Vol. II, pp. 218219 (from now onwards: LGG).
Multiple heads apply to devils and evil creatures of Western folklore as well: curiously
enough, in the 16th Centurys Cosmographia of the German cartographer Sebastian Mnster, a
so-called idol evoked by a witch has a tripartite head which reminds of that of Ash and, as in
the depiction of the latter on the mentioned coin, it depicts a lion, a snake and a vulture.
See depictions in the 5th Dynasty temple of Sahure at Abusir: Newberry in JEA 14 (1928),
pp. 220221 (ig. 12).
On the Egyptian inluence on Greco-Roman amulets see C. Bonner, Studies in Magical
Amulets, chiely Graeco-Egyptian, Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press 1950, in particular
pp. 2226.
On the overdeinition and underdetermination of the demonic bodies in antiquity see
J.Z. Smith, op. cit., pp. 429430.
On a recent discussion on the pantheistic gods in late Egypt see J.F. Quack, he so-called
Pantheos on Polimorphic Deities in Late Egyptian Religion, Egyptus et Pannonia 3, 2006,
pp. 175186, with bibliography.


R. Lucarelli / Journal of Ancient Near Eastern Religions 11 (2011) 109125

3. Ancient Egyptian Demonology and the Representation of Evil

All supernatural beings in Egypt, whether of the demon or god category,
could function both benevolently and malevolently towards people (and each
other). In mythical narratives, the malevolence of gods is generally a consequence of their angriness and functions as a punishment of humankind.23
Demons can also be an instrument of divine punishment; however, there are
also demonic creature whose malevolence is out of the godscontrol, what we
can call truly evil demons.
he concept of evil in ancient Egypt is approximated in the principle of
Isfet, chaos, the opposite of Maat, the principle and goddess of cosmic and
social Justice, Order and Truth. Isfet, however, was thought of as a natural
state in the world, since some elements of chaos were necessary for survival
and could be harnessed but not deinitely eliminated, similar to the process of
Death and Rebirth. herefore we may speak of a cosmotheistic conception
of good and evil (using Jan Assmanns terminology), which implies that the
principle of Maat/good keeps the world ongoing, while Isfet/evil attempts to
stop this natural cycle. he whole conception is symbolized, in the religious
iconography and texts, by two main mythological processes: the sun god Re
travelling in a boat from night into day and from the underworld to the sky,
being repetitively attacked by the giant-snake Apophis, and Osiriss eternal
process of death and rebirth, as celebrated in the temple and funerary
Apophis, symbol of cosmic evil, is not himself a demon but rather a cosmic
arch-enemy, yet at the same time he shares with the demons two main qualities, which have been mentioned before: he does not have a cult, and his
actions and power of inluence are directed towards a well-deined and limited
aim, in contrast to the gods who can use their supernatural power over an
extended and indeinite range.25
A popular example is the tale of the Destruction of Mankind, where Hathors turns into
a bloodthirsty Sekhmet and it is send by Ra on earth in order to destroy humanity; see
W.K. Simpson (ed.), he Literature of Ancient Egypt: An Anthology of Stories, Instructions, Stelae,
Autobiographies, and Poetry, New Haven 2003, pp. 289298.
J. Assmann, Of God and Gods. Egypt, Israel, and the Rise of Monotheism, Wisconsin 2008,
p. 33. his idea seems to have been received also by the Neoplatonic Jamblichos, who in his On
the Egyptian Mysteries (late 3rd Century CE) writes: Everything remains stable and ever new,
because the course of the sun has never been halted; everything remains perfect and complete,
because the mysteries in Abydos have never been uncovered (Iamblichus, De mysteriis Aegyptiorum, 187188, cited in Assmann, op. cit.). he mysteries of Abydos are those of Osiris whose
process of death and rebirth should not be disturbed.
Cf. remarks of D. Kurth, SUUM CUIQUE. Zum Verhltnis von Dmonen und
Gttern im alten gypten, in: A. Lange, H. Lichtenberger, K.F.D. Rmheld (eds.), Die

R. Lucarelli / Journal of Ancient Near Eastern Religions 11 (2011) 109125


Demons do not occur in ancient Egyptian creation accounts.26 he main

sources from which we learn about demons are instead the magical spells,
which have the practical aim of protecting from dangers on earth and in the
afterlife and are found on a vast range of amuletic, funerary objects and statues. Also, demons occur in iconographic and textual sources decorating tombs
and temple walls, especially in the Ptolemaic Period.
In ancient Egypt benevolent demons comprise the various guardians of certain regions of the netherworld, who however can turn malevolent towards
those who do not know the magical spells needed to face and greet them.
hese guardians are part of the vast legion of the inhabitants of a subterranean
afterlife, where the sun god descended during his journey in the netherworld
in order to unite with the deceased body of Osiris. hey have been deined as
apotropaic gods by H. Altenmller,27 but demon works better, considering that their sphere of inluence is circumscribed to the places that they guard.
Only within a temple context (as we will discuss later) do they gain the status
of gods. hese guardians are named with epithets that usually refer to some
fear-inspiring detail of their faces or characters, and their outward appearances
are typical of demonic beings inhabiting the netherworld: animal head (crocodile, lion, ram, bull, hare, scarab, vulture, ibis, snake or turtle) on anthropomorphic bodies. hey are depicted sitting or standing and holding weapons in
their hands, especially knives.
In contrast, malevolent demons comprise those wandering creatures that
provoke misfortune on earth and menace the deceased during his journey in
the netherworld. hey can be sent by gods in order to fulill speciic tasks, like
the h ty.w, the slaughterers, the my.w, the wanderers and the wpwty.w,
the messengers.28 hese demonic gangs can wreak general havoc among
people and assault passers-by, as we read in the magical texts of the Pharaonic
period and later.29 In these ways they resemble the somewhat impersonal and

DmonenDemons. Die Dmonologie der israelitisch-jdischen und frhchristlichen Literatur im

Kontext ihrer Umwelt, Tbingen 2003, pp. 4560.
he same absence of demons from myths can be found in other ancient religions. In Greek
combat myths like the Titanomachy of Hesiodic tradition, gods struggle against other categories of supernatural beings like Titans or Giants, while demons seem more easily subdued to the
gods will and even turn into divine helpers; cf. J. Drig & O. Gigon, Der Kampf der Gtter und
Titanen, Olten 1961 and Brenk, op. cit., p. 2094.
See H. Altenmueller, Gotter, apotropaeische, in: W. Helk and W. Westendorf (eds.),
Lexikon der Aegyptologie, II, Wiesbaden 1977, pp. 635640; Altenmller distinguishes very
vaguely apotropaic gods from demons on the basis of their schrfer konturierte Gestalt.
he bibliography on these demonic gangs is numerous; see references in LGG.
J.F. Borghouts, Ancient Egyptian Magical Texts, Leiden 1978, pp. 13, 15, 20.


R. Lucarelli / Journal of Ancient Near Eastern Religions 11 (2011) 109125

uncanny forces that we ind in some Homeric passages as well as in the Greek
At irst sight, beliefs in the wandering demons do not seem to change
signiicantly in the course of Pharaonic history. he corpora of the funerary
texts where they are mentioned, like the Pyramid Texts, Coin Texts and
Book of the Dead as well as magical spells for daily use on earth are copied
repeatedly on monuments, mortuary objects and papyri from the end of the
hird Millennium until the Roman period. However, at a certain point in
history, the number of apotropaic spells and amulets for warding of the
malevolent inluence of the wandering demons in daily life increases, showing
that the power of these demons was now felt more consistently on earth than
in the netherworld.

4. Seth and the Demonization of the Foreigners

Starting from the hird Intermediate Period (dynasties 2124, ca. 1540750
BCE), there arises a tendency to explain all kind of unlucky happenings by
reference to some evil demonic inluence on mankind, so that we can speak of
a demonization of everyday life. In this same period foreigners entering Egypt
(mainly the Assyrians) begin to be represented more strongly and clearly as
Foreigners had always been traditionally associated with the enemies
who bring chaos into the social order and who need to be submitted to the
power of the Pharaoh, the Guarantor of Order, as we can see in the iconography of the king smiting an enemy in the Narmer Palette (dating from about
the beginning of the II millennium BC).31 By the New Kingdom the enemy
of cosmic/social order included both foreigners and various wild animals,
especially reptiles. Apotropaic iconography from this period onwards, especially on the Horus cippi, begins to conigure the Pharaoh or a god as one who
tramples such wild animals.32
In ancient Egypt Seth (Greek Typhon) was a god traditionally related to the
desert and foreign lands and associated with Semitici.e., foreigngods like
On Homer, see Wilford, op. cit. For passages occurring in Greek tragedies, see references
in fn. 78 above.
he image of the Pharaoh smiting the enemy has not only an apotropaic magical value but
it is also a powerful political icon deining the attitude of the Egyptian state towards the foreigners who may invade it; cf. remarks of J. Assmann, op. cit., pp. 28f.
On the symbology of the Horus stelae see J. Quaegebeur, Divinits gyptiennes sur des
animaux dangereux, in: LAnimal, lhomme, le dieu dans le Proche-orient ancient. Actes du Colloque de Cartigny 1981, Leuven 1985, pp. 131143.

R. Lucarelli / Journal of Ancient Near Eastern Religions 11 (2011) 109125


Baal and Reshef.33 He was also revered as a militant protector-god who stood
on the prow of the solar ship and speared the giant snake Apophis; and in this
role seems to have been revered in temples in the Dakhleh Oasis and the
Fayyum.34 Seths worship was especially favored by the Hyksos kings ruling
during the Second Intermediate Period as well as by the Ramesside kings. But
subsequently (following the hird Intermediate Period), his name was erased
on many monuments and there is no evidence of temples devoted to this god,
a phenomenon which may be related to this demonization of the foreigners.
Among his many roles in myths and religious traditions of the Pharaonic
period, that one of god of the foreigners seems to have been especially highlighted in the later times. In a papyrus dating to the 30th Dynasty (380343
BCE) that reports a ritual for overthrowing Seth and his crew,35 it is said that
the god returned from Asia to Egypt in order to destroy its temples and kill
the sacred animals. his story may have metaphorically referred to the second
Persian invasion of Artaxerxes III in Egypt (343332 BC), an episode recorded
with negative tones in the Egyptian documents.36
Despite evidence of Seth cults in the Western oases as well as in the Fayyum
in the Roman period, many magical and ritual texts from the Late and Ptolemaic periods depict him as a negative god to be repelled and as a destroyer
(referring to his mythic conlict with Horus).37 Seth became therefore the
On Seth and his multi-faceted role in the Egyptian religion see H. te Velde, Seth, God of
Confusion: A Study on his role in Egyptian mythology and religion, Probleme der gyptologie VI,
Leiden 1967. See also H. Brunner, Seth und ApophisGegengtter im gyptischen Pantheon?, Saeculum 34 (1983), pp. 226234.
On the cult of Seth in the oases, see O. Kaper, Temples and Gods in Roman Dakhleh: Studies in the Indigenous Cults of an Egyptian Oasis, Ph.D. Dissertation, Rijksuniversiteit Groningen,
1997, Ch. 3; on a village of Seth in the Fayyum see P. Gallo, he Wandering Personnel of
the Temple of Narnouthis in the Fayum and some Toponyms of the Meris of Polemon, in:
J.H. Johnson (ed.), Life in a Multi-Cultural Society: Egypt from Cambyses to Constantine and
Beyond, SAOC 51, Chicago 1992. Cf. also D. Frankfurter, Religion in Roman Egypt: Assimilation
and resistance, Princeton 1998, pp. 112115. he beliefs in demons and demonic gods in the
Western oases during the Late Period would be especially worth of attention, given the isolated
religious and ritual life in these areas when compared to the Valley.
Cf. Urk. VI = S. Schott, Urkunden Mythologischen Inhalts II, Leipzig 1939; cited in
Y. Koenig, he image of foreigner in the magical texts, in: P.I.M. Kousoulis, K. Magliveras
(eds.), Moving across borders: foreign relations, religion and cultural interactions in the ancient Mediterranean, Orientalia Lovaniensia analecta (OLA), pp. 223238, in particular p. 234, fn. 62.
Koenig, op. cit.
Plutarchs De Iside is one of the central classical sources on which the identiication of Seth
with Typhon is based. Cf. J.G. Griiths, he Conlict of Horus and Seth from Egyptian and Classical Sources, Liverpool 1960. With the role of iconoclast and god of chaos Seth is mentioned also
in Ovids Metamorphoses, bk. 3, no. 5 and in other ancient authors, cited in K.A.D. Smelik and
E.A. Hemelrijk, Who knows not what monsters demented Egypt worships? Opinions on
Egyptian Animal Worship in Antiquity as Part of the Ancient Conception of Egypt, in ANWR


R. Lucarelli / Journal of Ancient Near Eastern Religions 11 (2011) 109125

target of execration rituals, which earlier were addressed to malevolent demons.

he ritual of overthrowing Seth and his crew is a signiicant example of this
phenomenon; its irst verses read: Let a igure of Seth be brought made of red
wax, his name inscribed on its breast, saying: Seth, the miserable.38
While in the earlier periods these execration rituals had a purely apotropaic
function, it seems that from the Late Period onwards they gained a more
political sense, what Assmann has called the politicization of evil.39 In
Greco-Roman Egypt, with its conluence of foreign settlers and rulers, the
idea of an evil god like Seth became indeed a symbol of the ight against religious and political repression under foreign rulers.
here were several demons and demonic animals associated with Seth, such
as the donkey and the pig, both considered as impure, and depictions representing the deceased or the Pharaoh warding them of frequent the walls of
late tombs and temples.40 Foreigners, demons, and demonic animals were
believed to be disease-bringers and certain diseases, especially concerning the
skin, like leprosy, were considered to be of foreign origin and were given
Semitic names. hese kinds of diseases seem to have been spreading in Egypt
over the late New Kingdom and hird Intermediate Period, perhaps from
other cultures, and in the so-called Oracular Amuletic Decrees they have
foreign names41 and are listed together with a series of other dangerous beings
(evil spirits, the damned dead, and ghosts) to be warded of.42 he demonic
2.17.4 (1984), 192081. A religious festival devoted to Seth, the Typhonia, is attested at
Dendera in the 2nd Century CE: see Fr. Perpillou-homas, Ftes dgypte Ptolmaque et Romaine
daprs la Documentation Papyrologique Grecque, Studia Hellenistica 31, Lovanii 1993, p. 150.
A longer section of this spell is cited in Assmann, op. cit., p. 49. On the execration texts, see
R. Ritner, he Mechanics of Ancient Egyptian Magical Practice, Studies in Ancient Oriental Civilization 54, Chicago 2008, pp. 136f.
Assmann, op. cit., p. 50.
In Hellenistic and Roman Egypt however, pig sacriices are attested during the religious
festivals, in particular as oferings to Demeter and Isis: see G. Nachtergael, Un moule cubique
de lgypte Romaine, in: W. Clarysse, A. Schoors and H. Willems (eds.), Egyptian Religion. he
Last housand Years. Studies Dedicated to the Memory of Jan Quaegebeur, OLA 84, Leuven 1998,
pp. 159177, in particular pp. 164166; Fr. Perpillou-homas, op. cit., pp. 203209. Donkey
sacriices are documented in the same periods at Deir el Bahri: A. Lajtar, Deir el-Bahari in the
Hellenistic and Roman Periods: A Study of an Egyptian Temple Based on Greek Sources, Journal of
Juristic Papyrology Supplements 4, Warsaw 2006. Nevertheless, the religious taboo related to
the typhonic nature of these animals remains efective within the Egyptian religious milieu,
especially in the ritual and magical texts and iconography.
he most popular of all is smn, according to the Egyptian transcription of the Sumerian
and Akkadian samanu; cf. LGG VI, 343 and J.F. Borghouts, Lexicographical Aspects of Magical Texts, in: S. Grunert (ed.), Textcorpus und Wrterbuch. Aspekte zur gyptischen Lexikographie, Probleme der gyptologie 14, Leiden 1999, pp. 149177, in particular p. 163.
he Oracular Amuletic Decrees consisted in strips of papyrus inscribed with magical
spells, brought on the neck as amulets by the new born; they are published by I.E.S. Edwards,

R. Lucarelli / Journal of Ancient Near Eastern Religions 11 (2011) 109125


nature of the samana-illness is explicit in a magical spell of the Ramesside

period, where it is written repeatedly: I have outfaced you, samana-demon!.43
In a text of the Greco-Roman period from the temple of Esna, the entrance of
those afected by this kind of diseases is forbidden through a formula which
recalls the Amuletic Decrees;44 the people under the inluence of the foreign
illness are described as possessed by a demon and are associated with those
individuals whose body became the domain of a dead, a particularly aggressive
god or even a curse.
he concept of the impurity of the foreigner/demon is central to the
understanding of the Egyptian rituals in the later periods and during the Persian invasions.45 he increasing anxiety about puriication of the Egyptian
world and the need to keep the social order symbolized by the institution of
the temple leads to the creation of apotropaic gods and demons, which act as
genii of the temple or as protectors of the household. One especially important such god was the lion-headed dwarf-god Bes, whose iconography would
inspire the apotropaic Bes pantheos that appears on many Greco-Egyptian

5. he Guardian Demons in the Graeco-Roman Temples and the Book

of the Dead
Among the vast repertoire of apotropaic igures decorating the ancient Egyptian temples of the Graeco-Roman period, a special role is played by the
guardians and protectors of entrances and liminal zones and especially of the
god Osiris in his death and rebirth, appearing in those spaces dedicated to this
mythology.47 hese guardians can be included among the benevolent
Hieratic Papyri in the British Museum. Fourth Series. Oracular Amuletic Decrees of the Late New
Kingdom, 2 vols., London 1960. See also my article Popular Beliefs in Demons in the Lybian
Period: the Evidence of the Oracular Amuletic Decrees, in: Broekman G.P.F., Demare R.J.,
Kaper O.E., he Libyan Period in Egypt. Historical and Cultural Studies into the 21st24th Dynasties: Proceedings of a Conference at Leiden University, 2527 October 2007, Egyptologische Uitgaven 23, Leiden 2009, pp. 231239.
PLeiden I 343+345, translated in J.F. Borghouts, op.cit., pp. 1921, n. 24.
S. Sauneron, Les Possds, BIFAO 60 (1960), 1115, cited in Koenig, op. cit., p. 235.
Koenig, op. cit., pp. 236237.
On the central role of Bes as protective and apotropaic god see Frankfurter, op. cit.,
pp. 124131; S. Sauneron, Le papyrus magique illustr de Brooklyn [Brooklyn Museum 47.218.156],
New York 1970; J. Assmann, Magic and heology in Ancient Egypt, in: P. Schfer and
H.G. Kippenberg (eds.), Envisioning Magic. A Princeton Seminar and Symposium, Studies in the
history of religions 75, Leiden 1997, pp. 118.
On the concept of liminality in relation to demons see W. Brashears Exkursus bergnge,
Grenzen, Niemandsland in Zauberformular, Archiv fr Papyrusforshung und verwandte
Gebiete 36 (1990), pp. 4974, in particular pp. 6174.


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demons that, during the Pharaonic period, functioned as watchers of doors

and gates in the netherworld. he iconography, names and qualities of the
guardians depicted in these late temples were not created de novo by priestly
theologians but rather were adapted from demonic beings associated with the
imagery of the beyond, in mortuary papyri and objects of the earlier Pharaonic
he special connection between temples and tombs has been the topic of
some important recent studies, in particular the work of the Hungarian scholar
Lzl Kkosy.48 Kkosy argued that the occurrence of funerary texts and representations in Greco-Roman temples of Egypt, including afterlife guardians,
indicates that in these periods the concept of mortal gods, namely the belief
in gods that, similar to humans, can turn old and die, had become more central to the religious dimension of the Egyptians. It is more likely, however,
that the appearance of afterlife guardians in this new context derives from
the need to defend the temple (and by extension the Egyptian cosmos) from
his interpretation explains the special selection of Spells 144 to 147 from
the Book of the Dead for the decoration of certain temple rooms. hese texts
and their accompanying illustrations depict demonic inhabitants of the netherworld acting as door-guardians.50 In this new context, the original function
of these creatures as watchers of the beyond shifts into that of genii protecting
particularly important spaces of the temple. hese guardian-demon spells are
typical of the temples of the Late Period, while in temples of the classical
Pharaonic period (New Kingdom) the most well-attested Book of the Dead
spells are those concerning the ritual oferings (Spells 148 and 110).
Of the many ancient Egyptian temples in which they appear, these Book of
the Dead spells illustrating the guardians occur in their most complete version

See L. Kkosy, Temple and Funerary Beliefs in the Graeco-Roman Epoch, 1972. A very interesting contribution to this topic was made at the Totenbuch Symposium 1999 by A. von Lieven
and should be published in OBO series: Book of the Dead, Book of the Living. Book of the
Dead Spells as Temple Texts.
he idea of apotropaic guardians with demonic nature guarding temples and palaces and
generally having a hybrid or beastly appearance is one of the major common traits between
Egyptian and Near Eastern religions; the same apotropaic principle was probably expressed also
by the Greek guardian statues mentioned in the Odyssey as a creation of Hephaestus (7.9194);
see C.A. Faraone, Talismans and Trojan Horses. Guardian Statues in Ancient Myth and Ritual,
New York 1982, pp. 1835.
A detailed study on the guardian demons depicted in these spells has been published in:
R. Lucarelli, he guardian-demons of the Book of the Dead, British Museum Studies in
Ancient Egypt and Sudan (BMSAES) 15 (2010), pp. 85102. Online version: http://www

R. Lucarelli / Journal of Ancient Near Eastern Religions 11 (2011) 109125


in the so-called Osirian chapels on the roof of the temple of Hathor at

Dendera,51 which was built between 54 and 20 BCE on the site of a pre-existing
temple of the Pharaonic Period.52 In general, the cult activities taking place on
the rooftop gain a prominent role and refer to the sun god as dispenser of light
and life. he fact that in Dendera the chapels are instead devoted to Osiris
may be explained by the role that the latter plays as fertility god.53
he importance of these rooms for late demonology has never been taken
into account. he choice of introducing a speciic selection of Book of the
Dead spells (Spells 144, 145, 146 and 149) within the ritual context of the
Osirian chapels shows that certain demons, which in earlier periods were only
conceived within a mortuary context, are now believed to be efective also in
a temple context.

6. Gods Controlling Demons, or Demonized Gods

In the temple of Dendera the afterlife guardians are surrounded by other protective deities and apotropaic igures, representative of ancient Egyptian
demonology in the Greco-Roman period. Among others, one notes the socalled Seven Arrows (srw) of the lion goddess Bastet.54 Unlike the afterlife
guardians (male igures with animal-head and holding knives or lances in their
hands),55 the Seven Arrows do not appear in earlier texts but they are mentioned
on many documents of the Late and Ptolemaic periods and their place of

An extract of Spell 146 occurs also in the temple of Hibis at El Kharga, while Spell 144 was
already present in the Osireion of Abydos. For a translation and commentary of the texts of the
Osirian chapels in Dendera, see S. Cauville, Le temple de Dendara : les chapelles osiriennes ; transcription et traduction, commentaire, index, Bibliothque dtude 117119, Cairo 1997 (from
now onwards abbreviated in Cauville, Chapelles, BdE 117119).
H.I. Amer and B. Moradet, Les dates de la construction du temple majeur dHathor
Dendara lpoque grco-romaine, ASAE 69 (1984), pp. 255258.
In the temple of Horus at Edfu the roof chapels have a similar structure and plant as those
of Dendera but ist decoration is lost so that we cannot establish their function anymore. Also in
the temple of Kharga the roof chapels may be similar to those of Dendera but there is no trace
of a relationship with Osiris. See S. Cauville, Les mysteres dOsiris Dendera: Interpretation
des chapelles osiriennes, Bulletin de la Socit Franaise dEgyptologie (BSFE) 112 (1988),
pp. 2336 (1988) and W. Waitkus, Die Dachkapellen des Edfu-Tempels , dans D. Kurt (d.),
Die Inschriften des Tempels von Edfu 5, Wiesbaden, 1999, pp. 147161.
Dendera X, 357359: Cauville, Chapelles, BdE 117, pp. 194f.
See for example O. Kaper, he Egyptian God Tutu: A Study of the Sphinx-God and Master
of Demons with a Corpus of Monuments, OLA 119, Leuven 2003, p. 61, S 28, on a piece kept in
the Brooklyn Museum.


R. Lucarelli / Journal of Ancient Near Eastern Religions 11 (2011) 109125

origin seems to be Bubastis in the Delta, the cult center of the goddess Bastet.56
Also, while the guardians of the netherworld are linked to the places they
guard, the Arrows are mobile, like those malevolent gangs of wandering
demons sometimes sent by gods.57
he Arrows are especially controlled by aggressive protective/apotropaic
deities like Sakhmet, Neith, Bastet and Tutu. Because of their aggressive powers, such demonic gangs are usually under the authority of a god to maintain
control of them and direct them to the proper target. For this reason, in the
monuments of the Greco-Roman period we begin to note an enlarging of the
apotropaic pantheon, even though some apotropaic gods (like Bes and Tauret) were already popular during the Pharaonic period.
Along with temples and ritual papyri, one important witness to the invocation of such protective demons is the monolithic naoi, from the 30th Dynasty
especially. hese were temple shrines carved out of single pieces of stone and
whose decoration may include rows of protective deities and demons like the
hese traditions of inscribing naoi with images of demon gangs are then
taken up on shrines of the Greco-Roman period. One in particular, from the
time of Domitian, portrays the Arrows as commanded by the sphinx god
Tutu.59 his monument exempliies how apotropaic gods like Tutu in this
period gain importance in relation to the gangs of demonic beings that they
control, more than being venerated on their own. Here and on other monuments of the Greco-Roman period Tutu gains the title Master of Demons.60
Clear evidence of the demonic character of apotropaic gods like Tutu is
their composite iconography: the demons which they control are integrated in

See bibliography in Cauville, Chapelles BdE 118., Vol. 2, p. 170, fn. 353. he earliest
appearance of the Arrows dates back, however, to the 22nd Dynasty (stela of Osorkon I); cf.
V. Rondot, Une monographie bubastite, BIFAO 89 (1989), pp. 249270, in particular
pp. 264f.
However, each of the seven Arrows is associated to a mound (Egyptian .t) on the stela
of Osorkon II and on the naos of Nectanebo II (see Rondot, op. cit., p. 253); the .w.t associated
to demons who guard them are the main topic of Spell 149 of the Book of the Dead: see
R. Lucarelli, M. Mller and S. Tpfer, Totenbuch 149, SAT, Bonn (forthcoming).
Cf. N. Spencer, A Naos of Nekhthorheb from Bubastis: religious iconography and temple
building in the 30th Dynasty, British Museum Research Publication 156, London 2006, in particular pp. 19f.; Rondot, op. cit.
V. Rondot, Le naos de Domitien, Toutou et les sept leches, BIFAO 90 (1990),
pp. 303337.
On the iconography and function of Tutu see the comprehensive study of O. Kaper,
op. cit.

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their own bodies. In the case of Tutu, animal heads representing the Arrows
can be found added on his crown.61
he irst of Tutus Seven Arrows, generally represented with a crocodilehead and called great of strength, ph ty in Egyptian, seems to have been
worshipped on his own as a god in Ptolemaic and Roman Egypt.62 His name
was also transliterated in Greek as Apathes and used as personal name.63 In
some instances, the name of this demon is determined by the gods hieroglyph
i, showing his divine nature. But in his reptilian forms, ph ty is also included
in the composite manifestation of Tutu.
he veneration of Tutu and Apathes in separate cults brings us another
feature typical of Egyptian demonology in these later periods: that demons
can receive a cult and they become gods. he Egyptian term for god (ntr) or
great god (ntr ), occurs often with the invocations to the Seven Arrows.64
he upgrading of supernatural beings from the status of demons to that of
gods occurs by virtue of these creatures double nature. On the one hand, they
are dangerous demons, bringers of illness and death; on the other hand, they
can also act as benevolent genii protecting those who know the magic spells
that neutralize their malevolence.65 Such a process seems to occur with the
h ty.w demons. In Pharaonic sources, these messenger-demons appear only in
apotropaic lists of dangerous beings as disease-bringers, to be warded of. But

See for instance the representation of the head of the god on a fragment from a temple wall
from Athribis, where the anthropomorphic head of Tutu is crowned by the animal forms represented also by the Arrows: Kaper, op. cit., pp. 260262. See also S. Sauneron, Le nouveau
sphinx composite du Brooklyn Museum et le rle du dieu Toutou-Tithos, JNES 19, no. 4
(1960), pp. 269287.
He is depicted also on the astronomical ceiling of the wabet in the Roman temple of Shenhur in Upper Egypt; see O. Neugebauer and R.A. Parker, Egyptian Astronomical Texts 3: Decans,
Planets, Constellations and Zodiacs, Brown Egyptological Studies 6, Providence 1969, Pl. 40A 9
(the decoration was probably made under Caligula).
A Ptolemaic stela from Karnak is devoted to ph ty, irst arrow of Mut: N. Grimal,
Travaux de lInstitut franais darchologie orientale en 19901991, BIFAO 91 (1991),
pp. 265345, in particular p. 328; a priest of Apathes lived in Memphis and is mentioned on a
shabtis: J. Yoyotte, Une monumentale litanie de granit : les Sekhmet dAmnophis III et la
conjuration permanente de la desse dangereuse, BSFE 8788 (1980), pp. 4675, in particular
p. 73 n. 34. At Philae we also know of a child god bearing the same name; all the references are
cited in Kaper, op. cit., p. 62 fn. 33.
See Cauville, Chapelles BdE 117, p. 194 (invocation to the 1st arrow, Dendera X, 357):
Greetings to you, great god whose power is immense (ind h r=k, ntr wr ph ty).
On the double nature of the Arrows, see S. Sauneron, Le nouveau sphinx composite du
Brooklyn Museum et le rle du dieu Toutou-Tithos, Journal of Near Eastern Studies 19, no. 4
(1960), pp. 269287, in particular pp. 278f.


R. Lucarelli / Journal of Ancient Near Eastern Religions 11 (2011) 109125

in Ptolemaic hebes they receive a personal cult, and their epithet is inserted
into demotic personal names to carry a protective function.66
Like the h ty.w, the guardian demons of the Book of the Dead begin to be
objects of cults when appearing as temple guardians. Along with temple iconography, representation of their worship is evident in many Ptolemaic-era
versions of the Book of the Dead, where the deceased is depicted facing the
demons with upraised arms and occasionally even presenting food oferings
to them.67

7. Conclusions
his paper has covered two novel phenomena in Egyptian demonology of the
Late and Greco-Roman periods. First, there is an increasing tendency to
appease malevolent or potentially dangerous demons by worshipping and
granting them the status of apotropaic gods. Second, the creatures of the
ancient Egyptian netherworld, originally envisioned in mortuary texts as door
guardians, are now integrated into temple theology concerning the protection
of holy places, in particular the spaces devoted to the Osirian mysteries. As a
consequence, from the Late Period through the Greco-Roman periods we can
note an enlargement of the oicial pantheon through the integration of originally malevolent demons and guardians of the netherworld, whose worship
was not evident in sources of earlier periods.
Since one of the innovations in Egyptian religion under Hellenism was the
development of new syncretistic gods like Serapis and Harpocrates, the integration of these demonic igures into the oicial pantheon may have been
motivated by an attempt, on the part of priests, to contain the inluence of
foreign gods on local religion.
In two particular areas of priestly literary production of the late Pharaonic
era do we see a particular elorescence of minor gods and demons, Mortuary
texts become a favorite source for developing the igures of guardian demons
to be used also in temple context. In contrast, Oracular Amuletic Decrees
(above) from the end of the New Kingdom collect evidence of more evil

See for instance the name p-n-h t.w: J.H.F. Dijkstra, Philae and the End of Ancient Egyptian
Religion. A Regional Study of Religious Transformation (298642 CE), Orientalia Lovaniensia
Analecta (OLA) 173, Leuven 2008, p. 195 and fn. 9.
See for instance the illustrations in the Ptolemaic papyrus of Hor (BM 10479): M. Mosher,
he Papyrus of Hor (BM EA 10479) with Papyrus MacGregor: the late period tradition of Akhmim,
Catalogue of Books of the Dead in the British Museum 2, London 2001, Pls. 9 and 10.

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igures of demons, traditionally adjured with magical spells in earlier periods.68

Both areas point to systematic priestly work, which aimed at providing a grid
of apotropaic texts and illustrations that involved a major place for minor gods
and demons.
he magical and ritual practices to avert demons have survived in the
vast Greek and Roman production of amulets, many of which represent
polymorphic beings that recall this late Egyptian iconography of protective
gods and demons.69 herefore, the variegated world of the Egyptian demons,
as especially attested by sources from the late Pharaonic and Greco-Roman
periods, provide a fertile ground for study of demon-beliefs, not only in Egypt
itself but across the Greco-Roman Mediterranean world.

It is especially in the magical texts of the Middle and New Kingdoms that the beliefs in
minor gods and the need of protection against malevolent demons is evident; cf. J.F. Borghouts,
Ancient Egyptian Magical Texts.
Bonner, op. cit.