Egypt Falls to Greece: The Dawning of a New Era
The fertile lands along the banks of the Nile River helped Ancient Egypt grow into one of the most prosperous and powerful civilizations of the ancient world. But such success did not exist in a bubble. Also located along the shores of the Mediterranean Sea, Egypt caught the eyes of its many powerful neighbors.
First came the Persians from modern-day Iran. They took control of Egypt for nearly two centuries. But their efforts to dismantle Egyptian culture failed and created tremendous resentment.
Eventually, the Persians were removed by the Greeks. This conquest, however, was seen by the Egyptians as more of a liberation, and it opened the door for a new era of prosperity in Ancient Egypt.
Alexander dreamed of conquering the whole world, which to him meant Persia, Babylon, India, and beyond.
Sanctuary of Zeus Ammon
The peaceful view east across the sea to the middle peninsula of Halkidiki in Northern Greece has always been the same from Afitos. More than 5000 years of human habitatition and the locals have always woken up to the same sunrise over the same mountains of Sithonia, the same mesmerizing blue and green water gently washing up on the same white sandy beach of todays Kallithea. The beauty that attracts thousands of tourists each year has always been here, just the names have changed.
What is known as the Kassandra peninsula today, in ancient times was called Pallene, before this Phlegra. This place saw the likes of the Greeks, Macedonians, the Romans and others. Famous men stood here, wrote about her, even tried to build their empire here. Some of those names are familiar from our history books like Aristotle, Alexander the Great, Cassander, Strabo, Thucydides, even Greek mythology had to have it’s mention of Phlegra. “So what’s the deal with these ruins?” you may ask. Mind the pun, but lets dig a little deeper to get a peek into Kassandra’s premier attraction.
The Sanctuary of Zeus Ammon is actually 3 different sanctuaries from different time periods, the sanctuary of Dionysus (Dionysos), the sanctuary of Zeus Ammon and the sanctuary of Asclepius.
Wine, women and song… Dionysus
Aphytis (today Afitos) has been settled continuously for at least 5000 years. From the 8th c. BC it was known for its sanctuary of Dionysus. Dionysus was semi-divine, the son of Zeus and a mortal – Semele. He was popular, attractive and being the black sheep of the family of gods, he was probably the most interesting. Being the god of wine, fertility, theatre, and a bunch of other things we are not going to mention, let’s just say he was all about letting your hair down and having fun. Such was the context of Afitos with it’s sanctuary of Dionysus. In the months of March/April, as the grape leaves started to appear, people would gather here for the festivities as they did in other sanctuaries of Dionysus. Besides the emphasis on over drinking, this is also where plays would be performed and people gathered for entertainment.
Part of the sanctuary has a cave that was used in the worship of Dionysos and the nymphs. Part of the rituals would have them descend into the cave in symbol of Dionysus descending into the underworld. From the Greeks, this god was recognized to the ancient Romans as the god Bacchus.
Zeus Ammon – Egyptian god, Greek accent
By 403 BC, Lysander of Sparta beseiged Aphytis. He had just finished the Peloponnesian War that gave Sparta dominance over Greece. He claims to have been visited by Ammon in a dream and told that it would be better for him to stop his seige of Afitos, which he did. He then instructed the Aphytians to built a sanctuary to Zeus Ammon. Within a few years coins were being minted in Afitos with the head of Zeus Ammon. The locals worshipped this god with zeal and by the second half of the 4th c. BC, the temple was built by the Macedonians.
Amun (Ammon) was, according to the Egyptians, the king of the gods and patron god of Thebes from the 20th c. B.C. Amun was the focal point of Egyptian worship and when he was combined with other gods such as the sun (Ra) he become Amun Ra. The Greeks had their own king god – Zeus. When the Greeks colonized north Africa in the 6th c. B.C., the city Cyrene (now in Libya) worshipped Zeus Ammon since they understood Ammon to be the equivelent of Zeus.
East of Cyrene, in the oasis of Siwah in the desert (now in present day Egypt and bordering on Libya), there was an oracle of Zeus Ammon famed among the Greeks. This was the connection that brought Zeus Ammon to Greece . Temples to Zeus Ammon were eventually etablished in Thebes, Sparta and elsewhere so when Lysander beseiged Aphytis in 403 B.C. he was already familiar with the worship of Ammon.
Alexander – son of Ammon
The oracle in Libya was well respected in Greece. It was 3rd in importance only after the sanctuary of Zeus in Olympia and in Dodona in Epirus. After having been defeated in Asia Minor and Egypt, Darius the king of Persia was on the run. While in Egypt in 331 BC, Alexander took steps to make himself a living god. Tradition has it that Alexander went to the oracle in Siwah and there he was told that he was the son of Zeus Ammon. It is possible that Alexander had also visited the temple in Aphytis since it was close to his home. Arrian of Nicomedia wrote how Alexander wanted to travel to the oracle in Siwa to imitate his ancestors Heracles and Perseus who had travelled there before him.
The ruins that remain of the temple in Afitos are that of the Temenid (later Argead) Macedonian style. It’s not known exactly who constructed the temple, but it is estimated to have been built by the second half of the 4th c. B.C. This temple completed a work that was begun after Lysander gave his orders to the Aphytians for a cult to be set up to Zeus Ammon. Three kings of the Argead dynasty reigned during the last half of the 4th c. B.C – Philip ll, Alexander the Great, and Cassander by marriage. One of the latter two are more probable to have built this temple.
Medicine man – Asclepius
The third god worshipped at this site was Asclepius, god of healing. Like Dionysus, Asclepius was a semi-god, the son of Apollo and a human woman – Coronis. In connection with such sanctuaries, water or mineral baths played a big role as was the case in Afitos.
Written sources say that this cult existed in Aphytis by 360 BC but there is evidence that Asclepius was worshipped here even earlier. In 242 BC the Panhellenic Festival of Asclepius was held on Kos and Cassandreia (the main city of the time on Kassandra) participated giving evidence of there being a sanctuary to Asclepius on this site.
The area of Afitos sits in an earthquake zone and has seen a lot of seismic activity. The buildings and temples were damaged over the years and consequently repaired as was the case in the 2nd c. AD. By the 4th c. AD all three sanctuaries had completely been abandoned.
1. The history of the area
4 The sanctuary extends from the slope of a forested hill with water springs and waterfalls down to the sea originally, this area was in the territory of the Eretrian colony of Aphytis.4 Later, after the founding of Cassandreia in 315 BC, it was incorporated into its territory and became the most important sanctuary of the city and the whole peninsula until late antiquity.
- 5 D. Feisel, M. Sève, “La Chalcidique vue par Ch. Avezou”, BCH 103 (1979), p. 260 Zahrnt, o.c. (n. (. )
- 6 For the illegal digging by the monks N.B. Chrysanthidis, Αυτοσχέδιος περιγραφή της Χαλκιδικής Χερσ(. )
5 From the Byzantine era onwards the area constituted the territory of the Metochi of the Russian monastery of Panteleemon on Mt. Athos and was equipped with water-mills and a port for the exportation of the agricultural products of the entire peninsula of Cassandra.5 The masonry of the ancient buildings was used for the construction of the Metochi (buildings used by the monks), while it is reported by travelers that the monks and local population were often engaged in illegal digging. Statues, inscriptions, antefixes, fragments of simas, pottery and other objects were taken to the Monastery, where they are still housed.6
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The article is devoted to the publication and analysis of two bronze jugs from the Sarmatian burials of the Don basin. As the analysis showed, the jugs under discussion found in the burials most likely dated to the last third of the 1st century AD (Sokolovskii Burial-mound no. 3/1970) and even to the 2nd century AD (Chuguno-Krepinka, Burial-mound no. 2/1984), are items of extraordinary high artistic level of the first half, possibly the first third of the 1st century AD. In the first case, along with the jug, a no less high-quality bronze basin with a medallion was found, probably chronologically close to the jug, which could initially belong to the same set with it. In the second case the jug clearly stands out against the background of a fairly standard set of imported bronzeware, typical to the late 1st — first half of the 2nd century AD, which is not surprising, since at the time of the burial it was an antiquarian item of about 100 years age.
Facts About Amun
- Amun was the Egyptian supreme creator-god and the king of all the gods
- The first recorded written mention of Amun occurs in the Pyramid Texts (c. 2400-2300)
- Amun eventually evolved into Amun-Ra, the King of the Gods and creator of the universe Pharaohs were depicted as the ‘son of Amun.’
- Amun was also known as Ammon and Amen and as Amun “The Obscure One,” “mysterious of form,” “the hidden one,” and “invisible.”
- Amun’s cult gained enormous wealth and power, rivalling that of the pharaoh
- Royal women were appointed as “god’s wife of Amun” and enjoyed highly influential places in the cult and in society
- Some pharaohs presented themselves as the son of Amun to legitimize their reign. Queen Hatshepsut claimed Amun as her father while Alexander the Great proclaimed himself a son of Zeus-Ammon
- Amun’s cult was centred at Thebes banned the worship of Amun and closed his temples, ushering in the world’s first monotheistic society
The first recorded written mention of Amun occurs in the Pyramid Texts (c. 2400-2300). Here Amun is described as a local god in Thebes. The Theban god of war Montu was Thebes’ dominant deity, while Atum at this time, was merely a local fertility god who with his consort Amaunet formed part of the Ogdoad, a cluster of eight gods who represented creation’s primordial forces.
At this time, Amun was accorded no greater significance than other Theban gods in the Ogdoad. One differentiating feature of his worship was that as Amun “The Obscure One,” he did not represent a clearly defined niche but embraced all aspects of creation. This left his followers free to define him depending on their needs. Theologically, Amun was a god who represented nature’s mystery. His doctrinal fluidity enabled Amun to manifest as almost any aspect of existence.
Amun’s power in Thebes had been growing since the Middle Kingdom (2040-1782 BCE). He emerged as part of the Theban triad of deities with Mut his consort and their son the moon god Khonsu. Ahmose I’s defeat of the Hyksos peoples was attributed to Amun linking Amun with Ra the popular sun god. Amun’s mysterious connection with that which makes life what it is was associated with the sun the most visible aspect of life-giving properties. Amun evolved into Amun-Ra, the King of the Gods and creator of the universe.
What’s In a Name?
One of the consistent characteristics of ancient Egyptian religious beliefs is the ever-changing nature and names of their deities. Amun served several roles in Egyptian mythology and ancient Egyptians ascribed numerous names to him. Inscriptions of Amun have been discovered throughout Egypt.
The ancient Egyptians called Amun asha renu or “Amun rich in names.” Amun was also known as Ammon and Amen and as “The Obscure One,” “mysterious of form,” “the hidden one,” and “invisible.” Amun is typically shown as a bearded man wearing a headdress with a double plume. After the New Kingdom (c.1570 BCE – 1069 BCE), Amun is depicted as a ram-headed man or often simply as a ram. This symbolised his aspect as Amun-Min the fertility god.
Amun King of the Gods
During the New Kingdom Amun was lauded as the “King of the Gods” and “The Self-created One” who created all things, even himself. His association with Ra the sun god linked Amun to Atum of Heliopolis an earlier god. As Amun-Ra, the god combined his invisible aspect as symbolized by the wind together with the life-giving sun his visible aspect. In Amun, the most important attributes of both Atum and Ra were merged to form an all-purpose deity whose aspects embraced every part of the fabric of creation.
So popular was Amun’s cult that Egypt almost took on a monotheistic outlook. In many ways, Amun paved the way for one true god, Aten promoted by the Pharaoh Akhenaten 1353-1336 BCE) who banned polytheistic worship.
Amun during the New Kingdom emerged as Egypt’s most widely venerated deity. His temples and monuments scattered throughout Egypt were extraordinary. Even today, the main Temple of Amun at Karnak remains the biggest religious building complex ever constructed. Amun’s Karnak temple was connected to the Southern Sanctuary of the Luxor Temple. Amun’s Barque was a floating temple at Thebes and was considered to be amongst the most impressive construction works built in honour of the god.
Known as Userhetamon or “Mighty of Brow is Amun” to the ancient Egyptians, Amun’s Barque was a gift from Ahmose I to the city following his expulsion of the invading Hyksos people and ascension to the throne. Records claim it was covered from the waterline up in gold.
On The Feast of Opet, Amun’s primary festival, the barque carrying Amun’s statue from the inner sanctum of Karnak temple was moved downriver with great ceremony to the Luxor temple so the god could visit his other dwelling place on earth. During the festival of The Beautiful Feast of the Valley, held to honour the dead, statues of the Theban Triad consisting of Amun, Mut, and Khonsu travelled on Amun’s Barque from one bank of the Nile to the other to participate in the festival.
The Wealthy and Powerful Priests of Amun
By Amenhoptep III’s (1386-1353 BCE) ascension to the throne, the priests of Amun at Thebes was wealthier and owned more land than the pharaoh. At this moment the cult rivalled the throne for power and influence. In an abortive attempt to curb the priesthood’s power, Amenhotep III introduced a series of religious reforms, which proved ineffectual. Amenhotep III’s most momentous long-term reform was to elevate Aten a formerly minor deity, as his personal patron and encouraged worshippers to follow Aten in tandem with Amun.
Unaffected by this move, the Amun cult continued to grow in popularity ensuring its priests enjoyed comfortable lives of privilege and power. When Amenhotep IV (1353-1336 BCE) succeeded his father on the throne as pharaoh, the priest’s cozy existence changed dramatically.
After reigning for five years, Amenhotep IV changed his name to Akhenaten, which translates as “of great use to” or “successful for” the god Aten and initiated dramatic and highly contentious series of wide-sweeping religious reforms. These changes upended every aspect of religious life in Egypt. Akhenaten banned the worship of Egypt’s traditional gods and closed the temples. Akhenaten proclaimed Aten as Egypt’s one true god ushering in the world’s first monotheistic society.
After Akhenaten died in 1336 BCE, his son Tutankhaten assumed the throne, changed his name to Tutankhamun (1336-1327 BCE), opened all the temples and reinstated Egypt’s old religion.
Following Tutankhamun’s premature death, Horemheb (1320-1292 BCE) a general ruled as pharaoh and ordered Akhenaten and his family’s name to be wiped from history.
While history had interpreted Akhenaten’s attempt at religious reforms, modern Egyptologists view his reforms as targeting the enormous influence and wealth enjoyed by the Priests of Amun, who, owned more land and held greater wealth than Akhenaten at the time of his ascension to the throne.
Popularity of the Amun Cult
Following Horemheb’s reign, Amun’s cult continued to enjoy widespread popularity. Amun’s cult was widely accepted throughout the New Kingdom’s 19th Dynasty. By the dawn of the Ramessid Period (c. 1186-1077 BCE) Amun’s priests were so wealthy and powerful they ruled Upper Egypt from their base in Thebes as virtual pharaohs. This power transfer contributed to the fall of the New Kingdom. Despite the ensuing turbulence of the Third Intermediate Period (c. 1069-525 BCE), Amun prospered even in the face of a growing cult following for Isis.
Ahmose I elevated the existing custom of consecrating royal women as Amun’s divine wives. Ahmose I transformed the office of God’s Wife of Amun into a highly prestigious and powerful one, particularly as they officiated at ritual ceremonies festivals. So enduring was Amun’s following that the 25th Dynasty’s Kushite kings maintained this practice and the worship of Amun actually surged thanks to the Nubians accepting Amun as their own.
Another sign of Amun’s royal favour was the claim by Queen Hatshepsut (1479-1458 BCE) was her father in an effort to legitimise her reign. Alexander the Great followed her lead in 331 BCE by proclaiming himself a son of Zeus-Ammon, the Greek equivalent of the god at the Siwa Oasis.
The Greek Zeus-Ammon was pictured as a bearded Zeus with Amun’s ram’s horns. Zeus-Ammon was associated with virility and power via imagery of the ram and the bull. Later Zeus-Ammon made the journey to Rome in the form of Jupiter-Ammon.
As Isis’ popularity grew in Egypt, Amun’s declined. However, Amun continued to be regularly worshipped at Thebes. His cult became particularly well entrenched in the Sudan where Amun’s priests became sufficiently wealthy and powerful to force their will on the Meroe kings.
Finally, the Meroe King Ergamenes decided the threat from the Amun priesthood was too great to ignore and he had them massacred around c. 285 BCE. This severed diplomatic ties with Egypt and established an autonomous state in Sudan.
Reflecting on the Past
Despite the political turbulence, Amun continued to be worshipped in Egypt and Meroe. The Amun cult continued to attract devoted followers well into classical antiquity (c. 5th century CE) until Christianity replaced the old gods across the Roman Empire.
Header image courtesy: Jean-François Champollion [No restrictions], via Wikimedia Commons
Appropriation or syncretisation? Or maybe just the evolution in understanding? You decide.
Zeus is the Greek king of the gods, the god of sky and weather who fertilizes the fields and protects the home. He is the god of law, order and fate. He was typically depicted as a mature, regal man with a beard. Typical symbols associated with him: lightning bolt, eagle, ram, bull, snake, cornucopia and scepter.
Now Egyptian mythology isn’t nearly so straight forward. As far as I can tell, Amun was originally a primordial god of wind and air whose name means “hidden one”. Eventually he became associated with the sun and called Amun-Re which made him both hidden and visible. Amun-Re is typically depicted as a ram, a man with a ram’s head or a man with a beard and feathered crown.
Zeus-Ammon is typically described as a syncretic deity, a combination of Zeus and Amun. It appears that the worship of Zeus-Ammon began when some Greek colonists from Kyrene visited the oracle-shrine of Amun in desert of Siwa. These colonists recognized the similarity to Zeus ( whose oracle in Dodona was reported to have been started by some “doves” from this oracle ) and called him “sandy” Zeus or Zeus-Ammon. Ah the ancients…ever in love with puns.
Another etymology of the name Ammon is from the Egyptian word amoni which signifies a shepherd or the action of feeding. This makes him into a potnios theron or master of animals. As a ram is to his flock, a leader and a protector, so the god is to his devotees. It signifies his command over natural forces and his ability to guaranty prosperity of his devotees. The tales say this was done either by sending a ram to guiding them or by giving oracles to guide their actions.
In the 6 th century BCE, the people of Kyrene struck coins with his image and built him a temple that was said to be comparable in size to the temple of Zeus at Olympia. During this time the oracle was gaining an international reputation. There were dedications to him at Delphi and Olympia. Pindar, the Greek poet was the first Greek to dedicate an hymn and build a statue to this god. He was also commissioned by Kyrene athletes to compose victory odes to honor Zeus-Ammon. The god was said to hold the Spartans in high regard and had temples in Sparta and its port town of Gythion. Athens was familiar with him to the extent of sending gold to Siwa on behalf of its citizens. The new Platonists perceived Ammon as the creator and preserver of the world.
Zeus-Ammon was portrayed in various ways: as a ram headed deity, a human-headed deity with the horns of a ram, seated on a throne flanked by standing rams, dressed in an ram-skin cloak tied at the chest, carrying a cornucopia (a symbol of fertility), as a rustic shepherd caring for a lamb, and as a master of animals. He was seen as a benevolent god who bestows good fortune upon his pious devotees. Not unlike a certain “Good Shepherd” that modern day Christians praise.
Appropriation or syncretisation? Or maybe just a common cultural point of reference? I do not know but I find the parallel interesting.
Some of the works used in writing this blog:
“From Siwa to Cyprus: The Assimilation of Zeus Ammon in the Cypriote Pantheon” by Derek B. Counts
Other cultures [ edit | edit source ]
The Greeks, and later Romans, compared Amun to the chief god, Zeus (and Jupiter), and over time the two gods were merged as Zeus Ammon/Jupiter Ammon.
The Bible mentions Amun in Jeremiah 46:25: The Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says: “I am about to bring punishment on Amon god of Thebes, on Pharaoh, on Egypt and her gods and her kings, and on those who rely on Pharaoh.
In Christian demonology Amun is often conflated with the Aamon, a Marquis of Hell.
Temple of Ammon Zeus in Kallithea
One of the most important temples are located in Halkidiki , is that of Ammon Zeus in Kallithea. According to archaeologists, during the second half of the 8th century BC was founded by colonists Euboeans city Afytis sanctuary of Dionysus was worshiped together with the Nymphs in the cavern beneath the rock, on the southwest side of the site .
The cult of the cave, where the faithful arrived with carved scale, continued in the following centuries, until the 2nd century AD In the northern part of the site was founded in the late 5th century. B.C. sanctuary of Egyptian god Ammon Zeus, and in the 4th century BC, was built next to the altar Doric temple pavilion, the roof of which is decorated terracotta roof tiles, textured and colored .
During the 1st-2nd century AD, the temple was reconstructed and hardware built on the south side of the narrow two modular structures ( bleachers ), while between them, up to the oldest altar, built another small altar. In this open space, sitting believers should be attending some events. The Roman phase of the church lasted until the reign of the successors of Constantine the Great, so be destroyed permanently.
Open : Daily 8.30-15.30, Tuesday Closed
Touba – Agios Mamas
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Temple of Poseidon in Posidi
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Touba – Agios Mamas
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In modern culture
Depictions of Zeus as a bull, the form he took when abducting Europa, are found on the Greek 2-euro coin and on the United Kingdom identity card for visa holders. Mary Beard, professor of Classics at Cambridge University, has criticized this for its apparent celebration of rape. ⏠]
Zeus has been portrayed by Axel Ringvall in Jupiter på jorden, the first known film adaption to feature Zeus Niall MacGinnis in Jason and the Argonauts ⏡] ⏢] and Angus MacFadyen in the 2000 remake Laurence Olivier in the original Clash of the Titans, and Liam Neeson in the 2010 remake, along with the 2012 sequel Wrath of the Titans Anthony Quinn in the 1990s TV series Hercules: The Legendary Journeys Rip Torn in the Disney animated feature Hercules Corey Burton in Hercules, God of War II, God of War III, God of War: Ascension, PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale, and Kingdom Hearts 3 ⏣] and Sean Bean in Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief (2010). ⏤]