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A Ptolemaic bronze inlay of Maahes' sacred animal, the lion, found at Maahes' temple at Leontopolis

Maahes, God of War and Protection, The Leonine Lord of Slaughter

by Caroline Seawright

Updated: June 20, 2013


m3ahhsseye with makeup determinative

Sketch of Maahes devouring a bound captive

Image © Biblo & Tannen Publishers
Maahes (Mahes, Mihos, Miysis, Mysis) was the ancient Egyptian lion-god of war. Both a god of war and a guardian and a lord of the horizon. He was believed to help Ra fight against Apep in the solar barque each night, a god who protected the pharaoh while he was in battle. By Greek times, he was attributed as being a god of storms and winds. He also had links to perfumes and oils. Maahes was a god who seems to have first appeared in the New Kingdom, and is thought to have been a deity of foreign origin.

In Egypt, they worship lions, and there is a city called after them... the lions have temples and numerous spaces in which to roam; the flesh of oxen is supplied to them daily... and the lions eat to the accompaniment of song in the Egyptian language.

-- Egypt Exploration Society 1991, Egyptian Archaeology: Bulletin of the Egypt Exploration Society, Issues 1-9, p. 37

Usually depicted as a lion-headed man carrying a knife or a sword, Maahes sometimes wore the atef crown or the solar disk and uraeus on his head. Occasionally he was portrayed as a lion devouring a captive.

A boquet of flowers beside Maahes reminds us of his gentler side ... Maahes has a reputation for devouring the guilty and protecting the innocent. Maahes is also linked with Horus the Younger and Nefertem.

One of Maahes's titles is "Lord of the Massacre," but he is also called "Lord of Slaughter," "Wielder of the Knife," and "The Scarlet Land." This title double-associates him with the lioness of Upper Egypt, Sekhmet, and the Myth of the Destruction of Mankind.

-- Remler, P. 2010, Egyptian Mythology, A to Z, p. 111

Close-up of a lion-headed deity, possibly Maahes

Maahes was thought to be the guardian of sacred places, and the one who attacks captive enemies. He protected the innocent dead and condemned the damned. He was thought to be one of Osiris' executioners, and a defender of the solar barque against the attack of the water snake-demon Apep and his followers. He protected the pharaoh while he was in battle, just as he protected the sun god Ra. He was also a god, and a protector of the horizon, due to his leonine form - lions were connected to the horizon by the Egyptian mind. He was also thought to be the personification of the summer heat, just as the Eye of Ra - different lioness goddesses - were thought to represent the burning heat of the sun.

His name translates as 'See in Front'. m3eye with makeup determinative 'to see' (it was also the start of the word for 'lion'), and hhss 'in front of', which seems to be related to seeing, because his name was followed by the hieroglyph of an eye. Yet the sound m3 was also used in the Egyptian word for truth and order - ma'at. His name might have even meant 'Truth Before Ma'at', among other things, and it may have also been a pun on the word for lion. Maahes punished those who violated Ma'at, while the other deities set it right. Yet he was also called on to protect the innocent, despite being 'Lord of the Massacre', who killed with the knife or the sword. A statue of the lion-headed Maahes

His local roots were at Leontopolis (modern Tell el-Muqdam) in nome 11 of Lower Egypt in the Eastern Delta. Osorkon III (Dynasty XXII) erected a temple to him in Bubastis, the town sacred to the god's mother. Maahes's name is also found in amuletic papyri of the late New Kingdom.

-- Hart, G. 2012, A Dictionary of Egyptian Gods and Goddesses

The Demotic Magical Papyrus of London and Leiden is an example of one of these amuletic papyri. The spell states:

Maahes, mighty one, shall send out a lion of the sons of Maahes under compulsion to fetch them to me (bis) the souls of god, the souls of man, the souls of the underworld, the souls of the horizon, the spirits, the dead, so that they tell me the truth to-day concerning that after which I am inquiring.

-- Dollinger, A., Mihos

An offering to Maahes, god of war and protection, from Lake Nasser

Image © Dennis Jarvis
Thought to be the son of either Bast and Ptah at Per-Bast (Bubastis) or the son of Sekhmet and either Ptah or the sun god Ra. In the tale of "The Taking of Joppa", Thutmose III was called 'Maahes, Son of Sekhmet'. The Egyptians confused the two goddesses, and their children. He was linked to Nefertem and Shesmu, both being lion-headed deities who were also related to perfumes and oils. Nefertem and Maahes were probably especially confused by the Egyptians due to their respective mothers - Sekhmet and Bast. He was also connected with the war-god Onuris as well as with the sky god Shu. There are suggestions that he might have been an assimilation of the Nubian lion-god Apedemak.

This is the site of ancient Leontopolis... The temple of the local lion god Maahes (Greek Miysis), situated in the east part of the ruins, suffered the fate of many similar buildings in the delta: most of its stone blocks have been removed and reused, leaving even the date of the structure uncertain.

-- Baines, J., & Málek, J. 1992, Atlas of Ancient Egypt, pp. 171-172

His cult centre was at Nay-ta-hut (Leontopolis) in Lower Egypt, but he was worshipped around Upper Egypt, and in Nubia. Maahes was depicted in the temple of Debod, which was moved to Madrid, Spain, before the Aswan Dam building would have flooded and destroyed it. Osorkon III (Dynasty XXII) build a temple to him in Per-Bast (Bubastis) while Nay-ta-hut housed a necropolis for lions, his sacred animal. Other major cult centres for Maahes included Djeba (Utes-Hor, Behde, Edfu), Iunet (Dendera), Meroe (the royal city of the Meroitic rulers of Nubia) and the Bahriya and Siua Oases.

Layout of the Maahes Temple at the Temple of Bast in Per-Bast

Further Information about Maahes

Video of Maahes

A video filled with images of Maahes (and other deities), by Egyptahotep:

© Caroline 'Kunoichi' Seawright 2002 - present

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