|God of creation, the arts, fertility and of craftsmen|
Ptah, in the form of a mummified man, standing on the symbol for Ma’at, holding a scepter or staff that bears the combined ankh-djed-was symbols.
|Name in hieroglyphs||
|Major cult center||Memphis|
|Symbol||the djed pillar, the bull|
|Consort||Sekhmet and Bast|
|Parents||none (self-created or un-created)|
In Egyptian mythology, Ptah (/pəˈtɑː/; Egyptian: ptḥ, probably vocalized as Pitaḥ in ancient Egyptian) is the demiurge of Memphis, god of craftsmen and architects. In the triad of Memphis, he is the spouse of Sekhmet and the father of Nefertum. He was also regarded as the father of the sage Imhotep.
Origin and symbolism
Ptah is the Creator god par excellence: He is considered the demiurge who existed before all other things, and by his willfulness, thought the world. It was first conceived by Thought, and realized by the Word: Ptah conceives the world by the thought of his heart and gives life through the magic of his Word. That which Ptah commanded was created, with which the constituents of nature, fauna, and flora, are contained. He also plays a role in the preservation of the world and the permanence of the royal function.
In the Twenty-Fifth Dynasty, the Nubian pharaoh Shabaka would transcribe on a stela known as the Shabaka Stone, an old theological document found in the archives of the library of the temple of the god at Memphis. This document has been known as the Memphite Theology, and shows the god Ptah, the god responsible for the creation of the universe by thought and by the word.
- Ptah the beautiful face
- Ptah lord of truth
- Ptah master of justice
- Ptah who listens to prayers
- Ptah master of ceremonies
- Ptah lord of eternity
Representations and hypostases
Like many deities of ancient Egypt he takes many forms, through one of his particular aspects or through syncretism of ancient deities of the Memphite region. He is sometimes represented as a dwarf, naked and deformed, whose popularity would continue to grow during the Late Period. Frequently associated with the god Bes, his worship then exceeded the borders of the country and was exported throughout the eastern Mediterranean. Thanks to the Phoenicians, we find figures of Ptah in Carthage.
Ptah is generally represented in the guise of a man with green skin, contained in a shroud sticking to the skin, wearing the divine beard, and holding a sceptre combining three powerful symbols of ancient Egyptian religion:
These three combined symbols indicate the three creative powers of the god: power (was), life (ankh) and stability (djed).
From the Old Kingdom, he quickly absorbs the appearance of Sokar and Tatenen, ancient deities of the Memphite region. His form of Sokar is found contained in its white shroud wearing the Atef crown, an attribute of Osiris. In this capacity, he represents the god of the necropolis of Saqqara and other famous sites where the royal pyramids were built. Gradually he formed with Osiris a new deity called Ptah-Sokar-Osiris. Statuettes representing the human form, half-human, half-hawk, or simply in its falcon form will be systematically placed in tombs to accompany and protect the dead on their journey to the West.
His Tatenen form is represented by a young and vigorous man wearing a crown with two tall plumes that surround the solar disk. He thus embodies the underground fire that rumbles and raises the earth. As such, he was particularly revered by metalworkers and blacksmiths, but he was equally feared because it was he who caused earthquakes and tremors of the earth’s crust. In this form also, Ptah is the master of ceremonies for Heb Sed, a ceremony traditionally attesting to the first thirty years of the Pharaoh’s reign.
The god Ptah could be corresponding with the sun god Re, or Aten during the Amarna period, where he embodied the divine essence with which the sun god was fed to come into existence, that is to say to be born, according to the Memphite mythological/theological texts. In the holy of holies of his temple in Memphis, as well as in his great sacred boat, he drove in procession to regularly visit the region during major holidays. Ptah was also symbolized by two birds with human heads adorned with solar disks, symbols of the souls of the god Re: the Ba. The two Ba are also identified as the twin gods Shu and Tefnut and are associated with the djed pillar of Memphis.
Finally, Ptah is embodied in the sacred bull, Apis. Frequently referred to as a herald of Re, the sacred animal is the link with the god Re from the New Kingdom. He even received worship in Memphis, probably at the heart of the great temple of Ptah, and its death was buried with all the honours due to a living god in the Serapeum of Saqqara.
Development of the cult
As god of craftsmen, the cult of the god Ptah quickly spread throughout Egypt. With the major royal projects of the Old Kingdom, the High Priests of Ptah were particularly sought after and worked in concert with the Vizier, somehow filling the role of chief architect and master craftsman, responsible for the decoration of the royal funerary complexes.
In the New Kingdom, the cult of the god would develop in different ways, especially in Memphis, his homeland, but also in Thebes, where the workers of the royal tomb honoured him as patron of craftsmen. For this reason, the oratory of Ptah who listens to prayers was built near the site of Deir el-Medina, the village where the workers and craftsmen were confined. At Memphis, the role of intercessor with men was particularly visible in the appearance of the enclosure that protected the sanctuary of the god. Large ears were carved on the walls, symbolizing his role as god who listens to prayers.
With the Third Intermediate Period, Ptah returned to the centre of the monarchy where the coronation of the Pharaoh was held again in his temple. The Ptolemies continued this tradition, and the high priests of Ptah were then increasingly associated with the royal family, with some even marrying princesses of blood, clearly indicating the prominent role they played in the Ptolemaic court.
Main places of worship
|Temple dedicated to||Location|
|Ptah who listens to prayers||Memphis|
|Ptah who is south of his Wall||Memphis|
|Ptah-Sokar||Kom el-Hettan (Thebes)|
|Ptah who listens to prayers||Deir el-Medina (Thebes)|
|Ptah||Gerf Hussein (Nubia)|
|Ptah lord of truth||Abu Simbel (Nubia)|
Colossal triad representing Ptah-Ramses II-Sekhmet – Gardens of the Egyptian Museum of Cairo
Statuette of Ptah-Sokar-Osiris – The Louvre
The English name Egypt derives from an ancient Egyptian name for Memphis, Hikuptah, which means “Home of the Soul of Ptah”. This entered Ancient Greek as Αἴγυπτος (Aiguptos), which entered Latin as Aegyptus, which developed into English as Egypt.
- Cf. J. Berlandini, Contribution à l’étude du pilier-djed memphite, p.23-33 et pl. 1 A & pl. 2 A
- Battiscombe G. Gunn, Instruction of Ptah-Hotep and the Instruction of Ke’Gemni: The Oldest Books in the World. 1998 Google books
- Benedikt Rothöhler, Neue Gedanken zum Denkmal memphitischer Theologie. Heidelberg, 2006 www.ub.uni-heidelberg.de/archiv/7030
- Maj Sandman Holmberg, The God Ptah. Lund, 1946.
- Dorothy J. Thompson, Memphis Under the Ptolemies, Second Edition. Princeton, 2012.
- Alain-Pierre Zivie, Memphis et ses nécropoles au Nouvel Empire. Éditions du CNRS, 1988