God Ptah

Ptah is an ancient Egyptian deity, a creator god and patron of craftsmen and architects. In the triad of Memphis, he is the husband of Sekhmet and the father of Nefertem. Ancient Egyptians also regarded God Ptah as the father of the sage Imhotep.

Origin and symbolism

Ptah is an Egyptian creator god who conceived the world and brought it into being through the creative power of speech. A hymn to Ptah dating to the Twenty-second Dynasty of Egypt says Ptah “crafted the world in the design of his heart,” and the Shabaka Stone, from the Twenty-Fifth Dynasty, says Ptah “gave life to all the gods and their kids as well, through this heart and this tongue.

He bears many epithets that describe his role in ancient Egyptian religion and its importance in society at the time:

  • Ptah the begetter of the first beginning
  • Ptah lord of truth
  • And, Ptah lord of eternity
  • Ptah who listens to prayers
  • Ptah master of ceremonies
  • And, Ptah master of justice
  • Ptah the God who made himself to be God
  • Ptah the double being
  • Also, Ptah the beautiful face

Representations and hypostases

Like many deities of ancient Egypt, he takes many forms, through one of his particular aspects or syncretism of ancient gods of the Memphite region. Sometimes represented as a dwarf, naked and deformed, his popularity would continue to grow during the Late Period. He frequently associated with the god Bes. Moreover, his worship then moved beyond the borders of Egypt and expanded throughout the eastern Mediterranean. Through dissemination by the Phoenicians, we find figures of Ptah in Carthage.

In general, ancient Egyptians represented Ptah 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:

  • The Was sceptre
  • The sign of life, Ankh
  • Also, the Djed pillar

These three combined symbols indicate the three creative powers of the god: power (was), life (ankh) and stability (djed).

Stucco relief of Ptah holding a staff that bears the combined ankh and djed symbols, Late Period or Ptolemaic Dynasty, 4th to 3rd century BC

Representation during Old Kingdom

From the Old Kingdom, he quickly absorbs the appearance of Sokar and Tatenen, ancient deities of the Memphite region. His Sokar form is found in its white shroud wearing the Atef crown, an attribute of Osiris. In this capacity, he represents the patron deity of the necropolis of Saqqara and other famous sites where the royal pyramids exist.

Gradually he formed with Osiris a new deity called Ptah-Sokar-Osiris. Thus, figurines representing the human form, the half-human, half-hawk shape, or simply the pure falcon form of the new god began to be a part of the dead rituals. Ancient Egyptians systematically placed them in tombs to accompany and protect the dead on their journey to the West.

Ancient Egyptians represented his Tatenen form by a young and vigorous man wearing a crown with two tall plumes surrounding the solar disk. In this form also, Ptah is the master of ceremonies for Heb Sed, a ritual traditionally attesting to the first thirty years of a pharaoh’s reign. He thus embodies the underground fire that rumbles and raises the earth. As such, he was particularly revered by metalworkers and blacksmiths, but Ptah was equally feared because he caused earthquakes and tremors of the earth’s crust.

Representation during New Kingdom

The god Ptah could correspond with the sun deities Re or Aten during the Amarna period. 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 and his great sacred boat, he drove in procession to regularly visit the region during major holidays. Two birds also symbolized Ptah with human heads adorned with solar disks, symbols of the souls of the god Re: the Ba. The two Ba are 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 links with the god Re from the New Kingdom. He even received worship in Memphis, probably at the heart of the great temple of Ptah. Consequently, upon the death of an animal, ancients buried it with all honour in the Serapeum of Saqqara.

Scholars have also associated Ptah with the Mandaean angel Ptahil outside of Egypt due to their somewhat similar features and closely related names.

Development of the cult

Colossal statue of the god Ptah-Tatenen holding hands with Ramesses II found at Memphis – Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek, Copenhagen

The cult of the god Ptah quickly spread throughout Egypt. With the significant royal projects of the Old Kingdom, the high priests of Ptah were particularly sought after and worked in concert with the vizier, filling the role of chief architects and master artisans responsible for the decoration of the royal funerary complexes.

In the New Kingdom, the god’s cult would develop in different ways, especially in Memphis, his homeland, and in Thebes, where the workers of the royal tombs honoured him as patron of artisans. For this reason, the oratory of Ptah, who listens to prayers, was built near the site of Deir el-Medina, the village that housed the workers and artisans. At Memphis, the intercessor role with humans was evident in the enclosure appearance that protected the sanctuary of the god. No wonder that large ears were carved on the walls, symbolizing his role as the god who listens to prayers.

With the Nineteenth Dynasty, his cult grew, and he became one of the four great deities of the empire of Ramesses. Ancient Egyptians worshipped him at Pi-Ramesses as master of ceremonies and coronations.

With the Third Intermediate Period, Ptah returned to the centre of the monarchy, where the pharaoh’s coronation 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 royal blood, clearly indicating the prominent role they played in the Ptolemaic court.

Main places of worship

Temple dedicated

  • Ptah       Pi-Ramses
  • Ptah       Memphis
  • And, Ptah, who listens to prayers         Memphis
  • Ptah, who is south of his Wall      Memphis
  • Ptah-Sokar          Abydos
  • Ptah-Sokar          Kom el-Hettan (Thebes)
  • Ptah who listens to prayers         Deir el-Medina (Thebes)
  • Ptah       Karnak (Thebes)
  • Aslo, Ptah       Gerf Hussein (Nubia) Ptah lord of truth             Abu Simbel (Nubia)

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