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Statue of Anubis at the Gregorian Egyptian Museum. Source: Miguel Hermoso Cuesta / CC BY-SA 3.0

The Rise of Hermanubis: The Hybrid God of Both Rome and Egypt

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When the Romans invaded and incorporated ancient Egypt into their vast empire, they inevitably brought with them their own customs, traditions, and religion. But, even so, they could not extinguish the venerable religion of the Egyptians so easily. That would warrant an all-out revolt. So, they chose a more reasonable way to introduce their own Gods to the new realm by combining deities and mythological creatures, creating new amalgamations that would satisfy both the Romans and the native Egyptians. One of these new “combined” gods is Hermanubis, a syncretism of Hermes and Anubis. What was his role in the ancient Egyptian pantheon?

Depiction of Hermanubis in the November panel of a Roman mosaic calendar from Sousse, Tunisia. (Ad Meskens / CC BY-SA 3.0)

Depiction of Hermanubis in the November panel of a Roman mosaic calendar from Sousse, Tunisia. (Ad Meskens / CC BY-SA 3.0)

A New God from Old Deities: The Origins of Hermanubis

Hermanubis was a deity from the so-called Graeco-Egyptian syncretism, combining elements from both Greek and Egyptian religious traditions. This deity represents a fusion of the Greek god Hermes and the Egyptian god Anubis, both of whom had similar roles related to the conduct of dead souls to the afterlife. So, instead of having complications of two clashing religions, the Romans - influenced by the Greek world - created Hermanubis. Nonetheless, his role remained unchanged as the deity guiding the souls of the departed to the underworld.

The syncretic deity Hermanubis arose during the Hellenistic and Roman periods when Greece and Egypt were under the influence of the Ptolemaic and Roman empires. The merging of Hermes and Anubis elements illustrates the cultural intermingling that occurred during these times. It is a clear insight into the increased connections and cultural exchange that became so widespread at that time, when the world was slowly shifting into a totally new era.

As a result, temples and shrines dedicated to Hermanubis were established in regions where Greek and Egyptian communities coexisted. Notable centers of worship for Hermanubis included Alexandria and the Fayum in Egypt, both of which had significant Greek populations and were known for religious diversity.

These sites served as places of veneration, offering and rituals. The syncretism of Hermanubis reflects the broader phenomenon of religious syncretism in the Hellenistic and Roman periods, where gods from different cultures were often merged or adapted to create new deities. A key example of this is the Greek God Hermaphroditus, a syncretism of Hermes and Aphrodite or, in some interpretations, their child.

Hermanubis represents a fusion of the Greek god Hermes and the Egyptian god Anubis, the ancient Egyptian god of funerary practices and care of the dead. (Public domain)

Hybrid Hermanubis: Combining Two Different Religions

Hermanubis is typically represented as a hybrid figure with the head of a jackal (reminiscent of Anubis) and the body of a Greek deity, often Hermes. The caduceus, a staff with two snakes, is a common symbol associated with him, reflecting the Greek influence. This staff symbolizes authority and mediation. The ankh, a symbol of life and immortality from Egyptian iconography, can also be associated with Hermanubis.

One of the most prominent attributes of Hermanubis is his role as a psychopomp. In this capacity, he guides the souls of the deceased from the earthly realm to the afterlife. This role combines the Greek Hermes' function as a messenger and conductor of souls to the underworld with the Egyptian Anubis' role as the guardian of the dead and their journey to the afterlife. Hermanubis is often depicted leading souls or standing at the threshold between the realms of the living and the dead.

Hermanubis, like Anubis, was associated with guarding tombs and cemeteries. He ensured the safety and sanctity of burial sites, protecting them from desecration or disturbance. This role emphasized the importance of proper burial and the transition to the afterlife in Egyptian funerary beliefs. Worshipers likely made offerings to Hermanubis in the form of incense, food, and other ritual items. These offerings were made in temples and at gravesites as part of funerary ceremonies. Rituals may have included prayers and invocations to Hermanubis to intercede on behalf of the deceased and to guide their souls to the next realm.

Hermanubis was not solely a deity associated with death and funerary practices. His attributes as a messenger, guide and protector made him a figure to whom individuals could turn for assistance and protection in various aspects of life. Personal devotion to Hermanubis extended beyond funerals to include those seeking guidance in their daily lives.

Hermanubis as depicted on a fresco discovered at the Casa degli Amorini Dorati in Pompeii. (Mentnafunangann / CC BY-SA 4.0)

Hermanubis as depicted on a fresco discovered at the Casa degli Amorini Dorati in Pompeii. (Mentnafunangann / CC BY-SA 4.0)

Hermanubis Emerged in the Waning Days of Egypt

The worship of God Hermanubis was at its height during the Ptolemaic, Greek-influenced period of ancient Egyptian history. However, it was this period that signified the slow decline of Egyptian civilization, which, faced with overwhelming outside influence, began losing its identity gradually. So, in a way, Hermanubis can be seen - metaphorically - as a god of a dying Egypt, an invented Graeco-Egyptian deity that satisfied a new populace while a venerable civilization was dwindling all the while.

Nevertheless, the ancient popularity of Hermanubis cannot be overlooked and can even be compared to similar syncretic gods such as Serapis (a combination of Osiris and Apis), whose religious cult was very famous and successful.

Top image: Statue of Anubis at the Gregorian Egyptian Museum. Source: Miguel Hermoso Cuesta / CC BY-SA 3.0

By Aleksa Vučković

References

Budge, E. A. W. 1904. The Gods of the Egyptians: Or, Studies in Egyptian Mythology. Methuen & Company.

Benaissa, A. 2010. The Onomastic Evidence for the God Hermanubis. The Proceedings of the 25th International Congress of Papyrology.

Rutherford, I. 2016. Greco-Egyptian Interactions: Literature, Translation and Culture, 500 BCE-300 CE. Oxford University Press.

 
Aleksa Vučković's picture

Aleksa

I am a published author of over ten historical fiction novels, and I specialize in Slavic linguistics. Always pursuing my passions for writing, history and literature, I strive to deliver a thrilling and captivating read that touches upon history's most... Read More

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