Ptah was a god of creation in Egyptian mythology. He was also worshiped as the god of craftsmen who took a particular interest in architects and sculptors.
Originally, he was worshiped as a local god of Memphis, but as Memphis rose in popularity, the worship of Ptah also spread.
Continue reading to find out more about the creator god of the Egyptian pantheon.
Who Is Ptah in Egyptian Mythology?
The Egyptian god Ptah is a deity who was credited with birthing the universe by the power of his breath. He created all seen and unseen things including other gods. Later, he became the patron of all artisans, especially sculptors. Ptah’s worship was so popular that some scholars believe the name Egypt has its roots in the name of the god.
According to historians, the ancient Greeks named the entire Egypt after the god Ptah, with the last two letters ‘pt’ representing the name of the god. This was because the worship of Ptah was predominant in Memphis, the capital of Egypt. So the Greeks named the capital “temple of the soul of Ptah.” Over the years, this name was shortened and it came to represent the whole nation.
Ptah was also the Egyptian god of architects, with the brilliant Egyptian architect Imhotep attributing his artistry to him. Imhotep even claimed that he was the offspring of the deity. Ptah had several attributes including the lord of truth and eternity. He was also referred to as the master of justice and ceremonies.
The Origins of Ptah
Ptah began as a local god of the city of Memphis dating back to around 3100 BCE, where he was the protector of the city. As already discovered, Memphis was the capital of Lower Egypt, so Ptah assumed some level of importance in Lower Egypt as the god of the capital. In 3000 BCE when the two Egyptian kingdoms united, Memphis was made the capital of the whole of Egypt. Thus, the worship of Ptah was retained and it flourished.
– How Did His Worship Spread Throughout Egypt?
Ptah’s worship spread throughout Egypt partly due to the political importance of Memphis. As many people trooped to the capital either for business or pleasure, they encountered the worship of Ptah and were amazed. These people then came back and established the deity in their locales. Gradually, Ptah became people throughout the land.
Later, he was associated with other gods of Memphis, namely Sokar and Tatenen. Sokar was the god of craftsmen and Tatenen was an ancient creator god. As the years went by, Ptah absorbed the roles of Tatenen and Sokar and the three gods became one. The name of Ptah then evolved to become Ptah-Tatenen during the Old Kingdom.
Sokar and Tatenen were not the only gods that Ptah associated with as other cities continued to absorb the worship of Ptah. In the city of Saqqara, Ptah’s worshipers combined him with Osiris, leading to Ptah embodying the city.
Just as he did with Tatenen and Sokar, Ptah absorbed Osiris and formed a new god called Ptah-Osiris-Sokar. Back in Memphis, Ptah’s worshipers combined him with Sekhmet and Nefertem to form a triad.
– The Spread of Ptah’s Worship
Ptah’s popularity spread out of Memphis probably due to the capital’s political influence. His association with Bes, the god of protection, spread Ptah’s worship across the Mediterranean.
The Phoenicians helped in spreading the worship to parts of Carthage in the Late Period. Scholars have found several figures of Ptah at the location of ancient Carthage, testifying to the worship of the deity in that region.
The Creation Myth
According to existing creation accounts of Ptah, the deity brought himself into existence out of nothing. Thus, one of his appellations was “Ptah, the begetter of the first beginning.” Then Ptah created the other gods by simply envisioning them in his heart and bringing them to life by the breath of his voice. Ptah then created other living things by forming them out of wood, metal and stone.
Humans and animals were not directly created by Ptah, according to the Egyptian creation myth. It was Khnum who made these creatures at his potter’s wheel and brought them to life. However, since Ptah created Khnum, he could also take responsibility for creating mankind.
– The Temple of Ptah in Memphis
The temple of Ptah was the biggest and most exquisite temple in Memphis. The name of the temple was “Hut-ka-Ptah,” which meant “the soul of Ptah.” In Greek, the temple was referred to as “Ai-gyp-tos” and it was from this name that the name Egypt was derived. The Egyptians constructed the temple in the 18th century BC.
King Thutmose then expanded the temple about 300 years later. Other kings maintained the temple due to its significance and magnificence, with the last restoration works carried out by the Roman emperor Tiberius. The temple also had six gateways, on which various artwork were inscribed.
Artworks and Inscriptions
The first gateway had the inscription of the royal name Ptolemy VI. Inside the first gateway were royal inscriptions of Ptolemy IX and Ptolemy XIII. The temple also featured a scene showing the god Nefertum holding a lotus flower. Other depictions included the king with a white crown on one wall and the king with a red crown on the other.
The temple also featured a scene showing the staff of Amun, the god of the air. The sanctuary contained the statue of Ptah along with that of Sekhmet. The sanctuary was where Ptah’s religious rites took place.
The statue of Khonsu, the moon god, bearing five scepters was also present in the temple.
Other scenes in the temple depicted the king offering sacrifices to the god Amun. On the outside wall of the temple was a light relief of Ptah. Also included in the reliefs were two scribes who were deified by the ancient Egyptians. The inscriptions of King Shabaka and Ptolemy III also feature in the temple along with King Tuthmosis III.
The Family of Ptah
Ptah had no parents since he was neither born nor created. However, he had two wives depending on the era of his worship. In the New Kingdom, the goddess Sekhmet was said to be the wife of Ptah. Ptah and Sekhmet were parents to the deity Nefertem, god of the morning and the lotus fragrance.
In another era, Bast, the goddess of cats, was said to be the consort of Ptah. Ptah and Bastet became parents to Maahes, the god of war. Many ancient Egyptians believed that the architect Imhotep was also a direct offspring of Ptah due to his brilliance and ingenuity.
The Roles of Ptah in Ancient Egyptian Religion
As already discussed, Ptah was the creator god in Egyptian religion who created himself and the universe. At first, he was worshiped as the patron and protector of the city of Memphis until he became the Supreme Being.
Due to his creative abilities, he was made the god of craftsmen. In ancient Egyptian society, craftsmen were highly valued and sought after, so it was no surprise that they had Ptah as their patron god.
Scholars believe that the Egyptians derived the name Ptah from a word that translates into sculptor. Ptah also intervened in the life of his adherents by listening to and answering their prayers. Thus, he was given the title “Ptah who listens to prayers.” He was also thought to be a righteous judge who rewarded the good and punished the wicked.
Because of this trait, he was nicknamed “Ptah master of justice.” Other titles that indicated his roles include “Ptah the lord of Truth” and “Ptah lord of eternity.” Both titles suggest that Ptah rescued the innocent and had time in his hands. He was also revered as the god of ceremonies, which meant he initiated all ceremonies.
Depictions and Symbols
Initially, Ptah’s followers depicted him as a short and deformed man with no clothes on. However, as his worship grew and expanded, his image changed to a full-bodied man with a beard. Ptah’s skin was painted green to signify his role as the god of rebirth and vegetation. Around his neck was the aegis, a symbol of his authority and dominion over all creation.
He wore a white shroud and held a staff that had three symbols. The symbols on the staff of Ptah were the Was, Ankh and Djed. In ancient Egyptian religion, these three signs were the most important, and holding them together signified the greatness of Ptah.
– The Meaning of the Three Symbols on the Staff of Ptah
The Was symbol was a scepter that showed the power and dominion of Ptah. It was one of the most powerful symbols in ancient Egyptian religion. In Egyptian paintings, the Was scepter was held by either a deity or a pharaoh. The head of the scepter was designed to resemble the head of an animal while the bottom had a forked end.
The Ankh, also known as the key of life, was a symbol that represented life. The Ankh could also represent air or water, depending on the character wielding it. However, since Ptah was the giver of life, it was only appropriate that he was depicted holding the symbol of life.
The third symbol was the Djed pillar which represented stability. Only two gods are known to ever wield the Djed pillar, Ptah and Osiris. This demonstrated the power and status of Ptah in the Egyptian pantheon.
The Forms of Ptah
As mentioned earlier, Ptah absorbed other deities as his worship spread all over Egypt. Therefore, he took on other forms depending on the deity he absorbed. During the era of the Old Kingdom, Ptah took on the forms of both Sokar and Tatenen.
– In the Form of Sokar
As Sokar, Ptah wore the white shroud and the white-feathered crown of Osiris. In his Sokar form, he represented the necropolis of Saqqara in Memphis. Eventually, his worshippers formed a new deity by merging Ptah with Sokar and Osiris. The new god became known as Ptah-Sokar-Osiris.
He was mainly represented as a human, a hawk, half-human or half-hawk. The Memphites placed this new god in tombs to serve as protectors of the dead.
– In the Form of Tatenen
As Tatenen, Ptah was symbolized by a youthful and energetic man wearing a crown that featured two plumes. His Tatenem form characterized the fires underneath the earth that elevated the earth. In this form, Ptah became a patron of metalworkers and blacksmiths. He was also believed to cause earthquakes and tremors as Tatenen.
Ptah as Tatenen was the master of ceremonies of an event known as the Heb Sed. The Heb Sed was a ritual that celebrated the continual rule of a pharaoh.
During the latter part of the 18th Dynasty, the ancient Egyptians believed Ptah played a significant role in birthing Ra, the sun god. According to them, he characterized the divine essence from which Ra came forth. His followers in Memphis looked forward to major holidays because that was when Ptah visited them in his sacred boat.
So far, we’ve discovered the origin, roles, family, depictions and symbols of Ptah. Here is a recap of the entire article:
- The worship of Ptah originated in Memphis, the capital of ancient Egypt.
- Slowly, his worship spread as he took on the form of other gods such as Sokar and Tatenen.
- The importance of Memphis helped the cult of Ptah to spread, and soon, other cities also started adopting the worship of Ptah.
- Ptah is mainly depicted as a man with a beard wearing a white shroud and holding the Was scepter, the ankh and the Djed pillar.
- The name Egypt was probably derived from Ptah’s temple in Memphis.
- His wives were Sekhmet and Bastet and his children were Nefertem and Maahes.
- He was worshiped as the creator of the universe and the other gods.
- Ptah played an essential role in bringing forth the sun god Ra.
Ptah’s worship crossed the borders of Egypt and into Carthage. His legacy is still felt today as his image and story are used in computer games and modern literature.