The Egyptian War God Onuris

The Egyptian War God Onuris

by Jimmy Dunn writing as Jefferson Monet

The typical iconography of Onuris

A god of war and hunting who originated at This (the Thinite region) near Abydos, Anhur (Han-her, Inhert)), was more commonly known by his Greek name, Onuris (Onouris). His name (Anhur) literally means "he who leads back the distant one" (which might also mean "Sky Bearer"), which appears to reference the mythical manner in which this god is said to have journeyed to Nubia in order to bring back the leonine "Eye of Re", who became his consort as the lioness-goddess Mekhit. This legend is paralleled by another surrounding the god Shu at Heliopolis, who was supposed to have also brought back the fearsome "eye" as his own consort, Tefnut. However, the name Anhur suggests that the tradition may have originated with him. This nevertheless led to Anhur often being equated with Shu and also to his link to the sun god under the epithet, "son of Re". Onuris was thus supposed to hunt and slay the enemies of his solar-deity father.

Onuris, as a war-like god, was also associated Montu and Sopedu and had a strong rapport with Horus, whose claims he vociferously advocates in the tribunal judging the rights to the Egyptian throne. Later during the Greek period, he was identified with the Hellenistic war god, Ares. The Romans maintained this war-like identity of Onuris as evidenced by a depiction of Emperor Tiberius on a column shaft in the temple of Kom Ombo which shows Tiberius wearing the characteristic crown of Onuris.

The iconography of Onuris that has survived depict him as a standing god, with a beard and a short wig that is surmounted by a uraeu and either two or four tall plumes. He is frequently depicted wearing a long kilt which is often decorated in a feather-like pattern. His right hand is raised as if to thrust a lance (he is also known as the "lord of the lance") or spear, while his left hand holds a length of rope that may be symbolic of his role in capturing his lioness consort. His association with the spear and ropes also provides an inevitable link with the mythological struggle between Horus and Seth, in which the hawk god used the same weapons to entrap and kill his foe, the Hippopotamus.

A late period bronze statue of Onuris

However, in other instances the rope is absent, and the god may be depicted grasping his raised spear in both hands and at other times neither rope nor spear is present, though his arms are raised as if to hold these objects. This iconography clearly shows that rather than throw the spear, he intends to thrust his spear downward into a subdued enemy. Hence, Onuris controls rather than attacks his enemies.

Though Onuris seems to have originated at This near Abydos in Upper Egypt, his main area of worship in later periods was in the Delta town of Sebennytos (modern Samannud), where he was venerated alongside or as a form of Shu. There is a temple of Onuris-Shu called Phersos (Per-shu) at this site that has been dated to the reign of Nectanebo II, though its construction may have started during the reign of Nectanebo I of Egypt's 30th Dynasty, though worship of Onuris in this location would have predated this temple. Silver and bronze amulets of the god occasionally have been unearthed in Late Period burials elsewhere in Egypt.

Small, silver statue of Onuris

Small, silver statue of Onuris with Lance






Reference Number

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