Naqa Lion Temple: Three-headed Apedemak with four arms
Naqa Lion Temple: Three-headed Apedemak with four arms
Name in hieroglyphs

Major cult centerLion Temple, Naqa

Apedemak or Apademak was a major deity in the Ancient Nubian Pantheon. Often depicted as a figure with a male human torso and a lion head, Apedemak was a war god worshiped by the Meroitic peoples inhabiting Nubia. He has no Egyptian counterpart.[1] As a war god, Apedemak came to symbolize martial power, military conquest, and empire for the Meroitic peoples. Apedemak is also closely associated with Amun, the state-sponsored Egyptian deity during the preceding Napatan period, and is assumed to hold an equal level of importance.

Apedemak primarily appears during the Meroitic Period. It is unknown if worship of Apedemak as a lion god existed before. Some scholars have pointed that the worship of a lion god may be strongly rooted with Egyptian traditions dating before the New Kingdom. Nevertheless, at least by the 3rd century BCE, Apedemak appears to have become an important deity to the peoples living in Upper Nubia.[2] Numerous temples to Apedemak are concentrated in the Butana region, south of the capital city of Meroe. The absence of cult places to him in areas further north points to his southern origin.[3]


Apedemak is chiefly understood as a war god. By extension, he is also considered a god of conquest and military prowess. In reliefs found in both the Lion Temple at Musawwarat es-Sufra and the Sanctuary at Naqa, Apedemak wears leather armor or a cuirass and carries a bow and arrow in his hand, weapons that were associated with the Nubians throughout their history. Other representations show Apedemak killing an enemy, or holding a chain of an enemy captured in battle.[4] Since Apedemak mostly appears on reliefs in similar fashions, he is mostly associated with his role as a god of war.

Additionally, Apedemak is also considered to be a creator and fertility god. One hymn at the Lion-Temple at Musawwarat es-Sufra addresses him as "[the god] who provides nourishment for all manking in his name of 'one awakening unharmed'...lord of life'."[5] Another example of Apedemak in this role is in a relief at the Sanctuary at Naqa. Here Apedemak is depicted holding cereals, a symbol of fertility. Though evidence for Apedemak appearing in this role is not as clear or conspicuous, it is significant that some evidence appears at these two important temples.

As the Meroitic god of empire, Apedemak is involved in the process of electing and legitimizing new leaders. Multiple reliefs depict kings and queens in the process of royal investiture, election, and coronation. In these scenes, Apedemak is one deity who invests the new royal by touching their elbow.

Associations with Amun

During the New Kingdom periods, the Egyptian god Amun was adopted by the Nubians as the chief god of empire. After Apedemak's first attestations during the Meroitic period, it appears that Amun was either held in equal importance or was surpassed by the indigenous Apedemak. Amun's associations with water and fertility (connected to the Nile's inundation) also belonged to Apedemak. In addition, along with Amun, Apedemak was the god who conferred royal power and induct new leaders, as seen on column reliefs and the interiors of the Temple of Musawwarat es-Sufra.[2] The fact that Apedemak and Amun hold similar roles in the Nubian pantheon might suggest a sort of tension, with either god vying for the spot of most importance in the pantheon.[3]

Major temples

A number of Meroitic temples dedicated to this deity are known from the Western Butana region of Sudan. There are temples at Naqa, Meroe, and Musawwarat es-Sufra,.[6][7] Information about Apedemak in the temples at Meroe are forthcoming. At present, the two main temples for Apedemak that have been studied and published are the Lion Temple at Musawwarat es-Sufra and the Apedemak Sanctuary at Naqa. It is likely, however, that there were many informal places where Apedemak's cult was practiced, as mentioned in some literary sources.[2]

The Lion-Temple at Musawwarat es-Sufra

The earliest appearance of Apedemak is at the Lion-Temple at Musawwarat es-Sufra. Built in the late 3rd century BCE, during the reign of King Arnekhamani, this temple is believed to be the earliest representation of Apedemak.[8] Though many different deities appear in this temple complex, Apedemak is understood to be the primary deity, as his depiction is the most prominent. On reliefs along the north wall, Apedemak appears with other Nubian and Egyptian deities, such as Ram-headed Amun, Satis, Horus, and Isis. The west wall, which is not as well preserved, contains only part of a figure recognizable as Apedemak. American Egyptologist Louis Vico Žabkar argues that some of the columns of the temple, though not including Apedemak in his usual lion-headed form, might still represent Apedemak in complete lion form.[4] Several hymns inscribed on the walls mention the Butana region of Nubia, suggesting to some scholars that this might be where Apedemak's cult originated. Other hymns in this temple allude to Apedemak's role as a creator and fertility god.[2]

The Apedemak Sanctuary at Naqa

Constructed during the leadership of Natakamani and Amanitore, the Sanctuary at Naqa is located about 120 kilometers northeast of Khartoum. This site dates to the end of the 2nd century to the end of the 1st century BCE and contains many edifices and temples. It is thought that this temple was derived from the earlier temple at Musawwarat es-Sufra. At this sanctuary, Apedemak appears carrying a bow and a quiver, highlighting Apedemak's character as both a hunter and a warrior god.[8] The appearance of Amun and Apedemak together might suggest a sense of co-regency and between the deities in this region.

Alternative representations of Apedemak at Naqa

Two unusual representations of Apedemak at this site are without parallel and have been the cause behind much discussion. Along the side of a wall, Apedemak appears depicted as a three-headed leonine god with four arms.[9] It may be that the artist decided to show Apedemak turning his head to three different subjects: the king on the left, the viewer in the center, and the queen to the right.[4] Another column appears to show Apedemak as a tall, coiled snake with a human upper torso and Apedemak's characteristic lion head. In his book on Apedemak, Louis Žabkar discusses that Apedemak's snake form might be an indication of his apotropaic features. In other words, it is possible that Apedemak could have warded off snakes, and the representation on the column stressed so.[4] These two depiction are unique, in that Apedemak is typically represented as a figure with a lion head and a male human body.

Other forms of worship

At present, Apedemak is best understood due to his depictions in temples. However, it is possible that other representations of lions, such as statutes and statuettes, may have been depictions of Apedemak.[2] There are some small objects, such as seals and jewelry, that depict lions that might have represented Apedemak as well. The level by which people worshiped the deity outside of official temple worship is poorly understood at this time.



  1. ^ The Ancient World : Extraordinary People in Extraordinary Societies. Michael Shally-Jensen. Ipswich, Mass.: Salem Press. 2017. ISBN 1-68217-190-6. OCLC 975044922.((cite book)): CS1 maint: others (link)
  2. ^ a b c d e Kuckertz, Josefine; Lohwasser, Angelika (2019). Introduction to the Religion of Kush. Germany: J.H. Röll GmbH. pp. 115–118. ISBN 978-3-89754-543-4.
  3. ^ a b Yellin, Janice (2012). "Nubian Religion." In Ancient Nubia : African kingdoms on the Nile. Marjorie M. Fisher, Sue D'Auria, Salima Ikram, Peter Lacovara, Chester Higgins. Cairo: American University in Cairo Press. pp. 125–144. ISBN 978-977-416-478-1. OCLC 733232274.
  4. ^ a b c d Žabkar, Louis V. (1975). Apedemak, Lion god of Meroe : a study in Egyptian-Meroitic syncretism. Warminster, Eng.: Aris & Phillips. ISBN 0-85668-027-3. OCLC 2543227.
  5. ^ Hintze, F. 1962. Die Inschriften des Löwentempels von Musawwarat es Sufra. Abhandlungen der Deutschen Akademie der Wissenschaften zu Berlin. Klasse für Sprachen, Literatur und Kunst Jahrgang 1962 Nr. 1. Berlin.
  6. ^ Edwards, David (2004). The Nubian Past. Oxon: Routledge. pp. 150–153, 167, 179–180. ISBN 9780415369886.
  7. ^ Casely-Hayford, Gus (2012). The Lost Kingdoms of Africa. London: Transworld Publishers. pp. 35–36. ISBN 9780593068144.
  8. ^ a b Török, László (2011). Hellenizing Art in Ancient Nubia, 300 BC-AD 250, and Its Egyptian Models a Study in "Acculturation. Brill.
  9. ^ Claude., Traunecker (2001). The gods of Egypt (1st English language ed., enhanced and expanded ed.). Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press. p. 106. ISBN 978-0801438349. OCLC 46564790.
  10. ^ Török, László (2002). The Image of the Ordered World in Ancient Nubian Art: The Construction of the Kushite Mind, 800 Bc-300 Ad. BRILL. p. 226. ISBN 978-90-04-12306-9.

Further reading