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Osiris in hieroglyphics
written out

with  determinative
Standing Osiris edit1.svg
Osiris with crook and flagellum

Osiris (from ancient Greek Ὄσιρις , Coptic spelling Ⲟⲩⲥⲓⲣⲉ / Ⲟⲩⲥⲓⲣⲓ, reading and etymology of the ancient Egyptian name disputed) is the Egyptian god of the afterlife ( god of the dead ), rebirth and the Nile . The associated Osiris myth is considered a myth transferred to nature, without the fertility god Osiris himself acting as the god of vegetation . Nevertheless, occasionally in literature he is wrongly equated with a god of vegetation. Osiris was killed in myth by his brother Seth and brought back to life by his sister wife Isis. Its main place of worship was Abydos . As the fourth king of the first dynasty of gods, he also acted as part of the nine gods of Heliopolis . In the pyramid texts , Osiris was considered the "god of the north".

With the beginning of the 4th dynasty , a nameless god appears in the sacrificial formulas of private graves; at the end of the 4th dynasty then for the first time by name as Osiris. The earliest iconographic depiction of the deity Osiris is documented on a block of the pyramid district of Djedkare , the penultimate ruler of the 5th dynasty . Under Unas , the successor and last king of the 5th dynasty, it was first mentioned in writing in the pyramid texts. Initially, Osiris played a subordinate role in the cult of the king, since Osiris was considered the "god of the dead", but not the "god of the king". The king saw himself mythologically on the same level and therefore referred to himself as "his brother who is endowed with the powers of Osiris". Osiris ruled at this stage as "God over the dead human beings", while after his death the king saw himself as "God over the resting gods in the hereafter ". In this respect Osiris represented the "death god of the people" and the king the "death god of the gods". It was only with the collapse of the Old Kingdom that the royal distance from Osiris changed.

With the beginning of the Middle Kingdom , Osiris received total power over the realm of the dead in Egyptian mythology and has since stood above the king in the hierarchy. Its importance as one of the most important gods of ancient Egypt increased steadily in the further course of ancient Egyptian history, which is why its cult was also able to spread across the Hellenistic world. Osiris, together with Horus and Isis, formed the triad of Abydos. The constellation of Orion is linked to it .


Nile flood

According to ancient Egyptian tradition, the Nile arose from the leg of Osiris in the Abaton on Philae . The flood of the Nile symbolized its outflows, which flowed into the Mediterranean . His annual rebirth was announced by the “Heavenly Nile”, which fell to earth in the south on the borders of Egypt and caused the Nile to rise. The "Heavenly Nile" is represented by the constellation Eridanus , which begins at the leg of Osiris ( Orion ). The flood of the Nile was interpreted as the corpse secretion of Osiris. Osiris falls into the category of those fertility gods who make new life possible through their death.

God of death

Osiris in the tomb of Sennedjem

Osiris is god and judge of the dead and the underworld and also ruler of the subterranean world, the Duat . The dead must answer to him before they can enter the hereafter . All otherworldly enemies of the deceased, such as the net catchers or "those with the terrible faces", are emissaries of Osiris and thus by definition not evil powers, as they persecute and kill enemies of Osiris. But to avoid confusion, every collection of spells accompanying the dead man in the grave usually contains incantations against these demons .
In the coffin texts, the deceased identify with Osiris ( wsjr NN pn , "this Osiris NN"); Through the detailed description of Osiris' embalming and resurrection, the deceased hope that these events will also succeed with them. He probably took over the aspects of a god of the dead from Sokar .

In Egyptian mythology, the astral representation of the border between this and the hereafter is the “heavenly river” Eridanus , which the deceased had to cross with the help of the gods Thoth and Anubis .

Fertility god

Through the resurrection, Osiris became the god of fertility. Resurrection myths can also be found in the Hebrew Bible ( Ezekiel ) and in the New Testament ( resurrection of Christ ), each with its own meaning. Sir Alan Gardiner thought it possible that the Osiris myth goes back to a real event.

In the Greco-Roman period on was 27 Choiak (November 23 greg. Since Augustus ) the "Festival of finding the lower leg of Osiris" celebrated. On this day Osiris created the deity Nemti in the form of a maggot made of silver "attached to the head of a cow".

Amalgamations and surnames

The Osiris myth is one of the most important myths of the ancient Egyptian religion . In the Middle Kingdom , Osiris formed a singular deity with Ptah and Sokar . In addition, various local gods of the early period merged as the manifestation of Osiris, for example Anedjti , Chontamenti , Sepa and Wenen-nefer / Wen-nefer ( Wn-nfr ); among other things, Osiris is mentioned in the Amun temple of Hibis with the nickname Wsjr-wnn-nfr (Osiris-Onophris / Onophrios) ("Osiris who is good / Osiris who is perfect").

In Hellenism , the Osiris cult was merged with that of the Apis bull and some Greek gods such as Dionysus . The Ptolemies raised Osiris under the name Serapis to the imperial god ( see also: Serapeum (Saqqara) and Serapeum of Alexandria ).


Osiris is depicted in an anthropomorphic form, as a human mummy , always standing or sitting stiffly upright with closed legs, either with green skin color, as a symbol of fertility, with black skin color, as the color of chthonic deities and the dark Nile floodplain, or with white skin color , perhaps as a symbol for the mummy ties.

His hands protrude from the cover and hold as his main attributes crook (symbol of the good shepherd) and flagellum (symbol of fertility), which were probably taken over by royal insignia because of his role as ruler of the afterlife . There are regional differences in the way he holds the insignia. The Osiris figures from Middle Egypt usually keep their arms at the same height, while in Upper Egypt they are usually crossed.

The depictions from the Middle Kingdom often show him with the white crown of the south , which perhaps indicates his Upper Egyptian origin. Another crowning element of Osiris is the Atef crown , which is similar to the white crown, but to which two lateral feathers and occasionally horns and sun discs are attached. Other crowns and complex mixed forms are also found in later representations as a deviation from the standard of the white or the Atef crown.

In later forms the depictions of Osiris are sometimes adorned with wide decorative collars and bracelets, but also with more details in the depiction of mummy bandages and with ribbons crossed over the chest and a sash tied at the waist .


The Osiris myth is one of the most important myths of the Egyptian religion. Individual elements of the myth can be found, starting from the pyramid texts of the Old Kingdom up to the Greco-Roman times. In a closed narrative form, however, the myth has only been handed down by the Greek author Plutarch in his work About Isis and Osiris . However, this version does not agree in some important passages with the Egyptian original texts, which are not completely consistent either.

The Egyptian mythology describes that Osiris and Isis loved each other already in the womb and gave each other protection and security. Therefore, as adults, they became a couple. Osiris has been the counterpart to his brother Seth since birth . He valued the good things, while his brother was only driven by hatred and anger from the first breath. Seth married his sister Nephthys , Isis' twin sister. This and the opposite pole of the two gods led to mutual loathing, and they began to war for a long time.

One day Isis learned that her sister Nephthys had posed as her and had slept with Osiris afterwards. Nephthys feared that her husband Seth might find out, which is why she abandoned the soon-to-be-born child of Osiris. With the help of dogs, Isis found this child, took it with her and raised it. It later became known as Anubis , god of embalmers and protector of the deceased, their guardian and companion.

At the time Isis found this child, Seth killed his brother by outsmarting him at a banquet. He dismembered the body of Osiris and scattered it all over the country. Thereupon the grieving and desperate Isis went in search of the remains of her beloved husband Osiris, in order to then put them together again with the help of magic . With the murder of Osiris the afterlife came into being, and so Isis was chosen to connect it with this world . She took over this task and power in order to father a child with her lover Osiris, who was to avenge his father as soon as it was mature and grown up enough. So Isis became pregnant and gave birth to their son Horus , the sun god , on the lifeless body of Osiris . He was raised in Buto so that he wouldn't get too close to Seth too soon. However, when Horus grew up and learned the story about his father, he only felt hatred for Seth and practiced every day to be able to beat and kill him in a fight.

Together with Isis, Nephthys guarded the last gate of the underworld through which the sun god traveled to the upper world. With Isis, she mourned and resuscitated the deceased, and both of them frequently visited the corpse of their brother and lover Osiris.

While Isis was traveling to her son Horus, Seth found the tomb of Osiris while hunting at night. When he recognized his hated brother in it, he was so angry that he tore his body into a thousand pieces. When Isis found out, she went there, sailed through the swamps in a papyrus boat, and gathered all the pieces of her lover back together. For this reason one always spoke of several graves of Osiris.

However, the stories are divided here again. Some claim that Isis buried the individual limbs of Osiris. Others, however, believe that Isis made replicas of the corpse and gave it to several cities to be worshiped there. Also, once Seth got the upper hand over Horus, he should never be able to find him. Due to the multitude of graves, he should lose the desire to search.

After Osiris had visited his son Horus on earth and encouraged him to fight against Seth, the relentless fight began, which lasted four whole days. Horus emerged victorious and became the new king of Egypt. However, since Isis freed the chained Seth, he was so angry and outraged that he tore the crown from her head, especially out of great affection, respect and love for his father Osiris. Therefore, the death penalty was imposed on him in the form of his dismemberment.

See also


  • E. Amélineau : Le tombeau d'Osiris. E. Leroux, Paris 1899.
  • Jan Assmann : Death and the afterlife in ancient Egypt. Special edition. Beck, Munich 2003, ISBN 3-406-49707-1 .
  • Horst Beinlich : The "Osiris Relics". On the motif of the dissection of the body in the ancient Egyptian religion (= Egyptological treatises. Volume 42). Harrassowitz, Wiesbaden 1984, ISBN 3-447-02498-4 (also: Würzburg, Univ., Habil.-Schr., 1983).
  • Osiris, Osiris tomb. In: Hans Bonnet : Lexicon of the Egyptian religious history. 3rd unchanged edition. Nikol, Hamburg 2005, ISBN 3-937872-08-6 , pp. 477-568.
  • Julia Budka : The god Osiris. In: Kemet. Issue 2, 2000, ISSN  0943-5972 , pp. 10-11 ( digitized version ).
  • Julia Budka: The Osiris Mysteries in Abydos and the Osiris Tomb. In: Kemet. Issue 2, 2000, pp. 11-14 ( digitized version ).
  • Adolf Erman : The Egyptian religion (= handbooks of the Royal Museums in Berlin. Volume 9, ZDB -ID 844998-3 ). 2nd revised edition. Reimer, Berlin 1909.
  • Adolf Erman: On the name of Osiris . In: Georg Steindorff (Hrsg.): Journal for Egyptian language and antiquity . Forty-sixth volume. Hinrichs'sche Buchhandlung, Leipzig 1909, p. 92-95 ( archive.org [accessed April 12, 2016]).
  • Thorsten Fleck: Isis, Sarapis, Mithras and the spread of Christianity in the 3rd century . In: Klaus-Peter Johne, Thomas Gerhardt, Udo Hartmann (eds.): Deleto paene imperio Romano. Transformation processes of the Roman Empire in the 3rd century and their reception in modern times . Steiner, Stuttgart 2006, ISBN 3-515-08941-1 , pp. 289-314 .
  • John Gwyn Griffiths: The Origins of Osiris and his Cult. In: Studies in the History of Religions. Volume 40, 1980, ISSN  0169-8834 , pp. 85 f.
  • Osiris. In: Wolfgang Helck : Small Lexicon of Egyptology. 4th revised edition. Harrassowitz, Wiesbaden 1999, ISBN 3-447-04027-0 , p. 213 ff.
  • Gabriele Höber-Kamel: From cult object to all-mother - the goddess Isis. In: Kemet. Heft 4, 2000, pp. 14-16 (with a lot of information about Osiris and the cult).
  • Hermann Junker : The Hour Watch in the Osiris Mysteries. Based on the inscriptions by Dendra, Edfu and Philae (= Imperial Academy of Sciences in Vienna. Philosophical-historical class. Memoranda. Volume 54, Abh. 1, ISSN  0257-4543 ). Hölder, Vienna 1910.
  • Hermann Kees : Faith in the dead and conceptions of the afterlife of the ancient Egyptians. Foundations and development until the end of the Middle Kingdom. 4th unchanged edition. Akademie-Verlag, Berlin 1980.
  • Hermann Kees: The belief in gods in ancient Egypt (= messages from the Middle East-Egyptian Society. Volume 45, ZDB -ID 208277-9 ). Hinrichs, Leipzig 1941.
  • Klaus P. Kuhlmann: On the etymology of the gods name Osiris. In: Studies on ancient Egyptian culture. (SAK). Volume 2, 1975, ISSN  0340-2215 , pp. 135-138.
  • Jürgen Osing: Isis and Osiris. In: Communications from the German Archaeological Institute, Cairo Department. (MDAIK) Volume 30, 1974, ISSN  0342-1279 , p. 91 ff.
  • Eberhard Otto : Osiris and Amun, cult and holy places. Hirmer, Munich 1966.
  • Andreas Pries: The hour watch in the Osiris cult. A study of the tradition and late reception of rituals in ancient Egypt. 2 volumes, Harrassowitz, Wiesbaden 2011, ISBN 978-3-447-06262-6 .
  • Heinrich Schäfer : The Mysteries of Osiris in Abydos under King Sesostris III. After the memorial stone of the master treasurer I-cher-nofret in the Berlin Museum (= Studies on the history and antiquity of Egypt. (UGAÄ). Volume 4, Issue 2, ZDB -ID 502520-5 ). Hinrichs, Leipzig 1904.
  • Richard H. Wilkinson : The world of the gods in ancient Egypt. Belief, power, mythology. Theiss, Stuttgart 2003, ISBN 3-8062-1819-6 .
  • Jürgen Zeidler : On the etymology of the divine name Osiris. In: Studies on ancient Egyptian culture. (SAK). Volume 28, 2000, ISSN  0340-2215 , pp. 309-316 ( digitized version ).

Web links

Commons : Osiris  - collection of images, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. Jan Assmann: Death and Beyond in Ancient Egypt. 2003, p. 164 as well as:
    Jan Assmann: Egyptian hymns and prayers. 2nd improved and enlarged edition. Universitätsverlag, Freiburg (Switzerland) 1999, ISBN 3-7278-1230-3 , p. 52.
  2. Martin Bommas: The temple of Khnum of the 18th Dyn. On Elephantine. Dissertation, Heidelberg University 2000, p. 13 ( full text PDF).
  3. Onnophris. In: Hans Bonnet: Lexicon of the Egyptian religious history. 3rd unchanged edition. Nikol, Hamburg 2005, ISBN 3-937872-08-6 , p. 545.
  4. see: Richard H. Wilkinson: The world of the gods in ancient Egypt. 2003, p. 120ff.