Ammit: Mythology, Hieroglyphics & Facts

Instructor: Sunday Moulton

Sunday earned a PhD in Anthropology and has taught college courses in Anthropology, English, and high school ACT/SAT Prep.

This lesson looks at one of the lesser known beings in ancient Egyptian mythology, the monster-goddess Ammit. Within, you'll learn why she is called the Devourer of the Dead, how her name appears in hieroglyphics, and how we know anything about her.

Imagine Dying in Ancient Egypt

Imagine you lived in ancient Egypt, in a world of Pharaohs and gods. In that place and time, the afterlife was a topic of great concern. It would be for you as well. One of your biggest concerns about life after death would be the fate of your soul. Would you climb the ladder to heaven, held by the god Shu? Would you be doomed to suffer eternally as a wandering spirit in a land of demons, existing as just a remnant of your soul? You would be concerned about your judgment before the god Osiris, the weighing of your deeds, and a creature waiting to devour you. This creature is Ammit, the Devourer of the Dead.

Relief Carving of Ammit and Osiris on Tomb Wall
Relief Carving of Ammit

Judgment After Death

The ancient Egyptians believed that when a person died, their soul would travel to the Hall of Two Truths where it would be judged. While Osiris presided over the events, 42 gods sat in judgment, each reading off the soul's denial for each type of sin. After the reading of denials, the dead person's heart would be set on a scale and weighed against a divine feather representing Ma'at, the Egyptian goddess of truth.

Close image of Ammit from the Funerary Papyri of Ani
Closeup of Ammit

How to Die Again in Ancient Egypt

If the heart was lighter than the feather, the soul was declared pure enough for heaven. If the heart was heavier, the personal was condemned. Their heart and the attached part of their soul were fed to Ammit who sat waiting at the base of the scales for any tasty morsels. Depictions of Ammit show her to have the head of a crocodile, the front legs and torso of a lion, and the back legs and rear end of a hippopotamus. Sounds like a pretty terrifying monster!

Ammit, Devourer of the Dead

While Ammit is sometimes classified among the ancient Egyptian gods, she is more accurately assigned the role of a demon or as a sinister goddess of the Underworld. She is patron of death and execution. Ammit devoured the Ba, the physical manifestation of the soul that could wander but also was required to climb the ladder to heaven and retain immortality. The other part of the soul was the Ka, the life-force of the soul. When combined, they produced the divine spark of life. The idea of having one's Ba devoured by a monster, leaving them a fragment of a soul, horrified many Egyptians.

Ammit waiting by the scales from The Funerary Papyri of Hunefer
Ammit by Scales

Ammit's Name and Hieroglyphics

Like many ancient Egyptian gods, Ammit went by different names or different variations on her name which spell it as Ammut, Ahemait, Amam, and Am-mit. We are unsure of the pronunciation because of the lack of vowel between the two letters M and the T. Thus, there are only four symbols in Ammit's name instead of five like we use in English. The image below details the hieroglyphs making her name.

Oldest known image of Ammit with Hieroglyphic Name Below
Oldest known image of Ammit with Hieroglyphic Name Below

The first symbol is a bent arm. The two owls in the middle each represent the letter M. Finally, the semicircle is actually a bun of bread representing the letter T. The ancient Egyptians also used a single symbol to represent names, especially names of gods. For Ammit, that symbol is an owl, like the ones in her name. The owl represented death in the ancient Egyptian writing systems.

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