Ra, the Sun God of Ancient Egypt: Facts, Symbol & Powers

Ra, the Sun God of Ancient Egypt: Facts, Symbol & Powers
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  • 0:03 Ra, the Sun God
  • 0:37 Symbolism of Ra
  • 2:20 Powers of Ra
  • 3:17 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Jessica M Lathrop

Jessica has a master's degree in history with a focus on ancient and classical civilizations.

Ra, the Sun God of Ancient Egypt, has an overwhelming presence in ancient Egyptian iconography. Learn about the history of Ra and his powers in this lesson.

Ra, the Sun God

The sun played a very important role in ancient Egyptian life. It was responsible for life, light, and warmth. It was natural then, given the vital functions of the sun, that a culture might begin to worship it in the form of a god.

Ra the sun god was considered to be the king or father of all gods, and was typically worshiped by pharaohs as the primary deity of Egypt. Ra served as the primary deity for Egyptians starting around 2700 B.C.E. in the second dynasty.

Symbolism of Ra

Ra is always symbolized by a large, golden disk. When in human form, he is most commonly depicted as a man with a hawk head, wearing the golden disk on top of his head, with a serpent wrapped around the base of the disk like a crown. Ra is generally shown holding a scepter in his left hand and an Ankh in his right hand. An ankh is like a cross with a loop at the top and is the ancient Egyptian symbol for life.

Sometimes Ra is shown in animal form; most commonly, Ra is shown as a hawk, but sometimes also a beetle, lion, ram, or snake, as all of these were considered powerful animals in ancient Egypt. In iconography, Egyptians sometimes painted Ra as simply a large solar disk between two large falcon wings. Ra was incorporated into many aspects of Egyptian art, and he can be seen in paintings, sculptures, statues, and even jewelry.

The Egyptians believed that Ra made two trips to the water daily by boat, going past the horizon line. His morning trip to bring the sun out of the water was called Matet, which means becoming strong; his evening trip to return the sun back into the water was called Semktet, which means becoming weak.

During the later dynasties, Ra was combined with the Egyptian title of Horus, called Ra-Horakhty. Ra-Horakhty was considered to have complete dominion over the earth, including Heaven and the Underworld. While he was not a different deity, it is believed by historians that the additional name was added to link his journey to and from the water each day.

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