Apep, also spelled Apepi, Aapep (Ancient Egyptian: ꜥꜣpp(y) *ʻAʼpāp(ī); Coptic: Ⲁⲫⲱⲫ Aphōph[1]), or Apophis (/əˈpfɪs/;[2] Ancient Greek: Ἄποφις Ápophis), was the ancient Egyptian deity who embodied darkness and disorder, and was thus the opponent of light and Ma'at (order/truth). Ra was the bringer of light and hence the biggest opposer of Apep.

A depiction of Apep based on the depiction in the tomb of Ramesses I
AbodeThe Duat
TextsThe Book of the Dead
Personal information
ParentsNeith (in some myths)


p p
in hieroglyphs

Because Ra was the solar deity, bringer of light, and thus the upholder of Ma'at, Apep was viewed as the greatest enemy of Ra, and thus was given the title Enemy of Ra, and also "the Lord of Chaos".

"The Lord of Chaos" was seen as a giant snake or serpent leading to such titles as Serpent from the Nile and Evil Dragon. Some elaborations said that he stretched 16 yards in length and had a head made of flint.

Presented on a Naqada I (c. 4000-3550 BCE) C-ware bowl (now in Cairo) a snake was painted on the inside rim combined with other desert and aquatic animals as an enemy of a deity, seemingly a solar deity, who is invisibly hunting in a big rowing vessel.[4] The snake on the inside rim is believed to be Apep.

The few descriptions of Apep's origin in myth usually demonstrate that it was born after Ra, usually from his umbilical cord. Geraldine Pinch claims that a much later creation myth explained that, "Apophis sprang from the saliva of the goddess Neith when she was still in the primeval waters. Her spit became a snake 120 yards long."[5] But Apep was commonly believed to have existed from the beginning of time in the waters of Nu of primeval chaos.[6]

Battles with Ra

Set spearing the snake Apep (Egyptian Museum, Cairo)
The sun god Ra, in the form of Great Cat, slays the snake Apep[7]

Tales of Apep's battles against Ra were elaborated during the New Kingdom.[8] Storytellers said that every day Apep must lie below the horizon and not persist in the mortal kingdom. This appropriately made him a part of the underworld. In some stories, Apep waited for Ra in a western mountain called Manu, where the sun set, and in others, Apep lurked just before dawn, in the Tenth region of the Night. The wide range of Apep's possible locations gained him the title World-Encircler. It was thought that his terrifying roar would cause the underworld to rumble. Myths sometimes say that Apep was trapped there, because he had been the previous chief god overthrown by Ra, or because he was evil and had been imprisoned.

The Coffin Texts imply that Apep used a magical gaze to overwhelm Ra and his entourage.[9] Ra was assisted by a number of defenders who travelled with him, including Set and possibly the Eye of Ra.[10] Apep's movements were thought to cause earthquakes, and his battles with Set may have been meant to explain the origin of thunderstorms.[11] In one account, Ra himself defeats Apep in the form of a cat.[12]

Religious Practices


Ra's victory each night was thought to be ensured by the prayers of the Egyptian priests and worshippers at temples. The Egyptians practiced a number of rituals and superstitions that were thought to ward off Apep, and aid Ra in continuing his journey across the sky.[13]

In an annual rite called the Ritual of Overthrowing Apophis, priests would build an effigy (sculpture or model of a person or a deity) of Apep that was thought to contain all of the evil and darkness in Egypt, and burn it to protect everyone from Apep's evil for another year.

The Egyptian priests had a detailed guide to fighting Apep, referred to as The Books of Overthrowing Apep (or the Book of Apophis, in Greek).[14] The chapters described a gradual process of dishonoring, dismemberment, and disposal, which include:

  • Spitting Upon Apep
  • Defiling Apep with the Left Foot
  • Taking a Lance to Smite Apep
  • Fettering Apep
  • Taking a Knife to Smite Apep
  • Putting Fire Upon Apep

In addition to stories about Ra's victories, this guide had instructions for making wax models, or small drawings, of the serpent, which would be spat on, mutilated and burnt, whilst reciting spells that would aid Ra in killing Apep. Fearing that even the image of Apep could give power to the demon, any rendering would always include another deity to subdue the monster.

As Apep was thought to live in the underworld, he was sometimes thought of as an Eater of Souls. Thus the dead also needed protection, so they were sometimes buried with spells that could destroy Apep. The Book of the Dead does not frequently describe occasions when Ra defeated the chaos snake explicitly called Apep. Only Book of the Dead Spells 7 and 39 can be explained as such.[15]

Example of a Naqada 1 C-Ware bowl (though not the one depicting Apep)

See also



  1. ^ a b Erman, Adolf, and Hermann Grapow, eds. 1926–1953. Wörterbuch der aegyptischen Sprache im Auftrage der deutschen Akademien. 6 vols. Leipzig: J. C. Hinrichs'schen Buchhandlungen. (Reprinted Berlin: Akademie-Verlag GmbH, 1971).
  2. ^ "Apophis". Dictionary.com Unabridged (Online). n.d. Retrieved 12 July 2021.
  3. ^ Hieroglyph as per Budge Gods of the Ancient Egyptians (1969), Vol. I, 180.
  4. ^ C. Wolterman, in Jaarbericht van Ex Oriente Lux, Leiden Nr.37 (2002).
  5. ^ Pinch, Geraldine (2004). Egyptian Mythology: A Guide to the Gods, Goddesses, and Traditions of Ancient Egypt. Oxford University Press. p. 106. ISBN 978-0-19-517024-5.
  6. ^ The Complete Gods And Goddesses Of Ancient Egypt.
  7. ^ tomb of Inherkha, Deir el-Medina
  8. ^ J. Assmann, Egyptian Solar Religion in the New Kingdom, transl. by A. Alcock (London, 1995), 49-57.
  9. ^ Borghouts, J. F. (1973). "The Evil Eye of Apopis". The Journal of Egyptian Archaeology 59. 114–115.
  10. ^ Borghouts, J. F. (1973). "The Evil Eye of Apopis". The Journal of Egyptian Archaeology 59. 116.
  11. ^ Pinch, Geraldine (2004). Egyptian Mythology: A Guide to the Gods, Goddesses, and Traditions of Ancient Egypt. Oxford University Press. p. 107. ISBN 978-0-19-517024-5.
  12. ^ Pinch, Geraldine (2004). Egyptian Mythology: A Guide to the Gods, Goddesses, and Traditions of Ancient Egypt. Oxford University Press. pp. 107–108. ISBN 978-0-19-517024-5.
  13. ^ "Never-Ending Battles Between God Ra And Indestructible Apophis In Ancient Egyptian Beliefs - Ancient Pages". www.ancientpages.com. 2021-05-20. Retrieved 2024-03-19.
  14. ^ Chapters 3-5 of I. Kousoulis, Panagiotis (1999). Magic and religion as a performative theological unity : the apotropaic 'Ritual of Overthrowing Apophis' (phd thesis). University of Liverpool.
  15. ^ J.F.Borghouts, Book of the Dead [39]: From Shouting to Structure (Studien zum Altaegyptischen Totenbuch 10, Wiesbaden, 2007).