Hapy (also spelt Hapi) was one of the main Nile gods of Egypt, responsible for the bounty and fertility of the Nile, as well as the annual innundation. He should not be confused with Hapy, one of the sons of Horus, associated with the canpoic jar containing the lungs of the blessed dead.
Hapi (also “Hapy”) likely comes from the beginnings of Pharaonic history. He is originally from Upper Egypt, and was believed to reside at the Nile source, which for much of Pharaonic history was held to be at the First Cataract (the exact location changing at certain points in history), and his name is also one of the names of the Nile itself, again pointing to his early origins.
Characteristics & Responsibilities
Hapi is usually depicted as a human male, and is depicted with an unsual physique, sporting a rounded belly and prominent breasts. He is often depicted with nilotic vegetation (often papyrus or lotus plants) as a crown. The few statues of him that survive often depict him standing behind an offering table decorated with these plants, suggesting, perhaps, that these may have been the offerings particularly associated with his worship, as well as being symbolic of the bounty of the Nile.
As a Nile god, Hapi was seen as being in control of the inundation, and by extension, the fertility of the land which depended upon it, and this gave him a nationwide visibility. The inundation was deeply entwined with him, to the degree that it was referred to as the “Arrival of Hapi”. His role in the “Binding of the Two Lands” in the Semna Tawy imagery is a logical extension of his Nile god role, since it was the river that provided the essential link between Upper and Lower Egypt, as a highway, culturally, religiously, and politically.
Associations and Prominence
Despite his widespread depictions in temple and royal art, and his obvious importance as a Nile god, Hapi didn’t have a prominent state cult due to the rise of the ram-headed Khnum, who shares responsibility with Hapi for the functions of the Nile. Like Hapi, Khnum had fertility associations (Khnum is responsible for the creation of the body and the Ka of people on his potters wheel). Hapi also shares role with Satet, the consort of Khnum, and who became very prominent in Nubia between the New Kingdom and Roman Period.
A consort for Hapi is mentioned as Meret. Although not given a prominent place in Egyptian mythology she possibly did have a stronger role in common religion, being the recipient of his fertility brought forth by the inundation.
The New Kingdom temple of Satet on Elephantine (partially reconstructed by a German mission) has been found to stand on an earlier two Middle Kingdom temples which in turn stand on top of an Old Kingdom and finally, an Archaic site. The exact deities worshipped on the Old Kingdom/Archaic site is unknown, but given the site’s importance for Nile god worship through many eras, it is not unreasonable to theorise that a temple to Hapi may have stood here, or perhaps elsewhere on Elephantine. It is known from Egyptian texts that many temples did exist on the island over the ages, which have been erased from the archaeological record, or have yet to be found.
Hapi was often referred to as the “Lord of the River” or “Lord of the River Which Brings Vegetation” as well as “Lord of Fishes and Marsh Birds”.
Hapi is depicted in temples right through the Pharaonic, Ptolomaic and Roman eras, and it would seem that his decline only came about with the forced adoption of Christianity in the late Roman era. In the folk celebrations of the Fellahin of later eras, various festivals linking the Nile, inundation and fertility continued. These festivals are usually linked to local saints or holy men (both Coptic and Islamic) and often consist of taking flowers down to the river and feasting on the banks. Such celebrations are documented, and still take place today. It is possible, though not certain, that some of these customs are distantly related to Pharaonic era practises as celebrations of Hapi and the other Nile gods.
How the ending of the inundation by the Aswan High Dam will affect these practises in the long term (once the inundation is out of living memory and experience) is a much debated question.
- Blackman, W (2000), The Fellahin of Upper Egypt, AUC Press, Cairo
- Wilkinson, R (2000), The Complete Temples of Ancient Egypt, Thames & Hudson, London
- Wilkinson, R (2003), The Complete Gods and Goddesses of Ancient Egypt, Thames & Hudson, London