Rattawy: Female Sun of Two Lands

Rattawy, or Raet, is the feminine form of the name Ra, the Egyptian sun-god. Strangely, she has nothing to do with the sun-god’s cult, but seems to have led an independent existence from the 19th Dynasty onward. While some see her as simply “Mrs. Ra”, the only records we have of her tell a very different story.

Cult of Rattawy

Louvres-antiquites-egyptiennes-p1020115She was also the wife of the god Montu, with Khonsu as their child. She accompanied Montu as the local goddess of the city of Armant, which the Romans called Hermontis. In other places where Montu had temples, such as Medamud, Tod, and Thebes, Rattawy often accompanies him. (You can still visit the ruins of their temple at Medamed.) She had a close connection to Thebes in particular, like her son, the moon-god Khonsu.

The longer form of her name means “Raet of the Two Lands”, meaning Upper and Lower Egypt. In prehistoric times the two were separate, and pharoahs were called sema-tawy, uniter of two lands, and queens nbt-tꜣwy, lady of two lands.

In later times the god Khonsu was replaced by Harpocrates, the child-form of Horus, but somehow Rattawy and Montu were his parents, instead of Isis and Osiris. It may be that one divine child was replaced by another, more popular one.

Montu with bull's head, found at the same shrine as the Raet statue.

Montu with bull’s head, found at the same shrine as the Rattawy statue.

Egpytian art showed Rattawy (can also be written Raet-Tawy) as a human woman, wearing a Hathor-like crown of a sun resting between two cow horns, with the protective serpent at its base. Four statues of her from the Roman period have been found, hidden underneath the floor of Montu’s temple at Medamud. The four show Rattawy as the goddess of Medamud, Tod, Armant and Thebes, each with a Hathor-crown, now broken off.

She also was occasionally shown with a vulture-crest, which was the emblem of Upper Egypt, after its protector-goddess.

Rattawy could also be shown with a cow head, linking her to Hathor, or a falcon-head, like her husband’s. (The image here shows him with a bull’s head, because Montu was associated as war-god with charging bulls.) Bulls were strongly associated with Montu’s cult, especially the Buchis Bull which was a cult animal. Both bull and falcon were considered warlike animals, as the cult of the older form of Horus, the falcon/hawk-headed god shows.

The temple to Montu and Rattawy was a large, long-standing structure, with its own sacred grove. It had a processional way and giant statues of cobras, which certainly made it distinct. (The cobra-goddess was another protector of the sun, which is why Ra, Rattawy and Hathor all wear her on their headdresses.)

Prayer to Rattawy

There is very little written evidence for a cult of Rattawy, but fragments of demotic (vernacular) papyrus include a hymn to her:
]…t … you made m…[
] … we (?) speak …. [
]… come, cause … [
Th]ebes, the town of Amun…  [
] for/to you (?) Khonsu-the-child, the [noble(?)] child
Rat]tawy the (var. : our) mistress [
] the one who makes everything, Rattawy the field [
(trans. from Kockelmann)

Rattawy and Ramses II. From Tumblr.

Rattawy and Ramses II, with ankh. From Tumblr.

Other documents from her temple include receipts for wine and other offerings, as well as curses and oaths. One curse is interesting as it mentions Rattawy of Thebes in particular. Some pertain to gardens and fields attached to her temples. One text mentions the bull of Medamut, Montu, as well as Rattawy. Another is a fragment of a temple oath, which mentions her and Hathor.

 Harvest Festival

We also know that she had a festival in the fourth month, Shemu, which was the harvest season, so Rattawy may well have had a fertility aspect.

An image from the doorway of the Great Temple of Amun shows Rattawy presenting the pharaoh Rameses II with an ankh. (It looks as if she’s feeding it to him.) She may not be the most well-known of goddesses, but she clearly had a role in the pharaonic cult. (Rameses was the third pharaoh of the 19th Dynasty, which was when Rattawy became a prominent deity.) There is also a colossus of Rameses at the temple, which testifies to his devotion to the two deities.

Cleopatra and the Sun-Goddess

Temple of Montu and Rattawy by Francis Frith.

Temple of Montu and Rattawy by Francis Frith.

As well as Rameses, Rattawy associated with another Egyptian celebrity, Cleopatra. She installed Montu’s sacred bull at the temple of Amun-Montu at Karnak, then went with the procession that took the bull to Hermontis, Montu’s home temple. There she viewed images showing her worshipping the triad of Montu, Rattawy, and the Buchis bull. The fact that Cleopatra was the “Lady of the Two Lands” may well have inclined her to favour Rattawy’s cult. In fact, she specifically asked for Rattawy to be at Hermonthis.

The Birth Chamber was the most interesting bit – there Hathor, Isis and Rattawy gave their sustaining milk to the sun-god, son of Montu. This was a bit of political theatre, since Julius Caesar was being linked to Montu, and their son Caeserion to the sun-god. Not surprisingly, Cleopatra wished to have goddesses with a touch of the sun about them as his nurses.

It is also appropriate for another reason. When the old Egyptian gods were being matched up to Greek ones by the Ptolemies, including Cleopatra, they decided that Rattawy was the equivalent of the goddess Leto, a Titan famous for being the mother of Apollo and Artemis and for her modesty. Cleopatra obviously hoped that her son would achieve the fame of Leto’s children, but fate had other plans.

Bunson, Margaret 2009: Encyclopedia of Ancient Egypt, Infobase Publishing.
Fletcher, Joann 2009: Cleopatra the Great, Hodder and Stoughton.
Kockelmann, Holger 2003: “A Roman Demotic Hymn to Rattawy and Other Deities (P. Ashm. 1984.76)” Journal of Egyptian Archaeology: 217-29.

The image at the top is actually a painting by Susana Santos on deviantart.

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