Egyptian God

Ptah

Ptah was the Egyptian god of craftsmen and the arts, patron of artists and metalworkers. The divine sculptor who shaped humanity out of mud and clay, his words were said to have inspired Amun to create the universe.

By Evan MeehanLast updated on Aug. 28th, 2021
Ptah, Egyptian God of Craftsmanship (3:2)
  • Who was Ptah married to?

    Ptah, in his role as part of the Memphite Triad, was married to the goddess Sekhmet and father to the third of the triad, Nefertum.

  • Was Ptah a dwarf?

    Ptah was frequently depicted as a dwarf, possibly the result of his association with the dangerous metals used in jewelry making.

  • What color was Ptah?

    Ptah was frequently depicted with either blue or green skin, associating him with fertility and creation, which was appropriate for the creator god.

The ancient Egyptian god of craftsmen and the arts, Ptah spoke the words that inspired the creation of the universe. Part of the Memphite Triad, Ptah was the husband of Sekhmet and the father of Nefertum.

Etymology

Though the precise origins of Ptah’s name remain unclear, several clues can be gleaned from surviving knowledge. The high priest of Ptah’s cult was referred to as wer-kherep-hemu, or "Great Leader of the Craftsmen." This title suggests that Ptah’s name may have been connected to the Egyptian root-word meaning “to sculpt.”1

Ptah’s epithets included:

  • Lord of the Year

  • Fashioner of the Earth

  • Lord of Resurrection2

  • Ptah res-ineb-ef / Ptah Who is South of His Wall

  • Ptah khery-bak- ef / Ptah Who is Under His Moringa Tree3

  • He Who is Beautiful of Face4

  • Ptah the Dwarf5

Attributes

As the divine sculptor, Ptah was regarded as the god of arts, crafts, and the creative mind.6 Ptah also served as the patron of sculptors and metalworkers.

Ptah’s relationship with craftsman also solidified his association with dwarfs.7 Ptah-Paitakos was a form of Ptah depicted as an achondroplastic dwarf. This link between dwarfism and metalsmithing (jewelry production, in particular) was likely a result of chronic exposure to heavy metals, such as arsenic and lead. The Greek smith-god Hephaestus was similarly crippled, and was at least in-part an adaptation of Ptah.

Ptah was usually depicted as a blue-skinned, bearded man sporting a skull cap and a scepter.8 In a mythos where most gods’ beards were curved, Ptah’s staight beard was a departure from the norm.9

Family

Ptah’s consort/wife was Sekhmet, the lion-headed warrior goddess. The two gods had a son, Nefertum.10

During the New Kingdom (1549-1069BCE) Ptah and Sekhmet were revered as the parents of Imhotep. An advisor to King Djoser during the 3rd Dynasty (c. 2686BCE) Imhotep was so revered that he eventually passed into myth. By the Late Period (664-332BCE) Imhotep had become fully deified and was worshipped as a full-fledged god in his own right.11

Family Tree

  • Consorts
    wife
    • Sekhmet
  • Children
    sons
    • Nefertum
    • Imhotep

Mythology

Ptah’s cult of worship began in the Egyptian capital city of Memphis. Though he was worshipped from the 1st Dynasty (c. 3050BCE) onward, Ptah initially had limited importance outside the capital.12

Memphis’s political centrality allowed Ptah to rise within the Egyptian pantheon.13 Ptah’s importance eventually became such that Memphis became known as Hikaptah or “House of the ka [spirit] of Ptah.” A temple dedicated to Ptah stood within the center of the city.14

Memphis’ political might generated Memphite theology, and Ptah’s mythology served as a retroactive explanation for Memphis’s rise to power.15

Origin Myth

While Ptah’s true origins remain unknown, some accounts have suggested that he inititially appeared as a sun god. Alternative sources indicate he may have been a moon god, while others suggest he was a sun and moon god. Several scholars have suggested that Ptah had a different origin entirely. According to this theory, Ptah was a version of the Apis bull, which had long been worshipped in Memphis.16

Ptah the Spirit of Creation

Ptah was elevated to the status of “creator of the universe” in a somewhat oblique fashion. While Atum’s role as the creator of the universe was long established, Ptah’s cult believed that Ptah’s words inspired Atum to take up his task.17

The Divine Craftsman

As a result of the heterogeneity of the Egyptian pantheon, there are numerous creator gods and goddesses. In addition to inspiring the creation of the cosmos, Ptah was said to have fashioned gods, men, food, justice, labor, and “all good things.”18

Ptah created gods from precious metals and gemstones, and sculpted humans from mud and clay.19

Ptah’s Role in the Land of the Dead

While Ptah himself was not a god of the dead, he was often associated with Osiris and Sokaris—deities with close connections to the deceased. Ptah’s connections to the afterlife can be seen in his typical garments, which resembled the wrappings of a mummy.

Though Ptah’s role in the underworld was rather specific, it was undeniably important. Ptah was responsible for using his iron knife to open the mouths of the recently deceased. This action allowed the dead to reclaim their senses and experience the afterlife in full.20



References

Notes

  1. Wilkinson, 124.

  2. Armour, 100.

  3. Wilkinson, 124.

  4. Pinch, 181.

  5. Wilkinson, 123.

  6. Shaw, 25.

  7. Pinch, 181; Kurt Aterman, “From Horus the Child to Hephaestus Who Limps: A Romp through History,” Abstract. American Journal of Medical Genetics 83, no. 1 (1999): pp. 53-63, https://doi.org/10.1002/(sici)1096-8628(19990305)83:13.0.co;2-k.

  8. Armour, 99.

  9. Shaw, 25.

  10. Shaw, 25; Armour, 98.

  11. Pinch, 148, 149, 181; Armour, 106; Shaw, 10, 146.

  12. Wilkinson, 123; Shaw, 10.

  13. Shaw, 25.

  14. Armour, 96.

  15. Armour, 96-97.

  16. Armour, 98.

  17. Armour, 98-99.

  18. Armour, 99; Shaw, 155.

  19. Shaw, 155.

  20. Armour, 100.

Bibliography

  1. Aterman, Kurt. “From Horus the Child to Hephaestus Who Limps: A Romp through History.” Abstract. American Journal of Medical Genetics 83, no. 1 (1999): 53–63. https://doi.org/10.1002/(sici)1096-8628(19990305)83:13.0.co;2-k.

  2. Armour, Robert A. Gods and Myths of Ancient Egypt. Cairo: The American University in Cairo Press, 2001.

  3. Pinch, Geraldine. Handbook of Egyptian Mythology. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO, Inc., 2002.

  4. Shaw, Garry J. The Egyptian Myths. London: Thames and Hudson Ltd., 2014.

  5. Wilkinson, Richard H. The Complete Gods and Goddesses of Ancient Egypt. New York: Thames & Hudson, 2003.



Citation

“Ptah.” Mythopedia. Accessed on December 23, 2021. https://mythopedia.com/topics/ptah

About the Author

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Evan Meehan

Writer and Historian

Evan Meehan is a writer, researcher, and historian with an M.A. in History from Georgia State University

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