Montu was a primordial solar god of the Theban region , whose cult would last until the end of ancient Egyptian history; nevertheless, in the Late period, because of the many ambient animal cults, the cult of Montu focused on that of the animal which became earthly hypostasis, the Bukhis bull.
Montu was foremost a solar entity and as such is embodied in a hawk, but he also possessed a warrior nature which made a bull-god of him. His cult worship was distributed in the rest of the country, thanks to the sovereigns of the 11th Dynasty (about 2055-1650 BC) who, placed under his protection, succeed in reunifying the country under the authority of Thebes. Several among them chose "Montuhotep" (Montu is satisfied) as their coronation name. The association with Montu in this victory explains why, since the beginning of the 12th Dynasty, Montu became a war god, subject to Amon, the new god of the empire, a role which he kept until the end.
From the saite period (26th Dynasty) especially, and maybe in reaction to the progressive reduction of the influence of the great cities of the south to the profit of those of the Delta, Montu was seen as the counterpart, in Upper Egypt, of Re of Heliopolis, a link which was able to be favoured by the homophony of their respective cities (Iuny for Ermant and Iunu or On for Heliopolis) giving birth to a syncretic figure, Montu-Re. Resulting from it a considerable enrichment of the theology of the one who was also appointed as Amon-Re-Montu, sun warrior and universal creator.
From the New Kingdom, the official rhetoric, as it appears for example on the walls of the temples, essentially made reference to the combative power which is shown by the Pharaoh, in resemblance of Montu. Numerous warlike sovereigns, such as Thutmosis III, would proclaim to have fought
"like Montu in his power". In the narration of the battle of Kadesh (Ramesses II), numerous references are found to Montu:
"His Majesty walks forward as his father Montu, Lord of the Theban nome";
"I am like Montu, I throw the arrows with my right arm";
"I am like Montu in his hour, when his attack occurs". The same Ramesses II proclaims himself as
"A Montu, son of Montu" (a bull, son of a bull). A special relationship was installed between Ramesses II and Montu, which is testified by the existence of a statue of cult of the king carrying the name of
"Usermaatre Setepenre, Montu-in-the-Two-Lands".
The classic literature also seized on the idea of a courageous and invincible warrior = Montu. Thus, when Sinuhe had to face "the man of the Retenu", after his victory, he invoked Montu, who inspired him.
In the same way, the war ships of Pharaoh were decorated of representations of Montu waving a club or a spear. A very beautiful representation can be found in the tomb of Huy, TT40, which Nina Davies knew how to capture with her usual talent, as shown in the image above.
Montu had three, little known, consort goddesses: Tjenenet at Ermant, at Tod and at Medamud, Iunyt at Ermant and Rettauy at Karnak.
The most common representation of Montu is anthropozoomorphic (human with animal-like characteristics), with a human body and a head of falcon surmounted by a solar disk surrounded with a double uraeus, with two tall feathers at the rear. At the beginning of the 18th Dynasty, Montu can, unusually, take the form of a ferocious winged griffin.
During the Ramesside period existed some confusion between the iconography of Montu and that of Khonsu, the god-son of the Theban triad.
Later, whilst the cult of the Bukhis bull developed, Montu would be represented as a man with the head of a bull (see image on the right and also the images on the walls of the temple of Tod, left (also in ).
On the reliefs of the temples, Montu-Re of Upper Egypt often matches that of another solar god, Atum of Lower Egypt, to escort the Pharaoh in front of Amon. Montu reigned over the whole Theban area, and the epithets which characterise him are often the same as those used for Amon:
"Great god"; "King of the gods"; "Lord of Thebes".
There existed in the fourth nome of Upper Egypt (the Theban region) four cult centres dedicated to, and under the protection of Montu, forming what is called the "Theban Palladium", which was a sacred area of land placed under the protection of Montu. This area consisted of Ermant, Tod, Medamud and North Karnak:
- Ermant (Iuny, Hermonthis or On which designates in this case the Heliopolis of the South), where the primordial sanctuary of Montu was located, situated to the southwest of Thebes, on the left bank of the Nile. For the record, the Archaeological Mission of the Temples of Ermant (IFAO and Institute of Egyptology of Montpellier) has for its objective to return the honour of this site of first importance, both religious and historic.
- Tod (Djeret or Djerty) which is close to it, but on the right bank, joined at the latest in the 11th Dynasty.
- Medamud (Medu), whose most ancient traces date from Sesostris III, is also on the right bank, but to the northeast.
- North Karnak is currently a site which is very ruined, situated outside the surrounding wall of the great temple. Amenhotep III constructed there a temple to Amon-Re. Badly made, this building collapsed and the Kushites (?) rebuild it and dedicated it to Montu-Re, a choice which would be reaffirmed in Ptolemaic times.
So this formed, what Drioton called, "the moral fortress" of Thebes.
This is the least well known of the three great sacred bulls of the Ancient Egypt (Apis of Memphis, Mnevis of Heliopolis, Bukhis of Ermant). Its worship hardly exceeded the limits of the Theban region, but there it reached extraordinary fame; some currencies were even struck during the Roman period with its effigy. If a cult worship to a dark bull linked with Montu was manifested from the New Kingdom, the setting in formal relation between Montu and Bukhis was in the saite period (26th Dynasty), when the Thebans wanted to have their great bull crowned to match Apis and Mnevis, whose criteria of choice it shared (which did not prevent it from being called
"the white bull" whilst, like Apis, he was black…).
The Bucheum of Ermant (the necropolis of the mummified Bukhis bulls), was located and excavated in the 1930s. It represents the equivalent of the Serapeum of Memphis for Apis. The archaeological remains reveal a use during at least seven centuries, since the reign, in the 30th Dynasty, of the last native Pharaoh, Nectanebo II (360-343 BC) until that of the Roman emperor, Constancy II. The last date of burial of a Bukhis reached to 340 AD (see image left: a stela dedicated to the Bukhis-Neb-Djeret bull by Ptolemy V, 181 BC, Cairo Museum. Results from the Bucheum of Ermant and the accompanying buried bull showed that it died in year 25 of Ptolemy V).
The Bucheum was designated as
"the castle of Atum" or as Osiris-Bukhis, the image of the dead sun, whilst in Ermant the new bull was venerated,
"the living image of Montu".
(For more of details on the cattle in ancient Egypt, see the article )