the funerary deities, or genii (sing., genius), named Imsety (ἰmstἰ), Hapy (ḥpy), Duamutef (dwʒ-mwt.f), and Kebehsenuef (ḳbḥ-snw.f), who are attested from the Old Kingdom to Greco-Roman times. They appear fourteen times in the Pyramid Texts, the earliest extensive set of Egyptian religious texts. In Spell 2078 and 2079, they are described as:

"friends of the King, (who) attend on this King …, the children of Horus of Khem (Letopolis); they tie the rope-ladder for this King, they make firm the wooden ladder for this King, they cause the King to ascend to Khepri when he comes into being in the eastern side of the sky."

In Spell 1333, they “spread protection of life over your father the Osiris King, since he was restored by the gods.” In Spell 552, they eliminate hunger and thirst: “I will not be thirsty by reason of Shu, I will not be hungry by reason of Tefnut; Hapy, Duamutef, Kebehsenuef, and Imsety will expell this hunger which is in my belly and this thirst which is on my lips.”

In the New Kingdom Book of the Going Forth by Day (Book of the Dead), the roles of the four genii in the afterlife are further elaborated, as in Spell 137:

"O sons of Horus, Imsety, Hapy, Duamutef, Kebehsenuef: as you spread your protection over your father Osiris-Khentimentiu, so spread your protection over [the deceased], as you removed the impediment from Osiris-Khentimentiu, so he might live with the gods and drive Seth from him."

Spell 17 states:

"As for the tribunal that is behind Osiris, Imsety, Hapy, Duamutef, Kebehsenuef; it is these who are behind the Great Bear in the northern sky.… As for these seven spirits, Imsety, Hapy, Duamutef, Kebehsenuef, Maayotef, He-Who-is-under-his-Moringa-Tree, and Horus-the-Eyeless, it is they who were set by Anubis as a protection for the burial of Osiris."

Finally, in the tenth division of the Book of Gates, Imsety, Hapy, Duametef, and Kebehsenuef appear restraining the ummti (wmmtἰ) snakes with chains. These snakes were allies of Re's enemy, the serpent Apophis. The four genii are also depicted on the western part of the astronomical ceilings found in Ramessid royal tombs.

Clearly stated to be the sons of Horus in a number of texts, their precise familial affiliations are not definitive. Apart from the aforementioned Horus of Khem, Harsiese and Horus the Elder are also cited as being their father in various texts. Isis was their mother, although a view of their having sprung from a lotus flower can be seen in the vignette that accompanies the Book of the Going Forth by Day judgment scene (Spell 125).

Dating from their earliest appearances in the Pyramid Texts, the Four Sons of Horus are found exclusively in mortuary contexts, and seem not to have had any cult as such; they are thus generally referred to as “genii.” From the Middle Kingdom onward, however, they are ubiquitous within the tomb, invoked upon almost all coffins and canopic containers. In the earlier Pyramid Texts they were among the deities before whom the deceased was stated to possess “reverence” (ἰmʒḫ); such texts are normally found on the coffins' lateral textbands, with actual depictions added during the eighteenth dynasty. The later representations occurred on the sides of the coffin trough, with Anubis-Imywet and Anubis-Khenty-seh-netjer standing between the genii. This type of depiction recalls Spell 1092 of the Pyramid Texts, where “they flank the dead king when on the ferry to the Field of Rushes.” The Four Sons likewise appear on New Kingdom sarcophagi in stone and wood, which featured less common text-formulations.

On canopic containers, where their heads functioned as lids, the Four Sons were regarded as guardians or reincarnations in the specific organs removed during the mummification process: Imsety—the liver, Hapy—the lungs, Duamutef—the stomach, and Kebehsenuef—the intestines. There is evidence for the responsibilities of Hapy and Duamutef being switched in some cases. Other anatomical relationships existed, as is attested by Pyramid Text Spell 149. Hapy and Duamutef were associated with the hands; Imsety and Kebehsenuef with the feet.

The Four Sons of Horus had various other relationships. Geographically, Imsety was linked with the South, Hapy with the North, Duamutef the East, and Kebehsenuef the West. In addition, Hapy and Duamutef were linked to the Delta city of Buto; Imsety and Kebehsenuef with the Upper Egyptian city of Hierakonpolis. These two ancient cities are the earliest of all Egyptian settlements. An association can be made between Imsety and the herb dill, owing to the similarity in Old Egyptian between their names. Upon both coffins and canopic containers, Imsety, Hapy, Duamutef, and Kebehsenuef are shown under the individual tutelage of the goddesses Isis, Nephthys, Neith, and Selket, respectively. These pairings are generally fixed, although variations can be found.

Until the eighteenth dynasty, the Four Sons were usually depicted with human heads, although a few canopic chests of the Middle Kingdom contain images of all four gods with the heads of falcons. They were normally shown wearing the usual divine tripartite wig, but in the tomb of King Ay (tomb 23 of the West branch of the Valley of the Kings), Imsety and Hapy are each depicted with the Red Crown, Duamutef and Kebehsenuef each with the White Crown, which derived from the respective pairs' association with Egypt's North and South. Between the early eighteenth and mid-nineteenth dynasties, however, each genius gained a distinctive head: Imsety—human, Hapy—ape, Duamutef—jackal, and Kebehsenuef—falcon. These henceforth remained standard, except during the twenty-second and twenty-third dynasties, when at least six different combinations can be found, the most common showing Duamutef and Kebehsenuef swapping heads.

From the late Third Intermediate Period onward, the presence of the four genii in mortuary contexts expanded. In addition to their presence on coffins and canopic containers, faience amulets of the four were attached to shrouds or incorporated into the bead nets that came into use as body-covers. Images of the genii, often of wax, were placed in the deceased's body cavity from the time of Ramesses III (r. 1198–1166 BCE) onward. In the latter part of the twentieth dynasty, this practice was instituted in conjunction with the return of the internal organs to the abdomen, following separate mummification.

The Four Sons of Horus continued to be depicted on items of funerary equipment into Ptolemaic and Roman times; the last instances are found on stucco mummy casings of the fourth century CE.



  • Drenkhahn, Rosemarie, “Kebehsenuef”. In Lexikon der Ägyptologie, vol. 3. Wiesbaden, 1980.
  • Eggebrecht, Arne. “Amset,” “Duamutef,” and “Hapi.” In Lexikon der Ägyptologie, vols. 1 and 2. Wiesbaden, 1975 and 1977.
  • Heerma van Voss, Matthieu. “oruskinder.” In Lexikon der Ägyptologie, vol. 3. Wiesbaden, 1980.
  • Munro, Peter. “Bemerkungen zum Gesaltwandel und zum Ursprung der Horus-Kinder.” In Festschrift zum 150 jährigen Bestehen des Berliner Ägyptisches Museums, pp. 195–204. Mitteilungenaus der Ägyptischen Sammlung, 8. Berlin, 1974.
  • Sethe, Kurt. “Zur Geschichte der Einbalsamierung bei den Ägyptern, und einiger damit verbundener Bräuche.” Sitzungsberichte der Preussischen Akademie der Wissenschaften. Phil. Hist. Klasse, 13. Berlin, 1934. The fundamental discussion and classification of the texts inscribed on canopic jars and chests.

Aidan Dodson