How does Anubis’s role differ from that of Osiris in the underworld?

Anubis and Osiris are both central figures in the Egyptian pantheon related to death and the afterlife, but their roles and significance differ substantially.

Anubis, depicted as a jackal or a man with a jackal’s head, presided over mummification. Osiris, the green-skinned god, symbolized resurrection and ruled the underworld, with his myth encapsulating betrayal, death, and rebirth. Image (left to right):  Egyptian gods Osiris, Anubis, and Horus.

Anubis, the god of funeral and embalming

Anubis and mummification

A painting of Anubis attending to a corpse during the mummification process

Anubis was primarily known as the god of mummification and embalming. It was believed that he watched over the dead and ensured they received the proper rites.

He was often portrayed as a man with the head of a jackal or as a full jackal. Jackals were common in cemeteries, which is why they became symbols for the god that protected the dead.

Anubis was also seen as a guardian of graves and a guide. He was believed to lead souls into the underworld, where they would face judgment. Basically, he served as a psychopomp.

One of Anubis’s roles was to oversee the weighing of the heart ceremony, wherein the heart of the deceased was weighed against the feather of Ma’at (truth and order). If the heart was not heavier than the feather, the soul was deemed worthy of the afterlife. Otherwise, it was devoured by Ammit.

A heart that does not balance in the scale of truth (i.e. the scale of Ma’at) was instantly gulped up by the fierce creature Ammit. It means the soul went extinct forever. Image: Ammit and Anubis at the scale of truth (Ma’at)

Osiris, the god of the afterlife, vegetation and resurrection

Osiris is often recognized as the god of the afterlife, resurrection, and fertility. He played a vital role in the mythological traditions surrounding death and rebirth.

Typically shown as a mummified man with green skin, he holds the crook and flail, symbols of kingship and authority.

Osiris’s significance is rooted in his own story of death and resurrection. He was killed by his brother Seth and later resurrected by his wife, Isis. After resurrection, he became the ruler of the underworld.

As the king of the underworld, Osiris judged the souls of the deceased after Anubis led them to him. If they passed the weighing of the heart ceremony overseen by Anubis, they would then move on to meet Osiris and, if found worthy, live in his kingdom.

Osiris had an extensive cult, with ceremonies that symbolized death and rebirth, reflecting the agricultural cycles and the annual inundation of the Nile.

Image: Judgment of the dead from the Book of the Dead

READ MORE: Conflict between Horus and Seth over the throne of Egypt

When did the change in roles take place?

Anubis, a multifaceted deity in ancient Egyptian mythology, held various roles. Originating as a guardian of graves during the First Dynasty (c. 3100 – c. 2890 BC), he later became associated with the mummification process.

However, by the Middle Kingdom (c. 2055–1650 BC), his dominance as the lord of the underworld diminished, giving way to Osiris. Despite this shift, Anubis’s significance persisted, especially in guiding souls into the afterlife.



In summary, while both Anubis and Osiris were associated with the afterlife and had overlapping functions, Anubis was primarily concerned with the transition from death to the afterlife, mummification, and the initial judgment. Osiris, on the other hand, was the ultimate ruler of the underworld and the embodiment of death and rebirth.

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