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November 28, 2012

Changes of Promotion in Ancient Egypt

Changes of Promotion
The working classes had every hope of rising above that station into which they were born, either by marriage, inheritance or promotion. Evidence is available from the autobiographical accounts in the tombs of the noblemen. Since provisions for the afterlife had to be commensurate with a man’s social standing, lists of offerings in the tombs grew larger and larger as the power and wealth of a man increased. It finally occurred to the tomb owners that a simple offering prayer would be adequate substitute for a long offering list. A similar short-cut was sought for the inscriptions identifying the titles and ranks of the owners of the tombs: as these grew longer they gradually developed into autobiographical renditions. Metjen’s is one of the oldest. He died in the reign of Senefru Pharaoh and was buried near temple of Zoser pharaoh  on the Saqqara necropolis (his tomb has been transported to Berlin and reconstructed in the Museum). The text tells of his gradual rise from Scribe and Overseer of the Stores to Governor of a number of towns and districts in the eastern Delta. For his administrative prowess he was rewarded with gifts of land on which he built a house ‘201cubits long, 201cubits wide’ and surrounded by a walled garden.

Ancient Egypt
One of the best-known cases of a rise in rank in the Egyptian Old Kingdom was that of Uni. A man of humble birth, he started his career as a minor official under the Teti King, and rose to the position of ‘Favoured Courtier’ under Pepi. In ancient Egypt a man who proved fit in performing one task (albeit solving a case of treason in the royal harem) was considered equally fit for others. Entrusted with supervising a group of workmen bringing a block of stone suitable for the pharaoh’s sarcophagus, Uni performed the task so efficiently transporting it complete with lid, doorway, lintel and two jambs for the tomb as well as a libation table that as seen, the pharaoh forthwith put him in charge of a body of troops detailed for an expedition against hostile tribes in the eastern desert, and the nomadic tribes of Egyptian Nubia. Uni’s success on five different occasions was rewarded by a requisition from the treasury to procure labour for the quarrying and transportation of a sumptuous sarcophagus for his own tomb. Uni was by this time one of the highest dignitaries of the court, being awarded the distinction of being permitted to bear a staff and wear sandals in the presence of the pharaoh. ‘Never,’ he inscribed in his tomb, ‘has the like been done for any servant.’ ‘I was excellent in the heart of His Majesty beyond any official of his, beyond any noble of his, beyond any servant of his . .

Many persons of obscure origin or even base servitude rose to high honours and died governors of provinces or ministers of the Ti King, the vigorous nobleman of the 5th dynasty who served under three Egyptian pharaohs, was not of royal blood, yet his marriage to the princess Nefer-Hotep-s gave him a special position and his children ranked with royalty. There is considerable evidence of the close relationship between a pharaoh and his officials. Frequently a pharaoh confided in his most favoured official who bore the title ‘Friend’ and who claimed to be ‘uniquely loved’. A reward even greater than promotion was a pharaoh’s contribution to the building of a nobleman’s Egyptian tomb.

Debhen inscribed that his King was ‘so satisfied with him’ that he detailed some two score men and ten to complete his Egyptian tomb for him, quarry two false doors of stone and supply blocks for the facade as well as the statue to house his Ka. Weshptah, the architect/vizier who suffered a stroke and died despite medical attention, was furnished with a tomb and magnificent ebony coffin. Sebni, it will be remembered, was the loyal son who set out on a rescue mission to recover his father’s body from the south and bring it back to Egypt for burial. On his return journey he sent his officer Iri and two companions ahead to the court with products from the south and instructions to bring back the necessary equipment for embalming the body. Sebni’s mission was so highly regarded by the pharaoh that he sent a military escort to meet him, and rewarded him by assisting in the embalming and burial of his father, and presenting him with a gift of land for himself.

At all levels of the bureaucratic system there was, of course, a tendency to inherit posts, as, for example among the scribes. In the cemetery at Egyptian Giza, is a whole Egyptian dynasty of small-scale scribes (the distinction being drawn between the literates who registered cattle, held the post of clerk in the Double Granary, etc. and the scribes who were scholars, sages, physicians and philosophers). Whatever his social standing, a scribe had a most respected profession and was in a position to attract the notice of his superiors.

The relationship between the noblemen and their foremen and workers is clear from such inscriptions as: ‘whether craftsmen or quarrymen, I satisfied them’. One 4th Egyptian dynasty nobleman was more explicit: in an inscription on the base of his statue he declared that the sculptor that fashioned his statue ‘was satisfied with the reward I gave him’.

Sentiments common among the inscriptions of the Egyptian tombs at Saqqara were: ‘Never did I use force against any man, for I wanted my name to be good before God and my repute to be good before all men.’ And ‘Never did I do an evil thing.’

Such inscriptions may have been the result of a man wishing to stress his qualities for his name to shine before the ‘Great Egyptian God’. However, they encourage us to view, at least with some reservation Herodotus’ description of hordes of oppressed and overworked slaves, whipped by merciless overseers, toiling and dying in the scorching sun in order to raise a monumental pyramid to the glorification of their God-king. There were in fact few slaves in the Old Kingdom, since foreign conquest was at a minimum; there were no worker revolts until later periods; and the marks made on some of the casing stones delivered from the quarries indicate a spirit of pride and competition among the workers (largely recruited from the peasant community during high Nile) who called themselves ‘Vigorous Gang’, ‘Enduring Gang’, etc.

Ptahhotep, the 5th Egyptian dynasty sage who instructed his son to prepare him for the official duties that lay ahead of him, gave much advice on behaviour that would ensure success in official circles, and the attitudes to be taken towards both betters and subordinates. ‘If he above you is one who was formerly of very humble station, have no knowledge of his former low estate . . . be respectful towards him because of what he has achieved; for substance cometh not of itself.’ Or conversely: ‘If thou has become great after thou wert little, and hast gained possessions after thou wert formerly in want ... be not unmindful of how it was with thee before. Be not boastful of thy wealth, which has come to thee as a gift of the god. Thou art not greater than another like thee to whom the same has happened.’

Ptahhotep Pharaoh had some shrewd advice on the matter of being helpful to one’s employer, for: ‘thy food hangs upon his mood, the belly of one loved is filled, thy back shall be clothed thereby . .

Table manners, especially at an official dinner given by one of higher station, were considered important: ‘Take when he gives to thee what he puts before thee, but do not look at what is before him, look at what is before thee, and shoot him not with many glances . . . Turn thy face downward until he addresses thou and speak only when he addresses thee. Laugh when he laughs, so shalt thou be very agreeable to his heart and what thou doest will be very pleasant to his heart . . .’

Whereas Ptahhotep had much to say on behaviour in the presence of superiors: ‘If you meet one superior to you, fold your arms, bend your back. To flout him will not make him agree with you . . . ’, he particularly stresses: ‘If you meet a poor man, not your equal, do not attack him because he is weak . . . wretched is he who injures a poor man . . .’

A nobleman’s attitude towards his subordinates is particularly apparent through Ptahhotep’s enumeration of the qualities of leadership: ‘If thou art a man who leads, seek out every beneficient deed, that thy conduct may be blameless.. ‘If thou art an administrator, be gracious when thou hearest the speech of a petitioner.’

A man is recognised by that which he knows.
His heart is the balance for his tongue;
His lips are correct when he speaks, and his eyes in seeing;
his ears together hear what is profitable for his son,
who does righteousness and is free from lying.
Established is the man whose standard is righteousness, who walketh according to its way.

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November 27, 2012

Agriculture and the Osiris Myth in Ancient Egypt

Agriculture and the Osiris Myth
In Upper Egypt, therefore, there is evidence of a belief in the afterlife and an indication that many of the Egyptian animals that were to become dynastic gods were, if not yet revered, at least highly regarded. The Delta, on the other hand, yields the earliest evidence of agriculture and indication of ancestor worship, and here the most important legendary figure of ancient Egyptian history that of Osiris developed.

Ancient Egyptian Agriculture
The famous Osiris God myth is believed in its original form to have been devised to spread an understanding of agriculture throughout the land, explained in terms of the death and rebirth of the corn god. Osiris was probably an early leader in one of the settlements of the Delta who had quite a large following. When he died he became identified with the totem of the area which developed, like many other totems, into a harvest god. Osiris God adopted some of the regalia of the older deity including a crown with double plumes and a shepherd’s crook, and the agricultural cycle became his domain. He was revered as a god associated with water and the annual death and rebirth of the land.

The Osiris God myth underwent many changes with the passage of time. In one form it relates how Osiris ruled the land justly with his wife Isis at his side. He taught his people, as yet partly civilised, the art of making agricultural implements and controlling the waters of the Nile. He also taught them how to take to a corn diet, produce bread, wine and beer. His wife Isis was equally loved and taught the people how to grind corn, weave linen and, with her devotion to her husband, intimated the benefits of domestic life.

Osiris had a brother, Set, who was jealous of his popularity and secretly aspired to his position of favour. Inviting Osiris God to a banquet, Set tricked him into entering a coffin specially designed to fit him alone. No sooner had Osiris obliged than Set hastily sealed it with molten lead and cast it on the waters of the Nile where it was borne northwards by the currents to the marshes of the Delta. Isis, grieved by the news of her husband, set off in search of his body. She cut off a lock of her hair and rent her robes in torment as she went on her way following the course of the river. She eventually found the body entangled in the branches of a tamarisk bush. She extracted it and hid it. Unfortunately, Set was boar-hunting and discovered the body, which he brutally hacked into fourteen pieces and scattered throughout the land. The bereft Isis, this time accompanied by her sister Nephthys, once again set out on her search. They found the pieces of Osiris’ body, carefully collected them and laid them in a coffin, crooning sorrowful incantations over them to make the body whole.

Ancient Egyptian Agriculture
It is probable that the concept of Osiris God  falling victim to Set was a comprehensible explanation of the fertile land (with which Osiris was associated) falling victim to the relentless desert (of which Set was the chief deity). The mutilation of the body of Osiris, the corn god, and the scattering of parts up and down the Nile valley, is believed to illustrate the concept of grain sowing, following which, with the necessary incantations, or rural festivals, the stalks of corn would grow again. Be that as it may, the cultivation and storage of grain was a vital factor in the movement away from primitive society towards civilisation. It was a gradual phase of human development. For the assurance of larger quantities of food and food surpluses led to a decline in hunting as an economic activity. Larger groups of people, not all of whom could be crop-growers, were assured of a regular Egyptian food supply and could settle down. Craft specialisation was a direct outcome, since it absorbed the surplus labour. From the simple technology of the hunters and fishermen we see improved production of weapons, tools and implements and the emergence of new industries including flint mining and flaking.

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November 24, 2012

Agriculture in Ancient Egypt

The bulk of the population, however, was employed on the land or in Egyptian agriculture-related industries like viticulture, papyrus-manufacture, spinning and weaving. The agricultural cycle comprised three seasons. The Akhet, the season of the inundation, which began on 19 July, the Perit (‘going out’), the season for ploughing and sowing which began on 15 November, and Shemu, the harvest, which began on 16 March.

Agriculture in Ancient Egypt
With the rise of the Nile the peasants made sure that their cattle were safely housed on dry land and, with agricultural activities suspended, cared for them and provided them with food already laid in storage. They carefully directed the water from the main canals to smaller branches transversing the fields in straight or curved lines, and controlled it by means of embankments. When the water level began to fall these natural reservoirs retained a residue of mineral-rich sediment which was ready to receive seed without further preparation. Thrown on the surface the seed was usually trodden by goats. Where, however, the earth dried hard, a plough was used. The hoe, one of the most ancient of agricultural tools consisted of a broad, pointed blade of wood attached to a handle at an acute angle and held in position in the centre by a slack rope. The plough was a hoe enlarged by adding two long wooden arms on which the ploughman could lean to keep the furrow straight and also to pressure the blade into the soil. A pole was provided with a yoke for attaching to draught Egyptian animals.

Although the Nile valley and the Delta were fertile, full exploitation of the land only came with unremitting toil. Naturally the peasants, from centuries of experience, had gradually become aware of the potential. They had determined the most suitable times for sowing and reaping, and the most rewarding systems of irrigation for the different areas. In the Egyptian temple of the 5th-dynasty pharaoh Nyuserre the life of the peasant is depicted during the seasonal operations throughout the course of a single year. From these and from scenes in the tombs of noblemen it is clear that the harvest was the season of most strenuous activity. The ripened corn was reaped with the aid of a sickle, placed in sacks and loaded on to donkeys to be carried to the threshing floor. The ears of corn were then taken from the sacks and piled in heaps to be trodden by oxen, goats or donkeys. The threshed grain was piled in a heap by means of three-pronged forks and sifted and winnowed by two small boards or scoops. The latter were used in pairs for tossing the unhusked grain into the wind. Finally the grain was placed in sacks by women and transported to the granary.

Flour was ground by placing grain at the upper end of a slightly hollowed, slanting slab of limestone and sliding a crossbar of sandstone across it. The ground flour gradually worked downwards and was caught in a tray at the lower end.

Flax was also cultivated in large quantities. It was harvested at different times for different purposes: when ripe, the fibres tough, it was suitable for mats and ropes. If cut when the stems were green, it could be woven into fine soft cloth: some of the surviving remnants show that the fabric was sometimes of such gossamer fineness as to be almost indistinguishable from silk. This was particularly the case with royal linen, though coarser textiles were woven on a more widespread scale. Weaving was carried out by women, who also made tapestries. The latter were either for hanging on the walls of Egyptian noblemen’s villas, or to form the shade of a roof garden.

Viticulture was one of the most highly developed, as well as one of the earliest, industries. The first wine-press hieroglyphic dates from the Egyptian 1st dynasty, and there is evidence that even from this early date wine was transported across the country in sealed jars. Grapes were plucked by hand, placed in vats and trodden until the liquid ran through holes into a waiting container. Fermentation probably occurred naturally, due both to the method of pressing and the high summer temperature. Date-palm wine was also produced.

Ancient Egyptian Agriculture
 The manufacture of papyrus paper was another flourishing industry. The papyrus, sliced into thin sections, was laid side by side and crosswise, soaked and compressed. Beating and drying turned it into sheets of durable paper. Two rolls of papyrus in a box dating to the reign of the Egyptian 1st dynasty pharaoh Udimu are evidence of how early it was produced. Ships trading with the Phoenician coast carried bales of this essentially Egyptian product as cargo. The papyrus plant served many purposes: the stalks were woven and used as mats, the vegetable fibres were transformed into a pliable, tough material suitable for sandals, and lightweight skiffs for hunting in the marshes were made by binding long bundles together.

Veterinary medicine was practised by the peasants and the obvious health of the herds indicates proficient rearing. It was a talent handed from father to son. In the Egyptian tomb of Ptahhotep a scene shows a cow giving birth with the aid of a veterinary surgeon who gently guides the calf into the world. The ancient Egyptians knew their animals intimately, took great Egyptians care of them and often fed them by hand. In the tomb of Ti a cow is being milked by a cowherd while the overseer leans on his staff watching. Though there are scenes of herdsmen driving rams across a canal with raised whip, none shows an animal being beaten.

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November 20, 2012

Cultural Regionalisation in Ancient Egypt

Cultural Regionalisation
Gradually the small, isolated, hitherto self-sufficient communities came into contact with one another. They exchanged items produced for items required and a process of assimilation took place. Small groups gravitated towards larger ones or were absorbed by them, and villages coalesced. The sturdy, rectangular brick houses in Upper Egypt were grouped into settlements sometimes covering an area of 121 square yards, surrounded by walls, the grain being placed in large pots within the enclosure. The number of graves in the different cemeteries clearly shows that the Egyptian people of the Nile valley were fusing into larger social units. These were, in fact, the origin of the various provinces which formed the basis of the political structure of Egypt in historic times.

Ancient Egyptian People
Late pre-dynastic pottery, like the earlier stone artifacts, indicate that the two cultures of Upper and Lower Egypt continued to exist side by side. The characteristic pottery vessels of Upper Egypt displayed no great change from the Badarian culture from which they developed. They were still largely black-topped and burnished, but new forms had also emerged: some vessels were fashioned like birds and animals; others were decorated with designs of animals, humans and stars; the incised geometric designs were often filled with a white paste, a technique common with other African areas. In Lower Egypt, on the other hand, the characteristic pottery ancient Egyptians vessels were either wide-lipped and buff-coloured, with handles in wavy forms that suggest contact with Asia, or decorated with scenes of ritual dances or hunting depicted in red lines painted on the pale pottery.

Some of the Lower Egyptian pottery was decorated with scenes of many-oared ships each bearing a standard surmounted by a totem or emblem. These representations of totem clans are the first evidence of the cultural identity of the various social units. Many of the totems were later established as local deities in the various provinces: two crossed arrows and a shield became symbols of the huntress-goddess Neith of Sais, the emblem like a thunderbolt was the symbol of Min, the fertility god of Coptos near Nagada. There were also standards bearing the emblems of the jackal (Anubis God), the scorpion (Selket), the Horus hawk and the Set animal (a dog-like creature with pointed ears and long, upright tail). The latter, Horus and Set, provide the earliest evidence of the mythological rivals, traditionally chief Egyptian deities of Upper and Lower Egypt.

Ancient Egyptian People Stages
Gutural regionalisation resulted in the emergence of men who were natural leaders. Their settlements gradually became the central estate, with the accumulations of the others tied to it. That is to say increased trade between the different regions of the Delta led to less and less isolation until the affairs of all gradually became tied to a major estate which represented the richest and most powerful of the settlements. Its leader was regarded as king of the Egyptian Delta Kingdom and the totem of his area became chief deity. There was a similar tendency towards political unity in Upper Egypt. Whether such leadership evolved without force we do not know. The addition to the weaponry of maces with disc-shaped heads in hard stone, alongside an unusually large number of broken bones among the bodies of the dead, may indicate some intimidation.

November 19, 2012

Predynastic Period of Ancient Egypt

The Two Kingdoms
Only towards the end of the pre-dynastic Egyptian period does an admixture between the Two Lands appear. Lower Egyptian- style pottery was found in Upper Egypt and so was the Horus hawk, traditionally a totem of Delta settlers. ‘Followers of Horus’ established settlements as far south as Hierakonpolis and Edfu. This does not necessarily presuppose a conquest of Upper Egypt by the Delta. In fact, it seems to have had the direct result of establishing a political awareness of the physical and cultural differences between them, for just before the dynastic period the ‘Two Lands’ stand out with greater clarity than before. The capital of the Delta Kingdom was Pe (Buto) in the north-west. The leader wore the Red Crown and adopted the bee as the symbol of his kingdom, which included the entire Delta and a stretch of the valley south of the Delta. The Upper Egyptian capital was Nekhen, where the leader wore the conical White Crown and took the sedge as his emblem. His Kingdom extended as far south as the First Cataract. The cobra, wearing the crown of the huntress-goddess Neith, was chief deity of the Egyptian Delta Kingdom and the vulture-goddess was chief deity of Upper Egypt.
Predynastic Period of Ancient Egypt
The formation of Two Egyptian Kingdoms was a vital step towards unification. The early tribes who had settled in the Nile valley, had set traditions and cultural patterns that had at first developed independently of one another. These many social units had gradually coalesced during the neolithic era to form fewer but larger settlements in both the Delta and Upper Egypt. With the federation of the former into a Delta Kingdom and the latter into an Upper Egyptian Kingdom, the country had formed two distinct political entities. It remained to unite them into a single Kingdom of Upper and Lower Egypt.

The unification of the Two Egyptian Lands was not the result of a single victorious battle, but a slow progress that may have continued for over a century. The aggressive thrust came from Upper Egypt: confined to their long, narrow valley, the Upper Egyptians sought the fertile expanses of the Delta and moved northwards to more temperate zones. The first leader of whom we have historical evidence is known as the Scorpion King in ancient Egypt , who left a fascinating record on a ceremonial macehead found at Hierakonpolis (Ashmolean Museum, Oxford). It is carved in three registers. In the upper register is a symbolical representation of the triumph of Upper Egypt over the Delta; dead birds (representing the provinces of the Delta federation) are hung from standards bearing the emblems of the southern tribes. In the central register the Scorpion King, wearing the White Crown of Upper Egypt, breaks ground with a hoe. Behind him are fan-bearers and scenes of rejoicing. In the lower is a scene of agricultural activities. The events on the macehead are unmistakable records of military triumph. A political victory in the sense of the Upper Egyptians actually adopting the Red Crown of Lower Egypt had yet to be achieved.

November 18, 2012

Solar and Nature Cults of Ancient Egypt

Solar and Nature Cults
The natural questions of How or Why in pre-dynastic times referred of course only to the immediately surrounding scene. The Libyan desert lay to the west, Sinai to the east. The Cataracts lay to the south and the sea to the north. Above was the sky and below the earth. The ancient Egyptians therefore saw their world as boxed within recognisable boundaries. The sky they believed to be held aloft at the four cardinal points by mountain peaks or pillars that rose above the range forming the edge of the world. The sky was a goddess, the mother-goddess Nut who supported the heavenly bodies and across which the Sun-god travelled each day. The earth was a god, Geb, through which flowed the great Nile river which was believed to rise from the eternal ocean in the south and join the eternal ocean in the north.

Ancient Egyptian Solar
Aware of their dependence on the land and their need to sustain themselves with agriculture, animal husbandry, fishing and fowling, the people of the Nile valley recognised their dependence on the benevolent radiance of the sun and on the rich annual flood. Two of the earliest religious cults were solar and nature. The former featured the Sun-god Atum-Ra as the Creator, and the chief protagonist of the latter was Osiris God. These two cults were combined into an explanation of The Beginnings.

Some of the earliest myths tell of a time when Nun, the eternal ocean, filled the universe, which was a motionless watery void. When the waters subsided much as the Nile flood subsided each year, leaving pools and streams swarming with life a primeval hill appeared. It was on this hill that Atum-Ra the Egyptian Sun-god (according to the Heliopolis doctrine) created himself out of himself. Atum was the Creator who existed for all time; Ra was the Sun-god. Atum-Ra was, therefore, both the sun and the Creator, who was believed to sail across the heavens each day in a barge, not unlike the papyrus boats that travelled up and down the Nile.

Atum-Ra Egyptian God had four children, all of whom he drew from himself. They were Shu and Tefnut, the gods of air and moisture, and Geb and Nut, the god of the earth and the goddess of the sky. Geb and Nut were at first locked together as one, but on the Sun-god’s orders, Shu, the atmosphere, came between them. He lifted the Sky-goddess to the heavens, leaving the Earth-god prone on the ground. Thus was described the watery void, a primeval hill, a Creator and the separation of heaven and earth. When the Sun-god crossed the heavens and cast his rays upon the earth, there was light. And when he The Country and the People entered the underworld at night it was dark and he delegated his power to Thoth, the Moon-god.

Nut the Egyptian Sky-goddess and Geb the Earth-god had four children. These were the four gods of the nature cult: Osiris, Isis, Set and Nephthys. The Heliopolitan Doctrine or Ennead of Nine Gods therefore comprised:

SHU (air) - TEFNUT (moisture) - GEB (earth) - NUT (sky)

OSIRIS - ISI - SET - Nephthys

Osiris God and Isis Goddess had a son, Horus. According to one version of the myth, when Isis and Nephthys prayed over the mutilated Osiris, his breath, hearing, sight and movement were restored and his seed entered Isis and she conceived. She hid herself in the marshes of the Delta until her son Horus was born. He was weakly at first Jbut she cared for him until he was grown and strong enough to avenge his father’s death. To rout out Set, his father’s slayer, Horus travelled far and wide and many and terrible were the battles between them told in countless myths; in one noteworthy clash Horus lost an eye which he later recovered and presented to his risen father, Osiris, as a symbol of his sacrifice. Horus finally triumphed over Set, took over the throne of his father and was regarded as the ancestor of the pharaohs.

It will be noted that Horus and Set, who first appeared as ensigns on standards, are the protagonists in the mythological drama. They represent good and evil. Set, the desert totem, is cast in the role of the evil brother, and Horus, traditionally a totem of the clans of the fertile Delta, is cast in the role of the devoted son. The choice of ‘Horus’ for the offspring of Osiris and Isis is most significant. The hawk ensign, as we have seen, was carried to Upper Egypt by ‘Followers of Horus’ and had probably come to symbolise leadership. If, therefore, the Osiris myth was indeed devised to explain the benefits of Egyptian agriculture, the tale of the victorious Horus triumphing over the wicked-brother/desert-deity Set, would be assured of enthusiastic circulation in the centres of Horus worship in Upper Egypt.

The uniting of solar and nature worship not only gave official sanction to widespread beliefs and reflected the ancient Egyptians’ most deeply-rooted concept of life after death, but established that Horus, the son of the nature gods Osiris and Isis, was also a descendant of the Egyptian Sun-god. The threads of two distinct cults thus woven together naturally led to contradictions but this worried the priests not at all so long as it brought the marvel of the creation closer, and so long as a solar god was victorious.

The sun cult is apparent, in one form or another, throughout ancient Egyptian history. Its inception as a doctrine, however, cannot be accurately dated. There is no evidence of its introduction in the first three dynasties, yet the political power of Heliopolis which became apparent in the 4th and 5th Egyptian dynasties (Chapter 3) could never have been so easily imposed or readily accepted had the cult not enjoyed a long and hallowed observance already. We can, fortunately, resort to relative dating, and here we are on firm ground. The Heliopolis Doctrine was established before the Memphite Doctrine, which only developed after the rise of Memphis.

November 17, 2012

Narmer, The First Pharaoh

Narmer, The First Pharaoh
MENES (the Horus Narmer) is the legendary first pharaoh of the 1st Egyptian dynasty. According to tradition he managed to gather together the resources of his Upper Egyptian Kingdom and successfully invade the Delta. In subjugating the provinces of Lower Egypt he brought the whole of the Nile Valley under his domination from the First Cataract to the sea. Narmer set up a fortification south of the apex of the Delta near the borderline between the Two Lands. It was known as the ‘White Wall’, probably in reference to the Upper Egyptian Kingdom it represented, though later known as Memphis.

The legends which have come down to us of Egypt’s first pharaoh have undergone thousands of years of embellishment. Traditionally recognised as the founder of Memphis and the Temple to Ptah God, its chief deity, Narmer pharaoh was said also to have surrounded his chosen headquarters with dykes and diverted the river Nile which hitherto flowed through the sandhills of the Libyan range through an artificial channel dug between two mountain ranges. It was said, furthermore, that he constructed a lake around the White Wall which was fed by the river. A famous slate known as the Palette of Narmer (Cairo Museum) records his military triumph. Narmer is sculpted in low relief on both faces: on one side he wears the White Crown of Upper Egypt and on the other the Red Crown of Lower Egypt, thus portraying him as monarch of both kingdoms. The reliefs, executed with flair and confidence, show the victorious monarch striking a kneeling enemy with a raised club, inspecting the bodies of decapitated enemies and, accompanied by fan-bearers, symbolically represented as the ‘Strong Bull’ breaking fortifications of a township as he tramples the enemy. The Horus hawk is symbolically depicted triumphant over the land of the papyrus: the Delta.

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November 16, 2012

Narmer and Early Documents in Ancient Egypt

Early Documents
The Palette of Narmer is entirely symbolic in its message. Writing had not yet developed. But there are indications that before the first Egyptian dynasty isolated miniature images of men, ships and animals depicted on pottery had become pictorial representations of the objects themselves. Gradually these picto- graphs came to represent phonetic sounds (phonograms) which could be grouped together to form words. In English for example, a bee and a leaf might be combined to read belief; the phonograms had no relation to the original pictorial representation, apart from representing a similar sound. Series of phonograms would form sentences.

Some of the earliest written documents show that the years were numbered by some outstanding event, often a journey, the erection of a building or some royal ritual. Gradually lists of year-names were kept. These formed the basis of the historic archives, of which the Palermo Stone was the first. Among the five small fragments discovered is a record of the founding of a temple to Neith in Sais in the Delta by Narmer’s successor. Neith was a huntress-goddess of the early tribes of the north who undoubtedly had quite a large following by the early dynastic period. In raising a temple to a popular Delta Egyptian goddess the Upper Egyptian conquerors set a precedent that was followed throughout dynastic history: that of calculated tolerance for political gain. There appears to have been an effort to create a common culture by uniting opposing factions and combining the traditions of Upper and Lower Egypt. Unfortunately the efforts were to no avail. There is evidence of national discord for some 200 years after the so-called unification.

Consolidation of Unity
Resistance against Upper Egyptian domination was undoubtedly aggravated by a natural antipathy between the settlers of Upper and Lower Egypt arising out of their cultural differences. In fact earlier traditions had repeatedly to be recognised in order to emphasise a single rule over the Two Egyptian Lands. For example the pharaohs (who traditionally bore a ‘Horus name’) adopted, during successive reigns, a nebty or ‘Two Ladies’ title (which was a combination of the cobra- goddess of Buto in Lower Egypt and the vulture-goddess of Nekheb in Upper Egypt), the Double Crown (a combination of the White and Red Crowns) and a ni-sw-bity title which also combined two traditions, being a combination of the pre-dynastic symbols of Upper and Lower Egypt, the sedge and the bee.

Egyptian People unfamiliar with ancient Egyptian history find it difficult to realise how vitally important titles are in tracing the course of events. Most of the records and inscriptions of the early dynastic period have perished and little is known of the activities of the pharaohs of the first two dynasties. Yet during this vitally important formative period many traditions were established. For example the Horus name, the nebty and ni-sw-bity titles, were never abandoned in later periods, though others were added to the royal titulary to denote different loyalties or political currents.

The geographical and climatic differences in Upper and Lower Egypt which had resulted in the development of two different cultures were reflected also in the entire political structure of the country; for despite the effort to weld them together, the ‘Two Lands of Upper and Lower Egypt’ were to remain two united political entities rather than a single political unit. Dualism was finally seen as unavoidable and was used to emphasise unity. There never was a King of Egypt, nor cabinet, nor treasury. There was a King of Upper and Lower Egypt, a Double Cabinet, a Double Granary and a Double Treasury. Even the ‘Great House’, the palace, which was the seat of the ancient government, had a double entrance representing the two ancient kingdoms, and the hieroglyph for ‘Great House’ was frequently followed by the determinative signs of two houses.

It is not surprising, therefore, that the pharaohs of the first dynasty all had two tombs, one constructed on the plateau above Memphis and the other near Abydos in Upper Egypt. These may have represented the pharaoh’s dual capacity as King of Upper and Lower Egypt; alternatively the structure in Memphis may have been the actual tomb and that in Upper Egypt a cenotaph where relatives could more easily provide the food offerings for the afterlife. Tomb construction advanced during the 1st dynasty. Excavations indicate that the royal tombs were large, shallow trenches, hewn of bed-rock and divided into a series of chambers by cross walls. The central chamber was the tomb. Others were store-rooms for the provisions for the afterlife: funerary furniture, ornaments, Egyptian jewellery and games. Some of the underground chambers were brick- lined ; others were lined with woven reed mats. The substructure was roofed with wooden beams and planks and surmounted by an impressive superstructure with recessed panelling. The royal tombs at Memphis had large rectangular plaques depicting the deceased at a table of offerings, which became the pattern for representations in funerary temples. The royal tombs in Upper Egypt had funerary stele or tombstones rectangular slabs, tall and sometimes rounded at the top, placed vertically in the ground and inscribed with the names and titles of the pharaoh.

The bodies of the dead were not mummified, in the early dynastic period, but were wrapped lightly in strips of linen. Sometimes the limbs were bound separately and then a bandage was wrapped round the whole body before it was placed in a wooden sarcophagus. Close to the royal tombs were subsidiary tombs, probably of dependants in the household of the pharaoh or artisans in the boat-building, carving, painting and pottery trades. The occupants were possibly interred to serve the king in his afterlife, and may have been killed when he died, whether they succumbed willingly to their fate we do not know, though the lower classes may have believed that to be buried with their masters would ensure them a better afterlife themselves.

A 5th-dynasty inscription records the levels of the Egyptian Nile for every year back to the reign of Djer, the third pharaoh. Since the cycle of agriculture depended on the Nile flood, the time of the inundation was vitally important and progress in astrology was undoubtedly stimulated by the desire to forecast its arrival. It was observed that the rising waters coincided with certain aspects of the stars: when Sothis the dog-star rose with the sun between 19 and 20 July. An ivory tablet dating to the 1st dynasty explicitly mentions ‘Sothis, Opening of the Year, the Flood’ and a primitive sighting instrument made on a datepalm has been found. Once the arrival of the flood could be predicted, its waters could be controlled and channelled. Records of the levels were strictly maintained, at first on stairways built into a wall or quay. Untold years of recording and observation resulted in a 365-day calendar (12 months of 30 days and 5 extra feast days) the basis of which, in only slightly altered form, has descended to us today.

Though little is known of the activities of the pharaohs of the 2nd Egyptian dynasty it seems that there was even more active resistance against unity. One pharaoh (Per Ibsen) may have formed a breakaway government in Upper Egypt, for he significantly abandoned his traditional ‘Horus’ title and adopted a ‘Set’ title: in other words he exceptionally surmounted his royal emblem with the ancient desert god of Upper Egypt. This move of revolutionary proportions was quashed by his successor, who managed to re-establish the Horus tradition in Upper Egypt, and a Horus and Set title was temporarily adopted. Like the nebty and ni-sw-bity titles, and also the Double Crown, this combined two ancient traditions: Horus and Set as gods of Upper and Lower Egypt.

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November 15, 2012

Revision of the Mythological Tradition in Ancient Egypt

Revision of the Mythological Tradition
The fabric of ancient Egyptian mythological tradition, which survived in embellished or mutilated form for thousands of years, was woven and rewoven, time and again, to justify new conditions, or explain political trends; it was sometimes even entangled to promote a cause. As the country underwent changes in social and political structure there were accompanying changes in the myths which, though radical, did not render earlier traditions obsolete. The battles between Horus and Set, the tribal ensigns, for example, not only reflected opposites fertile Delta against barren Upper Egypt, and good and evil in the context of the nature cult but equally portrayed the political friction in the early Egyptian dynastic period, also expressed in mythological terms as battles between Horus and Set. This is why there are so many contradictions and so-called ‘discrepancies’ in Egyptian mythology, which have unfortunately earned Egypt the reputation of having a ‘myth-making’ mentality.

The importance of a local deity naturally increased in relation to the size and population of a settlement. When Memphis became the royal burial ground and factories sprang up for the manufacture of funerary equipment, Ptah, a minor local deity, evolved into a patron deity of the arts. The High Priest, who was also the chief artist, promoted his deity as the inspiration behind the metal-worker, carpenter, jeweller and sculptor. However, in the areas surrounding Memphis, two other deities were revered: Sekhmet Goddess the lion-goddess and Nefertum a lotus-god. As Memphis expanded it drew these into its orbit. The problem of having three deities in a single area was easily resolved by explaining Ptah as the chief deity, Sekhmet Goddess as his consort and Nefertum as his son. United they formed the Memphite Triad. Ptah also absorbed Sokar (an ancient god of the Saqqara necropolis from which the latter name is derived) and became known as Ptah-Sokar.

November 14, 2012

Rise of Memphis in Ancient Egypt

Rise of Memphis
Ancient Egyptian Temples were the centres of each community. The priests who maintained them accepted gifts and offerings on behalf of the deities and donations of cattle, fruit from the first harvest and revenue from the land. Deities with widespread appeal naturally amassed most wealth, and the priesthood of Ptah acquired a taste for power. They realised that though Ptah was the chief deity of the Memphite Triad, he had mere local appeal; unlike the Sun-god, whose centre of worship was Heliopolis, Ptah was unknown outside Memphis. If he could acquire solar power, then like the Sun-god he would enjoy pre-eminence. If Memphis could become a centre for culture and learning, then the priests themselves would have power and prestige second to none.

In populous Memphis the priests staged a drama which reveals their ingenious plot to undermine the sun cult and Heliopolis for the greater glory of Ptah and Memphis. The drama was in mythological language, and has miraculously been preserved in a late copy on what is known as the Shabaka Stone. Dressed as deities, the priests acted familiar tales of the creation of the physical world from the waters of chaos; of death and resurrection and of the triumph and coronation of a Horus king; each item of the traditional doctrine was presented, but subtly varied in the interests of Memphis. For Ptah God, the priests claimed, was himself the eternal ocean Nun that existed for all time and out of which both the primeval hill and Atum- Ra were created. Therefore their deity Ptah existed before Atum. They explained that the primeval hill rose from the eternal ocean, not in Heliopolis as in the earlier cosmogony, but in Memphis; that Memphis was the ‘Great Throne’, the site where Isis beheld the body of her beloved husband drowning in the water, and, moreover, the burial-place of Osiris God.

The priests did not deny the older doctrine. They merely claimed that since Ptah God was the eternal ocean, all other gods were no more than manifestations of him. One can well imagine the impact on the illiterate masses of the sight of the priests dressed up as their favourite deities, Horus and Set, Thoth the Moon-god and Geb the Earth-god, appearing as men and talking together. It must have been a highly inspired priesthood who at one stroke captured the minds of the masses by satisfying their taste for a tale, and swayed the intellectuals through profound abstract reasoning. For they pointed out that Ptah’s primacy lay in his power over the heart, or lb (which was the seat of thought and judgement) and the tongue, which represented command. In place of muscular effort (as when Shu, the atmosphere, separated Nut and Geb), they described the heart and tongue as the organs of creation. They explained that all things that originated in the heart took shape on being pronounced. The words on the Shabaka Stone: ‘For every word of the Egyptian god came about through what the heart devised and the tongue commanded,’ bear a striking resemblance to St John’s opening passage: ‘In the beginning was the Word’.

The Memphite Drama, staged in the populous capital, is therefore a fascinating intermingling of mythology on the one hand and abstract reasoning on the other. By giving Ptah God credit for the creation of the physical world, for ‘[giving] birth to the gods, [making] the towns, [establishing] the provinces, [setting] the gods “of every wood, every stone, every clay” in their shrines’, the priests of Memphis established themselves as the supreme political power of the state and the custodians of the country’s wealth.

Near the borderline between the Two Lands we now have evidence of political rivals: Heliopolis, situated on the eastern bank of the Nile about 7 miles west of modern Cairo, and Memphis on the western bank some 16 miles further south. Each city had a powerful priesthood which claimed for its deity the creation of the physical world. Their two cosmogonies, the Heliopolitan Ennead and the Memphite Doctrine, had as we have seen many concepts in common. Yet the priests of Memphis had not only reinterpreted the earlier and more widely held view of the creation for the greater glory of Ptah God, but had also deliberately undermined the centre of the sun cult. Up to this point in Egypt’s ancient history the major obstacle to unity between the Two Lands had been internal dissent based on cultural differences. We now have a different problem to consider: which deity, Atum-Ra or Ptah, was the creator of the physical world? Which of the two priesthoods should be looked upon as the guardian of the country’s economy ?

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November 13, 2012

Zoser, First God-king and Imhotep

Zoser, First God-king and Imhotep
Throughout the early Egyptian dynastic period, as we have seen, concord was short-lived. Periods when the ‘Two lands were united’ and the ‘Two gods were at peace’ implied recovery from anarchy rather than peace. Although the pharaoh called himself ‘King of Upper and Lower Egypt’, combined ancient traditions in his titles, and celebrated the ‘Feast of the Union of the Two Lands’; although, moreover, the last pharaoh of the 2nd dynasty probably married a northern princess in order to consolidate the union, this unity seemed no more likely to last than earlier efforts. A strong element was needed to maintain it. This was finally achieved by the creation of the dogma of divine kingship which, as will be made clear, simultaneously resolved both the problem of unity and the question of political priority.

The ancient Egyptians had learned to predict nature’s patterns and control the crops, nature’s gifts. The earliest record of pharaonic achievement shows the ‘Scorpion King’ digging a canal before his rejoicing subjects, and Narmer, the first pharaoh, reputedly diverted the waters of the Egyptian Nile river. The superimposition of man-worship on nature worship was, therefore, not unfitting. A divine monarch who was neither an Upper Egyptian nor a Lower Egyptian but who ruled as a God-king might finally consolidate the country. Certainly, as a god he would be above challenge and his power would be absolute.

The Zoser King, whose name is indelibly linked with that of Imhotep, his adviser, administrator and the gifted architect who built his funerary complex at Sakkara, is believed to have been the first God-king. His accession to the throne marks the beginning of the first of Egypt’s three ‘great periods’, the river Old Kingdom.

Zoser’s name passed into near-oblivion when his body was laid to rest. Imhotep, was never forgotten: scribes of later times made him their patron, his wisdoms were recited for thousands of years, and the Greeks, 2,000 years after his death, identified him with their own god of medicine, Asklepios, deified him and raised a temple at Sakkara where they assumed his tomb to be. Imhotep’s architectural genius lies in his use of durable fine-quality limestone to imitate the brick, wood and reed structures which have all perished. It is thus through this surviving monument, the Funerary Complex of Zoser, of which the Zoser's Step Pyramid is the main feature, that the 3rd dynasty springs to life. Through it we can visualise the contemporary houses, for it provides evidence of how logs were laid across the roofs of houses, how bundles of reeds were tied together with the heads fanning out and probably coated with mud. Imhotep transcribed matting, papyrus and palm-stalk fences into heavy masonry. More important, in his recreation in stone of the actual palace of Zoser in the belief that he could repeat in the afterlife his experiences on earth, we have evidence of the religious practices of the times and since religion and politics were inseparable can theoretically reconstruct the political organisation of the country.

The Egyptian Step Pyramid of Saqqara is Zoser’s tomb. It is part of a huge complex comprising entrance colonnade, a Great Court, a Heb-Sed Court, Southern and Northern buildings, a Mortuary Temple and a Serdab, surrounded by a 30ft wall of white limestone. It covers an area of 15 hectares, in a 595yd x 303yd rectangle. Zoser’s tomb rises in six tiers to the north. It is approached through the Great Court which contains two B- shaped constructions where the pharaoh ran his traditional Heb-Sed race.

The Heb-Sed is widely believed to be a 30-year jubilee but, in the Old Kingdom, pharaohs with reigns of less than 30 years celebrated it. Its origins have been lost but must date to a time when a leader was ceremoniously put to death as soon as he showed signs that his powers were fading, before the spirit was contaminated by the ailing body and in order that it might pass quickly into the body of a vigorous successor. In a country where hunting had become a sport and where invasions were yet unknown, the pharaoh, whose prestige as a leader naturally depended on aptitude, had to show his prowess in other ways. The race was the running of a fixed course in the presence of his subjects to indicate he was sufficiently competent to rule the nation. Those who witnessed the event naturally recognised the pharaoh’s strength and accepted his superiority. The earliest Heb-Sed race was portrayed on seals from Sakkara dating to the 1st dynasty. By the 3rd it had been elaborated from the running of a fixed course to a five-day celebration attended by people from distant parts of the country. Surviving reliefs indicate that local deities were borne in their shrines and placed in the sanctuaries situated on both sides of the Heb-Sed Court. Their number nearly corresponds with the number of provinces in the land at the time. It is interesting to observe, therefore, that the main feature of the celebration, apart from the race, was the re-enactment of the coronation. The king was borne on a carrying-chair by representatives of the Egyptian gods of Upper and Lower Egypt and performed the coronation ritual four times; each time he was enthroned facing a different direction while the appropriate crowns were placed on his head.

There appears to have been an incentive to attend the Egyptian festival. Gifts were presented to the different priesthoods. Those bearing such deities as the wolf-god of Assiut, Bastet the cat- goddess of Bubastis and Anubis the jackal-god may have received cattle. The priests bearing Sobek the crocodile-god of the Fayoum, Khnum the ram-god of Elephantine, Min of Coptos, Neith of Sais and Hathor of Dendera may have received personal gifts. Undoubtedly the priesthoods of the two ancient goddesses of Upper and Lower Egypt, the vulture- goddess of Nekhen and the serpent-goddess of Buto (whose symbols formed the pharaoh’s nebty title), participated in the ceremonies in the Northern and Southern buildings, which are believed to represent the pharaoh’s control over the Two Lands.

The ancient Egyptians believed that man comprised different immortal elements including the Ka and the Ba. The Ka, or spirit, was born with the individual, remained united with him throughout his life and continued to exist when the earthly body ceased to function. It was believed to dwell eternally in the vicinity of the tomb. The Ba, only coming into existence when the earthly body perished, was the soul and was, at first, probably a concomitant of Divine Kingship. Zoser pharaoh, as both god and man, had both elements catered for in his funerary complex: the mortuary temple for the Ba and the Serdab for the Ka. The latter was a tiny stone chamber (the first of its kind) built entirely separate from the tomb and entirely enclosed apart from two tiny holes known as the ‘eyes of the Ka House’. Through these the Ka of the deceased pharaoh, inhabiting the portrait statue placed therein, could ‘see the offerings and smell the burning incense’. The priests in the mortuary temple helped effect the transformation of the soul or Ba when, presiding over the body of the deceased, they would chant: ‘Rise thee up, for this thy bread which cannot dry and this thy beer which cannot become stale, by which thou shalt become aBa’.

The emphasis on the ‘Two Lands’ and their unification is apparent in pharaoh Zoser’s funerary complex: shrines for Upper and Lower Egypt situated on each side of the Heb-Sed Court, Southern and Northern buildings and, in addition, the existence of both a tomb chamber and a cenotaph within the complex (whereas earlier pharaohs had had one at Memphis and the other in Upper Egypt). Furthermore the participation in the Heb-Sed Festival of the various deities of Upper and Lower Egypt, and the spirit of toleration shown them, not only steered the different priesthoods from complaint and discontent, but forced them to recognise the pharaoh as the god par excellence.

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November 12, 2012

Use of Local Cults to Establish Unity in Ancient Egypt

Use of Local Cults to Establish Unity
The development of local cults was undoubtedly part of the political development of the country. The term ‘local deity’ is, however, confusing. For though some of the ensigns on standards that had distinguished the tribal units of the early settlers of the Egyptian Nile valley came to represent heraldic images which gave names to the different localities, these were not fetishes, objects of blind devotion. Although the cow might be seen as the seat, or visible manifestation, of a godly force, it was slaughtered for meat. And the lion, though regarded as sacred in certain areas, was unhesitatingly killed in defence. These totems and sacred animals were at first a clan affair.

When Egypt became a single, unified nation, it followed that the totem clans would have to be brought into a mutual relationship with the governing power. A Ptolemaic inscription on a rock-face near the First Cataract records an oral tradition that survived from the 3rd dynasty and reveals, indirectly, how this may have been achieved. It tells of a terrible famine that struck the land in the reign of Zoser pharaoh. The Egyptian people were told that they suffered because the gods were angry with them for not providing adequate offerings. The pharaoh Zoser himself made special arrangements for regular supplies to be presented to the people to enable them to curb the anger of the gods. It was only when a totem or sacred animal was declared to be capable of anger and the people felt obliged to placate them with sacrifices that they developed into local ‘deities’. Once they inspired fear and awe they became the focus of acts of worship, hymns and prayers; sacred monuments were erected for them and local settlers, who later formed the local priesthoods, were recruited to maintain them. Plants and objects of the area then became the attributes of the newly evolved deity. It seems, therefore, that in order to bind together the settlers in far-flung areas, the governing power encouraged the develop

ment and practice of local cults by low-ranking local priests, but limited their function and bound together their energies under a Egyptian God-king whose Heb-Sed festival they attended, and whose divine nature they recognised. It was a policy of promotion and appeasement which served a dual purpose: it enabled a generous and tolerant pharaoh, who provided offerings for local deities to take credit for favourable conditions and, at the same time, it provided scapegoats for disaster the local gods were angry.

The effort to unify sun worship by creating a composite deity, alongside evidence of the development of local cults, evinces a movement towards both unity and plurality in the Egyptian Old Kingdom: one God (the ‘Great One’) and many gods (‘all the gods’). This should not be regarded as contradictory. To establish a unified politico-religious system the ruling power encouraged local religious identity and, by promoting a God-king whose commands had divine authority, limited the jurisdiction of the local priests and justified their own dominance. Unity was the purpose, plurality the method.

November 10, 2012

Government in the Great Pyramid Age

Government in the Great Pyramid Age
The centralised government that created one of the highlights of ancient Egyptian history, the great Pyramid Age, appears to have been established by a powerful ruling √©lite who promoted a God-king to unite the country as well as sway the politico-religious current away from Egyptian Memphis. It may well have been the crucial fact of the priests of Ptah having endeavoured to undermine the sun cult to their own advantage that transformed the Heliopolis priests’ eagerness to enlighten into an impulsion to control.

Zoser Pharaoh, whose reign heralded an era of boundless vision and invention was a God-king of solar faith. In death he would join, as by right, his father the Sun-god in heaven. His chief official, Imhotep, whose titles included ‘First after the King in Upper Egypt, Minister of the King in Lower Egypt and Administrator of the Great Palace’ was also ‘High Priest of Heliopolis’. Moreover, some fragments of what are known as ‘Zoser reliefs’ (Turin Museum) which concern the Heb-Sed Festival, refer to the Heliopolitan Ennead (not the Memphite Doctrine). With little to distinguish between religion and politics the balance of power had tilted in favour of the priests of Heliopolis. They controlled trade routes, exploited the mines and handled the country’s valuable raw materials including stone, metal, precious stones and copper. Unity having been finally established, political stability in the 4th dynasty is reflected in economic prosperity, technical achievement, productivity and inventiveness.

The broad administrative pattern of the country was laid in the reign of Senefru. After a turbulent transition between the 3rd and 4th Egyptian dynasties he secured the throne by his marriage to Hetep-Heres, the daughter of Huni, builder of the first true pyramid at Meidum. Her title, Daughter of God, shows her to have belonged to a family with strong religious affiliations. Senefru, a vigorous and powerful monarch, administered the country directly through members of the royal family. He achieved this by creating the post of Vizier or Prime Minister which became the inherited right of his oldest son by his ‘Great Royal Wife’. She carried the direct line of royal blood, her son being legitimate heir to the throne. It is not without significance, therefore, that the first Vizier, Prince Kanufer, was also High Priest of Heliopolis.

Young princes, the sons of concubines and of noble families, were educated together and formed early friendships. When they grew up they were favoured for loyalty and given honorary posts. Sometimes a princess might be given as wife to the son of a nobleman. The most important officials in the Egyptian kingdom were bound together by education, friendship and blood.

According to the Egyptian texts of the Old Kingdom there were some twenty provinces (which the Greeks called ‘nomes’) in Upper Egypt and a similar number in Lower Egypt. A governor (‘nomarch’), the First Under the King, was appointed in each by royal decree. As a member of the ruling √©lite, the governor conducted his life in much the same manner as the aristocracy in the capital but on a smaller scale. He was the judge of the community and had complete control over all agricultural and public works. He supervised the census on cattle, produce and gold. He assessed taxes and controlled the archives where every local transaction, especially those involving land, were recorded. Taxes were assessed on the exact area of land irrigated. Warning of the approaching floods came from observers who manned the nilometers; this gave time for the water to be carefully channelled by means of canals. The governor’s control of water (one of his main titles was Digger of Canals}, levying of taxes and dispensing of justice gave him enormous power.

Though his province was a state within a state he was not granted total freedom. There were officials in a supervisory capacity. Senefru’s son Netjereperef bore the title of Overseer of the Governors in the Fifth, Sixth and Seventh Provinces of Upper Egypt, and there was undoubtedly similar control in the Delta. A governor might have aspired to even more power and, as in pre-dynastic times (Before ancient Egyptian dynasty) , set about expanding his boundaries, had his influence not been limited. Each province had a local deity which had a limited domain, and local priests allowed no infringement from neighbouring priests on the land of their deity; this also automatically curbed any aspirations of a governor. Though he was the pharaoh’s nominee he had no jurisdiction beyond the borders where the deity of his territory was revered.

Loyal governors were given titles and estates and, as the greatest reward, were assisted by the Egyptian pharaoh in the construction of their tombs on the royal necropolis. Sons of governors were often sent to be raised along with princes and the sons of noblemen in the capital. This was both an honour for the governor and an insurance against disloyalty for the pharaoh who permitted the post to become hereditary.

The administrative duties of a governor converged in the Chief Treasurer, and his judicial duties were organised in six courts under the Chief Justice of the Law; the Vizier was both Chief Treasurer and Chief Justice, and was therefore the link between the provinces and the central government. He was the mainspring of the government machinery, literally responsible for all the works of the king, ‘the eyes and the ears of his sovereign ... as a skipper, ever attentive (to his wants) both night and day’. He attended to every activity in the land, from the official counting of the country’s assets, including arable land and cattle, to the assessment of taxes made on the inventories thus obtained. He was also the High Priest, with two assistants known as Treasurers of Egyptian God. It was at one time thought that each pharaoh had only one Vizier, but evidence has come to light of two, sometimes many, holders of the title in a single reign. The wealth of the country was therefore controlled by a powerful religious body.

The Vizier’s Hall in the palace was the archives of the state. Here the learned scribes with palette and reeds, ink cakes and papyrus rolls, kept full records, especially of taxpayers’ names and the amounts they owed. Cursive writing, known as hieratic, became extensively used, especially for everyday government business. The more difficult hieroglyphic writing was reserved for religious Egyptian texts. Dates were set by such inscriptions as the biennial cattle count: ‘Year of Time 14 of the count of all oxen and small animals’ (ie the 28th year of a king’s reign). Though standard-weight rings of gold and copper were used in some palace transactions, coinage was unknown and taxes were calculated in produce: cattle, poultry, grain, wine and industrial products. These were stored in the granaries and storehouses. In instances of tax evasion officials with staves under their arms would not hesitate to ‘sieze the town rulers for a reckoning’.

The learned scribes also drew up contracts and wills. The latter largely concerned the maintenance of tombs. Theoretically, of course, this was the responsibility of a man’s heirs, but it was forseen that some laxity was to be expected with the passage of time. The testamentary endowments came from private property and in a man’s will (literally ‘order from his living mouth’) he outlined that its income was to be put towards the care of his tomb and the continued supply of food and offerings considered essential for his afterlife. Mortuary priests were paid for these services. Hepzefi, a governor of Assiut, left no less than ten contracts elaborating his desires for the perpetual celebrations and maintenance of his Egyptian tomb. In the case of royalty, the endowments were extremely large. Khafre’s son, Nekure, bequeathed to his heirs a private fortune including fourteen towns and two estates at the royal residence, the entire income of which was for the maintenance of his tomb; and he made the will ‘while he was alive upon his two feet without ailing in any way’.

The fact that no written law has been found in ancient Egypt does not undermine documentary evidence of legal practice. Written briefs were submitted to a governor, who frequently inscribed in his tomb that he ‘judged two partners until they were satisfied’. Among the Egyptian Old Kingdom legal evidence is a document referring to litigation between an heir and an executor. It indicated that under certain circumstances an appeal might be made directly to the central Court. There is one remarkable case of treason in the royal harem which was heard by two provincial judges (governors) in place of the Chief Judge (the Vizier), for an unbiased decision. Some were simple contracts such as the document known as ‘The contract for the sale of a small house’. The most famous legal case was that of the Vizier Kheti, whose name lived on until the New Kingdom as ‘the judge whose case was more than justice’. Kheti was involved in a lawsuit in which members of his own family were party; his judgement was against his own relative in order not to be accused of partiality. An appeal was made, yet Kheti persisted and his second ruling was the same as the first.

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November 9, 2012

The Heliopolis-Memphis Rivalry Renews in Ancient Egypt

The Heliopolis-Memphis Rivalry Renews
The political structure was based on a sound, but unfortunately not enduring, religious system. It could survive only so long as the cult of the Egyptian God-king remained firm. By the reign of Menkaure (Mycerinius) there is indication of a weakening of the centralised government. It is significant, therefore, that in the Great House during his reign, and also during that of his successor Shepseskaf, there was a certain official named Ptah-Shepses. His name indicates that simultaneously with the loss of pharaonic prestige a member of the palace was loyal to the priesthood of Memphis. Suddenly we have evidence that the hitherto inviolable ranks of the Heliopolis priests had been penetrated by the rival cult.

Menkaure probably met an untimely death, for he planned but never completed his Valley Temple. And Shepseskaf, who succeeded to the throne appears not to have been a son of ‘The Great Royal Wife’; he was not of pure Heliopolitan blood. Shepseskaf digressed from the Heliopolis tradition in several other respects: he changed the shape of his tomb (in place of a pyramid, the symbol of the sun-cult, his ‘Mastaba Farun" was shaped like a large rectangular sarcophagus), and it was not situated on the Giza plateau opposite Heliopolis, but on the Saqqara plateau nearer Memphis; and he failed to acknowledge, either in name or title, any connection with the cult of Ra God.

One wonders what part Ptah-Shepses pharaoh played in the above, especially since he married Shepseskaf’s eldest daughter and forthwith declared himself High Priest of Ptah. This political marriage was bound to have far-reaching consequences.

The last pharaoh of the 4th dynasty compounded his name with the god of the Memphites. He was called Dedeptah. He reigned for only two years and after his death there is evidence that a compromise was reached between the priests of Heliopolis and Memphis, a division of power. The pharaohs were still of Heliopolitan descent as ascribed to them by popular tradition, but no longer was the pharaoh’s eldest son the most important official in the land. The post of Chief Vizier-Judge became the prerogative of the Memphite families. Five of the 5th-dynasty viziers bear the name of Ptahhotep and were buried at Saqqara. It is from the Egyptian tomb of one of them (an important official in the reign of the 5th-dynasty pharaoh Djedkare), and from the tombs of other 5th-dynasty noblemen, that we know most about how the ancient Egyptians lived (Chapter 5), worked and spent their leisure time.

A Egyptian text known as the Westcar Papyrus explains the continued predominance of the state cult of the Heliopolitan priesthood in the 5th dynasty. It contains a prophesy by a powerful sorcerer that Reddedet, the wife of a priest, would give birth to three sons by the Sun-god Ra. These children, he declared, were destined for the throne. The pharaoh would forthwith be physically as well as spiritually the ‘son of the Sun-god’. With great enthusiasm the priests announced that the. First three pharaohs of the 5th dynasty would be Reddedet’s sons by immaculate conception and that the first would also be High Priest of Heliopolis. Reddedet may be identified with Khant-kawes, whose tomb was found at Giza, and whose cult was assiduously kept throughout the 5th dynasty; she bore the title ‘Mother of Two Kings’.

The Westcar Papyrus only appeared in written form some five centuries after the fall of the Old Kingdom. Since it largely related tales of magical feats it has been placed in the literary genre of popular stories transmitted by oral tradition. The text is, however, of historical value, for all the stories are set in the Egyptian Old Kingdom and mention the names of kings and princes in chronological order. In the context of the increasing strength of the Memphite priests during the reigns of Menkaure and Shepseskaf, the Westcar Papyrus may in addition preserve the undercurrents of a most inspired, imaginative and successful campaign to boost the dwindling reputation of the Heliopolitan priests.

It was Khufu king , builder of the Egyptian great pyramid on Giza, who asked his sons to tell him tales of wonders. The first two magical feats they recounted took place in the reigns of the 3rd-dynasty pharaohs Zoser and Nebka kings. The third tale told of the magical power of a sorcerer in Senefru’s reign and the fourth in Khufu’s own reign. The tales end with the prophecy of the imminent birth of the three children of the Sun-god destined for the throne.

Wondrous tales for the credulous masses of how a sorcerer folded back the waters of a lake in order that a pharaoh, sailing with a maiden companion, could recover the jewel she had dropped; of how a sorcerer, on learning of his wife’s deception, ordered his wax crocodile to carry off his rival; of how another, in Khufu’s own reign, brought decapitated geese back to life, garnished and would assure widespread circulation for the prophecy of the divine births. The Egyptian stories seem to have the decided flavour of a propaganda bid.

The success of the Heliopolis priests is attested by the fact that, in the 5th Egyptian dynasty, it became an established custom to have royal names compounded with that of the Sun-god

The Ancient Egyptians (Sahure, Neferirkare, Shepseskarg, Neferefre, Nyuserre, etc) and a new epithet ‘Son of Ra’ became a regular concomitant, usually outside the cartouche. In addition, there is evidence on the Palermo Stone of abundant gifts of land and offerings to the Sun-god Ra and the ‘Souls of Ore’ (Heliopolis) in the 5th dynasty. Finally, a new monument, a Sun Temple, was constructed. These were different in design from anything hitherto built. They comprised a huge open court surrounded by a high wall, with the whole temple so oriented that the rising sun would cast its rays through the entrance to the east and strike, at the opposite end of the court, a huge, squat obelisk resting on a mastaba-like base of hewn stone. The obelisk was patterned after the symbol of the Egyptian Sun-god, being an elevated hen-ben stone, the sacred symbol of Heliopolis. The first Sun Temple was built in the reign of Sahure, the second of the three divine pharaohs, and five of his successors also built them.

The royal burial grounds move southwards to Abu Sir, between Giza (the necropolis of Heliopolis) and Saqqara (the necropolis of Memphis). As might be expected following the division of power, the Egyptian pyramids of the pharaohs were of inferior workmanship and materials, with loose blocks and rubble at the core.

November 8, 2012

The God-king’s Authority in the Pyramid Age

The God-king’s Authority
It is abundantly clear that the Heliopolis priests exercised a unique authority over the pharaohs of the Pyramid Age. Their Egyptian tombs  were symbols of the sun cult. They were enlarged versions of the sacred ben-ben or mound at Heliopolis where Atum-Ra the Sun-god was believed to have manifested himself. The Vizier Hemeon, who built the Great Pyramid for the pharaoh Khufu (Cheops), was a ‘devotee of Heliopolis’. And after Khufu’s death four of his successors proclaimed their religious loyalties by forming their names of compounds of the Sun-god: Djedefre, Khafre (Chephren), Baufre and Menkaure (Mycerinius). The word ‘pharaoh’ did not mean ‘King’ in the Old Kingdom. References to the monarch were in such terms as ‘Great House’ (Per-0 from which ‘pharaoh’ is derived) or ‘Protected Place’.

The term implied the palace and its connected halls and chambers which housed the government departments. Thus the Great House had complete authority, both secular and religious. The officials in the palace were not the docile instruments of a monarch’s will but themselves vital cogs in the administrative wheel. The so-called absolute power of the pharaoh is only theoretical. Opinions have unfortunately been formed less on evidence than on the size and number of monuments. For instance, although the sole testimony to the autocratic power of Khufu (Cheops), builder of the Great Egyptian Pyramid, is his tomb, his personal power has all too often been measured by its dimensions, overlooking the evidence that it was the Great House that exercised authority over the provinces, monopolised mining and marketing and supervised building projects. There was, to be sure, a hierarchial political structure and a hierarchial pantheon of gods, but the God-king who stood at the apex of both was the vehicle by which the priests of Heliopolis exercised control.

The local deities, it will be remembered, were borne in their shrines by the local priests to attend the Heb-Sed Festival. Each had been given an incentive to witness the reassertion of the king’s sovereignty over the Two Lands and accept him as a god mightier than their own. The God-king returned the compliment. He not only visited the district priests and made offerings in the local shrines but took an active part in their temple construction. Inscriptions indicate that Khufu restored the temple of Hathor the cow-goddess at Dendera, embellished another at Bubastis where the cat-goddess was worshipped, and consecrated gold, silver and bronze statues to the shrine of Selket, the scorpion-goddess, Hapi the Egyptian Nile-god, and other deities. The part played by the Memphite Drama in anthropomorphisation should not pass unremarked: once a priest had dressed up as a god, or at least spoken and acted for a god, it was natural for the people to imagine their own local deities as men. In some cases the human figure was surmounted by their ancient ensigns, whether bird or animal. In other cases even the head was human but distinguished by ears or horns.

In the reign of Khafre (Chephren), builder of the second pyramid, magnificent cult figures of the God-king were fashioned. They described an immutable power that does not belong to mortals. The significant advances in the quality of royal statuary were not without purpose. They gave a feeling of strength, and permanency and helped promote the cult of the God-king. Menkaure (Mycerinius), builder of the third, smallest, Egyptian pyramid at Giza, was frequently sculpted as a member of a group. These were Triads composed of the goddess Hathor, the pharaoh and different local deities, both male and female, bearing the features of the queen. There must once have been as many of these Triads as there were important provinces, just as the number of shrines in Zoser’s Heb-Sed Court probably equalled the number of local deities who attended the festival. Religion cemented political unity, giving an inviolable character to the political system. Where gods were friends, men were united.

November 7, 2012

The Egyptian Pyramid Texts

The Pyramid Texts
Religion and politics being inseparable, some sections of the religious literature could be interpreted in a political light. The Egyptian Pyramid Texts are a compendium of writings inscribed on the tomb walls of the Pyramid of Unas, the last pharaoh of the 5th dynasty, and also on those of four of his successors of the 6th dynasty. The oldest and least corrupt of the religious writings of ancient Egypt, known to be derived from even older originals, they were modified, enlarged versions of early mythology, religious hymns and oral tradition. They contain some 715 verses or ‘utterances’. Some are spoken by the king (in announcing himself to the gods of heaven). Others are spoken by the priests (especially those involving mortuary spells and the resurrection texts which form a large body of the literature).

A section itemises offerings of food, drink, clothing, perfume and other items for the hereafter. The main theme of the Egyptian Pyramid Texts is the raising of the dead pharaoh to take his place among the gods of heaven. They have sometimes been called a magical bulwark against death, the implication being that, since they were written in tombs, they served no other purpose than magically to assist the deceased pharaoh to heaven. This is not so. They were undoubtedly preached by the priests not only during the burial of the pharaoh but on other occasions as well.

It should be emphasised that the ancient Egyptians recorded in their tombs aspects of their lives on earth that they wished to repeat in the afterlife. In Chapters 5 and 6 we see how a nobleman who possessed estates, servants and a loving family recorded all in his tomb. He also registered his titles, honours and duties, in the belief that by so doing he would enjoy the same eternally. The pharaoh, although recognised as divine, and however unapproachable he may have appeared to the people of ancient Egypt, was a mere mortal. When he died he too, it was believed, would rise and live again to repeat his experience on earth.

It will be remembered that during the Heb-Sed Festival there was a re-enactment of the coronation when the various gods of Upper and Lower Egypt gave their consent to the renewal of kingship and accepted the Egyptian God-king as one who had greater power than their local deity. The Pyramid Texts clearly confirm this:

Behold, the king is at the head of the gods and is provided as a god ... the ancient Egyptian gods do obeisance when meeting the king just as the gods do obeisance when meeting the rising of Ra when he ascends from the horizon.

An incentive to attend the Heb-Sed Festival was the bestowing of gifts on the different priesthoods. In the Egyptian Pyramid Texts the phrase ‘a boon which the king gives’ is repeated in many utterances. Some are more explicit:

" all you gods who shall cause this pyramid and this construction of the king to be fair and endure; you shall be effective, you shall be strong, you shall have souls, you shall have power, you shall be given ... bread and beer, oxen and fowl, clothing and alabaster . . . (U. 599)

As some of the utterances confirm political realities, let us view others, not as mortuary spells for the afterlife, but as records of what actually took place.

How They Organised Their World The utterance declaring that the gods (ie the local priests) should obey the pharaoh is most precise:

It is I who restored you,
It is I who built you up,
It is I who set you in order,
And you shall do for me everything which I say to you,
Wherever I go .. . (U. 587)

The implication that the gods who obeyed would be strong, effective and powerful (U. 599) is offset by the warning:

If I be cursed, then will Atum be cursed;
If I be reviled, then will Atum be reviled;
If I be smitten, then will Atum be smitten;
If I am hindered on this road, then will Atum be hindered,
For I am Horus,
I have come following my father.
I have come following Osiris. (U. 310)

Did the Egyptian pharaoh similarly warn the priests on his journeys throughout the land? And if reviled, what then? The texts state that the risen pharaoh joined the other gods in heaven, ‘that he may destroy (their) power and confer (their) powers, (U. 318). And ‘worship him . . . whom he wishes to live will live. Whom he wishes to die will die.’ (U. 217)

Was this a warning against extinction? According to Herodotus, Khufu (who restored the temple of Hathor, embellished one at Bubastis and consecrated precious ornaments to that of Selket) closed down the temples in the land in order to recruit slave labour to raise his monumental tomb. The Westcar Papyrus, a document relating events in the Egyptian Old Kingdom, confirms that he did indeed order the closing down of at least one temple. A local deity without a temple would be absorbed by a neighbouring deity (who would acquire its chief characteristics and adopt some of its regalia or emblems), but its priests would cease to be effective. The sons of local priests appear to have succeeded their fathers in their calling, generation after

The Ancient Egyptians generation, until they formed a sacerdotal nobility in each province. The possibility of being deprived of their means of livelihood, their Egyptian temple, was too terrible to contemplate. In this context the following verse, spoken by the priests, is particularly relevant:

0 King, may your soul stand among the gods and among the spirits, for it is fear of you which is on their hearts. 0 King, succeed to your throne at the head of the living, for it is dread of you which is in their hearts. (U. 422)

Here, finally, we have textual endorsement that the Egyptian God- king, who symbolised the collective power of the local gods for ‘he has swallowed the intelligence of every god. Lo, their souls are in the king’s belly, their spirits are in the king’s possession . . .’ (U. 273/4) had complete control over them by instilling a sense of dread in the hearts of the local priests.

Many of the utterances were repeated time and again in different contexts, sometimes with only slight variation in meaning. The phrase ‘Recite the words’ also preceded some of the utterances and is sure indication of their purpose. They were current dogma. Through the power of repetition the people believed. Egyptian The texts were recited not only on the day of burial but on other occasions as well, particularly during feasts in various parts of the country. It is clear that the priests who ordered their inscription had long circulated and preached their content.

The Heliopolis priests were not a dogmatic body of thinkers. They had formulated the first state religion, not by banner headlines announcing the supremacy of the Sun-god, but by carefully assessing the potential up and down the Egyptian Nile valley, by delving into tradition and folklore and by trading on the popularity of sun worship. Well aware of the superstitions of the people, they subtly appropriated the popular .beliefs of the different areas and modified them into a coherent tale. They undermined beliefs they considered irrelevant by denouncing them as enemies of the Sun-god, and embellished what they regarded pertinent. They superimposed the different interpretations of sun worship, one upon the other, like transparencies through which earlier and differing ideas could be discerned. Their doctrine was completely in the spirit of tradition.

In the Egyptian Pyramid Texts only On (Heliopolis) is mentioned. Atum-Ra the Sun-god presides over the Great Ennead (U. 601). Ptah, the god of Memphis, is significant for his absence. The Heliopolis priests satisfied in one massive literary creation the paradoxical nature and solar beliefs; the single overwhelming theme that emerged was that in death the resurrected pharaoh became Osiris while his throne on earth was taken over by his son Horus; and that Horus, the God-king, who restored and built the settlements, had the authority both to destroy and to confer power.

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