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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