Ancient Egypt

Introductions to Egyptian Funerary Mythology: The Book of the Dead

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What was the ‘Opening of the Mouth’ ceremony and why was it considered important

The ‘Opening of the Mouth’ was the final ceremony in front of the portrait statue in accordance with the Book of the Dead Chapter 23 (formula for opening the deceased’s mouth for him in the necropolis).  The deceased’s head orifices were symbolically reopened by a priest. Adams explains that the ceremony was based on the legend of Osiris when it was first performed by Horus (Adams (1998): 20).  This is mirrored in early times when the son performed his father’s ceremony symbolizing inheritance which was an important aspect of Egyptian society.   The ceremony was essentially to restore the powers of sight, hearing and speech, to restore life.  Adams asserts that the Egyptians loved life and this was an insurance of eternal life/rebirth (Adams (1998): 20).  David explains that the ceremony was performed on objects in the tomb to ensure that they would “come to life for eternity” (David (2002): 33) for the use of the deceased.  The main importance of the ceremony was that it gave the deceased eternal existence through restoration, the idea and desire for immortality being of great importance to the Egyptians.

What role did the heart play in ideas about the afterlife?

David explains that the heart was considered the “seat of the mind and emotion” (David (2002): 31) and was the most important part of the body.  The heart was an essential tool in the judgement of the deceased, during which it would be weighed on a balance against the feather of Ma’at (truth).  The heart was instructed not to condemn the deceased (Book of the Dead, Chapter 30B – Formula for not letting the heart of the deceased oppose him in the necropolis).  The papyrus of Ani illustrates the final judgement, it shows the mythical figures of the divine judges along the top and the judgement of the heart against the feather below.  We see the figure of Anubis (guardian of the scales) weighing the heart overlooked by Thoth as the baboon and Thoth as the ibis-headed man recording the proceedings.  Ammit the devourer waits to devour the deceased if judged untrue and the three fates stand to the left who provide the deceased’s testimony.  The man-headed bird is Ani’s ba awaiting his fate.  The only two real figures are Ani and Tutu bowing to the gods.

What is the role of Osiris in the mythical events associated with judgement? Why is the deceased called ‘Osiris’?

Assmann explains that in Egyptian myth Osiris as the master of righteousness overlooked the judgement (weighing of the heart) of the deceased (Assmann: 149).  If the deceased was judged guiltless the soul of the dead was thought to be subject to one last judgement by Osiris to determine whether they were worthy of eternal life.  The deceased was called Osiris but this did not mean that he actually became Osiris.  It rather meant that he had taken on the role of the “victor over death” (David (2002): 159) that Osiris originally became.  An assessment of this relation to Osiris suggests that moral righteousness and worship of Osiris were important factors in ensuring the deceased “access to eternity” (David (2002): 159). It was the wish of the deceased to identify his fate with Osiris’, as displayed in Chapter 43 of the Book of the Dead (Book of the Dead Chapter 43 – Formula for not letting the head of the deceased be cut off in the necropolis).

What are the main concerns of the deceased in the ‘Declaration of Innocence’ from Chapter 125? What do these tell us about Egyptian ideas of Morality?

One of the main concerns of the deceased is that he has not done ill to the gods.  This is seen in the large number of references to the sins against the gods, for example “I have not blasphemed a god”, “I have not done what the god abhors” (Book of the Dead Chapter 125 – The Judgement of the Dead, the Declaration of Innocence).  Also the other main concerns such as doing ill to people and stealing are related to the gods in reference offerings and stealing from temples.  The concern of the deceased is that he has not cheated either man or god and is therefore pure.  In Egypt the gods were the force of universal order, and evil was a force of disorder.  The concerns of the deceased in relation to the gods show morality ideas were based around maintaining order provided by the gods by not doing evil to them or the earth that they influenced (Bains: 164).  Concerns in the declaration also include treating people equally showing another important moral idea.

Bibliography

Adams, B., Egyptian Mummies (Pembrokeshire, 1998), pp.20-22

Allen, J. P., Genesis in Egypt (Connecticut, 1988), pp.8-12

Allen, J. P., Religion and Philosophy in Ancient Egypt (Connecticut, 1989), pp.137-143

Assmann, J., The Search for God in Ancient Egypt (London), pp.145-149

Baines, J., Religion in Ancient Egypt (Ithaca), pp.160-164

Book of the Dead, Chapters 23, 30B, 43, 59, 105 &125

David, R., Religion and Magic in Ancient Egypt (London, 2002), pp.30-33, 121-124, 158 & 159

Grajetzki, Burial Customs in Ancient Egypt (Norfolk, 2004), pp. 27, 45 & 78

Roberts, J.M., Ancient History, From The First Civilisations To The Renaissance, (London, 2004), pp. 102-133

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Part 1 of What Evidence is there for the Daily Lives of the Ancient Egyptians?

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Part 2 can be found here.

We often hear about the kings and queens of Ancient Egypt but what about the lives of the general populace? How can we learn about them? The daily life of the Ancient Egyptians can be assessed by the wide range of archaeological evidence, philological evidence and art history available to us.   Through the use of modern archaeological and chronological dating methods we can gain a better understanding of what daily life entailed in the world of the Ancient Egyptians. 

Evidence of daily life from the early periods is limited, but there is still some available to us.  Grave goods provide a wealth of evidence for daily life as the deceased were buried increasingly over time with personal possessions.  Excavations of burials at Badari for instance have uncovered a variety of artefacts and adornments that were used in everyday life. For example grave 5225 at Badari contained a number of pots that could have been used in the daily life of a household and a cosmetic slate palette.[1]  The pottery and vessels found as grave goods provides us with evidence of the types of crafts and trades that appear in the daily life of the period.

There is also evidence in the form of small figurines and gaming pieces from which we can assess leisure in pre-dynastic daily life.  Such is found in tombs like tomb M.VIII at Abu Roash where a number of lion-shaped playing pieces were uncovered.  Everyday items like these help illustrate the refined lifestyle of the upper class.[2]  We have a vast amount more to assess from in later periods, but as you can see the pottery, grave goods and archaeology of the pre/early-dynastic period does allow for some assessment of daily life.

The vast majority of evidence available for daily life in the early periods comes from burials such as those at Helwan, Saqqara and Abydos, evidence of everyday activities for instance, is seen in the form of copper vessels from the tomb of Idi at Abydos.[3]  Tomb 24 H5 at Helwan also contained alabaster water jugs and pans.[4] A large number of cooking vessels, pots, jars and pans have been excavated from all periods providing us with assessable evidence for domestic activities.

Scene from mid 5th Dynasty from the rock cut tomb of court-singers Nefer and Kahay at Saqqara. Series of scenes common in rural life. Upper register showing construction of papyrus boat, middle registers show cattle rearing and agricultural activities important to maintaining daily life, the lower registers show the baking of bread and the lives of fowlers, and the very bottom register depicts dancing.

From the old kingdom onwards we have increasingly available evidence of the dress and clothing styles in daily life from wall paintings and statuary.  Statuary from the new and middle kingdoms allows for the assessment of daily dress, some showing the long kilts wore by men that reached from the chest or hips to their ankles, and wide cloaks.  These statues also provide us with evidence from which we can assess hairstyles and wigs, showing a range of styles from shoulder length wigs to clean shaven heads.[5]  Daily dress and cosmetics are also examinable from burials from the early dynastic period onward. For instance, jewelry found in cemeteries 5400, 5700 and 5100 at Badari, including necklaces and earrings,[6] and a range of actual styled clothing and cloth making materials as well as what may be interpreted as pieces of looms and cosmetic items and jewelry from Helwan.[7]

From around the beginning of the Old Kingdom significant new forms of evidence starts to dominate and become more available for the assessment of daily life, these are wall paintings and art.  Before this period there are very few examples of tomb wall decoration such as the painting in the Chalcolithic Tomb 100 at Hierakonpolis showing scenes of hunting and domestic activities.[8]  Wall paintings in Old Kingdom chapels often show a range of images in tombs of both officials and lower status individuals like tradesmen, as the afterlife was conceived similarly for all non-royals.[9]

The inclusion of temporal ordering within these tomb paintings also provides us with a timeline of the daily activities.  For instance the agricultural and cattle-rearing year’s activities are shown often in order from the upper register continuing down.[10]  The scenes in old kingdom tombs often portrayed trade and craft activities with the tomb owner supervising them. [11]  In doing so, they provide us with evidence of the daily life of the general population as craftsmen and farmers.  This theme continues well into the New Kingdom with wall decoration such as from the tomb of Menkheperran-sonb at Thebes (Dynasty 18) showing artisans at work.[12]  Employment is a large part of the daily lives of individuals in all communities and these depictions allow this aspect to be further analysed concerning the Ancient Egyptians.

Tomb and chapel scenes provide for much of the basis of assessment of daily life.  This fifth dynasty wall painting from the tomb of Nefer and Kahay is a prime example of the many parts of life depicted (See image above).  Not only does this wall painting show us areas of agricultural life, farming and fowling, but also preparation of food and what could be interpreted as a scene of leisure with dancers.  In certain later periods such as the Amarna Period in the New Kingdom, artistic evidence becomes less useful to the assessment of daily life, as with the reign of Akhenaten, artistic expression was based on the Royal Family.  This allows for a rare view of the daily lives of the Royals, but not of the common people.

Middle Kingdom scenes of everyday activities generally follow the traditional scenes of the Old Kingdom.  Scenes of daily life are found in fragments of reliefs from both Royal and Private tombs and chapels, especially at sites like Beni Hasan which is the location of many privately owned tombs of the Middle Kingdom. Scenes continue in this period to depict hunting and fishing, and food preparation; some scholars believe that these scenes were simply copied from the Old Kingdom prototypes but they still provide us with a foundation from which to assess activities of daily life.[13]

The ‘Satire of Professions’, boasting the profession of scribe, found on a wooden board in the Deir el-Medina, written in hieratic. Example of a text describing the occupations carried out in everyday life.

From the Middle Kingdom we witness a number of literary pieces of evidence for daily life in Ancient Egypt.  One such example of this evidence is the ‘Hekanakhte papers’ (12th dynasty) which are a collection of Middle Kingdom letters providing a detailed explanation of agricultural life in the period.[14]  These letters also provide rare evidence of the literacy skill of Egyptian women as one letter is from a woman to her mother. This provides us with philological evidence from which we can assess the extent of literacy of Egyptian women in daily life.  The shabti spells are another example of this type of evidence providing lists of daily activities which the shabti is to participate in.

The Middle Kingdom saw the introduction of fictional literature such as the ‘Tale of Sinuhe’ and the ‘Tale of the Eloquent Peasant’ that, though from their plots we see that they are fiction they purport to be historical, so provide us with information of daily life and tasks.[15]  For instance, the eloquent peasant provides evidence of trade and its importance to daily life and the use of domestic animals in daily tasks.[16]  The Middle Kingdom ‘Satire on Trades’ is another prime example as it describes aspects of all possible occupations in contrast to the easy life of being a scribe. Towards the beginning of the New Kingdom we also increasingly gain evidence in the form of Ostraka including letters, student writing exercises, such as numerous found at Deir el-Medina, and numerous more fictional texts.

As previously discussed, a vast amount of evidence for daily life in the early periods comes from burials, the same can be observed with all periods as objects of everyday use were placed in the tombs to ensure provisions for the dead, for their lives after death.[17]  After the Early Dynastic Period the amount of grave goods steadily increased.  These artefacts allow for the assessment and interpretation of many parts of daily life, one such example of this is of dress.  The eighteenth dynasty tomb of the architect Kha included piles of well preserved folded tunics and sheets.[18]  Subsidiary graves are also helpful in the interpretation of domestic practices and craft as they contain a more humble population and from these we gain deposits of pottery, domestic containers and implements.[19]  Subsidiary graves often held artisans, and tools uncovered from their graves provide evidence of crafts, for instance, carpentry, pottery production and building. And offerings to the dead give us an idea of the foods eaten.  These pieces of evidence are not only important to assessment of the daily life within the home but also give us examples of the types of crafts and labor being participated in by the general population.

Part 2 can be found here.


[1] Brunton, G. and Caton-Thompson, G., The Badarian Civilisation and Predynastic Remains Near Badari (London 1928), p.9

[2] Schulz, R., and Seidel, M., Egypt: The World of the Pharaohs, p.35 – 1st Dynasty, c.3000BC – many of these items are found in the tombs of the elite from the pre-dynastic times.

[3] Aldred, C., Egypt to the End of the Old Kingdom (London, 1988), p.58 – vessels such as those found in the tomb of Idi and all over Egypt in all periods allow for assessment of domestic tasks and food preparation as well trade due to a number of imported products identified by labels, markings and materials.

[4] Saad, Z.Y., The Excavations at Helwan (Oklahoma, 1969), p.40

[5]Schulz, R., and Seidel, M., op.cit., p.129

[6] Brunton, op.cit., p. XXVII – cemetery sites at Badari and elsewhere also provide a means of assessing social stratigraphy in society with the comparisons of different grave goods and burial types and sizes from the pre-dynastic period onwards.

[7] Saad, Z.Y., op.cit.,  p.49

[8] Kemp, B.J., Ancient Egypt: Anatomy of a Civilisation (2nd Edition) (New York, 2006), p.80 – the domestic, and hunting and gathering scenes are a theme of the tomb 100 wall painting which surround the primary focus on a number of sea-faring vessels which remain open to interpretation

[9] Schulz, R., and Seidel, M., op.cit., p.82

[10] Ibid., p.85

[11] Ibid., p.85 – These scenes appear frequently as it was honourable to be put over such activities as they involved the working of possessions of the royal administration

[12] O’Connor, D., Ancient Egyptian Society (Pittsburgh, 1990), p.17

[13] Shaw, I. and Nicholson, P., The British Museum: Dictionary of Ancient Egypt (London, 2003), p.40

[14] Shaw, I., The Oxford History of Ancient Egypt (Oxford, 2003), p.150 – The majority of these papers were written by the farmer Hekanakhte who left them as instructions for his family while he was absent.

[15] Shaw, I. and Nicholson, P., op.cit., p.164

[16] British museum website, http://www.britishmuseum.org/

[17] Lythgoe, A.M., An Exhibit Illustrating the Daily Life of the Ancient Egyptians, in The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin, Vol.13, No.12 (Dec., 1918), p.283

[18] Ancient Egyptian Clothing, in K.M.T., Modern Journal of Ancient Egypt, Vol.6, No.4, p.34 – tomb discovered in the artisan’s cemetery at Deir el-Medina in 1906

[19] Subsidiary graves mostly contained artisans and craftsmen so are more reliable in use to interpret the lives of the common Egyptian population rather than the lives of the Royal families

GraecoMuse Turns One

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The Bases of Zanes at Olympia, Greece. Statues...
The Bases of Zanes at Olympia, Greece. Statues of Zeus were erected on these bases, paid for by fines imposed on those who were found to be cheating at the Olympic Games. The names of the athletes were inscribed on the base of each statue to serve as a warning to all.

Hello Everyone! This month this website turns one year old. Thank you everyone for reading and continuing to do so! GraecoMuse has now had over 40,000 views and has 528 subscribers. 🙂

So incase you missed some of the entries and are interested in having a read, here are all the entries for the last year. Hope you all enjoy, keep reading, and most of all learn new things.

Also remember that there is now a facebook page for archaeology and history news and comments. At  https://www.facebook.com/GraecoMuse.

Simple Musings – 26/10/11

Review: Betz, H.D., The Greek Magical Papyri in Translation (Chicago, 1986) – 26/10/11

Confessions of an Archaeologist: Live Free and Dig Hard! – 27/10/11

The (not so) True History – Lucian of Samosata – 29/10/11

Kepler’s Somnium (The Dream) – 30/10/11

Survivor PhD: Close Encounters of the First Kind – 01/11/11

Lost in Translation: It’s all Greek to Us – 07/11/11

Recommended Reading: Blum and Blum, Health and Healing in Rural Greece – 11/11/11

Back to the Future: The Significance of Studying Ancient History – 14/11/11

Relic Hunter: Common Misconceptions of Archaeology – 22/11/11

To Pass Knowledge on to the Younger Generations – 08/12/11

Wilde/Chase Books 1-4: Andy McDermott – 22/12/11

Santa Claus Before Coca Cola – 25/12/11

Felix sit annus novus! Happy New Year! – 31/12/11

Important Rules to Remember When Learning Ancient Greek Part 1 – 11/01/12

English: Ancient Greek helmets.
Ancient Greek helmets

Important Rules to Remember When Learning Ancient Greek Part 2 – 20/01/12

War Minus the Shooting: Ideals behind the Ancient Olympic Games – 28/01/12

Traditional and Historical Origins of Certain Supernatural Ideologies – 29/01/12

Female Heroism in Ancient Greek Literature – 04/02/12

A Shaky Beginning: Parkinson’s Disease in Ancient History – 09/02/12

The Fall of the Ancient Olympics: The Theodosian Code – 17/02/12

Basic Numismatics: A Quick Guide to the Study of Ancient Coinage – 23/02/12

Ancient Scripts of Egypt: An Introduction – 02/03/12

Poetic License: An Introduction to Greek (and Latin) Meter – 08/03/12

Tools of the Trade: Archaeology – 18/03/12

Ammianus Marcellinus: Biographical Record in the Res Gestae – 23/03/12

The Language of Trees: Ogham (Archaic Irish Script) – 26/03/12

Holey Cranium Batman! The Archaeology of Trephination – 10/04/12

In the Beginning: Biblical Creation Myths vs. Others Around the Mediterranean – 14/04/12

Cuneiform: An Introduction to One of the Earliest Scripts – 28/04/12

Ancient Sites of Cilicia, Anatolia: Part 1 – 08/05/12

Ancient Sites of Cilicia, Anatolia: Part 2 – 08/05/12

Isthmia: Roman Baths and Muscular Men – 16/05/12

Runic Scripts – Elder and Younger Futhark – 19/05/12Piracy in the Ancient Mediterranean – 01/06/12

Important Rules to Remember When Learning Ancient Greek Part 3! – 10/06/12

The Cave of Letters – 20/06/12

From Pole to Pole: The History of Pole Dancing and Fitness – 23/06/12

Hoplitodromos (armoured race); on the right so...
Hoplitodromos (armoured race); on the right some tripods as winning prizes. Side A of an Attic black-figure neck-amphora, ca. 550 BC. From Vulci.

Graecomuse and Parkinson’s Disease – 01/07/12

The Valley of the Dawn – Made-up religion of 32,000 years? – 08/07/12

Important Rules to Remember When Learning Ancient Greek Part 4 – 09/07/12

Archaeology Travel Blog: Istanbul pt. 1 – 18/07/12

Archaeological Travel Blog: Istanbul Part 2 – 27/07/12

Archaeology Travel Blog: Selinus and Antiochia ad Cragum! – 03/08/12

Archaeology Travel Blog: Ancient Side – 04/08/12

I Have My Eye On You: The Evil Eye in Antiquity – 29/08/12

Curses and Fines on Greek Grave Stele – 06/09/12

Theodora of Justinian: The Protectress of the Poor! – 28/09/12

Neodamodeis – The Freed Helots of Sparta – 07/10/12

A Source-Critical Analysis of the Parable of the Mustard Seed – 08/10/12