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and the Afterlife
EcyprrANs' ATTTTuDE toward death and
through several millennia
in much of the surviving record, the
on points not to excessive morbid-
but rather to a preoccupation
with life and
desire to continue living after death.
in life after death and hoped that it
resemble the life they knew-and per-
improve upon it. Although we can specu-
and a need for sustenance after death.
of the body and may even have encour-
belief in a bodily afterlife, but the much
elaborate process
of mummiffcation was
those who could a{ford it. Likewise, simple
sandy-pit graves
developed into mansionJike
tombs to provide
storage space for all the provi-
sions assembled by and for the deceased. From
the inscribed and decorated walls of such tombs
from all historical periods,
we know much about
the Egyptians' views of death and the afterlif'e,
but other sources, including both literary and
nonliterary texts, occasionally either fill out the
or provide
counterpoint. The tendency
of scholars is to generalize
from the common-
qlu"g, but the exceptional is equally noteworthy.
Furthermore, we risk assuming erroneously that
many beliefs and practices
were concurrent or
countrywide. The reader should be aware that
the record is far from complete and favors the
later periods,
the southern part of the country,
and the upper classes ofsociety.
For the Egyptians a complete person
was com-
and spiritual parts. The
body itself was considered an essentiJ element
that was animated by a soul, or ba. The ba was
represented as a bird that flew off or departed
s such and the quantity
of burial equipment
great that at times these subjects might seem
have preoccupied
them totally.
ath and the world ofthe dead are predominant
Prior to the earliest written records, the Egyp-
rns' burial customs clearly indicate that they
in various ways on the symbolism and magic
in the burial process, the inclusion of
lood provisions
in a proper
burial implies at the
least that the Egyptians believed in a bodily
Egyptian beliefs and practices
rath developed over thousands of years. Ini-
y, natural desiccation in the desert sand may
: been considered adequate for the pres-
doubt fostered as a better preparation for
Religion ond Science
at a person's death or burial. It would generally
stay near the body but could also leave the tomb
to assume other forms. These transformations
were apparently not
permanent and were not
That the ba was considered an
aspect of the living
person is evident from a
literary documen! the Dispute Betueen a Mon
and His Ba, of the Middle Kingdom
2ooo BcE). In this text, the ba, if not a conscience,
is at least an intellectual component that pre-
sents the individual with differing viewpoints
dom literary work, the Complaints of Kha-
khepen'esonb, a protagonrst addresses his
"heart"l that the heart was deemed the seat of
love as well as ofvolition is a remarkable
to its position in modern symbolism. However,
whatthe Egyptians called
"heart" was generally
the equivalCnt of our
"mind," so that the similar-
ity of ba to classical and scholastic deffnitions
oith" soul might present a more signiftcant
A second spiritual element of any person was
his afth, a term that is often left untranslated but
could be rendered
"spirit." This spirit,like the
ba, is an elemerit that survives after death. It
can be either benevolent or evil. The
goal ofa
person was to have an clch
with "spells" that would be useful after death.
Living individuals beset with problems could
appeal to the akh of. a relative to intercede
against other clchs believed to be causing their
grief or aiding their tormentors. This belief in
combat appears in the letters to the
dead that were
placed at tombs by
angry, or fear$ul survivors. They may recount
some of the
good things done by the survivor
for the deceased while he or she was alive. Some
of these letters were written on plates or bowls,
presumably fftled with ofrerings to the dead and
thus serving as a gentle bribe to invoke help
against malevolent spirits.
Egyptian notion of the lco, another spiri-
tual component, is more difficultto comprehend.
While in essentials the concept may have been
stable and consistent throughout Egypg its attri-
butes may have differed locally or temporally.
In the story of The Shiputecked Sollor, the is-
land of the lco is a phantom island, an unreal
plaee that is meant to be taken as real. Perhaps
this arnbiguous condition is the essence of the
word, since a persons's image or statue is
that person's lca. Magically the lcc can be a
ond effective
personality and a protecting
nius, as some have labeled it. The fashioner
Khnum, is shown molding both the child
his lco in New Kingdom and later depictions
divine birth. Also in the Late Period, all ofthe I
called attributes of Re-his senses'
(sio), authoritative utterance
(hu), and
are personiffed as lcos.
The lco was imPortant to a
in the afterlife. Should the corpse perish,
survival ofthe lco could still guarantee
existence. Similar to lca statues, which were
portraits of the deceased with the lca sign
iionally upon their heads, single reserye
(carved heads or busts present when the
perishes) were anothel d9$ce forrnd in
Lurial shafts of some early Old Kingdom mastabri.?,
tombs. I(a servants were priests in charge of adi{t
ministering the endowments connected withlql.
U""iA, *ni"n were ordinarily spent for the offeq'
ings to be provided over a long
perigd of time'
priess received the benefit of nume-roq
provisions in a practice termed tha
"reversion of offerings." What is not certain is
whether the
priestly title derived from the word
lcou;, meaning
"food" or
"provisions," or from
the lco of the person theY served.
Another aspect of an individual that deserves
mention is the person's shadow or shade
which has a parallel in the Latin umbro. This is
both mentioned in the funerary literature
of the Deod, chap. gz) and depicled in tomb
paintings such as lrynefer's tomb of the Rames-
Mummiffcation was practiced to preserve tle
majority of parts of the body, and in its simplest
form was accomplishedby removingthe viscera
that generally bring on decay and decomposi'
tion. This basic process could be greatly im-
proved upon, and there were variations in the
procedure throughout Egypt's history. Thert
were also di{ferent
grades of work that reguirec:
certain amounts of time, ehemical preservatives
and attention to detail. In the most thorougl
Death ond the Afterlife in AncientEgyption
i , Two examples from Edward F. Wente's translations
lnhis l*tters
Anclent Egypt
1r99o; irr"t,rdu
and stela liom the First Intermediate period:
" It is a sister who addresses her brother, the sole compan-
' lon Nefersefekhi:
Much attention_it is profftable
to give
attention to one who cares for yor_on
account of this
which is Leing done against my daughter very wrong_
fully, although there isiothinsldiil;;"inst
him. I
diq not consume his possessions,
nor did he-have to give
, " th,t
to my daughter. It is for the ,"t . o1irrt"r""Jirrg
on behatt of a survivor that invocation
offerings are madi
to a spirit. So punish
the one who is doing *h"t i, dir-
tressing to me since I will triumph over w-hatever dead
man or woman is doing this against my daughter, (p.
by Merirtyfr to Nebetiotef: How are
v,ou? I^s the West taking care of you
according to your
desire? N-ow^since I am your
bellved ,rpor,
on my behalf and intercede on behalf of my name. I did
:' not garble
a spell in your presenee
when i perpefuated
your name upon earth. Remove the inffrmity of my bodyl
Please become a spirit for me before
so that I
may see you in a dream ftghting on my lenAf, I will then
deposit ofrerings for you
as soon as the sun has risen and
ou$t your offering slab for you. (p,
Two later and much longer examples from a Nine_
teenth Dynasty papyrus
and Twen!-ftrst
hacon are abbreviated
To the-able spirit Ankhiry: What have I done against you
for you to get into this evil disp"osition in
to the Dead
rviving letters addressed to the dead, though few
number, have come from almost
"f history from the Sixth to tt
They vary in length, coherence,
degiee of
and demands but dLmonstrate
a fairty iorrrir-
int belief in the ability of people
"rr"J""i""t, deceased family membirs and to recruit their
ance with everyday problems.
Those letters writ_
en on bowls. of offerings and containing poignant
rersonal reminders
of past kindnesses
are powerful
ements, especially for having been put in writing,
they obviously presuppose
a much
"orn*o., that would generally
have involved oral or
which you are? . , . As for what you
have done, it is the
reason for my laying a plaint
against you,
although what
nave I done against-you?
I shall contend at law with you
in the presence
with the words of my mouth, that is, in
the presence
of the ennead of the West. .
for a wife when I was a youth
so that t was with you
while t was functionirrg
yo,, *"ru
with me. I did not divorce you, nor did t
yo,, to b.
vexed. . . When I was instructing of[".", io,
infantry and his chariotry, I had thJm come anJprosuate
before you,
bringirrg erruryro*-olfrne
to set before you. I concealed nothing
"t "il
during your lifetime. I did not let you"sudiirco*fort
in anything I did with you
after thqmanner
of a lord, nor
did you
ffnd me cheating on you
after the **nu, of
ffeld hand, entering a slnnge iro,rr". . . . I ;J my peo_
wept sor_ely for you befJre your body .
-. -.-i
clothing of ftne you
up in and had marry
clothes made. I overlooked nothirrj gooJ
*-", ,rot to
have it do-ne for you.
Now look, t'vu ,"pJ"t A* iastthree
anotler house, . . . As for those
sisters in the household,
I have not entered into a one
ofthem (sexually). (pp.
Statement by the necropolis scribe Butehamon to the
chantress ofAmon lkhtay:
has departed and his en_
nead following him, the.kings as well, and all humanity
in one body following their fellow beings. There is no
one wh-o shall stay alive, for we shall all foilow you. If I
where you are, teII the lords of eternity to
let your brother (i.e.,
husband) come to you that you may
be his support in their mids! be they great
or small. It
is you who should speak well within the necropolis since
I committed no abomination against you whili you were
on earth. (p. zr8)
Such letters indicate that &e dead were not consid_
ered so different from the living. The continuity of
life and the afterlife *"r
and reuniffcaiion
with family members was expected. The dead were
and reproachable;
they could be ca_
and they could meddle i" th" affairs of the
Iiving. People expected justice
and were not afraid
to insist on a quid pro quo. They could be threatening
and nasty but also tender and, evidently, concerned
about being misunderstood
and havini'their good
deeds rewarded.
the entrails were removed most
c_arefully and thoroughly, the natron (a
agent) wai applied more gener_
ously or frequently,
and bodily fluids were more
drained. The innards, which were
removed from the thoracic cavity through an
ineision in the leftside, were dividedand stored
in four "eanopic jars.,,
These jars
were associated with the four sons of Horus.
Their original plain
lids had become human_
Religion ond Science
headed in form by the Middle Kingdom, and by
the New Kingdorn they often bore the heads of
each son-Imesty (human),
Hapy (ape),
tef (jackal),
divinities, represented on the canopicjars, pro-
tected the liver, lungs, stomach, and intestines,
The heart was also removed, but being per-
ceived as the seat of intelligence, it was wrapped
in linen and replaced or sewn back into the
chest cavity, and from the New Kingdom on, a
heart scarab of green stone was placed
on the
mummy over the heart. Chapter
of the Boolc
of the Deod was inscribed on tht base of this
scarab, asking the heart to testifr on behalf of
the deceased during his last judgment.
To re-
move the brain, long rods with hooked ends
were inserted through the nostrils to cut up and
snag what they could of gray
matter, but this step
was apparently not always considered a priority,
nor was brain matter treated and saved.
The time for the whole mummification pro-
cess ranged between
and zoo days and was
deseribed as taking
days in the often unrelia-
ble account by the Greek historian Herodotus.
The mummification prgcess for one Old King-
dom queen
took z7z days in one extreme case,
and according to a late New Kingdom text one
lcing's body remained unburied for at least two
but probably
not because ofa prolonged
Embalming tables survive, as
well as bo&es with embalmers' incisions,
stuffing, and stitches. Embalmers sometimes
mummies with artiftcial limbs, and pad-
ding to plump
out the ffgure was also utililed.
Because of the high expense of full mummifica-
tion, among
poor the rule was only to wrap
the ffgure and bury it after a short time.
For a thorough mummiffcation,
the hollow
shell of_a body was meticulously
wrapped with
of yards
of linen. One Old Kingdom
body had each of its limbs and digits individu-
ally wrapped. In later periods
it wL more com-
mon for the whole body to be wrapped as a unit,
sometimes with a copy of the Book of the Dead
and also an abbreviated Amduat p"pyru, (Book
of Amd,uat
Whicli Is in the
Netherworld"l) included in the wrapping, pre-
sumably because of their importanee as guide-
books to the beyo"d. Papyrus rolls might be
between the legs or under an arm, or
sheets of papynrs
could be inserted between the
layers of the wrappings upon the body. Amulets
were often placed
according to a ritualistic plan
in fixed positions
within the linen wrappings.
Once mummiffcation was complete, the body
was ready for burial, an event involving a num-
bei of religious rituals; the most important of
t}ese was probably
the Opening of the Mouth
eeremony. In the full, seventy-six-scene New
Kingdom illustration of this rite, the eyes, ears,
nostrils, andmouth were touched withaceremo-
nial adze to symbolize their opening and the
individual's reviviffcation. Since the same rite
was also performed
on statues and wall decora-
tions with human ffgures, it could be argued
that such representations were considered the
equivalent of the mummies, with personalities
that could be revivified, and that this magico-
religious rite may have been a part of everyday
life. From the many other examples of religious
devotion in iconography, amulets, nomencla-
ture, temple service, oaths, and salutations, it is
clear that many such aspects of religion penne-
ated Egyptian daily life.
The Egyptians loved life and considered rro
years to be an ideal span. For them nonexis-
tence was a fate worse than death.
to continue their bodily existence, a fact that
explains the elaborate preparations
for burial,
the provisions
accumulated, and the precautions
taken to protect
the substantial treasures that
were buried with the elite. This emphasis on
the body is seen also in the resolve
to recover the bodies of those slain while on
expeditions abroad or by the fear of drowning
and being devoured by erocodiles. Such a fate
was said to await those who committed sacrilege
or swore a false oath.
Not everyone was content with his or her lot
in life, but suicide was not an approved way to
escape harsh realities and to begin a glorified
existence in the afterlife. In the New Kingdom,
suicide was an option allowed to the highest-
ranking individuals who had been found goitty
of capital crimes. Capital punishment
was used
sparingly-only for serious crimes-and appar-
Deoth ond the Afterlife in Ancient Egyptian Thought
ently only upon the
of pharaoh. (See
and Social Institutions of Pharaonic
Egypt" in Part
Vol. I.)
Many Egyptians must have been pleased to
have their representation surviving in statues,
on stelae, and even in gra{fiti to keep their name
and fame alive. The late New Kingdom instruc-
tion in Papyrus Chester Beatty IV recognized
the futility of previous efforts at elaborate
burials, since the tombs of famous men hadbeen
plundered. It was by writings that people and
their memories were kept alive.
In addition to careful physical provisions for
b,t.iul, the Egyptians prepared *ritt"r, texts, be-
cause from very early in their history they
I believed in the efffcacy of both the spoken and
the written word. In graffiti left in many out-of-
the-way places, passersby were entreated to say
thousand bread, a thousand beer, a thousand
oxen, a thousand fowl for so-and-so," and the
writer hoped thereby to become a beneffciary
many times over. Similarly a table of offerings
inscribed or painted on a tomb wall, stela, or
coffin could be relied upon to provide for most
sustenance in the hereafter, and menu-like lists
of provisions and other commodities were used
either alone or with representations, again to
substitute for the actual commodities. These
magical lists became an important part of the
textual material prepared for any prominent per-
son's burial. These texts, inscribed on the walls
of the burial chambers of pyramids of royalty
and on the insides of coffins of noblemen, are
full of obscure allusions, but they provide a vast
body of evidence for religious beliefs and prac-
tices, as well as for some of their philosophical
The mythological content of the funerary texts
was extensive, but it was not the purpose ofthese
texts to narrate myths; these were for the most
part passed on from generation to generatiori
through oral tradition. References to the deities
or their actions were enough to show familiarity
with the myths and with the purposes for which
they were being evoked by the priests or the
deceased. The primary purpose of the funerary
texts was rather to provide the deceased *ith
a compendium of knowledge required for the
afterlife. The descriptions if th"-rrrrroundings
envisioned in the afterlife include mansions, gar-
dens, and boats where the deceasedwouldabide
in either celestial or terrestrial settings. To ob-
tain a goal-either to reach a place with one of
the gods or to guide a god such as the sun-god
on a cyclical
deceasedhad to know
the name of every being (divine
or demonic),
every place (hill,
waterway, or obstacle), and
every thing (including
each of hundreds of parts
of the boats on which they would traverse the
Ascension texts to enable the deceased to
reach their realm of the afterlife were common-
place (especially
in the Old Kingdom royal Pyra-
mid Texts), but the imaginative descriptions of
methods of ascending (for
example, soaring on
birds' wings, rising with incense, or climbing on
ladders formed by the outstretched arms ofgods)
were apparently presented as various options
or possibilities, not as dogma. According to the
Pyramid Texts, the principal objective of the
king in the afterlife was to
the sun-god Re
in his heavenly voyage. (See "Builders
of the
Pyramids" in Part
Vol. II.) According to the
Middle Kingdom Coffin Texts, the afterlife that
could be attained by nonroyal persons had sev-
eral variations or combinations of elements that
might have allowed for a varied existence in
the hereafter. Some individuals might want to
become stars in the sky with the moon god,
Thoth; others might want to remain in the lush
Fields of Offerings of Osiris, the principal god
of the dead; and still others might want to sail
on the brilliant sun-bark with Re in its unending
cyclical voyage. Proponents of particular cults
may have had their preferences, but from the
way these various scenarios are presented in the
texts, they must have been seen as alternative
or choices.
One version of the Book of Two Wags from
the Coffin Texts clearly ranks these celestial out-
comes so that a solar destiny is the highest and
can only be reached by those who know all the
requisite spells. This version suggests a democ-
ratization over time with regard to the hereafter,
since goals that had once been the king's alone
were now available to all who could afford to
personalize the texts for their cofffns. The major-
Religion ond Science
sources, however, include contradictory
that such burial texts could be internally
inconsistent seems to reflect a liberal as opposed
to a restrictive interpretation
of religious ideol_
ogy. One
might have been judged
by a
as better than another, bui all were
sen as good,
and the general
tendency was to
allow for variation rather than to concentrate ex-
clusively on one strand of tradition.
Among the g-ood qualities
corded in traditional tomb autobiographies
that the person
was beloved by his*paients
siblings, and gave
food to the-hungiy,
water to
the thirsty, clothing to the naked, and a boat to
the boatless. Instructions
from a father to his
son, found in the father's tomb and also copied
gn.papyri, frequently encouraged
emulatini the
father's good
deeds as well as his correct behav_
ior in order to achieve a success equal to his
own. If a person's good
deeds and no6le accom_
are a prerequisite
for a blessed eter_
njtl, the person's
evil deeds will certainly
despite any attempts to conceal them.
This was stated explicitly in the First Intermedi_
ate Period or Middle Kingdom lnstruction
and it appuaru in the later judj-
menllgen_e illustrated
and described
in chaptJr
{ i }rS
Book of the Dead.The
famous vignltte
in this chapter, which depicts judgment
s-een by the god
Thoth, focuses
on balancing
the deceased's
heart against the feather of truth
A eode of ethics underlies
this symbolic
act, but the surviving information
about it is nei_
that intentions were considered at least as im-
as actions, something that is not clear
from the negative confession, which was actu-
ally a protestation
of guiltlessness
of concrete
deeds. The earlier lnstruction of KingMerykare
also distinguishes
between hypocrisy and good
intention, mentioning both the tallying of one,s
evil deeds at the last judgment
and It
ment of one's heart by an omniscient goa,
T-he Xgyptians had diverse conceptions
of the
afterlife. Some priest-scribes
corded the many prevailing
views for their tem_
ple libraries, organized them, and compiled
them into the guidebook
to the beyond thaithey
considered most useful, in the pro".r,
the ideas that most appealed tolhem stand oui
as the highest goals.
By the time of the Cofffn
Texts, the hereafter had been democratized. and t ,.
any goal,
the solar voyage, was consid_
ered attainable-by
all. There-appeared
at the
same time, and on many of the same coffins.
several series of spells describing
the Field oi l,r r,#$
originally described
as-a place
in the ll/Y:;
western horizon of the sky where the deeeased
v' \l.I
works in verdant well-irrigated
chards to farm produce (offerings)
for the
eod \i.
Osiris. Later modifications
of the-se texts turieJ
them into descriptions
of an Elysian Fi"l;;;;;
where the deceased reaps the benefits
of his labor for himself and enjoys all the most
aspects of life there io the highest
ther complete nor totally logical.
The so-called-Negative
in chapter
rz5 of the Boolc of the Dead is one source of
on the Egyptian
moral code, in that
it is a long, detailed list of infractions tirat one
must avoid in order to come before the god
Osiris. The list of sins seems from a ,roder.,
to put inordinate
stress on cheating
and stealing and surprisingly
little on assa.rlt o.
injury. It condemns homosexuality
not adultery.
It emphasizes
ritual infractions
rather than mental attitudes
or evil intent.
the weighing
of the heart could be cited to argue
The description
of sailing on the cyclical day-
with the sun-god on board his
solar bark is rather straightforw.rd
in the earliest
It is guaranteed
to be attainable if
the basic spells and knowledge
are either com_
mitted to memory or availab=le close at hand.
The later guidebooks
on this subject are more
complex and varied, probably
avenues by which to achieve the del
sired status. The Book of Amdtrat, the Bookif
Gates, and the Book of Cooerns, which *pp""l
on the walls of New Kingdom royal tombs, de-
scribe the heavenly journey
somewhat differ_
ently and do not have the iu*. ,ru-.s as are
Deoth ond the Afterlife in Ancient Egyption Thought
from the Coffin Texts and the Book of
Dead,. These texts do not commonly appear
i together in the same royal tombs. Rather they
dynastic or personal changes during thl
New Kingdom and seem to have become more
complex and intimidating by the late Ramesside
By then, and continuing into the Third Inter-
mediate Period, shorter versions of the Book of
Amduat on papyrus
were included with one or
the other versions of the Book of the Dead in
burials of lesser personages.
All of the above
books generally
described and named demon
often three per hour of the night,
whose names had to be known and whose ap-
pearance had to be recognized so that they could
be passed when encountered by the deceased.
The mythology of the sun's voyage, which can
be worked out in large part from earlier texts,
is depicted very graphically in the guidebooks
found in the Ramesside royal tombs. The sun-
bark is passing from east to west along the body
of Nut, the sky goddess, until it reaches the west
and is swallowed by her to pass through her
body to be born again in the east. Nut also person-
ifies both the burial chamber and the coffin, so
thatthese can be seen as the womb ready to give
rebirth to the deceased. This notion, found as
far back as the Pyramid Texts, could possibly go
backeven furtherto the earliestburials, in which
the deceased is found in what is often called the
fetal position. Such a suggestion is speculative,
butthe consistency ofsuch burials through these
periods, with bodies on their left sides, heads
to south and facing west, probably had some
religious or ritual significance associated with
Osiris, Nut, or both.
In the vignette to chapter rz5 of the Book of the
Dead, a deceased individual whose heart fails
the weighing test faces Amamet,
vourer," a fantastic animal that awaits the
of Thoth. This monster, part hippo-
potamus, part lion, part crocodile, threatens an
individual's survival in the hereafter. That per-
son would not be chewed up or tormented for
all eternity; rather, he would
cease to exist.
The Book of Caoerns depicted the threat differ-
ently, with bodies apparently drowned in the
river. Because the Egyptians depended on the
annual inundation (personified
as the god Hapy)
and ordinarily did not fear food since it was
necessary for their survival, it is probable that
they were terrifted by hippopotamuses and croc-
odiles. Another great fear was that of snakes,
and the threatening serpents of later editions of
the guidebooks to the beyond are numerous and
awesome, with their multiple heads and long
legs and wings. The principal threat found in
the early guidebooks was that the bark of the
sun-god Re might be devoured by the serpent,
Apopis, an event that served as an etiological
explanation of solar eclipses. Apparently three
other physical obstacles were threatening in the
afterlife. One, calledthe "slaughterblock,"
is not
further described; another was the
fint," which might refer to fint knives; and the
third was fire that, as a "river
of f.ame," could
not be crossed. However, with its full comple-
ment of crew known as the "entourage of fame,"
fire afforded protection for the sun-bark.
Lesser threats also existed in the afterlife;
some, like scorpion stings, were among those
that also concerned the Egyptians in this life,
with the, remedy being the same-magical
spells. Others would conceivably be relatively
easy to avoid in this life but posed a serious
problem for the deceased. Many spells to pre-
vent eating excrement were provided, presum-
ably because this danger loomed as a possibility
for anyone buried in a sandy grave or hanging
upside down in the underworld, a possibility in
some of the Egyptians' cosmologies.
Burials generally
took place away from the fer-
tile plain above the flood level in the arid low
desert or in foothills of the valley, near but not
in the inhabited area. The earliest pattern, an
oval pit, was soon augmented by the use of rudi-
mentary reed walls, which later were reinforced
by wood and mud brick. Stone was ffrst used in
royal burials as paving in the Early Dynastic
period. Its use developed rapidly in the Third
Dynasty, and soon the burials of prominent per-
sons were marked by rectangular superstruc-
tures of stone called mastat as
modern term
in Arabic for
These mastabas were
large and covered the entrance to a deep shaft
that contained the actual burial. The superstruc-
ture's internal walls formed compartments that
were filled with rubble, so that the mastaba was
a solid mass to mark the burial as well as to
protect it.
These early tombs were provided with niches
for the owners' offering stelae, the niches serv-
ging as focuses for visiting relatives, friends, and
i lca servants. Over time, the niche became a
chapel, which in turn became internalized and
compartmentalized, turning the mastaba into a
multiroom building. Most Old Kingdom masta-
bas in the cemeteries at Giza and at Saqqara,
near the ancient capital of Memphis (Mit Ra-
hina), were constructed of local limestone and
often laid out along avenues in regular grid pat-
terns. Some tombs of nobles at Giza and most
tombs were hewn into the sides of
cliffs and arranged along a single path often over-
looking the Nile Valley. The largest late Old
Kingdom Memphite tombs had more than thirty
Religion ond Science
The location of the earliest mortuary templ6j
on the north side of the pyramid may be associ-,
ated with the numerous references in the
mid Texts (inscribed
in late Fifth and Sixth-
Dynasty pyramids)
the imperishablel
stars-those circumpolar stars in the northern
sky that, for people in the northern hemisphere,
irppear never to set. It has also been suggested :
that the phenomenon
of heads facing north in- l
stead ofthe usual south at a few very early burial
sites could show adherence to an astral cult.8y,..;
the Middle Kingdom, such a cult was clearly$
associated with the cult of the moon god, Thoth,
whom the devout follower would want to
by becoming a star.
The subsidiary tombs or pyramids within pyra-
mid enclosures present unresolved problems.
These were probably not queens' burials, nor
were they intended for a canopic chest with the
king's embalmed internal organs. They could
have been intended for the burial of a lca statue
(to guarantee
the king's existence in the after- i
life), or they could represent cenotaphs for the
king as Ruler of the Two Lands of Upper and
Lower Egypt. The latter explanation would as-
sume the subsidiary structures to be a variation
of a tradition of two separate tombs at Abydos
al-Madfuna) and Saqqara for each of the
kings of the ffrst two dynasties.
Less solidly constructed Middle Kingdom pyr- :
amids, with their stone casings laid over mud- :
brick interiors, had widely varying entrances to
protect the burials; by this time their architects.
knew that the Old Kingdom pyramids
had been.l
entered and plundered.
Despite the great size
of the Old Kingdom structures, their design was
too uniform and simple to provide
adequate pro- .
The New Kingdom royal tombs were isolated
in the guarded
Valleys of the Kings and
in western Thebes. The long and often deep
rock-cut tombs were beautifully decorated with
religious guidebooks
and lavishly equipped, if
we can
from the more than five thousand
treasures in Tutankhamun's comparatively
small tomb. They were separate from the tem-
ples in which the last rites would have been
and where provisions
would have
been stored and proffered
when required forthe
mortuary cult. These mortuary temples for the
cults of deceased kings were symbols of power,
rooms, each decorated with engraved and
painted scenes. The rock-cut tombs mostly had
one large central room with painted
As can be seen from the earliest example, de-
signed by the architect Imhotep for King Djoser
of the Third Dynasty, royal pyramids
directly from a mastaba that was enlarged and
topped with successively smaller tiers. T*o,rp-
arate shafts led to mazes of underground roorns.
The tall superstructure
and irregularly located
shaft entrances would have helped to impede
robbers, but the pyramid
shape could have had
religious as well as practical
motivation. The
religious significance would be linked to the so-
j lar cult, representing the rays of the sun or the
benben stone on which the phoenix (a
of Re) alighted. The chapel of this first stlpped
was located on its north side, butlater
mortuary temples were on the east, as were the
entrance to the walled complex, the causeway,
the valley temple where the funeral cortege
Deoth and the Aft.erlife in Ancient Egyption Thought
Tomb Robbery
Over the years,
almost every tomb was entered and
robbed of its valuable contents-usually notlong after
their deposition-with little regard for the deceased,s
future stake in an intact burial. The tomb-robbery
of the Twentieth Dynasty show how thorougb
the plunder
of even the New Kingdom necropolis had
been by that time.
Not only were tombs robbed, but they were com-
monly reused for later burials. Even the co{fins from
which mummies were taken and discarded were re-
used, apparently by people
with the same beliefs who
wanted to beneftt from the cofffns' protection; they
might personalize
the cof;fins by replacing the names
of the original owners with their own. The logic of
this is difffcult for us to understand, since the reusers
seem to have shown little regard for the original own-
ers' desires but apparently hoped to succeed where
their predecessors
had failed.
covered with commemorative reliefs, scenes of
pious activities, and impressive offering lists.
Yet it was never very long before their endow-
ments were expended or redirected, and most
were no doubt quarried by successors within a
few generations,
even when there was no appar-
ent personal enmity.
Middle Kingdom provincial nomarchs
]l lmust
have relied on guards or the relative isola-
of their tombs for protection,
but at least
one priest, Senwosretankh, hied to protect his
own burial at Lisht with a sand trap designed
to stop intruders. The New Kingdom Theban
necropolises were reasonably safe from robbers
originally, because they were generally very
f I
busy places with a police force, local inhabit-
ants, communities of workmen, temple staffs,
and administrators.
Every nonroyal tomb contained some bio-
graphical information to help preserve the own-
er's name and fame. In most cases biographies
of the elite were contained in stelae near the
entrance to the tomb chapel or in an open ftrst
court. Many tomb owners also placed biographi
If tombs were not taken over completely, they were
very often invaded partially by subsidiary burials that
shared space in burial crypts or were cut into the walls
of forecourts. An interesting cun;e written on a small
stone block was originally placed at the entrance to
a tomb to tell potential interlopers to ftnd a place of
their own and not disturb even a pebble from the
magically protected site. Presumably, despite hopes
that such a device would work, it must have been eas-
ily overlooked or discarded by inveterate beryrassers.
Obviously tombs were robbed in antiquity despite
the presence of images of gods
and sacred amulets.
Disbelievers and agnostics may have been in the mi-
nority, though they did certainly exist.
known to have sworn false oaths, stolen temple prop-
erty, and assassinated pharaohs; one was even ac-
cused ofbeing drunk and disorderly on a royal sarcoph-
agus containing the body ofa pharaoh.
cal texts, along with scenes of daily life, in the
enclosed portion,
whether in the large central
columned hall of Middle Kingdom rock-cut.g
tombs or in the more common inverted cruci-
form-shaped tomb of the New Kingdom. In the
latter such personal
information could be placed
either in the wide entrance hall or in the long
inner corridor. Scenes might depict a person's
estate and its operation, show the type of admin-
istrative work the deceased had performed, por-
tray religious rituals in which he was involved,
or commemorate the individual's participation
in special events such as royal
A sequence of particular interest, covering
one whole wall of the tomb chapel, was the per-
son's funeral itself, presumably as it was in-
tended to be carried out, since the decoration
was often undertaken well in advance of the
owner's death. The sequence ofdepictions typi-
cally showed the funeral cortege, with the body
in a cofffn drawn on a sledge to the tomb. The
ineluded women mourners wailing
and throwing dust on their hair and porters
ing furnifure, offerings, and garlands
to the
tomb. Also, there was a river procession with
two boats, one sailed, the other rowed, for the
round-trip pilgrimage
to Abydos, the shrine of
Osiris. In this standard sequence, a priest was
shown performing
one or more parts of the
Opening of the Mouth ritual on the mummiffed
body, which was placed
upright beside the de-
ceased's stela before the tomb ehapel; mean-
while his wife mourned at his feet. Following
the depiction of this last link to life was a scene
of Osiris in a shrine pointing
to the expected life
The jackal god
Anubis, who was associated
with cemeteries from very early on, figured
both in the funerary literature
tomb scenes of all periods.
In the Old and
I Middle Kingdoms, he was,srentioned rery com-
monly in offering stelae, an-cffin6e New King-
ll 9o-
he or a priest
acting his part featured vefu
in tomb scenes, minf36ffifrto thl
mummy lying on a bier. He was the god in
charge of the wrapping of mummies arrd
optimistically relied upon to guard the deceased
and the necropolis.
Khentyimentiu, "Foremost
of the Westerners
dead)," another jackal
detty, early associ-
ated with the great
necropolis of Abydos, was
later fused with Osiris. Osiris-also trro*r,
", Wenenefer, "He
who exists beautifullyr,' or as
weary-hearted one,
lord of silepss"
th. Fiffh Dynasty the
with whom the deceased king was identi-
{/ fied. In the Middle Kingdom, hoivever, every
deceased person judged
voice," became identiffed with him. Other dei-
v \
ties could become prominent
in connection with
Sr cult of the dead in particular
regions. A good
was Hathor, "Lady
of the Wesf,' de_
as a cow coming forth from the western
mountain, the burial place
of the Theban ne-
The members
of the Old Kingdom elite were
buried in wooden cofffns ptaiea
inside stone
The old fetal position
was therefore
but some narrow wooden Middle
colffns still eontained
bodies laid on
their left sides. Decorated coffins had eyes on
the front of the cofffns, behind which were the
eyes. The custom in this and later
of placing
the mummy in two or three
Religion ond Science
inscribed wooden eofffns inside one
lifelike features either by painting
on the linen wrappings or on gesso
In the Middle Kingdom, anthropoid cofffns
wood began to be used for the ffrst, or innermr
Alternatively the general
notion that more is
ter may have led to this custom.
The mummies themselves could often
container, and masks of painted
occasionally with Cofffn Text spells on the
surface, were placed
over the mummies'
In the New Kingdom, elaborately painted
may have developed from an attempt to pn
increas_ed security, but this would probably
been through the greater protection
numbers of texts, made possible
by the
tional cofffn wall space, rather than through
advantage the multiple cofffns offe
three anthropoid eofffns,
two in gilt wood with stone and glass
inlays r
in particular,
the innermost of solid gold,
of the young
king; but they also
cealed an even better likeness made in
nished gold,
with blue glass inlays, thatwas
as a mask over the mummy as it lay on its
face upward. These nested coffins were r
within a beautifully carved rectangular qua
with granite
lid that *", io
poid coffins were much more frequent. Two,
the largest ones known (more
than ien feet
m-etersl long) belonged to queens
of the early Eighteenth
covered by three gilt
wood shrines decorated
New Kingdom royal burial that survives,
with offering seenes and religious texts inside i
and out. Although this is the only virtually intact,l
stone sarcophagr found in other royal tombs at,
Thebes had either anthropoid shape or lids bear-
ing carved mummiform ffgures of the dbceased,
kings. The burial of the lwenty-ftrst
hng Psusennes I at Tanis (bibli
"a, Sanal-$agar)
had incised silver coffins; that oi
Dynasty king Shosirenq II
had a hawk,head, symbolizing
thJkirrg's id"'nti-:.
tication with the god
The New Kingdom and later anthropoid cof-
fins of nobles and artisans varied greatly
in qual.
ity. They generally
bore sceneJ of protecting
deities in registers down the front of the bodi
#t 11*9.,r*
of enyeloping
wings rep-
r"5.r protection
tour standing goddesses
carved at the corners of
with wings outstretched
or the free-
nrgtecf n g ff
gures of the goddls
ses Isis,
and Selqet
aroind the shrine
canopic chest. The rofund
stone anthropoid
of the Twenty_sixth
Dynasty have a variety of religious
texts inside
and a.representation
olthe skygoddurs,
ir especially
on the insiae lids oi
:;'"Tffi ff i"'fr::lils
L masks
that protected
the mummies,-
encaustic portraits
on wooden
boards were
over many mummies'
faces as pro-
IJPfP: "d
to preserverhe
Even Early
in Egypt included
with face bundles
to pro_
tect the face or at least maintain
the human
Deoth ond the Afteilife in Ancient Egyptian?hought
we know that almost all the Theban tombs had 1
been plundergd
the Twenty-nrrt
n/i"rty; t
much of the material could have been l
^ recycled, just
as the stone of the ,"orto"* l"i_ li i
ples was. Stones couldbe resetandmrtais'"o"ii
u I
be reused. A_pparently
eaeh tomb g""u""ity
rather than obvious
as is illustrated
most fully[y tt u oUj""t
found in Tutankhamun's
Or9 object found in tombs, including that of
was a low fat planter
b& in the
shape of the god
Osiris. This
oi Oririr,,
was ftlled with-_soil, sown with seeds of grain,
and allowed to germinate
and grow
little before being *r"pp"d like a
the tomb. This sproutir,g
Oriii, ,y*_
bolized the god's
with the 6rtiL i
Nile, as well as his connection
with a""n *J
or resurrection.
From early Hmes models of the provisions
in tombs to guarantJe
that the
would last. This proU""
was taken a ,
step further
denositing models of tfr" ,.*""t,
folthe provisions
so they could con-
tinue to provide
for the deceased in ihe afterlife.
The walls of Old Kingdom mastabas were colr_ I
ered with scenes of daily life that had ,imila, I
and they continued to form part
of the
in varying proportions
to the rifual
or autobiographical
scenes, through most of
Egypt's history.
In the- N"ry
a different type of ffgu_
rine with-a slightly more religiorr,
became very popular.
These Osiris- ,
shaped ffgurines, called ishabtds, o,
ers," were intended
to do any *ork th.t the de- lt
eeased, with whom they were buried, might be
c-alled upon to do in the afterlife. AccordJng to
,go of chapter 6 of the Book of the Diad.,
which is written on the ushabtis, tf,ey will an_
swer "I
am present"
Lsks sueh
as moving sand from one place
to another might
be required.
With ott. ffguru for every-dafof
the year
and foremen to serve over them, boxes
almost four hundre d. ushabtils *"r" I
common in the Third Intermediate
and Late neri- |
ods. Some of these ftgures were nicely
ormolded with painted
or incised text, but many
were crudely made and bear only the decearudi,
written name.
l{ o: standardized
lists that included various kinds
breads, beers, oxen, fowl, several kinds of
wines, and linens. The stores in Tutankhamun,s
tomb may have included
much more than was
usual. There were jars
of fat and oils and baskets
I !{Srains,
fruits, and vegetables.
There were also
tabrics, clothing,
sandals, gloves,
bows and
,. 1 TIoy-*, _stings,
sticks, swords,
i shields, full-sized
chariots, ihip modelr, t"*pr, '
yTqs,stools, chairs, ile;,';6";,";e*els
of all
tans, drinking vessels,
toys, games,
1 1.seals,
and shrines. Theie
/ I
opjegr produced
and provided
crncaily tor the burial and treasured items that
,{ q"
king had used in life. The quantity
or goocts
in this comparatively
small tomb was
and debate continues
over whether
so much could have been buried in each of the
New Kingdom royal tombs.
From the tomb-robbery papyri,
which record
at the end ofthe TwenUeth
Religion ond Science
Optimistic by nature, the Egyptians hoped that
all bodily and spiritual components of their per-
sons would survive in the afterlife. They wanted
to benefft from the provisions entombed with
them as well as from the continuing offerings
that they endowed. Mummiftcationn the Open-
ing of the Mouth ritual, and elaborate burials
were all part of the earthly preparation process,
while vindication in a last
books to the beyond, and magical spells to pass
by demons safely were all anticipated in funer-
ary texts that could clearly be useful after death.
Punishments such as multiple deaths or being
annihilated could generally be avoided by those
who prepared properly for death. Desired goals
in the afterlife may have varied more on the ba-
sis of religious beliefs than on social status, but
nothing prevented a person from having the
books of several different religious traditions
buried with him. Although there were cer-
tainly many levels of belief and disbelief, as
indicated by both the religious and secular
texts that survive, it is clear that a large pro-
of the Egyptiin population was very
much concemed with religious preparations for
Primary Sourcea
For the aneient texts, see R. o. FAULKNER, trans.,
Ancient Eggptian Book of the Dead, ediudby
ArrrpnEws (rg7zi
rev. ed. rg6S; rggo); n. o. r
trans., The Ancient Egyptian Coffi, Texts, g
R. o. TAULTNER, trans., ?he Ancient
tian Pgramid.?erfs ( 1969)
crJ\rrDE coyoN,
de l'ancienne Eggpte (ry72)
Aggptischs Unteruseltsbilcher (ry72h
LEsKo, The Ancient Eggptian Book of Tuo
and nsnRHAnD orro, Das iiggptische
nungsritual, Agyptologische Abhandlungen
For a general work on Egyptian religion, including
mortuary beliefs, seeJoHN BArNEs, LEoNAnD H. r.nsxo,
pevrp p.
srLvEnMAN, Religion in Ancicnt Eg1pt:)
God.s, Mgths, and Personal Practice,edited by nvnol
r. snarnn (r.ggr).
On mortuary beliefs, see suE D'AURrit,
rETER LAcovla4 and CATHARTNE H. noEHRIc, Milm.
mies and Magic: The Funerary Artt of Ancient Eggpt
ALAN H. cARDrNEn, The Attitud.e of the Ancient
Eggptians to Death and the Dead (ryg51;
HAMTLToN-pATTnsox and cARoL ANDREwS, Mummieu
Death and Ltfe in Ancicnt EgApt (rgz8); HEnMANN
rens..T ot en gl aub en und
ens eit so o r st ellun ge n der al-
ter Aggpter (1926;
znd ed. 1956); and l;. srnNcun,
Death in Ancient Egapt (rSSz).
Snr lI,so Builders of the Pyramids (Part
Vol. II); and see the following
chapters earlier in this section: Myth and Mythmaking in Ancient Egypt;
Ancient Egyptian Religious lconography; and Theology, Priests, and
Worchip in Ancient Egypt.