Chronicle

The culture of the ancient Egyptians is extremely interesting.

Beliefs

The ancient Egyptians had very unique and profound beliefs. Religion had deeply dominated all aspects of the Egyptian culture, its art, science, government, and law. Their entire culture is characterized by their beliefs. An interesting feature of their religion is that they acquired new beliefs but would never disregard old ones (except in specified cases); their new beliefs would build upon other ones.

Gods and Religion

The ancient Egyptian religion was characterized by its complexity and diversity. The ancient Egyptian beliefs vary from area to area; the gods of one land may not be recognized in another. The ancient gods were approached by a variety of images related to nature, animals or human beings.

The Egyptian pantheon was very diversified, it included many gods which varied in character and form, some being defined by myth, and others by geographical location and organization into groups. There are three types of deities, or groups, local, cosmic and minor. Ancient Egypt was composed of many local areas referred to as nomes; each area possessed its own traditions and customs with its own divinity that was worshipped by its inhabitants. These local deities shared the fate of their localities meaning that the importance of the god depends on the importance of the area. Some of these local deities were promoted to state gods whose cults spread all over the country, for example Ptah of Memphis, Amon of Thebes and Re of Heliopolis. Cosmic deities were other gods who did not have a specific or local basis, however, they participated and fulfilled their roles in general myths of creation like Nun, which was an embodiment of chaos before creation. Minor deities were that of which were worshipped in the households of local citizens. This is because most Egyptians did not have an access to the state gods in the temples' shrines, which represented the most sacred places. The average people could only approach the gods in the national festivals. There were additional deities who answered the everyday life wishes and were connected with the family. These are referred to as household deities. The most popular were Bes and Tawert, which were associated with childbirth.

In ancient Egypt the gods were similar to humans. They ate and drank the same way humans do; they also battled and traveled down the Nile by boat as all people did at that time. Many gods were seen in human form, such as Osiris, Amon and Ptah. Animals however, represented some of the gods, Anubis is seen to have a Jackals head, and Sobek is the crocodile headed god. Some gods were a combination of human and animal in an image examples are Horus who is seen as a falcon headed man, and Sekhmet the woman lioness.

Many times in ancient Egypt gods were assimilated together to form sets composed of three deities, two adults and one youthful deity. These were referred to as triads like The Theban triad composed of Amon- Re and Mut as his consort with Khonsu as their child, another common way of combining gods together is referred to as syncretism, it is when a deity takes the name and character of a more important one, therefore Amon Re means Amon in the form of Re.

Death and the afterlife

Mummification

The process of preparing for the afterlife was called mummification. Mummification, or embalming, involves many steps and takes many days. The entire process took about 70 days at which point the funeral took place and the body is placed within its tomb. Not all people were embalmed in ancient Egyptian times; only the richest of people were mummified as described below for embalmers were expensive.

The first step of mummification was to remove the brain. This was accomplished by inserting a long hook shaped tool into the nasal canal and pulling it out through the nasal passage. According to the ancient Egyptians, the brain had no significance in the human body; they believed that the heart did the thinking. The brain was removed piece-by-piece and disposed of, the skull was then flushed out with liquids. The second step was evisceration, the technique of removing organs. A five-inch incision was made into the left side of the person's abdomen, in order to remove the organs. Next the stomach, liver and spleen, peritoneum, kidneys, and lungs were removed. The bladder was left where it was. The heart was never taken out of the body it was left in the same position. If it came out by mistake, they would sew it back in. It was believed that the heart must be weighed for judgment after death; sometimes the embalmers would put a golden pendant or cover over the heart to protect it from evil forces. The body was washed after evisceration.

When the organs were removed, they were often placed in canopic jars, which were small tins used to store the organs. The liver, intestines, stomach and lungs were preserved in these jars. The stoppers on the four jars had heads, each representing a son of hours. The baboon head, Hapy, was the guardian of the lungs, the human head, Imsety, guarded the liver, the Jackal head, Duamutef, protects the stomach and the falcon headed god, Qebehsenuef, protected the intestines.

The next step in mummification was drying out the body. The process of dehydration contained mainly four steps and took about 40 days. First the corpse was left on a mat covered with natron a salt-like substance. Then the cavities inside the body were treated with wads of clothes soaked in natron, which were placed in the thorax, or the abdomen, where the original incision had been made; this was done in order to dehydrate the body. They also used sawdust and chopped up straw palm, which would not only absorb bodily fluids but also give the corpse a more lifelike appearance. The body was left to dry for several days until dehydration was complete. When the corpse was dehydrated it was then taken out of the natron and all of the wet clothes were removed. Finally the corpse was thoroughly cleaned and washed with water. Then the body was dried and ready for the next stage.

The next step was oiling and perfuming. The entire body was massaged with oils to loosen the skin. The head of the dead person was anointed with olibanium oil. Sweet smelling perfume was poured over the whole body except the head. There was another anointing of the head and then it to was rubbed with perfume. Next the embalmers would make the body look more lifelike by stuffing it with cloth or other materials. The head was always stuffed because it would cave in with nothing inside of it. Resin was poured into the body to protect the cavities.

The next step was bandaging. The body was wrapped in many layers of cloth. The entire process of wrapping took about 15 days. The fingers were always wrapped separately, the position of the arms depended on the era but in the later times they were placed crossed over the chest or one arm was folded and the other was left straight. Many times the bandages came from items the person had in life, for example a bed sheet or a sail from a boat were often cut into strips for wrapping. The bandages were soaked with resin while wrapping the body. The final step of the mummification was placing the funeral mask on the head over the face. The person was then given a funeral and was buried in their tomb.

Myths of the afterlife

The ancient Egyptians had strong beliefs in life after death, this is why they went to such extents to preserve and prepare their dead. They believed that through mummification, the soul, or Ka, of the person would also be preserved and the dead would lead a joyful afterlife if they were judged worthy. The Ancient Egyptians held a great reverence for the Jackal headed god Anubis, who oversaw the embalming, and mummification process as well as escorting the deceased through the procedures for entering the underworld. When the person arrived for judgment, they would first declare their purity before an assembly of gods including Osiris the god of the afterlife. The Ibis headed god Thoth, the God of knowledge was on hand to record the result of the judgment. In the 'weighing of the heart', the judgment of the dead person, from The Book Of The Dead, the heart of the dead person was balanced against the feather of Maat, or truth. If the heart was lighter than the feather the dead person was allowed to pass on into the underworld, but if it failed the test and was heavier than the feather, the person had lead a bad life and the Eater of souls would devour the deceased.

Culture and Everyday Life

Everyday activities and games

Just like many 20th century families, the father was responsible for the economic well being of the family, and the mother supervised the household and cared for the upbringing of the children. Although Egyptian children had toys and were occasionally depicted at play, also like today much of their time was spent preparing for adulthood and their futures. For example, peasant children accompanied their parents into the fields; the male offspring of craftsmen often served as apprentices to their fathers. Wealthy, privileged children sometimes received formal education to become scribes, to be a scribe in those days was an honour and only the richest people could afford to send their children to learn to read and write.

Housing and furniture

Most Egyptians built their homes out of mud bricks made from the mud along the Nile River mixed with straw and pebbles. Wealthy homes were decorated with wall paintings on the inside. Furnishings were simple, stools for seating, chests to store things. They slept on wooden beds and used headrests instead of pillows. The few furnishings in the ancient Egyptian home were simple in design. The most common piece of furniture was a low stool, used by all Egyptians including the pharaoh. These stools were made from wood, had leather or woven rush seats, and had three or four legs. Most kitchens were equipped with cylindrical, baked clay stove for cooking. Food was stored in wheel-made pottery. The basic cooking equipment was a two-handled pottery saucepan.

Jewelry, hair, makeup and clothing

Men usually wore a simple kilt tied at the waist, and women wore sheath dresses. The most common material for clothing is linen woven from the flax plant.

The ancient Egyptians emphasized their usually plain clothing with elaborate jewelry. Both men and women wore jewelry such as earrings, bracelets, anklets, rings, and necklaces. Many minerals were used to make the jewelry including amethyst, garnet, jasper, onyx, turquoise, copper, gold, and shells. Because the Egyptians were very superstitious, frequently their jewelry contained good luck charms or amulets.

As far as hair went Egyptians usually kept it short or kept their heads shaved, many wore wigs made from human hair. Both women and men wear makeup; cosmetics were not only an important part of Egyptian dress but also a matter of personal hygiene and health. Oils and creams were of vital importance against the hot Egyptian sun and dry winds. Eye paint, both green and black, is probably the most characteristic of the Egyptian cosmetics. The ancient Egyptians were the first people in history to wear makeup.

Geography and Agriculture

The geography of Egypt is important in understanding why life was centered around the Nile River. Their way of life depended on the rivers seasonal conditions and changes. The deluge of the Nile happened at random, it was the greatest time of fertility for the surrounding areas. As the banks rose, the water would fill the man-made canals and canal basins and would water the crops for the coming year. However, if the inundation was even twenty inches above or below normal, it could have massive consequences upon the Egyptian agriculture. Fish were cultivated year round. The Nile provided Egypt with their essentialities. All major settlements, as shown in the picture, were based along the river.

Hieroglyphics

Hieroglyphics are pictorial words that originated in ancient Egypt, they refer to the system of writing used be the ancient Egyptians. Archaeological discoveries suggest that Egyptian hieroglyphs may be the oldest form of writing. Only a small portion of the Egyptian population, primarily royalty, priests, and civil officials, used hieroglyphs because they were difficult to learn and time consuming to create, schooling was also expensive.

There was no particular order in which hieroglyphics were placed, they went right to left, top or bottom, there was also no spaces or punctuation. Hieroglyphs were meant to be art as well as language, the Egyptians thought that spaces were unattractive, the writing had to fit together and look nice.

Hieroglyphics are divided into two groups, phonograms, and ideograms. Phonograms are glyphs that represent sounds while ideograms represent objects or ideas. Combining both types of hieroglyphs created words. While writing the ancient Egyptians did not use vowels this is the reason that it is difficult, almost impossible to know for sure how these words would be pronounced.

The Egyptian word for hieroglyphs translate to, the "language of the Gods." It is believed that the god of wisdom and knowledge, Thoth, invented the ancient language. Hieroglyphs were used for religious purposes as well as for royal documents, and recording important information. Hieroglyphs also appeared on many Jewelry pieces and other luxury items.

The Rosetta stone was the key that unlocked the mysteries of Egyptian hieroglyphics. The Rosetta stone was found in 1799 and now resides in a British museum. The inscription is written three times, one in hieroglyphic, one in demotic, and one in Greek. The Rosetta stone helped greatly in the translation of hieroglyphics.

Related Essays on History: Ancient