ANCIENT EGYPTIAN FUNERALS

ANCIENT EGYPTIAN FUNERALS AND WILLS

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Wailing women at a funeral
Funerals for commoners are believed to have been relatively simple affairs in which friends and family gathered and the deceased was buried while prayers were read. Funerals for royals, aristocrats and high officials and priests were more public and elaborate affairs that included a funeral procession, magic rites and climaxed with a funerary feast and the sealing of the tomb.

Dr Aidan Dodson of the University of Bristol wrote for the BBC:“For ancient Egyptians, it was of key importance that when someone died their physical body should continue to exist on earth, so they could progress properly through the afterlife. Consequently, providing proper eternal accommodation for their body after they had died was very important to them. The afterlife they wanted to attain was thought of as a bigger and better version of the earthly Egypt-and in it they were to live close to their family and friends. [Source: Dr Aidan Dodson, BBC, February 17, 2011]

“There was one exception to this rather homely vision of the next world. This was for the king, already a divine being on earth, who would complete his apotheosis on death. According to the earliest set of texts dealing with the next world, the Pyramid Texts, which were inscribed inside the royal tombs of 2500-2300 B.C., the king would dwell with his fellow gods in the entourage of the sun-god, Re. He would spend eternity traversing the sky and underworld: one might be tempted to regard the fate of his subjects as more desirable.” |::|

According to the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago: “The funerary customs and beliefs of the ancient Egyptians called for the preservation of the body and ample provisions for the after-life. This was envisaged as a continuation of the existence before death. An ancient Egyptian would provide for the life in the Next World as best as his economic abilities would allow. For us today, this means that a huge amount of information about daily life in ancient Egypt can be found in the tombs. Detailed and colourful scenes on the walls provide information on a wide range of topics including dress, agriculture, architecture, as well as crafts and food production, and the goods included in the tomb along with the corpse add to this information resource....The tomb owner would also need his body to be as well preserved as possible, as it was a constituent part of the deceased's being and the dwelling place of the ba... Examination of mummies provides information on health, diet and life-expectancy.[Source: ABZU, University of Chicago Oriental Institute, oi-archive.uchicago.edu ]

In the world's oldest known will, Nek'ure, the son of an Egyptian Pharaoh who died in 2601 B.C., provided for the disposition of 14 towns and estates, which were distributed among his wife, three children and an unknown woman. Hieroglyphic on the wall of his tomb read the young Egyptian royal would make decisions "while living upon his two feet and not ailing in any respect."

Websites on Ancient Egypt: UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology, escholarship.org ; Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Egypt sourcebooks.fordham.edu ; Discovering Egypt discoveringegypt.com; BBC History: Egyptians bbc.co.uk/history/ancient/egyptians ; Ancient History Encyclopedia on Egypt ancient.eu/egypt; Digital Egypt for Universities. Scholarly treatment with broad coverage and cross references (internal and external). Artifacts used extensively to illustrate topics. ucl.ac.uk/museums-static/digitalegypt ; British Museum: Ancient Egypt ancientegypt.co.uk; Egypt’s Golden Empire pbs.org/empires/egypt; Metropolitan Museum of Art www.metmuseum.org ; Oriental Institute Ancient Egypt (Egypt and Sudan) Projects ; Egyptian Antiquities at the Louvre in Paris louvre.fr/en/departments/egyptian-antiquities; KMT: A Modern Journal of Ancient Egypt kmtjournal.com; Ancient Egypt Magazine ancientegyptmagazine.co.uk; Egypt Exploration Society ees.ac.uk ; Amarna Project amarnaproject.com; Egyptian Study Society, Denver egyptianstudysociety.com; The Ancient Egypt Site ancient-egypt.org; Abzu: Guide to Resources for the Study of the Ancient Near East etana.org; Egyptology Resources fitzmuseum.cam.ac.uk

Ancient Egyptian Funeral Procession

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Offering bearers
The first part of the funeral for a Pharaoh or other important person was a procession down to Nile, where they were everyone was loaded into two boats to the cemetery. Professional mourners accompanied by procession and wailed loudly, rubbed dirt and garbage on themselves and pulled their hair and clothes.

Funerals usually began in the morning with people gathering at the house of the deceased. The gathering included family members, friends, priests, attendants, singers and professional mourners. During the procession a tekenu (a stand in for the deceased that served as a scapegoat for evil deeds) was dragged by oxen on a sled. It was followed by a “reserve body” statue of the deceased---usually accompanied by priests and attendants--- that was buried with the deceased. Food and objects were carried for a feast and to be buried with the dead.

The centerpiece of the procession was a boat that carried the coffin. It was mounted on a sled, engraved and covered with embroidery. Near the coffin were two kneeling, living women playing the roles of Isis and Nephthys, two goddesses that helped protect and guide the dead during their afterlife journey.

On funeral processions, Martin Stadler of Wuerzburg University wrote: “It can be considered a “rite of passage” through which the deceased was prepared for his or her transition into the hereafter and which actually constituted the first steps of that transition. The funeral procession is depicted in the vignette of the Book of the Dead, spell 1, a depiction that evolved from a representation of a mere coffin in the early 18th Dynasty to more elaborate scenes showing the tomb as the destination of the procession, the rites performed for the deceased by the sem-priest and the lector priest, the wailing women mourners, and the deceased’s tomb equipment being carried along. The vignette also appears in private tombs of the elite. A comparison of scenes in the tomb of 18th- Dynasty king Tutankhamen with those in private (i.e., non-royal) tombs has revealed that royal burial customs were pictorially represented—that is, copied—in private tombs; we therefore do not have depictions of private funerals. This conclusion may be further supported by the fact that, in private tombs, crowns and regalia are among the grave goods depicted—items that certainly would not have been included in non-royal burials. Thus representations of funeral processions were idealized, showing us more of the state to which the deceased aspired than of his or her reality. [Source: Martin Stadler, Wuerzburg University, UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology 2008, escholarship.org ]

Funerary Rituals in Ancient Egypt

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funerary boat
Harold Hays of Universiteit Leiden wrote: “Upon death, the Egyptian was the object of a series of ceremonies performed by priestly officiants. The stages of the procedure largely correspond to the practical steps taken following death. These were: taking the corpse to a place of embalming, the embalming itself, taking the corpse to the tomb, and interment. The words and actions of the rituals superimposed upon these practical matters had a clear metaphysical purpose: funerary rituals were intended to elevate the mortal to the superhuman. Where best preserved and represented, the rituals make him out to be a god, specifically Osiris, and also to be an akh (an exalted spirit), and one “true of voice” (mAa xrw)....Though details vary between different chronological periods, seven major complexes of funerary rituals may be discerned (see below). The following discussion gives a general account of the sorts of rituals performed for the dead, from death through interment and afterwards. It takes scenes from the first part of the 18th Dynasty as a point of reference, in particular those from the tomb of Rekhmire.” <> [Source: Harold Hays, Universiteit Leiden, UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology 2010, escholarship.org <>]

“As to the social differentiation of funerary rituals, it is commonplace in Egyptological literature to mention a “democratization of the afterlife.” This is a historical model which supposes that in the earliest times, the Egyptians believed that a beatified afterlife was accessible exclusively to royalty, and only in later periods to non-royal persons. But the premise of this model rests merely in an absence of Pyramid Texts in the tombs of elites in the Old Kingdom. Recent research has put forth evidence showing the model to be deeply flawed. Since the Old Kingdom, the elite aspired to ascend to the great god after death and had the knowledge to get himself there; moreover, throughout the Pharaonic period and beyond, both elite and king used the same stereotyped scenes in

“In short, there is, after all, a fundamental commonality in belief and in practice, evident from even before the first attestation of the Pyramid Texts. Nevertheless, it must be borne in mind that the theoretical authorization for funerary rituals in all cases ultimately stemmed from the king and the gods. Finally, note should be taken of the poverty of evidence outside that of the elite and royal strata.” <>

Sources on Ancient Egyptian Funerary Rituals

Harold Hays of Universiteit Leiden wrote: “Since death was one of the most powerful generators of Egyptian culture, there is a wide variety of evidence related to Egyptian funerary rituals: textual, pictorial material, and architectonic. As ritual consists principally of speech and action, the first two kinds of sources are by far the most informative in terms of what was said and done during the rites. Therefore, the present entry relies mainly upon them. [Source: Harold Hays, Universiteit Leiden, UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology 2010, escholarship.org <>]

“Painted and inscribed pictorial scenes of rites from funerary rituals appear in all periods of Pharaonic Egypt, from the Old through New Kingdoms. They occur principally in the cultic areas of tombs prepared for non-royal elite males, and such scenes usually cluster around cultic foci, above all, the false door. They do appear elsewhere, notably in certain vignettes in Books of the Dead beginning in the New Kingdom (1550–1070 B.C.). Also, there are scenes showing women as the principal object of precisely the same rites as for men. As one might expect, the data from a timespan of about a millennium and a half is not homogeneous: the activities represented differ in smaller and greater degrees over time, with such differences presumably reflecting changes in practice. Also, since transport was involved, local topography must necessarily have had influence. Running counter to the impulse to show contemporaneous and local practice were impulses of tradition and idealization. <>

“Many texts giving information about funerary rituals are directly associated with the pictorial scenes. In the New Kingdom Theban tomb of Rekhmire and elsewhere, the longer hieroglyphic recitations embedded within the scenes and abutting them are often verbatim parallels of texts that were already ancient. The parallels are from the mortuary literature, a principally textual tradition beginning in the Old Kingdom with the Pyramid Texts of kings and queens, and transmitted thereafter in the Middle Kingdom (ca. 2030–1640 B.C.) Coffin Texts and the New Kingdom Book of the Dead. To be precise, the parallels are almost all from one of two categories of mortuary literature, namely, texts of a sacerdotal kind, i.e., those performed by priests for the deceased . In contrast to the pictorial scenes, in most cases the mortuary literature occurs in the inaccessible portions of tombs - the sealed, below-ground burial chambers. But in Rekhmire’s cultic space and elsewhere, numerous Pyramid and Coffin Texts are placed alongside or are embedded within the scenes. Even so, the later, largely pictorial, material only tangentially overlaps the ancient textual material. For this and other reasons, Egyptological reconstructions of an entire funeral ritual from one or several pyramids’ texts are speculative and widely divergent from one another.” <>

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Funeral procession

Processions to the Necropolis and Embalming Place

Harold Hays of Universiteit Leiden wrote: “Upon death, the corpse was transported from the dwelling to the necropolis. The most important leg of the ceremonial transport was waterborne, corresponding to a transfer across the Nile from the east, the land of the living, to the west, the land of the dead. Usually the crafts are depicted as papyrus rafts, a traditional form, with the deceased riding shielded from view within a sarcophagus, or a vertical chest is shown, representing an enclosure for the deceased’s statue. The weight of significance is placed upon the arrival at the west bank, where the gods of the netherworld are informed that the deceased has arrived xpr m nTr, “transformed into a god”. [Source: Harold Hays, Universiteit Leiden, UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology 2010, escholarship.org <>]

The especially detailed scenes in the tomb of Rekhmire give the craft the same form as the Neshmet boat of the god Osiris, the boat which bears that god at his mysteries celebrated at the city Abydos. Actual crafts of this form, which is the same as that depicted for the sun-god Ra as he passes through the netherworld, were sometimes buried within mortuary complexes. Along with the landing, extensive royal offerings (hetep di nesut) are consecrated to the ka of the deceased, consisting of offerings from important gods. The sacerdotal recitations accompanying the actions already name the deceased as the god Osiris. <>

“Priestly roles were gender specific in this and all of the rituals to follow. Two of the most important were a pair of women identified as mourners (Drtj), filling the roles of the goddesses Isis and Nephthys as they attend their dead brother, Osiris. Notably, one of these mourners participates in the sacrifice of a bull at the mooring, with such sacrifices occurring at effectively each following stage of the funeral. The god embodied in the bull was undoubtedly Seth , slayer of Osiris. Among other officiants in these and subsequent rites were priests representing the gods Horus and Thoth, called the sem-priest and lector priest respectively. <>

“Having arrived at the necropolis and taken command of the denizens of the necropolis, “the ones whose places are hidden”, the deceased was borne toward the “god’s booth” (zH-nTr), a structure intimately associated with Anubis, god of embalming. A censing priest leads overland, followed by the two mourners and nine pallbearers called “friends” (smrw). The friends are said to be the (four) Children of Horus, while the number nine is an allusion to the full plurality of the divine pantheon. Here, the friends carry the corpse in a chest and say, “Let his son Horus give him (sc. his enemy, Seth) to him; let his Wereret-crown be presented to him before the gods”, with the crown being emblematic of success at the judgment of the dead. Grave goods contained in boxes are hoisted on shoulders and carried in free hands, and great armfuls of divine offerings from the estates of gods and royal mortuary temples are marched to the god’s booth. In the scenes in the tomb of Rekhmire, the arrival is called “a landing to be purified (lit. released) at the stair of libation.” The arrival is announced by numerous recitations from a chorus of friends and other officiants.” <>

Embalming,Mummification Rituals and Transport to the Tomb

Harold Hays of Universiteit Leiden wrote: “Corresponding in length to the annual period of obscurity of the stars just south of the ecliptic, the ritualized process of embalming and mummification is usually stated as lasting seventy days. First, purification of the corpse was conducted over a period of about three days in a tent called the jbw or zH-nTr. The mummification proper was carried out in a separate structure, called the wabt, “pure place,” or pr-nfr, “good house,” of which Anubis is said to be the Hrj-sStA, “master of secrets,” therein. As a matter of decorum, representation of the ceremonial anointing and wrapping conducted there is avoided in the Pharaonic period, but the recitations accompanying these acts are attested in Roman-era papyri. The ritual instructions of these sources are late in idiom, but the recitations themselves are largely classical in phraseology. From them, one finds at the anointing that the deceased already has qualities of an akh, or exalted spirit. The Coffin Texts and “Book of the Dead” include copies of several spells for the charging and application of amulets like those discovered within mummy bindings, although these copies are often formulated as if the deceased himself is the ritualist. Since at least the New Kingdom, the preparation of the coffin was ritualized and was evidently parallel to mummification, as it also involved anointing, wrapping, and recitation. [Source: Harold Hays, Universiteit Leiden, UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology 2010, escholarship.org <>]

“Since the Middle Kingdom or even earlier, the mummified corpse appears to have been the object of a set of rites associated with the night hours. In part, this Hour Vigil resumed the rites of embalming, and vignettes like that of Book of the Dead spells 1B and 151 could be understood as emblematic of this aspect of it. The god Seth, nemesis of Osiris, was warded off from the deceased, and a ritualized judgment of the dead may have been enacted during the Hour Vigil, with officiants filling the roles of the gods Isis, Nephthys, Horus, Anubis, and Thoth. <>


funeral procession


“In addition to the Hour Vigil, a set of ritual processions and voyages were conducted within the local necropolis. Just as the Hour Vigil appears to resume the events of embalming and mummification, a ritualized journey to the Delta city of Sais appears to be a re-enactment of the major funeral processions, including those to the necropolis, embalming place, and tomb. The journey to the sacred city of Abydos is regularly displayed in connection with other funerary rituals beginning in the 18th Dynasty. The point of traveling there was for the deceased himself “to ferry the god (sc. Osiris) in his ceremonies” . Notably, husband and wife are sometimes depicted together in this journey, with both described at this point as having been vindicated at the judgment of the dead (mAa xrw “true of voice”). A further and more enigmatic waterborne journey is represented in New Kingdom tombs alongside the journeys to Sais and Abydos.” <>

“In all periods, the focal point of the procession to the tomb was an overland transport of the deceased on a sledge drawn by cattle and accompanied by citizenry of high and low station and friends. Priests burn incense and libate milk before the sledge, which is attended by the two mourners, and grave goods are carried to the tomb. According to the caption of a depiction of the event, its goal is “to proceed in peace up to the horizon, to the Field of Rushes, to the netherworld, in order to lead him to the place where the great god is”: even as he is transported in this world to the tomb, the deceased is also transported to the world beyond, where he will be reborn with the sun. The procession culminates at a tomb represented as the personified western desert (zmjt jmntjt). This goddess is said to call out to the dead “that I embrace you with my arms, that I lead life to you, that I indeed be the protection of your body”.

Opening the Mouth Ceremony

The most important ceremony at the funeral was the “opening of the mouth ceremony,” performed by a priest who played the role of Horus. After the deceased was taken from the boat important spells and prayers were chanted, while the priest touched the deceased’s face and face of the reserve body with a sacred flint stone. This symbolically opened the eyes and mouth of the deceased for the afterlife.

With mouth of the deceased open and able to eat, the feast could commence. The tekenu was ritually “killed” and the oxen that dragged it were sacrificed. The right foreleg, symbolizing virility, of one of the slaughtered animals was presented to the deceased. During the final goodbye to the dead, prayers were chanted that ensured safe the passage for the dead to the afterlife. Incense were burned. Libations were poured. And the body was placed in the tomb. If the deceased was poor he was placed in a hole. If he was rich he was placed in a sarcophagus within the tomb along with numerous objects for the journey. Some grave objects were “killed,” broken, so they could be used immediately by the deceased. Finals prayers were said as the tomb was filled with rocks and resealed with mortar by a mason. While the mason was doing his job, people sat down by the tomb and feasted in honor of the dead.

Harold Hays of Universiteit Leiden wrote: “With the mummy now arrived at the tomb, it was placed outside with its face to the south,and the Opening of the Mouth ritual was performed. Although this ritual is named in sources since the beginning of the 4th Dynasty, full pictorial and textual representations do not occur until the 18th Dynasty, when it is seen to consist of a few lengthy sections. First, the mummy was treated as if it were a statue of the deceased undergoing fabrication. Its design and creation was enacted, and twice a sacrifice was performed and the statue’s mouth symbolically opened by means of presenting adze-shaped instruments to the face. The purpose of the mouth opening is explicitly to permit the deceased to speak to the Great Ennead in the House of the Noble which is in Heliopolis, that he take the Wereret-crown thereby”: it gives him the ability to verbally defend himself at the judgment of the dead and attain vindication. Second, a preliminary offering ritual is performed, the numerous rites of which are called “glorifications,” or, literally, “that which makes one into an akh” (sAxw). The mummy is then put into the burial chamber, with this act described as “making the god enter his temple”. Following the interment, the last portion of the Opening of the Mouth involves further offerings to the gods and a declaration of the ritual’s completion. [Source: Harold Hays, Universiteit Leiden, UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology 2010, escholarship.org <>]

“By virtue of the physical transport involved, the rituals prior to the Opening of the Mouth imply transitional periods between former states of being (in the human experience: living, dying, corpse) and desired ones (god, akh, justified dead) even though, by virtue of the symbology of their recitations, the earlier rituals express these desired states as having already been accomplished. Since, in contrast, the Opening of the Mouth centers upon the exposed and motionless deceased, the achievement of the desired states is stressed.”<>

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Opening the Mouth

Mortuary Service of an Ancient Egyptian Funeral

Harold Hays of Universiteit Leiden wrote: “After interment, sacerdotal service was regularly performed at the above-ground cult place. Stereotyped scenes, showing rites performed before the deceased while he is seated at an offering table, appear in royal and elite tombs since the Old Kingdom and continue through the New Kingdom. Usually, these scenes are displayed at the very focus of the cult place, and usually a tabular offering list is embedded within them. These offering lists represent a series of rites ideally performed every day at that spot by priests. [Source: Harold Hays, Universiteit Leiden, UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology 2010, escholarship.org <>]

“Chief of these was the sem-priest, who was, in theory, the son of the deceased, and therefore the god Horus to the god Osiris. Since the god Horus was involved, this priest was archetypically the king himself. In practice, the royal role was filled by delegates – familial or otherwise – to whom income could be bequeathed in recompense for this service. The rites of the oldest and most classical offering list are given in full in the Pyramid Texts. They integrate speech, actions, and objects, and, as with the Opening of the Mouth’s offering ritual, the rites are designated “glorifications” (sAxw). These “glorifications” consist mainly of the presentation of food items, but other activities such as censing and the application of oils are involved as well. <>

“Beginning in the Middle Kingdom (ca. 2030–1640 B.C.), scenes of daily mortuary service are sometimes displayed together with passages of Pyramid Texts involving purely oral rites. Daily performances at the tomb cult place, and at statues of the deceased emplaced in temples, were supplemented by calendrical events such as the Sokar Festival throughout Egypt and the Valley Festival at Thebes. Some of these calendrical events may have sometimes involved temporary access to the sealed, subterranean burial places. Occasional rites, such as the presentation and recitation of Letters to the Dead, would also have taken place in the vicinity of the tomb.” <>

Tutankhamun's Mortuary Temple, the Site of His Mummification and Statue Rites?

Dorothea Arnold of the Metropolitan Museum of Art wrote: “The mummification and statue rites for a king were held, not in front of the king's tomb in the Valley of the Kings, but more likely at the site of the king's mortuary temple. Mortuary temples were built by the pharaohs of the New Kingdom for the daily celebration of their cult after death as well as the worship of Amun, the supreme god of Thebes, and other deities; and all of these temples were situated close to the agricultural land east of the Valley of the Kings. [Source: Dorothea Arnold, Department of Egyptian Art, Metropolitan Museum of Art, October 2010, metmuseum.org \^/]

“We do not know where Tutankhamun’s mortuary temple stood and whether it was ever fully completed. A relief in the Museum (05.4.2) depicting a man called Userhat, who is said to have served at Tutankhamun's mortuary temple, is the only evidence extant that a cult ever took place there. A site for the temple, however, must certainly have been chosen and prepared by the time of the king's funeral, and it is there that both his mummification and statue rites most probably took place.\^/

“This explains not only why the leftovers of the king's mummification were packed up together with the remains of offerings dedicated to his statue, but is also congruent with the garden settings in which the statue rites are depicted. In the end, the whole lot (mummification leftovers and food offering remains) were then conveyed in their large containers from the mortuary temple site to the Valley of the Kings together with all the other articles that would fill the king's tomb.” \^/

Ritual Objects Used During an Ancient Egyptian Funeral


model of Opening the Mouth tools

Dorothea Arnold of the Metropolitan Museum of Art wrote: “The process of mummification and the deposition of a mummy into the tomb were accompanied by elaborate rituals. Some objects from KV 54 were presumably used during these rites. [Source: Dorothea Arnold, Department of Egyptian Art, Metropolitan Museum of Art, October 2010, metmuseum.org\^/]

“1) Purification and Libation: a) Flasks with ovoid bodies and tall narrow necks were part of a hand-washing set during the Middle and New Kingdom: a person stretched his/her hands over a basin while a servant poured water over them from a flask. This mundane activity became a ritual when connected to an offering ceremony. B) Beakers and jars with wide necks were commonly used as containers of liquids and people also drank from them. Representations of purification rituals, however, also show them in use for pouring water over the heads of persons and mummies during purification rites. Between forty and fifty miniature basins were found in KV 54. They are shaped like the tubs in which priests washed before entering a temple or tomb for service. Their small size (around 5 1/2 to 6 inches [14–15.2 cm]) and friable material (unfired clay) made them purely symbolical objects. \^/

“Offerings: Since the dead were believed to need food and drink in the afterlife, offerings of liquids such as water, beer, or wine, and food such as bread, meat, fruits, and vegetables were an important part of all funeral rites in ancient Egypt. Among the objects from KV 54 were remains of meat offerings, plates, and dishes as well as a beautifully painted bowl that might well have served to present food, and some of the jars—if not used for purification—might have also contained liquid offerings or fragrant oils and ointments. \^/

“Floral Adornment: Among the most remarkable objects found in KV 54 are three astonishingly well preserved collars of plant leaves, berries, and flowers (09.184.214–.216). The color scheme was most prominently derived from alternating rows of olive leaves with the silvery undersides showing and olive leaves with the dark green upper sides showing, orange-red berries of Withania somnifera, blue cornflowers, and tiny blue faience beads, as well as yellow flowers of oxtongue (Picris asplenoides). The papyrus background was white and on two of the collars the edges along the neck was lined with red linen.” \^/

Supplies for the After-Life in Ancient Egypt

According to the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago: “The tomb-owner would continue after death the occupations of this life and so everything required was packed in the tomb along with the body. Writing materials were often supplied along with clothing, wigs, hairdressing supplies and assorted tools, depending on the occupation of the deceased. [Source: ABZU, University of Chicago Oriental Institute, oi-archive.uchicago.edu ==]

“Often model tools rather than full size ones would be placed in the tomb; models were cheaper and took up less space and in the after-life would be magically transformed into the real thing. The images presented here include a headrest, glass vessels which may have contained perfume and a slate palette for grinding make-up. Food was provided for the deceased and should the expected regular offerings of the descendants cease, food depicted on the walls of the tomb would be magically transformed to supply the needs of the dead.” ==


Onuris amulet

Items excavated from tombs include include “a triangular shaped piece of bread (part of the food offerings from a tomb) along with two tomb scenes. The latter contain representations of food items which the tomb owner would have eaten in his lifetime and hoped to eat in the after-life. The two tomb scenes show the tomb owners sitting in front of offering tables piled high with bread. The representations of food, along with the accompanying prayers were thought to supply the tomb owner once the actual food offerings stopped.” ==

Ken Johnson wrote in New York Times that the ancient Egyptians believed that life “was only a prologue to the main attraction, the afterlife, and they devoted much of their tremendous creative and technological ingenuity to ensuring that their dead---the wealthy ones, anyway---would have everything needed on the next plane of existence. They pickled the bodies of the deceased, stocked their graves and tombs with food, drink, jewelry, furniture, pets, reading material and whatever else that might come in handy upon awakening in the next dimension." [Source: Ken Johnson, New York Times, March 11, 2010 ***]

In 2010, the Brooklyn Museum hosted an exhibition called “To Live Forever: Art and the Afterlife in Ancient Egypt," which focused on objects for the afterlife and explored all facets of the Egyptian funerary industry. Organized by Edward Bleiberg, the museum's curator of Egyptian art, the exhibition presented more than 100 objects, from massive stone sarcophagus covers and elaborately decorated wooden coffins to statuettes and elegant ink drawings on sheets of papyrus. ***

“One of the exhibition's least prepossessing objects," Johnson wrote, “is a terra-cotta sarcophagus lid molded rather crudely into a cartoonish, bust-length portrait of a man. Made sometime between 1292 and 1075 B.C., it is like the work of an untrained folk artist imitating the kind of deluxe Egyptian artistry that museums have made more familiar. It is included to demonstrate that the quality of a coffin depended on what the family could afford. Just like today, in ancient Egypt professional coffin makers offered a range of options priced according to the cost of material and labor. Clay, painted to resemble royal sarcophagi, was the material of choice for budget-minded customers.

“Another revealing piece, and a more beautiful one, is an 8 ½-inch-tall figure of a man smoothly carved in lustrous dark wood, from about 1400 to 1336 B.C. It is a particularly lovely example of a shabty, a magical servant that would do chores for the deceased in the afterlife. Rich people had many shabties made of precious materials, including wood, which was a rare commodity. The less fortunate had to settle for shabties made of faience, a glazed earthenware. According to the Brooklyn Museum catalog while the wealthy might have a different shabty for every day of the year, “40 shabties were an ideal number to own in the Ramesside Period” because that provided “enough workers for each of the 30 days of the month plus overseers and foremen."

“Faience pieces did not necessarily look cheap, however, so rich as well as poor had shabties made from it. Among the exhibition's most striking objects is a weird jade-green faience sculpture less than three inches high representing a dwarf standing with each foot on the head of an alligator and each hand gripping a snake by the neck. Identified as Pataikos or a form of the dwarf-god Bes, this little fellow was put into a tomb to protect the dead.”

Pharaoh’s Funeral

The day before a Pharaoh’s funeral the king's mummy was placed in the royal palace to lie in state. On the day of the funeral itself the Pharaoh's widow stood at the mummy's feet reciting formulas of rebirth. Then a procession carried the coffin to a temple for four days of rituals.

After this the deceased pharaoh was taken to his tomb. His successor touched his mouth and eyes to open them for eternal life; burial furniture was brought in, and the king's coffin was set upright; and finally the tomb was sealed. Usually the first thing the new pharaoh did when he claimed the throne was erase the name of his predecessor on all the monuments in the empire and replace them with his own.♀

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Funeral of a Mummy by Frederick Arthur Bridgman

Ships and the Pharaoh’s Funeral

Ships played a central role in the funerals of pharaohs. The Egyptians believed that royal barges carried the pharaohs to heaven and believed the sun-god Ra traveled through the sky during the day and the netherworld at night in a boat. Boats were buried near pharaohs so they could do the same thing for them. Perhaps more than anything else these vessels showed importance in ancient Egypt of boats---the primary source of transportation up and down the Nile, where the ancient culture was centered.

The Pharaohs’ funerals ships were often very large and were buried with great care in elaborate tombs. Only a few such tombs have been discovered. The whole exercise was so expensive and was likely only done for particularly wealthy or esteemed pharaohs.

Images of boats first appeared in 3200 B.C. Ancient boats that were 4,900 year old were found in the graves of the first pharaohs.

An Egyptian shipwreck that produced a gold scarab with Queen Nefertari's name was dated with tree rings from logs in ship to 1316 B.C. A jewel encrusted pendant found in King Tutankhamun’s tomb featured a jeweled boat topped by jeweled baboons and scarabs. Objects found with buried funerary boats include miniature “solar barks,” with symbols of the sun gods.

Did King Tutankhamun Have A Funeral Meal?

Dorothea Arnold of the Metropolitan Museum of Art wrote: “In 1941, Herbert Winlock proposed that the floral collars and most of the above-described pottery vessels were used at a meal. In reconstructing this event, Winlock was much influenced by the ubiquitous depictions of banquets in Dynasty 18 Theban tombs. But the German Egyptologist Siegfried Schott demonstrated that these images in fact illustrate not a funeral feast but a festival that was celebrated annually in ancient Thebes (present-day Luxor). During this feast—called "The Beautiful Feast of the Valley"—an image of the god Amun was conveyed from his temple at Karnak on the east bank of the Nile to the cemeteries and temple area on the west bank. While the image rested overnight in the sanctuary, people feasted in and in front of the tombs of their ancestors. This "Feast of Drunkenness" was not a celebration at a funeral but a religious festival that included the dead of the community. The objects and vessels in KV 54 cannot have anything to do with this occasion, since they were buried together with mummification leftovers. [Source: Dorothea Arnold, Department of Egyptian Art, Metropolitan Museum of Art, October 2010, metmuseum.org \^/]

“New Kingdom Theban reliefs and paintings reveal, however, that another meal, this one of a more sedate character, took place at a funeral in connection with rites performed for the deceased's statue, another important item in Egyptian funerals that provided a place of materialization for a dead person's soul. These statue rites are repeatedly depicted to have been enacted in a garden setting, with food offerings set out on tables and drinks in large jars like some found in KV 54 resting under canopies. \^/

“Interestingly—and importantly for an interpretation of the objects from KV 54—some representations of statue rites also show that after the conclusion of these rites, all vessels used for offerings were smashed. Almost all pots in the KV 54 find were found broken into pieces. It can, therefore, be suggested that the above-described vessels and other remains of food (such as animal bones) from KV 54 were part of a display of food offerings set out at the consecration of a statue of King Tutankhamun. As was customary in antiquity, the participants in the offering ritual would have consumed the food after the ceremonies were concluded. Communal meals in the presence of a deceased's effigy are, moreover, known to have taken place in many cultures and are certainly attested to have taken place in Roman Egypt. \^/

“Winlock assumed that the floral collars were worn by the participants of a funeral meal. It is, however, more probable that a number of floral collars were created to adorn the various coffins—and maybe images—of the king. One large example made of a very similar choice of plants as the one found on the three Museum collars was eventually placed on Tutankhamun's innermost coffin and found there by Howard Carter; the others would then have been stored away among the leftovers of the embalming process.” \^/


Funeral boat


Royal Bark of Khufu

One of the most spectacular objects found at the pyramids of Giza other than the pyramids themselves was the royal bark of Khufu, a 142-foot-long boat excavated from one of five large carved rock chambers on the east side of the Pyramid of Cheops. Hieroglyphics inside the chambers where the boat were found seem to indicate it were was by Khufu’s son Djedefre. The royal bark is now displayed in the boat museum near the Great Pyramid of Khufu. [Source: Farouk El-Baz, Peter Miller, National Geographic, April 1988]

The royal bark of Khufu was made up of 1,224 components and was found in a pit that was 102 feet long, 11½ feet deep and 8 ½ wide. The planks of the boat were sewn together transversely (most sew ships are sewn together longitudinally). The rudderless boat was propelled and steered by ten 26-foot oars. It has narrow beam and a high, elegantly tapered stem and stern posts, a deck house, four pointed oar blades. The design is similar to that of papyrus river crafts. There was no sign of any masts, sails or rigging.

Archaeologists are not sure what the vessel was used for. Many think it was the sacred boat buried by Khufu’s son Djedefre for use by the dead pharaoh in the afterlife or to carry him on his journey in the afterlife. Others believe it carried the mummified body of Cheops from Memphis to Giza. To get the boat inside the entrance to the chamber it was taken apart and reassembled inside the tomb. There is evidence that boat was used in the water (marks in pieces left by the ropes used to bid the ship together).

Egyptian Ships, See Transportation

Ancient Egyptian Mourning Period and Burials

The death of a pharaoh was followed by a 70 day period of mourning in which normal life came to an abrupt halt. During that period no one was allowed to drink wine, eat meat, bath, conduct sacrifices or have sex. People were expected to weep openly in the streets to express their sorrow. Professional mourners covered their heads with mud and sang dirges. Husbands and wives sometimes mourned their deceased spouses by limiting their intake of food and water for several months and going celibate for several years.


Egyptian dead were always buried, never cremated. Up until Islamic times, the dead in Egypt were buried facing the rising sun in the East with the head pointing to the north. Cemeteries were always on the western side of the Nile because the sun set in the west. Often they were close enough to the river so that funeral processions coming down the Nile could easily reach the graves.

Ancient Egyptians who died around 3500 B.C. were often laid to rest lying on a mat on their left side in the fetal position, facing the west and the setting sun. In some cases the bodies were decapitated after death and placed back on the body in the tomb, which appears to indicate ritual dismemberment and reassemblage.

Most mummies wee anonymous. The likenesses on the coffins often looked nothing like the mummy inside but were idealized representations. Royal mummies were placed in a series of coffins, which went inside a sarcophagus which went into a series of shrines. The inner coffins and the tombs were inscribed with hieroglyphic texts of protective spells. Some coffins were made of basalt. Some sarcophagus were made of red granite. the lid of a large sarcophagus could weigh 2.7 tons and be covered with hieroglyphics on one side and the goddess Nut in a transparent gown on the other. There were also reusable coffins.

The outer coffin for King Tutankhamun was adorned with garlands of willow and olive leaves, wild celery, lotus pedals and cornflowers which suggests he was buried in the spring. See King Tutankhamun (King Tut).

Human sacrifices may have been practiced by the earliest pharaohs (See History). Real people were not sacrificed and buried with the dead as was the case sometimes with the Mesopotamians and other cultures. This practice may have been practiced in the early days, which possibly is how the custom of burying substitutes and shabti figures began.

Funerary Rituals During the Ptolemaic and Roman Periods

Christina Riggs of the University of East Anglia wrote: “Ancient Egyptian rituals for the mummification, burial, and commemoration of the dead are attested by textual sources and visual arts from the Ptolemaic and Roman Periods, as well as the evidence of mummified bodies. Some rituals have clear antecedents in Dynastic Egypt. Other rituals, in particular the Ritual of Embalming, are known only from Ptolemaic and Roman source material but almost certainly derive from earlier practices for which comparable evidence is lacking. A number of the textual sources are known by versions of their ancient Egyptian titles, such as the Book of Breathing made by Isis for her brother Osiris. However, long compositions on multiple-column papyri often include several “types” of texts, mostly without titles. Although these text “types” can be identified by comparing their content and form with titled examples, this is only a tool of scholarly classification. To the ancient Egyptians, such distinctions may well have been meaningless, and the combination of several text “types” on one papyrus may imply that they were performed together in a ritual context, though this can never be known with certainty. [Source: Christina Riggs, University of East Anglia, UK, UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology 2010, escholarship.org <>]


death of Cleopatra

“During the Ptolemaic and Roman Periods, new funerary compositions include the Book of Breathing, the Book of Traversing Eternity, and the Book of the Ba. These compositions gradually supplant the Book of the Dead, the last dated example of which is a copy of BD Chapter 125 inscribed with an excerpt from the Book of Traversing Eternity on a papyrus from CE 64. Regional variation was an important factor in the exact forms that ritual texts took, and the script in which they were written – Demotic at Akhmim, for instance, and bilingual Demotic and hieratic at Thebes. The function of all these books is similar, however: they commemorate the deceased within his or her social group, and secure a good burial, effective transfiguration, and successful rebirth in the afterlife. Another innovation of the Ptolemaic and Roman Periods is that the texts address at length how the deceased’s akh will participate in festivals throughout Egypt, listing major cult sites such as Thebes and Bubastis. <>

“Any or all such texts can be considered to have a ritual character effected through oral recitation and performance. Some scholars, though, distinguish between “funerary literature” written down and deposited with the body, without performance, which was meant for use by the deceased, and “mortuary liturgy,” referring to texts that survive in written form but were intended to serve as scripts for ritual performance by the living for the benefit of the deceased. Like debates over the titles and typologies of texts, this distinction may reflect scholarly convenience rather than ancient practice, and Baines argues that it is not possible or meaningful to differentiate between “literature” and “liturgy.” Certainly the performance of ritual actions and processions was central to how Egyptians expressed the wish for an ideal burial: “All the rites will be carried out for you by the Xry-Hb (lector priest, Greek taricheutes) at the place of justification, and every procession up to your time” (Papyrus Rhind II, 3 h 3). Continuity, innovation, and regional variation thus characterize trends in both the textual evidence for funerary rituals and the pictorial and material remains associated with ritual performances, such as mummy and tomb decoration. Although there are distinctive traits and developments in the Ptolemaic and Roman Periods, shaped in part by wider social trends, funerary rituals retain many of the themes, structures, and practices of earlier periods, and may have been more resistant to change than other areas of Egyptian culture. <>

“Artistic evidence from tombs, coffins, and mummy masks confirms the central role of ritual performance in the mortuary sphere. Funeral processions featuring sem-priests and lector priests feature in the fourth century B.C. Tomb of Petosiris at Tuna el-Gebel, as well as the Roman Period tomb of a woman or girl (House 21) nearby. In Dakhla Oasis, the first century CE Tomb of Petubastis also depicts an extensive burial procession. The Petosiris funeral scene at Tuna el-Gebel includes the purification of the mummy in front of a pyramid-topped tomb, derived from Dynastic depictions of the Opening of the Mouth ceremony. Processions of deities carry linen and ointments for the mummification of the dead, for instance on a group of first century CE mummy masks from Meir. Decorated and inscribed linen amulets would have been part of the mummification ritual, mirroring the depiction of such wrappings in the Osiris chapels of Ptolemaic and Roman temples and the identification of the dead with Osiris. Similarly, the depiction of the Sokar barque on a group of third century CE masks from Deir el-Bahri may invoke the Khoiak festival.” <>

Embalming and Mummification Rituals in the Ptolemaic, Roman Periods

Christina Riggs of the University of East Anglia wrote: “The Ritual of Embalming is known from two hieratic papyri with a Theban provenance, probably dating to the early first century CE. The ritual was performed by the Hry- sStA (“master of secrets,” stolist), the Xry-Hb (lector priest), and the xtmw-nTr (“divine chancellor” or seal-bearer), assisted by the wt- priests, or embalmers. The text alternates a practical instruction, such as anointing the head or wrapping the feet, with a divine invocation elucidating the action’s magical effect. The special treatment of the head, hands, and feet adduced in the Ritual of Embalming corresponds to evidence from contemporary mummies, many of which are elaborately embalmed, with anointed and gilded skin, and special wrapping or padding in the areas of the head, hands, feet, and genitals. [Source: Christina Riggs, University of East Anglia, UK, UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology 2010, escholarship.org <>]

“Common among Ptolemaic and Roman funerary texts are both lamentations and glorifications (sAxw) performed after the embalming and mummification of the dead. Lamentations and glorifications were clearly intended for recitation leading up to and surrounding the burial. In lamentation texts, family members or the goddesses Isis and Nephthys mourn and praise the deceased, while glorification texts proclaim – and thus enable – the dead person’s successful transition to a transfigured state of being. The lamentations and glorifications also make references to a vigil being kept over the body of the deceased, like the guarding of Osiris’s body recorded in the Stundenwachen texts of Ptolemaic and Roman temples. For example, two Demotic funerary papyri, Papyrus British Museum 10507 and Papyrus Harkness, contain passages that are related to the Stundenwachen spells attested in temples. Such texts may point to a similar ritual being performed for the dead, alongside the mourning rites and sAxw. The correct performance of all these rituals enabled the deceased to become like Osiris, acquiring a transfigured state among the followers of the god. <>

“A number of papyri, like the Rhind Papyri and the Book of Traversing Eternity, further attest to the close interrelationship between funerary rituals and temple performances by stating that the deceased will take part in temple festivals throughout the year, especially the Sokar festival during the month of Khoiak. The text on a Roman Period mummy mask refers to the rites of the Khoiak festival. Although this probably expresses an ideal, rather than an actual, day of burial, it is possible that funerary celebrations could be timed optimally to coincide with other rituals and festivities. Some papyri bear temple ritual texts that originated in the temple pr-anx (house of life, scriptorium) and were used in the cult of Osiris before they were adapted for use as private funerary papyri by the expedient of adding the deceased’s name.” <>

Mortuary Service and Opening of the Mouth in the Ptolemaic and Roman Periods

Christina Riggs of the University of East Anglia wrote: “Other ritual texts were composed for performance on the day of burial, sometimes in conjunction with the celebration of a funerary meal. One section of a late Ptolemaic papyrus in Demotic is entitled, “The book which was made in exact accordance with his desire for Hor, the son of Petemin, to cause it to be recited as an Opening of the Mouth document in his presence on the night of his burial feast,” which points to continuity with the Pharaonic Opening of the Mouth ritual performed on the deceased’s mummy at the tomb. P. BM 10507 is also of interest for the fact that it ascribes agency to the deceased himself in the selection and composition of the text. This particular papyrus comes from late Ptolemaic or early Roman Akhmim, where priestly families among the local elite may have been more likely to be buried with such papyri, ritual care, and high quality burial goods. [Source: Christina Riggs, University of East Anglia, UK, UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology 2010, escholarship.org <>]

“Another Demotic text, Papyrus Harkness, includes a section headed, “The chapters of awakening the ba which they will recite on the night of burial”. This title suggests the time and place of the ritual performance, and “awakening the ba” is another function ascribed to funerary rituals like the “glorification” texts. As in the Dynastic period, the interment of the body, after the ideal 70-day period of mummification, could be marked with a funerary meal, perhaps in a temporary structure near the tomb. In the Ptolemaic Period (304–30 B.C.), agreements among members of professional associations can stipulate that members will contribute to the burial and funeral feast when a member dies. One such agreement specifies that the association will sponsor “two days of drinking at the pr-nfr (embalming place or funeral tent)”.” <>

Ancient Egyptian Funerary and Festival Rites That Live On in Coptic Christianity

Saphinaz-Amal Naguib of the University of Oslo wrote: “Coptic funerary rituals in today’s Egypt show many analogies to well-documented ancient Egyptian religious practices. Animal sacrifice, for example, is performed at the doorstep of the main entrance of the house when the coffin is taken out, on the same day at the cemetery, at the end of the mourning period, and periodically before the visits to the dead. The meat is distributed to the poor. However, due to various factors, these rituals have almost disappeared from large towns and cities. Visits to the dead, offerings of food and flowers, and libations at the cemetery are other reminders of Pharaonic Egypt. [Source: Saphinaz-Amal Naguib, University of Oslo, UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology 2008, escholarship.org <>]

“Copts go to the cemetery on fixed dates—specifically, the third day after death, after the rituals of “taking away the mattings” and “delivering the soul of the dead” have been carried out, then on the seventh, fifteenth, and fortieth day after death. Other periodic visits to the dead take place on the Coptic New Year (cayd el-nayruuz), on Nativity (cayd el-miilaad), on the Day of Immersion (yawm el-ghitaas), on Palm Sunday (‘ahad el-sacaf), during Pentecost (el-khamsiin or cayd el-cansara), and during pilgrimages and mulids. It is especially women who carry out these visits, or tuluuc (more commonly known as talca). Their attitudes resonate with those attributed to the goddesses Isis and Nephthys. Like them, they cry for the dead, lament over the corpse, bring offerings of food and flowers, and make libations of water.” <>

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons, The Louvre, The British Museum, The Egyptian Museum in Cairo

Text Sources: UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology, escholarship.org ; Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Egypt sourcebooks.fordham.edu ; Tour Egypt, Minnesota State University, Mankato, ethanholman.com; Mark Millmore, discoveringegypt.com discoveringegypt.com; Metropolitan Museum of Art, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Discover magazine, Times of London, Natural History magazine, Archaeology magazine, The New Yorker, BBC, Encyclopædia Britannica, Time, Newsweek, Wikipedia, Reuters, Associated Press, The Guardian, AFP, Lonely Planet Guides, World Religions edited by Geoffrey Parrinder (Facts on File Publications, New York); History of Warfare by John Keegan (Vintage Books); History of Art by H.W. Janson Prentice Hall, Englewood Cliffs, N.J.), Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Last updated September 2018

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