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The Ancient Egyptians

By the same author Coptic Egypt History and Guide The American University in Cairo Press, rev. ed. 1990 The Monastery of St. Catherine in Sinai History and Guide The American University in Cairo Press, 1991 Aswan and Abu Simbel History and Guide The American University in Cairo Press, 1993 Luxor Ancient Thebes and the Necropolis Sakkara and Memphis The Necropolis and the Ancient Capital Upper Egypt and Nubia The Antiquities from Amarna to Abu Simbel

The Ancient Egyptians
Life in the Old Kingdom Jill Kamil

New and Completely Revised Maps and Illustrations by Elizabeth Rodenbeck

The American University in Cairo Press

Dedicated with love to my granddaughters Natasha, Nadine, and Dina

Copyright © 1984, 1996 by The American University in Cairo Press 113 Sharia Kasr el Aini Cairo, Egypt All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the prior written permission of the publisher. Dar el Kutub No. 3724/96 ISBN 977 424 392 7 Printed in Egypt at the Printshop of the American University in Cairo


Acknowledgments Chronology Introduction

vn vm I

I Beginnings 5 The Gift of the Nile • Hunters and Gatherers • Adjusting to the Environment • Semi-Nomadic Settlers • A Settled Way of Life • The Nile and Society • Burial Practices in Upper Egypt • Leadership • On the Threshold of Civilization • Cultural Exchange • Toward Unification • The Predynastic Legacy • Origin of Ancient Egyptian Religious Beliefs • Sense of Cosmic Order

II Growth


Search for the Earliest Kings • Divergence of Opinion • Early Records • Royal Cenotaphs and Tombs • Unity Consolidated • Loyalty Won • Cult Centers • Artificial Development of Cult Centers • Keepers of the Cult Statue • Local Prestige • Threat of the Use of Force • Provincial Celebration • Creating a Tradition • Unified Artistic Expression • Anthropomorphic Gods • Zoser's Step Pyramid • Preparing for a National Festival

III Control


The Great Pyramid Age • The Economic Structure • Recruitment of Labor • Funerary Estates • The Giza Group • How the Pyramids were Built • Workers' Accommodation • The Cult of the King • Cult Statues • The Sphinx • The Egyptian Religion • Significance of the Pyramidal Shape • The King is Dead, Long Live the King • The Kingship Ideal

IV Organization


Sun Temples and Solar Worship • Abu Sir Archives • All the King's Men • The Power of Pepi • A Boy on the Throne • To Protect a Heritage • King Lists • The Pyramid Texts • Propagating the State Dogma • Guardians of a Tradition • The Final Collapse

V Travel


The Watery Highway • Sea Voyages • Movement Overland • Rural Movement • Journey to the Afterlife

VI Living


Enjoyment of Life • Noble Men and Women • Food and Drink • Clothing and Accessories • The Ideal Family • Right and Wrong • Children • Peasant Farmers and Laborers • Piety of the People • The Royal Family • Honor of Ancestors • Class Mobility

VII Work


The Earliest Industries • Medical Practice • Mummification and Priests • Scribes and the Law • Papyrus Production and the Bureaucracy • Art and Architecture • Shipbuilding • Stone and Pottery Vessels • Textile Manufacture • Viticulture • Other Industries • Wages • The Farming Masses • Animal Husbandry • The Bucolic Afterlife

VIII Leisure


Entertainment • Outdoor Sport • Indoor Games • Folk Tales and Myths • Rural Festivals

Conclusion For Further Reading Index

187 190 192



For this new and updated edition I have received advice, encouragement, and help from many sources, particularly from Dr Kent Weeks, professor of Anthropology and Egyptology at the American University in Cairo, and Dr Zahi Hawwas, director of the Giza plateau. I would also like to thank Lyla Pinch Brock for her patient editing of the manuscript and invaluable critical analysis. I would like to add that the hypotheses presented here - on the creation of cults, the importance of festivals, and the significance of ancestor worship - are not necessarily shared by these scholars.



Prehistoric Egypt
(All dates are approximate and some periods overlap)

Lower Paleolithic (early Old Stone Age) Middle Paleolithic Late Paleolithic Final Paleolithic Neolithic

100,00 - 50,000 BC 50,00-20,00080 30,000 -10,000 BC 12,000 -6000 BC 6000 - 3 400 BC


Early Dynastic Period First Dynasty Second Dynasty Third Dynasty Old Kingdom Fourth Dynasty 2575-246560
Senefru • Khufu • Redjedef • Khafre • Baufre • Menkaure • Shepseskhaf • Dedefptah

3ooo - 2 890 BC 2890 - 2686 BC 2686-257560

Fifth Dynasty

2465-2322 BC

Userkaf • Sahure • Neferirkare • Shepseskare • Neferefre • Nyuserre • Menkauhor • Djedkare • Unas

Sixth Dynasty


Teti • Userkare • Meryre (Pepi I) • Merenre • Neferkare (Pepi II) • Merenrell • Menkure

Ancient Egyptian chronology remains a controversial issue among scholars and is subject to variation. Guidance here is taken from the Department of Anthropology and Egyptology of the American University in Cairo, which divides the Early Dynastic Period into three dynasties (3000-2575 BC). The Old Kingdom (the period covered by this book) extends from the Fourth Dynasty to the end of the Sixth (2575-2145 BC).

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Egypt's ancient history covers some three thousand years from Narmer, the legendary King Menes (3000 BC) who united the Two Lands of Upper and Lower Egypt, to the conquest of Alexander the Great (33230). This period has been roughly divided into thirty dynasties, which have been grouped into three great periods, the Old, Middle, and New kingdoms. The first period, the Old Kingdom or 'pyramid age' (2575 to 2145 BC), is the subject of this book. It traces the origins of Egyptian civilization from the earliest settlers in the Nile Valley through the rise and fall of an era unparalleled in grandeur, power, wealth, and prestige. During the Old Kingdom the core of Egyptian thought and institution was formed. It was a time to which the ancient Egyptians themselves looked with pride and regarded as a model throughout their history. Since the 19605, archaeologists have taken a keen interest in the origins of the ancient Egyptian civilization.They have studied the lifestyle and culture of Predynastic communities based on discoveries made in the Nile Valley by scholars before and around the turn of the twentieth century - among them Flinders Petrie at Naqada and Quibbell and Green at Hierakonpolis (Nekhen) along with a vast amount of information which has come to light from more recently excavated sites in the Delta and Upper Egypt. As a result, we now know more than ever before about the growth of the ancient Egyptian civilization. In view of this, it is surprising how few books have been writ-



ten for non-professional readers to bring them up to date on recent discoveries. Many outdated theories still dominate popular literature and there is a tendency, even in some specialized publications, for early concepts to persist that are now known to be mistaken. The boundaries of our knowledge are rapidly opening up but publication has fallen behind the progress made. This neglect is largely responsible for the impression that little of value is known about the rise of the first class-based society. This book attempts to remedy the situation. My aim is to synthesize a vast amount of information that has been revealed on the earliest human occupation of the Nile Valley by describing the formative years of the dynastic civilization, pursuing the ideals of the expanding state in the Old Kingdom, and tracing its fall at the end of the Sixth Dynasty. This work differs from earlier histories in concentrating on a single period, the Old Kingdom, and in including national festivals, religious rites, and mortuary rituals as part of the narrative. Two themes in particular are developed: i) that ancestor worship lay at the root of ancient Egyptian religious beliefs, and 2) that a well-devised plan to establish cult centers created both a common religious and cultural tradition and a reciprocal service relationship between the central government and distant communities. Today we tend to ask the very same questions about ancient Egypt once posed by the earliest travelers and scholars. Who were the first inhabitants in the Nile Valley? What led them to a settled existence? How was unification between Upper and Lower Egypt achieved in a land that physically did not lend itself to centralization? What triggered the growth of a complex and highly stratified society in which a ruling class created monumental works of art by extracting surplus production and labor from the masses? How were the administration, judiciary, and religion organized and maintained? How did the ancient Egyptians live, work, and travel? How did they spend their leisure time? Today,

Notes on Chronology and Terminology


we might raise additional questions: What was the role of women in ancient Egypt? What do we know of childhood and education? What was the attitude of the affluent elite toward the masses? How were the latter recruited for large-scale building construction? Did the ancient Egyptians have a pacific or aggressive social ideal? Did they have a moral code? What was the cause of the remarkable homogeneity and continuity of their ancient civilization? Notes on Chronology and Terminology The latest subdivisions of Manetho's royal dynasties have been adopted here. The Early Dynastic Period covers the first three dynasties (3100-2575 BC) and the Old Kingdom the Fourth to Sixth dynasties (2575-2145 BC). In the most ancient King List, on the Turin Papyrus, there is no interruption in the line of Narmer (Menes) until the end of the reign of Unas in 2345 BC, a period of six and a half centuries. The word 'pharaoh,' derived from per-aa 'great house,' is not used here, so that a distinction may be made between the 'Great House' - the palace hierarchy and its associated departments, which owned the land, monopolized trade, and formulated a state religion - and the king as an individual. The words 'province' and 'governor,' as well as the Greek 'nome' and 'nomarch,' are abandoned in favor of 'cult center' and 'local leader' to distinguish the latter from the officials - usually members of the royal family who were later given power in the settlements by royal decree. Only toward the end of the Old Kingdom did provinces exist in the true sense of the word. The Predynastic site commonly known by its Greek name Hierakonpolis is here referred to by its Egyptian name Nekhen, in order to relate the 'souls of Nekhen' and the 'souls of Pe' (originally sacred centers of ancestor worship) as parallel political insti-



tutions. The word 'emblem' is used rather than 'totem' to describe the images depicted on flagpoles on Predynastic pottery and early ceremonial palettes and maceheads, because 'totem' has associations with worship, of which there is no evidence. Finally, Greek spellings of the kings' names (Cheops, Chephren, and Mycerinus) have been abandoned in favor of the ancient Egyptian spellings as transliterated by Sir Alan Gardiner: Khufu, Khafre, and Menkaure.


The Gift of the Nile
Egypt, which produced one of the great literate societies of the ancient world, lies in the northeast corner of the African continent. It is bounded by the Mediterranean Sea to the north and by large tracts of barren desert to east and west. The Western (or Libyan) Desert and the Eastern (or Arabian) Desert are separated by the River Nile. The longest river in the world, the Nile emerges from the lakes of equatorial Africa and flows 6,671 kilometers to the sea. It cascades over Egypt's granite threshold (known as the First Cataract) at Aswan and flows northward along its narrow valley in Upper Egypt toward modern-day Cairo. About 320 kilometers before it reaches the sea, the Nile fans into a wide triangle, the Delta, forming Lower Egypt. The 'Two Lands,' one of the ancient Egyptian terms for the country, is geographically true. Physically isolated from neighboring countries - buffered by sea, sand, and the First Cataract - the land is internally divided: Upper Egypt is mostly' barren apart from the narrow ribbon of verdant land flanking the Nile, while Lower Egypt is completely fertile. In Upper Egypt maximum temperatures range from 5O°C in summer to 2O°C in winter, whereas the Delta has a temperate climate with maximums of 35°C in summer and i3°C in winter. Upper and Lower Egypt were united in ancient times only in their uniform dependence on the River Nile, the basis for the great productivity of the soil. Pri-



or to the construction of the High Dam at Aswan in the 19605 the river annually brought a copious deposit of rich silt from the tableland of Ethiopia. Because rainfall was almost nonexistent in Egypt, the people were entirely dependent on the river to water their crops. It was ultimately upon this regular and abundant water supply, with its rich alluvium deposits, that the ancient civilization was based. When the Greek traveler and historian Herodotus came to Egypt around 445 BC he aptly described Egypt as "the gift of the Nile." In order to trace the earliest known human habitation in Egypt it is necessary to go back in geological time to the ancestor of the modern Nile. For hundreds of thousands of years the river had poured its heavily charged waters over the sloping plateau of northeastern Africa. Not until Miocene times did a cooling of the world's climate and a reduction of forested areas affect the landscape of Egypt. The swiftly flowing water found depressions and channels in the limestone plateau and began to carve its bed. This did not occur in one continuous movement but in sharply defined stages. Each lowering of the riverbed resulted in the formation of terraces, which were left high above the newly formed river valley. The highest terraces, over a hundred meters above the river, date from between 650,000 and 5 50,000 BC. They reveal no signs of human life. It is only at the thirty-meter level of terraces in some parts of Upper Egypt that we can break from purely geological dating and trace the earliest known human occupation of the country.

Hunters and Gatherers Hand-axes, fist-wedges, and other primitive implements dating back to the period known as the Lower Paleolithic, between 100,000 and 50,000 BC, have been found in widely separated areas

Hunters and Gatherers MEDITERRANEAN SEA

Kufra £££$;. Gilf Kibir = Gabal Uwenat ^ &-

500 km

Lake . Victoria

The Nile Valley



from northern Sudan to the region of Asyut in Middle Egypt. Such tools were fashioned to provide a grip for the hand and were used for chopping, digging, skinning, crushing, and probably stabbing. Tool development from the Lower to the Middle Paleolithic (around 50,000 to 20,000 BC) was a slow process; handaxes disappeared and more refined tool-manufacture appeared. This was a period in which people and animals alike migrated over vast areas of northern Africa. The humans sometimes lived in camps and caves around main sources of food like the oases of the Western Desert and in the Fayyum depression. There was a tendency to form groups, sometimes of several families, and establish a home base. These groups did not produce their own food; they simply collected wild plants when available and developed hunting aids, such as the thigh bones of animals for clubs and spears. During most of the Late Paleolithic (30,000-6000 BC) there was a marked decrease in local rainfall, and the White Nile was joined by the Atbara and the Blue Nile to bring an increase in the annual summer flood. This swollen water - the direct result of the rains in Ethiopia - poured toward Egypt. It covered most of the early terraces in Upper Egypt, buried the river channel, and largely obliterated the discarded implements of early human settlement along the banks. When the flood water reached Kom Ombo it was no longer confined by sandstone cliffs to the east and west but spread out to form lakes and marshy tracts along the banks of the river. Its velocity diminished and the increasingly sluggish river was able to deposit some of its dark, mineral-rich silt along its banks. It carried the surplus alluvium northward to the Delta. The climate during this time was somewhat cooler than today, and possibly more humid. Plants grew in the enriched soil and much of Egypt became fertile. It was a semi-tropical environment with trees and swamps extending from Sudan in the south to Dakhla Oasis in Egypt's Western Desert. Animal life was not

Hunters and Gatherers


much different from that of East Africa today. Fossilized bones reveal the presence of elephant, cheetah, giraffe, ostrich, lion, wild ass, buffalo, gazelle, and hyena. They roamed around the water holes, which hosted a profusion of waterfowl. These ideal conditions also existed along parts of the western bank of the Nile as far north as the shore of Lake Qarun in the Fayyum, where fish, shellfish, crocodile, and hippopotamus flourished. Despite such attractive conditions for a sedentary existence in the Nile Valley, most groups continued a nomadic life. They exploited natural sources of food, moving over extensive areas. Evidence of elaborate flint-mining between Qena and Asyut, with advanced tools like retouched blades, indicates that more permanent hunting and fishing camps were established along the banks of the Nile, but rock drawings at various sites in the Eastern and Western deserts attest to a continued nomadic existence. Comparative studies of early societies reveal that people do not become sedentary unless compelled to do so for environmental or other reasons. The groups that gravitated toward the Nile did not consciously choose to settle there. Increasing desertification in northern Africa eventually forced many hunters to abandon the plains, follow sources of water, and move toward the valley. This occurred gradually, and a semi-nomadic pattern continued well into the Final Paleolithic era (12,000 to 6000 BC). Some of the groups, especially those that moved down to Egypt from the south, may have been cattle-breeders - like the Nuer in present-day southern Sudan - only drawing near the river to water their herds. Others, moving in from the Sahara, may have gradually given up large-game hunting for small-game hunting and eventually set up camp on the edge of the desert above the floodplain. There they could continue to hunt as well as exploit the river's resources. Experiments in the trapping and domestication of birds and animals were probably carried out and techniques developed for making more specialized tools and



weapons. Large concentrations of knife-blades, chisels, awls, and scrapers have been found between Qena and Sohag, along with a bola, a rope with a stone attached for catching animals.

Adjusting to the Environment The dramatic desertification of the Western Desert, which caused lakes to shrink, fauna to perish, and considerable denudation, has only occurred within the last five thousand years. In tracing human settlement in Egypt we can see a slow and steady adjustment to local conditions, but it remained precarious. The Nile flood came with regularity, but like the searing sun that drove hunters and gatherers from the savanna, the river could also be a destructive force. Too high a flood could cause destruction, sweeping away shelters and livestock; a series of low floods could cause famine. The rise and ebb of the flood, however, occurred with tireless regularity, and a similar rhythm gradually developed in the lives of the people who depended upon it. In spring when the river was low, the land was left bare to the fury of the hot, dry, desert winds, the khamasin. Seasonally flooded depressions dried out, vegetation - with the exception of hardy acacia, tamarisk, and sycamore along the edges of the Nile Valley - began to diminish, and the earth became scorched and ashen dry. Animals on the fringes of the valley may have moved southward or scattered into the desert in search of food. Fishing was limited to the permanent pools, side channels, and the river itself; wooded areas near the water offered turtles, rodents, and Nile clams, which were collected in large amounts. July marked the peak of summer, when the Nile became swollen with the annual flood and spilled out over the land. The people withdrew with their animals to the higher land which flanked the valley. As the low-lying desert became progressively submerged, they

Semi-Nomadic Settlers


moved again to outcrops on the dry rim of the plateau, where they waited until the water had reached its full height, toward the end of August. When the river began to recede it left behind a fairly uniform deposit of silt, as well as lagoons and streams that became natural reservoirs for fish. A variety of plants including wild wheat, brush, bulrush, and papyrus formed lush vegetation in the newly enriched soil. Thus began the season of abundance. The people gathered together their possessions, rounded up their animals, and went back to the floodplain. The level of the river continued to fall, until by April it was at its lowest level. Vegetation diminished and seasonal pools dried out. Then in July the Nile started to rise again, and the cycle was repeated. This annual movement of people, mirroring changes in the level of the Nile, continued until the middle of this century when the construction of the High Dam at Aswan put an end to the floods. A strong bond between the people and the land, with its three distinct seasons - the drought (shemu)^ the inundation (akhet), and the growing or 'coming forth' (peret) - is an important, and early established, feature of Egyptian civilization.

Semi-Nomadic Settlers Seasonal settlements can be traced to many sites, including those along the northern fringe of the Fayyum's Lake Qarun; at Merimda on the southwestern edge of the Delta in Lower Egypt; and at Badari, Hammamiya, and Tasa near Asyut in Upper Egypt. These cultures, named after the sites where they were first identified, were not necessarily the earliest - or the only - herding and farming settlements. Countless others in Upper Egypt were doubtless obliterated by the swirling waters of particularly high floods in ages long past or, in the Delta, submerged beneath successive layers of alluvial soil. Despite these lost settlements, available evi-


The Beginnings

dence attests to varying phases of development at different sites but little, if any, contact between them. For thousands of years the communities who lived near the banks of the Nile appear to have remained independent of one another. The oldest known seasonal settlements are in the Fayyum. The depression was filled by the Nile around 8000 BC, creating a considerable lake with a much higher water level than it has today. (Dimeh, for example, an ancient site now isolated in the desert, may originally have been an early settlers' camp on the northern shore.) Then the level of the lake gradually fell. Mud huts were built on mounds along its north and northeastern shores where the land was fertile and, beginning around 5,000 BC, emmer, wheat, barley, and flax were cultivated and harvested using sickleflints set in wooden handles. Judging from the great care given to their storage, crops were plentiful. Underground silos lined with basketry were constructed on ground well above the level of the lake. The people also buried their dead here, in simple graves under the dry desert sand. Traces of cloth reveal that they wove linen clothing, probably worn beneath an outer garment of leather. Stone beads and pendants show that they had also developed drilling techniques. Pottery made of coarse clay was fashioned into a variety of simple shapes. As well as the cultivation of grain and flax, sheep, cattle, and pigs were kept. Hooks, spears, and harpoons were used to catch

Reed basket, Fayyum culture

Semi-Nomadic Settlers


fish in the shallow waters of the lake and, despite increases in animal husbandry, expeditions into the desert to hunt large mammals continued. A seasonal, semi-nomadic existence can also be traced in Upper Egypt. Burial grounds of the 'Badarian' culture have been identified at many sites south of Asyut. They most likely date to about the same period as early occupation in the Fayyum, around 5000 BC. The actual settlements, probably built on natural levees along the banks of the river, have long disappeared. The burial grounds, however, were constructed in the desert above the floodplain,the bodies laid to rest in the fetal position in shallow oval graves in the sand surrounded by basketry, skins, and objects of daily life. These have been well preserved and provide evidence upon which to base our knowledge of early society. Ivory spoons, figurines, and small copper objects - hammered, not cast - were among the grave goods. Remnants of clothing show that the people wore kilts, sometimes with decorative girdles, and feathered headgear. Strings of blue-glazed beads, anklets of shells, and bracelets of ivory were also buried. Oval slate palettes which bear traces of red ocher or green malachite were probably used to grind body paint for ceremonial purposes. Indeed, some of the characteristic red-brown pottery of these sites - blackened around the rim - bears traces of the prepared pigment.

Ivory carvings, Fayyum culture



A Settled Way of Life
The earliest evidence of fully sedentary village life in Egypt can be found at Merimda, a sandy rise in the Western Desert on the edge of the Delta near the Rosetta branch of the Nile. Radiocarbon readings reveal evidence of occupation from 4440 to 4145 BC, although some scholars suggest a date of as early as 5040 BC for the first Merimda settlement. Groups of small, flimsy, pole-framed huts made of wicker were built on spurs overlooking large stretches of arable land. Many were oval in shape and most were too small to accommodate an adult. They were clearly not houses. The fact that few habitations of this period have been found in either Upper or Lower Egypt suggests that in a climate as gracious as that of Egypt shelter was less important than in other regions of the world. The huts may have been used for much the same purpose as in rural communities in Egypt up to the present day: for storing food and tools rather than for human habitation. These lightly-constructed shelters may have further provided shade for workshops and cooking areas. The granaries at Merimda were not separated from the community as in the Fayyum, but scattered through it: storage was associated with individual farmsteads, which suggests that each family was responsible for its own food production. The burial practices at Merimda also differed from those of the Fayyum: the dead were buried around their shelters. This was a practice quite alien to the nomadic, or even semi-nomadic, way of life. The bodies were laid in shallow oval graves with pottery, garments, spindles, and, for the first time, flowers: a bouquet was found on the chest of a body in one grave. A molded clay head - the oldest known sculpture from Egypt - was also found. In almost all burials a pottery jar was placed in front of the contracted body of the deceased, whose head lay toward the south and whose face was directed toward the west. The earliest pottery was coarse mono-

A Settled Way of Life


»Mustagidda L.»Mustagidda

.. . .-Ballas, Abydos .^J —.... .. NaqadaJ Coptos al-Kab

Predynastic sites and ancient routes




chrome ware in simple shapes. Large jars to store domesticated grain - specifically emmer, which originated in western Asiawere later buried up to their necks in the ground. Subsequent stages of settlement can be traced to several sites in Lower Egypt including Omari, north of Helwan at the mouth of the Wadi Hof in the Eastern Desert; Maadi, opposite the SaqqaraAbusir necropolis; Heliopolis; and Buto, in the north central Delta. Spinning and weaving were well developed at Omari; both coarse- and fine-weave garments were produced and there is evidence of leather-working. In contrast to the early settlers of the Fayyum and Merimda, those of Omari seem to have used more jewelry for personal adornment, including pendants and necklaces. Their granaries contained wheat and barley, and there is evidence that they baked a sort of cake of crushed emmer and barley. They used ostrich eggshells for containers and even cooking pots. Refuse heaps composed of ashes, flint implements, and animal bones have been found along with hearths. Dietary habits and social patterns were in transition and some of these early settlements were to develop into important communities. Maadi, for example, a settlement of farmers and stockbreeders who raised beef-cattle, sheep, goats, and pigs, later developed into an important trading center; Heliopolis became a religious capital; and Buto (Tell al-Fara'un), grew to be the major Delta settlement.

The Nile and Society The period from 5000 to 340030 was characterized by the improved preparation of stone tools and weapons to suit an increasingly sedentary existence. With an increase in settled farming, bringing an increase in economic security and leisure, there was a marked rise in population. Arts and crafts began to flourish. What

The Nile and Society


is known as the Naqada culture, overlapping with the Badarian culture, developed over a span of nearly a thousand years - from 4000 BC to the beginning of the dynastic period. This was a crucial time, during which many of the components of what we call 'civilization' were laid. One of the highlights of this period was the formation of a 'class-based society,' a term used by anthropologists today to denote early civilization prior to the introduction of writing. The Naqada culture was widespread in Upper Egypt from Nekhen (Greek Hierakonpolis, opposite al-Kab) in the south, to Abydos in the north. It was named after Naqada (opposite Qift) and fell into three stages, Naqada I, Naqada II, and Naqada III. Precise stratigraphic techniques in contemporary archaeology have facilitated a better understanding of this culture, which was characterized by slow and continuous change in the economy and social organization, as well as the stylistic evolution of grave objects. Both Naqada and Nekhen are important sites in tracing Predynastic development in Upper Egypt. Naqada was situated within the loop of the Nile north of Luxor where the river most closely approaches the Red Sea. Some of the earliest settlers may have set up camp on levees at the edge of the river, but all evidence has since disappeared. Either the camps were built of perishable materials and swept away by the flood, or they were depleted by modern farmers digging away at the enriched soil to fertilize their fields - a practice that continues to this day. At the edge of the Naqada floodplain, however, one of the earliest and largest settlements in the Nile Valley was found. It spread over a ninety-meter-square area, with a vast adjacent burial ground of over two thousand graves packed into seventeen acres. The Predynastic settlement of Nekhen, revealed in recent excavations, was considerably smaller. Its graveyard comprised some two hundred individual burials extending for three kilometers along the edge of the desert. Both Naqada and Nekhen were



ideal locations for settlement. They were situated at the edge of wadis (dried-out waterways) where the people could plant wheat and barley, as well as hunt and herd animals. How long such a life would have continued had it not been for climatic change is difficult to say. Recent geological studies have shown that there were fifty-year fluctuations in the level of the Nile flood: extended periods of relatively high annual floods were followed by equally long periods when the annual high-water level fell below the average. When a period of low water coincided with a decline in rainfall, pasturage shrank, wadis dried up, and the river failed to cover the inner floodplain. The repercussion was that people drew together into larger settlements as they were forced to move nearer the valley, and there was consequently more interaction among them. An awareness grew of the need to make lasting and economical use of the flood waters. Large-scale cultivation of grain, necessary to feed the growing communities, required group effort. The earliest steps in water management probably involved reinforcing natural embankments along the edge of the Nile as soon as the flood reached its peak in order to retain it on the floodplain. By subsequently erecting lateral embankments (dikes) the entry and exit of the flood could be controlled, and the water could even be guided to land quite distant from the river. Basins were dug to retain the water long enough to produce a crop. And with the help

Unconventional pottery with incised geometric lines, Naqada I

Burial Practices in Upper Egypt


of such basins, a channel could be dug toward the low-lying desert, which was then brought to productivity. When the 'black land' (the silt-rich soil) spread over parts of the 'red land' (the arid desert), the settlers became peasant farmers: Egypt's soilbound and conservative fellahin. Great care was given to the communal storage of grain, a concept that grew from the need to assure food supplies.

Burial Practices in Upper Egypt The earliest graves at the Naqada burial grounds, like those of the earlier Badarian sites, were shallow. The bodies, sometimes two in a single grave, were covered with coarse matting, twigs, or animal skins. With the development of larger settlements and a more stratified society, grave pits were replaced by well-constructed brick-lined tombs and the grave goods reflected a more highly developed standard of living. The quality and range of these goods clearly show a developing artistic sense among a growing community of professional craftspeople. Clay figurines, carved ivory plaques, ivory and bone combs, and a huge variety of polished pottery were produced. Some pottery items were black-topped, others took fancy forms such as double vases or square containers, and others were fashioned into the shapes of birds and fish.

Bone hairpins and combs, Naqada I



In the next stage of development (Naqada II), the graves became larger. They were rectangular pits, often lined with woven branches and brush, roofed with sticks and matting, and covered with mounds of earth. The bodies of both men and women show that they braided or plaited their hair and wore necklaces of shells and stone beads. Although the bodies were covered with no more than mats and hides, they remained remarkably well-preserved. Some continued to be placed in the contracted position, and certain burial rituals were becoming standard. Burnished pottery was invariably placed at the north end of the tomb, for example, while the southern end was reserved for wavy-handled jars. Varying sizes and positions of tombs show, for the first time, an association between social status and burial custom. While most people continued to be interred in shallow graves covered with mats and hides, important people were buried in larger graves, segregated from their poorer neighbors. This tendency continued through to dynastic times.

Leadership As sprawling, semi-sedentary settlements began to coalesce into more heavily populated communities, leadership became an increasingly vital part of social development. This is especially apparent at Nekhen, where there are five unusually large graves among the burials. One in particular, in the eastern part of the cemetery, was more elaborate than the others. It was brick-lined, plastered, and decorated with images of people, boats, and animals in red, white, and black on a yellow background. Referred to as the 'painted tomb' at Hierakonpolis, it is now lost, but it was important for several reasons. Firstly, both the leader and the site became sacred through the very act of building such a large structure and Nekhen retained its importance throughout an-



cient history. Secondly, its brick walls and floor made this tomb a fore-runner of the large brick-lined tombs of the early dynasties. Thirdly, it had the earliest known attempt at mural decoration, and it is interesting to note the emergence at so early a date, of certain motifs that were to become part of the artistic tradition in dynastic times. There is a victor - whether local leader or king - smiting bound enemies with a raised club; a leader stands beneath a sunshade; and the owner of the tomb is shown larger (that is, more powerful) than the accompanying figures. In addition, representations of high-prowed boats with deck-cabins have their prototypes on the Predynastic pottery found at this site. A figure holding two lions, on an ivory knife-handle from Gebel al-Arak, is thought to be of Mesopotamian origin - striking evidence for cultural diffusion. Nekhen and Naqada both bear marks of having developed into communities of substantial influence in Predynastic times. Each was strategically situated with direct connections through large wadis: west to Kharga Oasis and east to the gold-bearing region between the Nile Valley and the Red Sea. Each eventually became a cult center, of Horus (the hawk) and Set (a mythical desert animal) respectively. Their rulers came to exemplify the emerging ideology of power and were probably buried in the so-called royal tombs in the Predynastic cemeteries in both places. Abydos is another site where lasting associations of leadership

From the 'painted tomb' at Nekhen



developed. Royal monuments of the First and Second dynasties were found here and recent excavations have revealed, among other things, a Predynastic cemetery. Abydos developed a sacred aura and was later believed to be the burial place of Osiris - the god depicted in mythology as an earthly leader who ruled in Predynastic times. In settled societies where the deceased are buried close to the living, there is a great awareness of and respect for the dead, which can become a form of ancestor worship. The myth of Osiris as an ideal ruler (see chapter in) occurs in so many different forms that it must contain an element of truth. It is not beyond the bounds of reason, therefore, to suppose that he was originally a leader who exercised ingenuity and led his people to an understanding of the benefits of water control. Perhaps he judged cases of disputed embankments, canals, or catchment basins because he was associated throughout dynastic times with water as a source of fertility, the soil, sprouting vegetation, and judgment. Over the millennia people paid homage through pilgrimage to Naqada, Nekhen, and Abydos, the three sites associated with early leaders.

On the Threshold of Civilization
Between about 3400 and 3000 BC Egypt entered the last stage of its Predynastic experience. Evidence of the Naqada III or Gerzean culture - named after a village north of Meidum in the Fayyum where it was first identified - can be found at numerous sites throughout Egypt. In contrast to the slow pace of earlier development, rapid advances were now being made. Craft specialization was one direct result of food sufficiency: flint of fine quality was obtained from beds in the cliffs along the Nile Valley and fashioned with unsurpassed skill into ripple-chipped knives which, far too delicate for utilitarian use, were obviously orna-

On the Threshold of Civilization


mental. Although art, in today's sense of the word, did not exist, people were skilled in the execution of their work. Slate palettes for grinding paint were carved in decorative fish, bird, and animal designs. Amulets were produced in a larger assortment of stones and in different designs. A keen artistic sense can be seen in the way that the roughly-made slates of Badarian times were now formed into bird, hippopotamus, and fish designs. Ivory statuettes have been found, although it is not known whether these were fertility figures - since some were carved with exaggerated sexual characteristics - or toys like the small stone balls, game pieces, and a kind of chessboard that were often buried with children. Furniture was placed in tombs: low stools made of stone and wood-frame beds with mattresses of woven linen lashed to the frame. Decorative ware included small boxes of ivory, or wood inlaid with ivory, to hold a woman's possessions. One of particularly fine execution has its lid carved with a human figure in low relief and its sides decorated with geese. Clearly the owners of such objects were no longer primarily concerned with survival. At a more practical level, tools like axe-heads, adzes, hoes, chisels, daggers, and knives of beaten metal were produced. The Gerzean period was also known for its vases produced from a variety of hard and brightly-colored stone: basalt and alabaster, white limestone, red breccia, marble, diorite, and granite. The stone was shaped by skilled artisans using stone drills. These ob-

Decorated ivory box, Naqada III or Gerzean period



jects were made to serve a growing elite, whose tombs underwent change during this period. They were lined with matting, wood, or mud-brick and extra chambers were added to accommodate grave goods. The simple mound over the tomb of previous times became enlarged into a low rectangular superstructure to which the Arabic word mastaba (bench) has been given. These contained a complex of rooms, also frequently lined with matting or strengthened with wooden planks. In the late Gerzean period a distinctive ware developed - widelipped, buff-colored - in addition to the black-topped pottery. These vessels were fired in an improved kiln in which higher temperatures could be produced and better controlled. This resulted in the manufacture of uniform texture and color that provided a suitable surface for decoration. Drawings were made on the pots in manganese before firing and the designs - some reminiscent of the 'painted tomb' at Nekhen - cast considerable light on ancient society. They include drawings of boats, hills, plants, animals, and humans. The boats - invariably rowing boats - were each identified with emblems on poles, sometimes with two streamers hanging from them. These ensigns were visible marks of tribal identity. Being represented on boats, they further suggest increased river trade among different communities to acquire all that was needed to enhance the status of local leaders. Some of the boats appear to have cabins, which may have served as shade for an important traveler.

Cultural Exchange Trade in luxury goods became a royal business in dynastic times. In the Gerzean period, however, the importation of raw materials for the development of industries seems to have been a local affair. Because of their strategic location, some of the settlements were

Cultural Exchange


destined to acquire more wealth than others. Upper Egypt became rich from the procurement of stone and minerals from the Eastern Desert. Copper and turquoise mined in Sinai brought wealth to some of the Delta settlements. Trade with Nubia saw the flow into Egypt of copper and incense from the lands lying even further south. The presence of cedarwood, used in tombconstruction, boat-building, and furniture-making in Egypt, suggests trade with Byblos on the eastern Mediterranean. Maadi, twelve kilometers south of modern-day Cairo, developed into a Predynastic commercial community. That is to say, its main activity was not agriculture - although herding and farming were practiced there - but commerce. It enjoyed a favorable position for trade with Sinai and western Asia via Wadi Digla, which runs eastward to the Bitter Lakes. Attractive and well-made products carved from a wide variety of stones, as well as large quantities of copperware, have been found at Maadi. These may have been trade items. Huge amphorae found in large cellars below the forty-five-acre site strongly resemble those of Palestine. They are characterized by ledge or wavy handles that have no prototypes in the Nile Valley. Their contents included perfumed vegetable fat and other items imported from the east. Small painted pots, evidently imported from Palestine, form the most distinctive link between the two regions. Underground houses, not found elsewhere in Egypt, suggest that Maadi may even have ac-

Pottery with elaborate decoration, Late Gerzean



commodated foreign merchants, whose wares were transported in this distinctive pottery to other parts of the country. Cultural diffusion is a natural process following commercial contact. Its evidence has been found in Egypt in the forms of cylinder seals, motifs of fantastic animals with intertwined necks depicted on the handles of weapons and palettes, recessed paneling in tomb architecture, and the facade of a building in Tell alFara'un (ancient Pe [Buto], which developed into a major settlement in the Delta) featuring cones that have their prototypes in Mesopotamia. Objects of early Egyptian manufacture have also been found at Byblos on the Mediterranean in present-day Lebanon. The land bridge of Sinai facilitated the free flow of trade and culture. A similar exchange occurred between Egypt and Nubia to the south. Egypt's rich agricultural surplus, linen, and honey were exchanged for mining rights in Nubia and access to trade routes beyond the Second Cataract.

Toward Unification As certain settlements became richer - and consequently larger than their neighbors, their leaders prospered. In Upper Egypt, Nekhen came to enjoy particularly strong leadership. In Lower Egypt the formation of a major settlement is not so clearly de-

Wavy handled vases of Palestinian type

Toward Unification


fined, because many Delta settlements were submerged by flood deposits in relatively recent times. Now, however, excavations at many sites in the eastern and central Delta - including Tell Ibrahim Awad, Tell Samara, Tell Farkha, and Tell al-Kabir - cast light on settlements of the same time span as the late Gerzean in Upper Egypt. Tell al-Fara'un has now been identified as Pe (Buto), the traditional counterpart of Nekhen in Upper Egypt. Products of Upper Egyptian origin began to appear in the Delta during the Late Predynastic Period and pottery from the Delta made its way to Upper Egypt. This long-distance internal trade did not lead to a uniform material culture, however. On the contrary, toward the end of the Predynastic Period the Two Lands of Upper and Lower Egypt - later to form the basis of the country's political organization - stand out as separate entities with greater clarity than ever before. The thrust toward unification was spearheaded by Upper Egypt, but the reason remains obscure. One cause might have been the economic attraction of the Delta: Upper Egyptians, confined to the narrow and - in view of the changing climatic conditions - increasingly hostile environment of the Nile Valley, may have been encouraged to move northward toward the temperate climate and abundant food supply of the Delta. Awareness of the benefits of contact with the countries of the eastern Mediterranean may have been an added inducement. Whatever the reason, the leaders of Nekhen first extended their influence toward Naqada and then farther north to Thinis (modern Girga), just north of Abydos. Political expansion was not without warfare, judging from the number of maces with disc-shaped heads in hard stone found alongside an unusually large number of broken bones among the bodies of the dead at Naqada. Confrontation between various settlements is also suggested by decorative motifs on two palettes of this period found at Abydos. One, the Battlefield Palette,



shows slain captives being preyed upon by lions, while the Towns Palette is thought to represent different clans destroying walled settlements. The possibility of internal conflict is also suggested from oral traditions. Myths, once dismissed as unreliable, are now being recognized as reflections of important historical and social realities. The many myths describing battles between Horus of Lower Egypt and Set of Upper Egypt may, in their earliest form, have been based upon actual conflict between the two strong Upper Egyptian settlements: Nekhen, where the hawk was the emblem, and Naqada, associated with the Set animal. Political integration was extremely slow. Several centuries passed before objects of Upper Egyptian origin replaced those in the Delta and until the names of Ka and Narmer - two of the earliest kings identified in Upper Egypt-were found at Tell Ibrahim Awad in the Delta.

The Predynastic Legacy Civilization, until recently, was equated with literacy, and because the earliest known records of ancient Egypt were those dating to the First Dynasty, 'civilization' and 'First Dynasty' became synonymous. Today it is known that the origins of the world's earliest civilizations predate the appearance of written records. In Egypt, there is evidence not only of a class-based society but also of the invention of writing long before the dynastic period. A partially robbed Predynastic tomb at Abydos, dating to around 3200 BC, provides evidence that the hieroglyphic script was developed much earlier than archaeologists had previously supposed, making Egyptian one of the world's oldest written languages. Roughly painted inscriptions on the seals and labels of funerary equipment were precise records - trademarks that revealed the owner's identity, the contents of a vessel, or the quality of the contents.

The Predynastic Legacy


The leaders who lived during the crucial years immediately prior to unification identified themselves with names like Ka and Iryhor or with symbols like the elephant and the scorpion. Only in dynastic times did the names and titles of kings become standardized. The early pictographic records were most explicit, however. One 'scorpion' leader left a fascinating record on a pear-shaped macehead (Ashmolean Museum, Oxford), a large object, apparently used for ceremonial purposes, and carved in three registers. Dominating the central scene is the scorpion king himself. He wears the distinctive headgear that has become known as the White Crown of Upper Egypt and his tunic has a bull's tail, which became a common attribute of kings. He is depicted in an agricultural setting breaking the ground with a hoe. Behind him are fan-bearers and people rejoicing. Below is another agricultural scene, while the top register shows dead lapwings, associated with various tribes on the borders of Egypt, hung from standards bearing their emblems. The event is an unmistakable record of military triumph by a leader whose attributes included physical

Relief scene on macehead of King Scorpion



prowess and bravery - inherited from his ancestor, the tribal hunter - and whose obligations included water control and ensuring the fertility of the land. Along with the invention of writing, breaking the bonds imposed by the lunar month was another important Predynastic legacy. Ancient Egyptians were dependent upon the annual flood, as it signaled the start of the whole agricultural cycle. To forecast its arrival would obviously be advantageous but difficult, as no fixed number of lunar months corresponded to the agricultural year. Countless years of living in an environment of rhythmic cycles eventually led to the observation that the rising flood waters were accompanied by a heavenly sign. Sothis, also known as Sirius or the dog-star, was the brightest of all fixed stars in the night sky. Its position changed as the earth moved around the sun, causing a shifting point of observation. At one stage during the lunar cycle, the light of Sothis was entirely swallowed up by the brightness of the sun and the star became invisible for a period of seventy days. A night would come at the end of this period when Sothis became visible in the eastern sky just before dawn, in the glow of the rising sun. This sighting is referred to as the 'heliacal rising,' and was witnessed just before the flood waters began to rise each year. It was an astronomical event of great importance because it heralded the promise of the land's rebirth and the beginning of another agricultural year. The new Egyptian calendar was based on a year of three seasons, starting with the sighting of Sothis. The earliest written evidence of the heliacal rising appears on a small ivory tablet belonging to Djer, the second king of the First Dynasty (around 3000 BC). It reads: "Sothis, Opener of the Year, Inundation, i." The ability to anticipate the flood level was an important means by which a leader could vindicate his power, thus the invention of the nilometer was another important legacy. In its most primitive

Origin of Ancient Egyptian Religious Beliefs


form, a nilometer was merely a scale consisting of a series of horizontal notches marked on a convenient rock. As soon as the water crested on the southern border, the cataract region at Aswan, information regarding its height could be rushed by courier to all parts of the country, where other nilometers were still registering its rise. Preparations could then be made to maximize the water's use. This simple invention may have led to the concept that the king was divine: he governed the crops and the seasons. He was a provider who had power over that powerful force of nature, the Nile.

Origin of Ancient Egyptian Religious Beliefs It is not possible to trace religion as a vehicle of reverence in Predynastic times because the only sources of reference are burial grounds, and despite the abundance of material remains there is no indication of the extent to which the idea of divinity - outside the power of natural forces - was formulated. Whatever it was that encouraged devotion and emotional com-mitment is so far unknown, apart from the certainty of life beyond the grave. This is clearly demonstrated at all Predynastic sites and remained one of the most basic aspects of the ancient religion. In contrast to other early societies where rites of fasting ensured the annual regeneration of the land, Egyptians took it for granted. The cyclical regularity and predictability of the environment gave them faith in their own immortality. Death seems not to have been regarded with fascination and fear as the final, supreme crisis of life but as the necessary prelude to rebirth. The discovery of some burials in both Badari and Naqada where the body was laid prone with the head pointing south (the source of the Nile and the annual flood) and the face turned to the west has led to the notion that Egyptians early regarded the west-



ern horizon, the place of the setting sun, as the gateway to the afterlife. Certainly the sun and the river, which together formed the dominating means of survival, must have made an early impression on them. They were two natural forces with both creative and destructive power: the life-giving rays that caused the crop to grow could also cause it to shrivel and die; and the river that invigorated the soil could also destroy whatever lay in its path. Both the sun and the river embodied the pattern of death and rebirth: the sun died when it sank on the western horizon only to be reborn in the eastern sky the following morning; the death of the land was followed by the rebirth of the crops with the river's annual flood the following year. The moon (Thoth), too, symbolized death and rebirth, its waxing and waning seen as the resurgence of vitality like the flood waters, the sprouting grain, and the rising sun. Rebirth was a central feature of the Egyptian scene. It was seen as a natural succession to death, and undoubtedly lay at the root of the ancient Egyptian conviction in the afterlife. The natural desiccation of bodies into leather-like figures that occurred when they were buried in hot desert sand may have encouraged the belief that the preservation of mortal remains was important. The fact that the most minute facial details, including hair and eye-lids, were frequently preserved may lie at the base of the ancient belief that the likeness of the deceased was necessary for eternal life. Corpses were first wrapped in matting, skins, or strips of woven cloth. When it was observed that bodies in large tombs perished more easily than those interred in pits - a few instances of high-status, brick-lined graves at Naqada containing poorly-preserved human remains suggests that this type of enclosure was considered ineffective - attempts were made to preserve the body by artificial means. Natron (sodium carbonate) was applied to the body. In Early Dynastic times, in an effort to main-tain the deceased's likeness, the head and body were carefully molded over

Origin of Ancient Egyptian Religious Beliefs


the corpse in plaster, complete with painted facial details, genitalia, and breasts. From the Third Dynasty, statues were fashioned after the likeness of the owner of a tomb and placed in a sealed-off chamber known as the serdab. This statue served as a substitute should the body be damaged beyond recognition and consequently fail to be identified. It also served as repository for the immortal aspect known as the ka. It is not known exactly how the ancient Egyptians envisaged the relationship between a person and their ka, or indeed how early the concept of a spirit or guardian-double was formulated. The symbol of the ka - two upraised arms - first appeared on Predynastic standards painted on pottery. Mortuary texts, based on early rituals and beliefs, indicate that at death the ka became a separate entity. It played a role in the deceased's association with the tomb, the "everlasting abode," and guided their fortunes in the afterlife. A dead person was described as one who joined his or her ka. "How beautiful it is in the company of my ka forever," chants a mortuary priest in the Old Kingdom, as revealed in the Pyramid Texts. The priests were described as 'servants of the ka,' and offerings to the ka became the subject of prayer in a complex mortuary ritual. Beliefs in the sustenance of the ka were early developed and continued for thousands of years. There was always the fear in Predynastic times that the shallow graves might be desecrated and the bodies destroyed by desert animals like the wolf and the jackal. Mounds built over the grave may have been an attempt to keep these animals from digging up the bodies. Also, in an early effort to assuage the hunger of these creatures and prevent them from violating the tomb, food might have been laid near the grave. As a result, an association between wolves or jackals and burial grounds developed. Eventually a ritual to propitiate these animals evolved into the belief that the wolf (Wepwawet) and the jackal (Anubis) guarded the dead. Wep-



wawet is called the 'foremost of the westerners' in the earliest mortuary texts and his name means 'opener of the ways (to the afterlife).' Anubis ultimately became associated with embalming. Feasts of Anubis are mentioned as early as the First Dynasty. It is clear that the ancient Egyptians had great respect for the dead and the inhabitants of the afterlife. The number of elaborate preparations provide ample proof of their deep interest in the fate of the departed. No effort was spared to assist in the renewal of life or to preserve the memory of the deceased through mortuary gifts, prayers, and funerary rituals. Material equipment to serve the dead throughout eternity eventually became, with the growth of the state, an industry to which all classes of society were called into requisition.

Sense of Cosmic Order
The long period of social and cultural development was well advanced before the political unification of Upper and Lower Egypt. During that time many basic religious rituals were formulated. The regularity of nature's forces provided the basis of the ancient Egyptians' sense of order and balance. Like many other early societies, their religious focus was on nature, which provided their means of existence. They were able to explain the origins of life in relation to their environment. Their early observations of nature and the solar forces were later incorporated into the doctrine that formed the basis of the official religion (see chapter iv). The lack of explanation of these observations strongly suggests that certain concepts were already taken for granted. The sight of the flood waters subsiding each year leaving mounds of earth upon which plants grew undoubtedly triggered the idea that in the beginning there was a watery waste (Nun), out of which the first land appeared. On this primordial mound the intense rays of

Sense of Cosmic Order


the sun brought forth plant life. There were many explanations as to how the sun moved across the heavens each day and presumably through the underworld at night in order to rise in the eastern sky the following morning. The most widely held view involved river transport: the orb that rose in the eastern sky - corresponding with the east bank of the river - crossed the heavenly river (the sky) by boat to set in the western sky - the west bank of the river. Between Nut, the sky - traversed by the sun by day and with glittering heavenly bodies by night-and Geb, the earth, which annually gave forth vegetation, there were two other discernible phenomena, air (Shu) and moisture (Tefnut). If the ancient Egyptians harbored any concern about how the sky might be held aloft it was presumed to be by four great pillars, the mountains of the deserts to east and west, like the supporting pillars of early shelters. When a person died, they, like the setting sun, entered the afterlife beyond the horizon. And, like the sun, they would rise and live again. The host of the dead were seen to take their place with the circumpolar stars (the 'imperishable ones') in the northern part of heaven. This was regarded as the place of the afterlife. A First Dynasty tomb inscription records that there the deceased person became an akh, a glorified spirit; the akhs were spirits which, like the stars, "know no destruction."


Search for the Earliest Kings With the advent of the First Dynasty, around 3000 BC, an astonishing transformation took place: the unification of Upper and Lower Egypt. It turned an individual from the most successful among leaders into a ruler without peers, a divine king with absolute power over a united country, the 'Two Lands.' The splendid civilization that was to peak in the Great Pyramid Age was launched. The ancient Egyptians attributed unification of their country to a single king, Menes, who is traditionally credited as the first king and founder of the capital at Memphis. About twenty-five kilometers south of present day Cairo, Memphis was strategically situated at a point where the Nile Valley of Upper Egypt widened into the vast Delta region of Lower Egypt. The ancient Egyptians knew Memphis as the 'White Wall,' and described it as 'the balance of the Two Lands.' It was their capital for about one thousand years and remained an important religious and commercial center throughout the three thousand years of the country's ancient history. It was honored by most of the important kings throughout this time and was traditionally the place where they were crowned. Until just before the turn of the twentieth century all that was known of Menes and the early kings was from vague accounts by classical writers like Herodotus, Josephus, and Africanus, and from king-lists drawn up by the Egyptians themselves at different

Search for the Earliest Kings


periods of their history. The king-lists were unreliable, often fragmentary and contradictory. The most complete was recorded by Manetho, an Egyptian historian who lived in the reign of Ptolemy II (28 5 - 47 BC). It was based on oral traditions and fragments of earlier lists. He divided the history of Egypt into thirty dynasties - from Menes until the Greek conquest - and these have been grouped into three 'great periods': the Old, Middle and New kingdoms. Manetho's account forms the basis of the chronology we still use today. Early Egyptologists sought evidence for the existence of Menes and thought they had found an answer in 1898-99 when an archaeological team came upon a cache filled with votive objects of historical importance at the Predynastic burial ground at Nekhen (see chapter i). Among the objects were the ceremonial 'scorpion' macehead and a shield-shaped slate palette - the Palette of Narmer - now in The Egyptian Museum, Cairo. The latter caused tremendous excitement. It was decorated with reliefs in registers on both faces inscribed in the name of Narmer and was generally

Ceremonial palette of Narmer



regarded as a record of unification: the definitive victory of the southern kingdom over the Delta. The king's name was clearly inscribed in the frame of a serekh - the distinctive 'palace-facade' design of recesses and buttresses associated with the royal palace. On one side of the palette the king wears the White Crown of Upper Egypt and is shown with a raised club striking a kneeling enemy. On the other side he wears the Red Crown of Lower Egypt and, accompanied by standard bearers later called 'Followers of Horus,' inspects the bodies of decapitated enemies. In a lower register, he is shown as a bull trampling an enemy. The bull became linked with royal ideology in early times, as an animal that inspired the greatest respect for its strength and virility. The discovery of the palette identified Narmer as the first king to wear the distinctive crowns of each of the Two Lands, but whether he was the same person as the legendary Menes was not clear. Subsequent evidence was confusing: on some of the jar seals found in early dynastic graves at Abydos, Narmer's name was inscribed adjacent to hieroglyphic signs for mri, which was taken by many scholars as proof that he was the legendary Menes. At Naqada, however, some grave objects bore the single name Narmer, while others showed Narmer and Aha alongside one another. On an ivory tablet from Naqada and on jar seals found at other burial grounds, Aha's name alone was inscribed. Which king came first, Narmer or Aha? If Aha came first, should he then be identified with Manetho's Menes? This issue remained a thorny one among scholars for nearly a century and has only very recently been put to rest. Archaeologists digging at Abydos have found historical proof of the order of succession of the first two dynasties: an impression on a clay seal names the earliest kings as Narmer, Aha, Djer, Djet, Den, Enezib, Semerkhet, and Ka. Throughout ancient Egyptian history, the drawing up of royal genealogies was carried out with care. The idea was undoubtedly to establish a decisive beginning to the unified state by giving

Divergence of Opinion


Narmer ultimate credit for both his own achievements and those of his predecessors. The genealogies are also significant in their demonstration of pious regard for royal ancestors. More than a thousand years later, a scene in the Temple of Seti I at Abydos shows the king and his son (later Ramses II) presenting offerings to the names of the kings written in elliptical cartouches, connecting the Nineteenth Dynasty royal house in continuous sequence to the first dynastic kings. Divergence of Opinion Despite proof of the sequence of rule, there still remains considerable divergence of opinion on the Early Dynastic Period. New discoveries and observations on the Egyptian civilization are compelling scholars to modify their views time and again. Many theories earlier regarded as plausible are proving to be unfounded. New hypotheses on the vital early years of the civilization are being made. Even the historical importance of the Palette of Narmer has been challenged. Many scholars, unconvinced of its message of unification, point out that archaeological techniques a century ago were poor by today's standards and that the palette was not accurately recorded in situ. In other words, they claim it is not clear whether Narmer himself commemorated his own conquest or whether the Palette was sculpted hundreds, maybe thousands, of years after his death in commemoration of an historical event. Another question that remains unresolved is whether Narmer was indeed the first king to unify the Two Lands or whether there was an earlier union between Upper and Lower Egypt. When little was known about the kings of the first two dynasties - and even less about the Predynastic Period - what appeared as a sudden cultural advance at the beginning of the First Dynasty was described by some scholars as the incursion of a new 'master race'



into Egypt. Supporters of this hypothesis pointed to carvings such as the ceremonial slate palettes found at Abydos, the 'painted tomb' at Nekhen, and the appearance of people traditionally known as the 'Followers of Horus' as evidence for their claim. More recent scholars have refuted the master-race theory. They argue that dynastic Egypt was as clearly a continuation of the Predynastic culture as the late Gerzean period was the culmination of long cultural and social development. The question of a Predynastic union nevertheless remains a hotly debated issue, especially in view of an astounding discovery made recently at the already heavily excavated site of Abydos. In a Predynastic cemetery evidence has been found of the possibility that there may have been as many as fifteen kings before Narmer. Another important issue that has recently gained currency relates to the origin of the concept of the 'Two Lands.' This term, which was used by the ancient Egyptians to describe their own country, is central to an understanding of its political and social development. Before the end of the nineteenth century, our knowledge of Egypt's history did not extend beyond the reign of Senefru, the first king of the Fourth Dynasty (2575 BC), and Predynastic Egypt was only a shadowy outline. It was widely believed at this time that small, isolated, Predynastic communities in both Upper and Lower Egypt gradually coalesced until two independent kingdoms emerged and that the formation of these federations was a step toward unification.

Elevation of the paneled brickwork known as 'palace facade'

Early Records


Today scholars are revising their views. Nekhen, the capital of an Upper Egyptian kingdom, and Pe, the capital of a Lower Egyptian kingdom, are being presented as artificially created parallel institutions. That is to say, although evidence has come to light of major settlements in both Upper and Lower Egypt, it is suggested that the concept of Two Lands, rather than a single unified state, was promoted to bind together a country that did not lend itself - physically or culturally - to unification. Valley and Delta were linked only in their dependence on the Nile. This fact appears to have been recognized by the early kings, who gave each part of the country a distinctive name, thereafter treating them as though they had once been independent kingdoms. The concept was inviolable. Throughout ancient history, there was never a king of Egypt, nor a cabinet, nor a treasury. There was a 'King of Upper and Lower Egypt,' a 'double cabinet,' a 'double treasury,' and even a 'double granary.' Each name was a powerful expression of national unity. The 'Great House' itself, the palace which formed the seat of the government, had a double entrance representing the two ancient kingdoms, and its hieroglyph was frequently followed by the determinative signs of two houses. The one point on which there is general consensus among scholars is that unification was not the result of a single, victorious battle but an evolutionary process that continued for two, or even three, generations before a king could assume the titles 'King of Upper and Lower Egypt,' and 'Lord of the Two Lands.'

Early Records The invention of writing in Predynastic times was followed by its rapid development in the Early Dynastic Period. Certain rules were early established, especially in regard to royal epithets writ-



ten in sequence. The names of Aha, Djer, and Djet were inscribed within a serekh surmounted by a hawk. This 'Horus name' of the king became the first and most enduring of the royal titulary. It was a graphic representation denoting the king in his dwelling place, undoubtedly modeled on the design used in First Dynasty palace architecture, which is first in evidence on the partially-intact paneled wall of Aha at Nekhen. On an ivory label belonging to Aha, his Horus name is shown along with a nebty or 'two ladies' title. This second important part of the titulary combined the cobra associated with Lower Egypt and the vulture of Upper Egypt over two basket-like signs denoting 'lord' (that is, lord over each part of the country). Other titles were to follow. Also dating to the reign of Aha is a record on an ivory label of an historical event. In the middle register a ceremony is being performed. Although the crucial center portion of the label is missing, two figures in the lower register can be seen performing some function over an unidentified object. The ceremony is described as "receiving the south and the north."

Royal Cenotaphs and Tombs Until the 19305 the main sources of our knowledge of the earliest

'Horus name' of King Aha

Royal Cenotaphs and Tombs


kings and the suggestion that they may have been regarded as divine in the First and Second dynasties came from Abydos. In a cemetery known as Umm al-Qaab the kings were buried in tombs far grander than anything previously constructed. The superstructures have entirely disappeared but excavations of the tombs themselves show that they were large, shallow, rectangular trenches hewn out of the bedrock and divided by a series of crosswalls. These were brick-lined, frequently with a second lining of wood. The king was buried in the central chamber. The other chambers were store-rooms designed to contain provisions for his afterlife. Pottery jars held oil, beer, grain, and other foodstuffs. Grave goods included a variety of exquisitely fashioned furniture, toiletries, and an unprecedented wealth of jewelry in gold and choice foreign materials like lapis lazuli and obsidian. In neighboring subsidiary pit graves, servants and retainers of the royal household or artisans of various industries were buried. Studies on the remains of these tombs show that their owners were all under the age of twenty-five, suggesting that they were put to death in order to serve the king in the afterlife. This practice did not survive past the early dynasties. Like the Predynastic tombs at Nekhen, the royal structures at Abydos stood apart - much larger and more impressive than the surrounding tombs. They were expressions of power and prosperity; both burial places and symbols of leadership. Recent re-

Ivory label from Naqada showing events in Aha's reign



excavation of the monuments has revealed that they were built in several stages rather than to a single plan. It would appear that in these early years when unity was being consolidated the royal tombs were progressively enlarged as the most evident signs of the kingship ideal. Between 1936 and 1956 the theories built up around the early kings collapsed when another royal burial ground was discovered at Saqqara in honor of the same kings who were buried at Abydos. Scholars were nonplused. Where were the kings actually buried? The tombs at Saqqara were generally larger than those at Abydos and, moreover, were situated west (the direction associated with the dead) of the capital at Memphis, which argued in favor of the Saqqara tombs being the actual burial places and the structures at Abydos being cenotaphs associated with the birthplace of the kings. Many scholars nevertheless clung to the idea that Abydos was the burial ground and suggested that the massive tombs at Saqqara belonged to officials who controlled the strategic fortification on the border between the Two Lands. The controversy has not yet been conclusively resolved. Recent excavations at Abydos, however, have revealed evidence that is re-tilting the scales in its favor: the tomb of Aha has proved to be a grand construction, and successive burials show increasing elaboration in design and inscribed objects. These link the royal tombs to the

Decoration on macehead of Narmer

Unity Consolidated


nearby Predynastic burial ground, which perhaps belonged to the immediate forerunners of the kings of the First Dynasty. The earliest indication that the king was regarded as a god comes from Abydos. Huge walled constructions - long referred to as 'forts'-were built on the plain below the royal burial ground. These have now been identified as mortuary temples built to serve the royal cult and provide the massive storage space necessary for its perpetuation. The enclosure of Khasekhemwy, built at the end of the Second Dynasty, is the largest.

Unity Consolidated Picking up the threads of the historical narrative, a ceremonial macehead (Ashmolean Museum, Oxford) dating to Narmer's reign is another record of conquest. This time it shows the king enthroned and wearing the Red Crown of Lower Egypt only. The protective wings of a vulture hover above the covered niche in which he sits. In front of him are standard-bearers, an unidentified seated figure on a palanquin, foreign bearded captives, a precise record in numerals and signs of 120,000 men, 400,000 oxen, and 1,422,000 goats. Perhaps the seated figure is Neith-hotep, a queen in whose impressive monuments at Helwan and Naqada the names of both Narmer and Aha appear. She may have been

White crown, red crown, and double crown



the consort of Narmer and the mother of Aha, which would provide the earliest evidence of the rule for royal succession passing to the son of the 'Great Royal Wife' (see chapter vi). The most prosperous reign of the First Dynasty was that of Den, the fifth king. It heralded a time of innovation, not only in tomb construction but also in the enhancement of the kingship ideal. He was the first king to wear the Double Crown which combined the White Crown of Upper Egypt and the Red Crown of Lower Egypt. Den also adopted a new royal title known as the nesw-bit title, which, like the earlier nebty title, combined symbols of Upper and Lower Egypt, this time in the form of the sedge and the bee. None of these early titles was ever abandoned, not even in later periods when others were added to the royal titulary. The prominence given to their enumeration became a part of a growing tradition. Perhaps the most important record of Den's reign is an ebony label that records the earliest Sed festival. It shows the king in the upper right-hand register in two adjacent representations. In the first, he is enthroned on a stepped platform facing a court. He wears the White Crown and the close-fitting robe and emblems that came to be associated with the legendary ancestor Osiris. In the second he is shown wearing the Double Crown and a tunic, striding between crescent-shaped objects or boundary markers. A great deal has been written about the Heb Sed but no explana-

Nesw-bit title

Loyalty Won


tion of its purpose or origin has been fully accepted; nor has its strange name - the 'tail-festival' - been explained. Most early representations of the king depict him wearing the tail of an animal attached to the back of his simple garment. Perhaps this tail became a part of the recognized royal insignia during the earliest Heb Sed and gave the festival its name. The various robes and emblems of office, including the artificial beard, combined to project an image of power and authority. According to available evidence, Den initiated the first national festival in which the king appeared in a dramatized setting to perform rituals before people from all parts the country. This suggests that it was in his reign that unity was consolidated. Loyalty Won The method by which loyalty and allegiance were won is crucial to an understanding of ancient Egyptian society. Even today, lacking some sort of local administrative device no individual can hold down large masses of people or elicit the loyalty of communities of which they are not a part. There must be some sort of willing response. Most scholars attribute the king's success in ancient Egypt to his claim to divinity. But it is unrealistic to suppose that any individual could engender the trust and confidence of communities from Elephantine to the Mediterranean by simple

Ebony label of Den showing (top right) the Heb Sed ritual performed between markers



pronouncement. Especially when, as we have seen, settled communities had developed a strong sense of identity, internal solidarity, even a cooperative spirit in the pursuit of common goals like agricultural control and the storage of grain. There was such a high degree of self-sufficiency in some areas that leaders could maintain a growing body of workers to build their tombs and artisans to produce grave goods. Even if allegiance were won by armed conflict, this would not explain how loyalty was maintained. Generations of scholars have addressed the meaning and function of divine kingship - its ideological base, complex organization, and ceremonial ritual - in life and in death. But it is a question of challenge and defeat to admit that we still do not have a very clear picture of what actually happened that could so bolster one man's authority that the Great House could turn to matters of culture: art, architecture, literature, and religion throughout Upper and Lower Egypt. And more, that the pattern set would continue for thousands of years. Fortunately, three literary sources, considered as a unit, suggest the method by which control was established and maintained. The first is a secular text, the Palermo Stone, the second is a collection of mortuary literature known as the Pyramid Texts, and the third is the so-called Memphite Drama, written in mythological language. Despite their widely divergent subjects, they all support the hypothesis that unity between Upper and Lower Egypt was consolidated through the artificial creation of local cults which neutralized the differences between widely-dispersed communities and provided an ideological base for ceremonial ritual and leadership.

Cult Centers
The Palermo Stone, named after the city where the largest of several surviving fragments is housed, provides clear evidence of the

Cult Centers


creation of cults. Twenty-one of the thirty-odd entries relate to the fashioning of images. A large part of the original slab is missing but the stone lists the names of the earliest kings from the reign of Djer, the third king of the First Dynasty, and records such noteworthy information as the biennial cattle count and the height of the inundation. It reveals that the kings traveled widely and with some regularity in the Early Dynastic Period to lay the foundations of buildings that were called 'throne-of-the-gods'; among the activities regarded as sufficiently important to serve as reference points were ones expressed in such specific terms as 'the birth of Anubis,' 'the birth of Min,' and other gods. Some kings explicitly note that the deities came into being simultaneously with their visit, as in the case of the gods Sheshat and Mefdet in the reign of Den. Sheshat, whose symbol was a star on a pole surmounted by inverted horns, was associated with an activity known as 'stretching the cord' - probably measuring out areas for sacred buildings. Numerous other 'births' are mentioned on the Palermo Stone, including those of Wadjet the cobra-goddess of the Delta settlement of Pe, Nekhbet the vulture-goddess of Nekheb in Upper Egypt, Neith of Sais, Ptah of Memphis, Harishaf the ram, Hathor the cow, Matit the lioness of Thinis (north of Abydos), Min of Coptos (opposite ancient Naqada), and Thoth. The Pyramid Texts - inscribed on walls of pyramids of the kings who ruled toward the end of the Old Kingdom - underscore the creation of cults in mortuary literature. Although this compilation of prayers and rituals concerns the welfare of the king in the afterlife, some of the dialogues, especially those addressed to the gods in heaven, have strong political overtones that reflect an earthly experience. I am Horns... It is I who restored you... who should be restored. It is I who set you in order... you settlements of mine.


/ built you... you city of mine... (And) you shall do for me every good which I (desire). You shall act on my behalf wherever I go. The Memphite Drama is also explicit on the creation of cults. This remarkable text, which most scholars ascribe to the Sixth Dynasty, has survived in a late copy. It is in the form of a drama, with the dialogues recited in mythological language. Ptah of Memphis is presented as a creator-god who declares that he ... gave birth to the gods, He made the towns, He established the provinces, He placed the gods in their shrines, He settled their offerings, He established their shrines, He made their bodies according to their wishes, Thus the gods entered into their bodies Of every wood, every stone, every clay, Everything that grows upon him, In which they came to be. They were gathered to him, all the gods with their kas, Content, United with the Lord of the Two Lands.

Wooden label from Abydos suggesting form of cult center of Neith

Cult Centers


The text suggests that shrines were built and cult statues made out of various local materials. Most were probably small at first, each given a definitive form based on either the Predynastic emblem of the settlement or a plant, bird, or animal indigenous to the area. By an act of magic (an important facet of early society), the statues were then animated; each was provided with a ka (immortal spirit) which set it apart from the work of human hands. This may have been achieved in a ritual similar to that performed on a corpse to imbue it with eternal life by touching the mouth with an adze. Labels of wood and ivory attached to objects and stores placed in tombs further support the artificial creation of cults. All the labels bear texts relative to the commodity to which they were attached, but frequently some of the larger labels record events in the king's reign. Although these texts cannot be deciphered with certainty, it is possible to glean their meaning. Two identical labels found at Abydos, which date to the reign of Aha, give an idea of the appearance of an early cult center. In the top register, the Horus name of the king can be seen to the right. There is a boat and a structure of reeds, branches, and beams topped with an ensign of two crossed arrows on an animal skin identified with Neith. In the second register, a figure holds a vessel marked "electrum" (a gold and silver alloy), which is offered "four times," thus confirming the Memphite Drama text concerning offerings. To the

First Dynasty representations of shrines show them as lattice-work structures



right is a bull in an enclosure and a structure similar to that of Neith, this time surmounted by a bird. The shrines depicted on these labels, and similar light structures for Anubis and Harishaf depicted on other labels dating to the reign of Den, suggest that they were made of uncovered lattice-work, perhaps on a carrying frame and thus portable. Recent excavations of early temple foundation deposits at Abydos have revealed examples of the so-called 'tent-shrines' made of faience and limestone. These, like the shrines depicted on the labels, provide a prototype for later architecture. The Abydos labels show that statues were placed in front of shrines in a courtyard surrounded by a fence. The shrine of Neith has two flagstaffs to the left of the courtyard which are similar to those depicted on pottery of the Gerzean period: stylized streamers that later symbolized neter, the Egyptian word for 'god' or 'divine.' Shrines were referred to as 'god's houses' and the earliest word for a settlement was 'seat' or 'abode' (of a god). A wooden label dating to the reign of Djer, Aha's successor, reveals an activity that may also be related to the cults. In the top register two large figures are shown being carried toward the serekh of the king. They may be statues being presented for a royal blessing. The fact that they are larger than life is not surprising: parts of three colossal Predynastic limestone statues of the ithyphallic god Min of Coptos (Ashmolean Museum, Oxford) show that statues more than double life-size were fashioned.

Artificial Development of Cult Centers Archaeological evidence supports the idea of uniform cult center development. Recent excavation of some of the earliest settlement sites has revealed certain elements which point to artificial development. All sacred enclosures, for example, were kept apart from

Artificial Development of Cult Centers


the eyes of the public, surrounded by a wall. At Nekhen, although later temple-remains largely obliterated the earliest structure, the 'main deposit' (where the macehead of Scorpion and the Palette of Narmer were found) lay beneath a mud-brick shrine built on the site, which was constructed on a mound of desert sand protected by a rounded wall of sandstone blocks. At Elephantine, among the granite boulders at the southern tip of the island, a tiny shrine - which was much later developed into the now-restored temple of Satis - featured a surrounding wall. And at Abydos an early dynastic structure composed of a complex of small brick buildings dedicated to Khenti-Amentiu (the jackal) stood in the corner of a heavily walled enclosure. Another feature common to the earliest known cult centers are hundreds of votive offerings. Belief in a power within a statue at the theoretical level gives rise to a need to secure prosperity, fertility, and the like by propitiating or pleasing it at the practical level. Some of the baked clay objects placed at cult centers were so crude as to suggest they were made by local artisans for simple people who wished to make offerings. At Elephantine, the clay offerings included animals, human figurines (both male and female, adult and child), and model pots. At Abydos there was a similar scattering of votive objects. Although no early architecture has been encountered at Coptos, the range of votive objects

Wooden label of Djer from Saqqara showing ritual before the king



found beneath the site - including tiny statues of scorpions, frogs, birds, crocodiles, and animals - again suggests an early shrine like those of Nekhen, Elephantine, and Abydos. Uniformity can be found too in the images of the gods, in the sense that, along with their hieroglyphic determinatives, they remained archetypes to which future generations had recourse, and no one was more important than the others. The gods remained vague characters, later described in such terms as 'he of Ombos' (Set), 'he of Edfu' (Horus), 'she of Sais' (Neith), and 'he of Qift' (Coptos). Prayers and hymns addressed to them differed only in epithets and attributes. It was clearly the place, not the god, that mattered. It also seems certain that some cult centers owed their rapid and continued growth to geopolitical factors. The ancient Egyptians developed twin cities: one on the site of an ancient settlement and the other more strategically situated to exploit mineral deposits and trade routes. The cult center of the vulture-goddess Nekhbet, for example, was not at the ancient settlement site of Nekhen on the west bank of the Nile but on the east bank at Nekheb (modern al-Kab), which gave access to the mineral-rich Eastern Desert with its deposits of copper, agate, and jasper. Pe (Buto) and Dep (modern Fara'un) were twin cities on a major tributary in the Delta; the latter was a convenient departure point for trade. Naqada (Ombos) was the site of a Predynastic community in the Western Desert, while Coptos (Qift), almost opposite, lay at the mouth of Wadi Hammamat, the shortest route to the Red Sea and the gold-bearing veins of the Eastern Desert. There was no twin city on Egypt's southern border, where Khnum of Elephantine guarded the Cataract Region, Egypt's main source of granite, with access to the oases of the Western Desert as well as to copper, feldspar, and gold further south in the Eastern Desert. The material achievements of the unified state depended on the resources of the land, and there is every indication that its administration was early mapped out.

The pyramids of Giza from the village of Nazlet al-Simman. (Michael Jones)

The Great Pyramid with the boat museum in the foreground. (Michael Stock)

The modern village of Mit Rahina and its distinctive palm groves rise above the ruins of ancient Memphis. (Robert Scott)

Khufu's funerary boat is made of cedar. A second boat awaits excavation. (Robert Scott)

Young farmhands milking a cow. Tomb of Ti. (Robert Scott)

(Elderly men transport papyrus plants. Tomb of Nefer. (Robert Scott)

A farmhand carries a basket of ducklings. Tomb of Kagemni. (Robert Scott)

A farmhand attends his flocks. Tomb of Nefer. (Robert Scott)

Dancers going through their paces with clappers beating time. Tomb of Mehu. (Robert Scott)

Fishermen in papyrus skiffs. Tomb of Kagemni. (Robert Scott)

Offering-bearers in a newly-discovered Sixth Dynasty tomb at Saqqara. (Robert Scott)

Local Prestige


Keepers of the Cult Statue Once a shrine was built and the statue imbued with 'power,' individuals were appointed to take care of it. They were not priests as we use the term today, their role at first being no more than acting as 'servants of god' to take care of the shrine and the cult statue. At the popular level, the ancient Egyptians probably came to believe that the statue in the shrine held the key to a good crop, health, and fertility. They made pious gestures not much different from today's offerings and prayers to the shrines of Christian saints and Muslim sheikhs. In fact, it is not unreasonable to suggest that today's mulids (religious holidays), when people set up camp around sacred shrines and leave simple offerings - sometimes no more than a piece of cloth or bunch of flowers - as gestures of their devotion, represent a time-honored practice. At the official level, royal endowments were substantial when the king attended the 'birth' days of the gods. They came in the form of bread and cakes, oxen and other cattle, geese and other birds, jars of beer and wine. The annual celebrations involved the slaughter of sacrificial animals in the name of the king. These offerings, having once lain on the altar of the shrine and fulfilled their religious function, were used for the maintenance of the servants of god. The balance was distributed to the people, the laity.

Local Prestige The creation of cult centers not only neutralized the differences between the various settlements but created a strong bond between people of all walks of society. Under the guidance of the Great House their religious observance soon became a convention. Political vision is evident from the beginning of the historical period; there remained managerial skills to see it brought to


The Beginnings

fruition, and here the local elite came into play. It was they who mobilized people to construct shrines to house sacred statues and paid them in kind with lavish gifts like electrum, perhaps linen, and land, in order to provide them with the means to cater for the splendor that must inevitably have surrounded royal visits. The prestige of the elite, thus enhanced, created an atmosphere in which it was no difficult task to draw on them to carry out the census of land and livestock on behalf of the king, or later to recruit labor for mining and trading expeditions. They had power, however, only by virtue of the king; the land earmarked for their use belonged not to them as individuals but to the local cult. The significance of the title Followers of Horus (literally 'the gods who follow Horus,' that is, the king) has long been debated among scholars. In the late nineteenth century, some Egyptologists concluded that the dynastic kings were the successors of an early Predynastic union of the Two Lands, which was triggered from Lower Egypt. Others observed the great strides made in art and architecture at the start of the First Dynasty and presented the master-race theory. Now, however, it seems the Followers of Horus may simply have been the king's appointed officials who acted on his behalf. The earliest mention of them by name can be traced back to the reign of Den. One, Hemaka, bore the title 'sealbearer of the King of Lower Egypt,' suggesting that he had authority to act on his king's behalf.

Threat of the Use of Force
The concept that the gods and the king had mutual claims on one another was strong, but there was always the risk of resistance. When this happened, coercion was used. The king threatened to deny the performance of the cult. The Pyramid Texts (many of which date to Predynastic times, especially those that include

Threat of the Use of Force


phrases referring to a time when the dead were laid to rest in simple sand pits and when desert animals were prone to desecrate bodies) include utterances in which the king addresses the gods in heaven as he may have addressed the cult centers: "that he may destroy (their) power and confer (their) powers." "Worship him," he declared. "Whom he wishes to live will live; whom he wishes to die will die." And he goes on: "This king comes indeed; he takes away powers and bestows power; there are none who shall escape." The effect of such a threat on a community of landed leaders and servants of god can well be imagined. It meant more than loss of identity: it amounted to a threat of annihilation. In such event, the sacred name and divine attributes of the local god could be absorbed by a neighboring god (as not infrequently happenedWast, for example, the goddess of Waset south of Thebes, was absorbed by Montu the hawk-god of neighboring Armant), but the leader would lose his prestige and the servants of god their positions. Little wonder that the Pyramid Texts abound with proclamations of loyalty: "O King, may you stand among the gods and among the spirits, for it is fear of you which is on their hearts. O King, succeed to your throne at the head of the living, for it is dread of you which is in their hearts." To fear god and honor the king were one and the same act. According to Herodotus, a tradition survived that Khufu closed temples in the land, and the Westcar Papyrus (a later document that related events in the Old Kingdom) refers to his closing down at least one temple. There is therefore every indication that the divine king shared a common feature with the leaders of most early societies: he was a warlord. Among his remembered designations from early times were "Horus fights," "Horus seizes," and "Horus decapitates." In the lower register of the ceremonial Palette of Narmer the king is shown as a bull trampling a fallen



enemy; on an ivory label found at Abydos dating to the reign of Den he is shown in a pose that was to become classic: smiting an enemy with a raised club. Although the accompanying caption reads "first time of smiting the east" and is generally taken to refer to evidence of foreign conquest, the fact that the enemy is shown in pharaonic dress suggests it might refer to border conflict. In any event, it became the symbolic portrayal of punishment inflicted on any who committed an offense to a king or cult. "My name is there in the horizon, the holy images fear me," utters the king in the Pyramid Texts, and confirmation that this was no idle warning survives in oral traditions: as we have noted, the story of the closing down of at least one temple survived to the time of Herodotus in the fifth century BC. The Palermo Stone records the destruction of an unidentified locality called Werka in the reign of Den; and several places like Shemra and Ha, mentioned in the early documents, never reappear. Gradually there emerged some twenty cult centers in Upper Egypt and perhaps sixteen in Lower Egypt, according to Old Kingdom documents. There was no local administration apart from the activities that centered around the shrines, which remained small until a later period. In fact, temples constructed around or above the original sanctuaries were never completed. They were always under construction - continually tended, enlarged, and altered - to enhance the aura of successive kings. Nor were any sacred objects ever destroyed. If no longer needed, they were buried in the consecrated ground. Provincial Celebrations People all over the land were drawn together into public life through frequent royal journeys to participate in provincial celebrations. The anniversary of the 'birth' day of a local god was one in which public life reached a peak of intensity. Surrounded by an

Provincial Celebrations


enclosure wall, the sacred shrine of the deity was accessible only to the servants of god for most of the year. On this one occasion, however, the shrine was brought out of seclusion. A sense of awe undoubtedly surrounded it when it appeared to the populace, carried in procession. In ancient times, as today, neighboring cult centers probably took part in each other's festivals, not as active participants, but as willing sightseers. When the villagers saw the royal barges carrying his majesty or his representative to officiate at the celebration, it was a confirmation of order, a repeat performance. In texts of all periods, the verb 'to appear' was used equally to refer to sunrise, creation, kingly rule, and the appearance of gods on their 'birth' days. There was no aspect of life in ancient Egypt that was not tied, in one way or another, to belief in appearance (birth) and reappearance (rebirth). Such ceremonial invention created homogeneous belief in the power of the king over the 'powers' (the gods) and over the Nile flood. Through the creation of cults the Great House managed to establish a measure of cohesion such that a national festival, the Heb Sed, could be held at which all provincial leaders were called upon - indeed they felt it an honor - to attend. Moreover, when large numbers of men were required by the Great House for expeditions or building construction they could be recruited in the name of the king from the cult centers he had built. In return for missions successfully accomplished the king

Ivory label showing Den striking a dweller of the Eastern Desert



gave thanks and made sacrificial offerings at the shrine of the local god. He further expressed his gratitude to the leaders by rewarding them with land grants to help maintain the cults on which their success, and hence their prestige, depended. It was a symbiotic relationship between the king and local god, state and temple

Creating a Tradition The effort that went into promoting nationalism by creating a common culture was largely successful. After one short setback toward the end of the First Dynasty, described by Manetho as a time of "very great calamities," there was a change of dynasty, and stability was reestablished. This lasted until the reign of Per-ibsen, the sixth king of the Second Dynasty, when he broke with tradition by abandoning the royal Horus title and adopting a Set title. In other words, he exceptionally surmounted his serekh with the Set animal instead of the hawk of Horus. The reason for such a revolutionary act is not clear; evidence is lacking because the tombs of the first three kings of the Second Dynasty have never been found. Perhaps the leaders of the two Upper Egyptian cult centers, Nekhen where Horus was chief deity and Naqada associated with Set, were engaged in a power conflict. Be that as it may, the adoption of a Horus-and-Set title by Per-Ibsen's successor,

Inscription on stone vase of Khasekhem(wy)

Creating a Tradition


Khasekhem - whose name is also written in dual form as Khasekhemwy - indicates that differences were reconciled. Thereafter, Khasekhemwy adopted another epithet, "the Two Lands are at peace with him" (found on a clay seal), which suggests that his adoption of the dual form of his name may have been a mark of his satisfactory resolution of the conflict between Upper and Lower Egypt. Two of his statues, a stela, and three stone vessels indicate he resorted to warfare. On the base of one seated statue, figures are shown in the contortions of death, and the text records "northern enemies." Two identically inscribed vases also refer to northern enemies, this time "within the center of Nekheb." The goddess Nekhbet in vulture form is shown standing on a circle in which the word 'rebel' is inscribed. In her claw she holds the emblem of unity before the serekh of the king, shown as Horus wearing the White Crown. After the reign of Khasekhemwy the Horus title was readopted, and it remained standard throughout ancient history. The whole episode involving Horus and Set was important enough to become a part of the country's mythological tradition; the two gods appear as antagonists reconciled. Epic battles are the stuff of oral tradition, and the confrontations between Horus and Set were eagerly transmitted because of their dramatic content. They fought terrible battles in countless myths, from which Horus always emerged victorious. Variations came with the passage

Horus name of Sekhemib, Set name of Peribsen, and Horus and Set name of Khasekhemwy



of time, until the popular myth came to penetrate many spheres unrelated to society. The sun hidden by clouds symbolized the loss of the eye of Horus at the hands of his enemy, Set; the moon was described as one of the two eyes of the heavenly hawk, injured at its waning and gradually restored; in due time every offering at a shrine or to a deity was a sacrifice known as the eye of Horus. But most important was the association of the eye with kingship: the uraeus on the royal crown was specifically referred to as the eye of Re, signifying the power of the king. It became a symbol of luck associated with ideas that lay at the very heart of the Egyptian culture.

Unified Artistic Expression Having consolidated unity, Khasekhemwy organized a Sed festival like that recorded in the reign of Den. To celebrate the occasion he commissioned a royal statue, which is important because it represents the massive and distinctive character of the monolithic statuary being developed at that time in royal workshops. A style in art developed early and soon became another concrete expression of national unity. From the First Dynasty, when Memphis became capital and monumental tombs were built on the necropolis of Saqqara, there

Second Dynasty funerary stela from Saqqara

Unified Artistic Expression


had grown a demand for luxury goods. Stone and other raw materials for their production were easily transported by river, and work was provided for an ever increasing number of artists and artisans. Striving to please a rich and powerful elite who valued fine work, the artisans perfected their skills. A finely carved funerary stela from Saqqara shows the owner seated on a chair in front of a funerary meal of bread and beer, meat, poultry, and jars of wine. Scenes such as these became part of the artistic tradition. It seems likely that the canon of proportion and conventional ways in which the human body was represented were laid down at Memphis. Its 'chief craftsman' was attached to the shrine of the local god Ptah, who was early seen as the inspiration behind builder, carpenter, potter, and artist alike. Unfortunately, little sculpture has survived from the first two dynasties, but fragments of life-size or near life-size wooden statues that can be dated to Djer, Den, and Ka reveal that certain poses early became traditional. Two fragments of feet, ankles, and calves in the mortuary structures at Saqqara in particular show that statues were produced from an early stage in the posture with the left foot advanced - the conventional pose of most male statues. And two statues of Khasekhemwy found at Nekhen are the earliest ex-

Limestone statue of Khasekhemwy



amples of the king seated with one hand on his knee, the other crossed over the chest. He wears the White Crown and is robed in the cloak generally associated with the Sed festival.

Anthropomorphic Gods Stylized art can also be seen in the earliest anthropomorphic figures. These composite representations that combine the human body and an animal head first appeared on cylinder seals and objects of the Early Dynastic Period. From their uniformity, they would appear to have been an artistic device to identify the local god with an idealized figure of the king. Each is shown as an animal or bird head, in side view and often with some sort of headgear, mounted on a human figure in the one-foot-forward stance (for male figures) and carrying a staff. The bottom row of one ivory label found at Nekhen depicts anthropomorphic gods all carrying before them the ankh - the symbol of life. Such uniformity strongly suggests a single guideline.

Zoser's Step Pyramid The Third Dynasty (2686-2575 BC) marks the culmination of a

Anthropomorphic gods on Early Dynastic objects

Zoser's Step Pyramid


long period of vision and invention. Zoser's step pyramid at Saqqara, together with other buildings within the complex, summarizes the immense achievements of the first two dynasties. It is a remarkable monument, a stage set for the king to reenact in the afterlife his experience on earth. It represents the increasing prosperity and confidence of the nation, its political unity, and organization such that the Great House was able to quarry, transport, and construct such a monument. It is the earliest surviving structure to be built entirely of stone. Zoser's builder, Imhotep, had no stone architectural tradition from which to draw, so he turned to contemporary structures for inspiration. In this lies the importance of his building works at Saqqara. He faithfully imitated the brick, wood, and reed structures of the state capital that have all since perished. He transcribed matting, papyrus, and palm-stalk fences into heavy masonry and, notwithstanding the many innovations such as buttressed walls, he staunchly followed earlier traditions. He adopted many features of Khasekhemwy's enclosure at Abydos, including the positions of the entrances to the vast complex (544 by 277 meters) and a square mound of sand clad in brick that became the first stage of Zoser's pyramid. The enclosure wall, moreover, was built in the same recessed paneling as earlier royal monuments. The facades of the shrines in the Heb Sed court are reminiscent of their organic prototypes: some are constructed as bun-

•a iii mil
Engaged columns in Step Pyramid complex at Saqqara



dies of reeds or papyrus with heads fanning out to form capitals; others are carved to represent animal skins bound over the fanning heads of reed columns to prevent them from weakening in the wind. Whether tent-like structures with convex roofs, tall huts of matting with corners reinforced by bundles of reeds tied together to form a cornice, even pendant leaf capitals and reed fences - all were simulated in stone. In transforming buildings constructed of perishable building materials into a durable medium for the king's afterlife, Zoser's funerary complex mirrors the capital. It casts considerable light on the rituals involved in the Sed festival and the cult of royal ancestors. The main feature of the complex is the Step Pyramid itself, rising in six unequal tiers over a myriad of corridors and storage chambers below ground. It stands near the center of a huge, fif-

Entrance Colonnade

Heb Sed Court

Southern Building

Northern Building

Ground plan of Step Pyramid complex

Zoser's Step Pyramid


teen-thousand-square-meter court. It was the dramatic setting for the king, Lord of the Two Lands, to display his person before representatives from Upper and Lower Egypt. At one end of the complex, near the southern face of the pyramid, a large elevated platform may once have held a double dais like that depicted on the label of Den (chapter i) - where the king sat on a throne on a stepped platform facing the court. Nearer the center of the court, two B-shaped constructions, somewhat like joined horseshoes and known as half-moon markers, symbolized the boundary markers between which he strode in his Heb Sed ritual. Six carved limestone panels - actually false doorways - found in the corridors beneath the Step Pyramid itself and under the socalled 'south tomb' in the southwest corner of the Great Court, depict Zoser either standing or striding in different ritual clothing. Like Narmer (see chapter i) he wears the White Crown, the royal beard, a thigh-length garment with a strap over the left shoulder, and a bull's tail attached to the back of his tunic. In three of the panels he strides between crescent-shaped markers like those earlier depicted on Den's label. In front of him is a standard of the wolf-god Wepwawet - associated with Abydos, the birth place of the early kings - and above his head hovers the vulture, associated with Nekhen, a site also associated with early leadership. Recent studies have revealed that all the subterranean panels are aligned with the dummy gateway on the southern wall of the complex, which makes it appear that Zoser was not only striding between the symbolic boundaries in the Great Court but out of the complex completely, probably to 'circuit the walls' in one of the oldest ceremonies dating from the First Dynasty. To the east of the Great Court is a building popularly known as the T-temple, thought to represent the palace where the king took up residence. It served as a robing chamber where he could don the appropriate apparel for his dual role as King of Upper and


Lower Egypt and receive the emblems and scepters of power. The Pyramid Texts abound with such utterances as: "O King, fill your hand with the Ars-scepter that it may equip you as a god"; "O King, take your bright tunic, take your cloak upon you, be clad with the Eye of Horus"; and "O King, I bring you the Eye of Horus ... put his Eye on your brow in its name Great-of-Magic ... appear as King of Upper and Lower Egypt." The Heb Sed court, to the east of the Great Court, had shrines that may have accommodated cult statues brought by the different delegations on portable shrines. The festival was an opportunity for the delegations to travel to the capital and pledge their loyalty to the king. In return, they received gifts. The Pyramid Texts contain many references to "a boon which the king gives" and the few early texts that have survived show that this sometimes came in the form of precious minerals, linen, foodstuffs, and livestock. Alternatively, and in view of the kingship ideology, statues of the king may have been installed inside the doorways and niches of the shrines on both sides of the Heb Sed court. Other structures in the complex also reflect the dual nature of kingship: two subterranean tomb chambers (one regarded as the actual tomb, the other - the 'south tomb' - variously interpreted as a burial place for his canopic jars or for his ^-statue, or as representing his cenotaph in Upper Egypt, the birth-place of the kings); and parallel shrines known as the 'house of the North' and

One of the reliefs of Zoser striding between markers

Preparing for a National Festival


the 'house of the South,' situated to the north of the Heb Sed court (these may be symbolic reconstructions of the shrines of the royal ancestors in Upper and Lower Egypt, textually referred to as the 'souls of Nekhen' and the 'souls of Pe'). There is no doubt that Zoser revered his royal ancestors. In a cache in the subterranean corridors of his pyramid, stone vessels included the names of virtually all of them. They may have been collected during the last stages of construction of his tomb from destroyed funerary estates all over the country. The Sed festival provided an opportunity for the various cult centers to see how many of them were united in recognition of the king, not as a recently crowned monarch or celebrating his jubilee as in later tradition, but as a divine leader to whom they owed allegiance. Although interpretation of the hieroglyphs on Zoser's panels is not certain, some may read "creation" or "dedication." Participation at the Sed festival clearly marked the cult centers as the common property of the Great House.

Preparing for a National Festival Because of the paucity of written material one can only speculate on the activities that went into preparing for such a festival. Yet it is important to do so because the care and attention expended on festivals is vital to our understanding of political and social life in ancient Egypt. Perhaps by observing the present we can more clearly understand the past: national and religious festivals in Egypt today suggest that river craft were built or assembled at the various cult centers to carry the delegations to the capital. Decisions had to be made on the livestock and other gifts to be transported for presentation. Choosing the size of a delegation probably presented no great difficulty since the larger the entourage of a local dignitary, the more enhanced his image would be. He was



undoubtedly seen off by a large assembly of people and, because all cult centers were within easy reach of the river, the flotilla grew as it sailed toward the port of Memphis. Both northbound and southbound vessels converged at the apex of the Delta. At Memphis, there would have been a reception committee along with hordes of sightseers from outlying towns and villages. The dignitaries and the bearers of the sacred statues would have been accompanied from the port to the Great House, where they entered through the largest bastion of the enclosure wall to the east, as suggested by Zoser's funerary complex. The various dummy doors in the surrounding wall - three each to the north and south, four to the west, and five to the east - perhaps served specific functions but their significance has been lost. The sacred statues would have been placed in their respective shrines and preparations made for the upcoming celebration. When the delegations returned home, their leaders personally enriched and the image of their cults enhanced, the local population could look on them with increased awe. Participation in the festival cemented the link between the king and the leaders of the cult centers. Through them, the Great House was able to monopolize trade and issue royal decrees to announce when men were required to serve a national cause: if an army was needed to settle disputes with Bedouins hindering the free movement of trade; when a large mining expedition was planned for supplies of copper or gold; or when a corvee had to be organized to build mighty monuments in the name of the king - the loyalty of these local dignitaries was assured. They were ready to serve their king and country. Each of Zoser's successors was able to marshal a vast portion of the country's workforce to construct the most magnificent monuments the world has ever known.


The Great Pyramid Age On the limestone plateau to the north of the ancient capital of Memphis are the three pyramids of Giza. They were built in the Fourth Dynasty (2575-2465 BC) and are among of the most famous monuments in the world. Now mostly denuded of their outer facing of fine-quality limestone, they once rose in pure geometric simplicity, nowhere betraying an entrance. The earliest and largest of the group belongs to Khufu. Known as the Great Pyramid, it is the only survivor of the Seven Wonders of the ancient world. The second pyramid, constructed by his successor Khafre, is only slightly smaller, while the third, that of Menkaure, is less than half the height of the other two. The enormous strides made in the mastery of stone can be charted in stages from the time of Zoser, when stone for his Step Pyramid complex (i) was cut into easily handled blocks, to Khufu's Great Pyramid, when the mass and durability of the new medium was handled for its distinctive qualities. Evidence from the very ruined layer pyramid of Khaba at Zawiyet al-Aryan (2), a stepped structure south of Giza with subterranean chambers, shows that the pattern of tomb construction established in the dynasty of Zoser was at first continued. A change came with the pyramid of Meidum (3), which has been attributed to the Third Dynasty king Huni. Although this was also initially conceived as a step pyramid, it was later enlarged by Senefru, who also filled in the steps and turned it into the first 'true pyramid.' Senefru's own



\ Pyramid of Abu Rawash

Mokattam Hills Pyramids of Giza

Pyramid of Zawiyet al-Aryan

Pyramid of AbuGhurab Pyramids of Abu Sir

^ .. Necropolis and Pyramids ofSaqqara

MEMPHIS / ,'-, Mit Rahina

Pyramids of Dahshur


The Giza necropolis

Meidum »

The Great Pyramid Age


ind west









mortuary structures, the 'bent' (4) and 'northern' (5) pyramids at Dahshur, reveal more confidence in the handling of large blocks of limestone, as well as the ability to assemble an ever-increasing labor force. The stones in the lower courses of the bent pyramid incline inward and downward for stability while the higher courses were laid horizontally, a technique that was continued in the northern pyramid. These innovations show the striving for an architectural ideal, which was finally achieved with the perfect symmetry of the pyramid of Khufu on the Giza plateau (6). The pyramids of Dahshur and Giza conform to what became the established plan of pyramid complexes in the Fourth Dynasty: the flat-faced pyramid itself (the tomb), its mortuary temple, and a causeway linking it to a valley temple. Each complex included queens' pyramids and at least one subsidiary 'satellite' pyramid with its own entrance and tomb chamber but with neither sarcophagus nor mortuary objects. Pyramid-building represented the largest ongoing industry. The enormous investments in time, labor, artisanal skills, and materials in each huge structure was a ringing insistence that service to the Great House was the most important task of the state. The assembly of labor and organization of vast numbers of workers represent a triumph of management. Wheeled conveyances were unknown four thousand years ago. Consequently, it is difficult to visualize the task of moving huge blocks of stone from quarry to site and then lifting them to a height of over 146 meters above the plateau. Not surprisingly, the Great Pyramid has been subjected to more in-depth studies over a longer period of time and has been longer theorized and debated upon as to its function and purpose than any other single monument in Egypt. Even today, following ten recent years of the most meticulous archaeological survey using precise tools and techniques in what is known as the Giza Plateau Mapping Project, many questions remain unanswered.

The Economic Structure


The Economic Structure Senefru was the first king of the dynasty that was the 'age of the great pyramid builders.' He was a vigorous leader and his reign saw a rising tide of prosperity. His bent and northern pyramids at Dahshur (the pyramid of Meidum has also been attributed to him) illustrate rapid progress in constructional techniques. Meanwhile reliefs and statuary production also reached new peaks in his reign. This was made possible through centralized control over sources of raw material and labor through creation of the post of vizier, which became the inherited right of princes borne by the first queen, who bore the title Great Royal Wife. The vizier bore two other important titles: 'high priest of Heliopolis' (with two assistants known as 'treasurers of god') and 'master of works.' Senefru's elder son Kanufer was the first recorded holder of the title. Another son, Netjereperef, was appointed 'overseer of three leaders in Upper Egypt.' As top-ranking officials, viziers were responsible for the registration of people and property for tax purposes. They supervised and recorded various transactions, especially those involving land, and as 'sealbearers of the king' had the authority to certify them. Apart from being "the eyes and the ears of his sovereign ... as a skipper, ever attentive (to his wants) both night and day," it was the viziers' task to supervise the biennial census of raw materials, produce, and cattle for the royal treasury. As revenue helped consolidate the position of the king, the regular collection of taxes was methodical. Fortunately the Nile Valley yielded a rich harvest, so taxes, based on the extent of the arable land, could be high. The country's resources - both its mineral and agricultural wealth - flowed smoothly into the capital. Departments known as the 'White House' and the 'Red House' functioned as the state archives. Here scribes equipped with palette and reeds, ink cakes and papyrus rolls, kept complete records of the produce in store-



houses. Cursive writing known as hieratic - which first made its appearance on early dynastic clay tablets - now became extensively used, especially for everyday government business. It consisted of simplified forms of hieroglyphs, some so abbreviated that all likeness to the original was lost. Standard-weight rings of gold and copper were used in some palace transactions (coinage was not introduced to Egypt until much later by the Greeks), but taxes were mostly calculated in produce: cattle, poultry, grain, wine, and industrial products.

Recruitment of Labor It is not known whether the people resisted when large bodies of men were mobilized to help build the funerary complexes, mine the raw material for their construction, and fight punitive wars to safeguard sources of supply. It was a national duty. Leaders of cult centers were committed to - and successful in - raising the required numbers of people. Perhaps they considered participation in a glorious deed to be reward enough. Ostraca bearing the names of dead officials at quarry sites - along with their birth place and parentage - suggest that those who died on duty were transported home for burial. We also know from autobiographical texts that every effort was made to recover the bodies of expedition leaders who died abroad and ensure that they were suitably buried. In return for satisfactory service and loyalty an official was permitted to build a private tomb on the necropolis, in the shadow of the royal pyramid. Mortuary priests were similarly encouraged to cooperate with the Great House: O all you gods who shall cause this pyramid and this construction of the king to be fair and endure, you

Funerary Estates


shall be effective, you shall be strong, you shall have souls, you shall have power, you shall be given bread and beer, oxen and fowl, clothing and alabaster. It was a reciprocal service relationship at two levels, secular and religious, which obviously worked; the size and splendor of the pyramids stand as evidence.

Funerary Estates Each of the funerary complexes was economically independent. Every worker was paid in rations from the enormous surplus produced by the agricultural land, endowed by the Great House as funerary estates, which were exempt from taxes. Some estates were situated in the valleys near the funerary complexes, others in distant provinces, some even in unoccupied land in the Delta where peasant farmers or captives from military skirmishes in Nubia and Libya were settled. The reign of Senefru saw the first substantial increase in the number of such estates. Some thirtyfive were mentioned individually on the Palermo Stone in his reign, as well as 122 cattle farms. In Senefru's valley temple the collection of taxes became a subject of sacred art: each of his funerary estates, individually named, is shown as a female offeringbearer. A text in the tomb of prince Nekure, son of Khafre, shows that his funerary monument was endowed with the revenue of no fewer than twelve towns. The income from these estates was theoretically reserved for the perpetual maintenance of the royal monuments. In practice, however, part of the income went toward the payment of officials, artisans, and retainers at construction sites and to pursue the policy of the Great House in supporting local leaders and maintaining local shrines. There is evidence that Khufu rebuilt, restored, or "embellished with silver and



bronze statues" several provincial shrines, including those at Dendera and Bubastis. This was necessary because each successive reign produced a fresh demand for raw materials for further funerary and national monuments and for the ever-increasing upper class aspiring to lavish funerary equipment. Pyramid construction brought together people from all walks of society. Royal children, the sons of concubines, and promising young men of noble families were educated together and formed early friendships. When they grew up they acquired positions of trust. The most important officials were thus bound together by education, friendship, and blood. Senefru's reign came to evoke the image of orderly rule and he himself was the archetypal 'good king.' On his finely carved funerary stela found at Dahshur he is shown enthroned. He wears the Double Crown and holds the flail. Above his head is a cartouche - a loop made by a double thickness of rope with the ends tied together - in which his name is inscribed. To his right are his conventional nesw-bit and nebty titles and, in the bottom right-hand corner, the earliest evidence of a new element in the royal titulary, the 'golden Horus' name, which depicts the hawk above a sign for gold.

The Giza Group The size of the population in the Old Kingdom is not known. It was probably from one to one and a half million, largely farmers. Until recently, the idea that they were mobilized for three months every year to serve the state - when agricultural work was at a standstill due to the annual flood - was generally accepted. Now studies on the organization of work suggest year-round labor. Inscriptions left by quarry workers show that stone was usually extracted in April and November, not during the inundation in August and September as was previously supposed. Moreover, to

How the Pyramids were Built


build the Great Pyramid an extremely large work force was required (a great mass of masonry estimated at sixteen million tons went into its construction) and full-time as well as part-time workers were needed. There were teams to prepare the site for construction, quarry-workers to extract local stone for the core of the pyramid, others to quarry the fine quality limestone for its facing and for statues, stelae, and sarcophagi. This limestone came from Tura, on the east bank of the Nile. On the western plateau, ramps had to be built to haul the blocks to the building site, where teams of men, straining at the ropes strung over their shoulders, raised them to the required height. Giza was a vast construction site where workers from all over the country toiled to build a grand necropolis, planned with precision by 'master builders/ Officials as well as workers - as we now know from the discovery of a workers' settlement and neighboring burial ground - had to be housed, fed, and sometimes buried on the Giza plateau.

How the Pyramids were Built Having chosen the Giza plateau as an ideal location for Khufu's mortuary structure, the pyramid base had first to be accurately leveled. The idea has long been held that this was achieved using a grid of water-filled channels that covered the area of the base and that by

Senefru's limestone stela at Dahshur



subsequently marking the waterline and then draining off the water, trenches of uniform depth could be excavated. This theory was put to rest when it was observed that the pyramids of both Khufu and Khafre were built up on huge cores of bedrock; in the case of Khafre, the bedrock rose to a height of over ten meters. Thus in order to level the site, from the outside, the ancient Egyptians appear to have surveyed the area using stakes mortared into the bedrock. Sockets in pairs have been found around the pyramids, which attest to this method for achieving perimeter level accuracy. The core of Khufu's pyramid was built of local limestone, which was mined from the main quarry on the plateau, identified as the depression directly south of the pyramid. The facing stone from Tura had to be transported, probably in crude blocks, across the river. During the annual inundation, the high level of the Nile would have enabled ships to approach the Giza plateau. The idea of a harbor at Giza, long suspected, has now been confirmed with the discovery of what appears to be the ruins of a stone pier. Perhaps it was fed by a canal during low Nile so that shallow-bottomed vessels with their heavy loads could moor there all year round. It is likely that there was also a network of smaller canals dug off the main waterway to transport food for the workers. One can imagine both harbor and plateau teeming with workers and their ever-present overseers. The quarry must have resounded with copper chisels and stone hammers chipping on stone. Teams of twenty to fifty men hauled the stone up broad ramps of piled rubble by ropes slung over their shoulders. Perhaps they chanted and grunted in rhythm much as work-gangs do today at construction sites. Once the stone was raised to the plateau then gangs of workers, this time in groups of ten under the watchful eyes of overseers, were organized to raise the mighty blocks to their required position above the bedrock. An estimated 2,300,000 in number, these blocks weighed an average of two and a half tons each, with some up to sixteen tons.

Workers' Accommodation


Generations of scholars have debated the baffling question of how the ancient Egyptians raised such huge blocks to their elevated positions. One suggestion was that a vast sloping ramp was built straight up to the pyramid, but this would not be practicable as it would have had to be about one kilometer in length. Another suggestion was that a brick ramp was constructed, but no evidence of this in the form of debris has yet been discovered. A recent tentative theory, based on a large quantity of limestone chips and mortar (a mixture of gypsum and local clay called tafla) that now fills the main quarries on the plateau, is that a ramp wrapped around the pyramid and grew with it. Workers could conceivably drag the stones up each course at a time, lay them, raise the ramp, and then proceed with the next course. If the surface of the ramp were plastered with clay then water would have acted as a lubricant and facilitated movement of the blocks.

Workers' Accommodation A massive wall with a gateway at the foot of the Giza plateau, which probably bordered the harbor, gave access to a workers' community, which is among the most remarkable discoveries of recent years. One camp accommodated the general workers, another was a service area with two bakeries to provide bread to feed the vast numbers of people, and a third camp housed specialized workers and overseers. In the bakeries, large containers that could hold some fifteen kilograms of dough were found. They were apparently covered with coals in large vats to bake the bread. A large number of bread molds found are identical to those depicted in the Fifth Dynasty nobles' tombs at Saqqara. The grains dug up suggest that the bread was made of barley, which was also the basis for beer, another part of the people's staple diet. An estimated thirty thousand people lived near the construe-




tion site. Among them were artisans who decorated the tombs of the relatives of the king and his loyal and devoted officials. In the ruins of this vast settlement area are thousands of fragments of pottery, including cooking pots, beer jars, trays for sifting grain and flour, along with some fine burnished red ware. The discovery of typical Upper Egyptian pottery suggests that some of the food may have been sent to Giza from other areas of the country, which would support the idea that a national effort was required to raise the pyramids. The community reveals a high degree of organization. Records were kept of every activity, including the name, hours, and rations of each worker. Perhaps the most remarkable picture of the pyramid builders comes from the cemetery associated with these communities. Some six hundred tombs have been excavated west of the service area. As would be expected, they have no uniform architectural features. Some were copied from the tombs of the upper classes, with vaulted ceilings, some were tiny replicas of pyramids within an enclosure wall, and one even had a pyramidal superstructure. This last discovery raises the issue of whether the pyramidal shape was exclusively reserved for royal tombs, as previously supposed, or whether the shape evolved from mounds placed over Predynastic graves. In other words, was the pyramid a development of folk architecture, or did the masses seek to emulate the wealthy? The workers' cemetery had narrow streets, in imitation of the cemetery to the north of Khufu's pyramid for his loyal officials, and the funerary texts are most explicit. A certain Petti wrote, Listen all of you (who approach this tomb), the priest of Hathor will strike twice any who enters this tomb or does harm to it. The gods will confront him. The crocodile., hippo, and lion will eat him. The gods will not allow anything to happen to me or to my tomb because I am [one] honored by his lord [the king].

The Cult of the King


The tomb of Petti's wife, constructed immediately to the north of her husband's, bore a similar text but with the additional threat of "snakes and scorpions," who would strike any desecrater. An interesting text in the tomb of an official called Wag is addressed to "the tomb-makers, draftsmen, craftsmen, and sculptors who made my tomb. I gave them bread and beer. I hope they were satisfied." Quite clearly, the workers were not slaves whipped by merciless overseers as described by classical writers like Herodotus, but willing contributors to the national cause. Many, unfortunately, bore the scars of their labor, and burials show missing limbs, crushed fingers, and compressed vertebrae from bearing heavy loads. The Cult of the King To ensure that a hierarchy of officials could take care of all matters related to the royal mortuary cult, there were scribes to keep accounts and overseers to take charge of cattle, stores, and other property. Certain titles reflected the king's trust and favor, others specified responsibilities. They ranged from overseers and priests, to cooks, farmhands, and skilled and semi-skilled workers. Khufu's mortuary temple, now destroyed, lay adjacent to the east side of the pyramid. Its ground plan shows that it was separated from the pyramid itself by a paved alleyway and comprised an entrance hall, open court, five niches for statues, and an altar in front of an inner sanctuary. The purpose of the five statues is not clear, but since the number did not vary in subsequent mortuary temples they obviously served a specific function. Traces of a drain in the court suggests that an altar for sacrificial slaughter or libations may once have stood there. A large proportion of the utterances in the Pyramid Texts contain words spoken by mortuary priests making offerings of everything considered necessary for the king's afterlife:



You have your water, you have your food, you have your efflux which issued from Osiris; the tomb is open for you, the doors of the coffin are drawn back for you, the doors of the sky are thrown open for you; raise yourself O king. Five boat pits have been found around the Great Pyramid. The two to the south contain full-size wooden boats - one now in a museum above its pit, the other unexcavated. Boats had an important symbolic and ritual role in ancient Egypt but the significance of their burial on the plateau remains uncertain. The fact that there are five precludes the possibility that they were ritual boats for carrying the soul of the king to the four cardinal points or that they were solar boats for his journey across the heavens and through the underworld. They may originally have been used during his lifetime for ceremonial journeys and buried on the plateau as part his funerary equipment. There may even be some connection that so far eludes us between the five niches for statues in his mortuary temple and the five boat pits around the pyramid. Little remains of the valley temple of Khufu, which lies beneath

Diorite statue of Khafre. Egyptian Museum, Cairo.

Cult Statues


the modern village of Nazlat al-Simman. The valley temple of Khafre, however, is a remarkable monument that serves as a good example of Fourth Dynasty architecture. No other building of this dynasty has survived in such a state of preservation. It is built on an almost square ground plan with thick walls of local limestone faced, both inside and out, with Aswan granite. Two short entrance passages lead to a long antechamber where the famous diorite statue of Khafre, one of the great treasures of the Egyptian Museum in Cairo, was found. The original location of this magnificent work was probably the T-shaped hall leading westward out of the antechamber. Architectural elements along the walls and fragments of diorite, schist, and alabaster found nearby reveal that a total of twenty-three statues once stood there.

Cult Statues It would appear that the creation of royal statues was a large industry in the Old Kingdom and it seems likely that at Giza standards were strictly maintained. In large galleries to the north of Khufu's pyramid (reexcavated in 1993) fragments of figurines have been found that suggest a royal workshop. One eroded fragment shows the king with one leg forward, another is a head and crown carved against a pillar with the projection of the colonnade above, and a third is a bust cut off at the arms in the manner of 'trial pieces' of later times. They might well be samples given to different sculptors to reproduce on a large scale and en masse. Royal statues undoubtedly played an important part in maintaining national unity. Although none of Khufu have survived, recent studies suggest that they may have been usurped much later by Ramses II and are now at Memphis. The magnificent diorite statue of Khafre shows the king with a hawk spreading its wings around the royal headcloth. This expresses much the same idea as the



hawk depicted on top of the royal serekh bearing the king's name: kingship. Menkaure, builder of the third pyramid at Giza, was frequently sculpted in pair-statues (dyads) or as a member of a group of three (triads). These triads were composed of the king, the goddess Hathor, and different local deities. Fragments of statues in stone and copper found at many sites suggest that there may originally have been as many triads as there were cult centers. Statues at cult centers were housed in a special building known as a '&<z-house.' Surviving examples at Tell Basta and Bubastis show that they were more grand than the shrines to local gods in having limestone elements decorated with reliefs. Their function probably arose from the fact that the king could not discharge his ritual duties simultaneously all over the land, nor could he make offerings of thanks to the local gods for every mission successfully accomplished. In placing a statue of himself at cult centers, he could make symbolic offerings of thanks to the local god whenever necessary. The fact that in later periods - when the simple shrines had grown into large temples - the king would be depicted in relief making these offerings and being blessed in return suggests this original function.

The Sphinx Near Khafre's valley temple is the Great Sphinx - one of the world's best known and most frequently photographed monuments. It has commanded a great deal of attention in recent years because of the rate of its deterioration. This vast statue with the body of a lion and a human head was carved directly from an outcropping of rock left unexcavated on the Giza plateau. It is isolated in a horseshoe-shaped trench, the stone from which was used to build the Sphinx Temple to the east. The lowest part of the statue lies in the hard rock strata of the plateau, while most of the

The Sphinx


body was carved through softer layers, with the neck in the softest strata of all. Fortunately, the strata from which the head was carved were harder. The builders of the Sphinx, aware of the friable nature of the body, gave it its shape by the addition of stone blocks. The Sphinx remains an enigma to this day. The Old Kingdom sources are silent about it, and the earliest references to it are from the Eighteenth Dynasty, about a thousand years after it was built, when it was described as Re-Harakhte, "Horus of the Horizon." Recent excavations and study in the Giza Plateau Mapping Project (started in 1984) show that the Sphinx Temple was designed as an integral part of Khafre's pyramid complex: both the Sphinx Temple and Khafre's Valley Temple lie on the same terrace, their back and front walls being nearly aligned, and the walls of both were built of large limestone blocks faced with red granite. Certain architectural features of the Sphinx Temple, however, show a similarity in style and technique to the monuments of Khufu. This interesting observation has led to speculation that the Sphinx may have been the main feature of a temple originally designed not by Khafre but by his father.

The Great Sphinx, Giza. (Amr Gamal)



The possibility of solar alignments between the Sphinx and the pyramids has now been raised. Some scholars believe that the Sphinx was a representation of the sun-god and that the court of the Sphinx Temple was the earliest sun temple, its twenty-four square granite pillars each symbolizing one of the twenty-four hours of the day and night and the two sanctuaries (one to the east, one to the west) aligned on the central axis of the temple representing the sun's daily circuit. Other scholars see the Sphinx as representing the king in the form of Horus, facing the rising sun and giving offerings. Either way, scholars are generally predisposed to the idea that the Sphinx Temple complex was designed to fulfill the function of a trend that developed during the reigns of Khufu and Khafre toward the solar-oriented religion. Evidence appears from the beginning of the Fourth Dynasty, when the mortuary temple of the pyramid of Meidum was built against the east face of the pyramid, toward the rising sun.

The Egyptian Religion That the centralized power in the Fourth Dynasty should be matched by an equally unified religion is a concept that has long been held by scholars. But generation upon generation of the most rigorous philologists have not managed to discern an integrated system. What is clear, however, is that what appears to be a complex mesh of diverse cult activities in ancient Egypt emerges from a single mold of thought, which was based on age-old and deep-rooted traditions. Every religion is composed of two parts: ritual practices and intellectual conceptions. Ritual practices in ancient Egypt were, in the first place, closely related to burial practices and belief in the afterlife, which were sincere and deep-rooted; secondly, there was faith in the efficacy of prayers and offerings. As for the intellectual

The Egyptian Religion


view of nature and the origins of the universe, this came later. There are several 'creation stories' in ancient Egypt, the earliest (and the one on which subsequent theories were largely based) is known as the Heliopolis Doctrine. It describes the period from the creation of the physical world up to the triumph of Horus as king. It involved the Nine Gods of the Ennead and was based on the claim that Heliopolis was the site of the creation. In the beginning a watery waste, Nun, filled the void that was the universe. Within these waters reposed the sun-god Atum (whose name may have meant either 'not being' or 'being complete'). When the waters subsided a primordial hill appeared - much as the Nile flood waters withdrew each year leaving mounds of alluvial soil out of which plants grew. On this hill Atum manifested himself as the physical sun, Re. Atum-Re's emergence dispersed darkness and created light. Alone, he masturbated to produce two children: Shu the god of air and Tefnut the goddess of moisture, whose union then created Geb the earth-god, and Nut the sky-goddess. Geb and Nut were at first joined together but Shu came between them, placing air between earth and sky. In order to create a link between the solar sphere and human society mythology described Geb and Nut as the father and mother of Osiris (the legendary ancestor associated with the fertile land), his wife Isis, and their counterparts Set (associated with the arid desert) and his wife Nephthys. The myth of Osiris underwent many changes with the passage of time. In one form it relates how he ruled the land justly with his wife Isis at his side. He taught the people the art of making agricultural implements and controlling the waters of the Nile flood. Isis, equally loved by the people, taught them how to grind grain and weave linen and, in her devotion to her husband, she intimated the benefits of domestic life. Osiris's brother Set was jealous of his popularity and, secretly aspiring to his position of favor, tricked him into entering a coffin designed to fit him alone. He



then sealed it and cast it on the waters of the Nile, where it was borne northward by the flow. Numerous myths describe Isis searching for Osiris, how she collected the parts of his body (earlier discovered by Set and hacked into fourteen pieces and scattered throughout the land), and reassembled them with the necessary prayers and incantations. Then she descended on Osiris in the form of a bird and received his seed. In due time she gave birth to Horus and raised him to manhood. The grown Horus then set out to avenge his father's death, and the myths relating to his battles with Set are many. In one terrible confrontation Horus's eye was ripped out by his antagonist. But he recovered, was victorious, and became the prototype of kingly rule. The purpose of the Heliopolis Doctrine (fragments of which appear in the Pyramid Texts) was to explain the creation of the physical world in terms that could be understood and at the same time to present the divine character of the king as of solar descent. Kings of the early dynastic period were already regarded as heirs to their legendary ancestor Osiris: early reliefs and statuary reveal that they wore the cloak and held the emblems associated with him at their Sed festival, and battles between Horus and Set were already part of the mythological tradition. In uniting the two spheres - the solar, which featured Atum-Re as creator, and nature, which featured Osiris as the wise and benevolent ancestor official sanction was given to widespread beliefs. The Heliopolis

Shu (air)

Tefmat (moisture) solar cult

Geb (earth)

Nut (sky)





nature cult

The Egyptian Religion


Doctrine brought the marvel of the creation closer to the people by linking it with the existing royal line. Horus was not only the king, son of Osiris, he was also 'the god' or the 'good god,' physically and spiritually linked with the natural forces common to the Two Lands: the sun and the river (with which Osiris was associated). In the Pyramid Texts the king is so closely associated with the life-giving river that he could declare: "I have inundated the land. I have satisfied the Two Lands, I have united the Two Lands." He also lays claim to being "the son of Atum" and "the well-beloved son of Re, begotten for Re, conceived for Re, born of Re." This intellectual view of the universe was early portrayed in art. In the ruins of a small shrine at Heliopolis, built by Imhotep for his king Zoser, is a representation of the earth-god, Geb, wearing a wig, beard, and necklace. He is shown seated, and behind him is a row of gods, mostly destroyed, which must have represented the other gods of the Ennead. Evidence of an association between the king and solar power can be traced to the Fourth Dynasty, when four kings compounded their names with the sun-god: Djedef-Re, Khaf-Re, Bauf-Re, and Menkau-Re. A common epithet that appears in the names of the kings from the Fourth Dynasty is "Horus the great god, lord of heaven." Homage to the solar orb was repeated with compelling authority in the Pyramid Texts: Hail to you, Re, you who traverse the sky and cross Nut, having traversed the winding waterway. Hail to you, O Re, in your life and in your beauty... bring me the milk of I sis, the flood ofNepthys, the overspill of the lake, the surge of the sea, life, prosperity, health, happiness, bread, clothing, and food, that I may live thereby. Hail to you, Unique One, who daily endures. Hail to you... who takes his place at the zenith



of the sky, in the place where you are content. You traverse the sky in your striding, you include Lower and Upper Egypt within your journeyings.

Significance of the Pyramidal Shape The high priest of Heliopolis bore titles both religious and practical: he was 'chief of observers' as well as 'leader of expeditions,' and 'master of works.' As leader of expeditions he acquired raw material from all over the country and as master of works he raised monuments in the name of his king, monuments that were much more than tombs. The shape of the pyramid has long been a subject of discussion. That it had some sort of religious significance is certain, and the idea that the king was buried under the symbol of the ben-ben., which came to represent the mound of creation, has long held sway. The original stone symbol, if there ever was one, is now lost but it seems probable, based on its artistic depiction as a determinative in the Pyramid Texts, that it was an upright stone with a rounded top. Its development into a pure geometrical form came in stages over successive reigns. Whether the remarkable spectacle of the sun's rays shining down to earth on a cloudy day inspired the shape is by no means certain, even though the Pyramid Texts describe the king as ascending to heaven on the rays of the sun: "May the sky make the sunlight strong for you, may you rise up to the sky as the Eye of Re"; and "I have laid down for myself this sunshine of yours as a stairway under my feet on which I will ascend to that mother of mine, the living uraeus which should be upon me, O Re." Conservation of the monuments at Giza between 1987 and 1989 involved clearance of the so-called 'air shafts' that extend at an angle from the tomb chamber to the outer face of the pyramid. To the great surprise of the excavators, they

The King is Dead, Long Live the King


were found to be blocked at both ends. The purpose of the shafts was therefore neither air circulation, as once supposed, nor, as had also been suggested, for the observation of the constellations. The shafts would appear to have served a religious function, perhaps to enable the soul of the deceased to ascend directly to the place of the ancestors in the northern sky: "I ascend to the sky among the 'imperishable stars/ my sister is Sothis, my guide is the morning star, and they grasp my hand at the field of offerings." The pyramidal shape may, in fact, have been many things at once: a material representation of the sun's rays which provided the practical means by which the king could ascend to heaven; a development of the mound of creation; a symbol of kingship and the religion of the first great nation-state; and, finally, a royal tomb.

The King is Dead, Long Live the King Upon the death of a king, accession took place as quickly as possible, probably at dawn with the symbolic spreading of light. During the time the king was prepared for burial (normally seventy days, though 272 days is given as the interval between death and burial in the case of Queen Meresankh III, a grandchild of Khufu) his successor underwent a number of elaborate rituals. These included purification by two priests representing Horus and Set; the adoption of sacred regalia such as the scepter, crook, and flail; and taking official possession of the crowns of Upper and Lower Egypt, to which praises were henceforth addressed. Then it seems certain that the future king, duly empowered, journeyed to the provinces to visit the provincial deities, pay respects to the local elite, and perhaps share in a dawn prayer demonstrating that there was no break in continuity. Perhaps it was there he announced that preparations should be made for the coming coronation.



Meanwhile, a period of mourning was observed for the deceased king. All work came to a standstill as news spread to different parts of the country. Services were conducted. Mortuary rituals in the Pyramid Texts include such passages as: "The sky weeps for you, quakes at you, the mourning-woman called to you." After the king's remains had undergone mummification, an elaborate funerary ritual including bathing and the regeneration of the spirit was carried out in the valley temple. Then the funerary cortege made its way to the mortuary temple, where priests recited formulae guaranteeing the supply of provisions and offered prayers for the rebirth of the immortal spirit. The utterances in the Pyramid Texts, being haphazard compilations of mortuary ritual obtained from various sources and probably of different time periods, often present contradictory views about the deceased's method of conveyance to the afterlife: "A stairway to the sky is set up for me that I may ascend on it to the sky"; "You shall ascend to the sky as a great bird"; "The king is bound for the sky on the wind, on the wind"; "The king ascends on the thighs of Isis, the king climbs upon the thighs of Nepthys"; "The reedfloats of the sky are set in place for this king, that he may be on high from the east to the west in company with his brethren the gods." Or, he would become a spirit and take his place among the ancestors, the imperishable stars: "O king, you are this great star, the companion of Orion, who traverses the sky with Orion, who navigates the underworld with Osiris. You ascend from the east of the sky, being renewed at your due season and rejuvenated in your due time." Mortuary and provincial priests alike went through their ritual paces in mourning the king: "O king... I have mourned you, I will not forget you, I will not be inert until the voice comes forth from you every day, in the monthly festival, in the half-monthly festival, at the setting down of the brazier at the festival of Thoth ... as your yearly sustenance which you fashioned for your

The King is Dead, Long Live the King


monthly festivals." On the royal necropolis where the funeral was carried out, at the cult centers preparing to attend the coronation, along the banks of the Nile where the people could watch the royal boat, and among workers and bargemen whose tasks were temporarily suspended, there was a ringing insistence on the pinnacle of power, the royal cult. One of the requirements of succession was to conduct the funeral of the previous ruler. The deceased king was addressed by his son: "Hail to you, my father, on this your day when you stand before Re when he ascends from the East and when you are clad with your dignity which is among the spirits"; "Raise yourself, my father ... traverse the sky, make your abode in the Field of Offerings ... raise yourself, go in your spirit-state"; "O Atum, raise this king up to you, enclose him within your embrace, for he is your son of your body for ever." As part of the coronation ritual, the living Horus undoubtedly paid honor to the dual shrines of Upper and Lower Egypt in order to mark a new beginning, a renewal of the union between the Two Lands. He took his official dress, which included the emblems of power on his chest, the ceremonial beard, and the bull's tail attached to his waist. Perhaps he made a circuit of the walls of the ancient city in a carrying chair borne by pole-bearers. The anniversary of his 'appearing' (that is, coronation) became an annual event. The passing of each king meant no more than the official transference of power to his son and heir. Horus followed Osiris and the cycle was repeated as tirelessly as the cycles of nature. Alive and dead, the king was the focal point of national unity. Glorification of the dead king and the living king helped solidify that power. The former became "a great power, who has power over the powers. The king is a sacred image, the most sacred of the sacred images of the Great One."; "Behold, the king is at the head of the gods, and he is provided as a god.... The gods do obeisance when



meeting the king, just as the gods do obeisance when meeting the rising of Re when he ascends from the horizon." The living king was honored daily at dawn: "O Re, if you dawn in the sky, you dawn for the king, lord of all things"; "Make salutation, you gods, to the king (when he) shines anew in the East. ... Rejoice at the king, for he has taken possession of the horizon."

The Kingship Ideal For the majority of the population, the creation of a political system based on the ideological framework of kingship changed their way of life little. The idea that the land belonged to the king was perhaps not seriously challenged. The Great House was the state and the king was the giver of bounty. Support of the dogma was sincere and unchanging because the king was seen by the laity as a descendent of a farmer like themselves, Osiris, and, at the intellectual level, he had benevolent qualities and pacific attributes. These were hu, sia, and maat - generally described as 'authority,' 'perception/ and 'justice.' Maat was a common epithet of the kings of the Fourth Dynasty. It was an abstract concept that developed into the spirit of national guidance. It referred to the harmonious state of the universe which was seen to be in order - the sun reborn daily in the eastern sky and the land unfailingly reborn after the death of the crop each year - as well as to good rule and social justice. As the organizer and judge of the community, the king was neb maat, lord - or owner - of maat. Abstract ideas were represented as gods: in the Pyramid texts maat was described as a power, the goddess of truth. The established order became part of the ritual and inviolable. The Two Lands were destined throughout the country's long history to erupt into political disorder and the spiritual vigor of the nation would decline under foreign occupation, but the people found proof in nature that a

The Kingship Ideal


powerful force was not indifferent to temporal affairs, and the one who controlled the natural forces was the king. Even when national harmony was temporarily disrupted at the death of a king, maat was inevitably reinstated at the coronation of his successor. There was total confidence in the order of things as they were. The cult centers were drawn into the state religion in their daily prayers: "Make salutation, you gods, to the king (when he) shines anew in the East. ... Rejoice at the king, for he has taken possession of the horizon." Neith of Sais was described in the mortuary texts as the "daughter of Re"; Hathor the cow-goddess of Dendera was linked with Nut the sky-goddess or with Isis the mother of Horus. The waxing and waning of Thoth, the moon-god, was also described: the moon was one of the two heavenly eyes of Horus that suffered an injury from Set only to be restored every month. In every temple in the land, hymns and prayers to the sungod could be conducted in harmony with nature through the medium of the local gods: May you wake in peace,, O purified, in peace, May you wake in peace, O Horns of the East, in peace, May you wake in peace, O soul of the East, in peace, May you sleep in the Night-bark, May you wake in the Day-bark, For you are He who oversees the gods, There is no god who oversees you. Scholars from all over the world have long pondered over the meaning of the words 'god' and 'gods' in ancient Egyptian texts, which, although written side by side, were never confused with one another. In the present context it can be seen that all the 'gods' were drawn into the central theology of the state through 'god,' the king, who was in direct line to Osiris the legendary ancestor of



solar origins. It seems certain that the Heliopolis Doctrine was a factor in national unity as strong as, if not stronger than, the creation of local cults, which neutralized the differences between settlements and gave them equal prestige; through it, all the 'gods' were drawn into the central theology just as, much later (in the Middle Kingdom), they would be solarized by compounding their names with the sun-god Re and adopting the solar disk on their heads. Having thus consolidated the cultural heritage by formulating a state religion, the Great House could now embark on an era of increased solar worship in the Fifth Dynasty.


Sun Temples and Solar Worship Menkaure's pyramid was incomplete when he died. The facing was unfinished and both the mortuary and valley temples were hastily assembled in mud-brick and wood. The pyramid is the smallest of the three principal pyramids at Giza, occupying a quarter of the area covered by the Great Pyramid and less than half its height. The smaller size of Menkaure's and subsequent pyramids has frequently been taken as an indication of a diminution of centralized power. Some scholars suggest that the state could no longer support large-scale enterprises; others believe that it simply became redundant for each king to endeavor to outdo his predecessor. In fact, although the Fifth Dynasty pyramids at Saqqara were small and built of inferior material, their mortuary temples were large and decorated with magnificent reliefs. Moreover, each king built a massive sun temple at Abu Sir north of Saqqara, which suggests that labor was not reduced so much as redirected. The male line of Senefru ended with Menkaure's death. His successor, Shepseskhaf, appears not to have been a son of the Great Royal Wife, and not only his lineage but his ideas were untraditional. In place of a pyramid, his tomb at Saqqara - known as mastabat fara'un ('Pharaoh's bench' in Arabic) - has the appearance of a large rectangular sarcophagus. The break in tradition was only temporary, because subsequent kings of the Fifth through to the end of the Sixth Dynasty built funerary complexes



with the same elements as those of the Fourth Dynasty, consisting of a pyramid, mortuary temple, causeway, and valley temple. The sun temple reflected the same architectural uniformity (main structure, causeway, valley temple), except that instead of the bulk of the pyramidal structure there was the elevation of the sacred ben-ben., which was perched on top of a huge, squat obelisk- standing on a base of hewn stone - near the center of a court that featured a vast offering table. Such purposeful design served a specific function. The sun temples were built not for mortuary rituals to a dead king (as in the pyramid complex), but as public buildings made for theater. Here, the processions and activities of the living king were displayed before the people, and he provided bounty. The sun temples could be built and decorated on an impressive scale because the labor trained under the Fourth Dynasty kings was released from large-scale pyramid construction. The resources that previously went into funerary monuments, and the building of private tombs as gifts to the kings' relatives and favored officials, were channeled into the construction of sun temples. Artistic standards were maintained in the Fifth Dynasty. A number of fragmentary royal heads show that work of outstanding quality was produced. An innovation was statuary on a colossal scale. The first free-standing, larger-than-life sculpture of dynastic times is the head of Userkhaf - first king of the Fifth Dy-

Son of Re' included in royal titulary

Sun Temples and Solar Worship


nasty - found in his mortuary temple at Saqqara. Like the lifesize statues of Khafre, it gave a powerful impression of the majesty of kingship. Surviving texts reveal that the Great House continued to protect the authority of the king, whose power, at first, remained unchallenged. The kings continued to compound their names with that of the sun-god Re: Sahu-re, Neferirka-re, Shepseska-re, Neferef-re, Nyuser-re, and Djedka-re; they also adopted a new epithet - 'Son of Re' - which became a regular element of the royal titulary. Only two of the massive monuments these kings built in honor of their father the sun-god have so far been located with certainty. Four others, referred to in texts, await discovery. The sun temples bore such names as Pleasure of Re, Horizon of Re, and Field of Re and comprised huge open courts surrounded by high walls. Although they were dedicated to the sun-god, there are no surviving shrines to accommodate a cult image. Worship was in the open, beneath the sky. The entrance to the open court may have been so oriented that on the spring or autumn equinox the rays of the rising sun would shine through the gateway to strike the sacred symbol. It is likely that the sun temple of Re-Harakhte (Horus of the Horizon) at Heliopolis, frequently referred to in texts but totally destroyed, was built at this time of intense solar worship. The sun temples were adorned with reliefs along the corridors that opened from the entrance hall and ran along the sides of the court, and in small chambers. The quality of limestone was such that both raised and sunken reliefs could be executed with great precision. The former, carved to a depth of no more than a few millimeters, were exquisite carvings that were sensitive to the play of light. The deeper-carved sunken reliefs were for the diffused light of inner chambers and corridors. The reliefs largely concerned rites performed by the king and officials at the Sed festival, the flora and fauna through the three seasons of the agricultural



year, and the ceremonial sacrifice of foreign captives. In a small shrine in the sun temple of Nyuserre there are also representations of temple foundation ceremonies: the king and the goddess Sheshat (probably represented by the queen) are each depicted holding a measuring cord near the ground to mark the dimensions of the temple. A sand bed was subsequently laid, on which stone blocks were placed to form a firm foundation. At each corner of the temple, deposits consisting of models of tools, implements, and offerings, as well as scarabs or plaques bearing the name of the royal founder were placed. The scenes of the Sed festival include the opening ceremonies at which representatives from Upper and Lower Egypt are assembled to witness the king's claim to the land by striding between markers. In the closing ceremony he is borne on a box-like litter flanked by the Chief of Pe and the Chief of Nekhen - the royal ancestors of Lower and Upper Egypt, respectively. The procession then moves toward the shrines of Horus and Set - representing two of the earliest cult centers - and, at each destination, a priest gives bows and arrows to the royal priest, who hands them to the king, who shoots an arrow to each of the cardinal points. The king is then enthroned four times, each time facing one of the points of the compass.

Abu Sir Archives Bureaucratic records written on papyri, now known as the Abu Sir archives, have been found in the mortuary temple of Neferirkare. In a mud-brick storeroom, around two thousand pieces of papyrus were found - some complete rolls, others mere fragments. Taken together with similar finds at neighboring temples, they provide a wealth of information on ancient bureaucracy: records, registers, lists, instructions, and letters. They include

Abu Sir Archives


royal edicts, state archives, schedules for religious sacrifices, accounts, and deliveries between the sun temples, the Great House, and the funerary complexes. Prior to this discovery, an understanding of the administration of the Old Kingdom was primarily gained through analyzing titles and speculating on their significance. Now for the first time scholars have access to actual records. The archives (not yet fully deciphered) give us the first real insight into elaborate officialdom; the circle of activities that surrounded the king and the strict observance of ritual spring to life. There was a remarkable system of registration and supervision of assets. Daily accounts were kept of commodities - mostly foodstuffs - received from funerary estates, each mentioned by name. The Egyptian system of counting was decimal; units were indicated by strokes; tens, hundreds, and thousands each had their particular signs. Ten thousand was represented by a finger; 100,000 by a tadpole, and 1,000,000 by the kneeling figure of the god Heh with upraised arms. Tables were drawn up in red and black ink for each day of the thirty-day month. Both the funerary and the sun temple complexes were state property and carefully guarded. Cylinder seals bearing incised hieroglyphs were rolled across the clay that sealed documents, wooden chests, doorways of storehouses, and even sacks and jars. Regular inspection of all seals was carried out and columns were left in the administrative records for observations of theft or any other disorder. The lists of donations to the sun temples were extremely large. On the occasion of Nyuserre's Sed festival in the thirtieth year of his reign, the list of items included 100,600 meals of bread, beer, and cakes. Thirty thousand meals were recorded for another festival. Sun temple staff, like those of the mortuary temples, were parttime workers, working in rotation. Ten-day work periods seem to have been interspersed with leave, presumably in order for them to return to normal village life when seasonal obligations so de-



manded. Huge numbers of people received partial support from the state. Payment was in kind, mostly in the form of rations of staple food and clothing. Nor were offerings wasted: after the mortuary priests had taken their share, the balance was undoubtedly distributed among the workers and their families. Distribution of meat by the king was part of the tradition. Recent studies on the sun temples have revealed that there were huge slaughterhouses where offerings were made by the king to the sun-god. Records show that for the duration of one celebration alone, six animals were slaughtered each day for an unspecified number of days. On another occasion, thirteen oxen were sacrificed on ten consecutive days in one temple alone. The purpose of the huge altar in the sun temple of Abu Ghurab was not, until now, fully understood. New evidence suggests that it was a huge slaughterhouse, and the alabaster altar with the four hetep signs was the place where the bulls were laid before being sacrificed. The role of the butcher in such temple rituals was an important one. The legs of a sacrificial bull would first be tied together and the animal tethered to a limestone block in the paving stones. The throat would be cut, the spurting blood caught in a vessel of alabaster, and finally the foreleg would be severed with a large flint knife and carried to the main altar. After the appropriate offering had been made, the king, the font of all honors, could immediately demonstrate his largesse and distribute the meat. The giving of food on festive occasions has remained a tradition among Egypt's wealthy until today.

All the King's Men Some viziers and important officials in the Fifth Dynasty bore names compounded with Ptah, the god of Memphis who was represented from the First Dynasty as a smooth-headed standing fig-

All the King's Men


ure in an open shrine, wearing a tightly-fitted garment that resembles the dress of the king at the Sed Festival. The suggestion by some early scholars that this represented a religious rift in the Fifth Dynasty has now been abandoned; titles reveal that officials such as Ptah-Shepses, who was 'high priest of Ptah' and 'chief of craftsmen,' also held a responsible post in the earliest sun temple at Abu Sir. Among the well-preserved reliefs in Nyuserre's sun temple are records of the names and careers of various officials, all of whom were scrupulous in expressing debt and loyalty to the king in their biographies. A builder called Nekhebu wrote: "His majesty found me a common builder... and conferred upon me (successive posts of) journeyman builder, master builder, and master of a craft. His majesty did all this because (he) favored me so greatly." Loyalty to king and country in and around the capital remained strong. Memphis was the center of commerce. As trade with neighboring countries increased-to fulfill the demands of the stateproducts and raw materials were transported there from Nubia, Sudan, and Sinai; a fleet of ships sailed across the 'great green' (the Mediterranean) to import cedar wood and other products from western Asia for which there was a growing need. Wealth was amassed in the capital, but farther afield, at distant cult centers, administrative reforms were necessary. Whereas the viziers of the Fourth Dynasty were often in charge of the administration of several cult centers - some were even assigned to supervise areas in both Upper and Lower Egypt - the situation changed after the reign of Userkhaf, when traces of the accumulation of power in the hands of the provincial elite in Upper Egypt can be detected for the first time, and reforms were set in motion. The Great House tightened up the hitherto rather informal system of grading high-ranking officials. A large number of titles, still not fully understood, were introduced in the reign of Neferirkare. Then,



under Djedkare, the office of 'overseer of Upper Egypt' was introduced. The Power ofPepi Just as Khufu stands out as the dominant figure of the Fourth Dynasty, the powerful Pepi I, who ruled for over thirty years, dominates the Sixth. He had major problems to contend with. One was the cost of maintaining ancestor cults by providing perpetual endowments for funerary monuments, which severely taxed the resources of the state. The other was the fact that the Great House, in granting concessions to leaders of cult centers, had fostered a spirit of self-sufficiency. Some leaders had acquired land in return for their services to the state and began to derive wealth from it. Others - like those of Elephantine, who took charge of most of the quarrying and transportation of Aswan granite for the royal monuments - began to organize a lucrative trade with the south, ostensibly for the king but not without benefit to themselves. Where once the highest ambition of a local dignitary was to perform his duties and have a tomb built near his king's pyramid, their wealth became such that they could now afford to be buried in their own provinces. Five provincial cemeteries of brick- or rock-tombs sprang up in the Sixth Dynasty. The border province of Elephantine was among the first to agitate for independence. Abandoning their title 'first after the king,' the powerful leaders called themselves 'great chief,' inscribed along with the name of their province. One of them boasted of bringing people from neighboring areas to settle in the outlying districts of his province to infuse new blood into it. The 'great chiefs' began to play the role previously performed only by the king or his representative: participation in cult ritual and its related seasonal festivals. Pepi recognized the problems and sought to minimize them. During his reign a number of decrees related to the economy were

The Power of Pepi


tabled. Among them was protection of certain temples from compulsory labor dues and exempting two monuments of his remote ancestor Senefru from taxation. He also exempted architects, cattle, and herds of donkeys at the temple of Min at Coptos from taxes. These measures were, perhaps, not so much an attempt to win the loyalty of the chiefs of strategically important cult centers as recognition of the forces of change. He followed the footsteps of the early kings in enhancing his own reputation by enlarging ancient shrines and converting them into temples - apart from Coptos, those in Tanis, Bubastis, Abydos, and Dendera are specifically mentioned. Pepi also pursued a vigorous foreign policy: control was gained over Nubia to the south and Egyptian influence was extended to southern Palestine and to Punt on the Somali coast. Raw materials, minerals, incense, resins, and fragrant gums flowed into Egypt. The success of his policy is clearly reflected in the autobiography of Weni, one of Pepi's officials, who was able to raise a great army - which included various contingents under the command of the chief priests of the temples of Upper and Lower Egypt - in order to protect trade routes. Art and architecture attained great heights in the Sixth Dynasty but a difference in royal statuary can be discerned. While the lifesized copper statue of Pepi I and his son found at Nekhen (Egyptian Museum, Cairo) reflects the all-powerful king striding forward in the traditional stance, and while cult statues in the early tradition continued to depicti him seated on a throne, wearing the White Crown, the Heb Sed robe, and a hawk on the back of his throne (reminiscent of Horus depicted on the throne of Khafre), a new trend was developing. The king was shown also in a more subservient role. A statuette of Pepi for the first time shows a king kneeling, offering libation vessels. This trend was later continued in temple reliefs, where the king was untiringly shown in consort with the gods and making offerings to them.



The exclusivity of the royal family broke down when Pepi married two of his daughters to a chief near Abydos called Khui. His son and successor, Merenre, also gave his daughter in wedlock to a provincial lord. Thereafter the position of vizier - once the exclusive right of princes - passed into the hands of any nobleman of outstanding ability. Times were changing. Ancient Egypt's aristocratic period of confidence had passed and the country was in transition. When Pepi was ready to commission his mortuary complex he sent his chief builder and two 'treasurers of god' along with a body of workers to the quarries of Wadi Hammamat to procure the finest stone. What remains of his pyramid in north Saqqara is a very dilapidated structure, and the robbers who forced an entrance completely wrecked the black basalt sarcophagus. But the pyramid must once have been a fine structure. It was known as Men-nefer (meaning 'beautiful monument'), a designation which came to refer to the nearby capital, replacing the earlier 'White Wall.' Men-nefer was later corrupted by the Greeks to Memphis.

A Boy on the Throne Merenre had a short reign and was succeeded by his half-brother, Pepi II, a child of six years old. The rule of Pepi II was one of the longest in history - some ninety years according to the Turin Papyrus - during which time continued efforts were made by the Great House to reestablish control. New estates were founded, one specifically dedicated to the maintenance of Pepi I's ancestor cult, for which the copper statue found at Coptos was made. There was a further increase in royal decrees to exempt religious foundations from taxation and the people who ran them from service. Also, in an effort to show a link with a greater past, Pepi II's mortuary temple was decorated with reliefs of the activities of the

To Protect a Heritage


Fifth Dynasty king Sahure, as depicted in his sun temple; the very names of the Libyans defeated in battle were copied. What was originally an historical record in Sahure's reign took its place in the repertoire of achievement of a successful ruler. By the reign of Teti we have the earliest evidence (at Edfu) of the title of 'great chief being combined with that of 'high priest' of the local deity.

To Protect a Heritage When political power is not contested it needs no reinforcement. Only during times of disharmony or change does tradition need to be stressed. For hundreds of years, the energies of the state had been channeled toward unifying the country and maintaining control over cult centers in order to monopolize its resources. Despite efforts made to enhance the image of the Great House, when the provincial elite began to acquire wealth the tide of change could not be controlled. Perhaps an awareness grew during this time of the need to record and transmit the sacred heritage before it was too late. Learned literates could look back to early records and trace how their ambitious and imaginative ancestors had formalized hieroglyphic writing, codified art forms, standardized mortuary ritual, and formulated a national religion. Now, in order to ensure that such a memorial to achievement was not swept from the public memory, evidence was gathered and committed to writing. An updated king list was compiled, mortuary texts were gathered and inscribed in the pyramids, and dramatizations of kingship rituals and oral traditions were put to written record. This was an extraordinary achievement, because although much of the textual evidence was forged in mythological language it formed a lasting historical base for the future.



King Lists Lists of dead kings, which the ancient Egyptians themselves compiled, gave continuity and historical sequence to their ideology. They were royal ancestors to whom pious regard was shown. The information revealed by the Palermo Stone was drawn from earlier king lists that predate the historic period. Written centuries after unification - and probably aided by a nobility register - the margin of error was undoubtedly small. Menes - whether Narmer, Scorpion, Aha, or a composite figure that embodied the achievements of many leaders - became the traditional unifier of the country and a decisive beginning to the First Dynasty. The importance of the Palermo Stone was that, apart from listing the names of successive kings, it documented religious festivals, the biennial census, and the height of the Nile flood during successive reigns, and it itemized the 'birth' days of gods. The compilers of the king lists also laid claim to an even more ancient and embellished heritage: the 'time of the gods.' Re the sun-god, Shu the god of the atmosphere, Geb the earth-god, Osiris the legendary ancestor, Set his adversary, and Thoth the moon-god and measurer of time were all there. Thoth, according to a later king list - the Turin Papyrus - lived for 3,726 years, and was described as the scribe of the gods, keeper of the secret books, and hence a god of wisdom. With an obvious pride in the past, which was regarded as a model of order, compilers of the king lists credited the earliest kings with achievements that came only later. Den of the First Dynasty, for example, was said to have written books on anatomy, yet in his reign the hieroglyphic writing system was still in its formative stages. Conversely, Zoser of the Third Dynasty was dignified with the invention of stone architecture, although it had been used in some architectural elements of earlier monuments.

Propagating the State Dogma


The Pyramid Texts Mortuary rituals inscribed in the pyramid of Unas and the kings of the Sixth Dynasty, were undoubtedly collected from many sources. They cover very ancient rituals, fragmentary allusions to myths, mortuary spells, hymns, and prayers on behalf of the dead, and offerings of food, drink, clothing, and other items for the afterlife. Some of the verses were written in the first person, as spoken by the king, others in the third, as by mortuary priests. No effort was made to collate them or present a coherent picture. Presumably at every funeral there were variants of traditional recitations. Textual contradictions - which naturally occur with transmission over time and place - abound. Apart from the desire of individual priests to create the necessary atmosphere of piety and hope, there may have been many who deliberately dramatized their recitations. One prayer for the rebirth of Osiris intones: "Loosen your bandages. They are not bandages, they are the locks of Nephthys, the weeping goddess hanging over the body of her dead brother." Another example is an imaginative rendition of the king's spirit ascending to the sky: "Clouds darken the sky, the stars rain down, the bows stagger, the bones of the hell-hounds tremble, the (porters) are silent, when they see Unas dawning as a soul." Although the Pyramid Texts were written in royal tombs, they were undoubtedly part of the mortuary tradition throughout the land. They formed the basis of similar literature in the Coffin Texts of the Middle Kingdom, and the so-called Book of the Dead in the New Kingdom.

Propagating the State Dogma The fragmented text known as the Memphite Drama is a remarkable document in which the political, religious, and social history



of ancient Egypt's formative years are presented in the form of a mythological drama in three acts. It survived in a late copy on what is known as the Shabaka Stone, after the Kushite king who found it (around 720 BC), recognized its importance, and had it copied on stone. Its precise date is still a matter of dispute, but its language resembles that of the Pyramid Texts and many scholars attribute it to the late Fifth or Sixth Dynasty, which supports the hypothesis of a conscious effort to put tradition to writing. The drama was staged in the capital, Memphis, and the performers enacted the story of the creation of the physical world up to the triumph and coronation of Horus as king. It was live theater, which presented the ancient Egyptian view of the world and society. The first act, introduced by a 'presenter,' proclaims the political unity of Upper and Lower Egypt with Memphis as the center of the realm. The local god is declared to be Ptah Ta-Tjenen (Ttah the risen land'), the primordial hill on which Atum the sungod manifested himself. The reigning monarch, introduced as 'King of the Two Lands,' is justified by the ritual combat between Horus and Set. Surrounded by the gods of the Ennead, the antagonists are called upon to struggle no more but to unite instead. Geb the earth-god commands the Ennead to judge between the two. In the first scene he makes Set king of Upper Egypt and Horus king of Lower Egypt. In the second scene, Horus acquires domination over both Upper and Lower Egypt, now united. The first act of the drama thus confirmed political unity and provided a legal base for the rule of Horus as king; the play was clearly set in a national framework. The second act presents the story of Osiris, the legendary ancestor associated with water, the land, and rebirth: Set's attack on him and his dismemberment, the recovery of his body by Isis and her sister Nephthys, battles between Horus and Set, and the crowning of Horus as king. Act three centers around a council of gods and their decision to build the royal city and construct the

Propagating the State Dogma


'White Wall.' Here the actors place reeds and rushes on each side of the entrance to the temple of Ptah and the presenter says: These reeds and rushes here placed side by side by Atum symbolize Horns and his rival Set. As brothers now at one and reconciled, their struggle is ended. Peace is made in Memphis, called the 'Balance of the Two Lands' because it stands athwart their boundaries and holds the balance there between them both. Ptah is again presented as the primordial hill that contained all the elements necessary for life and political order, and it is argued that everything that existed originated in his heart (that is, in Egyptian parlance, in his mind) and was made manifest by being pronounced by his tongue (that is, by means of the spoken word). The performance ended with a hymn to Ptah, the great and mighty, the eternal ocean Nun, Ta-Tjenen the first land, the 'lofty throne' where the sun-god Atum-Re came to be, the site where Isis beheld the body of her beloved husband drowning in the water, where she saved him, bound his limbs together, and brought him back to life. Each act, indeed every scene, was in accordance with tradition. It has been argued that the Memphite Drama represents an intellectual account of the creation because Ptah conceived of the world in his heart and brought order - gods, cities, temples, and all earthly things - into being through the 'word'. In fact, the dialogue should be taken at face value: a political process by means of which power was granted to inanimate gods by naming them. It is interesting to observe a tradition that survived to the second century ad, when the Hermetic writings state that "our ancestors invented the art of creating gods." The authors of the Memphite Drama neither obscured nor denied widely-held beliefs. The drama confirmed the sacred charter



of the Heliopolis Doctrine and provided the conventional portrait of an ideal ruler that all future kings were bound to observe. Moreover, in casting Ptah as himself the primordial hill on which the first god Atum appeared, the drama underscored the reputation of the capital and its local god, which was retained to the end of ancient Egyptian history.

Guardians of a Tradition As the thread of a tradition passes from generation to generation, more and more people become its guardians. With the passage of time the ideology with strong political, social, and religious ramifications is further embellished. Battles between Horus and Set, for example, became one epic struggle between two protagonists representing Upper and Lower Egypt; Set became associated with the desert and with evil, Horus with benevolence. All seasonal and kingship festivals stressed the triumph of Horus over Set. The former was the prototype of the 'good god,' the latter its opposite. Set featured in all ritual sacrifices; as an animal was bound, killed, and dismembered so would the enemies of the king suffer that fate. All variations became part of a living and enduring tradition. Leaders could come and go, loyalties change, but even alien conquerors and usurpers were accepted as king once they took the sacred emblems of kingship, wore the Double Crown, underwent the necessary coronation rituals, gave prestige to the various cult centers by rebuilding or enlarging their temples, honored the royal ancestors in festivals like the Sed, and made pilgrimage to their shrines. Dynasties of Libyans, Kushites, Greeks, and Romans are all marked by great building activity, and all actively participated in the ancestor cult as well as the rituals and festivals that formed the fabric of society.

The Final Collapse


The Final Collapse The causes of the Old Kingdom's collapse are still debated among scholars. Social change, the undertaking of huge non-economic enterprises like constructing the pyramids and the sun temples, and the drain on the treasury caused by the maintenance of royal ancestor cults were undoubtedly contributing factors. The exceptionally long reign of Pepi II, when leaders of cult centers found themselves increasingly rebelling against supervision by the Great House, was another cause. These factors, and the costs of maintaining provincial loyalty, lavishing resources on festivals, and rewarding officials by helping with their tomb construction, must have combined to burden the state. But the famine that hit the land toward the end of the Sixth Dynasty was, perhaps, the most decisive factor in its collapse. The Great House may have managed to maintain a high degree of political stability despite the independence of some provincial chiefs, but its great resources could not provide security against the consequences of continual natural disasters like low flood and famine. Year after year the sun scorched the land, the Nile failed to revitalize it, and the crops failed to grow. Society could not sustain a catastrophe of such dimensions. It cast doubt on the very ability of the divine king to control nature and ensure the eternal well-being of the land and its people. A period of political turmoil and spiritual disillusionment swept the land. Yet so deeply rooted were the traditions - and so ingeniously imposed were its ideals - that although the Old Kingdom civilization collapsed and a period of anarchy and bloodshed followed, distinctive features of the early culture endured. The Old Kingdom, when the hard core of Egyptian thought and institution was formulated, became the classic standard, the time which the ancient Egyptians themselves regarded as a model throughout their history. They believed that there was once a Golden Age, the



'first time,' when the principles of justice reigned over the land. What was actually meant by this oft-repeated phrase - the 'first time' - in ancient Egyptian texts is not known. It implies the beginning of an event and is often taken to mean 'the beginning,' or 'creation.' The 'first time' might, however, simply have represented recapitulations that reflected the Egyptians' pride in their own culture; a confirmation that order once existed.

V Travel

The Watery Highway There was ceaseless activity in ancient Egypt. Because the geography of the land made transport difficult - if not impossible - except by boat, the bulk of the movement was dependent on the Nile and its subsidiary canals. The importance of the river to Egypt's economy cannot be underestimated. It was the vital artery that linked Upper and Lower Egypt, the most effective and practical method for transporting goods destined for the royal treasury, and the means by which provincial dignitaries journeyed to attend festivals in the capital and the 'Followers of Horus' to conduct the biennial census. Even when excursions were organized to neighboring countries in search of raw materials, the logistics of sailing had to be considered. When trade with Nubia was expanded in the Sixth Dynasty, for example, channels were excavated through great granite obstructions in the cataract region. When valuable commodities such as myrrh or frankincense were imported from Punt, the Nile was used to transport boatbuilding material to the point where it most closely approached the Red Sea (Coptos) and then, after being carried through the Wadi Hammamat, boats were built on the shore. All major settlements were within easy reach of the river and all valley temples in both pyramid and sun temple complexes were at the edge of the Nile. Ownership of a boat - or access to the use of one - was vitally important. In fact, the ancient Egyptian attitude toward movement was so closely linked to the idea of sailing that



travel south was referred to as 'going upstream' and travel north as 'going downstream.' Boats were so familiar a sight and so connected to the commercial and religious life of the people that it is not surprising to find them among the earliest objects depicted in art and included among funerary equipment. Naturally, shipbuilding was one of the oldest industries. Cargo vessels with flat stern and bow varied in size and could transport anything from stone weighing hundreds of tons to agricultural products and livestock. On ceremonial occasions when special stone was brought to the capital for the construction of a royal tomb, a train of barges would be used. Perhaps the king performed the solemn act of holding the foremost rope. Because of the varying water level of the Nile and the constantly changing sand banks and central channel, no costly ports were built. A vessel simply landed on the sandy riverbank, drove in a mooring peg, and fastened prow and stern. Even large boats were built with very shallow draft; they skimmed the water, scarcely a third of their length touching the surface, their prow and stern high out of the water. Ownership of a boat was important even in villages that lay far from cult centers. The Nile was the watery highway on which life and prosperity depended; ferry services were operated along its banks and in many subsidiary canals. Boats were needed for the movement of crops and livestock in the simplest villages, and the services of the ferryman were required to transport the dead for burial on the necropolis. The earliest boats painted on Predynastic pottery were skiffs or rafts made of papyrus reeds lashed together. These were propelled by oars or paddles and continued to be used by fishermen for traveling along canals or in the marshes throughout the historical period. Also appearing on Predynastic pottery and in the painted tomb of Nekhen are long, flat sailing boats used by people of rank. They were probably made of local acacia wood, and the

The great ceremonial court of the Step Pyramid Complex at Saqqara lies between the entrance colonnade and the pyramid itself. (Robert Scott)

The shrines in the Heb Sed Court of Zoser's funerary complex at Saqqara housed statues of deities. (Robert Scott)

The Step Pyramid of Zoser at Saqqara with newly excavated tombs in the foreground. (Michael Stock)

The sophistication of the earliest stone architecture is reflected in the shrines of the Heb Sed Court at Saqqara. (Robert Scott)

Triad of Menkaure with the goddess Hathor and a local deity. Egyptian Museum, Cairo. (Robert Scott)

Mereruka was a high-ranking nobleman, a member of the elite. (Robert Scott)

Scribes kept strict records and dealt with cases of tax evasion. Tomb of Mereruka. (Robert Scott)

The Great Sphinx at Giza with the Pyramid of Khafre in the background. (Michael Stock)

An attentive Mereruka listens to his wife playing the harp. Tomb of Mereruka. (Robert Scott)

The Watery Highway


deck-cabins, which could have been enclosed with plaited matting, stood behind the main mast on the deck. Near the tomb of the First Dynasty king Aha at Abydos a great (but empty) boat pit-over thirteen meters long and nearly three meters widewas found. It raises a vision of this king traveling in state. Sailors were titled according to the size of the boat. When huge sarcophagi or granite columns like the ten-meter-high palm-capital monoliths depicted in the causeway of Unas at Saqqara were shipped, the crew comprised captains, directors, and overseers. The relief at Saqqara shows that the columns were shipped in pairs on two boats and a fragment of an autobiographical text states that it took only seven days to cover the distance of nearly a thousand kilometers from Aswan to Memphis. It is interesting to note that quarrymen and stone-masons were organized like a ship's crew, in 'groups often.' Apart from the great boat pits discovered at Giza, boats have been excavated in large numbers in recent years, especially at Abydos. Twelve have been found in mud-brick graves outside the surrounding walls of Shunet al-Zibib; and two of twelve chambers of a partially-robbed tomb of a 'scorpion' king were filled to the roof with undisturbed vessels that have been dated to the reign of Aha. Adding to the confusion and raising many questions regarding the function of boats, is a simulated boat made of mud-brick that was found at the edge of the plateau at Abu Sir. The evidence is tantalizing because no firm conclusions can be drawn. Some of the vessels have been found in conjunction with royal burials, others - at Abydos, Helwan, and Abu Sir - with non-royal burials. It is believed (though by no means certain) that the boats at royal funerary complexes may have religious significance, related to the journey of the divine king in the afterlife: "I assume my pure seat which is in the bow of the bark of Re. It is the sailors who row Re, and it is they who will row me; it is the sailors who convey Re round the horizon, and it is they who will



convey me round the horizon." The most plausible explanation for the vast numbers of boats buried at Abydos is that they were pilgrims' vessels used to transport them to the sacred site where the ancestors were buried. But this does not explain why the boats were actually buried there nor how the pilgrims returned home. One thing is now certain: boat burials were a feature of great importance in the Old Kingdom. In historical times, the person who used a boat took no part in its management; this was the job of the pilot, who, with his knowledge of the river and with the help of a pole to test the depth of the water, gave directions to the steersman. Although travel southward was facilitated by the prevailing north wind (travel northward being with the current), the Nile does not flow in a straight south-north line. There are places where it flows east to west - as between Qena and Nag Hammadi - and there were occasions when the wind failed to blow, so sometimes a laborious, zig-zag course was necessary, or even towing from the bank. Consequently, boats carried both single sails and oars (generally about twelve on each side). In places where the water was too shallow and a boat became stuck on a sandbank, it was refloated by the simple mechanics of pushing and heaving. Passing through places where islands or rocks lay athwart the river, as in the Cataract region, a vessel was towed by a group of sailors onshore, its passage controlled by others using oars and rudders on deck.

Sea Voyages Egyptians traveled great distances in search of raw materials. Once monumental building in stone began, the need to bring large quantities to the Memphite necropolis made timber for boat construction one of Egypt's most pressing requirements. Wood was also needed for the substructures of the tombs, the interior of

Sea Voyages


the pyramids, and for flagstaffs, coffins, and doorways. The best quality wood was the cedar from Lebanon, and one of the earliest surviving texts that specifically makes mention of an Egyptian fleet records that in the reign of Senefru forty ships sailed across the 'great green' (the Mediterranean) to Byblos and returned to Egypt laden with timber. The text mentions that the ships were one hundred cubits long (approximately forty-five meters). The term 'Byblos ship' was used of a seaworthy vessel, and these displayed certain modifications in comparison with craft designed for river and canal traffic, though it is likely that they hugged the shore rather than heading across open sea. They had a long hull, a high curved stern with two rudders situated on each side, a single mast held by four ropes, and a wide sail. For added strength, a cable connected the bow and stern above the deck. The Egyptian fleet was a familiar sight on the eastern Mediterranean. A shrine was set up at Byblos in honor of Hathor, Egypt's popular cowgoddess. It provided a place of worship for the sailors and a convenient point from which to recruit laborers from among the inhabitants, largely fishers and farmers, to fell the timber and transport it to the port. Byblos became a sort of protectorate to which traders brought their wares: cedar oil (frequently mentioned on offering lists), Syrian wine, lapis lazuli, and Asiatic copper for the Egyptian treasury. Some of the foreign traders were rewarded for their efforts by a trip to Egypt; in Sahure's sun temple a relief depicts the homebound fleet with bearded Syrians aboard, their arms uplifted in homage to the king. Sahure also sent ships down the Red Sea to Punt on the Somali coast; indeed, travel along this waterway was more frequent than is usually supposed. The ship-building material had to be transported overland from Coptos to the region around Quseir. (While engaged on such a mission, one caravan leader and the troop with him were murdered by Bedouin tribes; Pepi-Nakht, a competent nobleman from Elephantine, was dispatched by the



Great House to resolve the problem and recover the body.) The frequency of expeditions to Punt is clear from the text in the tomb of a subordinate official from Elephantine, who recorded that he accompanied his lord on a dozen occasions. The imports from one journey alone were eighty thousand measures of myrrh, some six thousand units of electrum, and 2,600 staves of ebony.

Movement Overland No effort was spared to build the most beautiful and enduring monuments, and no distance was too great to travel in search of metal and stone of the finest quality. The extent of internal movement and communication can best be realized by considering the widely separated areas from which the raw material came: copper and turquoise from the mines in Sinai, basalt from the eastern Delta, limestone from the Tura quarries south of Helwan, alabaster from Hat-Nub in Middle Egypt, fine and coarse granite from the quarries around Aswan, diorite from the Western Desert of Lower Nubia, and gold and copper ores from the Eastern Desert. A text in Wadi Hammamat shows the size of missions sent to quarry in the Eastern Desert: one thousand officials, twelve hundred quarrymen, and one hundred 'necropolis workmen.' When stone was quarried for statues or sarcophagi, it was roughly shaped before transportation in order to reduce the weight. The stones were then eased onto wooden sledges and towed by gangs of men to the river to be levered onto the waiting barges. Having sailed to their destination on the swift-flowing currents, the stone would be transferred to sledges again and dragged to the chosen site. Although there is a representation of a scaling-ladder on wheels in a Fifth Dynasty tomb, wheels were not used for transportation in the Old Kingdom.

Movement Overland


Regular incursions into Nubia were carried out from early times. Djer left an inscription at the entrance to the Second Cataract, situated some two hundred kilometers south of Aswan and the gateway to sources of incense, ebony, ivory, animal skins, ostrich feathers, and gold. There is evidence that one site, near a particularly rich vein of copper in Wadi Alaqi in the Eastern Desert of Nubia, was occupied for two centuries while large quantities of ore were smelted. Throughout the Fourth and Fifth dynasties there was considerable activity there. Rock inscriptions at Kulb, a gold-mining area south of the Second Cataract, reveals the southernmost point at which prospectors worked. One of the most important discoveries made during the Nubian salvage operations in the 19605 was an apparent attempt by the Great House to control Lower Nubia by creating centers of permanent occupation. Apart from Wadi Alaqi, the ruins of another settlement were discovered in Buhen - also below the Second Cataract - where copper ore was crushed and smelted. Royal names on mud-seals include Khafre and Menkaure of the Fourth Dynasty and Userkaf, Sahure, Neferirkare, and Djedkare of the Fifth. The reign of Sahure was particularly active. The Palermo Stone mentions eighty thousand measures of myrrh, six thousand units of electrum, 2,900 units of wood, and 23,020 measures of unguent brought from Punt in his reign. Although primarily maintained to satisfy Egyptian requirements, the relationship between Egyptians and Nubians was mutually beneficial. The Nile in Nubia was flanked by a wall of hills to east and west that closely confined the valley. Apart from a narrow strip between the Nile and the ridges, and at the mouths of subsidiary river beds, the land was desolate. The Nubians were impoverished: they lived in settlements of low-built houses along the river's edge or beside water holes and channels. They depended on Egypt for corn, oil, honey, clothing, and other items. It was from these tribes that Weni recruited additional troops to sup-



press agitating Bedouins in the frontier provinces of the Delta and in Sinai. He quelled revolts on no less than five occasions and was thenceforth appointed 'keeper of the door of the south,' Elephantine. His main responsibility appears to have been to keep Nubian tribes on the border from warring with one another and hindering trade. Weni's success is attested by the fact that in the fifth year of Merenre's reign the king personally traveled from Memphis to the First Cataract to receive homage from the Nubian chiefs. A rock inscription in the Cataract region records the occasion. It shows him leaning on a staff while the chiefs of Medja, Irtje, and Wawat bow to him. Weni's next task was to improve methods of communication between Nubia and Memphis to aid in the conveyance of granite blocks for the king's tomb. The now-aged official was put in charge of digging five channels through parts of the cataract. The project was so successful that Weni claimed: "Indeed, I made a (saving) for the palace with all these five canals." Three boats and four barges were then constructed to transport the "very large blocks for the pyramid," and so great was Egypt's prestige in Lower Nubia that the timber for their construction was provided by the local chiefs. Weni wrote: "The foreign chiefs of Irtje, Wawat, Yam, and Medja cut the timber for them. ... I did it all in one year." The Nubians respected the loose sovereignty exercised over them. With peaceful relations and the waterway open it was natural that the surrounding areas should be more fully exploited, especially the ridges of Nubia's Eastern Desert bearing rich veins of gold-bearing quartz. Broken pottery vessels with the names of Pepi I, Merenre, and Pepi II have been found as far south as Kerma in Sudan. Journeys even further south were no longer formidable, and a closer interest in Yam (Upper Nubia) and Kush (Sudan) developed. The gateway to the vast riches of the interior of Africa was open. Caravans could explore overland routes to dis-

Movement Overland


tant Punt, previously only approached by sea, in order to import exotica considered indispensable to the wealthy. Caravan leaders traveling on foot were accompanied by pack-donkeys - camels were introduced only in the much later Persian Period. The journeys must have been interminable and exhausting. The convoys were obliged to travel slowly, following old river channels where wells and springs could be found. It took months to cover routes that camels can today cover in a few weeks. The expeditions were usually successful but they were not without hazard, and more than one nobleman lost his life venturing into unknown regions of Africa. The tombs of successive noblemen from Elephantine clearly indicate the vigorous approach being introduced in Egypt's foreign policy toward the end of the Old Kingdom. Harkhuf was one such leader. He was the first recorded explorer in history, who made four journeys to Yam, the inhospitable region south of the Second Cataract. He also traveled westward to unexplored regions on the 'Elephant Road,' which may have been the route extending southward from Kharga Oasis, used today for transporting herds of camels from the Sudan. His first journey took seven months. His second was more adventurous, and he recorded that "never had any companion or caravan-leader who went forth to Yam done (it)," and that he brought back items "the likes of which no one has ever brought back before." When Harkhuf reached Yam on his third expedition he found the country in an uproar. The chiefs were engaged in war with the settlements of the Temehu (tribes related to the Libyans). Egypt had always acted on the defensive against incursions on the Nile Valley from the Western Desert. Under the adventurous Harkhuf, however, a convoy followed the chief of Yam westward and reduced him to subjection. On his return journey Harkhuf's convoy - laden with tributes and products and furnished with a heavy escort - so impressed the tribal chiefs of the Nubian border that they offered



him guides to complete his journey. It was on his fourth mission that Harkhuf brought back to Egypt gold, ostrich feathers, lion and leopard skins, elephant tusks, cowry shells, logs of ebony, incense, gum Arabic, and a dancing pygmy for the child-king, Pepi II. Overland journeys, whether in search of raw materials or to fight punitive wars to keep trade routes open, needed tremendous organization. In the reign of Pepi I when the Bedouin tribes were hindering mining operations in Sinai, Weni was sent at the head of a considerable force to suppress them. Able-bodied men were rounded up from all over the country, their numbers augmented by Nubians of several different tribes. In his autobiographical text Weni recorded that the force numbered thousands, including representatives of the Great House, with royal seal-bearers, heads of the provinces, and chiefs of the priests, as well as "chief district officials at the heads of the troops from the villages and towns that they governed." It was a national effort and it says a great deal for the integrated society of the Old Kingdom that, under Weni's leadership, this motley group was orderly and well supplied with sufficient rations. He wrote: "It was I who commanded them ... so that no one attacked his fellow, so that no one seized a loaf from a traveler, so that no one took a cloth from any town, so that no one took a goat from anyone." On his return to the court Weni was granted the most distinguished mark of favor he could receive: the right to carry a staff and wear sandals in the palace, in the presence of the king. Due to Weni's successful mission for the Great House, Pepi granted him the furnishings for his tomb in the choicest white limestone from the quarries of Tura. This included a sarcophagus with its lid, a door-shaped stele with its setting, and a table for offerings. Having ensured the continued loyalty of his 'servant' Weni by this generous gesture, the king ordered him to go to Seheil Island, south of Elephantine, to select granite for his own sar-

Rural Movement


cophagus and lid and to Hat Nub for a piece of local alabaster for his table of offerings. Central control over raw materials was a great source of power. Foreign trade and mining were controlled by the Great House and distribution was regulated. Royal workshops played a crucial role in transforming these raw materials into the luxury goods required for the ever-increasing upper classes. Well into the Sixth Dynasty, when there was a breakdown in central control, men like Weni remained subservient to the government.

Rural Movement In the rural areas the people traveled on foot, and the donkey and the ox were the only beasts of burden. As they made their way to the granaries and storehouses laden with produce, their routes were trodden into firm dirt-track roads. These were used by the peasant community, by herdsmen and their cattle, by female offering-bearers from the estates, and as playgrounds for children. Almost all of Egypt's cultivable soil was used for crop-growing, and the land was irrigated through a system of large and small canals. The farmer who dug a canal to regulate the flow of water to the crops simultaneously constructed a dike with the excavated earth, and this served as a path between the fields. Since regular attention was given to canals to guide water to land that would otherwise remain barren, and precautions were intermittently taken to prevent over-flooding, the paths were kept in good order. They were used by the farmers and their livestock. Larger dikes beside deep canals could serve also as tow-paths for small boats. There were no bridges. When a canal had to be crossed herders simply guided their animals through the shallow water; alternatively, a ferryman was inevitably available, using a pole like a punt to cross a canal, and was probably paid for his services in farm produce.



Journey to the Afterlife It is not surprising that the Nile, the watery highway-on which life and prosperity depended, should be reflected in ancient Egyptian religious beliefs, nor that boats should be regarded as a means by which the deceased would reach the afterlife. First the dead had to cross the 'lily-lake' - the sacred region where they were purified. This crossing was conceived in the same manner as the living transported their dead along channels to the burial grounds: by a ferryman who stood in the stern of the boat facing backward as he poled along. Funerary texts indicate that this individual had a tedious job waiting for passengers and resented being called upon at inconvenient hours. He would complain of being woken up or of having a faulty vessel and would offer other excuses to save himself the trouble. According to the Pyramid Texts, even the deceased king had to cajole the ferryman to do his duty. Indeed, the ancient Egyptians regarded the ferrying of a boatless traveler across a canal or marshy area as a good deed of the caliber of giving food to the hungry and clothing to the poor.

VI Living

Enjoyment of Life Most of the buildings of ancient Egypt, including the royal palace, were made of wood and sun-dried brick. Stone was reserved for tombs and temples, so most of the surviving structures are of a funerary nature. This gives the erroneous impression that the ancient Egyptians were preoccupied with the afterlife. Evidence to the contrary is abundant. They thought of the afterlife as a natural sequence to their earthly existence and decorated their tombs with categories of activities they wished to repeat. Representations of agriculture and food - common to all tombs - were symbolic of the fertile land of Egypt. Ripe wheat fields and orchards laden with fruit would provide food for the afterlife. Scenes of hunting, fishing, and the rearing and care of animals were likewise symbolic in their purpose. Presumably it was not considered necessary to depict the canal system of irrigation, methods used in transforming stone into monuments, or techniques of construction. What was important was to ensure that the best food was grown for eternity, prepared in the best possible way, and adequately stored. Burial grounds around Memphis, Giza, and Helwan attest to three distinct social classes in the Old Kingdom: the nobility, officials and artisans, and peasant farmers. The king was the leader of the nobility and after him came the royal family, members of other powerful families, and those promoted in rank. Artisans employed by the state came next, along with overseers, superinten-



dents, and their families. At the bottom of the scale were farmers, herdsmen, and laborers. Inequality was accepted as the normal condition. However, within each social stratum the people had their own gradations of power and wealth.

Noble Men and Women Our knowledge of life in the Old Kingdom is chiefly derived from the reliefs and contents of the tombs of the nobles at Giza and Saqqara. Tomb reliefs provide a rich saga of the daily lives of aristocratic families. Their wealth depended on coordinating different activities in the interest of the Great House, including the inspection and supervision of industries, the collection of grain taxes, and the documentation of income from mining expeditions. In short, their job was to administer state property. Large estates were usually self-supporting, and there is every indication that noble men and women were proud and ambitious. They took obvious pride in their responsibility, appearance, and possessions. They were frequently borne on tours of inspection in a carrying-chair on the shoulders of pole-bearers. From this vantage they could inspect vineyards, granaries, and fisheries, as well as leather, papyrus, furniture, and weaving factories. Noble families lived well and appreciated material comforts. An impor-

Noble Men and Women


tant official often had a small town house - one of a pair built back-to-back and opening onto a street - located near the king's palace, and a larger country house on one of the estates under his control. The country house was airy and spacious, well suited to the warm climate with latticed windows and large open courtyards. Some of the mud-brick structures were built on foundations of stone covered with clay. The wealthier homes had limestone lintels above the doorways, and wooden beams. Floors were frequently paved with brick tiles. Houses were usually whitewashed inside and out, as attested by the ruins of some wealthy houses excavated at Giza; the purpose may have been hygienic as well as aesthetic. Insect pests were controlled by washing the house with a solution of natron, and the ancient Egyptians appear to have had well-developed drainage systems. The earliest evidence of a bathroom comes from a Second Dynasty tomb at Saqqara. It reveals that water was drained off into pits that could be closed with a metal plug or emptied through a copper conduit. Household waste was accumulated and swept out from time to time but only as far as the street or to an empty lot. There the piles of refuse grew and probably attracted scavengers, much as they do today. All useful items were fashioned with care. Chairs and beds - which often had leather or rope-weave seats or mattresses fastened to the frame with leather thongs - had legs carved in the form of the powerful hind-limbs of ox or lion. Furniture fre-

Grave goods: a slate dish with two hieroglyphic symbols; copper basins for ablutions; legs of a bed



quently had decorative copper fittings. The handle of a spoon might be fashioned to resemble a lotus blossom; a calyx might form the bowl of a wine glass. As early as the First Dynasty, a stone lamp was shaped like a papyrus bud. The earliest lamps were shallow pottery bowls with wicks of twisted grass; the oil was animal fat. Chests and boxes were richly inlaid with ivory; clothes and other objects were tidily laid inside them. Beneath the high beds there was adequate storage. Vases and vessels of copper, gold, and silver were equipped with stands to raise them to the required height. Tables were either round on a central pedestal or shaped like a half-ellipse on four legs. Chairs tended to be low, the occupant having to recline or squat. Guests could also sit on beautiful woven mats on the floor. Walls were decorated with hanging rugs and the ceilings were frequently painted blue. Every household cultivated part of its land, and gardening came to play a large part in the daily lives of the wealthy families. Vines, palms, fruit trees, and vegetables grew on their estates. If extra water were needed in the heat of the summer, gardeners filled heavy jars from the canals and brought them in pairs on yokes. In the unfinished tomb of Neferherenptah at Saqqara is a scene of gardeners clapping sticks to scare away birds and watering and cutting lettuce. As early as the Third Dynasty an important official named Methen had a large house - two hundred cubits (approximately ninety meters) square - which he mentions

Half-ellipse table

Food and Drink


was "built and furnished." In his garden he claimed "fine trees were planted, and a very large lake made; figs and vines (are) plentiful ... and a great quantity of wine (is) made there." That the ancient Egyptians were great nature-lovers is attested by the encyclopedic lists of birds, plants, and animals recorded in monuments. Their feeling for nature is also revealed in a common mortuary prayer that hopes the deceased might return, sit in the shade, and eat the fruit of the trees they had planted.

Food and Drink Representations of tables laden with large varieties of food and drink show that the upper classes ate heartily. Great piles of fish, beef, and fowl, along with bread and honey, weighed down a table. Red wine was served. Eating was a sensual delight, both as regards smell and taste. The nose was a determinative sign used in writing both these nouns, as well as the verb 'enjoy' or 'take pleasure in.' Food was enhanced by the use of salt and oil, the former serving also for curing and preserving fish and meat. The sweet product valued above all others was honey and bee-keeping was an important minor industry. In a tomb at Saqqara belonging to a woman of the lesser nobility her relatives had laid out food on rough pottery, alabaster, and diorite bowls and dishes beside her sarcophagus. Undisturbed for thousands of years, the food was identified as a type of barley cereal, a cooked quail, a pigeon stew, fish (cleaned and dressed with the head removed), ribs of beef, two cooked kidneys, wheat bread, small cakes, and stewed fruit. It is unlikely that this represented the courses of a single meal. A well-stocked larder included lentils, chick peas, cow peas, and ordinary peas, as well as beans. Eggs were stacked in earthenware dishes. Goats and cows supplied milk, butter, and cheese. The oil of sesame seeds and refined butter - ghee - were used for



cooking. Vegetables included onions and garlic, cucumbers and leeks. Among the fruits were watermelons, pomegranates, and grapes. Fish was very popular and it seems that no larder was complete without its assortment of mullet, catfish, and perch. Egyptian caviar was a great delicacy produced from early times. The tombs of Ti (a high-ranking official who worked under three kings of the Fifth Dynasty) and Kagemni (a Sixth Dynasty vizier and judge) show how the ovaries of the gray mullet were extracted, salted, and dried for this purpose. In the double tomb of Niankhkhnum and Khnumhotep (low-ranking priests of the sun temple of Nyuserre and 'manicurists of the court'), fish is shown being broiled in a cauldron over an open fire. Most cooking was done outdoors, in a courtyard partly roofed with matting or palm thatch. Straw, palm leaves, and animal dung were used for fuel, along with branches of acacia and tamarisk. Geese - which were the favorite among farm birds - were generally roasted over live embers, placed on a low slab of limestone that served as a hearth, or on a metal brazier. Poultry was an important source of protein, and quantities of duck, pigeon, and quail were eaten. One of the most popular methods of preparing smaller fowl - and one that is still used in Egypt today - was to split the bird across the breastbone and spread it flat for grilling. Beer was the national drink. It was made from coarse barley bread that was only lightly baked so as not to destroy the yeast. This was broken up, mixed with water and malted barley, and left to ferment. It was sometimes sweetened with dates and stored in pottery jars. Residues have been found in Predynastic jars and the earliest mention of beer is in the Third Dynasty. Not surprisingly, bread-making and brewing were depicted together in ancient Egyptian tombs, the former being a preliminary step to the latter. A more popular drink among the upper classes was domestic wine, which came from large estates around the country. The earliest evidence of grape wine conies from the Predynastic settle-

Food and Drink


ment of Omari, near Helwan, and a wine-press hieroglyph was used as early as the First Dynasty. Many vintages were known by name. The main wine-growing areas were the Delta, the Fayyum, and the oases of the Western Desert. Representations of viticulture show the gathering, treading, and pressing of grapes of different colors, from which we may infer that the ancient Egyptians knew white as well as red wine. The benefits of long-term storage were known, and wines from vintage years seem to have been prized. Palm-wine, made of the sap of the date palm obtained by making an incision in the heart of the tree, is mentioned in the Pyramid Texts; fermentation rendered it toxic. Date-wine - made by steeping a certain variety of date in water, pressing out the liquid, and leaving it to ferment - is also mentioned. The Pyramid Texts indicate that ordinary people had three meals a day, while the royal household had five. One wealthy nobleman drew up a list of food items to be inscribed in his tomb. It included "ten different kinds of meat, five kinds of poultry, sixteen kinds of bread and cakes, six kinds of wine, four kinds of beer, eleven kinds of fruit, in addition to all sorts of sweets and many other things." It is interesting to note that there was no standard offering list tirelessly repeated from generation to generation. They changed with the passage of time to include delicacies as and when they were introduced from countries across the Mediterranean.

Food offerings



Clothing and Accessories The ancient Egyptians dressed to suit their climate of almost constant sunshine. Most garments were made of linen. Silk and cotton were unknown and wool was only rarely used. Women wore a sheath, a close-fitting, ankle-length, unadorned dress with broad shoulder bands. Men wore short, broad, pleated skirts and sandals. Children did not wear clothing. Maidservants and dancers wore only loincloths and girdles, often with blossoms around the neck. The simple effect of the clothing was enhanced by colorful jewelry - both men and women wore elaborate colored necklaces, bead collars of carnelian, turquoise, and lapis lazuli. Bracelets of silver and ivory were worn by women, as well as different types of earrings: hoops, studs, and ear plugs. Girls often wore their hair short or had a pony-tail, sometimes weighted with a pompon or a disk-shaped ornament. People were fastidious about cleanliness. Women, especially, took great pains with their toilet. They washed their bodies with particular attention before meals, using a basin and a vessel with a

Statue of Princess Nofret. Egyptian Museum, Cairo.

Clothing and Accessories


spout. They shaved their limbs with bronze razors with curved blades and used tweezers and scrapers. A woman's skin was rubbed with perfumed oils, her lips and cheeks were colored with rouge, and her palms were stained with henna. She applied a characteristic band of color around the eye with a paint produced from lead ores and known from Predynastic times as a remedy for eye ailments, as well as for adornment. She applied this with the aid of tiny ivory and wooden sticks, using mirrors of highly polished copper fitted with handles. Special care was taken with the hair, which was washed, anointed with oils, and fashioned into curls and plaits. Even as early as the First Dynasty, there is evidence that women sometimes padded out their own hair with artificial tight curls and braids to make it appear thicker. Both human hair and vegetable fiber were made into wigs when either fashion or age necessitated it. Small plaited locks of hair were treasured. All small items - including locks, hairpins, mirrors, 'tweezer-razors,' or hair-curlers - were kept in decorative containers of ebony, alabaster, and marble, sometimes engraved with miniature high relief. Men, too, dressed their hair with oils and fashioned it into different styles. They wore kilts of varying lengths and tended to be clean-shaven, again using razors with curved blades. The famous statue of Rahotep and his wife (Egyptian Museum, Cairo) shows the nobleman with the modest mustache that appears to have been fashionable during the Old Kingdom. Wealthy households included numerous servants, attending master and mistress punctiliously from the moment they rose in the morning. These were free servants, ancient Egyptians of poorer classes, at liberty to leave service if they so wished. A nobleman had 'listeners' for his call, 'cup-bearers' to wait his table, and 'followers' to bear his sandals, matting, and fly-whisk. Servant girls poured water over the hands of guests before food was brought in, musicians played, and young dancers performed. The tomb of



Ptahhotep (one of the highest officials in the land in the reign of Djedkare) shows the seated nobleman with a pedicurist at his feet and a manicurist working on his hands while musicians entertain him and his pet greyhound and a monkey take refuge beneath his chair. Most households included dwarfs and hunchbacks who were employed in the laundry or the kitchen, or put in charge of household pets. All rich landowners possessed monkeys, gazelle, ibex, and other animals of the desert, which they caught, tamed, and kept on their estates. They had long learned that the dog was a man's best friend, as well as his hunting companion. Sheepdogs, greyhounds (often on a leash), and salukis were favorites. Greyhounds and salukis were allowed to enter the house and even sleep beneath the master's chair. There are no representations of a nobleman petting a dog, but they were given names. One dog buried near his master in a First Dynasty burial ground had a tombstone inscribed 'Neb' (Lord), with his picture. Cats seem not to have been allowed inside houses in the Old Kingdom. They were depicted only in papyrus groves, raiding birds' nests. The Nile goose was given special treatment, being allowed into the courtyard and garden. Domestic fowl included ducks, pigeons, geese, and waterfowl; the domestic chicken had not yet been introduced.

The I deal Family Among the upper classes a man had one legal wife who was 'mistress of the house' and mother of his legal heirs. Although she lived in a special women's quarter of the house with her children, she was free to move around as she pleased. A wealthy landowner might have had concubines, but his wife held a special place and was treated with the utmost deference. No marriage contracts are known to exist nor is there any indication of a special ceremony.

The Ideal Family


It would appear that the bride, together with her dowry, simply made her way to the house of her appointed or approved husband. His duties toward her are clear: "If you are a successful man establish your household. Love your wife in the house as is fitting ... fill her body, clothe her back ... the recipe for her limbs is ointment. Gladden her heart so long as she lives ... she is a fertile field for her lord." These are the words of Ptahhotep, a Fifth Dynasty vizier (not to be confused with his namesake whose tomb is at Saqqara), who was well advanced in years when he asked his king whether he could instruct his own son and prepare him for the official duties that lay ahead of him. The king consented and the aged man, wise from experience and learning, wrote some fortythree paragraphs of random instructions (the so-called 'instruction literature'), which have come down to us in four copies: three on papyrus and one on a wooden tablet. Half of them covered official duties and conduct in administrative circles; the other half concerned personal character and family relations, which were regarded as among a man's most valuable possessions. Ptahhotep stressed the togetherness of a husband and wife, the closeness of brothers and sisters, and good behavior toward friends and neighbors. In this context the reliefs take on new meaning. In the tomb of Mereruka (the son-in-law of the Sixth Dynasty king Teti) - whose tomb at Saqqara comprised chambers for himself, his wife, and his son - are several scenes showing family devotion. At the entrance to the tomb Mereruka is depicted with his son Meri-Teti. The boy wears his hair with the sidelock of youth and holds a lotus stalk in one hand and a hoopoe in the other. Behind him are Mereruka's wife and several rows of attendants. In one chamber of the tomb is an intimate and delightful bedroom scene: the nobleman and his wife hold hands as they watch their bed being prepared by servants. In another chamber Mereruka is depicted with his wife on a double couch. She plays a harp while he marks time with his hand. Pictorial and written evi-



dence abound with loyalty and devotion: a nobleman's affection for his wife and children, a son's loyalty to his father, mother, brothers, and sisters. Family outings were encouraged. The famous tomb of Ti at Saqqara shows Ti sailing with his wife and daughter through the marshes in a papyrus boat. And in the rockcut private tombs at Giza are statues of tomb owners along with their immediate relatives cut out of the living rock. Pair statues of man and wife, mother and daughter were common. There is no confirmed disclosure of marriage between two children of the same parents in the Old Kingdom. 'Brother' and 'sister' were terms of endearment and even after marriage a husband called his wife snt (sister), meaning 'loved one.' Ancient Egyptian morality is often judged today by the practices found during the later periods of history in the New Kingdom, during the Persian period, and by the Greeks, who declared that marriages between brothers and sisters were normal practice in ancient Egypt. The father was the chief authority in a strictly disciplined home. The upbringing of boys was left largely in his hands and that of girls in the hands of their mother. The girls were encouraged to sing, dance, and play musical instruments. The main professions open to them were midwifery - which was held in high esteem - spinning, and weaving. The education of boys was considered to be of great importance. The first piece of advice Ptahhotep gave his son was on modesty: Be not proud because of your learning. Take council with the unlearned as with the learned, for the limit of a craft is not fixed and there is no craftsman whose worth is perfect. Worthy speech is more hidden than a greenstone being found among slave-women at the mill-stone. Precious to a man is the virtue of his son, and good character is a thing remembered.

The Ideal Family


The ancient Egyptians were discreet on matters of sexual behavior, and immorality was strongly condemned. Ptahhotep warned: Beware of a woman from abroad [i.e., a stranger] who is not known in her town. Look not upon her when she comes and know her not.... If you desire to establish friendship in a house into which you enter... beware of approaching women. The place where they are [i.e., the harem] is not seemly, and it is not wise to intrude upon them. A thousand men are undone for the enjoyment of a brief moment like a dream. Concubines were placed in a special category and Ptahhotep told his son that they should be kindly treated; he also warned him not to have any physical association with boys. As a solution to immorality, early marriages were recommended: a youth was advised to "take to himself a wife when he is young that she might give him a son whom he will see a man. Happy is the man who has a large household and who is respected on account of his children." Tomb inscriptions indicate that youths had great respect and love for their fathers; no effort was spared by a loyal son to ensure proper burial for his departed father. The case of Sabni, in the time of Pepi II, is an example. His father was an official in charge of the Southern Gate at Elephantine who was killed while venturing southward on a trading mission. Sabni unhesitatingly set forth on the same journey in order to recover his father's body and bring it back to his native land for embalming and burial. He proudly records his loyal mission in his tomb. On the death of the head of a household, the oldest son took care of his mother. The oldest living son was always the executor of the deceased's land and entrusted with his funds. He was in-



structed to guard the property of the family and expressly forbidden to share the wealth entrusted to him.

Right and Wrong The ancient Egyptian words 'custom' and 'behavior' refer to the modern ideas of morals and ethics. Today we often make the mistake of assuming that a sense of moral behavior was not common in early societies. In fact, anthropological studies have shown that the concept of right and wrong in preliterate communities springs from a subconscious social feeling, and that it is compulsive and strong. Whatever occurs with consistency and is found to be pleasant or useful is passed on from generation to generation until it becomes a spontaneous duty, a standard of behavior. The earliest such reference in was recorded on the Shabaka Stone, from the Late Period,where it is stated: "Justice is given to he who does what is liked; injustice to he who does what is disliked." Right and wrong were a civil question, not a religious one. The rules governing moral behavior were passed from father to son, and "every man who instructs is like a sire ... he speaks with his children, and then they speak with their children,... attain character, ... make maat to flourish." Their 'teachings' were ethical, but not religious in the sense that they were taught by priests. What was regarded as correct behavior was learned by rote within the confines of the family. The teachings were copied from generation to generation for literally thousands of years: "Do not be mean toward your friends" and "Do not plunder a neighbor's house" were two of the rules of behavior; "Never utter words in heat... control your mouth" and "Guard against the vice of greed, a grievous sickness without cure" were others. Disobedient children were punished. Ptahhotep told his son how to take care of his own son in due course: "If he strays, ne-



gleets your council, disobeys all that is said, his mouth spouting evil speech, punish him for all this talk!" Kagemni instructed his children to "recite it as it is written... and it seemed good to them beyond anything in the whole land." These became sacred rules of behavior automatically adhered to for the simple reason that "it was always done that way"; because it was rnaat. Just as maat gave stability and authority to the state, it provided discipline and respect in the family. A sense of right and wrong, and pride in doing good deeds, were inscribed in tombs. Harkhuf, the caravan leader from Elephantine who was one of the early explorers of Africa, recorded: "I gave bread to the hungry, clothing to the naked, I ferried him who had no boat." He also added a curse: "As for any man who shall enter into (this) tomb as his mortuary possession, I will seize him like a wild fowl; he shall be judged for it by the Great One." Similarly, the steward Meni placed a warning above the doorpost of his tomb: "Even he who does anything against it (my tomb); it is the Great God who shall judge (him)." Since the king - the focus of national unity - had the attributes of his 'father' the sungod, such texts may refer to fear of judgment by the divine king, or judgment before the sun-god. Either way, it is apparent that fear of judgment was a deterrent against unacceptable conduct and that a person's motive for declaring worthy deeds was "that it may be well with me in the Great God's presence."

The depiction of the children of ancient Egypt in tombs and temples give us an appealing insight into their lives, which seem to have been happy. With plenty of fresh air and sunshine, they went swimming in the canals (the crawl seems to have been a favorite stroke), fishing on the lakes, danced in the streets during festivals,



and had plenty of fresh food and vegetables to keep them fit. The boys played tug-of-war, tag, and a game in which a whole group of boys try to touch a crouching player with the foot while attempting to evade his hands. Girls' games included 'swing around,' in which two young girls in the center hold four partners with outstretched arms, and a game of forfeit in which they exchange copper mirrors. Children are the stuff of future generations and what they are taught is an indication of what is regarded as important to society. The texts and model compositions that were given to children show that they were urged to remember the names of ancient sages who taught behavior and morals; they did not copy texts extolling the exploits of heroes who fought wars nor did they copy texts lauding physical strength. In fact, apart from wrestling scenes depicted on some tomb walls, warlike games or warlike training were rare. The people danced with sticks in the ritual conflict of a peace-loving society. Ptahhotep contrasted the good man with the bad, the wise man with the fool. He balanced desirable behavior - characterized by moderation, reserve, discretion, and gentleness - against the dangers of undesirable behavior - excessive pride, boastfulness, and avarice: Greater is the appeal of the gentle than that of the strong. Never utter words in heat. Let your mind be deep and your speech scanty. The wise man rises early to establish himself, but the fool is in trouble. When you sit with a glutton eat when his greed has passed; When you drink with a drunkard take when his heart is content. Report on a thing observed, not heard.

Peasant Farmers and Laborers


Peasant Farmers and Laborers Egypt was an agricultural country and the bulk of its people were peasant farmers. Their shelters of sun-dried brick or reeds daubed with clay were not much different from the houses of either their Predynastic ancestors or many of their descendants in the twentieth century: a single room (oblong or square), one door, and no windows. Furnishings comprised no more than a rough stool, a box or chest, and perhaps a headrest. Reed mats were hung from the walls and baskets and earthenware pots were used for storage. The tombs of the nobles contain numerous scenes of the lives of the poorer people: fishermen drying fish in the sun or repairing nets and snares, farmers fattening geese or sowing the crops, workers from the vineyard vigorously treading grapes, others in the bakery grinding flour. The smaller statues of the Old Kingdom depict an array of good-natured folk. A naked peasant goes to market with his sandals in his hand and his shoulder slightly bent beneath the weight of the bag slung over it; a baker and his wife knead dough. The farmers, who probably rose with the sun, wore loincloths, which they frequently cast off during the day. Both reliefs and inscriptions indicate that the people were happy. The men who carry the nobleman around his estate in his carrying chair sing that it is as light to bear with their master seated in it as it is when empty. A musician follows a line of reapers and, as he plays his flute, one of the reapers simultaneously holds a sickle and claps his hands, singing the 'song of the oxen.' A piper accompanies the harvest. A shepherd leading sheep through the fields sings: "The shepherd is in the water among the fish; he talks with the nar-fish, he passes the time of day with the west-fish." Some of the reliefs are accompanied by texts of conversations between workers:



That is a very beautiful vessel (you are making). Indeed, it is. I have brought four pots of beer. That's nothing. I loaded my donkeys with 202 sacks while you were sitting. The diet of the people consisted mainly of bread, onions, lentils, vegetables, and dried Nile fish, along with sycamore figs and dates. They loved garlic. Herodotus - probably with his usual exaggeration - asserts that the workmen employed in building the pyramid of Khufu ate 1,600 silver talents' worth of radishes, onions, and garlic. The lower classes bartered for their needs. In tomb representations a loaf of bread is exchanged for some onions, a carpenter's wife gives a fisherman a small wooden box for some of the day's catch, a potter's wife obtains a jar of fragrant ointment for two bowls from her husband's kiln. The foremen of the various projects appear to have been more heavily built than their slim and muscular workers. The famous statue of Ka-aper - known as the 'Sheikh al-Balad' (village chief) shows a heavy, stocky but energetic man striding forward with an acacia staff in his hand. That of Nofir, the 'director of the granaries,' also shows a man broad of build. In a relief in the tomb of Ptahhotep is a scene of a foreman - obese and lazy - seated in a skiff accepting a drink from an oarsman. As all life depended on the annual flood, the people responded to nature. When the level of the water began to rise each year and spread over the parched land, they withdrew from the floodplain. They might, as is evident in later times, have made simple offerings of flowers or a goose that the water should not rise so high as to wash away villages or be so low as to cause want. When the flood receded, leaving the land covered with a layer of rich alluvial soil, they sowed their seed and the sunshine did the rest. It was a totally predictable pattern of life. The farmers watched the land

Piety of the People


slowly become a carpet of green from the germinating clover and grain. The annual miracle of life over death was performed before their eyes. The sprouting of vegetation was a striking manifestation of the forces of rebirth. The past becomes more understandable through an awareness of how closely it might resemble the present: today's spring festival known as Shamm al-Nasim ('smelling the breezes') is a national holiday shared by Muslims and Christians alike. The entire population takes to the outdoors to picnic on brown beans, spring onions, boiled eggs, and salted fish. Children climb on donkey-carts and roam the streets to the beating of drums and castanets. Adults pay homage at the graves of their dead. The activities probably originate from a long-standing rural tradition.

Piety of the People Although we have no evidence of the beliefs of the illiterate masses - apart from their conviction in a life after death and their tendency to make offerings at sacred places - oral traditions know no barrier, and the myth of Osiris was probably as widespread among the masses as the nobility. The legendary ancestor was, after all, a farmer. He was associated with the rebirth of the land and he fell victim to Set, who was associated with the relentless desert. Set's tearing to pieces of the body of Osiris and scattering its parts up and down the Nile Valley may be interpreted as the concept of sowing grain, after which - with the necessary incantations (like those performed by Isis and Nephthys), or rural festivals - the stalks of grain would be reborn. Later, cult centers that wished to give importance to their areas each claimed that a part of Osiris's body was buried there. This poignant and probably best known of ancient Egyptian myths also reflected a social ideal. It expressed wifely devotion (Isis for Osiris), motherhood (care of



Horus until he reached manhood), and filial devotion, which found expression in the tales of Horus avenging his father's death. Osiris, Isis, and Horus were the ideal family. Allusions to them appear in the mortuary literature and in national and seasonal festivals. The social significance of the myth should not be overlooked. Like Osiris, many of the kings were good and just; they had devoted wives and sons who completed their tombs for them or arranged for the continued supply of nourishment for their eternal well-being. The wholesome ideals of Ptahhotep might not have been widespread among the masses. But there is no reason to suppose that they did not cherish, if not actually practice, the same values.

The Royal Family The king of Upper and Lower Egypt did not live like a lazy despot. His training began early. As a child he underwent basic education, learning to read, write, and absorb the 'instruction literature' that he copied. As a youth he might have accompanied his father on mining and trading expeditions. As vizier he had supervised building operations, controlled the court of law, and been in charge of the treasury. A king was well-equipped for his role as political and spiritual leader, and he remained active throughout his term of office. Much of his time was spent traveling around the land to perform his ritual duties, attending festivals, laying foundation stones, and honoring leaders of cult centers for their active service to the state. He wore the double crown of Upper and Lower Egypt (of which no examples have been found, probably because they were sacred symbols not regarded as funerary equipment) and an artificial beard attached to it, of which many representations can be found in the museums of the world. The emblems he carried were the scepter, crook, and flail,

The Royal Family


which expressed regal authority. Apart from wearing richly encrusted jeweled collars, the royal family dressed little differently from landed noble men and women. Naturally the elaborate court etiquette required the king and his family to have a host of courtiers, retainers, and servants. In the palace there was a strict and complex structure of titles. Each department had its head, who had his own attendants and their appointed helpers. There was a 'chief court physician,' a 'director of music,' a 'chief manicurist of the court,' and even an official who called himself 'he who is head of the reversion,' who probably distributed the remains of the five royal meals a day to the people. There was also a 'guardian of the royal crown and jewels,' a 'keeper of the royal robes,' and an 'overseer of the cosmetic box' who "performed in the matter of cosmetic art to the satisfaction of his lord." It is from inscriptions of rank and privileges, duties and tasks that we are informed of life in the royal palace and of the honor that serving the king was meant to be. Even the 'sandalbearer of the king' was proud to record that he did his duties to royal satisfaction. One retainer boasted in his tomb of the unprecedented privilege of kissing the royal foot rather than the dust before it. The Great Royal Wife was accorded a privileged position because it was she who, through physical contact with her husband (a god), provided the rule for royal succession and legitimacy for rule. It is therefore not surprising that some queens were accorded considerable prominence from the beginning of the dynastic period. One of the earliest funerary monuments at Naqada is the huge 'palace facade' monument belonging to Queen Neithhotep, the wife of Aha. The tomb of Queen Meryetneith at Abydos was large and rich, and it is suggested that she was Den's consort. Nemathap was probably the wife of Khasekhemwy, since she bore the title 'king-bearing mother' and was revered in later times as the ancestor of the kings of the Third Dynasty.



Honor of Ancestors To conduct the funeral of a previous ruler was apparently a requirement for succession. Many a king completed the funerary monument of his father before commencing construction of his own, inscribing his deed on the walls. It was also his duty to maintain the cult of ancestors, and this applied to royal wives as well as kings. When Khufu learned that thieves had entered the tomb of his mother, Hetepheres, he ordered a reburial for her in a new, secret tomb at Giza. Unaware that the mummy had already been removed from the sarcophagus, the workers lowered it into a shaft to the east of the Great Pyramid, along with her funerary equipment. It is thanks to Khufu's devotion that the furniture was saved - the only royal furniture to have survived intact from the Old Kingdom. It included the supports and uprights of a royal canopy encased in gold from which mats were hung as curtains to ensure privacy, a royal bed that sloped downward toward the foot to provide a headrest, two chairs - one of which was portable and, among the smaller items, an inlaid footboard, vases of gold, copper, and alabaster, gold razors, and a gold manicure set. The chairs are magnificently carved with figures of the hawk and the lotus, the symbol of the 'ankh (the key of life), and an ibex - all gold-trimmed. The basic design of furniture did not greatly change in later periods.

Class Mobility All people could hope to gain promotion in life, whether they were nobles, minor officials, or humble servants. Wealth and prestige were not restricted to those born into a certain ruling class. Marriage, inheritance, or promotion could change the status of an individual. Naturally, this was easier for those who lived and

Class Mobility


worked close to the capital. One of the earliest biographical accounts describing a rise in rank is that of Methen, who died in the reign of Senefru and was buried near Zoser's mortuary complex at Saqqara (his tomb has been transported to Berlin and reconstructed in the Egyptian Museum there). The text tells of his gradual rise from 'scribe and overseer of the stores' to 'governor' of a number of towns and districts in the eastern Delta. Promotion could be rapid. One of the best-known examples was that of Weni, a man of humble birth who started his career as a minor official under King Teti and rose to the position of 'favored courtier' under Pepi I. In ancient Egypt a person who proved fit in performing one task was considered equally fit for others. After Weni, entrusted by his king with supervising a group of workmen to bring a block of stone suitable for the royal sarcophagus, performed the task efficiently - transporting it complete with lid, doorway, lintel, and two jambs for the tomb, as well as a libation table - he was put in charge of a body of troops detailed for an expedition against hostile tribes in the Eastern Desert and the nomadic tribes of Nubia. Weni eventually became one of the highest dignitaries of the Great House. "Never," he inscribed in his tomb, "has the like been done for any servant. I was excellent in the heart of His Majesty beyond any official of his, beyond any noble of his, beyond any servant of his." Many persons of obscure origin, or even base servitude, rose to high honors and died as viziers or governors of provinces. The Fifth Dynasty official Ti was a vigorous nobleman but not of royal blood; his marriage to Princess Neferhotpes gave him a special position, and his children ranked with royalty. Nekhebu was an ordinary builder who eventually rose to the position of 'royal master builder,' supervising a wide range of projects for the Great House. He took his brother as an apprentice and the youth started off by carrying his older brother's palette and measuring rod. Later, when Nekhebu's responsibilities increased, his brother



managed his property for him so successfully that he could claim that there were "more things in his house than in the house of any noble." Literature and tomb inscriptions stress the ideal of a self-made, self-reliant person. Ptahhotep, the sage who instructed his son to prepare him for the official duties that lay ahead of him, gave advice on behavior to ensure success in official circles, including attitudes to be taken toward both superiors and subordinates. "If he above you is one who was formerly of very humble station, have no knowledge of his former low estate... be respectful toward him because of what he has achieved; for substance comes not of itself." Or conversely: "If you have become great after you were little, and have gained possessions after you were formerly in want... be not unmindful of how it was with you before. Be not boastful of your wealth, which has come to you as a gift of the god. You are not greater than another like you to whom the same has happened." Ptahhotep had some shrewd advice on the matter of being helpful to one's employer: "your food hangs upon his mood, the belly of one loved is filled, your back shall be clothed thereby." Table manners, especially at an official dinner given by one of higher station, were considered important: Take when he gives to you what he puts before you, but do not look at what is before him, look at what is before you, and shoot him not with many glances. ... Turn your face downward until he addresses you and speak only when he addresses you. Laugh when he laughs, so shall you be very agreeable to his heart and what you do will be very pleasant to his heart. While Ptahhotep had much to say on behavior in the presence of superiors ("If you meet one superior to you, fold your arms, bend

Class Mobility


your back. To flout him will not make him agree with you."), he particularly stresses: "If you meet a poor man, not your equal, do not attack him because he is weak... wretched is he who injures a poor man." A nobleman's attitude toward his subordinates is particularly apparent through Ptahhotep's enumeration of the qualities of leadership: "If you are a man who leads, seek out every good deed, that your conduct may be blameless If you are an administrator, be gracious when you hear the speech of a petitioner." He also taught: A man is recognized by that which he knows. His heart is the balance for his tongue; His lips are correct when he speaks, and his eyes in seeing; His ears together hear what is profitable for his son, who does maat and is free from lying. Established is the man whose standard is maat, who proceeds according to its way.

VII Work

The Earliest Industries Large-scale building construction, shipbuilding, and stone-carving were among the earliest industries in Egypt, along with a number of agriculture-related activities like papyrus-manufacture, spinning, and weaving. All tools were made of copper, which was cast in open molds from as early as 3300 BC. The discovery that copper melts when heated may have been made when some malachite - a green ore ground on cosmetic palettes for eye paint - dropped on the glowing ashes of a hearth and globules of copper ran out. Copper beads and jewelry fittings were made from early times. Later, the techniques of melting and smelting became more sophisticated. Fifth and Sixth dynasty tombs have representations of the metalworker's craft, with smelters using blowpipes around a charcoal fireplace to produce a high temperature. Vessels of copper were worked by hammering, the spouts and handles being joined by copper rivets. Plain copper wire was used for the construction and repair of furniture as early as the First Dynasty and a variety of implements were used by barbers, carpenters, sculptors, stone masons, and house servants. Axes, adzes, and saws were needed for industrial and agricultural purposes and delicate instruments for the medical profession.

Medical Practice The temples of Heliopolis and Memphis seem to have been cen-

Medical Practice

15 5

ters of learning from early times. Here astronomers studied the constellations and the courses of the planets and physicians were trained. Titles such as 'chief of the dental physicians' (Hesi-Ra), 'palace eye expert, physician of the belly, one comprehending internal fluids, and guardian of the anus' (Iri), and 'chief physician of the eyes of the Great House' (Wah-Dwa) show that specialists were attached to the Great House and were part of the king's large entourage taking care of his welfare. The ministry of health - if one might call it such - comprised the 'inspector of doctors' and assistants (non-specialists), who were under an 'overseer of doctors,' controlled by the 'eldest of doctors.' Such titles as 'chief physician of Upper Egypt' (Ibi) or 'greatest physician of Upper and Lower Egypt' indicate that within the medical profession there was a liaison with distant provinces. The medical papyri, of which there are over a score, are clear indications of advances in the medical field. Some of the later texts that date to the Middle and New kingdoms were copies (sometimes third and fourth hand) of earlier texts; archaic grammar and obsolete words point to their antiquity as well as certain references to the Early Dynastic Period and the Old Kingdom. The Edwin Smith Surgical Papyrus, believed to be the earliest, dealt with forty-eight carefully arranged surgical cases of wounds and fractures, detailing a dispassionate examination of the patient and prescribing cures. No ailment was ascribed to the activity of a demoniac power, and there was very little magic - although belief in the potency of spells or exorcisms undoubtedly existed. The ancient Egyptian medical practitioners were not witch doctors who gave incantations. They were physicians who prescribed healing remedies and conducted operations. Though some of the cures might be considered rather fanciful - extract of the hair of a black cat to prevent graying - others became famous for their efficacy. We know from mummified bodies that dental surgery was



practiced from early times. Some have teeth extracted, and a Fourth Dynasty mummy of a man shows two holes beneath a molar of the lower jaw, apparently drilled for draining an abscess. The discovery in a grave at Giza of a body with several teeth wired together suggests that dental treatment was already well advanced in the Old Kingdom. Sesa's tomb at Saqqara, known as the 'doctor's tomb,' shows the manipulation of joints. The tomb of Ankhmahor, known as the 'physician's tomb,' shows an operation on a man's toe and the circumcision of a youth. Circumcision was practiced on boys between six and twelve years of age. By the Sixth Dynasty, there appears to have been a firmly established medical tradition. When Weshptah, builder and friend of the Fifth Dynasty king Neferirkare, suffered a stroke in the king's presence, the king showed great solicitude for his stricken friend and ordered his officials to consult medical documents for a remedy to help the vizier regain consciousness. Doctors were well paid for their services; in one case the reward was "a false door of limestone for that tomb of mine in the necropolis."

Mummification and Priests Contrary to some older ideas, doctors did not take part in the preparation of mummies to improve their knowledge of anatomy. Embalmers and physicians belonged to two entirely different professions, and there is no evidence of any connection between them. Early efforts to preserve a lifelike appearance of the deceased can be traced to the Second Dynasty, when strips of linen cloth were used to preserve the outline of the body and clay was used to model the features of the face, genitals, and breasts with nipples. Around 2600 BC, bodies had the organs most susceptible to rapid corruption removed. These included the lungs, liver, intestines, and stomach (which were extracted through an incision

Mummification and Priests


in the left side of the body), but not the heart and kidneys. The body cavity and the intestines were then washed in natron, a mixture of sodium carbonate and sodium bicarbonate found naturally at several sites throughout Egypt. The internal organs were subsequently wrapped in linen and placed either in a box with four compartments or in four canopic jars placed beside the coffin in the burial chamber. The body cavity itself was rinsed to remove the remaining natron and filled with herbs and resins to retain the shape. Desiccation took up to forty days to complete, after which linen strips dipped in resinous material were molded on the shrunken frame and individual ringers and toes carefully wrapped. The earliest known use of natron comes from the remains in the canopic jars of Khufu's mother, Queen Hetepheres. By the end of the Fifth Dynasty embalmers encased the body in an elaborate linen and plaster shell modeled to look like the human form and painted in lifelike colors. There is no indication of where mummification was carried out. The only extant 'mummification beds' are those of the sacred Apis bulls at Memphis, which date to a late period in Egyptian history. One thing is certain: the long and somewhat messy procedure is unlikely to have been carried out in, or near, sacred shrines or mortuary temples. Although priests did not form a distinct class of society until toward the end of the Old Kingdom, as employees of the state they served a function. There were numerous 'pure ones,' ordinary members of the community who underwent certain purification ceremonies in order to serve in relays as servants in the 'house of god.' There were others who were bound by rules of cleanliness and became custodians of sacred order. These performed their duties on a full-time basis and their positions eventually became hereditary. Priests were not required to have any theological knowledge, they simply learned the correct observance of rituals as laid down by the Great House. A 'lector priest'



was a government official (literally the 'bearer of the festival roll') and his main qualification was literacy; he could read from the scroll in mortuary services or whenever called upon to do so. The 'incense burner,' however, could be a member of the lay public, ever present to provide the necessary aura for worship. The cults in temples throughout the land were all practiced in the name of the king. He was the theoretical leader of rites even when they were carried out by his representatives. The official existence of the priests rested entirely on the delegation of royal power.

Scribes and the Law Scribes comprised a special class of society. Literacy was an essential qualification for a successful bureaucratic career. A scribe was called upon to write petitions for the illiterate and to prepare properly addressed petitions, written in flowing language, for the upper classes. The profession was one of the most respectable, and although the bulk of the population had no incentive to be literate it was one way to escape the drudgery of labor. In what is known as the 'satire of the trades,' a poem written by an anonymous poet hundreds of years after the fall of the Old Kingdom, the scribal profession was described as the best. In both the political and religious hierarchies there were positions open for bookkeepers and clerks, who were looked upon as persons of importance. Records were needed of quantities of materials used, workers recruited, and rations consumed for large-scale building projects. There was also the task of drawing up contracts and wills. Although wills largely concerned the maintenance of tombs, which theoretically was the responsibility of a person's heirs, it was foreseen that some laxity was to be expected with the passage of time, and safeguards were made. Income from private property was referred to in the will (literally 'order from his living mouth'),

Scribes and the Law


in which the owner outlined that it was to be put toward the care of the tomb and the continued supply of food and offerings. In the case of royalty, the endowments were extremely large. Khafre's son, Nekure, bequeathed to his heirs a private fortune including fourteen towns and two estates at the royal residence, the entire income of which was to go toward the maintenance of his tomb; he made the will with the aid of a scribe, "while he was alive upon his two feet without ailing in any way." The fact that no written law has been found in ancient Egypt should not undermine documentary evidence of legal practice. Written briefs were submitted to a high-ranking official, who frequently inscribed in his tomb that he "judged two partners until they were satisfied." Among surviving Old Kingdom legal documents is one referring to litigation between an heir and an executor. It indicated that under certain circumstances an appeal might be made directly to the central court. There is one remarkable case of treason in the royal harem which was heard by two provincial judges in place of the 'chief judge' (the vizier), for an unbiased decision. Some of the documents were simple contracts such as the "contract for the sale of a small house." The most famous legal case was that of the vizier Kheti, whose name lived on until the New Kingdom as "the judge whose case was more than justice." Kheti was involved in a lawsuit in which members of his own family were party; his judgment was against

Scribal equipment



his own relative, so he could not be accused of partiality. An appeal was made, yet Kheti persisted and his second ruling was the same as the first.

Papyrus Production and the Bureaucracy Two rolls of papyrus in a box dating to the reign of the First Dynasty king Den are the earliest evidence of its production. Papyrus paper was one of Egypt's most flourishing industries. The sheets were made by slicing thin sections of the papyrus stem, soaking and compressing them, laying them side by side and crosswise, and beating and drying them. It was an excellent writing material - pliant yet durable - that was lighter than stone and clay tablets and more plentiful than leather. The sheets were sometimes glued together in strips and wound around wooden rods. Later they were bound together into codices, what we would recognize as books. Egyptian papyrus remained for centuries the main vehicle of Greek and Roman written thought, until the eighth century when it was gradually ousted by the use of a new writing material from the east: paper made from old rags. Even then, the new material derived its name from its Egyptian predecessor. Thanks to scribes and the invention of papyrus paper, records of ancient Egypt have survived in vast number. They point to a particular skill in the administration of resources based on measuring, inspecting, checking, and documenting various activities. The Abu Sir archives reveal that the equipment of temples was carefully classified, that inspection was carried out to trace any deterioration or damage, and that exact details of what was needed for replacement were recorded. The archives also show that seals on storerooms were regularly inspected, especially those on doors to rooms where sacred boats were stored. Duty rosters

Art and Architecture


were tabled in the archives, as well as income of the temple and details of sacrificial animals for various festivals. Apart from its use in paper production, the papyrus plant served other purposes. The stalks were woven and used as mats, the vegetable fibers were transformed into a pliable, tough material suitable for sandals, and lightweight skiffs used for hunting in the marshes were made by binding long bundles together. These 'papyrus craft' were not boats but rafts. They floated by virtue of the lightness of the material of which they were built. In the Fifth Dynasty tombs at Saqqara are scenes of craftsmen making papyrus boats, possibly for the pilgrimage to Buto.

Art and Architecture A great deal of what we know about the ancient Egyptian civilization comes through its monumental architecture, statuary, and relief decoration. These creations were not transient but were expected to stand for all eternity. Great strides were taken in the field of architecture in the Third and Fourth dynasties, many of the pyramids showing changes in the original design as the use of stone was mastered. Royal statuary was another major industry, along with relief decoration. There was strict maintenance of standards. Artisans worked as members of a team under the direction of a master craftsman, and a supervisor or overseer saw to the progress of work. The powerful and lifelike statues of the kings Khafre and Menkaure show mastery of materials. The finish was achieved by the use of an adze followed by polishing with an oval stone. Most statuary, however, was meant to be lifelike, so stone as well as wood were painted. Sculptors frequently gave a striking effect to the faces by inserting pieces of quartz in the eye sockets with a copper stud for the pupil. A strict canon had long been worked



out; standing figures were nineteen units high, and the seated figures were fifteen units; the feet were the same length as the height of the head and neck; the distance between the knees and the soles of the feet was twice was long as the feet. Drawing to scale, the artist could accurately enlarge a statue, or a scene. Continuity in style was due to the careful maintenance of the codified rules laid down in the Early Dynastic Period and the Old Kingdom. State artisans reached the highest rank. Private statues were also made: scribe statues, for example, were introduced at the end of the Fourth Dynasty, showing a man in cross-legged posture, reading or writing on a roll of papyrus on his lap. In the famous tomb of Ti, a Fifth Dynasty court dignitary, is a representation of an atelier with artisans polishing and carving statues in his likeness. Reliefs were fashioned with extraordinary delicacy. Unfinished tombs like that of Ptahhotep at Saqqara provide evidence of the method and progress of relief decoration, which involved a team of artists. The wall of the tomb was first rendered smooth. Then a chief artist prepared each surface for decoration by separating the different registers with the aid of cords dipped in red paint, subdividing these further into rows or squares. Into these sections figures of people, animals, and hieroglyphic characters were drawn, each row representing a single activity. It seems probable that there was a common stock of themes from which the noble tomb owners chose, for similar scenes are represented in different tombs - with a reduction or increase in the number of individuals, a variation in the placing of inscriptions, or the adding of such details as might please the artist: a bald man, a spotted cow, a frisky calf. The arrangement was apparently guided by the chief artist's preference (within the broad outlines of the customer's wishes) and by the size of the tomb. All available wall space was filled. After the background was cut away, leaving the figures in low relief, a sculptor would carve the fine detail. These relief-carvings were then painted. The coloring,

Art and Architecture


while not entirely true to nature, was not exaggerated. For example, clothing was usually white (left without paint on the limestone wall), red ocher was used for the sunburnt bodies of men, while pink, pale brown, or yellow was used for women. Because the chief Old Kingdom burial grounds were in areas of high quality limestone, reliefs were more common than mural decorations (which were painted either directly on the smoothed surface of the wall or on a plastered surface). Tempera technique was used: natural powdered pigments mixed with water and bound with acacia gum to adhere to the wall surface. The freshness and brightness of Egyptian tomb paintings have often been commented on. They have retained their color because the pigments are natural. Red and yellow were obtained from ochers from the desert, chalk (calcium carbonate) or lime provided white, and black was obtained from carbon in some form (soot or powdered charcoal) or a black manganese found in Sinai. Blue was obtained from azurite, which is a blue carbonate of copper; another copper ore, malachite, was the source of green. Pink was made by mixing red ocher with chalk. Early drawings on pottery were probably made with a reed brush with the fibers teased out. Later, artists and painters used similar reed-stems, and the palette for mixing the paint was either a ceramic bowl or a conch shell. Although relief and mural decoration may appear to have been a mechanical art, the extremely high level of technical and artistic skill - and the harmonious final effect - should not be overlooked. The main figure was traditionally represented with head in profile (full-view eye and eyebrow, a half mouth, and a sideview nose) with shoulders shown full-width from the front, but with profile body, legs, and feet, but minor figures are represented in a variety of informal poses. One might have the impression of similarity of subject matter, and the scenes may appear to be uniform, but close study shows that no two are exactly alike. There was endless modification, especially in representations of figures



in the subsidiary scenes, where boatmen play games, workers move energetically over the hull of a ship, a corpulent overseer is given a drink, or a lame farmer leads his flock.

Shipbuilding Shipbuilding was one of the most important and oldest industries (see chapter v). By the Fourth Dynasty, it is clear that boat construction had developed into a national art. In Khufu's mortuary complex at Giza is an intact vessel that was discovered in a rockhewn pit to the south of the Great Pyramid. It is a magnificent barge 44 meters long, now reconstructed and in a special museum. Built of cedar from Lebanon, it had been dismantled to fit into the pit, which was too short for it. Careful reassembly produced a flat-bottomed vessel with a massive curving hull rising to elegant prow and stern posts. Poles on the deck proved to be the supporting palm-shaped columns of a large roofed cabin. Steering oars (each five meters long) were also found, and coils of rope. The planks were 'sewn' together by a system of ropes through holes. This was the first royal barge discovered, and scientific examination suggests that it might actually have sailed. Such ships (there is a second in an as yet unexcavated pit near the first) may have served the king in his capacity as king of Upper and Lower Egypt during his lifetime, later to be buried as part of his funerary equipment. Alternatively, they could have served a funerary, solar function, being designed to transport his spirit, absorbed by the sungod, to a life everlasting. The tomb of Ti contains two shipbuilding scenes, the nobleman presiding over them both. He inspects every stage of the work being carried out. One scene shows the entire shipbuilding process, from the early stages of shaping and sawing the wooden planks to the last stages of completion, with workmen milling

Stone and Pottery Vessels


over the curving hulls, carving, hammering, sawing, and drilling. All the hinges, nails, and bolts were made of copper, as were the workers' tools.

Stone and Pottery Vessels Although serving a utilitarian purpose, most of the products manufactured in ancient Egypt were fashioned with a fine sense of balance and a desire for beauty. Stone vessels from Predynastic graves were created in perfect symmetry, at first with flint borers and later by a cranked brace with weights acting as a flywheel for hollowing. The ancient industry of stone-vessel manufacture was largely superseded by the potters when they began to fashion their ware with the aid of a horizontal wheel. Deftly guiding the swirling vessels with their hands, their rate of production was much higher, and they were able to fulfill the demand for storage and eating vessels. Decorative cosmetic containers, decorated tableware, and fancy vessels were sometimes formed in the shapes of animals and birds. The skills and methods of the ancient potter can be traced for over five thousand years. Two methods of preparing the clay have been recorded. One, as revealed by tomb reliefs, shows the accumulated clay being soaked in a pit with water to make it workable. This was particularly necessary in the case of marls. Another, less common method was to separate the coarser particles, or to mix in a tempering material such as sand or crushed limestone. The clay was then kneaded or trodden to produce an even texture and remove excess air. Conical lumps were delivered to the potter. In many nobles' tombs at Saqqara, potters can be seen at work fashioning vessels and stacking them up. Several different techniques were employed: most vessels were hand-formed entirely; some were hand-formed initially and then finished on a stand;



and use was also made of the hand-wheel. Pottery was left to dry in the open air to what is usually called the 'leather-hard stage.' It was then smoothed by the potter's hand, or with a cloth, after which a coating of a pigment and water, or pigment mixed with clay and water, could be added to the surface before the pottery was fired. These coatings made the surface less permeable, and improved the appearance of the vessel. By the Fourth Dynasty, the days of irregular burning in an open fire at the mercy of the wind had passed; the potter had rows of closed kilns with a simple updraft to achieve uniform firing. Our knowledge of the kilns derives from a few samples that have survived in tomb reliefs, models, and from hieroglyphic signs. The earliest show that they flared to the top, with straight or concave sides, and were loaded from the top. The pottery was stacked on openwork platforms that separated them from the fire located in a small chamber below. Although pottery was primarily the occupation of men, a potter's wife and other members of his family helped out in various ways: collecting fuel for the kilns, carrying the clay from its sources, and adding finishing touches to a pot before it was placed in the kiln. Clay was also used for bricks, which were not fired. They were made of a combination of mud, water, and straw. The mixture was then poured into molds and left in the sun to dry. Brick-manufacture by this same method can still be seen practiced in many parts of Egypt today.

Textile Manufacture Spinning and weaving were major industries practiced from Predynastic times, when dressed skins were replaced by woven garments. A skill was developed such that by the beginning of the dynastic period, Egyptians were producing very fine linen. The



invention of the loom was another early triumph of ingenuity. Flax yielded long threads, and - to judge from the ever-growing demand for linen-it was as painstakingly cultivated as grain. When the flax was ripe, and its fibers tough, it was suitable for mats and ropes. If cut when the stems were green, it could be woven into soft linen: surviving remnants show that the fabric was sometimes of such gossamer fineness as to be almost indistinguishable from silk. This was particularly the case with royal linen, though coarser textiles were woven on a more widespread scale. Both spinning (entirely by the spindle), and weaving (on both upright and horizontal looms) was carried out by women, who also made tapestries, which were intended either for hanging on the walls of nobles' villas or to form the shade of a roof garden. The earliest evidence of textile workshops is an inscription found on a royal Fifth Dynasty mummy at Abu Sir. It identifies the deceased as 'assistant, superintendent of the weaving workshop.'

Viticulture The first wine-press hieroglyph dates from the First Dynasty, and there is evidence that even at this early date wine was transported across the country in sealed jars. Later representations show that grapes were picked by hand, placed in vats and trodden until the liquid ran through holes into a waiting container. The vat was canopied against the heat, and the chanting workers pressing the grapes held on to ropes hung from rafters. The residue of skins, seeds, and stalks was placed in canvas bags with staves fastened to each end. Two men (aided, in several tomb representations, by a monkey) lever these apart to squeeze out any juice remaining. Fermentation probably occurred naturally, due both to the method of pressing and to the high summer temperature. When partly fermented, the wine was siphoned into tall pottery vessels



and allowed to mature. There is some evidence that the vessels were coated on the inside with a resinous substance to prevent the liquid being lost through the porous pottery.

Other Industries Workers in other industries included carpenters, who produced the highest quality furniture for the Great House; coppersmiths, who made pipes and bowls as well as tools; and goldsmiths, who fashioned jewelry. All were strictly organized, with the work supervised by overseers, themselves under the direction of a 'chief overseer.' There was a tendency for children to ply the trades of their parents, at first making themselves useful around the workshops and then working as apprentices. In making furniture, carpenters used hammers and mallets, saws with teeth slanting toward the handle - indicating that they were pulled not pushed - and bow-drills for making holes. Leather-production had long been mastered and the curing of hides produced soft, fine-quality skins. The hides were first stretched taut on a board, then left to soak in oil. In the Old Kingdom no other tanning process was used. After the skins were removed, and when they started to dry, the leather was hammered to ensure that the oil was completely absorbed. The leather was then dyed in various colors and used to cover stools, chairs, beds, and cushions. Apart from its use in furniture, leather was also used to produce sandals, satchels, and sheets of parchment for official use. The tomb of Ti records the goldsmith's factory and the different stages of production of jewelry. Ti himself watches the head goldsmith weighing the precious metal, which was brought from the alluvial sands of the Eastern Desert or from Nubia, while scribes record it. Workers are depicted casting, soldering, and fit-



ting together a rich assortment of fine jewelry. Six men direct their blowpipes to the flames in a clay furnace. Beside them, a workman pours the molten metal. On the extreme right four men beat gold leaf. Some of the engravers seated on low benches are dwarfs. Turquoise, cut or ground- into tiny pieces, are inland with precision, soldered and fitted into exquisite necklets and other items of adornment. Glass was produced from silica-sand, lime, and soda; the earliest glass beads and amulets were found in Predynastic graves.

Wages Workers were paid wages in the form of bread, beer, clothing, oils, and grain in large amounts. Nobles frequently recorded their relationship with their foremen and workers by claiming that "whether craftsmen or quarrymen, I satisfied them." One Fourth Dynasty nobleman, Memi, was more explicit: in an inscription on the base of his statue he declared that the sculptor who fashioned his statue "was satisfied with the reward I gave him." Terms of employment are not clear, although some inscriptions imply that contracts were made. The lintel above an official's tomb entrance at Giza records that "the necropolis man Pepi is content over the contract which I made with him." The term 'necropolis man' was used for unskilled labor, whether quarryman or stoneworker. "Never did I use force against any man, for I wanted my name to be good before god and my repute to be good before all men." "Never did I do an evil thing." Such inscriptions were common in the tombs at Saqqara, and may have reflected the tomb-owner's wish to stress his qualities so that his name would shine before the 'great god,' the king. But they do encourage us to view with at least some reservation Herodotus's description of hordes of oppressed and overworked slaves, whipped by merciless overseers,



toiling and dying in the scorching sun in order to raise a monumental pyramid for the glorification of the king. There were in fact few slaves in the Old Kingdom, since foreign conquest was at a minimum, and no worker revolts are recorded until later periods. Indeed, the marks made on some of the casing stones delivered from the quarries for the great pyramids indicate a spirit of pride and competition among the workers. They gave themselves team names such as Vigorous gang' and 'enduring gang.'

The Farming Masses The bulk of the population was employed on the land. There are no Old Kingdom titles specifically connected with irrigation works, nor do we have written regulations regarding water control. This was undoubtedly because there were natural flood basins that needed the minimum of work, and competition for water was never an issue, except at the local level, because all settlements had direct access to the Nile. Presumably, until famine struck at the end of the Sixth Dynasty, no need was felt to organize irrigation. The flood came regularly and the farming communities had learned, from long experience, how to cope with the diversities of nature and improve the quality of the land. It was once believed that the fertility of the fields was entirely the result of the annual deposits of Nile silt from the sources of the Blue Nile. But now it is known that a certain amount of careful land management was also practiced in ancient times, including crop rotation, fallowing, and allowing cattle to pasture on the stubble and fertilize the soil. Some rare scenes of field workers being organized into crews suggest that smallholders may have joined forces with neighboring families for water distribution and harvesting. With the inundation of the floodplain, farmers made sure that

The Farming Masses


their cattle were safely housed on higher, dry land; with other agricultural activities suspended, they cared for the cattle and provided them with food already laid in storage. They carefully directed the water from the main canals to smaller branches traversing the fields in straight or curved lines, and controlled it by means of embankments. When the water level began to fall these natural reservoirs retained a residue of mineral-rich sediment that was ready to receive seed without further preparation. Reliefs show that oxen dragged simple wooden plows to till the soil and then lines of sowers would cast grain on the surface from baskets. This was usually trodden in by goats. Where the earth dried hard, however, a plow was used. The hoe - one of the most ancient of agricultural tools - consisted of a broad, pointed blade of wood attached to a handle at an acute angle and held in position in the center by a slack rope. The plow was a hoe enlarged by adding two long wooden arms on which the plowman could lean to keep the furrow straight and also to pressure the blade into the soil. A pole was provided with a yoke for attaching to draft animals. Although the Nile Valley and the Delta were fertile, full exploitation of the land only came with continuous toil. Farmers manufactured their own tools and household possessions. From scenes in nobles' tombs it is apparent that the harvest was the season of most strenuous activity. The ripened wheat was reaped with the aid of a sickle, tied in bundles, and loaded on to donkeys to be carried to the threshing floor. The wheat was then piled in heaps to be trodden by oxen, goats, or donkeys. The threshed grain was piled in a heap by means of three-pronged forks and sifted and winnowed with small boards or scoops used in pairs to toss the grain into the wind. Sometimes girls of ordinary families, too young to manage the household, lent a hand in the fields, gathering and winnowing. Finally the grain was placed in sacks and transported to the granary. Flour for bread, the staple food of rich and poor alike, was a



taxable commodity, and market scenes show grain in bags being used for barter. To make flour the grain was first cleaned, then powdered in a stone mortar and sifted. The bran was kept for the animals; the rest was ground by placing it at the upper end of a slightly hollowed, slanting slab of limestone and sliding a crossbar of sandstone across it. The ground flour gradually worked downward and was caught in a tray at the lower end. Bread was leavened by adding more flour to the residue of dough from the previous day, which has been left to sour. After the mixing and kneading of the dough it was shaped into ovals, triangles, and indented squares or placed in molds of various shapes and sizes. One of the most common shapes of bread was a conical white loaf much used in offerings. Bread dough was also used in the brewing of beer, a favorite drink among the masses. From the newly discovered bakery at Giza there is evidence of assembly-line production: baking pots and lids were manufactured at the site of the bakery where they were fired; and beer, the byproduct of the bread, was also produced there. Egyptians acquired a taste for honey from early times, and domestic bees can be traced to the Old Kingdom. Nyuserre's sun temple at Abu Sir shows a farmer kneeling in front of a row of hives in one scene, and in another pouring honey from a jar into a storage vessel. Such hives were made of reed or rush bundles coated with mud. The goods traded among the working classes were by no means luxury products. A great many scenes show the exchange of food and drink, especially fruit, vegetables, and fish. Among the tomb scenes of the colleagues Niankhkhnum and Khnumhotep are two men measuring and discussing the price of a bale of cloth. Another salesman offers fish from his basket to a seated man engraving a seal. A third trades a fan for a drink. Perhaps some of these people, especially those that carry shoulder bags, sacks, and boxes, were itinerant traders.

Animal Husbandry


Animal Husbandry Environmental conditions in the Delta and in the marshlands afforded excellent conditions for cattle-breeding, and animals were raised with care. Selection of temple herds was made from all parts of the country, which must have improved the breeds, especially of cattle and sheep. Care of animals came naturally to people who, before they settled down, had been hunters, fishers, and cattle-breeders. Veterinary medicine was practiced and the obvious health of the herds indicates proficient rearing. The care of livestock was a talent handed from generation to generation, touchingly depicted in many tombs. There are scenes showing a young farmhand feeding the animals, milking a cow, and (in the tombs of Ptahhotep and Ti) helping a cow give birth. In the tomb of Ti is a scene of a bald-headed farmer leading his animals through a canal by taking a calf on his shoulders to encourage its mother, and the rest of the herd, to follow. Attempts were made to domesticate wild creatures like the antelope, gazelle, and hyena along with tame species. The experiments seem to have been successful. The ancient Egyptians knew their animals intimately and although there are scenes of herders driving rams across a canal with raised whip, none shows an animal being beaten. The slaughter of cattle was part of temple ritual and there are many scenes in Old Kingdom tombs that depict the manner in which this was carried out. Several stockmen were involved. The left foreleg of the sacrificial animal would first be caught in a slip knot, the other end of the rope being thrown over its back and pulled by a second man. This forced the roped leg off the ground and threw the animal off balance. A man would sit on its neck and pull its head backward, another would hold onto its tail, and a third lift one of its hind legs. As soon as the animal was on the ground, the two hind legs and roped foreleg were roped together, the victim left powerless. The butcher then bled the animal to



death, collecting the blood in a vessel, and with a long-handled knife and a whetstone hung from the corner of his loincloth proceeded with his task. The animals sacred to the various temples, like the Apis bull of Memphis, were not necessarily the calf of a sacred animal, and sometimes not even part of the local herd. They were simply fine animals with particular markings, carefully chosen and ritually installed in the temple.

The Bucolic Afterlife Belief in the afterlife was, as we have seen, the focal point of the ancient Egyptian outlook. It stimulated their thought, moral principles, art, architecture, burial traditions, and beliefs. To most of the population, upper and lower classes alike, there was a concept of the afterlife as a rural environment. This was believed to lie in the path of the setting sun, where the deceased would be ferried across the 'lily lake' and gain admittance to a blessed place of peculiar fertility where wheat grew seven cubits high. Plowing, reaping, and watering of crops ensured eternal abundance. The noble classes, desiring an extension of their experience on earth, visualized workers toiling for them for eternity; small wooden or faience funerary statuettes, the 'answerers' or shawabti figures, were placed in their tombs, usually each group of ten under an overseer. There were figures of farmers who carried agricultural implements, artisans with the tools of their trade, and even a sailor to man the model vessel placed with oars near the coffin of a deceased nobleman.

VIII Leisure

Entertainment Leisure was made possible by the economy, exceptional opportunities, and favorable climate of ancient Egypt. Many tombs at Saqqara and Giza contain scenes of the deceased seated with family, friends, or relatives beneath an arbor enjoying the mild north breeze. The panorama of everyday life indicates how vitally conscious the people were of the animal and bird life teeming around them and how much they esteemed outdoor life. It seems that among the greatest pleasures were venturing into the marshes in search of aquatic birds, hunting in the undulating plains of the desert, and fishing in canals and lakes. The ancient Egyptians had a great sense of rhythm and love of music. During important events (such as the breaking of ground by the 'scorpion king,' depicted on his mace-head), a line of women clapped in unison. A piper or singer often entertained fishers and farmers while they worked. And, not surprisingly, we find the wealthy classes enjoying music at all times of day: at their morning toilet, at meals, and during leisure hours. Harps were small and usually played by a seated musician; flutes were in two sizes. A full orchestra comprised two harps and two flutes. Two or three musicians, as well as singers and clappers, often accompanied lithe young women as they performed dances. One such scene, in the tomb of Ti, shows both male and female performers, who perform separately, each with accompanying hand-clappers. In the tomb of Mehu at Saqqara female dancers raise their arms in



a circular motion above their heads while their feet move forward, a gesture probably repeated to the rhythm of the music. A more energetic performance is depicted in the tomb of Ankhmahor, where the dancers do a high kick. In the tomb of Kagemni an acrobatic dance is performed by young girls who are depicted with the left foot placed flat on the floor, torso curved, head dropping backward until the hair, plaited into a pigtail with decoration on the end, hangs down in perfect symmetry. Such scenes, which are commonplace in ancient Egyptian tombs were not, as once supposed, purely for the entertainment of the deceased and their families in the afterlife. They were ceremonial dances, probably suggesting a ritual of rebirth. Music and religion were closely linked. Hathor, for example, the cow-goddess of love and nourishment, was associated with music and dance; her son Ihy became a god of music and patron of the chorus. Hathor's sacred emblem, the sistrum, was an ancient musical instrument that eventually became an architectural feature in temples. The fact that the ancient Egyptians had no known system of musical notation is somewhat surprising, particularly in view of the development of an independent system of writing at an early date. Perhaps tunes, like the popular stories, were transmitted from generation to generation. We do know that early visitors to Egypt from the Greek mainland around the sixth century BC were particularly impressed with the harmony of Egyptian melodies. One of the most appealing tales of the Old Kingdom is the story of the pygmy brought from the 'land of Yam' to amuse the young king Pepi II. Pepi was only six years old when he ascended the throne. During the second year of his reign Harkhuf, the nobleman of Elephantine who made many journeys to the south, returned with exotic products and a dancing pygmy as a gift for the king. He sent messengers ahead to inform the Great House, and with great enthusiasm Pepi sent a letter of thanks to Harkhuf requesting him to take every precaution that the pygmy should ar-

Outdoor Sport


rive in Memphis in good condition. Harkhuf was instructed to put trustworthy persons in charge to ensure the pygmy should not fall overboard, and that when he slept guards should sleep on either side of the cabin and make an inspection "ten times a night; for," wrote Harkhuf in his tomb - where he recorded the episode and quoted the king's letter in his biographical text - "my majesty desires to see this pygmy more than all the gifts of Setjru, Irtjet, and Yam." A legend in the Westcar Papyrus, which relates events in the Old Kingdom, tells of the aged king Senefru's entertainment. A magician recommended that he row on the palace lake in the company of "all the beauties who are in your palace chamber... the heart of Your Majesty shall be refreshed at the sight of their rowing as they row up and down. You can see the beautiful fish ponds of your lake, and you can see the beautiful fields around it (and) your heart will be refreshed at this." Senefru forthwith ordered that twenty oars be made of ebony fitted with gold and silver, and that twenty women be brought, "the most beautiful in form, with hair well braided, with firm breasts, not yet having opened up to give birth. Let there be brought to me twenty nets, and let these nets be given to these women when they have taken off their clothes. Then it was done according to all that His Majesty commanded, and they rowed up and down. The heart of His Majesty was happy at the sight of their rowing."

Outdoor Sport Outdoor recreations were popular among all classes of society. King Sahure was depicted in his sun temple hunting gazelle, antelope, deer, and other animals, and most nobles' tombs contain scenes showing the pursuit of wild game and capture of various species. The working classes chased gazelle, oryx, wild oxen,



hares, and ostrich with equal enthusiasm. Long bow and arrow, lasso, throwing sticks, and bola were the most common hunting weapons. The bow was no more than a meter in length and the arrows, carried in leather quivers, came in several varieties; the one preferred for hunting (which served into the New Kingdom) had an agate arrowhead cemented to a sturdy stick, usually ebony, and fitted into a hollow reed shaft. It was decorated with two feathers and notched for the bowstring. Considerable ability must have been required in the handling of the throwing stick, numerous specimens of which may be found. They varied in shape. Some were semicircular, others ended in a knob. The bola consisted of a rope or strap about five meters long with a single rounded stone attached to the end. When thrown, the cord would twist round the legs or neck of the animal and hinder its movement. A good hunter could bring down an animal with a careful throw. The noose of the lasso was thrown round the neck of the running victim, whether gazelle, wild goat, or ostrich. Hunting scenes were extremely spirited, showing the hunter enthusiastically pursuing game in an obvious display of pleasure. Some scenes indicate how bait was used. In Ptahhotep's tomb the muzzle of a young tethered heifer is being seized in the jaws of a lion, which a hunter points out to his two hounds before setting them loose. Hounds were specially trained for hunting and following wounded beasts. Every effort seems to have been made to save the game animals from being hurt and to capture them alive. Ptahhotep is depicted watching men dragging cages containing lion, a frame with gazelles bound together in groups, and smaller cages containing hedgehogs. Sometimes a hunter, perhaps after killing its mother, would take a young gazelle back to the village. The Egyptians were avid fishers. After the waters of the annual flood receded, ponds were left in the open country. These, as well as the canals and the river, yielded an inexhaustible supply of mul-

Outdoor Sport


let, catfish, tilapia, perch, barbel, and other varieties of fish. The upper classes penetrated deep into the thickets in their firmly constructed papyrus skiffs, their feet squarely placed on the central plank. They pursuedfishwith spears - sometimes two-pronged but never angled. The common folk on the other hand sometimes speared fish like their masters but more often angled from small boats, using as many as five hooks on a single line. Dragnets were drawn from the shore in small canals, trawl nets were used in larger canals and the river, and trap nets were also used. These were wicker baskets with narrow necks, sometimes curving inward; when they were dropped into shallow water, the fish were attracted to the bait and swam inside but could not emerge. Hippopotamus-hunting with spears was popular among all classes. Harpoons were used with great dexterity. The ancient Egyptians' familiarity with bird life is particularly apparent in the tomb of Ti, where various marsh species are depicted in families near their nests, each drawn with characteristic features and easily identifiable (although not drawn to scale). They include quail, partridge, heron, pelican, turtledove, magpie, swallow, wild duck, and goose. Wading in the reedy swamps near the river are flamingos, pelicans, and cormorants. In fact, indigenous and migratory waterfowl were so plentiful that the ancient Egyptians likened a crowd to a bird pond during the inundation. Birds were most often caught in clap nets. Hunting them with a throw-stick was also an extremely popular sport, which needed skill: the hunter, often accompanied by his wife, children, and servants, had to stand firmly in his boat with legs wide apart and, while maintaining his balance, fling the missile at the fowl as they took to the air. Some of the men with him hold decoy-birds, indicating that the boat made its way quietly through the thickets to creep up on the fowl. Mongooses were trained to catch small aquatic birds, considered a great delicacy. It is not surprising, in view of the warm weather and the prox-



imity of the river, that the ancient Egyptians were swimmers from early times. Early Dynastic seals show swimmers in action. It is evident from these and other representations that the crawl was the common stroke. Learning to swim may, indeed, have been necessary training for children among the upper classes, for a biographical inscription of a Middle Kingdom nobleman refers to the encouragement his king gave him and declares that as a youth "he caused me to take swimming lessons along with the royal children." Confrontation sports like wrestling, boxing, and fencing with sticks were also popular. Ptahhotep's tomb shows wrestling scenes, in which many elements common in Japanese martial arts have been detected. In many tombs the owner is depicted watching boatmen's games, which may have been either an exhibition contest or a race. Light reed boats, often filled with produce, were punted in the same direction, while two or three men stood in each boat equipped with long poles with which they tried to push their opponents into the water. They would then either board the 'enemy' boat or tip it over. In the tombs of the Old Kingdom, only children (identified by the side-lock of youth) are depicted playing games. Moreover, most of the games are played by boys, and (with few exceptions) boys and girls did not play together. A game requiring skill was played by boys with sharp-pointed sticks, which they raised and threw at a target on the ground between them. A 'tug-of-war' trial of strength was accompanied by such inscriptions as "your arm is much stronger than his," "my team is stronger than yours," and "hold fast, comrades." Boys played a high-jump game, leaping over an obstacle formed by two of their comrades sitting opposite each other with the soles of the feet and tips of the fingers touching. A girls' game is depicted in Mereruka's tomb: two players in the center hold either two or four partners with outstretched

Indoor Games


arms; the latter lean outward so that only their heels touch the ground. The text reads "turn around four times." Though there are no reliefs of children playing ball in the Old Kingdom, balls have been found, even in prehistoric graves. Some were covered in leather cut into sections and sewn together and filled with fine straw or reeds. Others were made of wood or clay, in one or more colors. Tops, rattles, and blowpipes, as well as dolls, have also been found. Some dolls seem to have been made by the children themselves from pieces of wood swathed in cloth. They also made toys fashioned of clay: crude human figures and animals like sheep, dogs, tortoises, and lizards, which can be clearly identified. When children died, these 'treasures' were buried with them.

Indoor Games
The ancient Egyptians were also imaginative in their indoor recreation. A favorite game was senet, which appears to have been similar to checkers, played on a rectangular board divided into thirty squares in three rows with carved black and white pieces. A large number were found at the tomb of Ptahshepses at Abu Sir. Although the players are depicted facing each other, there is no indication of the rules of the game. The earliest gaming piece (in the shape of a house with a sloping roof) was found in the tomb of the First Dynasty king Den. Predynastic game pieces made of clay coated with wax, along with a checker-board table of unbaked clay held up by four thick, short legs and divided into eighteen squares, have also been found. A game that appears to have been popular in the Old Kingdom was played with a series of discs about ten centimeters in diameter, made in wood, horn, ivory, stone, or copper. Each had a hole in the center, through which a fifteen-centimeter pointed stick was inserted. We do not know how the game was played. Perhaps



the stick was rotated between the palms of the hands to make the discs spin like a top. Some of the games of the Old Kingdom did survive its fall. One was played on a low table, its surface displaying an engraved or inlaid coiled snake, the head situated at the center of the board and the body divided into transverse lines forming segments. The pieces for this game comprised three lions, three lionesses, and five red-and-white balls; these were kept in an ebony box when the game was not being used.

Folk Tales and Myths Storytelling played an important part in the lives of the ancient Egyptians. The deeds of gods and kings were not written in early times and only found their way through oral tradition into the literature of a later date. This treasury of popular tales was based on an ageless tradition in ancient Egypt. As we have seen, the people, their society, and their institutions were molded by the environment and by nature's changeless cycles. The permanence of the physical environment meant that the lives of the rural Egyptians remained stable. While the Great House was striving for political control, and noble fathers were teaching proverbs and behavior to their sons, the life of the peasant farmer was shaped, as in times long past, by the rise and fall of the Nile. Each evening when the sun set, farm work was over. Farmers would put aside their hoes, sickles, and winnowing forks, and sit with their friends in the village or on the rocky outcrop overlooking the valley, and tell tales. They related all they knew of their ancestors, who, like themselves, knew how to exploit the waters of the Nile. Narmer, some told, diverted the great river at Memphis through an artificial channel and constructed a moat around the city that was fed by the river. They related tales of the good and kindly king Senefru,

Folk Tales and Myths


who helped the poor; of the wicked Khufu who constructed a mighty tomb in the shape of the sacred ben-ben, and of Menkaure who was. good and just and compensated the poor. Popular and magical tales were closely bound together in a frame narrative, which provided a reason for their telling. Whether or not this was based on propaganda by the central government is not important, once they became part of the stockpile of oral tradition. For example, the Westcar Papyrus relates three stories that mention the names of kings and princes in the Old Kingdom in chronological order. It preserves the undercurrents of what might have been a most inspired, imaginative, and successful campaign to disseminate sun worship by the Heliopolitan priests. The text reveals that Khufu, builder of the great pyramid, asked his sons to tell him tales of wonders. The first two magical feats recounted took place in the reigns of the Third Dynasty kings Zoser and Nebka, the third in Senefru's reign, and the fourth in Khufu's own reign. The tales end with the prophecy of the imminent birth of three sons by Reddedet, the wife of a Heliopolitan priest, who were destined for the throne. The eldest of these children, conceived by the sungod Re by immaculate conception, would also be High Priest of Heliopolis. The purpose of the tale (to show that the kings of the Fifth Dynasty were sons of the sun-god) was preceded by appealing stories of wonder and magic. In this form, it was passed through the generations, becoming part of the oral tradition, until finally set to writing. The repulsing of Apep, the evil dragon-like creature that lurked on the horizon, was another popular tale. Each evening, at sunset, it tried to stop the passage of the setting sun through the underworld. If the sky was clear, it indicated an easy passage; a blood-red sunset showed a desperate battle between the forces of good and evil; but the sun was the victor and there was always a new dawn. The Egyptians told tales of the world around them: how the sky was held aloft by mountain peaks or pillars that rose



above the range that formed the edge of the world; how the sun was a disc of fire that sailed across the heavens in a boat, or was pushed by the beetle, Kheper; how the sky was a mother-goddess, Nut, like the cow that gave nourishment; and how the earth was Geb, who sprouted vegetation, reborn each year as their great ancestor Osiris had been given life after death. They told tales of Osiris who taught them how to produce grain for their nourishment, of Isis his wife who taught them how to weave and grind grain for bread, and of Horus, their son, who was the king who had power over the forces of nature. They told many tales about their river: how Hapi the Nile-god dwelt in a grotto on an island where the Nile gushed out of the eternal ocean that surrounded the earth, and from where he controlled its flow to Upper and Lower Egypt. They described Hapi as a boatman or fisherman like many of their own, with a narrow belt holding in a large belly and heavy breasts. And they told tales of their land: how the vegetation that died with the harvest was reborn when the grain sprouted, just as the sun-god 'died' each evening and was reborn the next morning. How Set, the personification of drought, darkness, and evil, secretly aspired to the throne of Osiris, the god of fertility and water. They told how, when Horus was a child and was hidden with his mother Isis in the marshes of the Delta, he was bitten by Set, who had taken the form of a poisonous snake. Isis, in despair, called to the heavens for help, and the 'boat of millions of years' drawing the sun-god across the heavens heard her. Re sent Thoth the moon-god to speak to Isis and offer help. He informed her that the boat of the sun-god would stand still, darkness would reign, there would be no food, and the people of the earth would suffer, until Horus was cured. They told how the evil Set was overcome, Horus became healthy, and the sun-god resumed his journey across the heavens, casting life-giving rays upon the earth and causing the crops to grow again.

Rural Festivals


Myths and legends are a memory of the past carried forward in ever-elaborated, sometimes distorted or exaggerated form, if some of the tales had long served a politico-religious purpose, the people were not necessarily aware of it. Many include elements of magic, the supernatural, a trick overcome, a solution to a problem provided, or a reality explained. The magician Djedi, described in the Westcar Papyrus as having performed feats of wonder, was "one hundred and ten years," and one who knew "the number of the secret chambers of the sanctuary of Thoth," the moon-god who was the finder of secrets, the solver of problems.

Rural Festivals Rural festivals were a great source of pleasure to the masses. They were closely linked to the working patterns of the people: celebrations heralding the rebirth of the crop, the reaping of the first sheaf, the opening of a new canal, the bearing of the crop to the granary - all were accompanied by hand-clapping, singing, and sometimes more. All festivals were of a religious nature in the sense that it was an appropriate time for pilgrimages to be made to the graves of the departed to present offerings, or for a longer journey to be undertaken to the holy site of ancestors to make a sacrifice. These were not gestures of piety so much as a self-imposed duty, a gratification, and a familiar and recognized pattern of behavior. In the Old Kingdom the people were confident (they had not yet known war or foreign occupation), hard-working (a reflection of a stable and organized government), and optimistic (since the nature-worship of Osiris had not yet developed into a 'cult of the dead,' there was no need for the growth of priestcraft to help defend against the awesome powers of the underworld). In the Old Kingdom, people suffered no apprehension of the hereafter.



When they died and were buried on the west bank of the Nile, along with the necessary provisions for the hereafter, they were confident that they would go to the 'godly west,' where they would live again as on earth. There would be no hunger or want. In this blessed place of peculiar fertility, they would breathe the fresh air along the river banks, fish in the bulrushes, paddle boats along the river, and enjoy fowling and hunting for ever and ever in the'field of reeds.'


There were many reasons that made Egypt a country unique in providing an unbroken story of human progress longer than can be traced anywhere else on earth. They are based primarily on the security and sufficiency of the land with predictable seasons and no scarcity of basic resources, as well as on the political organization of the country. This was based on the establishment of local cults at strategic positions by means of which royal monopoly over raw materials was assured. This paved the way for the emergence of a court-centered culture. Builders and artisans with an aptitude for translating a range of ideals into their artistic creations were employed by the state. Hieroglyphic writing was formalized, art forms codified, mortuary ritual standardized, and a national religion formulated. A festival was planned in which distant communities could actively participate, and a drama performed that traced the story of the creation of the physical world up to the triumph and coronation of the king. In addition, a mythological tradition with strong political, social, and religious ramifications was developed. Tradition became so deeply rooted in the first eight centuries of ancient Egyptian history (from 3000 to 2145 BC) that despite the fall of the Old Kingdom (and, indeed, other 'great periods'), it continued to influence the political and social institutions, religious beliefs and rituals, art and architecture for thousands of years. In the Middle Kingdom (2040-1640 BC), the second of Egypt's three great periods, the title 'repeating of births' (that is, renais-



sance) was applied to kingly rule, and the kings maintained their control over the reunited country by reviving the methods practiced in the Old Kingdom: the construction or restoration of temples at cult centers, the performance of national festivals, and the monopoly of trade. Indeed, in a record dating to the reign of Senusret III we find the king searching the ancient records "to ascertain the form of a god, that he might fashion him as he was formerly, when they made the statues in their council, in order to establish their monuments on earth." After the war of liberation from the Hyksos and the creation of an empire, Egypt entered an age of unparalleled wealth and grandeur in the New Kingdom (15 50-1070 BC). The priests of Amun-Re of Thebes became extremely powerful, and there was grave discontent among the upper classes. When Akhenaten came to the throne he emphasized a connection between his worship of the living sun, the Aten, and the solar cult of the Pyramid Age. He built his sun temples on the same lines as the Fifth Dynasty temples at Abu Sir. And the symbol of the Aten, the orb of the sun, was reminiscent of the description of the sun-god in the Pyramid Texts: "The arm of the sun beams." The king himself was still regarded as the 'son of the sun-god' and the traditional title ReHarakhte, 'Horus of the Horizon,' was not at first discarded. Stress was once again placed on maat, and verses in praise of the Aten contained little that had not been sung in earlier verses to the sun-god Re. Akhenaten's revival was short-lived. The priests of Amun-Re came back to power and for a time basked in a period of unequaled splendor. But the empire was lost, the country went into a period of decline. During the brief Twenty-sixth Dynasty revival known as the Sake Period (664-525 BC), conscientious effort was made to recapture 'the time of the ancestors,' "for lo, their words abide in writing; open that thou may read and imitate knowledge." The Saite rulers recopied ancient texts, and there is even evidence that



they excavated a gallery beneath the Step Pyramid at Saqqara to see how it was built. The Old Kingdom became a classic standard, a time in which the hard core of Egyptian thought was formulated, and a time that the ancient Egyptians themselves regarded as a Golden Age, a model throughout their history.

For Further Reading

EDWARDS, I.E.S.: The Pyramids of Egypt. Revised and updated. London: Penguin Books, 1988. EMERY, W.B.: Archaic Egypt. Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1961. ERMAN, ADOLF: Life in Ancient Egypt. Translated by H.M. Tirard. New York: Dover Publications, 1971. Faulkner, R.O.: The Ancient Egyptian Pyramid Texts. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1969. FRANKFORT, HENRI: Kingship and the Gods: A Study of Ancient Near Eastern Religion as the Integration of Society and Nature. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1978. HAYES, WILLIAM C.: Most Ancient Egypt. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1965. HOFFMAN, MICHAEL A.: Egypt Before the Pharaohs. London and New York: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1980. KAMIL, JILL: Sakkara and Memphis: History and Guide. New, completely revised edition. Cairo: Egyptian International Publishing - Longman, 1996.

For Further Reading


KEES, HERMANN: Ancient Egypt: A Cultural Topography. Translated by Ian F. D. Morrow Chicago and London: Faber and Faber, 1961. KEMP, BARRY J.: Ancient Egypt: Anatomy of a Civilization. London and New York: Routledge, 1989. MORENZ, SIEGFRIED: Egyptian Religion. Translated by Ann E. Keep. London: Methuen, 1960. PETRIE, FLINDERS W. M.: The Pyramids and Temples ofGizeh. New and revised edition. London: History and Mysteries of Man, 1990. RICE, MICHAEL: Egypt's Making. London and New York: Routledge, 1990. SPENCER, A.J.: Early Egypt: The Rise of Civilization in the Nile Valley. London: British Museum Press, 1993. STEVENSON SMITH, W.: The Art and Architecture of Ancient Egypt. London and New York: Penguin Books, 1958. TRIGGER, BRUCE G.: Early Civilizations: Ancient Egypt in Context. Cairo: The American University in Cairo Press, 1993. TRIGGER, B.C., BJ. KEMP, D. O'CONNOR, A.B. LLOYD.: Ancient Egypt: A Social History. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1983. WEEKS, KENT. Egyptology and the Social Sciences. Cairo: The American University in Cairo Press, 1979.


Abu Ghurab 104 Abu Sir 99,102, 105, 119, 160, 172 Abydos 17, 21-22, 27, 28, 40,43 Africanus 36 Afterlife 128 Aha 42,45, 119 tomb of 44 akh 35 Akhenaten 188 ancestor worship 2, 22 animals 8, 33, 138 ankh 64, 150 Anubis 33-34, 52 Apep 183 Aswan 31, 119 Asyut 8, 9 Aten 188 Atum 89, 112, 114 Atum-Re 89, 90 Badari n, 31 Badarian culture 13,17,19,23 Battlefield Palette 27 ben-ben 92

Book of the Dead 111 Bubastis 86 Buto 16 Byblos 26, 121 Byblos ship 121 Cataract region 120,123,124 class-based society 17 Coffin Texts 111 Coptos 53, 107 cult centers 2, 21, 48, 51, 52, 53> 55> 5 8 > 6°, 69, 7°. 86> 95,97, 105, 106, 109, 115 cults 50, 51, 52, 58, 83, 85 Dahshur 74, 75 Dakhla Oasis 8 Den 46,49, 56,63, no Dimeh 12 Djedi 185 Djedkare 106 Djer 42, 52, 63 Djet 42 Eastern Desert 5, 9 Edwin Smith Surgical Papyrus 155


Egyptian Museum 37, 85, i% 137 Elephantine 53, 106, 124 Ennead 112 Fayyum 8,9,11,12,13,14,22 fellahin 19 Flinders Petrie i
Geb 89, no, 112 Gebel al-Arak 21 Gerzean culture 22, 23-24, 27,40, 52 Giza 79,81,92,99, 119, 129, 131, 156 Giza Plateau Mapping Project 74 Great House 3, 41, 48, 55, 59, 65, 69, 70, 74, 76, 96, 98, 101,105,106,109,115, 123, 127,130, 151, 155 Great Pyramid 74, 79, 84, 1 64 Great Royal Wife 99, 149

Helwan 45, 129 Hemaka 56 Herodotus 6, 36, 57, 83, 146 Hetepheres 150, 157 Hierakonpolis i, 3, 20 hieroglyphic script 28 High Dam at Aswan 6, 11 Horus 21, 28, 49, 56, 57, 6061,89,91,95,97,112,114, 148,184 hu 96 Hyksos 188 Imhotep 65, 91 Isis 90,97, 113, 148, 184
ka 51 Ka 28, 63 Ka-aper 146 Kagemni 134 Kanufer (son of Senefru) 75 Khaba, pyramid of 71 Khafre 80,87 pyramid of 71 statue of 161 valley temple of 8 5 khamasin 10 Khasekhem(wy) 45,61,62,63 Khenti-Amentiu 53 Kheti 159 Khufu 5 7,77,79,8 3,106,15 o, 164,183 pyramid of 71

Hammamiya n Harishef 52 Harkhuf 125, 176 Hathor 86, 97, 121 Heb Sed see Sed festivals Heliopolis 16,91,92,101, J 54 Heliopolis Doctrine 89, 90, 98,114



valley temple of 84 Kom Ombo 8 Lake Qarun 9, 1 1 Lebanon 26 Lower Egypt 5,11,26,27,36, Luxor 17 Maadi 16, 25 maat 96 Manetho 3, 37, 60 mastaba 24 Mefdet 49 Meidum 22 Memphis 36, 62, 70, 85, 105, 112, 119, 129, 154 Memphite Drama 48, 50, 51, in, 113 Menes 1,3,36-38,110 Meni 143 Menkaure 86,99, J ^3 pyramid of 71 statue of 161 Merenre 108, 124 Mereruka 139, 180 Meresankh III 93 Merimda n, 14 Meryetneith 149 Mesopotamia 21, 26 Methen 132, 151 Naqada i, 17, 19, 20, 21-22, 27,28,31,32,45,60, 149

Narmer 1,3,28,37,39,45,182 natron 32, 157 nebty 46, 78 Neferirkare 102, 105, 156 Neith 52 Neithhotep 45, 149 Nekhbet 61 Nekhebu 105, 151 Nekhen i, 3, 17, 20-22, 24, 26-27, *8, 37, 41, 42, 43, 53, 60, 63 Nekure 159 Nekure son of Khafre 77 Nemathap 149 nesw-bit 46, 78 neter 52 Netjereperef (son of Senefru) 75 Nile 5,9,27,80,115,11718,120,123,170,184 flood 10, 30 Nofir 146 Nubia 25, 123-26 Nut 89, 97 Nyuserre 102, 103, 105 Omari 16, 135 Orion 94 Osiris 22, 89, 90, 94, 95, 97,
IIO, I I I , 112, 147, 148

Palermo Stone 48,58,77,110,123 Palestine 25


Palette of Narmer 3 7, 39,53, 57 Pe 41 Pepi I 106-8, 151 Pepi II 108, 115, 126, 176 Per-ibsen 60 Petti 82 Ptah 50, 104, 112, 113, 114 Ptah-Shepses 105 Ptahhotep 138,139,140,14244, 152-53, 180 Ptolemy II 37 Punt 117, 122 pyramid of Meidum 71 PyramidTexts 48,49,56-58, 68,83,91,92,94,111,128, 135 pyramids of Giza 71 Rahotep 137 Ramses II 39, 85 Re 62, 89, 92, no Red Sea 17 Sabni 141 Sahure 109, 121 Saqqara 44, 62, 65, 99, 101, 130, 165 seasons n Sed festivals 46, 62, 65, 6869, 102, 103 Seheil Island 126 serdab 33

serekh 38, 42, 52, 60 Set 21, 28, 60-61, 97, no, 112, 114, 147, 184 Seti I, temple of 39 Shabaka Stone 112,142 Shamm al-Nasim 147 Shepseskhaf 99 Sheshat 49 Shu 89, no Shunet al-Zibib 119 sia 96 Sinai 26 Sohag 10 Son of Re 101 Sothis 30 Sphinx 86-88 Step Pyramid of Saqqara 64-67,189 Tasa n Tefnut 89 TellBasta 86 Tell al-Fara'un 26 Tell Farkha 27 Tell Ibrahim Awad 27, 28 Tell al-Kabir 27 Tell Samara 27 Teti 151 Thinis 27 Thoth 97, no Ti,tombof 134,140,151,162, 164, 168, 173, 175, 179 Towns Palette 28



Tura 79 Turin Papyrus 3,110 Two Lands 36,41,44, 56,91,95 Umm al-Qaab 43 Unas 3, 119 Upper Egypt 5, 6, 8, n, 25, 26, 27, 36, 82,95, J I 4 Userkhaf 100, 105 WadiDigla 25 Wadi Hammamat 117

Weni 126, 151 Wepwawet 33, 67 Weshptah 156 Westcar Papyrus 57,177,183,185 Western Desert 5,8-10
Yam 125

Zoser 64-69, 70, 71, 91, no