The Life Revolved Around the Afterlife

I enjoyed learning about the Pyramid Age during the Old Kingdom.  What I found most interesting is how much the ancient Egyptian culture is surrounded around the ruling dynasties. Over time, as funerary complexity increased, the ultimate projects of building monumental pyramids had to come next.  Everything in a city would revolve around this cult, as Professor Watrall described it in the lecture.  The Pharaoh and his family had the privilege to be interred into a pyramid that required a labor party of 10,000 people to construct.  It is most interesting that as soon as someone was appointed new Pharaoh during the Old Kingdom, it was necessary to start planning the build of a grand tomb.  With such a high amount of resources and power, the construction and time put into building the pyramids was counterproductive for people as a whole, during the Old Kingdom.  With a city at the Pharaoh’s whim, it had to do whatever was necessary to keep the king happy in his afterlife.  The Pyramid of Sneferu was commissioned to be built when a new Pharaoh came into power and didn’t like the one that he claimed.  In some of the tombs, hundreds of people consisting of the Pharaoh’s servants, body guards, and wives were sacrificed and were placed in the corridors of kings’ tombs.  Even thousands of cattle were slaughtered for sacrifice for the cause of a good afterlife.   Life during this time must have not been all too great if every one’s mind was focused on the afterlife during his/her time on Earth.  I haven’t come across this information yet and I will inquire further, but I wonder if there have been Pharaohs that are killed right after the tomb/pyramid was built, so that they can make a quicker journey into his afterlife.

2 thoughts on “The Life Revolved Around the Afterlife

  1. I am actually doing my research paper on grave goods and their uses over time, so I found the culture and beliefs surrounding the afterlife of the Egyptian people to be very interesting also. As you mentioned, the Egyptians spent an enormous amount of time preparing for death and the burials of others. Through my research, I found that Egyptians believed in two separate entities within a person, the Ka (soul) and Ba (body), and only with both of these intact after their journey through the duat (underworld) could they be reincarnated on Earth and live forever. This is why such care and thought was put into the burial process, why the bodies were painstakingly preserved (so the Ba would be preserved to journey through the duat) and why so many grave goods and helpers (human/animal sacrifices) were buried along with the deceased. However, some grave goods are purely to show the living how much power the tomb’s occupant had attained, such as the elaborate “boat burials” which were really of no use in the afterlife, but rather a status symbol. Another unique and socially stratified grave good was The Book of the Dead, a detailed guide to the underworld and it’s happenings. Papyrus was an expensive commodity in ancient Egypt, and only the wealthy or powerful could afford to have their own personal copy upon death. Some saved the expense by burying families in mass graves, and sharing one copy of the book. Others went without, and took their chances going unprepared into the underworld.

  2. Everything about the pyramids is astounding: their size, their structure, their age, the materials and workforce required to build them, their enduring presence and longevity, and the mortuary cult and practices that allowed for them (or required them) to be built. It seems like in this class the jump from tombs to pyramids was very fast, in a cultural context. I’m also amazed how, as you pointed out, once a new pharoah was chosen the construction of his tomb would have to begin immediately. I’m also curious about whether or how the pharoahs were chosen. Was it usually inherited? Did they wait until the previous pharoah died?
    I also think that the pyramids could be seen as counterproductive for the ancient Egyptians. The conscripted labor would force them to leave their normal lives and families. It seems like the vast amount of resources required to build the pyramids could’ve been put to far better use doing something else (though I know not what). Surely this mortuary cult was “counterproductive” for the people and animals who were sacrificed when their pharoah died. It seems like for the ancient Egyptians, death gave the people a reason to live. So much of many of their lives revolved around preparing for the afterlife, either theirs or their pharoah’s.

Leave a Reply