Speaking about the afterlife it is necessary to mention the religious views of ancient Egyptians as those two conceptions were tightly interrelated. As it was stated by Herodotus, “the Egyptians were religious to a higher degree than any other people”. (Redford) Despite the fact that the religious system in Egypt was quite complicated as there were more than 700 different gods, each god was a reflection of absolutely different concept. Moreover, the places of their worshipping differed significantly.
It is known that every Egyptian chose a particular god or several of them depending on his or her moral or situational needs and worshipped them. However, the religious practice of the people in ancient Egypt is divided by modern historians into two basic forms:
– State religion (this form concerned only the king and his surroundings and was not for the ordinary people due to inaccessibility of large temples where the state gods were worshipped. Those temples included Karnak, Luxor, Abu Simbel, and Abydos);
– Household religion (this form concerned all the Egyptians who worshipped the gods at home without attending the temples).
Despite the existence of so many gods, the most important one could be considered Osiris – the god of the underworld. It was thought that after the king’s death, he turned into Osiris and thus had an opportunity to rule in the afterlife. Thanks to Orisis, ancient Egyptians believed in live after death. This god was even represented in a form of a mummy in order to justify such a creation of Egyptians as mummification.
Nowadays many examples of mummified bodies and tombs can be observed in certain places, however, archaeologists still didn’t find any pieces of writings from ancient Egypt that would describe the process of mummification as it was. The first written evidence of this process was given by the Greek historian – Herodotus in the fifth century BC. He suggested that “the Egyptians believed that mummifying a person’s body after death was essential to ensure a safe passage to the Next World. This was done by embalming, a process that helped to preserve the body from natural decay”. (Hunt)
So, which steps did this process of mummification actually include? After a death of a person in the ancient Egypt, his body was taken to an embalmers’ workshop. It is supposed that there were ready-made coffins and amulets, which gave the relatives a chance to choose the appropriate assemblage according to their budget.
In this work we will touch upon the process of mummification that was applied just to royal and the wealthy stratum of society and took about 70 days. First step of the process embraced the removal of almost every internal organ. The brain was usually extracted through the nasal cavities with a help of the hook and then discarded. After removing the brain, a cut was made in the abdomen in order to extract the rest of the organs with an exception of the heart, as it was believed that thought processes and emotions occurred rather in the heart than in the brain, so this organ was untouchable. When embalmers completed those tasks, it was time to switch to the thorough cleansing of the abdomen. It was done with a help of palm wine and an infusion of pounded spices, which had antibacterial properties and prevented the smell of decomposition. The body, covered with natron and salt, was then left for several days to dry out and only after this it was filled with a mixture of aromatic substances, linen or sawdust to give a particular shape to it. Afterwards, it was finally sewn up and the slit was hidden by a certain cover.
As for the rest of the organs that had been removed, they were also treated as something precious. For this reason they were carefully dried in natron, wrapped in linen and placed in four vessels that were called canopic jars. At the beginning those jars were buried with the body, but with the development of the phenomenon of mummification the dried organs went back to the body.
The process of preparing the body ended in the embalming table, where it was surrounded by natron and stayed there for 35–40 days. Then it was eventually removed, washed and thus the final step of mummification began – body wrapping. The person who was responsible for this step – the priest used up to 400 square meters of linen in order to wrap a body in an appropriate manner. It would be unfair not to mention the details that were put on the wrappings. So, after a mummy was returned to the family it was usually placed in two cases consisting of a cedar or it could be a piece of a cloth. Speaking of the cases, they were said to be covered with different kind of paintings, probably at the religious themes, representing the bliss of the afterlife or there could be various hieroglyphics that told peculiarities of the dead person’s life and his achievements. The end of the case could also be decorated by a molded mask of the deceased or a kind of a portrait on linen or wood. All in all this double case was brought to the oblong coffin and deposited in a sarcophagus.
Thus, the history of Egyptian mummies spread out through several centuries and left a considerable impact on the cultural development of ancient Egypt and the world as a whole. Egyptian mummies became the symbol of immorality and the beliefs of people in eternal existence. The analyzed data showed how complicated and responsible was the process of mummification and how it reflected the religious beliefs in the afterlife.
Hunt, Norman Bancroft. Living in ancient Egypt. New York: Chelsea House Publishers, 2009.
Redford, Donald. The Oxford Encyclodedia of Ancient Egypt. New York: Oxford University Press, 2001.