Death as it existed in the ancient Egypt, like many other countries around the Mesopotamia region was sacred, revered and celebrated. Death was viewed as transitionary rather than an end, something that led to it pre-occupying an important place in the ancient Egyptian’s way of life. This paper discusses how death was interpreted in ancient Egypt and how it was interlinked to religion, culture, art, architecture, law and even the technology of the ancient people. It is not possible to refer to Egypt without inferring the name of the Nile River, the river that all of Egypt’s ancient economy was anchored.
The Egyptian homes were constructed differently to match one’s social status as was the clothing and jewellery, depending on how wealthy or poor one was. The food supplies came from river Nile and it was mainly beer and bread. In terms of art, the Egyptians were experts in hieroglyphics in which vowels and punctuation were not used [Aldred, 1986. 90-123]. Hieroglyphics were used to represent actions and ideas. Art was influenced by religion and this served to underpin the importance and relevance of the art to Egyptians [Scott, Joseph & Leonore, 1974.
78-94. ]. The ancient inhabitants of Egypt depended on the Nile water for food in form of crop cultivation and fishing activities as well as for the building and construction purposes that was widely tied to using the Nile river as the sole source of water for construction of bricks, domestic purposes, as well as reeds used for roofing. It was the Nile River that was the mainstay of the people and determined everything in Egyptian’s life from religion to technological advancement.
The now famous pyramids were constructed from bricks whose water was drawn from the Nile River. The ancient Egypt civilization can be dated back to 3000 BC [Spencer, 1982. 40-57]. The Egyptian’s technological advancement and prowess is evidenced by the fact that Egypt's technology was so complex that today Egypt contributes a large percentage of archeological artifacts currently on display in most museums around the world. Religion in the ancient Egypt formed a very important part of the society. In fact, the whole society was expected to adhere to some religious customs.
Many happenings in the lives of the people were given religious meanings from hunger and sickness, to death and war [Romano, 1984. 30-31]. The Egyptian society practiced a polytheistic religion whereby many gods were recognizable and such would take forms of animals or human beings [Romano, 1984. 23-31]. To Egyptians Atum was the god responsible for life; Shu the goddess of air, Nut the goddess of the sky, Geb the god of the earth, Osiris was the god of vegetation [Spencer, 1982. 45-78]. All the above gods and goddesses were linked in a way to the Pharaoh’s, the rulers of the ancient Egypt.
Other gods included Amum, the god of Thebes who represented the people and was responsible for ensuring that the people co-existed peacefully and in harmony. Life to the Egyptians was sacred and they believed in eternity hence the reason why the people engaged in the process of mummification. Socially and culturally, the Egyptian society was widely hierarchical with some people belonging to the top class and those in the low class also known as servants and slaves. Social stratification depended on the profession an individual belonged to.
Individuals in professions such as farmers, soldiers and tomb builders were the least in the society [Hart, 1988. 100-142]. Artists were considered important in the Egyptian society for generally; the Egyptians loved art and it formed an integral part of the society. The Scribes were ranked third from the bottom and considered very central to the administration and economic purposes of ancient Egypt. Priests, engineers and doctors were also classified as Scribes although due to their advanced scholarly skills, they were ranked higher above other Scribes.
Priests formed an important part of the ancient Egypt especially given the fact that they would double as teachers and judges besides fulfilling all religious activities of the society. Doctors were also very important people, according to the social stratification practiced in ancient Egypt, their roles included administration of surgical and medical services to the society, and they used herbs, magic, charms as well as spells to fulfill their duties [Millard, 1982. 47-50. ].
Engineers and Architects participated in building of temples, pyramids and other important construction work in Egypt and were ranked higher than doctors. Above the engineers, were the high priests and noble men responsible for running of Pharaoh’s government. Pharaoh was the ultimate ruler, king and a god in the ancient Egypt. Judges, priests, administrators and Pharaoh administered Law and order in ancient Egypt. The legal system in Egypt was organized and well structured and it was designed to maintain law and order and punish offenders.
Conclusion The relevance of death in the ancient Egyptian culture is evidenced by the way it was given emphasis in all dimensions of life from art, where it was depicted in drawings, sculptures, monuments and writings to architecture. Death inspired the building of magnificent pyramids for preservation through the mummification purposes. In terms of death and religion, Egyptians had respective gods who were responsible for every single aspect of the Egyptian’s and were revered by every member of the society from Pharaoh to the construction workers.