Ancient Egyptians by Jill Kamil

December 14, 2017 | Author: Gherghe Claudia | Category: Ancient Egypt, Nile, Desert, Ancient History, Ancient Egyptian Religion
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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








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



For Further Reading






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

100,00 - 50,000 BC 50,00-20,00080

Late Paleolithic

30,000 -10,000 BC

Final Paleolithic

12,000 -6000 BC


6000 - 3 400 BC


Early Dynastic Period First Dynasty Second Dynasty Third Dynasty

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

Old Kingdom Fourth Dynasty


Senefru • Khufu • Redjedef • Khafre • Baufre • Menkaure • Shepseskhaf • Dedefptah

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.

I Beginnings

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 ^


Scale 500 km

The Nile Valley

Lake . Victoria



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."

II Growth

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-

iii•a 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

Ground plan of Step Pyramid complex

Southern Building

Northern Building

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.

Ill Control

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


Control Heliopolis

\ 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

Pyramids of Dahshur


The Giza necropolis

Meidum »

MEMPHIS / ,'-, Mit Rahina

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 '&
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