All classes of Egyptians participated in death rituals. This was because they believed that the rituals ensured the deceased was reborn. The funeral rituals were grand.
It had many interesting aspects that have influenced modern funeral rituals. Read on to discover ancient Egyptian burial customs.
The Class System of Ancient Egypt and Burial Rituals
Ancient Egyptian society consisted of three social classes. These were the Upper, Middle, and Lower classes. The class system in Egypt was flexible. Thus, people could move up or down the classes as they wished.
The royal family, the rich, physicians, army officers, and officials made up the first class. Traders, craftsmen, and manufacturers occupied the second class. The lower class was a group of laborers who had no skill. However, people were free to move up the ladder either through hard work or marriage.
When it came to ancient Egyptian burial practices, all the classes enjoyed the same rites. Egyptians believed that a soul would face damnation if it did not receive a proper burial. All the classes enjoyed and partook in the pre-burial, burial, and post burial rites. The only difference was that the rites of the upper and middle classes were more elaborate.
Which Classes of Egyptians Participated in Burial Rituals?
The ancient Egyptian rituals included all the classes of ancient Egyptian society. Once the mummification process was complete the actual burial rituals took place. Egyptians buried the dead according to their societal standing.
Ancient Egyptian Pre-Burial Rituals and Beliefs
Ancient Egyptian burial customs involved three important rituals. These were mourning, embalming, and burial. All these events had their meaning and purpose.
The priests performed these special rituals in a specific fashion. This was to ensure that the deceased was reborn after death.
– The Mourning Ritual of the Pre-Burial Process
The first step in the ancient Egyptian burial practice was the mourning of the deceased. The mourners smeared their faces with mud and then they walked through the entire town while beating their chests. Did we also mention that they did this while loud crying and wailing? Well, yes, it was a very dramatic scene indeed!
Relatives hired special mourners depending on the status of the deceased. Priests, dancers, and musicians were also available for hire. Those who could not afford the cost did their own crying, wailing, and chest-beating.
– The Mummification Ritual of the Pre-Burial Process
The next step in the Egyptian rituals involved the preservation of the body known as mummification. There were different types of mummifications depending on the class of the deceased. The high class could afford the classic and expensive embalming process, while the middle class afforded decent mummification. The lower class, made of peasants, afforded the cheapest process of preservation.
Those who could not pay for an embalming process had the priest cast specific spells at the burial. They did this to ensure the deceased was not deprived of rebirth due to poverty. The priest chanted the spells in a specific order to enable the soul to reenter the body. Thus, all classes of ancient Egyptians had a chance at resurrection.
The embalming process was complex and laborious. It involved draining all liquid from the dead body using salt called natron. The embalmers also removed the intestines and the brain leaving the heart, since ancient Egyptians believed the heart was the thinking faculty of humans.
The priests took out all other internal organs and placed each in special canisters. Each canister had a covering that symbolized a specific god. The embalming process took place over months and the length of the process depended on the type of mummification.
– Acting A Play As Part of the Pre-Burial Rituals
After mummification, the next step involved acting out a play that depicted judgment. Mourners volunteered to play the roles of the gods Osiris, Set, Anubis, Isis, Horus, Nephthys, and Thoth. The play, titled Hour of Judgement, was to replicate the judgment of Osiris and it symbolized the judgment of the deceased and their rebirth.
The Burial Rituals of the Wealthy Ancient Egyptians
The first burial ceremony was the Opening of the Mouth. The priests were in charge of this ritual. The idea was to empower the dead to defend themselves on the day of judgment.
The priests recited several spells after which they touched the mummy with a stone blade. The priests also placed the leg of a calf on the lips of the deceased.
The ancient Egyptians included meat offerings and water in their burial rituals. The notion was that the dead will eat and drink after the resurrection. The Opening of the Mouth ceremony was very elaborate. It contained about 70 episodes.
If the deceased were a king or pharaoh, the priests would transport them to the mortuary temple. A mortuary temple was a structure erected near ancient royal tombs. The Egyptians built these structures to celebrate their kings.
At the temple, the priests recited more incantations and performed extra rituals. The deceased royal was then buried inside a pyramid. The Egyptians buried their royals with lots of food, drinks, and ornaments. According to Egyptian death rituals and beliefs, these items would be beneficial to the dead.
The Sealing of the Tomb
After all these events, the priests ordered the sealing of the tomb. The people sealed the royal tombs in a way that prevented anyone from gaining access. The deification of the king took place at that moment and they became an object of worship in the land.
How the Different Classes Buried Their Dead
Deceased commoners did not enjoy this ritual. The priests transported the deceased to their graves and this is something that occurred right after the Opening of the Mouth ceremony.
Their burial took place in the desert and was simple. The Egyptians buried the commoners with household items instead of ornaments.
The mourners of the commoners, dressed in white and took part in several funeral processions. If the deceased were poor, the mourners donated their clothes to them. These clothes were for wrapping the dead after embalming.
The hired mourners sang a dirge known as The Lamentation of Isis and Nephthys. The song was to commemorate the mourning of Isis and Nephthys over Osiris’ death. It was an emotional song that invoked feelings of sadness and helped the other mourners to weep. They believed the loud cries would aid the deceased as they journeyed through the Hall of Osiris’.
The Egyptians also placed Shabti dolls inside the coffin. These dolls represented the kind of work the deceased did. The notion was that the dead will continue their service after death. Also, the doll served as a worker or servant in the afterlife.
The deceased of wealthy Egyptians received more dolls while the lower class had few. Thus, the rich had many servants while the poor contended with a few. Also, there was a significant distinction between shabti dolls of the classes. Shabti dolls of the Pharaohs were ornamental while the commoners were made of wood.
The Tombs of The Upper Class and The Poor
Ancient Egyptians buried their kings and royals in simple tombs. These were graves that they dug into the ground. Over the years, the Egyptians moved on from simple tombs to more elaborate ones such as the Mastaba. They made the mastabas from bricks and decorated them with ornaments.
The mastabas later developed into step pyramids. The people made these structures from stones. They built the step pyramids from the ground up in the form of stairs. When the ancient Egyptians advanced they upgraded their step pyramids to true pyramids.
The lower class did not enjoy the tombs of the kings, since the poor had simple graves with no fanciful ornaments. Though they enjoyed almost the same burial processes, their tombs were different.
It’s also noteworthy to mention that the ancient Egyptians buried the dead in a fetal position. The hot weather ensured that the bodies remained preserved underground
Post Burial Rituals And The Life After Death
When all the events were over, the mourners organized a feast. This feast was to honor the life of the departed. After the feast, the mourners went back to their normal lives.
The deceased then went on to judgment before they journeyed into the next life. First, the departed soul recited a spell contained in the Book of the Dead. Their heart was then weighed to determine how righteous they were. The sinners had their hearts consumed by the demoness Amit.
It was believed that the god Osiris presided over the judgment. He judged the dead with the help of minor deities known as Assessors of Maat. When the deceased passed judgment, they inherited eternal life. This was then celebrated by the family and friends of the deceased.
So far we have discovered which classes of Egyptians participated in burial practices. This is what we have covered in our article:
- There were three social classes in ancient Egypt
- All the classes participated in the ancient Egyptian burial practices
- All the classes enjoyed the same burial rituals
- The burial rituals of the royals and the wealthy were more elaborate
- Burial rituals were an important part of the life of ancient Egyptians
- The dead who received proper burial was reborn
- It decided whether a departed soul could go on to eternity
- The righteous deceased was given eternal life and the sinners’ hearts were eaten
It must be clear by now that the ancient Egyptians were more concerned about the afterlife, and that’s why they ensured that the dead were properly mourned and buried. Nevertheless, you can find the death rituals we have detailed in our article above and they have provided all the answers to that lavish ancient Egyptian tradition.