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Posted on July 7th, 2012, by

The history of Egyptian burials provides ample information about Egyptian funerary traditions, their religious beliefs, ideology and social hierarchy. The latter fact is particularly noteworthy because even in the tomb and afterlife Egyptian people were still divided into classes. In fact, on studying a tomb and coffin of an ancient Egyptian, it is possible to define clearly the social status of the deceased because tombs of representatives of upper classes and lower classes differed consistently. At the same time, in the course of the development of Egypt, the upper class grew richer and richer and many people could organize funerals which could be compared to those of members of the royal family, but, in actuality, Egyptian private burials had never reached the level of the royal burials. In spite of all the efforts and huge costs spend on the burials private burials could not make even the most influential person equal to gods, as members of the royal family were. However, it is worthy of mention that Egyptian burials evolved in the course of time but the difference between royal burials and other burials persisted throughout the time.

The burials traditionally played an important role in the life of Egyptian people because they were a kind of farewell with a person who went to another world, afterlife. The first burials that are known to the contemporary scientists date back to the 3rd dynasty, when Egyptian started to use coffins in their funerary rituals. It is important to underline that since ancient epochs Egyptian had believed that the deceased would continue his/her life after the death. This is why they attempted to create a comfortable environment for the dead person. At that time the dead were placed in shallow holes with a variety of different objects as vessels, jewelry and slate palettes that surrounded the dead. These goods seemed to represent daily life objects. The number of objects could be connected with special religious beliefs or rituals only performed at tombs. However, such a richness of burials was rather the characteristic of the royal burials. It was only the members of the royal family that could be buried being surrounded by valuable objects and often they were buried in a stone coffin at the early epochs. As for private burials they were less expensive and less posh, but, nevertheless, even the poorest people needed to have objects that could be useful for them in the afterlife. This is why they used wooden coffins and decorated them and tombs with the images of different objects which they used in their everyday life.

 

tombs

Another important characteristic or detail of Egyptian burials was the depiction of image of gods, which should accompany the deceased into the afterlife and protect them in their journey (Strudwick, 154). In such a way, Egyptian started to decorate their tombs and coffins with images of gods, among which the earliest and the most influential were Osiris, Anubis, Horus, Isis and others. To make gods closer to members of the royal family, wooden coffins were started to use for them similarly to the material of private coffins. The coffins were decorated and the central place occupied gods which served as a protector of the deceased. The gods were a constituent element of both royal and private burials.

Later the dead were placed in a contracted position in the coffin; sometimes laid out full length. In front of the dead t a funerary meal was placed. The number and range of burial objects in private burials was significantly reduced; most of the effort was put into the overground structures (mastaba or rock cut tomb).

However, this trend did not affect the burials of the members of the royal family. In contrast, as Egypt grew richer, invaded new territories, developed trades, royal families could put more objects into their tombs, their standards of life increased consistently. Consequently, their needs in the afterlife increased respectively that led to the use of the variety of precious objects, jewelry, statues, and a variety of objects that accompanied the Pharaoh or members of his family in their everyday life. Below the objects found in royal burials are presented:

heart scarabs

 

 

amulets

 

 

 

shabtis

 

even The Book of the Death

 

Thus, it is obvious that the royal burials were consistently superior compared to private burials because not a single person in Egypt could be honored as the member of the royal. Consequently, ordinary people, either poor or rich, could not meet the level of the royal burials because the members of royal families were viewed as representatives of gods, while the rest of Egyptian society was just humans (Siliotti, 293). Hence, the striking difference between royal and private burials

The other distinctive feature of royal and private burials is the place where people and the members of the royal family or Kingdom Dynasty were buried. Often the members of the royal family were buried on their own territories such as Kingdom or Palace very deep in the ground. Alternatively the members of the royal family could be buried in places available to the public, such as temples, for instance (Strudwick, 202).

Moreover, Egyptian Pharaohs attempted to distinguish themselves from the rest of society and demonstrate their superiority even in the afterlife. This is why they created the Valley of the Kings where the members of the royal family were buried. In addition, they contributed to the formation of the caste of skillful artisans that created their tombs, constructed pyramids, made coffins, decorated them, etc. In such a way, even the burial of the members of the royal family implied that they were buried as superior beings whose tombs were the best because they were created by the best artisans of Egypt. As a rule, tombs and coffins of ordinary Egyptians, especially poor ones were quite rude, especially in the Late period because the number of skillful artisans decreased consistently. In such a situation, the striking difference between royal and private burials became even more obvious.

The burial of a member of the royal family was a significant event in the life of ancient Egyptian society. It was an event that involved the entire nation to mourn the deceased member of the royal family. People honored the memory of the dead and mourned him/her. At the same time, they believed that the member of the royal family joined gods whom he/she was equal. As a rule, the funerary ceremony lasted for several days depending on the importance of the deceased member of the royal family. The higher was the rank of the deceased the more honored he/she was during the burial.

As for the private burials they basically involved members of the family of the dead, but if a person had a high rank in Egyptian social hierarchy he/she could be honored by those who knew the deceased and who were dependant on him/her. As the matter of fact, burials of thousands of ordinary Egyptians remained practically unnoticed, while Egyptian Pharaohs and members of their family practically competed with their ancestors. A new pharaoh attempted to overshadow the burial of his predecessor and make the burials even more impressing and memorable to Egyptian people.

A remarkable feature of Egyptian burials was the process of mummification, which, as a rule, was available only to the members of the royal family and richest people of Egypt.

Then the mummy was placed in a coffin or nest of coffins to protect it. Basically, the mummification was made to preserve the body of the deceased because it was important to ancient Egyptians, who believed that the deceased will live afterlife. At the same time, it should be pointed out that the mummification became more and more available to Egyptians as they became richer.

Thus, taking into consideration all above mentioned, it is possible to conclude that royal and private burials were quite different. In spite of the fact that they had certain similarities such as the presence of gods in the tomb or coffin of a deceased, the belief in the afterlife resulting in the accompanying objects or their images, etc., there were still significant differences that indicated to the social status and attitude of Egyptians to the  members of the royal family. In fact, royal burials were consistently more honored, richer and impressing than private burials, even if a very influential non-royal person was buried.

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