Religion in Ancient Egypt

Over the millennia, the Egyptians maintained some religious customs with features common to those of the Mesopotamian religion , most evident on dates of great importance, in which celebrations of the figures of the gods predominated.

Egyptian polytheism

The Egyptian civilization depends on the Nile River , which fertilizes the territory that stretches along its shores, surrounded by desert. The Egyptians lived on a narrow and very long strip of land, and the distances between north and south were very large.

Each region had its own gods, incorporated by the other regions as the country was unified. Therefore, the Egyptians had a large number of gods – their religion was polytheistic.

Among the many Egyptian gods, not all were of equal importance. Throughout the history of ancient Egypt , the kings who occupied the throne tried to place their favorite god on the top of their capital’s pantheon. A unique feature in relation to neighboring peoples was the form of animals assumed by these gods.

The Egyptian gods

  • Amon:Its name means “the hidden” and it represents the invisible powers of the universe. He was the chief god of Thebes.
  • Anubis: Hewas the god of mummification and mummification, the guardian of the tombs and the gates of the afterlife. It had a jackal’s head.
  • Ra:It was the personification of the Sun, the king of the sky. He was one of the most important gods in Egyptian mythology.
  • Horus:Represented by a hawk, he was the god of heaven and the protector of royalty. Monarchs were seen as the incarnation of Horus.
  • Isis:Mother of Horus and wife of Osiris. It protected against dangers and cured diseases.
  • Maat:It symbolized the cosmic order guaranteed by the king.
  • Osiris: Itrepresented the cycles of death and the return to life. He was the god of the dead who had been well mummified and buried, since that would lead to their resurrection.
  • Ptah: Hewas the god of the artisans, considered a god who created things.
  • Apis:It was represented in the form of a bull. His cult was related to that of Ptah and Osiris.
  • Seth: Itrepresented the droughts, the great storms, the inclemencies of the sea, but its role was necessary, since it allowed the other gods to impose the order.
  • Thot: It was represented with a bird’s head. He was the god of wisdom. He invented writing.
  • Aton:The solar disk. He was a secondary god until, during Aquenaton’s reign, he was elevated to the top of the pantheon.

The power of the pharaoh

The Egyptians believed that, thanks to Pharaoh, the crops grew, the cattle survived, the order of the seasons was maintained and the Nile overflowed at the right time, to irrigate the agricultural lands, making them fertile. They thought that their kings were invincible because they had divine powers .

Pharaoh, however, truly became a god when he died. For this reason, his tomb was so important and also served as a temple for the worship of the deified king who, from beyond, continued to care for Egypt and its inhabitants.

Pharaoh’s power, thanks to religion, was very great, and it was difficult to doubt him. Despite the stability that characterized Egyptian society for more than three millennia, there were also revolts, dethroned pharaohs and times with many kings, who fought among themselves.

Egyptians and death

The Egyptians believed that one could live after death if the corpse was preserved and some rituals were performed correctly . To preserve the body, they mummified it . They were so interested in fighting the effects of death that they achieved great perfection in the procedure of preserving corpses, in such a way that, even over long centuries, it is possible to recognize the features of the mummified dead.

Along with the dead, some texts were buried that explained everything they had to do to reach the afterlife. In the beginning, in the Egyptian Empire (4500 years ago), only the pharaohs, who became gods after death, had these texts in their tombs. Later on, this privilege was also granted to members of his family. These first texts are written on the inside walls of their pyramids and form the so-called Pyramid Texts .

During the Middle Kingdom, 4000 years ago, royal high officials could also have their own funerary texts written in their coffins, the so-called Coffin Texts .

From the New Empire, 1600 years ago, written papyrus scrolls, known as the Book of the Dead , are found in tombs . They were very accessible, so many people could use these guides to travel further afield, according to Egyptian beliefs.

The pyramids

These buildings, used in Ancient Egypt to guard the corpse of kings, are among the greatest architectural works of antiquity. They have survived for almost 5000 years, and their greatness still impresses us today.

For the Egyptians, the pyramids had a very important religious purpose, because they served as an address for the dead king. It was believed that, from there, the pharaoh protected the whole country, as well as being a place of worship for the late god-king.

The pyramids, which resemble a great mountain and which seem to unite heaven and earth, stood out clearly on the flat terrain of Egypt.

Monotheistic religion at the time of Pharaoh Aquenaton

In the middle of the 14th century BC, Pharaoh Aquenaton wanted to impose in Egypt the cult of his favorite god, Aton , who represented the solar disk. Little by little, the other gods were left out of the official religion. All prayers, rituals and religious traditions ended up centered on the god Aton, whom he considered to be the creator of the earth and men.

Aton’s representative was Pharaoh Aquenaton himself. In addition, priests and their temples are no longer needed because Aton could be worshiped anywhere, whenever the solar disk was visible. With this god, there was no need for an intermediary other than Pharaoh.

He was a god that was easy for everyone to understand, since it was about the sun. He didn’t need big and complicated explanations to understand his power. In addition, he was a universal god, since the solar disk appears everywhere. Therefore, it could be accepted by all foreign nations conquered by Egypt at that time. This cult, almost exclusive to Aton, which has long appeared as monotheism , disappeared after the death of Pharaoh Aquenaton, but left hymns of great poetic force.

In the Hymn to Aton, from which we reproduce fragments below, poetic resources similar to those found in other religions and monotheistic books, as in the Bible, are used.

You only god, no other is like you! You created the land according to your will, being alone (…) humanity, the cattle, all the flocks, everything on the earth walks on feet, and there are those up there flying with their wings (…) Lord of all countries, who rise up for them, you daytime Aton, great in majesty. No one knows you, except your son Aquenaton, because you have made him known in your plans and in your power.

Religion in Ancient Egypt