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Essay about Book -Society and Death in Ancient Egypt (Richards, 2005) Introduction: present an overview on the topics covered by the book and state that the focus of the essay is on the funerary practices of ancient Egyptians – specifically those of the Middle Kingdom. What can Egyptian funerary practices tell us about Egyptian society as a whole? Also state the importance or significance of the essay and essay question. 1st section: Brief description of ancient Egyptian society and way of life. Present only information that can later be linked to burial practices.

2nd section: Explain the funerary practices of the ancient Egyptians. Provide detailed descriptions of the practices. This section will utilize information from other sources. 3rd section: Extrapolate the relationship between the funerary practices and the facts about Egyptian society. What do the funerary practices say about Eyptian society? Also present the risks of making generalizations about Egyptian society from funerary practices. Conclusion: Restate the essay’s primary question and present a summary of the findings taken from the book. Reference

Richards, J. E. (2005) Society and death in ancient Egypt: mortuary landscapes of the Middle Kingdom. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Egyptian Funerary Practices and Society Egypt has long been a source of fascination for numerous individuals the world over. Historians, anthropologists, archaeologists, and so many more academicians have dwelt time and time again on the mysteries of the ancient Egyptians. The impact the ancient Egyptians had on the world lies not only in the complexities of their culture but mostly in the novelty and uniqueness of the same.

Many aspects of ancient Egyptian life remain, up to this day, singularly their own. The book Society and death in ancient Egypt: Mortuary landscapes of the Middle Kingdom, which was written by Judith E. Richards, presents the civilization of the ancient Egyptians. Richards (2005) focuses on one of the most well-known activities practiced by the Egyptians of the Middle Kingdom– their burial practices. She juxtaposes this practice with what is known about Egyptian society – ancient Egyptian traditions and way of life.

Richards hopes to link the Egyptian funerary practices with the mindset and societal beliefs of that time in order to uncover the cultural basis of mummification, pyramid-building, embalming, and such. Study of the funerary practices of the Egyptians reveals a wealth of information about the customs of that time because of the attention the Egyptians gave the dead. In fact, mere inscriptions on the walls of the pyramids already do so much towards the study of ancient Egyptian civilization. This fact emphasizes the importance of studying the burial practices of the time.

This essay will follow the same framework of Richards’ book and hopes to answer the question, what can Egyptian funerary practices tell us about Egyptian society as a whole? By answering this question, it is hoped that greater understanding and appreciation for ancient Egyptian practices will be achieved. The Society of Ancient Egypt The ancient Egyptians maintained a class-based society. This means that Egyptian society was stratified and that its members were differentiated according to their skill, their work, and their access to resources.

The divisions of Egyptian society most visible are three: the nobility, the subordinates of the nobility (stewards and scribes and the like), and the workforce. Priests and priestesses as well as other individuals linked to the churches and temples of ancient Egypt also belonged to a division of their own (Richards, 2005). Even within each division of society, there were sub-divisions observed. Officials of Egyptian government, for example, were not equals. Higher ranking officials received greater commodities than lesser-ranking individuals.

A vizier, for example, would receive for different kinds of commodities while a medium court official would only receive two. Distribution of titles and commodities, however, shows that members of Egyptian society had a means of amassing wealth. Nobility granting non-nobles with rewards and titles also indicated social mobility despite an adherence to practices of social stratification (Richards, 2005). Even the design and layout of the towns of ancient Egypt reveal their class-based society. Towns were divided into zones for the elite and for the non-elite (Richards, 2005).

Social mobility, however, was not ruled out by these designs as signs of constant remodeling and change were also observed. Houses, for example, were noted to have been extended and enlarged over time (Richards, 2005). This indicated increase in household size as well as increase in societal standing. Aside from the maintenance of their social strata, the ancient Egyptians were also said to have given importance to extended family. They were a people deeply devoted to maintaining familial ties regardless of their place in society. The Egyptians were also proud people who ensured that others knew of their personal achievements.

The latter may have been an offshoot to the Egyptians’ obstinate attention to details. They reveal a consistent focus on every minute aspect of a task or activity such as documentation of government payments and of personal land rentals (Richards, 2005). An important aspect of Egyptian society is the fact that its members were a literate group. Literacy in this civilization was spread out across the societal structure and not restricted simply to the nobility or upper class. Literacy may have even been a means, at that time, for an individual to elevate himself or herself in the social ladder (Richards, 2005).

Ancient Egypt and its Funerary Practices The Egyptians were well known for their funerary practices. Their practice of mummification is well-known across the world and across time and is deemed a unique practice attributable only to them. In this section, details of the funerary and mortuary practices of the ancient Egyptians will be discussed. The Egyptians paid their dead much respect and went through tedious tasks to honor them. After an individual has been pronounced dead, the body is embalmed. The intestines and the brain are removed from the corpse.

After this process, it is then embalmed. Experts are tasked with this taks. After it has been embalmed, the body is wrapped in linens. This is done for preservation purposes. The last task after the preparation of the dead is the laying of the mummified body in a coffin or sarcophagus (Budge, 1973). Egyptian mummies have been the source of so much investigation that when one talks of Egypt, it is almost impossible not to think of mummies. Richards states that “ancient Egyptian mummies are perhaps the most universally recognizable symbols of death” (2005: 49).

The mummies are symbols not only of death but also of a belief in the afterlife. Egyptians were devout believers of the afterlife, which is why they celebrated death with much pomp and extravagance. The ceremonies taken to honor a dead body were elaborate not only in the mummification process but also in the rituals performed by the priests, which were all done to prepare the dead for entrance into the afterlife. The burial of Egyptian nobility was even more ceremonial than that held for individuals from lesser social classes.

Aside from the intricate process of mummification, the burial ceremonies by itself was what one could call a spectacle. An Egyptian king, for example, would have a burial ceremony characterized by dancing, wailing, and feasting. This would not be complete without the ceremonial sacrifice not just of animals but also of human beings (Budge, 1973). Egyptian kings made sure that they would be served even after their death. They managed the building of funerary chapels where priests would be required to recite specific formulae every day. Sepulchral offerings were also made regularly (Budge, 1973).

This shows how particular the Egyptians were about death. The particularity with which Egyptians gave death and their dead is also seen in their most extravagant tombs – the pyramids. Although not all Egyptians were buried in tombs, these mortuary landscapes serve as one of the sources of immense curiosity not only in the modern time but even in the time of the ancient Egyptians as well. Graffiti drawn by early visitors to the pyramids have been seen and translated by archaeologists studying the monumental infrastructures (Richards, 2005).

Although more attention has been drawn to the great pyramids of the kings, this is not to say that non-elite members of ancient Egyptian society placed any less emphasis on their own mortuaries. Non-elite members also had mortuaries built for their dead often within the same site as other mortuaries of their family and relatives (Richards, 2005). The customary funerary chapel was also found around these mortuaries. Some groups of family mortuaries shared funerary chapels, which were built in honor of the dead (Richards, 2005).

Nobility were not the only ones who observed the rituals for the dead. Linking Funerary Practices and Egyptian Society The importance of understanding Egyptian funerary practices is clear. Because of the relatively few preserved documents and material from that time, the well-kept belongings of the dead have served as keys to the lives of the ancient Egyptians. Inscriptions on the walls of Egyptian tombs and pyramids have given scholars clues into the culture and society of the time (Richards, 2005). Many facts can be gleaned from a knowledge of how the Egyptians treated their dead.

The differences in the burial grounds and chambers of the Egyptians are one of the most tell-tale evidences of the social stratification observed in ancient Egypt. The pyramids are a stark reminder of the fact that inequality abounded during those times. Numerous slaves worked for countless days in order to assure a king would be buried “properly”. Individuals from a lesser class made do with mortuaries of immensely lesser proportions. Inscriptions and pictures found on the insides of tombs and pyramids have also been the source of many observations about Egyptian life (Richards, 2005).

The hieroglyphics in the pyramids have often depicted the class system practiced in Egypt. The different divisions in the Egyptian society can also be deduced from the hieroglyphics. Hieroglyphics not only depict the class system of ancient Egypt but also show different practices observed by these people. These include the portrayal of the human sacrifices observed during a funeral ceremony. Funerary offerings have also been depicted in these hieroglyphics. The close attention to detail observed in Egyptian documents is also seen in the preparation of their dead.

The processes of embalming and mummification were complex tasks performed on the Egyptian dead. This, in the light of other civilizations’ funerary practices, was a very intricate task that could only be tolerated by a people who paid attention to details. Even the great planning it took to hold a proper Egyptian funeral ceremony affirmed this adherence to details. The mortuaries of the non-elite Egyptians and the fact that these were often found on the same site as other mortuaries of the same family affirms the strong sense of kin shared by ancient Egyptians.

Extended family must have indeed been an important part of Egyptian society that even in death this was taken into consideration. The sharing of funerary chapels confirms the linking of the mortuaries and of the people who survived the dead who later on maintained these sites. The clearest observation that can be made about Egyptian society via their funerary practices is that they were a people who believed in afterlife and in gods. They were bound to their religion and their god. In the case of death, the Egyptian god was Osiris (Richards, 2005).

The Egyptians followed their funerary practices in the belief that Osiris would allow them to continue into the afterlife. The sacrifices and offerings were all made so that the dead could bring these things to the next world with him or her. These are some of the most important observations about Egyptian society that can be made through a study of their funerary practices. However, it should be noted that these observations are largely based on tombs that were made for the nobility of ancient Egypt.

Inscriptions and hieroglyphics, for example, were studied in the pyramids of kings. As such, they depict ancient Egyptian society from the vantage point of the upper class (Richards, 2005). It is not able to provide a holistic view of Egyptian society. Also, funerary practices are not able to provide information into the everyday lives of the ancient Egyptians. It may very well be that only the best and most positive traits of this society were seen in their death. Adherence to religious practices and kinsmanship, for example, may have only been observed during death.

It is important, therefore, to also study preserved documents and artifacts from ancient Egypt and to link those findings to the conclusions drawn from the funerary practices. Conclusion Ancient Egypt remains a mysterious civilization whose society and way of life are shrouded in mystery. Insights into this civilization remain possible and within reach through careful study of the things left behind. Majority of these lay in the funerary and mortuary practices of the Egyptians. In general, the funerary practices of these people show their belief in the afterlife and in the god Osiris.

The class system and the social stratification of Egyptian society is observed even in their treatment of their dead. Another insight about this ancient society drawn from their funerary practices is the fact that Egyptians valued close attention to detail as well as close family ties. References Budge, E. A. W. (1973) 2nd edn. Osiris and the Egyptian resurrection. NY: Courier Dover Publications. Richards, J. E. (2005) Society and death in ancient Egypt: mortuary landscapes of the Middle Kingdom. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

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