Ancient Egyptian Temple Ritual
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Ancient Egyptian Temple Ritual

Performance, Patterns, and Practice

Katherine Eaton

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eBook - ePub

Ancient Egyptian Temple Ritual

Performance, Patterns, and Practice

Katherine Eaton

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About This Book

Large state temples in ancient Egypt were vast agricultural estates, with interests in mining, trading, and other economic activities. The temple itself served as the mansion or palace of the deity to whom the estate belonged, and much of the ritual in temples was devoted to offering a representative sample of goods to the gods. After ritual performances, produce was paid as wages to priests and temple staff and presented as offerings to private mortuary establishments. This redistribution became a daily ritual in which many basic necessities of life for elite Egyptians were produced.

This book evaluates the influence of common temple rituals not only on the day to day lives of ancient Egyptians, but also on their special events, economics, and politics. Author Katherine Eaton argues that a study of these daily rites ought to be the first step in analyzing the structure of more complex societal processes.

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Publisher
Routledge
Year
2014
ISBN
9781135054892
Edition
1
Part I
Foundation

1 Introduction

Temples in Ancient Egyptian Society, Economy, and Cosmos
This book focuses on ritual cycles in which simple offerings, such as food and clothing, were presented daily in ancient Egyptian temples. Divine statues were cleaned, dressed, and adorned in the “Daily Ritual” (the toilet, called the “Uncovering of the Face” by the ancient Egyptians). Divinities and ancestors were fed during the “Ritual of the Royal Ancestors” (the meal, also called “Ritual of Amenhotep I”). Drawing on textual, art historical, architectural, and archaeological material, most of this book addresses questions about reading representations of ritual and the logistics of performing cult in ancient Egyptian temples. The meanings of ritual episodes shifted in different contexts. Thus, this first chapter explores the place of ancient Egyptian temples within the broader ancient Egyptian society, economy, and cosmos.
Today the two primary uses of ancient Egyptian temples are as archaeological sites and tourist attractions. Although both of these uses were known in ancient times, they were neither the primary functions (Funktion) for which temples were designed and built, nor the main uses (Gebrauch) to which they were ultimately put by the ancient Egyptians (Haring and Klug 2007). Temples were a “. . . locus for architectural, visual, verbal and performance arts” (Baines 1997:216). They were both the body of the god, and the body of his mother, with the sanctuary representing the womb. The later association was manifest in the personification of temples as goddesses receiving cult in ritual scenes (Refai 2002:299–303) and in the literal translation of the goddess Hathor’s name, “House of (her son) Horus” (Troy 1986:21–22). The Temple in Man (Schwaller de Lubicz 1949 and 1981) represents the outer limits of analysis of the relationship between ancient Egyptian temples and human bodies from an Egyptological perspective, although many mystical interpretations of ancient Egyptian temples go even further (Baines 1990:2–3). However, the roles of temples as divine palaces and models of the cosmos had the greatest impact on the architectural, decorative, and ritual structures forming the focus of the present study. Finnestadt described these two aspects as “the warp and the weft” of the metaphorical and symbolical meanings of Egyptian temples (1985:3). In both of these aspects, the temple served as a protected locus for communication between the world of humanity and the divine, in effect a road, “way” (eg. Assmann 2001:30–35, and Konrad 2006:22–23), or point of passage (on the verb bs(j), see Kruchten 1989:147–204).
The ancient Egyptians intended to present the appearance of changelessness in their temple architectural and artistic programs (Davis 1989:96–97; Assmann 1991b:32–33). However, in reality contexts changed radically over time. Shrines of the Early Dynastic Period (c. 2900–2545)1 and Old Kingdom (c. 2543–2120 B.C.E.) and earlier were built by local communities, with only limited patronage from the crown, which focused most of its resources on royal memorials. In the New Kingdom (c. 1539–1077 B.C.E.), major divine temples were arguably divisions of the central government (eg. Janssen 1979:509). Divine temples of gods of rule like Amun-Re of Thebes and Ptah of Memphis were built with stone on a scale comparable to royal memorials in the Eighteenth Dynasty (c. 1539–1292 B.C.E.). However, divine temples continued expanding with each reign over the course of the New Kingdom, dwarfing royal memorials before the end of the Nineteenth Dynasty (c. 1292–1191 B.C.E.). In the Ptolemaic and Roman periods (332 B.C.E.–395 C.E.), temples continued to be built according to ancient Egyptian traditions already established in the New Kingdom, but by foreign rulers. Moreover, as with any complex social phenomenon involving hundreds of participants and thousands of observers, there were many different perspectives during every time period.

Divine Palaces

Temples were earthly residences for divinities and dead kings. For most of the pharaonic period, they were at the center of huge estates which were major features of the ancient economy, with humans acting as servants (Haring 1997). Large-scale temple building projects continued to be significant consumers of raw materials and labor in Ptolemaic Egypt, even though their economic influence was significantly reduced (eg. the Arisinotite [Fayum] and Herakleopolite nomes, Manning 2005). The estates were administered primarily from structures built of mud brick, surrounding stone-built temples. The function of the temple as a domestic economic unit for a deity is reflected in some of the most commonly encountered ancient Egyptian names for temples. Each term is a compound formed with very general terms for domestic establishments, namely “mansion” (ḥwt
, Wb. iii, 1,4) and “house” (pr
, Wb. i, 511,7).
The term ḥwt is commonly translated “mansion” or “estate.” The translations of two common designations for temples—ḥwt-nṯr as “mansion of the god” and ḥwt nt ḥḥw m rnpwt as “mansion of millions of years”—are generally accepted. The term pr is commonly translated “house” or “household” but can also mean “room” in some contexts (Konrad 2006:11). There is a considerable history of scholarly discussion concerning the subtleties of the meanings of ḥwt and pr and the differences between the two (eg. Konrad 2006:8–10; Haring 1997:26–29). Spencer’s conclusion that “ḥwt, where it was not being used simply as an abbreviation for ḥwt-nṯr, described a productive foundation, supplying offerings for funerary cults . . .” is widely, but not universally, accepted (1984:27, see also Wilson 1997:626).
The term r-pr originally referred simply to an offering place but was clearly used to refer to temples by the New Kingdom (Spencer 1984:37–42; Vandersleyen 1967:148 n. 52). However, aspects of its meaning are the subject of significant debate (Konrad 2006:12–13). This revolves primarily around the meaning of the term r (often transliterated
, variously read as “fraction” or “part” and “border” or “entrance”. In addition, in temple contexts, the term r often designates the beginning of an utterance. Thus, perhaps r-pr is to be read “utterance house”. There is no reason to choose one reading. To the contrary, the word r was very common and, like a lot of common words, had a range of meanings. Moreover, since temples were institutions with many roles in society and functioned on myriad symbolic levels, the multiplicity of the term r-pr reflects the complexity of the institutions which it designates.
Exploring the roles of temples requires broader analysis of the economic and political structures of ancient Egyptian society. Temples symbolically represented those social structures and maintained them by virtue of their economic role and position as centers of displays designed to legitimize the power structure. Temples were part of the state during the New Kingdom, much like the other center of elite power, the army (Janssen 1979:508, see also Haring 1997:34–5). More generally, the relationship between the temple and the state during periods of unity under domestic rule is best understood as a relationship between a part and a whole. This changed during periods of decentralization, as in Thebes during the Third Intermediate Period, when the high priests of Amun were largely independent of rulers based in the north; and during periods of foreign rule, including the Ptolemaic Period. However, even during these time periods, temples continued to be significant features of the economy, and their decorative programs continued to express the ideal social order.

Society

The social order depicted on the walls of ancient Egyptian temples places the king side by side with the gods, at the center of everything:
These scenes present an abstract, idealized, cosmological space where the king is the sole hierarchically valid human protagonist because he is a being of comparable order to the gods.
(Baines 2006b:23)
During some time periods, a few illustrious persons parallel him (eg. the king’s chief wife under Akhenaten and Ramesses II; the high priest of Amun and god’s wife of Amun in Thebes during the Third Intermediate Period). However, these were unusual circumstances. The upper levels of the elite were referred to with groups of rather generic adoring figures, called the
people, perhaps representing members of the royal clan (L. Bell 1997:164). Priests were depicted serving the king in memorial temples of the Old and Middle Kingdom. During the New Kingdom, even this role ultimately came to be dominated by the king, along with the deities Horus Pillar-of-His-Mother and Thoth. Priests were then most commonly depicted in processional scenes. The other group of powerful elites, the military, was depicted primarily in battle scenes. Inside the temple, the use of emblematic personifications and statuettes of the king to depict subsidiary ritual acts, like holding standards and offering wine, allowed aspects of the complexity of ritual performance to be alluded to without violating the rules of decorum (chapter 2).
Such emblematic representations were the only way decorum allowed the depiction of common people, who had not been purified as priests. “Subjects” or “common people” are rendered abstractly with rḫyt-birds
, usually as emblematic personifications performing gestures of adoration, but sometimes more simply (Baines 1985:48–54). Some suggest that the presence of this motif indicates that the area was open to common people during festival processions (L. Bell 1997:163–164). Both administrative texts and mortuary material indicate that the situation was much more complex. There were significant divisions within the emblematic group of “all the common people” (rḫyt nb), who were reduced to a peripheral motif in temple decorative programs. Moreover, although the degree of social mobility in ancient Egyptian society is not really clear, there is considerable anecdotal evidence that social mobility was possible and that class barriers were both vague and permeable (eg. Trigger 2003:162).
In surviving temple administrative texts, the most prominent people are the members of the elite who controlled the temple infrastructure, followed by those running institutions which they had exchanges with, including the palace. Yet the king himself is almost invisible (eg. Posener-Kriéger 1976:565–609, Quirke 1991:149, and Haring 1997:380). Thus, from an administrative perspective, royalty can be grouped with what Quirke calls “higher officials and minor officialdom”. This group consisted of a small group of important families which intermarried. Power relationships among the top elite shifted over time. For example, the power of provincial nobles overlapped with the king in the Sixth Dynasty, whereas the army had almost total control over the Eighteenth Dynasty king Tutankhamun (Cruz-Uribe 1994). In temple relief, men in this group were depicted serving the king in memorial temples and in processional and battle scenes.
There were much more significant distinctions made between men of this class in their burials. For example, Köhler divided this level into two groups, with different burial places in the Early Dynastic period (2008:390–395). The “king”, “royal family”, “aristocracy”, and “highest officials” were represented by the royal tombs at Abydos and Saqqara and elite tombs at North Saqqara. “Lower officials and priests”, “scribes”, “specialists”, and the “middle class” were represented by burials at Helwan with stone architectural elements. In the late Old Kingdom and Middle Kingdom up to the reign of Sesostris III, the tombs of the elite were divided between those buried near the king and those buried in the provinces. The latter group overlaps with those who Quirke described as “second tier” based on his later material from an administrative context.
Administrative sources also refer to men who appear to have been independent, but untitled. In Quirke’s Middle Kingdom material, they were often referred to as “townsmen” (s n njwt tn) or by their profession (1991:149). Often called the “middle class”, some of these men may have been literate, and probably had restricted access to the temples (eg. courts during festivals, barque stations, and the like; see the following). Beneath these people were the servants of the “higher officials and minor officialdom”, although servants of very high officials might have been better off than most independent men in some respects. Thus, Quirke divided this group based on how it related to the institutions which his administrative data was produced by and men in the most elite families. Haring also sees men working land independently and as dependents. However, he also noted that there was probably considerable overlap between these two groups, with many cultivating both their own fields and those of others (Haring 1997:15). Men of these classes were primarily involved in agriculture and processing of food for cult, but also might be conscripted for hard labor on building works and military service. Their level of wealth appears to have been parallel in some mortuary contexts.
For example, the two tiers in untitled men identified by Köhler in the Early Dynastic mortuary material which she works with led her to divide them based on profession into the semi-skilled “craft workers” and “soldiers and guards” and the unskilled “farmers”, “laborers”, and “servants”, without reference to their degree of dependence on wealthy families or institutions (2008:384). The access of servants to temples may have been comparable to that of untitled men. Some were able to present votives to their gods and provide themselves with modest burials. Studies of their cemeteries show that, despite occasional violence between local rulers, the social processes related to the creation of a ‘middle class’ during the later Old Kingdom seem to intensify in the First Intermediate Period (Richards 2005:173). Thus, many Egyptians of these classes may have been better off when rule was decentralized.
Although details changed over time, the foundation of ancient Egyptian society was ultimately illiterate classes of laborers and servants with some more independent ‘peasants’ or ‘members of the middle class’, who together produced agricultural surpluses. Their labor—primarily in the fields, but also in mining expeditions, construction projects, bakeries, breweries, and, in short, any endeavor involving hard, phy...

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