What Happened at a Pharaoh's Burial?
Egyptian royals received the utmost care at the time of their death and burial. Since pharaohs were believed to be the incarnation of god on earth, they were granted special considerations that continued into the afterlife. The funeral process demonstrates many of these considerations and clearly illustrates the power these men, and sometimes women, held.
1 The Tomb
The earliest of Egypt's kings were buried in the sands of the desert. As their power and wealth grew, the need for more elaborate tombs grew with it. Mud brick step tombs called mastabas became common; later, pyramids and eventually tombs were cut into stone walls or mountains in a particular area known as the Valley of the Kings. Before any pharaoh could be buried, the tomb had to first be prepared. The tomb was the vessel that held both the pharaoh and all his possessions so the journey to the afterlife would be as comfortable as possible for the fallen leader.
Mummification became a necessity as pharaohs began to be buried above ground where moisture and the elements caused the body to decay. The mummification of a body is a major part of the funeral process and one that requires 70 days to complete. Organs were removed and placed into canopic jars while the eyes were replaced with glass. Treatments were applied to remove all the moisture in the body before it was wrapped in linen covered with magic spells and blessings. Once complete the burial could move ahead with a ceremony at the entrance to the tomb carried out by the same priest who oversaw the mummification.
3 On Entry
On entry to the tomb, the mummy underwent a ritual at the hand of the head priest. The priest would touch the eyes and mouth while reciting prayers meant to allow the dead king to see, speak and eat in the afterlife. Without this ceremony, the pharaoh would remain trapped mute inside his body and starving, unable to reach the next stop on his journey. The body was then placed into the sarcophagus and sealed within the tomb.
4 Placement of Offerings
Decorated clay jars filled with food and drink were placed inside the tomb's burial chamber next to the mummy for use as sustenance on the long journey ahead. The jars contained cured meats, bread, fruit and vegetables for the king to eat. Others contained liquids including beer, wine and water to drink. Oils and scents were another important part of the pharaoh's kit, as he would need to remain pleasant in appearance when meeting the gods of the afterlife.
5 Last Supper
In addition to the food and drink offered to the mummy, relatives and high priests of the pharaoh would conduct a final meal ceremony after the burial to complete the farewell. The meal was served in a garden before a statue of the deceased, and was meant to bring life to the statue so the king could use it as a vessel for his soul in the afterlife. Once this dinner was complete, the burial process was concluded.
During at least some of ancient Egyptian history, it is believed that human sacrifice was part of the pharaoh's burial. Servants attached to the king in life were obligated to remain attached in the afterlife. This meant they either volunteered or were compelled to drink a poison potion and travel onward with the pharaoh in his burial chamber. Only the most trusted servants were granted such an honor, and it is unclear how they themselves felt about the process. In some cases, even the pharaoh's own young children would be sacrificed and buried at his side.
- 1 Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum: Burial Practices, Afterlife and Mummies
- 2 Smithsonian Institute: Egyptian Mummies
- 3 National Geographic: Abydos: Life and Death at the Dawn of Egyptian Civilization
- 4 The Metropolitan Museum of Art: Tutankhamun's Funeral
- 5 Antiquity: Mummies, Coffins and a Forgotten Pharaoh