Symbology in Ancient Egypt: Authority Set in Stone

The rulers of Egypt discovered the power of symbology to advance their authority early in Egypt’s history. We have already seen examples of symbolism in sculpture, regalia, and ceremony, but it did not take long for symbolism to be taken to a monumental scale.

King Narmer established Memphis as an early center of the monarchy, and historical documents indicate that it was at Memphis that the earliest examples of royal palaces were centered. The basic architectural style of Egypt’s first palaces was borrowed from a structural style found in ancient Mesopotamian buildings. The climate in Egypt lends itself to a particular style of architecture, a style that emphasizes the brightness of the harsh, desert sun. Tall, thin pillars punctuate the spacious facade of an Egyptian palace, and though no examples of the earliest palaces remain standing, we can glimpse shadows of their form in the great palace of Seti I at Abydos.

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The Temple of Seti I at Abydos

It had not been long before the time when those first palaces were built that Egypt had been a land of farmers and cattle herders. Viewed in this context, we see how the advent of monumental stone buildings could be used to the advantage of the ruling class, a tool with which to force the common people into reverential awe of the builders of such marvels. Palaces as symbolic of power did not begin in Egypt, but as with most customs, Egypt improved upon the practices they had borrowed. As we shall soon see, though Egypt built impressive palaces for the living, Egyptian culture and mindset revolved around their plans for the afterlife. The line between palace and temple would blur as the kings took upon themselves the mantles of Egypt’s gods.

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