Symbology in Ancient Egypt: The Royal Tomb of Djer and Human Sacrifice

The greatest historical evidence for the mindset of the Ancient Egyptians lies entombed in hidden crypts throughout the arid desert land. These tombs reveal much about the way Egyptians thought and lived. The tombs were, after all, a launching point for the afterlife. All the necessary items for a luxurious “life after death” were buried with the deceased, up to, and even including their human servants. In the First Dynasty, human sacrifice was a common phenomenon. The Royal Tomb of Djer proves a stunning example of life, and death.

In life, the King was the focal point of the entire Egyptian society. The people viewed him as the embodied guarantee of the god’s blessing, and they treated him as such. Because they believed in the afterlife, much of a king’s life was spent in preparation for his death. Hordes of workers labored to prepare the royal tomb, which also happened to be their own tomb.

The Royal Tomb of Djer at Abydos

Archaeologists have uncovered evidence of retainer sacrifice at several different First Dynasty sites. Pictorial evidence of such sacrifice has also been found on boxes and jars inside the royal tombs. Such evidence strongly supports the fact that the early kings of Egypt were the absolute rulers, not hesitant to bring their servants with them into the afterlife. A king in this life could not be expected to serve himself in the next, could he?

Symbolically, these human sacrifices discovered in First Dynasty tombs like Djer’s reveal much about the ideology in place during the Early Period. The royal tomb at Djer, in its layout and function, revolves around a central point, the king. The configuration after death mirrored that during life. All things existed to serve the king, and they did so willingly. Egypt’s kings had not yet taken on the mantra of divinity, but they were not loathe to act as the mediator between the gods and mankind. The kings presided over many ceremonies, ceremonies which were designed to elicit the favor of the gods in agriculture, fertility, prosperity, and even war. Obviously then, the king was served willingly by his subjects, for without the king’s mediation, the people would not have the blessing of the gods.

Looking back, we can see how the king’s were simply solidifying their own position through the means of ideology. Their subjects, however, did not see through to the true intentions, and many of them paid for it with their lives, entombed beside their ruler.

A Human Sacrifice, Observed by the King - Earliest Egyptian Evidence of Human Sacrifice


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