Relationship between religion and politics in ancient egypt

Ancient Egyptian religion - Wikipedia

relationship between religion and politics in ancient egypt

Government and religion were inseparable in ancient Egypt. The pharaoh was the head of state and the divine representative of the gods on earth. Religion and . Religion in the Lives of the Ancient Egyptians . religion was tied to the state, and that political obedience was an important part of the individual's religious duty. Religion played a part in every aspect of the lives of the ancient Egyptians but it was Heka who enabled this relationship between the people and their deities.

Less significant states such as Sicyon or Siphnos erected elaborately decorated buildings, filled with dedications, at Panhellenic sites such as Delphi in order to boost their image among the other Greeks.

While each city might promote its tutelary divinity, the fragmentation of political authority throughout Greece meant that the temporary predominance of one state, such as Athens, did not lead to the promotion of that state's deity in this case Athena at the expense of others, as it did in the Near East.

Despite their political fragmentation, the Greeks recognized that they shared a common bond.

Politics and Religion: Politics and Ancient Mediterranean Religions |

Religion, especially in the form of shared practices and sanctuaries, served as one of the primary markers of Greek identity. Of the Panhellenic sanctuaries, the oracle at Delphi was one religious authority in Greece that made itself felt in all of the Greek city-states.

Delphi was customarily consulted prior to the foundation of a new colony, a declaration of war, and other momentous decisions; the Spartans' decision to aid in the overthrow of the tyranny at Athens in bce, which ultimately led to the establishment of Athenian democracy, was driven in part by a series of responses they had received from the oracle. But even here the authority of the Delphic oracle was limited, for her ambiguous utterances needed interpretation, and this left sufficient room for politicians to pursue their chosen paths by interpreting the oracle in a manner favorable to their policies.

For example, during the Persian WarsThemistocles famously interpreted an ambiguous, but largely negative, oracle to mean that the Athenians should pursue his policy of staking their all on a naval campaign at Salamis bce.


The fact that Greeks from many city-states consulted the oracle at Delphi should therefore not be considered as evidence of religious authority external to the state; rather, the oracle formed a part of the entire system of religion embedded with civic authority. The high degree of correlation between civic and religious authority in ancient Greece aids in understanding one of the dominant religious trends in Greece during the Hellenistic period —30 bce: The rise of Macedon brought the inhabitants of Greece under the rule of kings, and the religious system naturally changed to accommodate the altered political landscape.

Unlike their Near Eastern counterparts, Hellenistic kings were not worshiped as representatives of the divine on earth, but as divinities themselves.

Scholars following the seminal work of Simon Price Rituals and Power, have moved beyond asking whether rulers were really considered to be gods or whether this was simply a means of expressing their transcendent political power.

Rather, the two kinds of power were inseparable—the locus of political power was the locus of religious power as well, whether that be a corporate body of citizens or an individual. The absence of sharp distinctions between the religious and the political in earlier periods of Greek history meant that ruler cult could be grafted onto the religious systems of the Hellenistic period without serious difficulty.

Rome The study of Roman religion has perhaps been most affected by the recognition that the entanglement of religion with politics signifies the health of the system, not its decay. Indeed it is scarcely possible to imagine a public action at Rome that could be undertaken without religious approval: In these circumstances, it should be expected that political developments, both external and internal, would be reflected in religion.

The Romans themselves were quite aware of this connection; indeed Roman ideology ascribed their imperial success to their piety. Since the Roman religious system was quite open to the incorporation of foreign religious traditions, including even the adoption of cults of defeated enemies, the imperial expansion of Rome can be read in the expansion of her pantheon, as elements first from other cities on the Italian peninsula, then from Sicily, Greece, Africa, and the Levant found homes within the Roman state religion.

Roman religious imperialism is scarcely separable from her territorial imperialism. In similar fashion the organization of political power and religious power at Rome proceeds from the same sources. The same principles guided the selection of both civic and religious authorities: So while the records of membership in the religious colleges at Rome are filled with the same prominent names of Rome's political history, tradition dictated that no person should serve in more than one college.

Furthermore, these colleges in essence were advisory only: As in other Mediterranean societies, religious authority had no separate existence in Rome. Just as Roman expansion can be seen in the expansion of the Roman pantheon, internal political change can be read in religious developments.

For instance, as the non-aristocratic residents of Rome began to muscle their way into the political arena, the method of selection for the priestly colleges changed from co-option to election by secret ballot.

On the other side, as individual Romans began to accrue greater power and amass a series of unprecedented offices, their religious behavior reflected their changed status. Individuals such as Lucius Cornelius Sulla —78 bce or Pompey the Great Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus, —48 bce increasingly used religious actions or religious offices to further their careers or attempted to claim divine sanction for their activities.

Though precedents existed in Rome for this type of behavior, it occurred more frequently and on a larger scale in the Late Republic and thus presented a challenge to the traditional Roman form of religion, just as these newly powerful individuals challenged the Roman political structure.

Julius Caesar —44 bcewhose actions ultimately resulted in the end of the republican system of government, first drew attention to himself by unexpectedly winning in 63 bce the election for pontifex maximusthe most important priestly office in Rome, even though it had limited authority even over religious affairs. Caesar also promoted himself by claiming a connection to the goddess Venus as his special divine patron. Rather than a sign of decay, as scholars looking to explain the emergence of Christianity long argued, these developments are a natural outgrowth of a society with a high degree of integration between politics and religion.

relationship between religion and politics in ancient egypt

As the political structure underwent revolutionary changes, religious changes paralleled the political. The actions of Augustus 63 bce—14 ceas he effected the transformation in Rome from a Republic to an imperial system, clearly reflect these changes.

During the struggle for power, Augustus made effective use not only of claims to a special connection with Venus, but also, following the deification of Caesar in 42 bce, of his status as the son of a god. In this regard he followed the pattern already laid down by Caesar and others, but he also inaugurated a pattern of ruler cult that closely approximated the Hellenistic model, even if most Roman emperors were careful not to be openly worshiped in Rome itself.

The priesthoods provide perhaps the best view of the revolution in Roman society: Augustus was the first to serve on all the religious colleges at once, and after scrupulously waiting for the death of the previous pontifex maximus he assumed that position as well.

As he consolidated political authority under his control, it was natural for him also to consolidate religious authority. In the New Kingdom, a basic temple layout emerged, which had evolved from common elements in Old and Middle Kingdom temples. With variations, this plan was used for most of the temples built from then on, and most of those that survive today adhere to it.

Ancient Egyptian religion

In this standard plan, the temple was built along a central processional way that led through a series of courts and halls to the sanctuary, which held a statue of the temple's god. Access to this most sacred part of the temple was restricted to the pharaoh and the highest-ranking priests.

The journey from the temple entrance to the sanctuary was seen as a journey from the human world to the divine realm, a point emphasized by the complex mythological symbolism present in temple architecture.

Between the two lay many subsidiary buildings, including workshops and storage areas to supply the temple's needs, and the library where the temple's sacred writings and mundane records were kept, and which also served as a center of learning on a multitude of subjects. In reality, ritual duties were almost always carried out by priests. During the Old and Middle Kingdoms, there was no separate class of priests; instead, many government officials served in this capacity for several months out of the year before returning to their secular duties.

Only in the New Kingdom did professional priesthood become widespread, although most lower-ranking priests were still part-time. All were still employed by the state, and the pharaoh had final say in their appointments. In the political fragmentation of the Third Intermediate Period c.

Outside the temple were artisans and other laborers who helped supply the temple's needs, as well as farmers who worked on temple estates. All were paid with portions of the temple's income.

relationship between religion and politics in ancient egypt

Large temples were therefore very important centers of economic activity, sometimes employing thousands of people. Among the latter were coronation ceremonies and the sed festivala ritual renewal of the pharaoh's strength that took place periodically during his reign.

Some were performed daily, while others took place annually or on rarer occasions. In it, a high-ranking priest, or occasionally the pharaoh, washed, anointed, and elaborately dressed the god's statue before presenting it with offerings. Afterward, when the god had consumed the spiritual essence of the offerings, the items themselves were taken to be distributed among the priests. These festivals often entailed actions beyond simple offerings to the gods, such as reenactments of particular myths or the symbolic destruction of the forces of disorder.

Commoners gathered to watch the procession and sometimes received portions of the unusually large offerings given to the gods on these occasions. These animals were selected based on specific sacred markings which were believed to indicate their fitness for the role. Some of these cult animals retained their positions for the rest of their lives, as with the Apis bull worshipped in Memphis as a manifestation of Ptah. Other animals were selected for much shorter periods. These cults grew more popular in later times, and many temples began raising stocks of such animals from which to choose a new divine manifestation.

Millions of mummified catsbirds, and other creatures were buried at temples honoring Egyptian deities. Although no complete example of such a cult statue has been identified, the Restoration Stela of Tutankhamun describes the Amun statue as "his holy image being of electrum, lapis lazuli, turquoise and every precious stone.

He opened the doors of the shrine that enclosed the statue and performed purification rituals. The cult statue was washed, anointed with perfumes, and dressed in clothes and necklaces. Food and drink were laid before the image of the god for divine sustenance. After a suitable interval for the god to consume the offerings, they were removed and reverted to the temple staff.

Processions of the god were an important feature of the cult.

Religion in Ancient Egypt - Crystalinks

During festivals the statue of the god was removed from his or her sanctuary and placed in a portable shrine which was, in turn, placed on a boat. These ritual craft could be quite large; indeed, the texts from Tutankhamun claim that it was carried by eleven pairs of priests.

The sacred boat processions might circumambulate the temple or make a pilgrimage from one temple to another, accompanied by temple personnel and local residents who sang, danced, and acclaimed the god. Maat, the king, and his subjects Central to Egyptian religion and thought is the concept of maat, the embodiment of truth and the universal balance of the universe. This sense of order, personified as a goddess named Maat, intertwined all aspects of correct daily behavior and thought with cosmic order and harmony.

Individuals were personally responsible for the maintenance of the universal order. If one transgressed against the forces of order, chaos--a state antithetical to everything the Egyptians knew and valued--would ensue and in this frightening realm the sun would not rise, the Nile would not flood, crops would not grow, and children would abandon their elderly parents.

One of the most fundamental duties of the king was to maintain maat through his intercession with the gods and especially through the cult actions performed in the temples each day in his name. Yet each of his subjects, through their correct behavior, shared that responsibility. What constituted proper morality is illustrated by the negative confession that the deceased recited at his or her judgment before the gods. This litany, Spell of the "Book of the Dead," stipulated what was considered sinful such as: The king, Osiris, and rituals of rejuvenation One of the most significant functions of Egyptian ritual and myth was the reinforcement and protection of the office and body of the king.

The most important myth associated the entity of the king with the gods Osiris and Horus. According to the myth, Osiris, the first king of Egypt, was murdered by his evil brother Seth. This basic outline has myriad variations, the most elaborate version of which appears in the second century AD writings of Plutarch, but the focus of the myth was to associate the living king with the god Horus and his deceased predecessor with his mummiform father Osiris.

In this way, each king of Egypt was incorporated into a mythological descent from the time of the gods.

relationship between religion and politics in ancient egypt

The myth also stressed filial piety and obligations of a son to his father. Osiris or, according to various versions of the myth, at least part of the god's body was thought to have been buried at Abydos, accounting for the sacred nature of the site throughout Egyptian history.

The gods Osiris left and Horus right after Hobson By the late Old Kingdom, posthumous identification with the god Osiris was adopted by the common people. After death, if they had lived their lives according to Maat and could truthfully confess that they had not committed any mortal sin before the divine judges in the Hall of Two Truths, they were admitted into the company of the gods.

Coffins and funerary objects of the New Kingdom record that the name of the deceased was compounded with that of the god, and that the face of coffins belonging to men bore the false beard of Osiris.