Relationship of religion and politics in ancient egypt

Religion in the Lives of the Ancient Egyptians

relationship of religion and politics in ancient egypt

Ancient Egyptian religion was a complex system of polytheistic beliefs and rituals that formed . The Egyptians often grouped gods together to reflect these relationships. .. In the political fragmentation of the Third Intermediate Period (c. Egyptian religion was a combination of beliefs and practices which, in the modern This is exactly the relationship of Heka to the gods and human existence: he. 2 B. J. Kemp, Ancient Egypt: Anatomy of a Civili- Repetition of the daily cult was not overtly political. 7 C. E Nims, "Popular Religion in Ancient Egyptian they made significant alterations in the relation of the Pharaoh to the sun god and.

The king, considered the earthly representative of the gods, was entrusted with maintaining order on earth, and in this way the religious beliefs of ancient Mesopotamia buttressed the political system that developed in the region. The interlocking nature of the political and religious authorities can be seen most clearly in the Assyrian Akitu ceremony, where the king's right to rule for the next year was granted to him by the divine beings, while the princes and the nobility renewed their oaths of loyalty.

That religion was important to Assyrian kings throughout the year and not just at this ceremony can be seen from letters of the Sargonid period, many of which discuss the numerous religious obligations of the king.

While temples in the Near East tended to have their own hierarchies of personnel and to own significant amounts of property, the kings still wielded significant authority over the priests. The head of the temple was responsible to the king as the representative of the gods, and many of these temple estates also derived income from royal benefits as well as from their own property holdings. To the extent that the temples became dependent on royal grants rather than on their own holdings, they came under more direct control of the kings, further eradicating the distinction between religious and political authority.

The "rise and fall" of individual Mesopotamian divinities also provides a very clear example of the interdependence of politics and religion at the level of city or state relations. The history of Babylonia demonstrates how the rise of individual cities to prominence brought their tutelary deities to the level of national gods; Marduk, the primary god of Babylon, became the national deity of the Babylonian empire and with the decline of Babylonian power saw a concomitant loss of worshipers.

The process could also work in the opposite direction; the neo-Assyrian empire from the ninth to the seventh centuries bce destroyed temples and carried cult statues into captivity to emphasize the weakness of those gods and goddesses and of the peoples whom they were supposed to protect. In keeping with this ideology, shrines to Ashur, the eponymous god of the traditional first capital of the Assyrian empire, might be placed in some cities, but the Assyrians also rebuilt temples or restored images as a means of conducting imperial policy.

Religion thus provided one means of taking political action and marking political developments in both Assyria and Babylonia. Egypt The relationship between religion and politics in Egypt has many striking affinities with the situation in Mesopotamia, despite some major theological differences.

Because the Nile Riverthe lifeblood of ancient Egypt, operated on a much more regular cycle of flood and retreat than the Tigris and Euphrates, Egyptian divinities were considered guarantors of a stable cosmic order rather than forces that might unleash chaos at any moment.

The outstanding feature of Egyptian society during its long history as an independent polity, from roughly bce until the capture of Alexandria by the Romans in 30 bce, was that the king was considered to be of divine essence, a god incarnate.

Egyptians identified the king as Horus, king of the gods, and each successive king took a Horus-name upon his succession. In the Egyptian conception, the primary responsibility of the gods, and thus of the king as Horus, was to maintain the cosmic and timeless order of the Egyptian world, and in this way Egyptian religious belief supported the institution of kingship.

In practice the existence of numerous local cults throughout Egypt complicated the situation. Each cult possessed its own temple and cult structures, as in Mesopotamia, and was served by its own local priesthood, and each priesthood aimed at advancing the claims of its divinity toward primacy.

relationship of religion and politics in ancient egypt

Egyptian ruling dynasties when they came to power tended to raise their local cult to the status of supreme royal god, and the shifting importance of Ptah, Re, and Amun in Egyptian history owes much to the changes in Egyptian dynasties.

But as in Mesopotamia, the relationship between kings and priests was not a one-way street; as Egyptian dynasties sought to raise individual cults to supremacy by granting their priesthoods special favors, they ceded power to those priesthoods as well. The supremacy of the kings may have been felt most strongly in the Old Kingdom, from roughly to bce, the period in which the great Pyramids of Giza were constructed.

By the end of this period, however, the kings had adopted the title "Son of Re," perhaps implying that they no longer held a status equal to the sun-god. That fact, and the disappearance of the king's relatives from the higher ranks of priests, may indicate that the kings had lost much of their power to the priesthoods, a trend that repeated itself throughout Egyptian history. The Theban princes of the Middle Kingdom c. During the latter period especially, the priesthood of Amun-Ra amassed great wealth due to royal generosity, and thus wielded significant political power, to the point of having influence on the selection of a new king.

The celebrated reforms of Akhenaton c. The attempt ultimately failed, and when the centralized power of the New Kingdom gave way at the end of the Twentieth dynasty, the priests of Amun-Ra found themselves the effective rulers of southern Egypt. As in Mesopotamia, political and religious authority were interlocked and developed to the point where distinctions between the two are difficult to make. Greece The situation in ancient Greece presents some marked differences to that in the Near Eastern kingdoms, though some similarities can be observed.

Considering that in Greece one does not find a unified polity ruled by a single king, but a plethora of independent polities usually governed by aristocracies, it should not be surprising to find differences in the relationship between religious and political authorities. In Greece there was no separate class of priests, but rather religious personnel were drawn from the citizen body just as were civic officials, and indeed they were often selected and served in the same manner.

For instance at Athens, priests and priestesses were frequently chosen by lot and served a term of a single year; the number of hereditary and lifelong positions was always small and diminished over time. This similarity underscores the fact that in ancient Greece civic and religious authority were really two aspects of the same power; both were charged to protect the well-being of the state. The fact that religion was so embedded in the life of every Greek city meant that considerations which most people would label religious often played a major role in both internal and external affairs.

Ancient Egyptian religion

Public spaces, such as the agora in Athens, were in fact consecrated religious spaces, and cities might display their civic pride through religion. The temples of the Acropolis in Athens, built in the second half of the fifth century bce, are the best-known example of a city's self-promotion through religion, but other cities used religious spaces in similar ways.

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.


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.

relationship of religion and politics in ancient egypt

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.

Ancient Egyptian religion - Wikipedia

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.

relationship of religion and politics in ancient egypt

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. Oracles[ edit ] The Egyptians used oracles to ask the gods for knowledge or guidance. Egyptian oracles are known mainly from the New Kingdom and afterward, though they probably appeared much earlier.

People of all classes, including the king, asked questions of oracles, and, especially in the late New Kingdom their answers could be used to settle legal disputes or inform royal decisions. Other methods included interpreting the behavior of cult animals, drawing lots, or consulting statues through which a priest apparently spoke. The means of discerning the god's will gave great influence to the priests who spoke and interpreted the god's message.

These included birth, because of the danger involved in the process, and namingbecause the name was held to be a crucial part of a person's identity. The most important of these ceremonies were those surrounding death, because they ensured the soul's survival beyond it.

These included the interpretation of dreams, which could be seen as messages from the divine realm, and the consultation of oracles. People also sought to affect the gods' behavior to their own benefit through magical rituals. Evidence of this type of personal piety is sparse before the New Kingdom.

relationship of religion and politics in ancient egypt

This is probably due to cultural restrictions on depiction of nonroyal religious activity, which relaxed during the Middle and New Kingdoms. Personal piety became still more prominent in the late New Kingdom, when it was believed that the gods intervened directly in individual lives, punishing wrongdoers and saving the pious from disaster.

Egyptians frequently donated goods to be offered to the temple deity and objects inscribed with prayers to be placed in temple courts. Often they prayed in person before temple statues or in shrines set aside for their use. These chapels were very numerous and probably staffed by members of the community. Many of the important popular deities, such as the fertility goddess Taweret and the household protector Beshad no temples of their own.

However, many other gods, including Amun and Osiris, were very important in both popular and official religion. Often they favored deities affiliated with their own region, or with their role in life. The god Ptahfor instance, was particularly important in his cult center of Memphisbut as the patron of craftsmen he received the nationwide veneration of many in that occupation.

relationship of religion and politics in ancient egypt

Heka Amulet in the shape of the Eye of Horusa common magical symbol The word "magic" could be used to translate the Egyptian term heka, which meant, as James P. Allen puts it, "the ability to make things happen by indirect means".

Humans could also use it, however, and magical practices were closely intertwined with religion.

Ancient Egypt Religion and Spirituality! - School Project [OLD]

In fact, even the regular rituals performed in temples were counted as magic. Although these ends could be harmful to other people, no form of magic was considered inimical in itself. Instead, magic was seen primarily as a way for humans to prevent or overcome negative events. Because temple libraries contained numerous magical texts, great magical knowledge was ascribed to the lector priests who studied these texts.

These priests often worked outside their temples, hiring out their magical services to laymen. Other professions also commonly employed magic as part of their work, including doctors, scorpion-charmers, and makers of magical amulets. It is also possible that the peasantry used simple magic for their own purposes, but because this magical knowledge would have been passed down orally, there is limited evidence of it.

Often these rituals invoked the power of an appropriate deity to perform the desired action, using the power of heka to compel it to act.