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Old kingdom power of the pharaohs


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Ancient Egypt: Old Kingdom


  1. OLD KINGDOM

    1. Power of the pharaohs

      1. Pharaohs were gods in human form. Were worshipped as gods after their death as well.

      2. They ruled according to the principle of Maat, the goddess of truth – The pharaohs could not intentionally rule badly without being judged by her. Her symbol was the feather.

      3. The pharaoh’s had full responsibility for Egypt’s well-being




    1. Immortality for the pharaoh

      1. The ka – Egyptians believed that their pharaoh lived on after death. He had an eternal spirit called a ka. The ka was believed to be part of the soul. Gods as well as people each had a ka. A person’s ka accompanied him or her throughout life and provided guidance after death. All pharaohs were identified with god Horus (falcon) and Osiris (god of order) after death. All people had a ka that lived on after death.




    1. Mummies

      1. Even though the ka was a spirit, it needed to refresh itself occasionally by entering its human body. Thus the Egyptians preserved the pharaoh’s body by making it a mummy in “per nefer.”.

      2. The mummified dead body was buried in a stone box called sarcophagus in the tomb

      3. By 3000 BCE, Egyptians developed a 72-day process of mummification

        1. First step removal of the internal organs, except for the heart, which was believed to be the seat of understanding. The heart would be removed by Anubis, jackal god associated with mummification, to be weighed for the judgment of your soul. The brain was discarded.

        2. The body was then packed in dry natron (a natural compound of sodium carbonate and bicarbonate), which dehydrated the cadaver and dissolved its fats. This took many days.

        3. The corpse was then washed, treated with oils, and ointments, and bandaged with as many as 20 layers of linen in a way that conformed with its original shape.

        4. The substances applied to its skin caused the body to turn black. Later travelers took this to mean that the body had been preserved with pitch (tar). The Arab term for pitch is mumiya – hence the English name mummy.

        5. No less important was the preservation of the internal organs, which were removed and also mummified. They were then placed into four CANOPIC JARS. These canopic jars were discovered with the mummies and have the animal head images of various gods. Even these are considered art – a type of funerary sculpture.




    1. Old Kingdom architecture – The Pyramids

Introduction – Pyramids were monumental expressions of the pharaoh’s absolute power and the Egyptian belief in the afterlife.
MASTABAS – Pre-Dynastic Tombs. These box-like structures preceded the pyramids. Named after the Arabic word for “bench.” These were single-story, trapezoidal structures with a shaft and burial chamber below ground. Shaft was filled in after burial. There was another ground-level chamber with a statue of the deceased, to which family members could bring offerings of food and drink. The function of the tomb shaft that connected the burial chamber with the outside provided access for the Ka


      1. STEPPED PYRAMID OF DJOSER at Saqqara

        1. Built by IMHOTEP, history’s first known architect (his name is recorded as the builder inside the pyramid). Imhotep became a legendary figure in ancient Egypt revered for his wisdom as a magician, astronomer, and healer. The movie “The Mummy” is based on him. He was worshipped as a god by an Egyptian cult.

        2. It is 200 feet tall and seems to be composed of a series of mastabas of diminishing size

        3. Its purpose was to: protect the mummified King Djoser and his possessions; symbolize King Djoser’s absolute and god-like power; a small temple (mortuary) stood on the side of the pyramid for priests to perform funerary rituals for Djoser

        4. This step pyramid was built in Saqqara, the necropolis (city of the dead) of the city of Memphis, the capital at the time.

        5. The Saqqara complex is also significant – It contains the first known use of columns! The columns are ENGAGED – attached to the building. The CAPITAL (tops of the columns) are shaped like lotus leaves (sacred for the afterlife and symbolic of Upper Egypt) and papyrus (symbolic of Lower Egypt).

        6. To demonstrate his fitness during his lifetime, King Djoser had to run a lap around the whole complex.




      1. Pyramids at Gizeh

        1. Why did the pharaohs choose the form of the pyramid for their tombs?

          1. Creation myth: Mound appeared in muddy nothingness (river Nun) and creator god appeared on mound and brought light to the world. Mound formalized into pyramid stone called ben-ben supporting supreme god Amen, and the god of the sun, Re.

          2. The pyramids of the Old Kingdom represent the sun and rebirth. It is speculated that the powerful cult of Re from Heliopolis figured in the design of the pyramid structure. The pyramid itself is a symbol for the sun and according to the Pyramid Texts it is the sun’s rays, which provide the ramp pharaoh uses to ascend to the heavens. It is in the pyramids that the Old Kingdom pharaohs were reborn, just as the sun is reborn every day at dawn.

          3. Important to remember that each pyramids was just part of a whole mortuary complex for each pharaoh. Visitors to the tomb of the pharaoh traveled by boat and started the visit at a mortuary temple at which priests could perform rituals for the ka of the pharaoh. Remember the dead pharaoh was still a god. Pharaohs were associated with falcon god Horus while alive and the god Osiris when dead. Osiris is god who is symbolic of the river Nile and who dies and is reborn each year.




        1. About 80 pyramids were built

        2. The three at Gizeh are the most famous. The largest was built for Khufu. It is called “The Great Pyramid” and is the only surviving Wonder of the Ancient World that we know so far. The other two were built for his successors, his son Khafre, and grandson Menkaure.




      1. The Great Pyramid

        1. Original height was 480 feet, equal to a 40-story building

        2. Its square base had sides of 755 feet and occupies 13 acres, equal to 10 New York City blocks

        3. It is comprised of 2.3 million blocks of stone and estimated to have a total weight of 6.5 million tons!

        4. Built for Pharaoh Khufu




    1. Old Kingdom sculpture

      1. The Sphinx

        1. Largest colossal statue of the ancient Near East – monumental size symbolized the power of the pharaoh

        2. Carved out of stone from a quarry

        3. Probably a colossal statue Khafre (Khufu’s son) but may be Khufu himself

        4. A sphinx was a lion with a human head; sphinxes were associated with the sun god. Pharaohs were associated with the sun god.

        5. Guardian figure --- head of a human for intelligence; body of lion for power and authority(king of beasts)

        6. Face was damaged by Napoleon’s soldiers during his expedition to Egypt




      1. Pharaoh Khafre from Gizeh – ca. 2500 BCE

        1. Purpose:

    1. Alternate dwelling place for the ka if the mummy should deteriorate too much

    2. Found in his funerary temple, offerings of food and drink were made to it. Egyptians believed that priests could make this statue come to life.

    3. The strict adherence to the Egyptian CANON – a set of rules for depicting the appearance of individuals.

    4. In the highly conservative society of ancient Egypt the canons hardly changed over the 3000 years of the society.

  1. Form

    1. Designed to last forever.

    2. Carved out of DIORITE, one of the hardest known stones.

    3. The body appendages are carved close to the torso and throne so that no parts will break off.



    1. Designed to show his power and authority. One hand is clenched on his lap and the other is laid flat on his knee. It is a very rigid pose that was used for important people. His body is erect, idealized and not natural (would an older many usually be this built?) Egyptians followed these conventions and canons to depict important figures.




    1. He wears the nemes headdress (a special headdress to show he was pharaoh). Also, it serves to make him look more monumental and important.




    1. Important symbols: Horus (the falcon, sky god, and protector of the pharaoh) spreads his wings behind Khafre’s head and intertwined plants on the side of the throne to symbolize his authority over Upper and Lower Egypt.


    1. Khafre is carved closely connected to his throne (no spaces were carved out of the stone to separate his body from the throne). This symbolically links him to the throne of Egypt.



      1. Pharaoh Menkaure and Queen Khamerernebty

        1. This serene and idealized royal image is one of the finest pieces of Egyptian sculpture known. It is 4 feet, 6 inches high. The statue is located in the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston.

        2. Made of stone, its surface subtly modeled and gives a very real sense of bodily form and structure.

        3. Menkaure assumes the classic pose for high-ranking men in Egyptian art, striding forward, his left leg advanced, arms rigid and by his side, with an idealized body type.

        4. The queen has her arm around him, clasping him in a traditional gesture of intimacy and respect. Her foot is also striding forward but not as far as his (lower position of women). She is rendered more naturalistically; she has more curves and a little more expression than Menkaure.

        5. The royal couple shows no other sign of affection or emotion and look not at each other but out into space. Royal portraits must adhere to the strict canon of Egyptian art.




      1. Seated Scribe (Kay?) from his mastaba at Saqqara, Egypt

        1. Less monumental and permanent – just 23 inches high, made from painted limestone

        2. Spaces between the arms and body

        3. Not idealized – note the pot belly and flabby pectoral muscles

        4. Does not follow the strict canon of appearance – a sense of personality in his face

        5. Must have had a higher status because he had his own tomb

        6. In position to do his responsibility even in the afterlife; he is a scribe or keeper of written records.




      1. Ka-Aper, from his mastaba at Saqqara

        1. Carved out of wood --- it has cracks in it

        2. Note the spaces

        3. A sense of expression when looking at his face

        4. Still a conventional pose – one foot striding forward

        5. Probably a noble – a tall walking stick in his left hand, a baton (missing) in his right

        6. Note his paunchy build – contrasts with Khafre’s and Menkaure’s idealized muscular statues – his build may symbolize that he led the comfortable life of a noble – obesity was common for non-royal Old Kingdom portraits.




    1. Old Kingdom Tomb Painting

      1. Purpose: Entertaining the ka in the afterlife. The deceased wanted to be surrounded by familiar scenes: work/responsibility, hunting, family, parties, and servants to enjoy for eternity

      2. Location – on the walls of tombs, often combine bas relief with painting

      3. Tomb interiors always had scenes of hunting. This was associated with the idea of providing provisions for the ka, and it is also a metaphor for the triumph over evil




      1. Ti watching a hippopotamus hunt, relief in the mastaba of Ti, Saqqara, Egypt

        1. Ti, his men, and his boats move slowly through the marshes, hunting hippopotami in a dense growth of papyrus

        2. Foxes chase birds in the upper part of the relief

        3. Below, the water is teeming with fish and hippopotami

        4. Compare Ti to his men.

        5. Ti is twice their size. The men are frantically hunting while he stands there in a rigid pose reserved for someone important

        6. Can be interpreted in different ways. Hunting hippopotami was compared to conquering the forces of evil.

        7. Note the conventional, Egyptian depiction

          1. Ti is shown partially in profile (his face, legs, and feet)

          2. Partially frontal – torso, two arms are shown, frontal eye

          3. Slight turn at the waist to transition to legs in profile – shows his navel

          4. Artists used a canon of proportions. This stayed fairly consistent (some minor changes, a short-lived period of big change) over thousands of years

      2. Goats treading seed and cattle fording a canal, painted relief from the tomb of Ti





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