The Expensive Business of Death | Why Wealth Was Buried in Ancient Egypt

Would it be fair to say that the Ancient Egyptians spent a fair great deal of their time preparing for the afterlife? The answer, undoubtedly, is yes.

These funerary preparations of Egypt were grandiose, especially for the elite of society. Regardless of one’s stature in life, all Egyptians aspired to take with them that which they loved and treasured into the next life.

For the ancient ones of Egypt, this meant being buried with replicas of their most beloved and treasured objects and subjects. Pharaohs ensured that their burial chambers were packed with all kinds of treasures.

In the centuries to come, many of these sites were looted. A widespread understanding of the wealth that was stashed away became known to modern humanity when the royal tomb and burial chambers of Tutankhamun were discovered intact. It is this discovery that created a wealth of knowledge regarding a civilisation that flourished for thousands of millennia.

Tutankhamun was ushered into the afterlife with an astonishing array of beds, chariots, boats, linen, furniture, caskets, little figurine servants and even craftsmen. They had been sent to the afterlife with Tutankhamun to do his bidding and to help and assist him in his next journey.

Through afterlife practises such as this, the priests of the ancient world gained economic power. They were able to command considerable fees for their services and for the objects that were created for the purposes of burial.

A notable feature of Egyptian society was the high status accorded to women. A few women even ruled as pharaohs. Several queens even served with their husbands as half of a power couple and wielded extraordinary influence over economic matters and affairs.

In every walk of life, Egyptian women possessed rights and privileges that were extraordinary for the era. They were employed in a variety of occupations. They owned and controlled property and were entitled to write their own wills.

Whatever was one’s rank, status or standing in life; the consensus that scholars have reached is that Egyptians remained preoccupied with the afterlife. The journey to the beyond, however, was full of hazards.

Once the spirit of the deceased departed its body, it was still required to pass through a series of gates, caverns and mounds that were all guarded by supernatural creatures that were ready and well-poised to provide the afterlife soul with a series of new tasks and challenges.

In addition to being furnished with the appropriate funerary texts to embark on their next journey, Egyptians paid a great deal of attention to preserving the bodies of the deceased. The wealthy employed embalmers to ensure that they were mummified in accordance with the sacred scriptures. They were wrapped in the finest linen and adorned with jewelled amulets.

Even the poor had aspirations to purchase a coffin for their journey into the afterlife. Even, they, too, set aside a few possessions that they would take with them into their next journey.

It seems, then, that death–much like life–was an expensive business, indeed.

Tourists outside Tutankhamun’s tomb, February 1923

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