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 Human Sacrifice in Ancient Egypt

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Posts : 81
Join date : 2009-12-18
Age : 60
Location : Alexandria---Arsinoea Sarione Ptolemy

PostSubject: Human Sacrifice in Ancient Egypt   Fri Jan 01, 2010 2:56 am

Human Sacrifice in Ancient Egypt...

by Caroline Seawright

October 11, 2003

Human Sacrifice in Ancient Egypt...
Human sacrifice is not generally connected with ancient Egypt. There is
little evidence of human sacrifice during most of the dynastic period
of ancient Egypt... but there is some evidence that it may have been
practiced in the Nile Valley during the 1st Dynasty and possibly also
Predynastic Egypt.

The earliest known example of human
sacrifice may perhaps be found in Predynastic burials in the south of
Egypt, dated to the Naqada II Period. One of the discovered bodies
showed marks of the throat from having been cut before having been

-- Human Sacrifice, Jacques Kinnaer

The two definitions of human sacrifice that could be applied to the very early development of ancient Egypt are:

  • The ritual killing of human beings as part of the offerings presented to the gods on a regular basis, or on special occasions.
  • Retainer sacrifice, or the killing of domestic servants to bury them along with their master.

-- Human Sacrifice, Jacques Kinnaer

Offerings to the Gods
One form of human sacrifices to the gods may have been in the
form of slaying criminals and prisoners of war. Some early dynastic
depictions of sacrifices have been found, showing a man holding a bowl,
possibly using it to catch the blood of a victim who is seated in front
of him. The man and the victim are normally before either gods or men
of power, making it seem as if these scenes are of human sacrifices.
Despite the pictures, there is not enough information as to why it was
done, what happened with the blood in the bowl, or for whom it was
done. Other than the human sacrifice theory, there is another theory as
to what is happening in the scenes:

slabs were discovered dating to the beginning of the 1st Dynasty, one
in Abydos concerning King Aha and the other in Saqqara, concerning King
Djer. Each slab depicts a seated person directing a pointed instrument
to the throat or chest of another person who is kneeling backwards with
his arms tied behind his back. Petrie, Emery and Zaki Saaed believed
that this denotes human sacrifice whereas Vikentiesf and Hussain
believe it to be a tracheostomy being performed. The latter view is
more appropriate as the lancet is used as a determinative "to breath"
rather than the habitual signs of the nose or the sail. In Aha's slab
the sign Ankh is present; the way the scalpel is handled is more
appropriately directed to the trachea than the neck vessels as
obviously the best way for slaughtering was known even at prehistoric

-- Medicine and Surgery in Ancient Egypt, Ahmes L. Pahor

Later in Egypt's history, Amenhotep II of the 18th dynasty claimed
to have executed seven Syrian princes at the temple of Amen in Karnak,
then displayed six of the bodies on the temple walls. Although he did
not claim that it was a sacrifice to the gods, it shows that there is
enough evidence that prisoners were killed at temples, making the
depiction of Predynastic killings in front of deities likely to have
actually happened.
The Cannibal Hymn
Not strictly an offering to the gods, the Cannibal Hymn of Unas
and Teti talk of cannibalism to gain power from the gods in ancient
Egypt. The Pyramid Texts have a section that seems to hint that in
Predynastic times, the ruler could gain the magical powers of the gods
through human sacrifice.
Utterances 273 - 274 of the Pyramid Texts,
known as the Cannibal Hymn, describe the pharaoh as a god who
cannibalises the gods - 'A god who lives on his fathers and feeds on
his mothers ... who lives on the being of every god, who eats their
entrails ... Pharaoh is he who eats men and lives on gods.'
It is a blood-thirsty text of the power of the pharaoh, talking
of death and killing and devouring of body parts. This seems to combine
ritual cannibalism with sacrifices to the gods, but there is no direct
evidence that cannibalism was normally practiced in ancient Egypt.

Image ©️ Alan M. Fildes
There is, though, a suggestion that cannibalism may have
occurred during times of great famine and drought. During the First
Intermediate Period, there was a great famine, dust storms, plague, and
political strife that affected the country for decades. Ankhtifi
(Ankhtify), Nomarch (governor) of the 3rd Nome of Upper Egypt during
this time, left on his tomb this message: "...the sky was clouded and
the earth [...] of hunger on this sandbank of Apep...
All of Upper Egypt was dying of hunger and people were eating their
children, but I did not allow anyone to die of hunger in this nome."
Despite his boasting, Ankhtifi may not have be lying about
people being reduced to eating their children to survive. Abdel-Latif
Al-Baghdadi, a physician/scholar from Baghdad who was in Egypt between
1194 to 1200 AD, tells of people who habitually ate human flesh;
parents even ate their own children. Graves were ransacked for food,
assassinations and robbery reigned unchecked and noblewomen implored to
be bought as slaves. These horrific scenes had been caused by a low Nile flood, two years running.
Human Heads in the Book of the Amduat

In the depiction of Seventh Hour from 'The Book of the Amduat' (Imydwat),
are four rectangular shaped frames with a bed or a mound of sand
inside, surmounted with two human heads, one at each end. E. A. Wallis
Budge calls them the 'Four Tombs of Osiris', saying that the heads were
supposed to come forth when they heard the voice of Ra as he travelled
through that particular area of the underworld.

It was, no doubt, a custom in
Predynastic times to slay slaves at the graves of kings and nobles in
order that the souls of the slaughtered might protect them and keep
away evil spirits. The human heads on the tombs of Osiris probably
represent a tradition that, when Osiris was buried, human sacrifices
were offered at his tomb for this or for some similar purpose.

-- The Gods of the Egyptians, E. A. Wallis Budge
This may or may not relate to any human sacrifice. E. Hornung has a
different description than Budge: "... we once again observe the [four]
burial place[s] of the sun's [Ra's] corpse..." There are no references
in the text to the killing of humans for the protection of Ra as he
E. A. Wallis Budge's translation of the Amduat can be found as 'The Book of Am-Tuat'.

Retainer Sacrifice

Image ©️ Ibis Media Corp
This type of human sacrifice is generally considered to
be linked to ancestor worship, which the Egyptians believed in through
their history. The living would leave offerings for the dead, and the
tombs would be painted with offerings which the deceased could use if
the living ever forgot them. The rulers of the 1st Dynasty were not
only buried along with food, drink and objects, but with people who had
been sacrificed along with them, to be with them in the afterlife:

  • Aha - 33 subsidiary burials at tomb B10, 15, 19
  • Djer - 318 subsidiary burials at Tomb O
  • Djet - 174 subsidiary burials at Tomb Z
  • Merytnit - 41 subsidiary burials at Tomb Y
  • Den - 136 subsidiary burials at Tomb T
  • Anedjib - 64 subsidiary burials at Tomb X
  • Semerkhet - 68 subsidiary burials at Tomb U
  • Qa'a - 26 subsidiary burials at Tomb Q

The sacrificed retainers, servants, slaves or even nobles or family members all had their own burial pits as part of the Abtu (Abydos) tomb complex
of each ruler of the 1st Dynasty. These people were thought to carry on
their respective positions in the afterlife, for example the slaves and
servants were killed so that they could continue to carry out their
work for their master.
the case of Aha, his tomb was looted in antiquity, but the bones
scattered around the burial pits were all of young men and women aged
20-25 years old. This would indicate that they probably did not die
from natural causes, but were selected for burial with Aha. The burial
pits once held copper tools, stone vessels and ivory carvings, and some
even had the name of the occupant inscribed on limestone stela. These
stelae referred to servants, dwarfs, women, dogs and even a group of
young lions.
Djer, on the other hand, probably showed the peak of human
sacrifice for burial with the king. He 318 burial pits surrounding his
tomb, as well as a number of other burial pits at his funerary enclosure,
about two kilometres away, which may have been a mortuary temple.
Djer's tomb at Abydos was believed by Egyptians of the latter Middle
Kingdom to be the tomb of Osiris himself, and this belief lasted even
into the Roman period.
In the tomb of Queen Merytnit, most of the skeletons were found
facing the same direction, but no signs of violence were found on the
skeletons. This would suggest that they were not buried alive, since
the bodies were all placed in the tombs in a specific direction for
religious purposes, and that they had died perviously to being buried.
W B Emery, who unearthed tombs at Abtu, had a theory that suggested the
people were killed by poison prior to being buried with the queen.
Human sacrifice was not only performed at Abtu, but in Saqqara
as well. Originally it was believed that the rulers of the 1st Dynasty
had two tombs - one at Saqqara and one at Abtu, but research has led to
the conclusion that the Saqqara tombs were for nobles of the 1st
Dynasty. Tomb S3500, the tomb of a noble during the reign of Qa'a, has
the last of the sacrifices found in Saqqara:

of the four subsidiary tombs were found intact and the westernmost ones
(n. 1 and 2) still had the dead bodies (a middle aged man and an old
woman; head to the south facing west) wrapped in linen within the
coffin; each one had a foreign flask and a wood cylinder seal (one
unscribed and another one with faint painted inscribed).

-- Saqqara: Early Dynastic Monuments (Dynasties 1-3), Francesco Raffaele

This practice was abandoned after the last retainer sacrifices by
Qa'a, although it was replaced by representations of sacrificed
retainers in the form of ushabti
figures. There figures were meant to magically turn into servants, to
carry out the work of the deceased in the afterlife. A small hint that
the Egyptian people in later times reviled human sacrifice can be seen
in the story of Khufu and the Magicians -

Khufu then ordered a prisoner brought, thinking to lop off his head and
see Djed-djedi's magic. Protesting, the magician said that he could not
do so to humans. Instead, they found a goose Djed-djedi could work his
magic upon.

-- Tales of Magic in Ancient Egypt, C. Seawright

Some rulers of 0 Dynasty, and rulers of the 1st and 2nd Dynasties
were buried at Abtu. The local deity of the necropolis was Khentamentiu

(Khontamentiu, Khentamenti, Khontamenti, Khenty Amentiu, Khenti
Amentiu), Foremost of Westerners, god of the dead who helped the
deceased go to the Land of the West, pilot of the solar barque during
it's nocturnal travels. The earliest temple found at Abtu was for
Khentamentiu. He was later associated with Osiris, as
Osiris-Khentamentiu, and with the jackal god Anubis.

The Tekenu

Early Egyptologists believed the tekenu (teknu)
was a representation of the human sacrifices that the 1st Dynasty
rulers were buried with. It seems to be a figure of a man, in a foetal
or sitting position, shrouded in a bag, hides or a sack that was placed
on it's own sledge during funeral processions. Current theories suggest
that it contains the spare body parts that were left over during the
mummification process, occasionally having a mask of the deceased where
a face would be on the figure, and sometimes not looking like a man at
In the tomb of Rekhmire, the words relating to the tekenu say: "Causing to come to the god Ra as a resting tekenu to calm the lake of Khepri". This may be relating to a time when people were killed and thrown into a lake to appease Apep or Set. There is no evidence for this actually happening, or of the tekenu being thrown into any lake.
Greg Reeder shows a depiction in the tomb of Montuhirkhepeshef
(Mentuherkhepshef) (18th Dynasty) at Waset (Thebes) actually shows a
man lying on the sledge, being dragged along just as the tekenu was in the funeral procession. In the tomb of Rekhmire (18th Dynasty) the tekenu
is finally placed in the tomb, on a chair or couch, with the head
poking out of a bag. Then the man sits up on the couch in the 'Opening
of the Mouth' scene, shown to be wearing shroud-like wrapping, yet
obviously human and alive:

It is the Sem priest who is awakened
from his trance at the beginning of that ceremony at the tomb of the
deceased. The Sem states that he was "asleep" but had visited the
deceased in the otherworld. The Sem then is a shaman undergoing a
trance like dream state in the guise of the tekenu. As the tekenu he is
transported to the tomb wrapped in a shroud to help facilitate his
"death" so that he can be transported to the other world. Thus having
visited the spirit world, the Sem was imbued with powers which enabled
him to perform the succeeding "Opening of the Mouth" ceremony for the
deceased. The tekenu was no more for he had been transformed into the

-- The Enigmatic Tekenu, Greg Reeder

This is the speech of the Sem-priest, from the tomb of Rekhmire:

Seclusion in the Gold Mansion: resting by the sem-priest
Speech of the sem-priest seated facing it
Words spoken: 'He has struck me'
The imy-is to stand behind it
Words spoken 'He has outlined me'
The imy-is - speech four times
Words spoken by the imy-is 'My father my father' 4 times
Waking the sleep of the sem-priest; the find of the imy-khent priests

-- Opening the Mouth, University College London

Unknown Man 'E'
Unknown Man 'E', found with the royal mummies in the Dier
el-Bahri cache, is buried with such an horror-filled look on his face
and in such a strange manner, that many believe that he was sacrificed
and buried with the pharaohs. The Unknown Man 'E' is a man in his early
20s, his face seeming to silently scream. His coffin was white and
undecorated, yet it was made from cedar wood, and expensive commodity
in ancient Egypt.
He was unwrapped by Dr. Fouquet and M. Mathey in 1886, and
discovered to have some unusual features for an Egyptian burial. He had
been wrapped in white sheepskin, which Herodotus had said was ritually
unclean to the ancient Egyptians. Dylan Bickerstaffe, who wrote an
analysis on Unknown Man 'E' in KMT Magazine, pointed out that no other
Dynastic burial had been found where sheepskin was used to shroud the
body. Under the sheepskin was a layer of bandages, then a layer of
natron-soaked bandages. When he was unwrapped, his body fat, which has
been absorbed by the natron, emitted a putrid stench. The bandages were
of high quality, yet they had been wrapped and knotted around his
wrists, upper arms and lower legs so tightly that it imprinted his
body. Under the bandages, his skin was coated with a very thick layer
of natron, crushed resin, and lime - quicklime. His body still had his
internal organs in place, as was the rest of his body. Even his gold
earrings were still in place.
One of the popular theories is that because of the oddities in
the burial, is that Unknown Man 'E' had been buried alive as punishment
during the 18th or 19th Dynasty. Another theory is that he had been
prepared and 'mummified' by non-Egyptians who were not familiar with
the Egyptian mummification process:

use of calcium oxide seems to point toward an ancient Greek influence.
In Greek, the word "sarcophagus" means "flesh eater" and was used to
designate the large stone receptacles filled with quicklime in which
corpses were placed. Much more harsh in its desiccating properties than
natural Egyptian natron, this chemical would have been avoided by
Egyptian embalmers who wanted to preserve rather than destroy the
tissues of the body. The Greeks who used this method of treating
corpses mistakenly believed that Egyptian sarcophagi were employed for
the same purpose ... Bickerstaffe points out that the Hyksos were
buried with sheep, and that the Tale of Sinhue
describes "Asiatics" as being buried wrapped in sheepskins. This again
indicates that Unknown Man E was probably "embalmed" in a foreign
country where sheepskins were cured and employed in a funereal context.

-- The Strange Case of Unknown Man E, W. Miller
The state of the quicklime on the body indicates that while it was
applied, there was no struggle. The thickness also suggests that the
quicklime was applied after the body had been dehydrated by other
methods. This would suggest that Unknown Man 'E' was already dead,
rather than sacrificed.
Unknown Man 'E' may have been an Egyptian noble or prince who held
a high position in an Asiatic country, and who died there. The people
there may have done their best, but been unable to make a mummy as the
Egyptians did, and then sent their efforts back to Egypt... Yet in
Egypt he was untouched, despite being placed by the priests who moved
royal mummies to a hidden cache along side pharaohs.
Human Sacrifice
There is evidence of human sacrifice in ancient Egypt during the
1st Dynasty, for the rulers and rich of the time. This possibly came
from predynastic times, but no strong evidence has been found to prove
this. The labels of Aha and Djer are pictures of men that may be being
ritually killed, yet the people buried with the rulers do not seem to
have been killed in that fashion - they were most likely poisoned
before being buried with the rulers and nobels. There is also a
possibility that predynastic people may have cannibalised others to
gain their power, but without evidence this can not be proved - it may
have just been a dramatic way of showing the strength and power of the
king! Other than the killing of prisoners of war, no other evidence for
human sacrifice, neither as offerings to the gods nor in the form of
retainer sacrifice, has been found. Since the Egyptians gave up the
practice during the Old Kingdom, they seemed to have come to object to
the practice through the rest of their history.
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Location : Alexandria---Arsinoea Sarione Ptolemy

PostSubject: Human Sacrifice in Ancient Egypt   Fri Jan 01, 2010 3:00 am

See also The Ptolemies..............
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