History Podcasts

Egyptian Tomb Relief

Egyptian Tomb Relief

Egyptian Reliefs Reproductions

All Egyptian reliefs were painted. Pigments were mostly mineral, chosen to withstand strong sunlight without fading. Many ancient Egyptian paintings have survived due to Egypt's extremely dry climate. The paintings were often made with the intent of making a pleasant afterlife for the deceased. The themes included journey through the afterworld or protective deities introducing the deceased to the gods of the underworld (such as Osiris). Egyptian paintings are painted in such a way to show a profile view and a side view of the animal or person. For example, the painting to the right shows the head from a profile view and the body from a frontal view. Their main colors were red, blue, black, gold, and green. The beginnings can be found in tombs of the 3rd dynasty but painting of the highest quality is found as early as the 4th dynasty. The tradition of fine painting was continued in the Middle Kingdom. The best relief work of the period is found at Thebes in the tomb of Mentuhotep II at Dayr al-Bahri and in the little shrine of Sesostris I at Karnak. In the early 18th dynasty the relief tradition was revived at Thebes and can best be observed in the carvings in Hatshepsut's temple at Dayr al-Bahri. Later royal reliefs of Amenhotep III and of the post-Amarna kings show a stylistic refinement that was carried to its best in the reign of Seti I, at Karnak, at Abydos, and in his tomb at Thebes. The 18th dynasty also saw Egyptian painting reach its highest achievement in the tombs of the nobles at Thebes. Interest in relief subsequently passed to the work in the temples of the 19th and 20th dynasties. The most dramatic subject was war, whether the so-called triumph of Ramses II at Kadesh. The artistic renaissance of the 25th and 26th dynasties is less evident in painting and relief rather than in sculpture.

Who was Queen Nefertari?

Queen Nefertari (c. 1300- c. 1250 BC) was the first chief wife of Pharaoh Ramesses II (c. 1303–1213 BC), also known as Ramesses the Great. When they married she was thirteen and he was fifteen years old.

The couple had six children. Ramesses deeply loved Nefertari. He called her ‘the one for whom the sun shines’ and ‘sweet of love’. Of course, this didn’t stop Ramesses from having seven other wives and many concubines who bore him over one hundred children. Two of the Ramesses’s wives were the daughters of Ramesses and Nefertari.

Nefertari and Ramesses had a kind of strange relationship for the modern-day, but a completely normal one for the royal Egyptians.

Tombs in ancient Egypt

Click to enlarge image Toggle Caption

Tombs: houses of eternity

Many years could be spent on building and preparing tombs, which were known to the ancient Egyptians as ‘houses of eternity’. Master builders and supervisors were instructed to perform rituals during construction and guidelines were provided on where to build, how to design, and also what materials to use.

Tomb architecture

All tombs had two essential architectural components that reflected their religious function – a burial chamber and a nearby mortuary chapel. The burial chamber was below ground and housed and protected the body and spirit. The mortuary chapel was above ground and was accessible to visitors who would perform rites and make offerings of food and drink for the dead person. False doors were also placed in these chapels to establish a connection between the worlds of the living and the dead. The design on the door allowed the spirit of the person to move freely between the chapel and the tomb to receive offerings.

Differences can be seen in the size, design and complexity of tombs – which included pyramids, mastabas and rock-cut chambers. However, these were mainly due to the wealth and status of the owner, evolving religious beliefs or political circumstances.

Funerary cones

Terracotta funerary cones were inscribed with the owner’s name and placed above the entrance to the tomb. The pointed end allowed them to be pressed into the plaster above the doorway. Funerary cones were used from the Middle Kingdom onwards but mainly during the New Kingdom, and appeared most often in private tombs around Thebes.

Tomb art: the secret galleries

Egyptian burial chambers were like secret galleries that were never meant to be viewed. They were packed with an astounding array of artwork which spoke only to an elite group of visitors – the gods. As the point of contact between the mortal and the immortal, art had the power to transport a person, to free them from the silent immobility of death.

Tomb art was sacred and magical. It was a way of controlling the chaotic, evil forces in the universe that sought to undermine universal order. Whether mass produced or commissioned, art in the form of painting, sculpture, carving and script had the power to maintain universal order by appealing to the gods to act on behalf of the dead tomb owner and ensure his safe arrival and eternal nourishment in the afterlife.

Egyptian Monuments

The well-preserved mastaba of Ti is located at the northern edge of the Saqqara necropolis, about 300m north of the ‘Philosopher’s Circle’. Ti held the titles of ‘Overseer of the Pyramids of Niuserre’, and ‘Overseer of the Sun-Temples of Sahure, Neferirkare and Niuserre’, making him a high-status official during Dynasty V.

The tomb was discovered by Auguste Mariette in 1865 and has since been restored and reconstructed by the Egyptian Antiquities Department, to become known as probably the most beautifully decorated Old Kingdom mastaba in the whole necropolis. The tomb not only has superb reliefs, but the variety of subjects also makes it very interesting.

As with other tombs dating to this period, the entrance was via a portico on the northern side. This leads into a huge columned courtyard with twelve square pillars and has a burial shaft (uninscribed) in the centre where Ti’s empty sarcophagus was found. Unfortunately little exists today of the courtyard decoration, but on the north-east corner there is an aperture into the first serdab (statue chamber). Reliefs remaining in the courtyard include Ti in agricultural scenes and scenes of daily life. At the south-west corner of the courtyard there is a false door stela of his son, Demedji.

A narrow decorated corridor leads to two rooms and a false door of Ti’s wife, Neferhetpes, who was a Priestess of Neith and Hathor, can be seen on the right-hand side of the passage. Further along on the right-hand side is a long narrow chamber which is decorated with colourful reliefs of food preparation, including cooking and brewing, and pottery production, as well as scribes recording the activities.

The second and larger of the two chambers, at the end of the corridor, is an offering hall, with a roof supported by two square pillars and has the most beautiful reliefs of the tomb. Above the door there are musicians and dancers while on the left-hand (east) wall the tomb owner watches agricultural activities and there are scenes of boat-building.

The southern wall has three restored apertures through which the serdab statue can be viewed. The serdab now holds a replica of the original life-sized statue (in Cairo Museum) – Ti would have communicated with the world of the living and witnessed his ritual offerings through these apertures. The wall between the spy-holes depicts scenes of Ti inspecting viticulture and bird-catching. There are also many interesting reliefs showing various industries, including carpentry, sculpture and metal-working.

The western wall has two false doors, one of which has an alabaster offering table in front of it. This stela of Ti is at the northern end of the wall has a double jamb depicting four standing images of the deceased.

The main portion of the northern wall of the offering hall is dominated by a beautiful relief of Ti standing on a papyrus boat presiding over a hippopotamus hunt. Papyrus stands erect behind the boat which floats on a swamp full of different types of fish, hippopotomi and a crocodile. Ti is depicted with a dwarf and pet and there are scenes of marshland industries such as gathering papyrus and fishing.

The mastaba of Ti is usually open to visitors. Photography is no longer allowed inside any of the tombs.

New Egyptian Tomb Opened that Reveals a Special 4,300-yr-old Green Pigment

A tomb belonging to a senior official dating to the Fifth Dynasty in Ancient Egypt has been unveiled around 20 miles south of Cairo. The newly opened necropolis contains vivid colored reliefs and well-preserved inscriptions painted in a special green resin that has kept its pigment over the last 4,300 years. The tomb is near Saqqara, a vast necropolis.

Built from white limestone bricks, the tomb is thought to belong to a nobleman known as Khuwy. It was discovered in March 2019. Mohamed Megahed, head of the excavation team, said in a statement: “The L-shaped Khuwy tomb starts with a small corridor heading downwards into an antechamber and from there a larger chamber with painted reliefs depicting the tomb owner seated at an offering table.”

Saqqara necropolis, Egypt. UNESCO World Heritage Site

“Ornate paintings boast a special green resin throughout and oils used in the burial process,” the antiques ministry said in a press statement, as reported in the Times of Israel. The north wall of the tomb suggests a design influenced by the architectural blueprint of the Fifth Dynasty’s royal pyramids. The art of pyramid building was developed Fourth Dynasty.

This team has discovered several tombs believed to date from the same period. Archaeologists recently located a granite column with an inscription dedicated to Queen Setibor, wife of the eighth and penultimate king of the dynasty. As well as an incredible 3,000 year old tomb in Luxor.

“Historians regard this period as being ‘written in stone,’ with events recorded only through monuments rather than texts,” according to The Sun. “It is hoped that Khuwy’s tomb paintings might shade in some of the finer details of the age.”

The frescoes inside the tomb depict men in boats, servants bringing food and drink, and birds, all skirted with decorative borders. Queen Setibor was the wife of Djedkare Isesi. The pharaoh. who reigned for nearly 40 years between 2414 BC and 2375 BC, is considered to be one of the most important rulers of Ancient Egypt, largely as a result of his religious reforms, according to Egyptologist Ahmed Saleh, Egypt Today reported.

Main relief from the false door of Manefer, depicting the deceased with his name and titles in front of him. Time of Djedkare Isesi – 5th dynasty of Egypt – Egyptian museum of Berlin. Photo by Neithsabes -CC BY-SA 3.0

Unlike other Fifth Dynasty pharaohs, who worshiped the god Ra, Djedkare venerated Osiris, especially when it came to funeral rituals. The pharaoh was also known for giving power to rulers around Egypt, weakening the authority of the centralized administration.

The Fifth Dynasty is often combined with Dynasties III, IV, and VI under the group title the Old Kingdom. During this dynasty, Egyptian religion made several important changes. The earliest known copies of funerary prayers inscribed on royal tombs appear. The cult of the god Ra gains added importance, as kings built temples dedicated to Ra at or near Abusir.

The pyramid of Djedkare in Saqqara. Photo by Didia CC BY-SA 3.0

Late in this dynasty, the cult of Osiris became important, most notably in the inscriptions found in the tomb of Unas. This was the case with Djedkare Isesi. It is not known who Djedkare’s parents were. He may have been either a son, a brother, or a cousin of his predecessor, Menkauhor. The identity of his mother is unknown.

Relief from the tomb of Inti at Dishasha

This pharaoh was known to have had important courtiers, or viziers, whose tombs have been identified in Giza. For example. a courtier named Saib held the positions of director of the palace, and was secretary of the House of Morning. Saib was buried in a double mastaba. He may have shared this tomb with his wife, Tjentet, who was a priestess of Neith. Nimaatre was another palace attendant of the Great House, who also served as secretary of the Great House.

The name Nefermesdjerkhufu is found inscribed in the chapel entrance at the Western Cemetery, according to the Digital Giza archive. The inscriptions say that he was highly revered as “companion of the house, overseer of the department of palace attendants of the Great House, he who is in the heart of his lord, secretary, overseer of the two canals of the Great House, he who belongs to the royal documents, overseer of the arsenal, royal wab-priest.”

‘Secrets of the Saqqara Tomb’ Unearths Exciting Revelations of Ancient Egypt

“Secrets of the Saqqara Tomb” is a new documentary which takes audiences along for an exciting journey after an Egyptian excavation team unearths a tomb that had been untouched for 4,400 years. As they attempt to decipher the history of their breathtaking finds, the film reveals new aspects of ancient Egyptian life.

The Documentary

The mysteries uncovered in “Secrets of the Saqqara Tomb”[i] made headlines across the world in 2019: the discovery of an untouched 4,400-year-old tomb of a man named Wahtye at the Saqqara necropolis[ii], 19 miles (30 km) from Cairo, containing scores of mummified animals, including a lion cub, and 3,109 unique artifacts. The Egyptian team unearthed the findings over the course of six weeks of intensive excavation.

The group included dozens of laborers as well as experts in Egyptology, rheumatology, and archaeozoology, who not only discovered Wahtye’s tomb – shinning light on his life and plight – but also found the remains of Wahtye’s family. More importantly, they concluded that the whole family died of Malaria. If verified, it will be the earliest documented case of malaria in history by more than 1,090 years. The mummified lion cub found by the team has since been confirmed as the first ever discovered in history.

The documentary’s real revelation is its focus on the team of relentless Egyptian archaeologists who do their job with passion, to “decolonize” Egyptology and unchain it from stereotypes.

Yet, the documentary’s real revelation is its focus on the team of relentless Egyptian archaeologists who do their job with dedication, love, and passion, to “decolonize” Egyptology and unchain it from stereotypes that ancient life was glamorous. In reality, unlike the small group of nobles and pharaohs, the documentary shows that the everyday people, who mostly worked as field hands, laborers, farmers, craftsmen, and scribes in ancient Egypt, had neither the resources nor capacities to build spectacular tombs or even get their bodies mummified.

The film also highlights the emotional connection between the Saqqara locals and the ancient, unearthed civilization. Director James Tovell captures the enthusiasm of the archeologists each time they come across new finds and the touching connection between the team members and the story of Wahtye.

Although most documentaries about ancient Egypt usually highlight its history in an “Indiana Jones” style, “Secrets of the Saqqara Tomb” paints a realistic picture and is more about the excavation process itself. It accompanies the excavation team throughout their digging, anticipation, and discoveries, as they try to make sense of their finds.

Parallels Between Ancient and Modern Egyptians

Parallels between ancient and modern Egyptians, represented by present-day Saqqara locals, is another theme explored in the film. Both the grassroots populations of the past and present share simple rural lifestyles, using primitive cultivation methods and digging equipment. In the broader sense, both believe in morality rules, the afterlife, apocalypse, soul transcendence, offerings (sacrifice), prophecies, burial and funerary services, sanctification, supernatural powers, commemoration or veneration (of God and sacred people), and even the concept that prayers transported from ancient Egyptian civilization to inspire the divine revelations of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.

Both ancient and modern Egyptians share dreams of eternal life which stem from a deeper sense of endurance under the dual tyranny of oppression and inequality. That profound inequality seems to have endured through the millennia even as hundreds of laborers work at the excavation site to make ends meet and are not much different from the laborers in ancient Egypt who constructed timeless temples and pyramids for the same reason. The contributions of both have often gone unnoticed, either in building the civilization or unearthing it.

In this sense, Mustafa, the foreman of the excavations in the film, feels that the hieroglyphic depictions of Wahtye’s life reflects that of his own, though they are 4,400 years apart. Meanwhile, Dr. Amira Shaheen, Professor of Rheumatology at Cairo University, says that she can sense “feelings” from the unearthed bones and skulls which give a more vivid reflection of their lives than statues and temples.

“They [ancient Egyptians] believed in the other life much more than believing in their first [earthly] life, and that’s why they [depicted] the dreams of the other life on the walls. Bones here represent their first life,” says Shaheen, who was tasked with examining the bones the team found in different expeditions. “That’s why you get lots of mistakes about history, seeing the great temples, the great statues, and you think everything in history was perfect. And then, when you see people (through their bones), you discover they are like us, exactly like us.”

The film vividly depicts Saqqara’s streets and alleys which are similar to Cairo’s slums, where most of the archeological crew originate, in contrast to the desert area the excavation site is located in. Metaphorically, as the crew leave their neighborhoods to excavate human remains from the tomb, it’s as though they are leaving one life and venturing into a kingdom of death or afterlife, which is the very idea that dominated the ancient civilization of Egypt.

Wahtye’s Mysterious Tomb

Wahtye’s tomb is 33 feet (10 meters) long and 9.8 feet (3 meters) wide. The richly decorated tomb was discovered after digging 16 feet (five meters) beneath the sand at the archaeological site in Saqqara. The tomb, which contains four shafts, is covered in untouched painted hieroglyphic, sculptures, and inscriptions that date back to 4,400 years ago.

The symbols depict Wahtye himself who put his name in every corner, his wife Ptah-Weret, his mother, Merit-Meen, his four siblings, one daughter, and three sons. It also vividly depicts scenes of the other world in particular, the production of food to sustain the dead for eternity, and the receipt of offerings.

One of the discovered tombs at the Saqqara archaeological site, 19 miles south of Cairo, Egypt.

At the tomb’s altar, Wahtye introduces himself in the hieroglyphic inscription as “Wahtye, purified priest to the king overseer of the divine estate overseer of the sacred boat revered with the great God, Wahtye.”

Egyptologists said that Wahtye was a priest whose job was to be a mediator between the king and the people and God and the king. He served King Neferirkare, the third king of the Fifth Dynasty in ancient Egypt (25th century BC). It is believed that the tomb was built circa 2415-2405 BC.

“The whole tomb acts like a resurrection machine to guarantee the dead move safely to eternity,” said Dr. Salima Ikram, Professor of Egyptology at the American University in Cairo.

Researchers Unpack the Tomb’s ‘Conspiracy’

In an attempt to piece together the secrets of what has been called “Egypt’s most significant find in almost 50 years,” experts in Egyptian hieroglyphs, Ms. Nermeen Momen Mohamed and Mr. Nabil Eldaleel, were dispatched inside the tomb to investigate clues about Wahtye’s life.

After thorough investigation, Nabil claimed he smelled a “scent of conspiracy in [the] tomb” based on inconsistent engravings as well as names that have been scraped off and replaced on the walls. He is also suspicious of the fact that Wahtye mentioned his name on every corner of the tomb, suggesting that it was only owned by Wahtye.

Going through all the statues in the tomb, Nabil and Nermeen found a statue that does not look like others. “[Whoever] made the statue is not the one who made the rest of the tomb,” Nabil concluded.

“The main statue itself is different, clearly a different person – which makes me more convinced that a conspiracy took place here,” Nabil said in the film. “I think that Wahtye seized this tomb or it was not meant for him.”

“We have a theory, a bunch of clues there is a mention of a brother, Wahtye’s brother. He’s mentioned in the eastern wall in which Wahtye dedicates a song, ‘To the Spirit of My Brother,’ but why didn’t he mention his brother’s name? It is probably a kind of assuage of his conscience he feels guilty. So the tomb was not for Wahtye, it could [have been for] his brother,” Nermeen and Nabil suspect.

“All the clues suggest that Wahtye seized this tomb from his brother.”

“All the clues suggest that Wahtye seized this tomb from his brother. If he did, will he be punished in the other world?” Nabil wondered.

“No, he planned to avoid punishment, in this context. On the southern wall, we found a very large inscription saying, ‘I am with the judges,’ so he was placing himself in the ranks of those who judge in the other world so that he could personally absolve himself of the sin,” Nermeen replied.

Eventually, the team finds the bones and skulls of Wahtye and his family. But the body of his brother was never found, which might back the hypothesis that the tomb was stolen.

Wahtye’s Bones Suggest Tragedy

The next part of the excavation tour, based on the information provided by Nermeen and Nabil, is to bring the bones of Wahtye’s family to Dr. Shaheen so she can determine the circumstances of their death and complete the picture. “Every piece of bone can tell you something not only the [cause] of death, but also about their lives: How did they live? Was he happy? Was he healthy? Was he sad? All [of these details] can be [ascertained], just from the bones,” Shaheen says in the film.

Sorting through boxes of small pieces of bones in terrible condition and covered with mud, Shaheen says: “I found a skull of an old woman, probably 55-years-old, and she has a seedling in the inner side of the mandible. The bones were distended, from inside with a cystic-like swelling.” The team agreed this lady must be Wahtye’s mother.

Members of the Egyptian excavation team examine one of the coffins found at the Saqqara archaeological site.

According to Dr. Shaheen, Wahtye’s skull shows he was probably 35-years-old. One of his male children was under 20, the other was under 18, and his little daughter was probably six years old. His wife was in her thirties.

“He [referring to Wahtye] does not have that strong or rough muscle attachment, which may indicate that he was a fine man with a fine job. His skull showed thickening of the bone, indicating that something was happening inside these bones,” Shaheen says.

“The bones were not healthy, maybe he suffered a lot of pain. They were [filled with] blood, that’s why the bones were distended. This man maybe had anemia, and the same swelling was found in his mother’s bones. We have congenital causes of anemia, but this is a remote idea because both died in different age. So it’s not that common.”

“By [analyzing this], we may think of some sort of a disease, or epidemic—most probably malaria, which may have affected the whole family,” Shaheen explains, concluding that the death of all the family members were connected somehow.

Backing Dr. Shaheen’s hypothesis, the team who collected the bones from their burial chambers said the bodies were buried standing vertically without coffins, suggesting they were buried quickly and crammed into a narrow shaft.

A Mummified Lion Cub Shines Light on Ancient Egyptians

Ten meters away from the tomb, Ghareeb Ali Mohammed Abushousha and Hamada Shehata Ahmed Mansour – members of the excavation team – found dozens of mummified cats in one of the shafts, including a lion cub that amazingly still kept its “golden yellow fur.’’

On seeing the lion cub, Dr. Salima Ikram screamed out of joy, saying: “It is the first time in the known history of mummification that we have a lion here in Saqqara—a mummified lion a lion cub, this is just extraordinary! There are stories of lion catacombs, and some of us have been looking for years and years and years for this.”

“It also changes our thinking about how the ancient Egyptians were interacting with wild animals how they might have been breeding them or keeping them tame [and] how they might have used them to worship. They were breeding them and then gave them as offerings,” Ikram explained.

The idea of mummification in ancient Egypt is based on the popular myth of Isis and Osiris, which became imbedded into the culture.

The idea of mummification in ancient Egypt is based on the popular myth of Isis and Osiris, which became imbedded into the culture. The story assimilated earlier gods and legends to create a central belief in life after death and the possibility of the resurrection of the dead.

Hamada, who first saw Wahtye’s body remains, expressed his feeling when he saw Wahtye’s statues compared to his buried body. “His statues show a sense of cheerfulness, so maybe the tomb was already finished before his children died,” he said.

“The only place I sensed true sadness was in his burial chamber because there were no signs of luxury or indulgence. The coffin was just regular wood, and he was not even mummified that well. Maybe the shock of his children’s death brought him to this,” Hamada pondered.

While mysteries around Wahtye and his family remain, the extraordinary discoveries made by the excavation team in “Secrets of Saqqara Tomb” have not only dispelled misunderstandings about ancient Egypt but have likely sparked renewed interest in this remarkable civilization.

[i] The 150-minute ‘Secrets of Saqqara Tomb’ has premiered on Netflix on October 28, 2020

[ii] Wahtye tomb is located less than a mile from “Step Pyramid”, built in the 27th century BC, considered the earliest large-scale cut stone construction made by a human being.

10 Stunning Ancient Reliefs and Stone Carvings

Since the dawn of human history, we have felt the need to express our creative side. From the earliest surviving rock art and stone carvings to the gloriously refined sculptures and paintings we can produce today, our art continues to be a reflection of society, and of the different cultures we live in.

Ancient reliefs and carvings&mdashbeing some of the most durable forms of art&mdashcan still be found at religious sites, tombs, and palaces. Most of the reliefs and carvings on this list are found at UNESCO World Heritage sites, and are seen as having significance to the legacy of mankind.

At the ruins of Arsameia in Turkey, you can visit the most ancient known relief carving of two figures shaking hands. The famous eleven-foot (3.5m) relief shows the father of Antiochus I of Commagene&mdashKing Mithridates&mdashin royal apparel, shaking the hand of Hercules. Believed to have been created between 70 B.C. and 38 B.C., it is splendid to behold to this day.

The intricate carvings on the stone cliffs of Dazu are revered as the most sophisticated and exquisite of their time. Created between the ninth and thirteenth centuries AD, they are a clear testimony to the congenial and harmonious integration of religion, philosophy, and culture that China experienced during this epoch.

Their well-preserved condition make them stand out from the larger carvings found at many other national sites. Varying in size from very small to grandiose, over fifty thousand sculptures and one hundred thousand engravings and etchings can be seen in the sunlight&mdashall of them connected via well-maintained passages and trails.

The cave temple on Gharapuri Island has been called one of the seven wonders of India. It was carved from the natural landscape in the fifth century, and hosts the embodiment of Indian art in the form of staggeringly beautiful carvings and statues. The carvings on the panels portray various Hindu deities, along with their attendants.

The most important and brilliant sculpture depicts the Trimurti . This twenty foot image was carved in relief at the back of the cave, and it presents the three-headed Shiva. To reach the temple, you have to travel from the Indian mainland to the island, traverse the mountain, and find your way through the caves.

The catacombs in Alexandria include tombs, sculptures, and other archaeological artifacts that blend Greek, Roman, and Egyptian features. Carved in the second century and in use as a cemetery until the fourth century, the catacombs were then forgotten until being rediscovered in 1900.

The most beautifully sculptured reliefs and carvings can be seen at the entrance to the temple and inside the main tomb they feature Egyptian rituals, as well as various gods and deities. The Greek influence becomes more evident in the main tomb, where a relief carving depicts the shield of Athena with Medusa&rsquos head pictured on it.

The temple at Angkor Wat has the distinction of being the largest religious monument in the world. Its allure brings more than a million visiting tourists every year. Built in the twelfth century, it is admired not only for its massive size, but also for the tremendous intricacy of the reliefs and the assorted devatas (minor female deities) that adorn the temple walls.

In fact, hundreds of artists carved practically the whole temple&mdashfrom the pillars, to the lintels, to the roofs. The extensive reliefs mainly portray scenes from the ancient Hindu epics, and they stretch for miles.

Built by Darius the Great around 515 B.C., the palace must have been a wonder to behold. Massive columns&mdashof which thirteen remained standing by the twentieth century&mdashsupported the roof. The staircases were embellished with rows of reliefs that displayed successions of delegates, soldiers, guards, and chariots carrying presents and offerings to honor the king. The front walls of the palace were carved with images of the Immortals of 300 fame&mdashthe Persian Kings&rsquo noble guard.

Sanchi is a small village in India that is famous for its stupas , or Buddhist memorials. The most noteworthy of these is the &ldquoGreat Stupa,&rdquo constructed in the third century B.C. The most phenomenal relief and stone carvings in Sanchi are the Toranas , which were placed strategically around the Great Stupa. These are carved with scenes depicting the life cycles of the Buddha. No spot was left bare on any of the Toranas one even features a sculpture of Yakshini upholding a trestle architrave.

Various memorials were built in and around the town of Mahabalipuram between the seventh and ninth centuries A.D., and today four of them are recognized as World Heritage sites. &ldquoDescent of the Ganges&rdquo or &ldquoArjuna&rsquos Penance&rdquo&mdashrecognized worldwide as the world&rsquos largest preserved open-air relief&mdashmeasures ninety-six feet (29m) long by forty-three feet (13m) high, and was carved from monolithic rock.

Two different but equally flattering interpretations exist as to the artwork&rsquos symbolism. Either Arjuna or Shiva appear to the left of the shrine, and on the right hand side, life-sized elephants shield their young beneath a legion of creatures, all flawlessly suspended for aeons to come.

The Veneration and Worship of Felines in Ancient Egypt

The ancient Egyptians revered and worshipped many animals, just as the ancient Greeks, Romans, and Norse did, but none were worshipped as reverently as the cat. It was not until the Pre-dynastic Period that they were domesticated—interestingly, much later than dogs—yet their prominence in Egyptian culture remains highly identifiable even today.

The first primary feline god was Mafdet, a female deity who traces back as far as the First Dynasty of Egypt between 3,400BC and 3000BC. As a feline goddess, she was associated with protecting against venomous bites especially those of snakes and scorpions (probably due to the fact that cats are killers of snakes and scorpions). The more well-known goddess Bastet took Mafdet’s place as a guardian of Lower Egypt, the pharaoh, and the sun god Ra. A similar female deity with the body of a woman and the head of a cat, Bastet was considered a personification of the sun herself, with her chief shrine at the site of Bubastis in Egypt.

The so called 'Gayer Anderson' cat. A late period bronze cat in the form of the goddess Bastet. Jewelry is ancient but not necessarily original to this piece. British Museum ( Wikimedia Commons )

Bastet and Mafdet both possibly originate from the legend of a divine jungle cat named Mau/Muit who defended one of the sacred Persea trees in Annu from the serpent Apophis. The cat caught the snake in the act of attempting to strangle the tree, and cut off its head for its crimes. Bastet and Mafdet are often interchanged as the jungle cat heroine. Bastet, however, was eventually similarly displaced.

Ra in the form of a feline slaying the snake Apophis, Tomb of Inherkha, 1160 BC, Thebes.

Toward the beginning of the 3 rd millennium, Bastet was associated with all cats and each feline was considered a physical representation of her spirit. Over time, however, the gods once again shifted and altered, often a result royal personal preference. By the time Lower and Upper Egypt unified around 3000 BC, Bastet was replaced by another goddess called Sekhmet. Sekhmet's form was much fiercer than Bastet's though similar, the former had the head of a lioness, not a mere cat. With this change in the Egyptian's mythos, Bastet was regulated as the guardian of domesticated cats while Sekhmet became the goddess of the lionesses.

It should be noted that there were other gods associated with cats, such as Neith and Mut, but Bastet and Sekhmet were the two foremost deities.

Bas-relief representing the goddess Sekhmet on a column of the Temple of Kom Ombo in Kom Ombo - Egypt . ( Wikimedia Commons )

In the mortal realm, humans and cats lived and worked in harmony. Cats were a perfect solution to the overwhelming rat and snake problems of ancient Egypt, and in exchange, humans would protect those same cats from other predators who might deign to feast on a feline for dinner (especially now that rats were no longer an option). It was in this way that cats began to become domesticated—the humans would coax them to their homes to fetter out the vermin by offering the cats food. From there, it was a short step to invite the creatures to move in for safe keeping and constant pest purging.

These cats, however, were not as cats appear today—at least not at first. In ancient Egypt, there were two different primary breeds: one the fierce jungle cats, the other the more peaceful African wildcats. As time went on and the two species merged, as well as both cats became accustomed to softer, human food, the species grew to become sleeker, less muscled, and much more tolerant. In a way, the Egyptians' attempts to gain protection of their foods and resources resulted in the taming of their protectors.

The sarcophagus of the cat of the Crown Prince Thutmose, the eldest son of Amenhotep III and Queen Tiye. ( Wikimedia Commons )

What must be understood in light of the humans' intense affection for cats is that the animals were not considered divine themselves. There are records that they might have been akin to demi-gods, but they were primarily thought of as bodily representations of the feline gods. Because of this, cats were protected for reasons beyond just their vermin-killing capabilities. To harm a cat was to attempt harm to a god, and that was entirely out of the question in ancient Egypt. Killing a cat was punishable by death a certain period of Egyptian history, whether intentional or not. Diodorus, one of the most well-read historians from the ancient world, records an incident in which a Roman accidentally slaughtered a cat, and he suffered the same punishment as the people of Egypt would.

As a revered animal, some cats also received the same mummification after death as humans. Cats were sometimes mummified as beloved pets, perhaps in the hope that they could join their owners in the next life. However, the majority were mummified for religious reasons unconnected with human burial, and were made as offerings in the hope of receiving the favor of the god or goddess they represented. In 1888, an Egyptian farmer uncovered a large tomb containing more than eighty thousand mummified cats and kittens outside the town of Beni Hasan. Since then, many more cat cemeteries have been found. However, the majority of them were plundered before archaeologists could work on them: in the 19 th century, a shipment of as many as 180,000 mummified cats was taken to Britain to be processed into fertilizer.

Cats remain one of the most prominent symbols of ancient Egyptian culture. They are recognized as emblems of Egyptian society and the face of their ancient world, even if nothing else of their cult is remembered today. The Sphinx is an overwhelming example of this. Just as the ancient cats themselves were mummified to maintain their status and integrity after death, their worship was equally well preserved.

Featured image: ‘The Obsequies of an Egyptian Cat’ by John Reinhard Weguelin, 1886. A priestess offers gifts of food and milk to the spirit of a cat. ( Wikimedia Commons )

Herodotus. Histories Volume 1 (Oxford University Press: Oxford, 2013.)

Matthews, John and Caitlin. Encyclopedia of Magical Creatures: the ultimate a-z of fantastic beings from myth and magic (HarperElement: New York, 2005.)

Siculus, Diodorus. Library of History, Volume I, Books 1-2.34 (Loeb Classical Library: Harvard, 1933.)

Spence, Lewis. Ancient Egyptian Myths and Legends (Barnes and Noble Books: New York, 2005.)

Egyptian Tomb Relief - History

This carved and painted limestone relief originally decorated a wall in the tomb of Ny-Ank-Nesut, who is believed to have been an important court official, possibly a high priest of Ra (Re) during the late 5th or early 6th Dynasty Egypt. The artist conformed to the classic Egyptian convention for depicting the human form by combining the frontal and profile views of the eight male servants wearing short kilts. A group of servant figures move from left to right carrying offerings for the departed, including loaves of bread, cakes, geese, papyrus leaves, bowls of lotus flowers, a hedgehog in a cage, vessels of beer, and other things that would magically come to life upon Ny-Ank-Nesut's resurrection. Many other reliefs from his tomb are displayed in American museums, notably the Cleveland Museum of Art.

Offering scenes like this one reflect the Egyptian idea that the dead person lived in the afterworld much as a priest or noble did in life. In effect, the work of art is a form of pictorial magic, supplying items necessary in the afterlife for the tomb's owner. Soon after the entombment, relatives of the dead person might leave food offerings, and in later years, priests might also leave such offerings, but when it was immortalized by art in scenes like this one, the food supply would last for eternity.

The magical nature of this handsome scene explains its hieroglyphic purity of form. Each person or object is modeled with extreme clarity of form and outline, as if the procession were a text to be read. The basic conventions of Egyptian art, as they developed during the Old Kingdom, fused written symbols and pictorial form. The whole of Nyankhnesut's tomb was a house for the dead person, and each of its elements ensured a luxurious way of life in the afterworld.

Watch the video: Aegyptomanie 08 Der Traum vom Jenseits (January 2022).