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Ideology and Belief in Ancient Egypt

Cult - making offerings

Rituals in ancient Egypt provided a mechanism to maintain the fabric and process of the universe: at the heart of this system, men and women make offerings of food, drink, clothing and ointment, for divine forces made accessible in the form of images, the most essential being the daily offerings to the gods. The images are not themselves divine forces, but the 'double' enabling them to be visualised for human beings. Three dimensional images may be the most important, but the system operates also with two dimensional images.

The architectural and written sources indicate that in dynastic times the Egyptians performed rituals in dedicated spaces for three categories of divine being:

  1. gods and goddesses
  2. the reigning king
  3. the blessed dead
UC 14226, stela of Neskhons from Thebes


In decoration of monumental architecture, using formal Egyptian art and hieroglyphic inscription, only the reigning king offers to the gods within the temple. The reigning king bears the title 'lord of ritual' (literally 'lord of doing things' with the technical meaning of 'performing offerings'). In order to maintain cult in each town across the country, the daily performance of ritual had to be delegated to local substitutes; this is not shown in the depictions on temple walls, which create a perfect reality in which the king alone offers eternally to the deity.


Primary sources of evidence for the cult of gods, kings and the dead include:

Sources vary greatly across time. From the most detailed sequences of inscriptions and manuscripts, Egyptologists have reconstructed a principal 'Daily Offering Ritual' for the New Kingdom (about 1550-1069 BC) and later periods. For the Old and Middle Kingdoms less is known of the details of the Offering Ritual, and there may have been greater differences then between rituals for gods, kings and the dead.

Inscription tends to be privileged in Egyptological research; however, the surviving architecture and the archaeological record may provide more direct sources for assessing relations between the various recipients and places of worship. The scale of surviving monuments offers a rough guide to relative expenditure across the country, though biased against the more heavily destroyed northern sites.

Further reading:


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