Kings and gods in the iconographic repertoire of the tombs of nobility in ancient Egypt : political and religious implications in the quest for eternal existence
Hoadley, Lori L.
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During the Old Kingdom period (c. 2686-2181 BC) royal and divine representations were omitted from the mortuary decoration of nobility. Underlying reasons for the initial absence of kings and gods in the mortuary iconography of the non-royal tombs are identified; their later introduction in the Middle (c. 2160-1786 BC) and New (c. 1567-1320 BC) Kingdoms is also examined and evaluated. Ancient Egyptian texts are consulted to determine if political and religious changes or upheavals had any effect on the development of tomb iconography. Tomb murals, from all periods, are carefully examined to fully understand the chronological development of royal and divine images in the two-dimensional decoration in the tombs of nobility. Religious customs and superstitious fears were largely responsible for the initial exclusion of royal and divine images in the Old Kingdom non-royal tombs. Later, the mortuary iconography was profoundly affected by three watershed periods, each characterized by extreme political or religious upheaval; the First (c. 2181-2133 BC) and Second (c. 1786-1633 BC) Intermediate Periods and the reign of Akhenaten (c. 1379-1362 BC) in the New Kingdom. With each succeeding period of turmoil the officials' search for a guaranteed eternal existence intensified, thus strengthening their faith in Osiris, the god of eternal existence. At the same time the role of the king evolved; he was no longer solely responsible for ensuring the immortality of his subjects. Although always regarded as divine, he became more and more humanized and accessible to his subjects. Furthermore, with each period of turmoil, the influence and power of the priesthood continually grew until it finally began to compete with and threaten that of the king. At first (First Intermediate Period), these growing trends resulted in the usurpation, by the nobility, of the written magical spells of royalty that held the secrets to eternal life, the Pyramid Texts. Later, during the New Kingdom, images of gods began to regularly accompany the stolen inscriptions in the non-royal tombs. In addition, as the king became more accessible, his image began to be included in the iconography as well. After the reign of Akhenaten, the nobility relied completely upon the magic contained in the secret spells and upon religious ceremonies to ensure their immortality. This was reflected in the tomb murals that were filled with divine representations and often replaced even those of the king.