Why Was the Nile River So Important to Ancient Egyptian Society: Essay
The ancient Egyptians are well renowned for their obsession with death and the unique preservation of the human body through mummification. It is very clear that death was a central point of society during ancient Egyptian times, through the building of tombs as well as the daily rituals that followed the death of a person, both essential to the deceased reaching the afterlife. However, it can also be argued that the ancient Egyptians were also obsessed with the River Nile as their whole society came to depend on it. The Nile was very important agriculturally and consequently became a primary focus of the ancient Egyptians in order to survive. However, this essay will argue that the ancient Egyptians were obsessed with death by considering their belief of death and rebirth as a cyclical process and their view that death should be celebrated. Therefore I agree with the statement.
I agree with the statement that the ancient Egyptians were obsessed with death. I know that the ancient Egyptians spent their lives preparing for death and the entrance to their life in the next world. To the ancient Egyptians, life was a stepping stone to becoming immortal. This was demonstrated through the building of tombs, which acted not only as a resting place for the deceased but provided a safe pathway to the afterlife. Therefore we can see how necessary the tombs were to ancient Egyptian society as they aided the cyclical process of death and rebirth. Furthermore, the tomb was also a spiritual place where rituals performed by the high priest would occur every day dedicated to the deceased deity. These rituals included the burning of incense before entering the shrine, bowing in front of the deity with two gestures; kissing the ground and raising arms while singing hymns, and offerings of incense, oil, food, and clothing. There was also an offering to the image of the goddess portraying Ma-at. The ancient Egyptians believed that the deceased held a privileged position by being closer to the gods and acting as an intercessor for human individuals in the living world. Therefore worshipping the deceased deity and the Gods, provided links to the Gods which would not only help the deceased in the afterlife but help guide the living in the human world.
In addition to this, I know that the ancient Egyptians put a lot of work into the mummification of the deceased in order to ensure preservation and entry to the afterlife. This was because they believed that for a full afterlife, the body had to be physically intact. For example, all organs, except the heart, were extracted and placed in canopic jars, which were carved as the four sons of Horus. The canopic jars would help preserve the organs for the afterlife.
Figure 1 shows canopic jars from the 21st dynasty. From figure 1 we can see how detailed and highly decorated the canopic pots were. This demonstrates how every aspect associated with death was considered during the mummification process. Therefore we can see that this insinuates how obsessed with death the ancient Egyptians were. The idea of mummification was to retain the materiality of the body to make a lifelike, lasting image that could be revived and act as a vehicle for the transfigured person. This was achieved by drying out the body using natron and then subsequently wrapping it in old linen soaked with oil resin. We can see that in mummies which dated back earlier, a simpler form of mummification was used which means that over time, the Egyptians spent time perfecting the mummification process to ensure preservation. In addition to this, a ritual known as the opening the mouth ceremony was performed at the funeral which sought to allow speech in the afterlife. Therefore we can see that a lot of care and time was put into the body of the deceased in order for them to enter the afterlife and be successful.
On the other hand, death in ancient Egypt was not always positive despite it being celebrated. I know that sometimes the death of an individual had negative effects socially and economically. For example, people’s lives as well as their economic position could be greatly reduced if an important individual or a man died. In this case, death would not be celebrated as it is traditionally seen. In addition to this, not all deceased bodies were treated the same despite having similar social statuses. I know that in the Ramesside period, there was enormous variation in the tombs between men and women. The men received more wealth and offerings compared to the women. Despite this, tomb building was always occurring, rituals were taking place daily and many of the deceased were still being mummified. Therefore I agree with the statement that ancient Egyptians were obsessed with death.
However, some people could disagree with the statement by saying that the ancient Egyptians were obsessed with the River Nile. The Nile flooded annually every year, and this was important because it deposited silt which made the ground fertile for agriculture. I know that agriculture was the economic base of the Egyptian state and agriculture depended on the Nile. This meant that the Nile`s annual flood became an important event to the ancient Egyptians, so much so that without it, ancient Egyptian civilization would have collapsed. It also became significant because of rainfall overall but the northern delta has long been rare and irregular. As a consequence, Egyptian civilization became heavily based on agriculture and the Nile became the most important natural resource in Egypt. As a result of this, Egyptian farmers became dependent on the Nile to water their fields and prepare the soil for cultivation. This shows how agriculture became at the forefront of ancient Egyptian society and consequently, many working-class laborers were employed to work in agriculture. I also know that the success of agriculture in a certain year largely depended on the height of the flood of the Nile. For example, the height of the ideal flood was 6.7m. If the flood was below this, it would be classed as very low and would often result in a famine that year. Conversely, if the flood was above the ideal, it would be classed as too high and would consequently sweep away a village. This shows how Egyptian life, especially of ordinary people, began to revolve around the annual flood of the River Nile, and therefore it can be argued that they were obsessed with it.
Another reason why the ancient Egyptians became obsessed with the River Nile and its annual flood was that besides the River Nile were large floodplains that were 25km across and were ideally suited to large-scale cultivation. This means that the landscape was well suited to agricultural farming and subsequently the ancient Egyptians could use the natural resources of the Nile to their full extent. Without the Nile and its annual flood, there was no fertile land. This developed the reliance on the Nile to supply minerals for the soil that aided agriculture and therefore the Nile became the center of economic and social life for ancient Egyptians.
In addition to this, the Nile became so prevalent within ancient Egyptian society that they based their calendar and seasons around the annual flood. This was because the flood happened at the same time every year, which meant that the calendar and seasons could correspond with when the river flooded. I know that the Egyptian calendar only added up to 360 days, so they added five more days that celebrated the birth dates of the five deities; Osiris, Isis, Horus, Seth, and Nepthys. I know that the Egyptians believed that the god Osiris was linked to agriculture and annually recurring events in nature, a significant example being the annual flood of the Nile. Therefore we can see how the Egyptian calendar, religion and beliefs, and the annual flood of the Nile all interlink. This shows how important the River Nile and its annual flood were to the ancient Egyptians because it not only provided the civilizations with food from agriculture but also structured society and life, proving their dependence on it. Therefore we can see that some people would disagree with the statement and argue instead that the ancient Egyptians were obsessed with the River Nile and its annual flood.
Overall, I agree with the statement that the ancient Egyptians were obsessed with death because they spent so much effort and time into perfecting the mummification process to ensure the deceased passed into the afterlife. For example, they performed rituals at the funeral celebrations, such as the opening the mouth ceremony which aided the deceased in the afterlife. Not only this, but the act of building tombs for the deceased in conjunction with the daily rituals that took place shows the dedication from the Egyptians in order to secure a path into the afterlife for the deceased. I know that reaching the afterlife was critical to ancient Egyptians as they saw this to be a place with a direct connection to the Gods. Worship to the gods, such as Ma-at, during the daily rituals, was also important in the lives of ancient Egyptians as this created a link between the living world and the Gods. Therefore all these actions taken by the ancient Egyptians showed how important death was to them. Conversely, other people may take the view that Egyptians were instead obsessed with the River Nile and its annual flood. This is a pertinent view because the annual flood of the Nile brought silt upon the river bank which made the land fertile for agricultural use. This became prominent in the lives of ancient Egyptians because, without this, there would be no Egyptian civilizations. This dependence on the River Nile made it become the forefront of Egyptian society and subsequently, Egyptian civilians, especially working-class laborers, became heavily involved in agriculture. The Nile also became embedded in the structure of society through the Egyptian calendar. This was because the annual flood occurred at the same time every year so corresponded with the seasons. Therefore we can see that it can be argued that the ancient Egyptians were obsessed with the river Nile because it became a huge part of society. As a result, life revolved around agriculture and the annual floods of the River Nile. To conclude, although the River Nile was a prominent part of ancient Egyptian life, I think that the ancient Egyptians were more obsessed over death because society was heavily focused on reaching the afterlife and being reborn which was demonstrated through the building of the tombs. In addition to this, ancient Egyptians are famously renowned for their treatment of the deceased in mummification which is mainly because it is unlike any other society, ancient or modern. Therefore we can see that the ancient Egyptians were obsessed with death and thus I agree with the statement.
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