Why Were the Egyptians so Fixated on Death?
Perhaps because of the natural desiccation and preservation properties of the dry Egyptian sand, Egyptian religion from very early in Egyptian civilization included a belief in life after death for which the preservation of the body was essential. If a person had led a moral life and took advantage of the broad range of mortuary literature (e.g., Pyramid Texts, Coffin Texts, Book of the Dead) to help him or her make the transition from life to afterlife, he or she would continue to live after death. Life in the afterlife would be as beautiful, warm, and sunny as life in this world, but, as in this world, one would need food, clothing, and all that makes life worth living. For this reason, wealthy Egyptians not only had their body mummified for the sake of preservation, but they decorated their tombs with scenes of daily life, filled the tomb with food and other offerings, and represented members of their family as well as friends and associates so that they would continue the good life in the afterlife. They weren't actually fixated on death; rather, they were fixated on life, believing they could take it all with them!
Richards, Janet E. “People, Death and the ‘Tomb Problem’ in Ancient Egypt.” Society and Death in Ancient Egypt: Mortuary Landscapes in the Middle Kingdom. Link to resource (accessed May 11, 2010).
“Preoccupation with Death.” BBC History. Link to resource (accessed May 11, 2010).
Janet H. Johnson
Morton D. Hull Distinguished Service Professor of Egyptology
1. How did climate play a role in the beliefs of ancient Egyptians in life after death?
2. What did ancient Egyptians have to do to prepare for their deaths? Compare and contrast this to how many persons prepare for death in modern American society.
3. Which aspects of life, as reflected in ancient Egyptian burial practices, were valued by this society?