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Ancient Egypt Map


City-Building Map

Medinet Habu
  Medinet Habu
Mortuary Temple of Ramesses III
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Ancient Egyptian Religion

Of the records left by the most ancient peoples, considering the monuments, Egypt comes in first in the order of time. Religion had its roots in Egypt's prehistory and lasted for more than 4,000 years. The Egyptians had no separate term for "religion", even though religion affected the very aspect of their culture. Egyptians believed in a pantheon of gods (more than 1,500 which were worshiped), which were involved in all aspects of nature and human society.

There would probably be little reason for one to visit Egypt today if not for the ancient Egyptian Religion. The religious forces that shaped ancient Egypt lie behind every aspect of Egyptian life, including art, political structure and cultural achievement. None of the monuments, the Great Pyramids, the fabled temples, the tombs and mummies on the West Bank of Thebes or the decorations that are a part of these structures that have lured travelers to Egypt for over three thousand years, would exist if not for religion.

Modern readers are likely to think that a temple is only a place of worship. The term "temple" is misleading when referring to ancient Egyptian Religion. The term covers a huge variety of different structures that evolved over such a vast period of time that many people have a difficulty comprehending just how long a time this period spans. The definitions of temple found in dictionaries do not fit the ancient Egyptian temple very well, and yet, almost every religious structure in Egypt outside of the various types of tombs are almost always referred to as temples. Many modern Egyptologists define these structures as a "god's mansion". It is difficult to define some other religious structures that are called temples as houses of worship or "god's mansions". They may have other political or all together different purposes. Examples would be; Sed-festival Temples that celebrated the king's jubilees which had a completely different purpose than worship, and ka Temples which provided a residence for the dead king's soul.

Like the members of any other human culture, the ancient Egyptians were driven to find meaning in existence, but there were also other influences on their religion, such as the need to justify kingship, among others. Individual kings worshipped their own gods, as did the workers, priests, merchants and peasants. The gods lived, died, hunted, went into battle, gave birth, ate, drank, and had human emotions. The gods reigns overlapped, and, in some instances, merged. The dominance of the gods depended on the beliefs of the reigning king and their area of dominance depended on where the king wanted his capital. Hence, the myths changed with the location of the gods, as did their names.

The Nile River was the center of Egyptian civilization, which flooded every year at the same time and provided rich soil for agriculture. The Egyptian priests , who were actually astronomers, recognized that the flooding always occurred at the summer solstice, which was also when the bright star Sothis (Sirius) rose before the Sun. The priests were therefore able to predict the annual flooding, which made them quite powerful. The appearance of Sothis on the eastern horizon at dawn during July (Heliacal rising), signaled the coming annual inundation of the Nile River which marked the beginning of the agricultural year.

Many Egyptian buildings were built with an astronomical orientation. In relation to the stars, zodiac, and constellations, the temples and pyramids were constructed. In different cities, the buildings had different orientations, usually based on the specific religion of that place. For instance, some temples were constructed to align with a star that either rose or set at harvest or sowing time. Others were oriented toward the solstices or equinoxes while others were oriented toward a gods birthplace. As early as 4000 B.C., temples were built so that sunlight entered a room at only one precise time of the year.

An alternative building method was to gradually narrow successive doors into a specific room, in order to concentrate the sunbeams onto a god's image on the wall. The designs of these structures could sometimes became quite complex. At the temple of Medinet Habu, there are actually two buildings which are slightly off-kilter. It has been suggested that the second one was built when the altitude of the other temple's orientation stars changed over a long period of time.