Funerals in ancient Egypt

The funeral and burial of an ancient Egyptian was a complex process. A funeral procession with dancers and mourners took the embalmed body to the tomb where the 'Opening of the Mouth' ritual was performed at the tomb's entrance.

Ancient Egyptian model funerary boat

 © Australian Museum

Funeral procession

The embalmed body and coffin was collected for the day of burial, probably from the embalmers tent. Funeral processions for wealthy Egyptians would have been an elaborate event to display their status to onlookers. Relatives were positioned at either end of the coffin (which was usually drawn along by oxen), with two of the female relatives or priestesses acting the roles of goddesses Isis and Nephthys (the chief mourners in ancient Egyptian religion). Some participants carried canopic jars and other grave goods, while others were hired mourners, dancers, musicians and priests. The procession continued to the edge of the Nile where all the participants were required to board boats and cross the river to the western side, the favoured location for burials.

Funerary rites

The concluding funerary rites took place in front of the tomb. The mummy was raised upright for the ‘Opening of the Mouth’ ceremony. This was an elaborate ritual performed by priests so the dead person could use all their senses in the afterlife. The practices involved in this ceremony included purification, anointing and the reciting of prayers and spells, as well as touching the mummy with ritual objects to restore the senses. After this, food and clothing were offered to the dead person and mourners participated in the funerary banquet. The mummy was then placed in the burial chamber of the tomb, fully prepared for the afterlife.


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