Funerary Beliefs, Practices & Temples in Ancient Egypt

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  • 0:02 Mummies
  • 0:26 Funerary Beliefs & Practices
  • 1:52 Temples and Tombs
  • 3:57 Lesson Summary
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Instructor: Christopher Muscato

Chris has a master's degree in history and teaches at the University of Northern Colorado.

In this lesson, you will explore the religious and funerary practices of the ancient Egyptians and discover how their architecture was influenced by these beliefs. Then, test your understanding with a brief quiz.


Think of everything you know about ancient Egyptian burial practices. Now, remove anything that came from Hollywood. Don't get me wrong; I love mummy movies as much as anyone else, but it's not the most accurate representation of the Egyptian religion. The ancient Egyptians had a complex system of religious beliefs that were fundamentally important to their culture and their artistic production.

Funerary Beliefs and Practices

The Egyptian religion was polytheistic, meaning they worshiped multiple deities, including pharaohs who elevated themselves as gods. In this religion, each person was considered to have various physical and spiritual traits, including the body, shadow, soul, life force, and name. After death, these spiritual traits were free to roam, but they needed a physical place to rest. The result of this was mummification, the preservation of a body after death. The spirit needed the body as its home, otherwise it would be eternally lost.

With this belief, Egyptian culture developed an elaborate set of burial customs to ensure the immortality of the spirit. To mummify a body, the internal organs were removed, the body was salted and wrapped in linen, magical amulets were placed within the wrappings to protect the spirit, and then the body was placed inside a decorated coffin called a sarcophagus.

This entire process took around 70 days. As you can imagine, this got pretty expensive as well. Most Egyptian people could not afford this and buried their dead in special pits in the desert, where the heat and dry air would naturally mummify their bodies. The wealthy, however, could afford the best mummification, done by priests who were trained to give the spirit the best protection in the afterlife. Their sarcophagi were decorated in jewels and gold and designed to look like the person inside, to give the spirit the best chance of finding it.

Temples and Tombs

The most powerful of the ancient Egyptians were the pharaohs, the kings. Since they were recognized as gods after their deaths, and since they had the money to ensure the best treatment of their remains, the tombs of the pharaohs were incredible. The Egyptians wanted the spirit to be comfortable in death, so items were buried with the body. For a pharaoh, this meant their tombs contained all the things they used in life, from furniture to weapons to stashes of treasure.

With all of these items, pharaohs needed a large tomb. They also needed a tomb that was well-enough protected to prevent grave robbers from breaking in and stealing the wealth of the king. Thus, the pharaohs began to build massive tombs. The most famous of these are the Pyramids of Giza, a series of funerary pyramids built to hold the remains of the pharaohs Khufu, Khafre, and Menkaure. For over 3,000 years, the tallest of these pyramids was the largest man-made structure in the world at 481 feet tall.

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