Ancient Egyptian Temples and Priests

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The Ancient Egyptians were very religious. They worshipped many different gods and goddesses. Each god or goddess was in charge of a certain aspect of life, like power, wisdom, motherhood, marriage, warfare, the afterlife, and more.

Gods and goddesses were worshipped in religious ceremonies and festivals and through prayer and rituals. Most of all, the Ancient Egyptian gods and goddesses were honored in temples.

The temples were considered the homes of the gods and goddesses. Inside the temples, priests would perform rituals. These rituals were meant to please the gods and gain their favor and protection.

What did Ancient Egyptian temples look like?

The Ancient Egyptians built their temples from stone or solid rock. Heavy stone roofs were supported by high stone pillars. Inside, the walls of the temples were covered with carvings of the gods.

The Temple of Isis

According to Ancient Egyptian mythology, the very first temple appeared on a mound of land that formed from the sea. The design of this first temple was created by the gods, so all other temples followed the original design.

At the center, temples held inner chambers and the sanctuary. In the sanctuary was a large statue of the god or goddess being honored at the temple.

Around the sanctuary, smaller rooms might hold companions of the main god or other lesser gods. Other surrounding buildings including large halls with columns and open courts.

Mortuary Temples

The temples honoring the gods were called Cultus Temples. Another type of temple, Mortuary Temples, were built in honor of dead pharaohs.

In Ancient Egypt, pharaohs were seen as living gods. They were divine rulers who acted on the will of the gods. When pharaohs died, temples were often built to worship them.

These temples housed giant statues of the pharaohs. The walls featured carvings of the pharaohs and their heroic deeds in battle.

Rituals Performed

What did Ancient Egyptian priests do?

Ancient Egyptian priests did not serve the people. They served the gods. They did not preach sermons or teach others about religion. For the most part, they cared for the gods and goddesses in the temple.

Only priests could enter the sacred sanctuary of a temple. There, they held rituals and made offerings to the gods.

Women, called priestesses, could also perform these duties. They usually cared for the goddesses, while priests cared for the gods, but this was not always the case.

An Egyptian Priest

All priests had to be clean and pure to serve the gods. They shaved their heads, bathed twice a day, and could wear only the cleanest clothing.

Sometimes, priests also served as judges for the local Ancient Egyptians.

Types of Priests

Typically, there was a high priest who was chosen by the pharaoh. The high priest managed the business of the temple and performed the most important rituals.

At the bottom of the priest hierarchy were wab priests. They did the basic tasks involved for caring for the temple, like cleaning and helping prepare for festivals.

Between the high priest and the wab priests were many other priests. Everyone who worked in the temple had to have some training in the priesthood, including janitors, scribes, and even musicians.

Hour-priests were astronomers who kept calendars, determined unlucky and lucky days, and interpreted dreams and omens. Various types of doctors who were also priests combined medicine and magic.

A ka-priest could be paid by families to make daily offerings at the tomb of the deceased. Sem priests conducted funeral services and performed mortuary rituals.

Most priest positions, other than the high priest, were part-time. Priests usually served at the temple for one month out of every four. The rest of the time, they worked their regular jobs in the community.

We don’t know for sure what training was required for priests. However, education and some form of initiation was likely involved for all of these positions.

Other Interesting Facts About Ancient Egyptian Temples and Priests

  • The temples were major economic centers of Ancient Egypt. They employed thousands of people, owned land, and collected offerings like gold, perfumes, grain, and other gifts.
  • Festivals were held at the temples throughout the year. These were usually open to the local people and not just to priests. Sometimes, festivals involved processions where one god would visit another god’s temple.
  • One of the most important rituals was Lighting the Fire. The priests would gather in a sacred room before dawn and re-enact the first appearance of the sun by lighting a fire in a small container. This ritual helped the sun god navigate his nightly journey safely.
  • Two of the most famous Ancient Egyptian temples are Karnak and Luxor. The Luxor Temple was built around 1400 BC by Amenhotep III, completed by Tutankhamen and Horemheb, and added to by Rameses II.
  • Like the Luxor Temple, many Ancient Egyptian temples started as small sanctuaries and grew into massive complexes as other pharaohs added to them.

More Ancient Egypt facts.

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