Why Did Egyptians Mummify Their Dead? The Truth!

Not a lot was left behind by the ancient Egyptians despite their huge influence on history. The two things that they left behind and that make ancient Egypt famous until this day are the pyramids and the mummies.

But why did the Egyptians mummify their dead? And why did the Egyptians build pyramids?

The Egyptians believed that everything the deceased needed in the afterlife (including his preserved body) had to be put into his grave together with the deceased. So the Egyptians mummified their dead to ensure that the body was preserved so that the deceased could use his body in the afterlife. Pyramids were built to protect the mummies and the grave goods from tomb robbers.

Let`s take a closer look.

Why Did the Egyptians Mummify Their Dead?

It seems like death and the afterlife was not only the main problem of the Egyptians but also the topic that occupied them the most. The fact that the only things left from this highly developed culture are the tombs and temples already shows us the extent to which religion and the belief in an afterlife influenced the daily life of the Egyptians.

The significance of the afterlife meant, that the Egyptians put extensive grave goods with everything the dead would need in the afterlife into the tombs of their dead. But aside from treasures, weapons, furniture, food and beverages the most important thing a deceased Egyptian needed for the afterlife was a well-preserved body that was protected against destruction (for example by being buried in a pyramid).

If the body of the deceased was not preserved, then that had serious effects. Just for example: The Egyptians believed that the face of every deceased was screened before he was allowed to enter the afterlife – but if his face didn`t look like his face during his life he was denied entry into the afterlife. So as a result the body of the deceased had to be preserved as well as possible. That was done by mummification.

Somewhere around 4000 BC, the Egyptians started to bury their dead in the desert. The desert conditions conserved the bodies naturally. And sometimes the conditions were so good that even the facial features of these naturally created mummies can be seen until this day.

But over time the process was improved and became a lot more elaborate.

By the way.

There were 3 different levels of quality when it came to mummification in Ancient Egypt. The highest-quality mummifications were reserved for pharaohs, their wives but also cats and did cost 1 talent. A mummification of medium quality did cost 20 minae according to the ancient Greek Historian Diodorus while a mummification of the lowest quality did barely cost anything and was even affordable for normal Egyptians.

Here you can find out more about the value and buying power of the talent and the mina.

In order to preserve the body, the brain, and the intestines except for the heart (the Egyptians saw the heart as the seat of the mind) and the kidneys (they were hard to reach and the Egyptians didn`t understand their function) were removed. The reason for that was simple. The brain and the intestines were the first parts of the body that decayed. By removing them the Egyptians hoped to prevent the decay from spreading to the rest of the body.

But not only the process of mummification was perfected over time. So was the „wrapping“ of the mummy. Up to 375 square meters of cloth were needed to wrap the mummy.

All these measures were taken to preserve the body of the deceased for eternity so that the deceased could use his body in the afterlife!

But there was a problem:

Mummifying a body to preserve it for eternity is nice. But it is pretty useless when the mummy is not buried in a safe place. Just take the mummy of Alexander the Great – it was heavily vandalized by several Roman emperors and went missing during Antiquity!

So a safe place for the mummy and the precious grave goods was needed. And that is where the pyramids come into the picture.

Why Did the Egyptians Build Pyramids?

So the Egyptians mummified their dead to preserve the bodies for eternity so that the deceased could use his body in the afterlife. The Pyramids served the same purpose:

After all, it would be pretty unfortunate if all the effort and money were put into the mummification of a Pharaoh just to have the mummy destroyed or stolen by grave robbers.

So secure tombs became necessary.

Pyramids were built by the Egyptians during the Old and Middle Kingdom periods to house and protect the mummies of the Pharaoh and his consorts as well as the treasures that were buried with him. There is also speculation that the pyramids were built to magically launch the soul of the deceased Pharaoh directly into the abode of the gods.

The reason for that kind of speculation is the architecture of the Great Pyramid.

When you look into the night sky, then there is a dark area around which it seems like the stars revolve around. For the Egyptians, that part of the sky was the physical gateway into the heavens. And of the narrow shafts that extend from the main burial chamber all the way through the body of the entire Great Pyramid point exactly towards the center of this part of the sky.

However, despite that possibility Pyramids came out of use during the time of the New Kingdom of Egypt. The reason was the great visibility of the Pyramids that made it easy for tomb robbers to find the burial sights.

In the period of the New Kingdom of Egpyt, Pyramids came out of use and were replaced by underground tombs that were dug into the soft limestone.  These underground tombs were a lot more concealed so that grave robbers couldn`t locate them as easily as they could locate a pyramid. The most famous of these underground tombs belonged to a Pharaoh called Tutankhamun.

Here you can find a short video giving you some idea of the burial chamber of Tutankhamun.

This video is embedded from Youtube and will only be loaded if you click on the Play Button. By loading the video you agree to Youtube`s privacy policy.

Take care of yourself because you deserve it. You really do.

Until next time

Yours truly

Luke Reitzer


Ian Shaw: The Oxford History of Ancient Egypt.*

Salima Ikram: Ancient Egypt: An Introduction.*

Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links that are identifiable by the *. If you use these links to buy something we may earn a small commission without additional cost for you. Thanks.