Blog
Was it propaganda or a way to ensure harmony?

The monumental scenes of triumph visible on the walls of Egyptian temples were not used as royal propaganda as propaganda, itself didn’t exist. The scenes were supposed to magically drive away the forces of chaos.

Most of Egyptian society had no contact with literature. It is estimated that only 1-3 percent of Egyptians were literate. It was similar with the access to monumental representations visible on temples.

On the outer walls of the monumental gates (pylons), scenes are often visible in which the pharaoh triumphs over the enemy. However, it is highly unlikely that these scenes were clearly visible in the old days. Today you can see them clearly, but a few thousand years ago these scenes were obscured by masts with flags flying. Additionally, monumental statues and obelisks were often placed in front of them.

Access to pylons was also often limited as temple complexes were fenced off with an additional strip of walls. As a result, neither the pharaoh's accomplishments written in hieroglyphics, nor their visual representations were as clearly visible as they might seem.

The massive pylons and outer walls at Medinet Habu are covered with reliefs extolling Ramses III prowess in battle.

The hidden triumph

So what was their function if they were not to arouse admiration among their subjects? The decoration of the Egyptian temple was adapted to the function of the room. That is why in its deepest part, the sanctuary, where gifts were placed, you can still see the offering of gifts on the wall reliefs, and in the room where there was a barge with the deity, there is such a barge on the walls.

With this in mind, it is easier to understand the functions of the battle representations on the outer wall of the temple, where the pharaoh triumphs over the enemies.

They were not created to be seen by people, but to magically drive away the forces of chaos that try enter the temple. From the point of view of the ancient Egyptian, placing such representations on the walls has a practical function.

The Egyptians believed in the creative power of words and representations. When a phenomenon, person or situation was described in this way, it became a fact and took place in reality.

A huge part of ancient Egyptian art should be understood as the will to maintain order and harmony known as Ma'at. The performances from the temples were not addressed to anyone, they were supposed to create reality.

The first pylon in Horus Temple at Edfu is decorated with scenes of Ptolomy XII defeating his enemies in front of Horus and Hahor.

The divine ruler

In Egypt, as in few ancient civilizations, the office of the supreme ruler, the pharaoh, lasted several thousand years. This happened not because propaganda was used on a massive scale, but because there was widespread belief in the divinity of the pharaoh. There is no known rebellion or riots that would overthrow the pharaoh.

The people believed that Pharaoh was a god. This was confirmed by the annual life-giving floods of the Nile or the fact of the daily sunrise. According to him, there are many indications that the strength of tradition and the faith in the divinity of the pharaoh was sucked by the ancients from the mother's milk. Therefore, no one denied his authority.

Of course, we know reports of conspiracies from Egyptian literature. But these only happened among high-ranking people or those in the immediate vicinity of the king. Perhaps they were not convinced of Pharaoh's divinity. They watched the ruler every day - they saw that he had weaknesses like them.

Meanwhile, most of the Egyptian population, engaged in agriculture or crafts, occasionally saw the ruler. A few times in his life, at best, from afar, and only in his full glory, when he was dressed in ceremonial robes. In this way, it was easy to fall under the illusion that he was a living god on earth. It is also worth mentioning that for most of its history, which goes back several thousand years, the Egyptians actually won battles with external enemies, and this additionally built a positive image of the ruler.

Therefore, "ancient billboards" were not needed on the Nile. The pyramids also testified to the king's power and divinity. It is true that people built them. But after a few hundred years from that moment, not everyone must have realized it. They were the manifestation of god on earth, even if that was not their original purpose.

Reasoning in this way and not mentioning defeats is not at all related to creating an appropriate, favorable image of the pharaoh. In this way, the Egyptians wanted to maintain a balance in the universe, based on faith in the power of the word.

Has the history of Ancient Egypt fascinated you since school days? Check out our tours & join us in a real life history lesson!