Functional Veneration: The Incorporation of Ancestors in Private Art of the Third Intermediate Period


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Textual references of family members and inclusion of their images on private monuments—especially those of a funerary nature—are common throughout pharaonic Egyptian history. The function of the incorporation of these family members, however, is often integral and inseparable from the time period in which they occur. This paper will analyze the inclusion of family on a number of objects from the Third Intermediate Period and contextualize them within the era of political instability, conflict, and compounded social identity. In what light were family members often depicted, and to what end? Through the study of funerary papyri, deification decrees, coffins, and statuary, it becomes clear that the function of the venerated family was multifaceted: supporting political claims, maintaining economic rights, strengthening property ownership, and enhancing family status. These functions were veiled within a religious tradition of highlighting one’s ancestors with respect and praise. Looking behind the (heartfelt) veneer of veneration, however, reveals the utilization of a time-honored Egyptian tradition of emphasizing family lineage for the purpose of personal gain.

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