Egyptian Mythology's Impact on the Ancient Egyptian Legal System

Topics: Ancient Egypt, Egypt, Law Pages: 7 (2505 words) Published: August 24, 2013
Assess the extent to which Egyptian mythology influenced the Egyptian justice system.

Crime and punishment within ancient Egypt was heavily influenced by Egyptian mythology and religious belief. The various deities embodied different values and codes of conduct. This was significant as it had a major influence on the severity of the punishment for various criminal activities, depending on the importance and status of the God or Goddess. Ma’at was the most influential God overall on the Egyptian justice system as she symbolised truth, balance and justice and was the daughter of Re, the creator of the world in the eyes of the Egyptians. Meretseger, another Goddess, made a significant impact on tomb robbing, with the myths of her power to punish and heal wrongdoers and thieves based on their actions or amendments. The Pharaoh, was the personification of Gods on Earth, and as guarantor of the law, he influenced decisions and had a major role in monitoring the judicial system. Bastet primarily emphasised the connection between human beings and felines in the Egyptian world. This impacted the severity of punishments for their mistreatment or murder, whether it be accidental or intended. Mythology immersed daily life and cultural beliefs, therefore impacting on the law and civil rights. In addition, we see the importance of female deities and the essential role that they played reflected in Egyptian society, proving through arts, texts and archaeological records, that women were equal to men. This ensured that Egyptian law, protected, to some degree, the rights of women, making it vastly different to other cultures of the time, and some contemporary societies. Mythology shaped the rules and penalties of the ancient Egyptian legal system, from Gods and Goddesses to religious practices and the role of the Pharaoh.

Ma’at was the Goddess of truth and justice, and represented the divine harmony and cosmic balance of the universe within ancient Egypt (Jean Adams, 2007). Her power was strengthened through her relationship with Re, the creator God and the fact that she was an integral, authoritative Goddess. This affected the severity of the punishments if one were to ‘break Ma’at’. Murder, sacrilege, attempted assassination of the Pharaoh and spying were considered to be breaking Ma’at and those who did this were served the death penalty which was carried out through beheading, sacrifice or drowning in the Nile in a closed sack. The ancient Egyptian legal system was heavily affected and influenced by Ma’at due to her values of balance, justice and equity. The balance implied by Ma’at, allowed peasants to challenge rich and powerful men in a court of law, especially in cases of civil law as they were taken very seriously in Egypt. Many ancient cultures thought little of peasants or of the rights of the individual, but due to Ma’at and what she represented, the rights of property and personal safety were followed strictly, bringing justice to the lower class of Egypt. Ma’at also played a role in the fate of an Egyptian’s afterlife. When someone died, his or her heart would be weighed against Ma’at’s feather on the scales of justice. If their heart was heavier than the feather, they believed it to be full of sin and they were turned over to Ammut, who was the devourer who ate the dead soul. This would mean that the Egyptian was annihilated and would wander the netherworld forever, a very undesirable fate in Egyptian culture. This fear, engendered by mythology, was a strong influence on the behaviour of Egyptian citizens and often kept them on the straight and narrow. This was a major contributor to social harmony and civil obedience.

Meretseger was a protective deity that was greatly feared in ancient Egypt. She had tremendous powers and could do as much damage to a person as she could heal them. Since Egyptians were buried with all their worldly possessions of value for their journey into the after-world, tomb robbery was a common...
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