The Egyptian Afterlife & The Feather of Truth › Lysistrata › Neolithic Period » Origins and History

Articles and Definitions › Contents

  • The Egyptian Afterlife & The Feather of Truth › Antique Origins
  • Lysistrata › Ancient History
  • Neolithic Period › Ancient History

Ancient civilizations › Historical places, and their characters

The Egyptian Afterlife & The Feather of Truth › Antique Origins

Ancient Civilizations

by Joshua J. Mark
published on 30 March 2018
Is it possible to have a heart that is lighter than a feather? To the ancient Egyptians it was not only possible but highly desirable. The after-life of the ancient Egyptians was known as the Field of Reeds and was a land very much like one's life on earth save that there was no sickness, no disappointment and, of course, no death. One lived eternally by the streams and beneath the trees which one had loved so well in one's life on earth.
An Egyptian tomb inscription from 1400 BCE, regarding one's afterlife, reads,
May I walk every day unceasing on the banks of my water, may my soul rest on the branches of the trees which I have planted, may I refresh myself in the shadow of my sycamore (Nardo, 10).
To reach the eternal paradise of the Field of Reeds, however, one had to pass through the trial by Osiris, Lord of the Underworld and just Judge of the Dead, in the Hall of Truth (also known as The Hall of Two Truths), and this trial involved the weighing of one's heart against the feather of truth.
Egyptian Child's Coffin

Egyptian Child's Coffin


A person's soul was thought to be immortal, an eternal being whose stay on earth was only one part of a much larger and grander journey. This soul was said to consist of nine separate parts:
  • Khat was the physical body
  • Ka was one's double-form
  • Ba a human-headed bird aspect which could speed between earth and heaven
  • Shuyet was the shadow self
  • Akh the immortal, transformed self
  • Sahu and Sechem aspects of the Akh
  • Ab was the heart, the source of good and evil
  • Ren was one's secret name.
All nine of these aspects were part of one's earthly existence and, at death, the Akh (with the Sahu and Sechem ) appeared before Osiris in the Hall of Truth and in the presence of the Forty-Two Judges to have one's heart ( Ab ) weighed in the balance on a golden scale against the white feather of truth.
The ancient Egyptians recognized that when the soul first awoke in the afterlife it would be disoriented and might not remember its life on earth, its death, or what it was to do next. In order to help the soul continue on its journey, artists and scribes would create paintings and text related to one's life on the walls of one's tomb (now known as the Pyramid Texts ) which then developed into the Coffin Texts and the famous Egyptian Book of the Dead.
Book of the Dead of Aaneru

Book of the Dead of Aaneru

The Pyramid Texts are the oldest religious works from ancient Egypt dated to c. 2400-2300 BCE. The Coffin Texts developed later from the Pyramid Texts in c. 2134-2040 BCE while the Egyptian Book of the Dead (actually known as the Book on Coming Forth by Day ) was created c. 1550-1070 BCE. All three of these works served the same purpose: to remind the soul of its life on earth, comfort its distress and disorientation, and direct it on how to proceed through the afterlife.


In the Egyptian Book of the Dead it is recorded that, after death, the soul would be met by the god Anubis who would lead it from its final resting place to the Hall of Truth. Images depict a queue of souls standing in the hall and one would join this line to await judgment. While waiting, one would be attended to by goddesses such as Qebhet, daughter of Anubis, the personification of cool, refreshing water. Qebhet would be joined by others such as Nephthys and Serket in comforting the souls and providing for them.
When it came one's turn, Anubis would lead the soul to stand before Osiris and the scribe of the gods, Thoth in front of the golden scales. The goddess Ma'at, personification of the cultural value of ma'at (harmony and balance) would also be present and these would be surrounded by the Forty-Two Judges who would consult with these gods on one's eternal fate.
Book of the Dead Detail

Book of the Dead Detail

The soul would then recite the Negative Confessions in which one needed to be able to claim, honestly, that one had not committed certain sins. These confessions sometimes began with the prayer, "I have not learnt the things which are not" meaning that the soul strove in life to devote itself to matters of lasting importance rather than the trivial matters of everyday life. There was no single set list of Negative Confessions, however, just as there was no set list of "sins" which would apply to everyone. A military commander would have a different list of sins than, say, a judge or a baker.
The negative declarations, always beginning with "I have not..." or "I did not...", following the opening prayer went to assure Osiris of the soul's purity and ended, in fact, with the statement, "I am pure" repeated a number of times. Each sin listed was thought to have disrupted one's harmony and balance while one lived and separated the person from their purpose on earth as ordained by the gods. In claiming purity of the soul, one was asserting that one's heart was not weighed down with sin. It was not the soul's claim to purity which would win over Osiris, however, but, instead, the weight of the soul's heart.



The `heart' of the soul was handed over to Osiris who placed it on a great golden scale balanced against the white feather of Ma'at, the feather of truth on the other side. If the soul's heart was lighter than the feather then the gods conferred with the Forty-Two Judges and, if they agreed that the soul was justified, the person could pass on toward the bliss of the Field of Reeds.
According to some ancient texts, the soul would then embark on a dangerous journey through the afterlife to reach paradise and they would need a copy of the Egyptian Book of the Dead to guide them and assist them with spells to recite if they ran into trouble. According to others, however, after justification it was only a short journey from the Hall of Truth to paradise.
The soul would leave the hall of judgment, be rowed across Lily Lake, and enter the eternal paradise of the Field of Reeds in which one received back everything taken by death. For the soul with the heart lighter than a feather, those who had died earlier were waiting along with one's home, one's favorite objects and books, even one's long lost pets.
The Judgement of the Dead by Osiris

The Judgement of the Dead by Osiris

Should the heart prove heavier, however, it was thrown to the floor of the Hall of Truth where it was devoured by Amenti (also known as Amut), a god with the face of a crocodile, the front of a leopard and the back of a rhinoceros, known as "the gobbler". Once Amenti devoured the person's heart, the individual soul then ceased to exist. There was no `hell' for the ancient Egyptians; their `fate worse than death' was non-existence.


It is a popular misconception that the ancient Egyptians were obsessed with death when, in reality, they were in love with life and so, naturally, wished it to continue on after bodily death. The Egyptians enjoyed singing, dancing, boating, hunting, fishing and family gatherings just as people enjoy them today.
The most popular drink in ancient Egypt was beer which, although considered a food consumed for nutritional purposes, was also enjoyed at the many celebrations Egyptians observed throughout the year. Drunkenness was not considered a sin as long as one consumed alcohol at an appropriate time for an appropriate reason. Sex, whether in marriage or out, was also viewed liberally as a natural and enjoyable activity.
Egyptian Afterlife

Egyptian Afterlife

The elaborate funerary rites, mummification, and the placement of Shabti dolls were not meant as tributes to the finality of life but to its continuance and the hope that the soul would win admittance to the Field of Reeds when the time came to stand before the scales of Osiris. The funerary rites and mummification preserved the body so the soul would have a vessel to emerge from after death and return to in the future if it chose to visit earth.
One's tomb, and statuary depicting the deceased, served as an eternal home for the same reason - so the soul could return to earth to visit - and shabti dolls were placed in a tomb to do one's work in the afterlife so that one could relax whenever one wished. When the funeral was over, and all the prayers had been said for the safe travel of the departed, survivors could return to their homes consoled by the thought that their loved one was justified and would find joy in paradise. Even so, not all the prayers nor all the hopes nor the most elaborate rites could help that soul whose heart was heavier than the white feather of truth.

Lysistrata › Ancient History

Definition and Origins

by Donald L. Wasson
published on 30 March 2018
Red-figure Hydria ()
Lysistrata was the third and final of the peace plays written by the great Greek comic playwright Aristophanes (c. 445 - c. 386 BCE). Shown in 411 BCE at the Lenaea festival in Athens, it was written during the final years of the war between Athens and Sparta. The play is essentially a dream about peace. Many Greeks believed the war was bringing nothing but ruin to Greece, making it susceptible to Persian attack. So, in Aristophanes' play, the wives and mothers of the warring cities, led by the Athenian Lysistrata, came together with an ingenious solution. In order to force peace, the women decided to go on strike. This was not a typical work stoppage. Instead, there was to be no romantic relations of any kind with their husbands.Further, by occupying the Acropolis, home of the Athenian treasury, the women controlled access to the money necessary to finance the war. Together with the withholding of sex, both sides would soon be begging for peace.


As the author of at least forty plays, only eleven of which have survived, Aristophanes is considered by many to be the greatest poet of Greek comedy. Unfortunately, his works are the only examples to remain intact. By the time Aristophanes began to write, Greek theatre was in serious decline. However, much of the presentation of drama remained the same. There was the usual chorus of 24 as well as three actors who wore grotesque masks and costumes.


Little is known of his early life. Having most of his plays written between 427 and 386 BCE helps place his death around 386 BCE. A native of Athens, he was the son of Philippus and owned land on the island of Aegina. He had two sons, one of which became a playwright of minor comedies. Although participating little in Athenian politics, he was an outspoken critic, via his plays, of the Peloponnesian War. His portrayal and attack of the statesman Cleon in the play The Babylonians landed him in court in 426 BCE.


Although somewhat quiet on the subject of Athenian politics, Aristophanes opposed all changes in the traditional aspects of philosophy, education, poetry, and music. He was an outspoken critic of both the philosopher Socrates and his fellow playwright Euripides. Norman Cantor in his book Antiquity said the playwright reflected the conservative opinion of many Athenians, showing them to be people who valued old simplicity and morality. They viewed all new innovations as being subversive. His plays were a mixture of humor, indecency, gravity, and farce. Editor Moses Hadas in his book Greek Dramasaid while Aristophanes could write poetry that was delicate and refined, he could also, at the same time, demonstrate bawdiness and gaiety. Author Edith Hamilton, in her The Greek Way, said that all of life could be seen in the plays of Aristophanes; politics, war, pacifism, and religion.
Although Aristophanes is sometimes condemned for bringing drama down from the high level of Aeschylus, his plays, with their simplicity and vulgarity, were recognized and appreciated for their rich fantasy as well as humor and indecency. His comedy was a blend of wit and invention.


Athens was a city of unrest as Spartan armies loomed nearby. People were outraged at their ineffective leadership in both city government and on the battlefield. All of this served as ammunition for Aristophanes' play. In Lysistrata, the women of both Athens and Sparta go on strike to force the men to stop the war and make peace. Through the outspoken hero of the play, Lysistrata, Aristophanes is provided an avenue for his anti-war views. To him, war provided men with the opportunity for courage and a glorious death. Women, on the other hand, were immune. To them, war could only bring decades of misery as a bereaved wife or mother.
The play had a rather large cast of characters:
  • Lysistrata
  • Calonice
  • Myrrhine
  • Stratyllis
  • the Spartan Lampito
  • choruses of old men and women
  • a magistrate
  • three old women
  • four young women
  • Myrrhine's husband Cinesias
  • a Spartan herald
  • a Spartan peace delegate
  • two Athenian peace delegates
  • and a number of silent characters.


The play opens outside the Athenian homes of Lysistrata and her friend Calonice; one can see the Acropolis in the background. Lysistrata is obviously very anxious, looking right and left, waiting for the arrival of her friends:
…I'm really disappointed in womankind. All our husbands think we're such clever villains … I've called a meeting to discuss a very major matter, and they're all still fast asleep. (Sommerstein, 141)
Calonice tries to calm her, telling her that it is difficult for women to get out of the house, for they have much to do. She had spent several sleepless nights thinking about the problem before arriving at a solution. She is frantic. The whole future of the country - all of the Peloponnese and Athens - rests with them. Turning to Calonice, Lysistrata says:
… we women have the salvation of all Greece in our hands [...] I am going to bring it about that no man, for at least a generation, will raise a spear against another. (142)
As other women arrive, including the Spartan Lampito, Lysistrata chides them for being late. She poses a question if she found a way to end the war would they join her. Cautiously, they agree. She divulges her plan; the women are to renounce sex. If they do so, the men will become frustrated and surely make peace. Many, including Calonice, begin to walk away, thinking let the war continue. Believing it will bring peace, Lampito immediately agrees, and the others gradually side with her. To guarantee full cooperation they all must swear an oath.
Greek Erotic Scene

Greek Erotic Scene

As they take their oath, a loud shout of triumph rings out from the Acropolis; the citadel of Athena was now in their hands.Their plan was fairly simple. They were to occupy the Acropolis, and even if the men tried to take it by force, they would only submit on their terms. They plan is soon tested as a group of men arrives with crowbars and torches to break down the barred doors. They are joined by a small assembly of women, headed by the elderly Stratyllis, carrying pitchers of water. She turns to her comrades:
What have we here? A gang of male scum, that's what! No man who had any decency, or any respect for the gods, would behave like this! (154)
The male leader spins around, threatening her. She does not back down and along with the other women throw water on the men, extinguishing their torches. As they continue to argue - the leader calls her an old relic while she calls him an old corpse - a magistrate arrives with two slaves and several other officers. He exclaims:
Look at the way we pander to women's vices - we positively teach them to be wicked. That's why we get this sort of conspiracy. (156)
Lysistrata emerges from behind the door:
What's the use of crowbars? It's not crowbars we need, it's intelligence and common sense. (157)
One of the officers attempts to grab Lysistrata. As the magistrate and his officers attempt to charge the doors, Lysistrata calls for more women to come out. They charge the officers, punching and kicking. Beaten, the men pull back. The women withdraw inside the Acropolis. In desperation, the magistrate finally turns to Lysistrata and asks why they have barred themselves inside.Lysistrata tells him they want to stop the men from waging war. As they continue to argue Lysistrata finally says:
…we're in the prime of our lives, and how can we enjoy it, with our husbands always away on campaign and us left at home like widows? (164)
Unfortunately, she begins to realize that some of the women are losing loyalty to the cause. One husband, Cinesias, comes to the Acropolis, begging for his wife, Myrrhine, to come home. Despite his enticements, she refuses and returns to the other women. As he curses his wife, a Spartan herald approaches, claiming he is there to discuss a settlement. Cinesias tells him to return to Sparta and bring delegates with full power while he goes to the Council and asks for Athenian delegates.
The Spartan delegation arrives and is soon joined by Athenian delegates. They ask to speak to Lysistrata. She rebukes both sides:
Thus each of you is in the other's debt: Why don't you stop this war, this wickedness? Yes, why don't you make peace? What's in the way? (187)
She leads them into the Acropolis for food and drink and to discuss the terms of peace. In the end, she turns to the Spartans:
Well, gentlemen, so it's all happily settled, Spartans, here are your wives back …. now form up everyone, man beside wife and wife beside man, and let us have a dance of thanksgiving. (191)


Lysistrata is a play about peace. As with many of Aristophanes' plays, he used his characters to act as his voice. He detested the war and the effect it had on his beloved Athens. Since the war ended shortly after the play was produced, this became his third and final plea for peace. In the play, unlike reality, peace was miraculously negotiated, and the war came to a glorious end with both sides gathering together to eat and dance. The hero of the play, Lysistrata (whose name means "Liquidator of Armies") is a remarkable protagonist for many reasons. She demonstrates both a strong will and determination; she chastises her fellow women for their tardiness and later makes them take an oath to ensure their commitment. She faces the magistrate and calmly voices her demands; a plea for intelligence, not crowbars. As a woman, she realizes that she has little, if any, voice in the policy-making. However, she understands men, and through her resourcefulness, she is able to bring the two sides together to make peace.

Neolithic Period › Ancient History

Definition and Origins

by Cristian Violatti
published on 02 April 2018
Barnhouse Settlement (Martin McCarthy (Tumulus))
The term Neolithic Period refers to the last stage of the Stone Age - a term coined in the late 19th century CE by scholars which covers three different periods: Palaeolithic, Mesolithic, and Neolithic. The Neolithic period is significant for its megalithic architecture, the spread of agricultural practices, and the use of polished stone tools.


The term Neolithic or New Stone Age is most frequently used in connection with agriculture, which is the time when cereal cultivation and animal domestication was introduced. Because agriculture developed at different times in different regions of the world, there is no single date for the beginning of the Neolithic. In the Near East, agriculture was developed around 9,000 BCE, in Southeast Europe around 7,000 BCE, and later in other regions. Even within a specific region, agriculture developed during different times. For example, agriculture first developed in Southeast Europe about 7,000 BCE, in Central Europe about 5,500 BCE, and Northern Europe about 4,000 BCE. In East Asia, the Neolithic goes from 6000 to 2000 BCE.


Pottery is another element that makes the dating of the Neolithic problematic. In some regions, the appearance of pottery is considered a symbol of the Neolithic, but this notion makes the term Neolithic even more ambiguous, since the use of pottery does not always occur after agriculture: in Japan, pottery appears before agriculture, while in the Near East agriculture pre-dates pottery production.
All these factors make the starting point of the Neolithic somewhat fuzzy. It should be remembered that the origin of the term lies in a late 19th century CE classification system (detailed above) and we must keep in mind its limitations.


In order to reflect the deep impact that agriculture had over the human population, an Australian archaeologist named Gordon Childe popularized the term “Neolithic Revolution” in the 1940s CE. However, today, it is believed that the impact of agricultural innovation was exaggerated in the past: the development of Neolithic culture appears to have been a gradual rather than a sudden change. Moreover, before agriculture was established, archaeological evidence has shown that there is usually a period of semi-nomadic life, where pre-agricultural societies might have a network of campsites and live in different locations according to how the resources respond to seasonal variations. Sometimes, one of these campsites might be adopted as a basecamp; the group might spend the majority of time there during the year exploiting local resources, including wild plants: this is a step closer to agriculture. Agriculture and foraging are not totally incompatible ways of life. This means that a group could perform hunter-gatherer activities for part of the year and some farming during the rest, perhaps on a small scale. Rather than a revolution, the archaeological record suggests that the adoption of agriculture is the result of small and gradual changes.
Obsidian Tools

Obsidian Tools

Agriculture was developed independently in several regions. Since its origin, the dominant pattern in these separate regions is the spread of agricultural economies and the reduction of hunting and gathering activities, to the point that today hunting economies only persist in marginal areas where farming is not possible, such as frozen arctic regions, densely forested areas, or arid deserts.
Major changes were introduced by agriculture, affecting the way human society was organized and how it used the earth, including forest clearance, root crops, and cereal cultivation that can be stored for long periods of time, along with the development of new technologies for farming and herding such as plows, irrigation systems, etc. More intensive agriculture implies more food available for more people, more villages, and a movement towards a more complex social and political organization. As the population density of the villages increase, they gradually evolve into towns and finally into cities.


By adopting a sedentary way of life, the Neolithic groups increased their awareness of territoriality. During the 9600-6900 BCE period in the Near East, there were also innovations in arrowheads, yet no important changes in the animals hunted were detected. However, human skeletons were found with arrowheads embedded in them and also some settlements such as Jericho were surrounded with a massive wall and ditch around this time. It seems that the evidence of this period is a testimony of inter-communal conflicts, not far from organized warfare. There were also additional innovations in stone tool production that became widespread and adopted by many groups in distant locations, which is evidence for the existence of important networks of exchange and cultural interaction.
Neolithic Variscite Necklace

Neolithic Variscite Necklace

Living in permanent settlements brought new ways of social organization. As the subsistence strategies of Neolithic communities became more efficient, the population of the different settlements increased. We know from anthropological works that the larger the group, the less egalitarian and more hierarchical a society becomes. Those in the community who were involved in the management and allocation of food resources increased their social importance. Archaeological evidence has shown that during the early Neolithic, houses did not have individual storage facilities: storage and those activities linked to food preparation for storage were managed at village level. At the site of Jarf el Ahmar, in north Syria, there is a large subterranean structure which was used as a communal storage facility. This construction is in a central location among the households and there is also evidence that several rituals were performed in it.


Another site in northern Syria named Tell Abu Hureyra, displays evidence for the transition from foraging to farming: it was a gradual process, which took several centuries. The first inhabitants of the site hunted gazelles, wild asses and wild cattle.Then, we see evidence of change: gazelle consumption dropped and the amount of sheep consumption rose (wild in the beginning and domesticated in the end). Sheepherding turned into the main source of meat and gazelle hunting became a minor activity. Human remains show an increase of tooth wear of all adults, which reflects the importance of ground cereal in the diet. It is interesting that once pottery was introduced, tooth wear rates decreased, but the frequency of bad teeth increased, which suggests that baked food made from stone-ground flour was largely replaced by dishes such as porridge and gruel, which were boiled in pots.


Towards the end of the Neolithic era, copper metallurgy is introduced, which marks a transition period to the Bronze Age, sometimes referred to as the Chalcolithic or Eneolithic Era. Bronze is a mixture of copper and tin, which has a greater hardness than copper, better casting properties, and a lower melting point. Bronze could be used for making weapons, something that was not possible with copper, which is not hard enough to endure combat conditions. In time, bronze became the primary material for tools and weapons, and a good part of the stone technology became obsolete, signalling the end of the Neolithic and thus, of the Stone Age.


Article based on information obtained from these sources:
with permission from the Website Ancient History Encyclopedia
Content is available under License Creative Commons: Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported. CC-BY-NC-SA License

See other Related Content for Ancient History ››

Recommended content