New Year Ancient Egypt. For several years, the notion of the Ancient Egyptian New Year has been on my mind, although I frequently put it off or delved into other topics for my blogs. However, I feel that the time has come to explore this fascinating topic.
New Year Ancient Egypt
Introduction. The New Year in ancient Egypt, known as “I Akhet 1”, was aligned with two events of great relevance to Egyptian civilization. One of them was the arrival of the Nile flood, the sacred river that played a fundamental role in the life of this culture. The flooding of the Nile River, which was attributed to different myths, was considered by the Egyptians as a divine sign, mainly related to the presence of the god Hâpy. This flooding was essential for the prosperity of ancient civilizations.
Concomitant with this flood, the Egyptians anticipated the sighting of the star Sothis (Sirius), which marked the beginning of the New Year in Egypt. This celebration was characterized by its grandeur and enthusiasm, spreading throughout the Egyptian territory. Without a doubt, it constituted one of the most significant events on the annual calendar.
During this period, the Egyptians often made offerings to both their deities and the deceased. Additionally, water from the Nile was carried as part of the ceremonial rituals.
The arrival of the New Year in Egypt was the opportunity for citizens to participate in a variety of rituals and processions. Even Pharaoh himself gave gifts of varying value to his most loyal servants, thus ensuring their perpetual loyalty.
Date, when it was celebrated
The New Year festival in ancient Egypt existed and, indeed, it was a celebration of great magnitude! However, unlike our contemporary culture that celebrates January 1, this holiday did not take place on that date…
In fact, if we fit this tradition into our calendar, it should fall around July 19! (The New Year’s Eve festival was celebrated with the arrival of the heliacal rise of the star Sirius, known to the ancient Egyptians as Sôptis). The first day… The opening of the new year! This happened in the first month of the flood… New Year’s Day: “I Akhet 1″…
The “I Akhet 1” had symbolic meaning in relation to the flooding of the Nile, although this timing was not constant due to annual variations in the ancient Egyptian calendar.
This date carried a connotation of renewal and prosperity, as the flooding of the Nile was crucial for the Egyptians, as it deposited silty fertilizer on the fields, ensuring good harvests.
Egyptian scholars, noticing the coincidence between the beginning of the Nile flood and the celestial appearance of Sopdit, merged both phenomena.
The calendar recorded by order of Ramesses III on the outer walls of his temple at Medinet Habu attests that the festival of Sopdit (Sôptis) coincided with the New Year. Symbolically, on New Year’s Day, during the seventh year of Thoutmose III’s reign, Hatshepsut proclaimed his “coronation” (as found engraved on the walls of the temple at Deir el-Bahari).
In fact, although it would have taken place between “II Peret 1” and “IV Chémou 30”, that is, much later in the year according to the inscriptions on his only obelisk still standing at Karnak, he proclaimed his coronation on the Day New Year’s Day, seeking to capture the symbolism of this date in an ideal way.
Year and calendar
In the fabric of the ancient Egyptian worldview, the concept of year was intrinsically intertwined with the agricultural cycle, specifically with the period required for crops to flourish. This annual cycle was set in motion in close connection with the imposing flooding of the Nile, an event of vital importance for the subsistence of Egyptian civilization. This year’s genesis was synchronized with the moment the waters reached Memphis, approximately around June 20.
However, this date, often capricious in its fluctuation, has perpetually challenged historians in their efforts to determine an exact date for the establishment of the Egyptian New Year.
The year, in its Egyptian manifestation, is broken down into three Seasons, each one intricately linked to agricultural work and its particular phases:
- AKHET or the Season of Floods (coinciding with summer): This season was the prelude to the prosperity to come. The annual flooding of the Nile, an event that breathed life into the territory, marked the rise of the waters that fertilized the lands with its nutrient-rich silt. The long-awaited arrival of these nutritional waters began the renewal and agricultural process.
- PERET or the Emergency Season (equivalent to winter): In this stage, the focus shifted to the emergence of previously flooded croplands. With the waters receding, farmers began preparing and tilling the fields for planting. The tenacity and effort invested in this phase was vital for a fruitful future.
- SCHEMU or the Harvest Season (associated with spring): The culmination of the agricultural cycle was manifested in the harvest season. The efforts sown in the previous stages crystallized in the harvesting of mature crops. This harvest provided sustenance and security, cementing the economic and social stability of Egyptian society.
This intricate system of agrarian temporality governed not only practical life, but also the worldview of the ancient Egyptians. The stages of the year were intertwined with their beliefs and rituals, encapsulating their deep understanding of nature and the importance of their environment in their daily lives and in their relationship with the divine.
Each season in ancient Egypt covered a cycle of four months, totaling 360 days:
Akhet included the months of Thoth, Phaophi, Athyr and Khoiak (August 29 to December 26).
Peret covered the months of Tybi, Mekhir, Phamenot and Pharmonti (December 27 to April 25).
Shemu comprised the months of Pakhon, Payni, Epiphi and Mesori (April 26 to August 28).
Throughout the Old Kingdom, the calendar operated on a 365-day solar cycle. In this system, the twelve months were made up of thirty days each, and at the end of the year five additional days, known as “epagomena”, were added. Each month was divided into three decades of ten days each, and each decade was associated with a particular deity.
These extra days, called “mykoydji-uabot” in the Egyptian language, were the “epagomena”, and were inserted at the end of the 360 days of the calendar year. This addition was essential so that the New Year, known as “wepet-renepet”, would coincide precisely after one calendar year.
The Egyptian New Year, consequently, was not celebrated in winter, but was placed after the heliacal rise of the star Sirius. This occurred on the first day of its visibility with the naked eye, in conjunction with dawn. This event marked the beginning of the new year, highlighting the deep connection of the ancient Egyptians with the celestial and natural cycles that guided their lives and ritual practices.
Holiday: Ancient Egyptian New Year
The Significant Celebration of the New Year in Ancient Egypt
Undoubtedly, the New Year was one of the most prominent and deeply rooted festivities in the culture of the ancient Egyptians. On this unique occasion, a background of offerings and rituals attracted all spheres of society, in a gesture of respect for both the deceased and the venerated deities, highlighting Ra, the divine sun, whose birth was associated with New Year’s Day. New.
A distinctive component of this festival lay in the solemn procession of vessels overflowing with “new water”, collected from the sacred Nile River, to the consecrated temples. In these sanctuaries, luminous ceremonies were performed that reinvented devotion to the gods, while sacred bonds were revitalized.
The New Year also represented a window of opportunity for the pharaoh, who could grant gratuities to his most prominent associates, a tactic to further consolidate his authority. The gifts emanating from royal authority on this occasion often assumed forms of great opulence.
The illustrations on the walls of the tomb of Kenamon, the steward under the reign of Amenhotep II, attest to the display of luxury in these circumstances. As the eminent figure in charge of distributing gifts taken from the royal treasury, these offerings needed the monarch’s prior approval.
The objects of greatest esteem were manifested in the gold statuettes with the portrait of the king, meticulously carved in a profusion of postures and costumes that encapsulated the strength and vitality of the pharaoh.
In addition, the presence of ornate weapons was evident, such as quivers adorned with precious gems, daggers, axes and shields, without forgetting a variety of seats with backs, fans, decorated chests, mirrors, precious vases and hunting scenes.
In sum, the Egyptian New Year was not only a catalyst for honors and offerings, but also a platform where the richness of Egyptian culture and tradition flourished in a tapestry of rituals, gifts and commemorations, generating a spiritual and socio-political bond between the people and their monarch.