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Subproject B9

The Variation of Traditions. Modalities of Ritual Adaptation in Ancient Egypt

Department and Research Field: Egyptology

Subproject Management

Prof. Dr. Joachim Friedrich Quack
Department of Egyptology
Marstallhof 4 (wheelchair accessible)
69117 Heidelberg
Phone: +49 (0) 6221 - 54 25 32
Fax: +49 (0) 6221 - 54 25 31


Dr. Laetitia Martzolff (Ait Amrouche)
Dr. Andreas Pries

Project Program

Subproject B9's research is dedicated to the way the ancient Egyptians treated their rituals. Our particular focus lies on the change, which can be perceived in the intensive interaction with the tradition that is to be overcome. We will investigate the period from the middle of the 3rd millennium BC to the 3rd century AD.


The compositions that have been passed on over a long period of time are in particular prone to unintentional damage, for example through lapses in the transcription. We can assume that, as a consequence, the texts probably were re-edited to turn the random wording back into a coherent text. Furthermore, ritual incantations and sequences were incorporated into new structures in many ways. Especially "neutral" sequences like purification with water and incense, dressing, and for some part the presentation of food could be easily integrated into a variety of ceremonial contexts. From the decoration of Egyptian-style temples in the Greco-Roman times, we can tell a very intensive revision of the original ritual to match the individual concrete situation. Very often, only short phrases or sentences were taken from the existing long versions of ritual incantations or liturgical hymns, then mixed, and sometimes merged with pieces from other provenance. This situation is exemplary and allows us to seize the notion of ritual transfer. At the same time, the fact that rituals can be applied in various ways places the aspect of agency in the foreground. Similar rituals can be observed in the royal entourage and the elite as well as in the broader population at least down to the middle classes. Beyond the question of agency that was already successfully applied in the collaborative research center (SFB 619), we also plan to methodically address the issue of "accidental" changes in the surviving material.


To ensure the efficient use of the rich Egyptian material for the objectives of the SFB 619, our research should make use of the two dimensions of its dynamics. Our first diachronic topic will investigate ritual incantations with very long attestation periods. We aim to understand the changes not only as errors; we also want to question what they reveal about an altered understanding of the text. In a second step, we will analyze in a synchronic manner how new sacrificial tableaus are pieced together from ready-made building blocks.

Main Topics