Most Egyptians related more easily to the god Osiris (oh SY ris) and the goddess Isis (EYE sis), whose story touched human emotions such as love, jealousy, and fear of death. An Egyptian myth tells how Osiris ruled Egypt until he was killed and carved up by his jealous brother, Set. Isis, the wife of Osiris, finds the scattered parts of her husband's body and brings him back to life. Because Osiris could no longer rule over the living, he became god of the dead and judge of souls seeking admission to the afterlife.

To Egyptians, Osiris was especially important. Not only did he rule over the underworld, but he was also god of the Nile. In that role, he controlled the annual flood that made the land fertile. Isis had special appeal for women, who believed that she had first taught women to grind corn, spin flax, weave cloth, and care for children. Like Osiris, Isis promised the faithful that they would have life after death.

Egyptian Views of the Afterlife

As you have read, Egyptians believed that Osiris and Isis had promised them eternal life after death. Belief in the afterlife affected all Egyptians, from the highest noble to the lowest peasant.

Photo of eroded pyramid with opening on one side, about one fifth of the way up from the base.

To complete a pyramid, workers quarried millions of huge limestone blocks. They transported the cut stones on barges along the Nile then pulled them up a ramp to build the pyramid.

To win eternal life, Egyptians believed that each soul had to pass a test. After the dead was ferried across a lake of fire to the hall of Osiris, the god weighed each soul's heart against the feather of truth. Those he judged to be sinners were fed to the crocodile-shaped Eater of the Dead. Worthy souls entered the Happy Field of Food. To survive the dangerous journey through the underworld, Egyptians relied on the Book of the Dead. It contained spells, charms, and magic formulas meant to help the dead in the afterlife.


Egyptians believed that the afterlife would be much like life on Earth. As a result, they buried their dead with everything they would need for eternity.

To give a soul use of its body in the afterlife, Egyptians perfected scientific skills in mummification (mum uh fih KAY shun), the preservation of dead bodies by embalming them and wrapping them in cloth. At first, mummification was a privilege reserved for rulers and nobles. Eventually, ordinary Egyptians also won the right to mummify their dead, including beloved pets.

Painting of Egyptian male and female seated on pedestals, wearing headdresses, holding ankh amulets and staves.

According to Egyptian myth, Osiris became the god of the dead and his wife Isis became the goddess of magic and motherhood.

King Tutankhamen's Tomb

Many pharaohs of the New Kingdom were buried in the desolate Valley of the Kings. Their tombs, filled with fantastic riches, were a temptation to robbers in ancient times. As a result, most royal tombs were stripped of their treasures long ago.

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Table of Contents

World History Topic 1 Origins of Civilization (Prehistory–300 B.C.) Topic 2 The Ancient Middle East and Egypt (3200 B.C.–500 B.C.) Topic 3 Ancient India and China (2600 B.C.–A.D. 550) Topic 4 The Americas (Prehistory–A.D. 1570) Topic 5 Ancient Greece (1750 B.C.–133 B.C.) Topic 6 Ancient Rome and the Origins of Christianity (509 B.C.-A.D. 476) Topic 7 Medieval Christian Europe (330–1450) Topic 8 The Muslim World and Africa (730 B.C.-A.D. 1500) Topic 9 Civilizations of Asia (500–1650) Topic 10 The Renaissance and Reformation (1300–1650) Topic 11 New Global Connections (1415–1796) Topic 12 Absolutism and Revolution Topic 13 The Industrial Revolution Topic 14 Nationalism and the Spread of Democracy (1790–1914) Topic 15 The Age of Imperialism (1800–1914) Topic 16 World War I and the Russian Revolution (1914–1924) Topic 17 The World Between the Wars (1910–1939) Topic 18 World War II (1930–1945) Topic 19 The Cold War Era (1945–1991) Topic 20 New Nations Emerge (1945–Present) Topic 21 The World Today (1980-Present) United States Constitution Primary Sources 21st Century Skills Atlas Glossary Index Acknowledgments