Priestly Titles

Priestly Titles

Whatever we know about particular people in the Age of the Pyramids, we usually know from the inscriptions in their tombs. It was rare for a person to write something that we would recognized as a biography, with details of education and life events, but most tomb-owners would list the offices they had held. The upper classes served royalty, both in this life and the next.

Many women were hemet netjer (priestesses, or ritual practitioners) of Hathor and Neith. The gods Min and Ptah also figure in religious titles.

Even when the people involved would seem to have had little time to attend to religious duties in addition to their secular offices, they list many religious titles. Ptah-shepses of the Fifth Dynasty, for example, held these courtly titles:

Sole Companion
Known to the King
Master of Secrets
Privy Councilor of Every Work Which His Majesty Desired to Do
Controller of the Two Houses
Overseer of the Purifactory Priests
Controller of all the Affairs of all the Craftsmen
Controller of the Palace Faience
Controller of the Craftsmen of Sokar

Ptah-shepses was also a High Priest of Ptah, and priest in the Sun Temples of King Neuserre and of King Sahure. He was also a priest of Horus, Sokar, Re, Hathor and Maat. Perhaps men like Ptah-shepses could delegate some of their religious duties to others.

Some religious titles may have been more or less honorary. Though the duties attached to various titles are not always known, each title brought an increase in status, and probably income, to its bearer.

There seems to have been a gender division in these titles, with titles concerning Hathor and Neith being chiefly used by women, and titles with the names of gods, such as Min or Ptah, much less often seen among women than among men. Both women and men could take roles as hemet-ka or hem-ka, 'servants of the spirit' or mortuary priests, carrying on the cult of deceased kings or members of their own families. Women, however, do not seem to have ever had the title khery-hebet - lector priest. Lectors read prayers, and very few women were literate.