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The heretic Pharaoh Akhanaten and his wife Nefertiti have foolishly turned their backs on the Egyptian gods to embrace the monotheistic faith of Atenism. He has declared himself the son of Aten and has outlawed the worship of all other deities, bringing his population into heresy. Outraged at this betrayal, the gods have cursed all of humanity with what has come to be known as the undying plague, and closed off the afterlife to humans. From then on, all people who die will arise a few days later as a mindless zombie. Prevented from passing on to the next life, they suffer the eternal anguish of undeath and an intense craving for flesh.

However, the heretic pharaoh has discovered a forgotten ritual that leads to true immortality. After a person dies, their body is embalmed and then mummified during this ritual, conducted by the priests of Aten. When the person inevitably rises, they retain their original faculties as when they were alive. The magic of the ritual sustains their bodies and prevents them from breaking down. The heretic pharaoh and Nefertiti themselves become liches through this ritual due to them having divine status. They commission for a magical wall to be built around Egypt, protecting it from the outside world.

Current Egyptian society is as follows:

  1. Liches- this encompasses the king and queen, their relatives, priests, and anyone they consider necessary to preserve the new faith and prove themselves useful. Their bodies represent perfect undeath and are eternal and never break down, requiring no form of mummification.

  2. Mummies- these are the common citizens who are the followers of Atenism. They have proven themselves worthy in life and have been rewarded with a lower form of undeath. Although mummification sustains their bodies through magic, they suffer wear and tear and must be periodically repaired.

  3. Living humans- these flesh and blood individuals go through life proving their worthiness to society. Now that the afterlife is barred to them, they must show their faithfulness and loyalty to be granted eternal life, or risk suffering the curse in death.

  4. Zombies- these pitiless souls are made up of individuals who were not mummified and are forever cursed to walk the earth in agony. They suffer eternal hunger and waste away in a state between life and death, never to know peace for the rest of time.

Mummification is expensive, the ancient ritual more so. This means that it would be primarily done to the most valuable people, with most others becoming zombies. For society to function, I need everyone to believe that everyone has an equal shot at an immortal afterlife, else they will rebel against the social hierarchy. How can I make this possible?

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    $\begingroup$ Is pharoah a typo or really meant to be written like that? $\endgroup$ – L.Dutch Jan 30 at 22:21
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    $\begingroup$ Hmmm. Why would mummies need jobs? They don't need shelter or food to survive..or even to pay taxes anymore. I suppose they might need air freshers if they hang out near the living. $\endgroup$ – user535733 Jan 30 at 22:25
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    $\begingroup$ @user535733 oh, they'll be paying taxes I'm sure! $\endgroup$ – GrandmasterB Jan 30 at 22:25
  • $\begingroup$ Even ashes can outnumber us? Think I'll emmigrate. And then set-up a mask-filter business to export to your country. $\endgroup$ – Chickens are not cows Jan 30 at 22:27
  • $\begingroup$ When you say "lichen" is that suppose to mean "to be as them Undead Lich be"? Or does that mean they became plants? Cause that totally changes things. Ancient Egyptian rituals are very expensive by the way. Is the Plant Pharaoh supposed to pay for everyone's mummification ritual or do each individual foot their own bills? $\endgroup$ – Lonha Jan 30 at 22:37

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Mummification is expensive.

Preventing zombies is easy - you burn the dead. But mummy making is really expensive and time consuming. And sometimes it doesn't work and you windup with a messed up mummy zombie thing. You are not going to make every random person into a mummy. You are going to mummify people who have a lot to offer the state and whose services are worth the great expense.

Mummies will be indispensible thought leaders, religious leaders and aristocracy. The presence of the mummies in these roles mean that they will not be supplanted by up and coming humans who want to be the new religious leaders and new aristocracy, and so these humans don't get to be mummies. You have to really distinguish yourself to be a mummy.

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Burn Everyone

Your Pharaoh and his wife have undergone the rite to become immortal; to be frank, that's about as much 'stability' as you want in your sealed off Egypt. You really don't want other Immortals, Mummies, Zombies, or anything other than the living to walk the country with them, for several reasons;

1) Making Immortals elevates 'servants' to the same level as the Pharaoh
They may have been useful in life, but they wanted something from you; immortality. Once they have it, what hold do you have over them anymore. In time, their power and experience is going to make them think that they are your equal, and at the very least, rival. Not making immortals is the surest way to avoid this trap.

2) Leadership is about change (and more boring than you think)
Ultimately, unless they're very good leaders, the Pharaoh and his wife are going to end up seeing substantial change in their country; change for which they are going to be ill-equipped. The advent of technology, changing climate, changing world-views and fortunes among the populace; they'll all take their toll. Sure, the Pharaoh and survive by ruling with an immortally iron fist, but in the end he'll be a figurehead who the people pay tribute to but then turn to their own leaders, seeing him as largely irrelevant. Leaders need to be people who understand the times and the challenges of the future, and a ruling council of immortals are less likely to do that.

3) Equal chance is not the same as good chance
In the end, most people are going to see the writing on the wall, especially when your immortal ranks are already quite full and there's no room for more people at the 'top'. In such a case, you're actually going to see dramatic falls in birthrates because the people of the nation are not going to want to bring children into the world knowing that they'll become zombies. No-one would want that for their kids, and this is one of those cases where an afterlife is actually a detriment to people's spiritual life.

So; what do you do?

The best solution is to allow renewal by making cremation (something that would have been considered obscene in ancient Egypt) the rule of the day for the dead. Don't even tell them why - just make it a cultural practice. Then, you can actually use zombieism as a punishment; pretty much the reverse of ancient Egyptian belief.

Here's how it works. Your average person on the street goes up, lives a good life, and is cremated within 3 days of death. This is seen as an honorable way to treat the body and it is done with all the necessary respect and reverence necessary to reflect this outcome.

BUT - your traitors and heinous criminals; they're not cremated. They're left literally to rot in their cells as an example of what will happen if you're bad or don't toe the line. That's enough to scare the kiddies into line; 'Don't say that rude word or you'll end up being undead like your uncle Mustapha...' I know I'd stop saying that rude word, but I digress.

The point is that your Pharaoh and his wife now have a life that power would normally give them, and more. They have eternally self sustaining bodies, a temple or palace of relative comfort; they don't really need to rule in order to preserve that. They're far better off setting themselves up as priest/priestess of this world, and letting it manage itself through modern, competent leadership that has grown up in the time that's being governed.

In the interim, their immortality lends itself naturally to positions of faith, and they get called in to manage the funerary arrangements of all citizens (for obvious reasons) and as such, they can convince the world of whatever they want. In this case however, what they don't want to do is tell the punters the truth; give them some myth about the body needing to be burned to release the spirit from it so it is free to travel to the afterlife; otherwise, people will eventually lose hope and just stop having kids if they saw what their true fate was likely to be. That doesn't generate stability. Neither does the mummification. As such, they're far better served keeping it to themselves.

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Conquer the world!

The pharaohs of Egypt constantly struggled with the Assyrians, Babylonians , Hittites and other Empires for the dominance of the Near and Middle-east. In the reality, the frontline shifted somewhere between the Sinai and Damascus. But with the other powers being thrown into disarray by the zombie plaque, while Egypt has surplus undead men, they can march forth and bring much of Eurasia and Africa under the rule of the Pharaoh.

As long as the source of balms are secured they are effectively unstoppable. (undead soldiers do not have to eat, I suppose) And the remaining population would receive the Egyptians as saviors as only they can give immortality instead of zombiness.

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    $\begingroup$ I like the idea of mummy expeditionary forces. I really like the idea of the undead mummy governor of Anatolia, whose popularity is only increasing after 2100 years of uninterrupted just and prosperous rule on behalf of the Egyptian overlord. Hail Akhanaten! $\endgroup$ – Willk Jan 30 at 22:36
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    $\begingroup$ In this way the problem is just scaling up: from Egypt wide to world wide. $\endgroup$ – L.Dutch Jan 30 at 22:41
  • $\begingroup$ @L.Dutch Surely, this does not work on the very long term, as the world would become just as mummy-cramped as Egyipt was. But gives the Pharaoh and his priests some hundred years to research a way for the safe disposal of mummies. Also they might be able to find a place (Siberia for example) where they can safely dump ashes, away from the inhabited lands. $\endgroup$ – b.Lorenz Jan 31 at 9:03
  • $\begingroup$ I think they are known as Khemris, thought it's not in an universe I'm particularly knowledgeable about. Other point I saw discussed on this network: the Roman empire didn't last mostly because it was too vast for its time and mostly not humanly ruleable (too widespread, too much event with too much delays). Conquering the world thanks to undead plague may introduce other (interesting) problems such that the pharaohs wish they never left Egypt. $\endgroup$ – Nyakouai Feb 6 at 14:16
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Have a Lottery

Once per year, a tiny number will be conducted into immortality. The government may select a general or other hero of the people. The royal houses may each, of course, submit a name - no limitations: it may be it a family member, a faithful servant, a particularly valuable customer or friend. The priesthood of Aten may also put forth a small number of names : either clergy or lay people of tremendous merit. Finally, each village council of elders may submit one of their citizens in the lottery.

Of course the game is rigged - or that's what detractors say. But there's no clear evidence. And any unequivocally proven fraud is - we're told - punished severely.

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Unless I missed something, this is just a variant of "what if everybody was immortal" – there isn't a faction of humans and a faction of mummies, it's just that the former turns into the latter eventually. As such I don't think there would be a clash between the two groups, seeing as they're essentially the same population at different life stages. It would be like the young rebelling against the elderly.

That leaves us with how to manage an ever-expending, immortal population, which is a theme that has already been well trodden elsewhere.

Off the top of my mind: you'll probably need conquest to supply the expanding population with resources (although as noted, mummies shouldn't need food, so you need less land than if everyone was alive), and indeed the skill differential between people will keep increasing. You can compensate the latter point by making mummies less efficient (weaker, slower, less coordinated etc), so that what they have in knowledge, they lack in physical performance, for example. From that point on you can imagine all sorts of caste/class systems where the mummies are intellectuals and "flesh and blood humans" slaves, and so forth.

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  • $\begingroup$ "Dear Mp, these never ending Multi-Story Mummie-Parks are an outrage, please clear up the countryside." $\endgroup$ – Chickens are not cows Jan 30 at 22:49
  • $\begingroup$ @Timst mummy park? $\endgroup$ – Incognito Jan 30 at 22:55
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This seems like it's actually fairly easy to do. The one thing it requires is some form of media for communication. That can be as simple and low-tech as town criers, or as fancy as inventing the printing press for newspapers. The important part is that it reach everyone. Then you make sure that your mass media, whichever method you choose, is staffed and run primarily with mummies; probably with a lich or three in management.

From there, you simply push the ideal of eternity, promise that anyone who works hard enough can get there. The "Egyptian Dream" if you will. The real key is to make sure to frame zombihood as a personal moral failing. With a bit of effort, you'll have the ordinary humans doing most of your work for you; suppressing dissent while they strive for something only a fraction of them will ever receive.

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It feels like a lot of answer don't address your question, so here's my take :

Make people earn their embalming.

Being an immortal mummy is like our retirement with extras steps : you're not as fresh as you used to be and it costs quite a lot money.

So let's do what we do, make people save for it while they live.

If someone managed to accumulate sufficient money to be embalmed when they die then do it, no problem ! If they're so rich that they want to be embalmed young, why not ?! Capable people are a resource you wan't to keep fresh and the most powerful people in your civilization will support your religion, only the poorest won't like it.

Make the amount needed sufficient for most of your people to strive toward it, even though a certain percentage won't ever achieve it.

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They commission for a magical wall to be built around Egypt, protecting it from the outside world.

This is both your problem and your solution.

Problem

If you have new births in a walled area and no-one dies permanently then very soon you have overpopulation. If you don't allow the living to have children then you will get unrest.

Solution

In one walled-off corner of the walled land is the City of Everlasting Peace. The walls are high and the guards powerful enough so no-one can enter except the priests and other privileged ones who live there.

You tell the population that everyone who dies naturally and behaves as a good citizen can enter the City and will ascend to heaven - a world of peace and plenty. After a touching ceremony, the bodies are taken inside on a flower covered bier. Once inside with the doors closed, the deceased are projected over the wall by trebuchet and left to wander around outside for eternity.

Anyone else who is surplus to requirements or criminal can simply be kidnapped and chucked over the wall without ceremony.

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Be realistic: do different levels of embalming

The rite might be expensive and the poorest of the poor will have to burn their dead to prevent making them zombies, but Herodot did tell us about mummification in the time just before the Ptolemaic Dynasty in his Account of Egypt:

The mode of embalming, according to the most perfect process, is the following:- They take first a crooked piece of iron, and with it draw out the brain through the nostrils, thus getting rid of a portion, while the skull is cleared of the rest by rinsing with drugs; next they make a cut along the flank with a sharp Ethiopian stone, and take out the whole contents of the abdomen, which they then cleanse, washing it thoroughly with palm wine, and again frequently with an infusion of pounded aromatics. After this they fill the cavity with the purest bruised myrrh, with cassia, and every other sort of spicery except frankincense, and sew up the opening. Then the body is placed in natrum for seventy days, and covered entirely over. After the expiration of that space of time, which must not be exceeded, the body is washed, and wrapped round, from head to foot, with bandages of fine linen cloth, smeared over with gum, which is used generally by the Egyptians in the place of glue, and in this state it is given back to the relations, who enclose it in a wooden case which they have had made for the purpose, shaped into the figure of a man. Then fastening the case, they place it in a sepulchral chamber, upright against the wall. Such is the most costly way of embalming the dead.

If persons wish to avoid expense, and choose the second process, the following is the method pursued:- Syringes are filled with oil made from the cedar-tree, which is then, without any incision or disemboweling, injected into the abdomen. The passage by which it might be likely to return is stopped, and the body laid in natrum the prescribed number of days. At the end of the time the cedar-oil is allowed to make its escape; and such is its power that it brings with it the whole stomach and intestines in a liquid state. The natrum meanwhile has dissolved the flesh, and so nothing is left of the dead body but the skin and the bones. It is returned in this condition to the relatives, without any further trouble being bestowed upon it.

The third method of embalming, which is practised in the case of the poorer classes, is to clear out the intestines with a clyster, and let the body lie in natrum the seventy days, after which it is at once given to those who come to fetch it away.

As one sees clearly: There are cheap ways to cure a dead body to turn into a mummy.

Reveal in this: The living can see the caste of their undead overlords from their looks alone! A crumpled mummy that was just cleaned out and has some light smell of jerky is of a lower caste than the skin on bones artisan, and then there are the well cared upper-class mummies, filled with linen and strongly perfumed, their dried skin glistening from the embalming oils. If you escape the poorest of the poor, you will at least be preserved and serve as a soldier for your god-king forever!

Be safe: Only undead may be soldiers

But why stop at class level embalming. Go on to make some jobs only available to some: Soldiers must be undead, farmers must be alive. Maybe even include a natural transition into it: Former farmers that die and can pay for the cheapest of the cheap embalming automatically are promoted to soldiers. The soldiers are then used to guard towns they are not from, so they show no scruples when riots come.

Be safer: buy the dead that can't be burned

Ane even the zombies fit the bill: If people are too poor to burn their dead, have the temples of Aten buy the dead for a few coin. Depending on demand of the King, these are then either mummified as soldiers, destroyed by burning, or they are thrown into well-crafted containment forts at the border to be unleashed on invading armies and guarded by dried out, fleshless second-class mummies. Make it an honor to serve as one.

At some point, the border fortifications might have too much Zombies, at which point the Zombies are to be released to the outside of the wall, just as one would when an invasion nears: tunnels lead from inside of these pit-like fortifications to the outside of the wall, funneling Zombies to the wastes that other kings need to pass through to invade, turning them into a natural defense. This even could be advertised as redemption for bad lives: criminals are left to die in the desert forts and thrown into the pit with the other zombies after death, and then at some point released into the swarm that roams the wall to keep it clear from trespassers.

Be Safest: KILL EVERYBODY

But really, what reason is there to even keep living humans? The Pharaoh decrees to build huge embalming houses. Everybody that can't pay for their cheapest off the cheap embalming will work it off after their death in the gold and copper mines and armies. Then, round up city by city and deport them to the embalming halls, kill them by a ritualistic stab to the heart promising the eternal life and give them the embalming they are entitled to. Which means the cheapest of the cheap. Congratulations Tomb King, you have risen!TVTropes-Warning

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A solution from the 'other side':

If the (Egyptian) gods are punishing the people for forsaking the traditional religious rituals in their names, why not have Aten plead for some of the people?
As an aspect of Ra, as the Sun Disc (I presume characteristics of Egyptian history and mythology that do not collide with your alterations still exist), why not give Aten the right to plead for the lives of those who die during the day, or who die bathing in His rays of light?

Aten's rays distributing life

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  • $\begingroup$ Aten is not an aspect of Amun or Ra, he was a total replacement cult. The cult was started as a monotheistic "Let's destroy all the other cults" cult and was abandoned right after the pharaoh died. $\endgroup$ – Trish Feb 9 at 21:03
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Two birds with one stone: organize huge tournaments of people versus zombies:
Get rid of the overpopulation ('overzombulation'), and award those with the highest body-count with mummification.

A third bird can be gaining territory: this horde of the toughest and strongest or nimblest men, Akhenaten's Immortal Army, can easily traverse the deserts surrounding Egypt and conquer neighboring peoples.

(A fourth bird could be offering some form of circenses to the people watching the tournament, although the idea that your dead spouse could be in the undead throng might be unsettling.)

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