The Heb Sed festival, also known as the Feast of the Tail, was an ancient Egyptian ceremony which celebrated the long continuance of a pharaoh in government. The Feast of the Tail was a name most likely derived due to a Pharaoh’s garment in the early periods; the animal’s tail was attached to his robe or garment.
It is thought that these Sed festivals initially came to be in lieu of a murder ritual against Pharaohs that were ineffective. Somehow, it changed and became more of a jubilee affair. It was then used to celebrate the fact that a ruler had sustained at least 30 years as Pharaoh. Thereafter, celebrations were held every third year. Due to this timeline, those Pharaohs, who had not yet reigned for thirty years, but were following the tradition, at least had the promise of enjoying many jubilee celebrations in the future. Those that died before their thirty-year reign, hoped they would be celebrating these festivals from the thereafter.
This ancient festival was a symbolism to commemorate and reenact the unification of Egypt as a nation. After the King’s offerings, he was crowned first with the white crown and then with the red crown, which signified power and leadership. The primary reason for this celebration was to reinforce the strength and commitment to rule of a pharaoh and thus the stay in the throne. Some pharaohs moved away from tradition, and others made some adjustments.
Changes regarding the Heb-Sed festival became so great that it lost its timeline altogether as other Pharaohs came to power. Hapshepsut is said to have celebrated this festival during her sixteenth year as Pharaoh, or Pharaoh’s wife. It appears that she may have been very powerful during her husband’s reign. While acting as co-ruler, she assigned to her daughter all the duties she had as royal wife of the pharaoh. The Heb-Shed Festival turned away from tradition during and after her reign.
In another instance, Akhenaten celebrated this festival during his third year as Pharaoh and was likely done to show to all that he was extremely powerful and that he was the religious head.
As history indicates, Akhenaten made many changes in the faith rituals for the purpose of eliminating the power and control that the priests of Amun-Re had throughout the entire country. The Heb-Sed festival was impacted by his changes. Of course, the biggest coup against the priests made by Akhenaten, was to move the capital of his kingdom beyond the control of these corrupted priests. He managed to do this; although, it created much dissention among the population.