Ancient History:Soc-Egypt C
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Society Option C: Egypt: Society in New Kingdom Egypt during the Ramesside Period, Dynasties XIX–XX
This Society deals with the period dubbed the Ramesside period; because of the huge prevalence of pharaohs named Ramses. The Society is situated in what is known as the New Kingdom, a time of great economic and social height for Egypt. The period is important in that it produced several important pharaohs and was a time of great change for Egypt -- at the beginning of this period, Egypt was literally at the height of its greatness; by the end of this period, it had literally become fragmented and weak.
The Society starts at the coronation of Ramses I at 1292 BC and ends with the death of Ramses XI in around 1070 BC. It is traditionally thought that Ramses I was the first pharaoh of the XIXth Dynasty, although you may come across Aye or Horemheb being named the founder of the XIXth Dynasty. Note that the Bored of Studies prefers Ramses I being the founder, and as such, there is an important inference that a student must look at both Dynasties XIX and XX, (since Ramses I was the founder of the Ramesside period). The reasoning for looking at both dynasties revolves around the fact that whilst the XIXth Dynasty was more politically and militarily active, the XX Dynasty produced the most fascinating pieces of socially historical evidence. Since the Board of Studies advocates looking at the entire time-frame of any period/society, a student is expected to address evidence and arguments for both Dynasties.
Conceptually, the Ramesside period was an interesting time in that this group of Pharaohs bridged the gap between a 'glorious Egypt' known in the Bible and pop-culture and between a very crippled state ruled by foreigners and aristocrats. Ramses II embodies the powerful pharaoh that most people imagine; huge monuments and huge military campaigns. Seti I's amazing burial attests to the height of artistic excellence never seen again. What preceded and followed this period shows how important it was.
The ancestors of the Ramessides were influential to the Ramessides' reigns in that huge emulation took place by many pharaohs. Most important were the images of the Thutmoside kings, who essentially created the 'Warrior Pharaoh' image. This image was essentially copied by Ramses II and presented in a larger-than-life format in his monuments at Abu Simbel. Important is the so-called 'expulsion of the Hyksos' which marked the start of New Kingdom Egypt. The Hyksos were foreign (northern) rulers of Egypt who ruled the country under some sort of opression. Ahmose lead a coup against these leaders and re-established Egyptian rule. This Thutmoside expulsion of the Hyksos meant that King-as-military-leader was the most important manifestation of the pharaoh; essentially, Egypt was re-created under a military leader. Hence it is understandable that Ramses I, a military general, was chosen after the uncertain times of the Amarna period.
The Amarna period was influential in that Akhenaten changed not only the state religion but the state's entire philosophy. He changed art, architecture, and moved the capital. After his death, his immediate successors attempted to wipe his memory from history by destroying his monuments and erasing his name in an act of what is called memoria damnatio. This is important to our Society in that the Ramessides were the first long-term pharaohs since Akhenaten's radical changes 40 years prior. Akhenaten was seen as physically and religiously weak, and was hence wiped from history by those who wished to restore Egypt's power.
However, whilst it is very important to keep this political side of Egypt in mind, remember that this section of the HSC is concerned with Social History. If political history is history 'top down', social history is history 'bottom up' -- how was the life of the ordinary Egyptian?
Note on Spelling
Note at this time that the name Ramses can be spelt 'Ramses' or 'Ramesses' -- the latter being more traditional. However, the Board of Studies seems to prefer the more modern spelling, and since it is much short (and hence quicker to write), it is recommended that students adopt 'Ramses' as styling of the pharaohs' names.
Note that whilst 'Ramses' is a better form of the pharaohs' names, the capital of Ramses II should be still styled 'Per-Ramesses'. Even though Egyptology is full of alternate spellings, I strongly recommend that a student uses versions used in these articles.
This period is particularly confusing in that it deals with several hugely influencial pharaohs and many less relevant ones. Here is a basic list of pharaohs and rough reign dates, according to Gardiner.
|Ramses I||1292 - 1290|
|Seti I||1290 - 1279|
|Ramses II||1279 - 1213|
|Merneptah||1213 - 1203||Amenmesse||1203 - 1199||Seti II||1199 - 1193||Siptah||1193 - 1187||Twosret||1187 - 1185|
|Setnakhte||1186 - 1183|
|Ramses III||1183 - 1152|
|Ramses IV||1152 - 1146|
|Ramses V||1146 - 1142||Ramses VI||1142 - 1134||Ramses VII||1134 - 1126||Ramses VIII||1126 - 1124||Ramses IX||1124 - 1106||Ramses X||1106 - 1103||Ramses XI||1103 - 1070/1069|
The following primary evidence is arranged in order of the syllabus and addresses every dot point with relevant primary evidence. References are cited author, page.#, with book titles and descriptions given in full below. Note that most of these books have been revised and reprinted many times.
1. The geographical environment.
- Note the important archaeological and historical sites:
- Memphis (Inebhedj; The White Walls): Memphis was one of the largest cities of Egypt, the capital of Lower Egypt, and was the First Nome of Lower Egypt. The city extended greatly, yet we now have very little remaining. As the Cult Centre to Ptah, an important creator god, Ramses II built quite extensively there. The Memphite nome extends to the necropoloi of Saqqara, Giza, Abusir, and Abu Rawash; with Saqqara being moderately active in the Ramesside period.
- Thebes (Niwut Resest; The City): Thebes is hugely important in that 1. it's a source of important remaining archaeology and 2. was the administative capital of the time. The city houses the area on the immediate East-West banks of the Nile from the Temple of Seti I in the south to Malkata in the north. Most important in this site is the
- Valley of the Kings,
- Dier el Medina,
- the Mortuary Temple of Seti I,
- the Ramesseum,
- and the various temples of the pharaohs from Ramses I - Ramses X.
- The Theban Mapping Project is an awesome site, and unlike most online resources, it is scholarly, academic, and totally reliable.
- The Turin Mining Papyrus: Depiction of Fawakhir gold mines in the Wadi Hammamat. Silverman, p.64
- The Hymn to Hapy: Tells of the importance of the Nile. Originally told in the Old Kingdom pyramid texts, but echoed in Ramesside hieratic papyri.
2. Social structure and political organisation
- The political organisation can be devided into 6 prongs, to which the pharaoh acted as a sort of hub. Essentially, the pharaoh managed (or displayed himself as managing) these organisations, as well as participating in them. These are
- The Royal estate; the Chancellor, the Chief steward, and the Chamberlain.
- The Royal family; the Great royal wife, the Crown prince, princes, princesses, lesser wives.
- Military administration; the commander and general, generals of the horses/chariots/archers/men, generals of the navy.
- Religious administration; Chief priest of Amun, High priests (of cult centres).
- Civil service; Vizier, Overseers (of the treasury, of the granery, of public works).
- Imperial administration; governers (King's son of the Kush, viceroy of On), vassal Kings, Deputies.
- The social structure was very straight-forward. Whilst the structure was quite rigid, many artisans of the 'lower ranks' were quite respected. The social structure was really aetiologically set by divine precedence:
- The Gods (from greater to lesser),
- The Pharaoh and his extended family,
- The greater administrative officers (the Viziers, Chief priest, High priests, General, overseers of cash),
- The lesser administrative officers (the deputies, overseers of goods, army officers, Royal estate staff, official scribes [includes court officers, palace officers, army officers], priests),
- The nobility (generally in a family of officers, businessmen -- usually owned primary industry and/or ran a secondary industry),
- The greater skilled artisans (overseers of, as well as, the architects, the painters, self-employed scribes [includes accountants, jurors, inventorists]),
- The lesser skilled arisans (those who could carve rock),
- The greater employed labourers (those who laboured exclusively for public works),
- The lesser self-employed labourers (those who worked on farms). Antiquity 2, p.13, Kitchen, pp.3-4.
- As head of state: The Great Harris Papyrus (British Musuem: EA 9999/43): Shows Ramses III in full court dress and wearing official regalia, the white crown, and honouring the gods.
- As warrior:
- The Kadesh battle inscriptions shows Ramses II on foot and in a chariot, smiting the Hittites with the aid of Amun. Whilst the text has long been seen as boastful, it has been pointed out that it has significant propaganda mastery; the general Egyptian population would have known that the Kadesh battle was a tactical failure, yet Ramses managed to spin-doctor the account that Amun still saved him. Note that there are many ancient versions of the text in the temples of Abydos, Luxor, Karnak, Abu Simbel, and the Ramesseum. Lichtheim, p.57-72.
- The inner-south wall of the Hypostyle Hall of the Ramesseum shows Ramses II charging into battle at the seige of Dharpur. Callender, p.275.
- As priest: Abydos temple showing Seti I carying out the daily temple ritual. The relief implies that Seti is the cheif priest and willing to do more basic duties to appease the gods. Kitchen, p.29.
- As a builder:
- of wells: The Temple of Seti I at Kanais describes Seti creating wells for his people. An important function of the pharaoh was not only as someone who looked after the people in a practical way, but looked after them in a metaphorical way. Kitchen, p.31.
- of temples: The Dedication Incriptions of Seti I in the Rock Temple of Wadi Mia tell of how Seti gives the temple to his people and to his gods. Lichtheim pp.52-57.
- of estates: The palace of Ramses III is discussed as a beautiful estate. Siliotti pp.124-8.
- The Viziers of the New Kingdom were the highest ranking offcial in the bureaucracy. During the Ramesside period, there were two chief Viziers; one Upper Egypt in Thebes, and one of Lower Egypt in the north. The Upper Egyptian Vizier had a far more municiple role in Theban life when compared to the Lower Egyptian Vizier, who oversaw the northern provinces' tribute.
- The best pieces of evidence of a Vizier comes from Viziers' tombs, texts known as 'The Installation of the Vizier' and 'The Duties of the Vizier'. Unfortunately, a complete text isn't available from this period, although the texts were canonical (coming from a standard; identical) and can be seen in the tomb of Rekhmire, a Vizier of Thutmose III. The text, however, does partially appear in the tomb of Paser, a Vizier of Ramses II, so we do know that the text can be a piece of Ramesside evidence. Antiquity 2, p.9.
Nobles and ther officials
Scribes, artisans and agricultural workers
4. The economy
Importance of the Nile: agriculture, animal husbandry, transport
- Runs from the South to the North.
- Crops were grown on the fertile strip of each side of the Nile.
- Every year the Nile flooded, dumping a layer of silt on the fields – annual renewal of fertile soil provided rich farming land.
- Also watered the crops.
- The level of waters of the Nile determined the seasons of the year:
- Inundation ~ the time of flood. Workers not needed in the fields. The coronation of a new king was also linked to this season so as to ensure fertility of the land.
- Emergence of the fields ~ When the water was receding and the soil was still moist. Crops planted in the mud.
- Drought ~ when crops were harvested and threshed.
- The pharaoh was linked to the annual inundation and water supply.
- The Nile was also valued for the papyrus plants that grew by its banks, which provided materials for paper, mats, sandals boats and shipping.
- It also provided agricultural and natural resources, such as fish.
- Scenes of animal husbandry and agriculture were the most prominent in relief scenes.
Crafts and industry: wood, stone and metal- Manufacturing goods involved a wide variety of workers. - Woodworkers used a variety of tools and finished goods that have survived and are of a very high standard of manufacture.
- Timbers – many used were imported, thus they were rare and expensive.
- Brick making was a hard trade and captives often worked as slaves in this field.
- Bricks were sun-dried in moulds and used for the building of private homes, walls and palaces.
- Stonemasons played a crucial role in the construction of temples and other public places.
- Metalworkers common in tomb reliefs.
- Metal was a valuable commodity, as it was carefully weighed and distributed to the workers.
- Smelting and other processes are also shown.
Economic exchange: unit of value (deben), taxation, tribute and trade
- Egyptian trade and economy was based on bartering - the deben system – the value of every good was equal to a particular weight in copper sheets, called deben.
- Ordinary villagers also had the ability to sell any extra goods they produced at riverbank markets.
- Foreign trade was also based on exchange.
- Egypt gained necessities such as copper from Cyprus and olive oil from Krete.
- Every year, Egypt’s temples were endowed with treasures paid to it as “tribute” from lesser countries under its power. These treasures could in turn be used for foreign trade.
Technological development: tools, building materials, techniques and construction, shadouf
- Introduction of the horse drawn chariot.
- Deployment of highly mobile chariots, each manned by a driver and warrior, provided a more precise means of raining arrows on the opposition as well as allowing the routed enemy to be pursued and dispatched more effectively – socially and politically important – it heralded the appearance of the chariot corps.
- Was a symbol of the powerful.
- NK army was strengthened by various innovations in foot solder’s equipment, such as body armour, a smaller type of shield, a war helmet, a new form of dagger (khepesh).
- Shadouf – type of irrigation system that was a bucket device by which water was moved from the Nile into channels that ran through their fields. Workers’ strike, tomb robberies and corruption - Documentation on the promise of instant enrichment through theft – less difficult forms of theft/dishonesty drew in officials, including temple priests.
- Thieves were generally of lowly status.
- Great deal of tomb robbery occurred in the 20th Dynasty during Ram IX’s reign (year 16) in the Valley of he Kings – trials of the robbers recorded on papyrus (‘Tomb Robbing Papyri’).
- Some of the accused were workers from Deir el Medina.
- An official inspection of the royal cemetery was made after complaints had been made that tomb robberies occurred.
- Most found to be intact but one royal tomb had been looted – noble tombs had also been plundered.
- End of 20th Dynasty ~ evident of priests of major temples robbing temple property (for e.g. The Ramesseum).
Secondary / Bibliography
- Students are advised to thoroughly read through their textbooks and then investigate in further reading. Recommended textbooks, which give overviews and reference further reading are:
- Antiquity 2, by Toni Hurley(ed.) et al. A good summary of several Ancient History topics over the Society, Period, and Personality range.
- Studies in Ancient Egypt: Periods and Personalities, by Jennifer Lawless(ed.) et al. This book actually doesn't cover the Society Section, but covers the Amenhotep III - Ramses II period, so is useful nevertheless. Both books, whilst not going very 'in depth', have a broad range and reference further reading.
- Gae V Callender's book The Eye of Horus is more of a 'book' rather than a 'textbook', yet it has a lot of appropriate material for the HSC. The book is a narrative, yet it outlines important evidence.
- Alan H Gardiner's Egypt of the Pharaohs (occasionally seen as The Egyptians), is a big philological study. This means that he only uses written evidence and constructs his history that way. He's damn concise, but very dense and hard to read. He is probably the most impressive person to quote. Use him for this period as both a primary source (he has portions of texts) and secondary source (he makes judgements).
- Kenneth A Kitchen's Pharaoh Triumphant: The Life and Times of Ramesses II is the essential text for the study of Ramses II. The book is also very important with insight about Ramses II's father, Seti I, as well as the general social history of the time. Very good when it comes to primary sources.
- Miriam Lichtheim's Ancient Egyptian Literature: Vol II, The New Kingdom contains bodies of primary evidence. There is little or no commentary on the texts, so the book functions as a reference of primary text rather than an explanation of it.
- Alberto Siliotti's Guide to the Valley of the Kings is a great guide to all the KV (Valley of the Kings) tombs, as well as some of the TT (Theban Toms) ones. It has awesome pictures and translations of many important chunks of text.
- David P Silverman's Ancient Egypt is a very good book for this period. It has a good list of sources from pages 10-19 and pages 64-65. Recommend photocopying the relevant sections.