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Accounting for domestic activities

Problem of disentangling private from official sphere:

Domestic accountancy may not always be clearly distinct from management of official estates. A much-discussed group of papyri often cited for domestic accounts are the Heqanakht Letters (about 1900 BC, now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York). Heqanakht was a ka-priest (priest serving a cult for the eternal life of a high official) responsible for the cultivation of some fields in the area of Thebes (modern Luxor). The Letters comprise two main items, with supplementary messages and accountancy documents, all written within a fairly short span of time, probably early in the Twelfth Dynasty (though dated by the first modern editors of the papyri to the late Eleventh Dynasty). The letters address family members, with family concerns such as proportions of supplies and treatment of female members of the family. However, Vera Golovina put forward a convincing case that the fields managed were not a personal estate, but an official allotment of fields, noting the important title ‘the general’ among the individuals in the letter. Possibly Heqanakht acted as accountant for the general, or the fields were the economic support for the cult in which he was ka-priest.

A Letter to the Dead, from Qau, mentions clearance of a debt, perhaps by one family member for another. Again the circumstances are unclear.

Even at Deir el-Medina, disentangling institutional duties from personal commissions is not easy: see the example of Pashedu, the carpenter, making items for an apparently non-institutional task (UC 39618). This may seem like ‘moonlighting’ for a modern observer, but there is no indication of any wrongdoing or covert activity. Is the apparently personal order institutional? Is the boundary between personal and institutional not an issue for the Ancient Egyptian participants?



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