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Old age in Ancient Egyptian legal documents

Age is rarely a focal topic in surviving legal documents, but two examples illustrate social ideals and social reality in growing old in Ancient Egypt.

1. The deed of conveyance drawn up by the regulator of the month staff of the temple, Mery Kebi, for his son Intef Iuseneb (UC 32037).

Papyrus document, dated year 39 of Amenemhat III, from Lahun

In this document, the father seeks to guarantee the appointment of his son to his position in the temple administration; in return the son must be a 'staff of old age' for his father. This technical term is only attested in the Middle Kingdom (about 2025-1700 BC), and its appearance in official documents such as the deed of conveyance indicates that it was a recognised designation with obligations.

Presumably, in the absence of any pension, the 'staff of old age' secured the non-working years of a man.

There is no information on any similar system for women: the 'staff of old age' may have applied specifically to officials in the administration, all of whom were men.


2. The deed of conveyance drawn up by the lady of the house Nutnakht (rendered 'Naunakhte' in most publications: preserved in the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford)

In this deed the woman disinherits the children she accuses of failing her in her widow years. This document indicates the expectations of parents, and the consequences of failing to meet them. Even if the obligations of the children are not formalised in the manner of the Middle Kingdom (about 2025-1700 BC) 'staff of old age', the document implies a strong sense of duty - children are expected in this society to look after their parents. At the same time, it also provides evidence for children who do not support their parents - the only sanction available to the woman Nutnakht is to disinherit the offending children. It is not clear how effective social sanctions would be.



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