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Kingship in Ancient Egypt

What does a king have to do in ancient Egypt?

There is no ancient Egyptian treatise on kingship, but one religious composition, first attested from the New Kingdom (about 1550-1069 BC), but perhaps composed earlier, includes a passage explaining the principal functions in Egyptian terms (Assmann 1970):

'Ra has placed the king on the earth of the living for ever and eternity
to judge between men
to make the gods content,
to make what is Right happen,
to annihilate what is Wrong,
to offer divine offerings to the gods
and voice offerings to the blessed dead.'

This ethical and ritual definition of kingship is of exceptional importance, but it is inevitably partial, notably in concealing beneath the phrase 'to make what is Right happen, to annihilate what is Wrong' the economic and military aspects of control. These economic and military aspects are more prominent in other ancient writings about kingship, above all the annals. An early and unusually detailed example is a fragmentary inscription of Amenemhat II from Memphis, preserved on at least two reused blocks, one recorded in an excavation by W M F Petrie, and a much larger segment first recognised in modern times by W K Simpson. The events at the royal court are documented in chronological sequence, though without specifying month and year dates. The larger block preserves the following entries (see the preliminary report by Altenmüller/Moussa 1991):


(1) Income

Arrival of foreign delegations: 14-15, 19
Trading and mining expeditions: 8 (and 9?), 16, 21
Military expeditions: (9?), 10, 20
Other activity by the king: 22

(2) Expenditure

Offerings and cult: 1-7, 11-13, 17-18, 24-29
Distribution of income: 23

More detailed breakdown, line by line (the division into entries is not always the same as that in the interpretation by
Altenmüller/Moussa 1991):

Item 1: establishment of offerings (line 1, mainly lost)

Item 2: establishment of daily cult and festival cult offerings (line 2, mainly lost)

Item 3: 'offering to the dual king Kheperkara in the lake of ...' (lines 2-3? part lost: 'lake' is a broad term that may refer to an irrigated estate here; Kheperkara is the throne-name of Senusret I; it is not certain that the items offered from the pr-nswt 'king's domain' are part of the same entry, or separate)
Item 4: offerings from the wine-production centre on days 25 and 26 of a month in the season of flood (perhaps the fourth month of that season, as days 25 and 26 are the festival of Sokar, one of the most important in the ancient Egyptian religious calendar) (line 4)

Item 5: 'giving the house to its lord in the temple ...' ('giving the house to its lord' is the name of the ceremony for founding a temple; it is possible that this is part of the same series of entries in the preceding lines, involving the establishment of a cult for Senusret I, perhaps in the Fayum) (line 4)

Item 6: 'following the acacia-wood statue of Nubkaura' (Nubkaura is the throne-name of Amenemhat II; the following lines include a reference to 'the chest of giving the house to its lord, with its full equipment', indicating that this is a continuation of the previous item) (lines 5-6, perhaps including more than one item)

Item 7: 'offering divine offerings when they are set up' (presumably the one-off offerings made at the installation of the objects cited in item 6) (line 7)

Item 8: 'despatching an expedition to Khenty-she' (Khenty-she means 'the one in front of the lake', and has the mountain-land determinative used for foreign lands - it has been identified as Lebanon from the products brought back by the expedition, recorded later in the inscription) (line 7)

Item 9: recruiting manpower (unclear whether this refers to item 8 or item 10, or another need for manpower) (line 8)

Item 10: 'despatching an expedition with an overseer of troops to destroy Syrian Iwa [...]' (the place-name has not been identified with certainty) (line 8)

Item 11: donation of cult equipment from the pr-nswt 'king's domain' to the cult of the god Mont in Iun(y) (Armant) and Djert(y) (Tod), each receiving a vessel of 'Asiatic copper' (it is not clear which other items in line 9 go to the Mont cult) (line 9 and lower end of line 10)

Item 12: 'following the goddess [..] to her temple in Wadi Natrun' (probably part of the next entry) (line 10)

Item 13: 'making a wood statue of the overseer of Wadi Natrun dwellers Ameny permitted (?) to him in Djefa-Amenemhat' (the place-name Djefa-Amenemhat has the hieroglyphic determinatives pyramid and town, and is probably therefore a settlement, small or large, near the pyramid of Amenemhat II at Dahshur) (line 10)

Item 14: arrival of deputation from Kush and Webat-sepet (Nubian Nile Valley and desert valleys), and record of the produce brought by them (lines 11-12)

Item 15: 'arrival in obeisance of the children of rulers of Syria, bringing with them...' (followed by list of produce) (lines 12-13)

Item 16: 'return of the expedition despatched to the terrace of turquoise, bringing with them...' (followed by list of produce, including types of object not found in Sinai, the turquoise source) (lines 13-14)

Item 17: 'setting up a birth window' and related items in Djefa-Amenemhat (the place-name Djefa-Amenemhat here has the hieroglyphic determinative pyramid without the town, and is probably therefore the pyramid or pyramid-complex of Amenemhat II at Dahshur) (line 14)

Item 18: installing architectural elements 'in the temple of the dual king Kheperkara which is in the Landing-stage of Senusret in the region of the Ways of Horus' (Kheperkara is the throne name of Senusret I; the ways of Horus are the land routes from the eastern Delta across northern Sinai to western Asia) (line 15)

Item 19: 'arrival in obeisance of the prospectors of Tjempau, bringing with them...' (followed by list of produce) (Tjempau has not been identified) (line 15)

Item 20: '[return of the expedition and overseer of] troops despatched to destroy Iwai and to destroy Iasy; number of living captives brought back from those two hill-lands - 1554' (followed by list of produce) (Iwai and Iasy have not been identified; Iwai is presumably the same as the land named Iwa in Syria in item 10 - this would be the return of that expedition) (lines 16-18)

Item 21: 'return of the expedition despatched to Khentyshe in two boats, bringing with them...' (followed by list of produce, and specification of the distribution of some part of the total) (for Khentyshe, see the entry for the despatch of this expedition, Item 8 above) (lines 18-23)

Item 22: 'resting of the king in the southern Fayum, Lake of Kheperkara; weaving by His Majesty of a net of 12 cubits in span length with his courtiers' (followed by account of a catch as foretold by the king; for the Lake and Kheperkara, see Item 3 above) (lines 23-25)

Item 23: 'giving favour (consisting of) estate-workers, fields, gold, cloth, all good things in great quantity, to the overseer of troops Ameny and to the soldiers who returned from destroying Iwai and Iasy' and to other groups (passage partly destroyed, but apparently all on distribution, including to the cults of deities) (lines 25-27)

Between lines 27 and 28 is a thicker vertical emerging from the head of a kneeling deity with arms raised, probably the hieroglyph for year on the head of the personification of eternity.

Line 28 contains the titulary of king Amenemhat II with the epithets 'beloved of Atum lord of Iunu (Heliopolis)' and 'given life like Ra eternally', followed by the name of the goddess Seshat 'Writing' and two small figures, one named ir 'action', the name of the other lost (perhaps, as in later New Kingdom (about 1550-1069 BC) examples, 'action' and hearing')

This is probably the end of one year of entries; the number of the regnal year might have been written at the top of the column, now lost.

Item 24: broken entry involving the ritual of 'giving the house to its lord' and ritual equipment (compare Item 5, above) (line 29)

Item 25: 'following Sobek lord of Rewamhu to the temple of Sobek lord of Rewamhu' and reference to ritual equipment (line 29)

Item 26: broken entry with reference to a province named after a bull (in the Delta?) and (same entry?) a deity in Ipetsut (Karnak) and Mont (lines 29-30)

Item 27: 'following a [.. and] gold image of Nubkaura to the temple of Amun in Ipetsut' and reference to ritual equipment (line 30)

Item 28: 'following [...] and Nephthys in the double-sceptre province; giving the house to its lord [...]' with reference to ritual equipment (line 31)

Item 29: broken entry referring to donation of fields to provide daily and festival offerings for the god Igay in the double-sceptre province (lines 32-33?)

The last lines at the left of the block are more extensively damaged; the lower edge of line 36 mentions the god Seth in the town Wenes, and, as this cult seems related to the cult of Igay in the double-sceptre province, the donations to cults in that province may have taken up all of lines 28 to 36. Of lines 37 to 41, very little remains.


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