Sunday, April 2, 2017

Coercion the ugly underbelly of ancient Egypt's workers' gulags

Was ancient Egypt one of the most draconian civilizations the world has known?

Architecture to crush and dwarf the population?

Workers may not have been 'slaves' in name and they may have been fed by the state and their injuries patched up by medicos, but coercion was at the core of Egyptian monumentality as a new research report reveals in the Journal of Egyptian Architecture.

 New research in The Journal of Egyptian Architecture challenges the pollyannish view of ancient Egypt.
('The Dark Side of a Model Community: The ‘Ghetto’ of el-Lahun'.)

It is a trend today to suggest that the pyramid builders were willing workers, perhaps as a reaction against the whip and taskmaster scenes of early biblical epic movies.

Yet the most casual glance at Egypt's monumental architecture tells us that ancient Egypt was no picnic for workers - whether they were prisoners, or Egyptians forced into state labour under the draconian corvee conscription system. 

Running away was a capital crime. Shirk and you could have your nose and ears cut off.

NOTE: I refer to this dark, coercive side of ancient Egypt in THE SMITING TEXTS where a character tells my alternative Egyptologist hero Anson Hunter:

"Dynastic Ancient Egypt was not a land of allure, as you like to imagine; it was the most draconian civilization the world has ever known. Why can you not see it? The truth is there in the museum cases of the world, captured in the Egyptian paintings and carvings in wood or stone or on plaster of ordinary folk, the servant girl, the baker, the boatman, the seated scribe. The expression in their eyes, wide in their whites, is fear. They lived and died in terror. But if God punished this civilization as it was told in the Book of Exodus, why do you think you would have loved it?
‘Look at the carved Egyptian eye of Isis on the wall of a temple. Look at this eye of this goddess. You think it is a symbol of mystery, the single, feminine Egyptian eye in profile. Quintessential. But this black orb is not a symbol of allure; it is more like a dead planet in a pitiless universe. The oasis civilization of pharaonic Egypt was a hell where the sun beat down like a swordsmith’s hammer and reeds conspired in whispers at the edge of a river of tears. The land was hemmed in by deserts like the sides of a coffin and by a police, judicial, fiscal, priestly and bureaucratic system that arrested freedom like an image in diorite, the hardest of stone, which the carvers in the workshops shaped not with ease, as it seemed from their sublime achievements, but with the sacrifice of lifetimes. There is a reason why a people still celebrates their hasty exodus from this place with unleavened bread and bitter herbs 2000 years on. The Nazis of the twentieth century killed the Jews; the Ancient Egyptians ground their souls to stone dust…"

The Smiting Texts Egypt series of adventure thrillers here