Tag Archives: power

“No one man should have all that power”

Sneferu was a boss. At least, he seems fairly admirable from a power and authority standpoint. I have no idea whether he was a benevolent ruler or not (although the Times article, “The Secrets of Snefru”, indicates that he was thought of as the “Good King” compared to his son and successor, Khufu/the “Bad King”), but that doesn’t seem to matter because he managed to compel his people to build at least three pyramids for him. Pharaoh Sneferu, first king of the 4th Dynasty, is best known (respective to pyramids) for ordering the construction of the Red Pyramid, the Bent Pyramid, and Maidum Pyramid in Dahshur. While these monuments are impressive feats of human labor and engineering what I think is more impressive is the great deal of authority the pharaohs had to compel their people of the importance of these public works.

In class we’ve discussed the importance of legitimate authority. Without it, there is no way Sneferu or any other Pharaoh could have gained so much power (the ability to get other people to do stuff for you).  I think the magnitude of their power is so great not only because they have legitimate authority, that is, the ability to get people to do stuff for you because they want to (or think they want to) or see it as a rational choice. What helps tremendously is the different angles from which pharaohs draw legitimacy.  According to Max Weber, there are three types of legitimate authority. (Weber, Economy and Society Vol 1)

The first is legal authority.  This is the authority behind the institutions and bureaucracies that make complex states possible. The king’s ability to govern by endorsing viziers and nomarches below him is part of the administrative hierarchy that provides legal authority. Citizens of Upper and Lower Egypt do not follow laws simply because the Pharaoh commanded they do something (at least not all of the time), but because it is a law and is therefore something they should follow because they are a citizen of that state. There are even rules which the Pharaoh must follow. Legal authority places power in impersonal institutions and laws rather than in the personal qualities of the Pharaoh himself. When one Pharaoh succeeds another, there is at least some continuity. The pharaoh in a sense draws his power from the legal authority of the state which he governs. Usually with legal authority, there is some sort of selection process that considers qualifications (like candidates running for an election, or an employee seeking a CEO position). So I will admit it does not align perfectly, but there are aspects that are consistent with government in Ancient Egypt.

But, we know that laws and bureaucracy, tradition and royal blood hardly cover the range of the pharaoh’s legitimacy. The Egyptians didn’t simply take cues from the pharaoh because he was in the position of power, they revered him because he had a great deal of charismatic authority. For the Ancient Egyptians, the pharaohs were Gods or at least as close as to being Gods as is possible for humans. Sneferu claimed he was the living sun god, Ra. This type of legitimacy is in some sense diametrically opposed to the institutionally permanent legal authority. Even so, pharaohs are holders of “specific gifts of the body and spirit; and these gifts have been believed to be supernatural, not accessible to everybody.” (Weber) It is precisely because pharaohs are not chosen by the people, but by a higher power that gives them their charismatic authority. For this, their personalities are revered, not simply their office. Hence, great monuments and temples and sacrifices are made in their name. Consider the tomb of Hor-Aha alongside the tombs of many royal retainers. Lavish offerings are brought to the tombs to ensure their ka are well taken care of. Does part of this reverence come from fear? It undoubtedly does, which makes a pharaoh’s authority a little less legitimate, but his coercive power is still power and speaks to the multitude of mechanisms by which pharaoh exerts power.

Another aspect of pharaoh’s legitimate power is traditional authority. This is the type of authority that scholars might likely attribute to Ancient Egypt, but I really think all three of Weber’s types of legitimate authority bear some presence. In the case of traditional authority, “obedience is not owed to enacted rulers, but to the person who occupies a position of authority by tradition or who has been chosen for such a position on a traditional basis.” (Weber) At the level of kingship, Ancient Egypt was a patriarchy. So the decision of who would be the next pharaoh was not dictated by laws or even some sort of prophet discovery, but instead through family lineage. In this way, Ancient Egyptians owed their lives, belongings, labor, etc. to the pharaohs because they were of the royal line.

Foreign Mission Rights

In several readings and class lectures, the nationalities of archaeologists excavating the sites of ancient civilizations have been mentioned. In his February 4 lecture, Dr. Watrall (an American who has excavated in Egypt) mentioned the current involvement of the Germans in the excavations at Ma’adi, and we know that Flinders Petrie, who did a significant amount of work in Egypt, was British. While in the latter case of Petries’s work in Egypt, the involvement of the British has rather obvious reasons (Egypt was not yet fully independent from Britain), how did Dr. Watrall, the Germans, and other non-Egyptian teams come to work in Egypt? Further, who takes “ownership” of the items found during these excavations?

In earlier times, archaeology in Egypt—and many other countries—was mostly a “free for all.” Indiana Jones–esque explorers, merchants, and anthropologists associated with the military took advantage of the lack of regulation and law enforcement and dug where they pleased, often taking priceless artifacts with them. For instance, after the invasion of Egypt by Napoleon Bonaparte, archaeologists associated with his military “took home hundreds of tons of Egyptian artifacts: columns, coffins, stone tablets, monumental statues” (emphasis mine), which today still remain in France, taking up “entire floors of the Louvre Museum” (National Geographic, 2013, p. 2).

Today, especially in light of the stealing and black market trade of antiquities, Egypt has a government agency dealing with all requests for archaeological missions. This agency, the Supreme Council of Antiquities, is the ultimate power in deciding all things related to Egyptian cultural heritage (http://www.sca-egypt.org). The homepage of its website states that it “formulates and implements all policies concerned with antiquities; issues guidelines and permits for the excavation, restoration, conservation, documentation, and study of sites and monuments; and manages a country-wide system of antiquities museums,” along with doing research, excavation, and conservation of its own (Supreme Council of Antiquities, 2013). The ministry’s website provides all of the forms and rules/regulations related to applying and obtaining permission for foreign missions.

In order to complete the application for a mission in Egypt, there are many conditions that must be met, some obvious (e.g., photocopy of passport, mission director and affiliated institution information), some less so (e.g. five photographs of each mission member, payment / room and board for the Egyptian inspectors that Egypt requires accompany each foreign mission, agreement not to excavate on Fridays). Additionally, mission areas are under stringent regulations: prior to receiving permission to dig, foreign missions must get detailed maps of their site of interest approved and may not stray from these areas—even renewing permissions is an extremely regulated process. Any discovered artifacts are the property of Egypt and no amount (even samples for analysis) may be removed from the country without express permission.

As of fall 2011, some of the countries performing excavation, conservation, or documentation work in Egypt were Japan, Germany, the United States, Spain, France, and Poland. Currently, the only areas open to new missions are the Delta, Western Desert, and Eastern Desert—all places extremely and immediately threatened by population growth and other factors. All of Upper Egypt is closed to new excavations, although some restoration, preservation, and documentation missions will be allowed.

Interestingly, Google returned hits for foreign archaeology in Sudan, Iraq, Cyprus, and Greece (countries I randomly chose), but I could not find any information on foreign mission in England or the United States. This leads me to believe—if there really are no foreign missions in the United States or England—that foreign archaeology is significantly intertwined with power relations. I would welcome any information from Dr. Watrall about this.