A Silent Majority

One thing that struck me about all the readings this week was the emphasis on the pharaoh and the bureaucracy that supported him, especially in the discussion of chronology. I think there are problems on the ancient end and on the modern end that prevent the common Egyptians from coming to the forefront of Ancient Egyptian topics.

In ancient times, the lower classes were not able to leave the large archaeological impact that the pharaohs enjoyed. Pharaohs had the means to build large monuments and other structures in their own honor for the public to see at the time but also for posterity.  These buildings were built to survive even though natural and manmade disasters are more than capable of damaging and destroying even these great feats. Mere peasants only had their homes to pass down, but nature got in the way. The Nile has changed its course over time, covering areas where Ancient Egyptians once lived. Also, new villages were built on top of old ones, recycling materials from ancient homes and covering evidence of past ways of life as population grows.

Another challenge that this largely silent majority faced was the written language. In many ancient civilizations, only the elite were literate. This was emphasized further in Egypt where the written language of hieroglyphics was very formal and complicated, requiring careful study even by the elite to be used properly. The texts that inform us about the thoughts of Egyptians and reveal details about how people lived are from the viewpoint of those who were scholarly enough to read and write or had the means to hire a scribe.

In modern times, when Egyptian archaeology gained popularity, it was the treasures of the pharaohs be it gold or historical texts, mummies or art that inspired the public’s imagination and curiosity. Even if the majority of Egyptians had managed to leave artifacts behind to find, people weren’t looking for them. They were digging for riches, racing the competition for the most fantastic and glittering prizes.

I’m anxious to hear more about the common people of Egypt. I know that we have discussed them in terms of agriculture since most of them were farmers, but I would love to know more about how they went about their daily lives and what artifacts can tell us about what mattered to an Ancient Egyptian without a throne and god status.