The Value of Identity in Ancient Egypt

This week, I was really interested in the online reading about identity and personhood in ancient Egyptians. The author states on the first page that, “To tease out concepts of identity and personhood from these traces is a difficult task, and we should be well aware that our interpretation likely reflects our own concerns, rather than those of ancient society and individuals.” And to be quite honest, it was kind of embarrassing to realize that while I was reading those first couple of paragraphs, that’s exactly what I was doing. It is so easy to form biases, and to base ancient culture off of our own society’s cultures and our own experiences. When I read the sentence, “At the same time there are indications that in ancient Egypt persons were considered individuals, and understood themselves as such.” I immediately thought, “well of course they were considered individuals, what else would they be considered?” Just as I’m sure other people do, I immediately assumed something about their culture that isn’t necessarily true, simply because that’s how it is in our modern day culture.

That being said, it is clear there are some differences in the ways Ancient Egyptian society viewed individuals. Just like today, the name of a person was very important, but perhaps not for the same reasons as our own. A name of a person today is used to document basically everything that happens to that individual; it is used on birth certificates, marriage documents, identification cards, passports, etc. However, in Eygpt’s past society, the name was only used to position a child in a social network and to identify the person before and after death. On the state level, as the author states, the name was less important. This is a perfect example of why it is important not to reflect our own culture on other cultures, past or present. Values and beliefs, and even the importance of a name, varies for each culture, and losing sight of this will only set us much farther back when trying to truly learn about a culture.

1 thought on “The Value of Identity in Ancient Egypt

  1. When I read the title of your post, I because very interested in reading what you wrote! I also enjoyed reading this week. I had the same realization as you did when reading the statement you quoted in the beginning of your post. Why wouldn’t they consider themselves individuals? They are individual people, right? What else would they consider themselves to be?

    The biases of our culture on individual importance cannot be translated into the ancient ideology of identity. The modern use of each individuals name for identification does not fit in with the Egyptian’s use of names.

    Your final statement about not allowing our modern values and beliefs is very important not only for the study of ancient Egyptian life, but when studying every culture or society, past and present. We, as anthropologists need to be aware of our predisposed biases when studying cultures. If we do no acknowledge our biases and attempt to remove them, the study will be swayed by our beliefs. In one of my classes this week, we spoke about anthropologists biases during research, and if it is even possible to remove our biases and beliefs or if we can only attempt to counterbalance for them.

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