Week #4: No slavery?

While reading one of our assigned readings, I came across one sentence that caught my attention: “[t]here is a lack of evidence for slavery until later, in the 2nd millennium bc, and even then slaves were not employed for large construction” (Bard, 109).  One of the common factors in every old movie about Egypt, and current movies too, is the element of slavery.  I am actually surprised that I am learning so many new things about something I thought I knew a lot about.

A major question that comes to mind after hearing that there were no slaves used in the building/construction of the tombs is: how?  What sane person would volunteer to go out in the incredible heat every day to build monuments to the very men who take from you but never give?  I think this says a lot about how well organized the form of government was and how much power the rulers held over their citizens.

One thought I’d like to expand on is: why?  Why were the people willing to go out and do this work?  I believe that a large part of it actually relies on how stratified their society in ancient Egypt was.  Adopting ideas from anthropologists such as Louis Althusser; rather than using physical and obvious control over the people through means such as bullying with an army, the rulers used a set of ideological state apparatuses such as their ways of education and religion.

Religion was an obviously important part of every ancient civilization, not just the Egyptians.  Every religion had a set of rituals and a set of rules or codes of conduct.  A clever way to rule someone is to give them a set of rules to follow.  After they are adjusted to the set of rules that obviously leave you better off, give them rituals.  The rituals, if you are smart, will empower you and give you authority in their eyes and you become an undeniable person of power.

Religion is so all-encompassing that many people even in our modern world refuse to fight against it or refute it.  Egyptians were ruled by their gods and they were very devout to their gods.  I think that one of the reasons they were so willing to oblige and build the tombs for their rulers was because their rulers were believed to be related to their gods which gave them the same authority to rule.

3 thoughts on “Week #4: No slavery?

  1. Especially since before this class I knew just as much about ancient Egyptian archaeology as any other person you found on the street, I too was surprised to learn that the pyramids were not built by slaves. I suppose that can be attributed to the common misconception that slavery was what made ancient societies work. Especially in the Information Age, it seems hard to imagine that a civilization as large and influential as Egypt could have such a cohesive social structure without any time-efficient means of communication. Obviously, this perspective is very naive and the pyramids are an excellent example of this. Once you look past the initial question of how it is even possible to build such a structure, you have to figure that nobody in their right mind would do so by their own free will. Even after learning that workers were paid, it seems hardly enticing to be hauling stone up an intricate and massive structure in the intense heat. For this reason, I really appreciate how you explained that religion plays a huge motivational factor. Us humans are especially tied to our rituals and belief systems and with the right process we will do just about anything to fulfill them (here I am thinking of extremist situations – mass suicides, or other situations of extreme self-harm) so why not use the power of persuasion to build a pyramid? Suddenly, accomplishing this feat doesn’t seem so outlandish.

  2. I agree that it is pretty amazing that a group of free people would choose to devote so much of their time to building these great monuments. However, I don’t think it’s that strange. These workers were getting compensated in one way or another, and the work probably wouldn’t have been that much worse than other construction jobs back in the day. Everything was hard work. Perhaps those who would have been bakers or potters would have had easier work elsewhere, but traditional laborers probably wouldn’t have noticed much of a difference–other than the sheer length of the project.

    You also make a good point of how the indoctrination of religious beliefs can be used to control people. The workers believed that if they worked on certain parts of the pyramid, they would be transported to the afterlife with the pharaoh and have an awesome party that would last for eternity. Because religion was so important to these workers, this is a great excuse for those higher ups to get the little people to do things for them. I also like to believe that at least some of these workers would agree to build these pyramids because they took pride in their people and their pharaoh and wanted to create a great monument that they knew would last for centuries to come.

  3. I was also surprised when I read that there was no evidence of slavery in Egypt during the time of such large construction. Often I think I assumed there was slavery because of the amount of people that were involved in constructing pyramids and monumental structures. But I do think that being a part of something so monumental would have been quite remarkable and rewarding. The structures that were built during that time are unlike anything else in the world. I was wondering, as I did not see it in the reading or am forgetting it, but were the laborers being paid? I thought that in another archeology class we talked about the builders of the pyramids as being paid, not exuberant amounts, but they were compensated. The number of people required to build such structures were quite numerous and they came from all over the areas to work. I also remember in the reading that during one project many assumed that the workers had barracks where they would reside while not working, however they were not uncovered. This I found to be very curious, where would all these men go? I guess there are still many questions to be answered in regards to the ancient Egyptians and many of which involve common misconceptions about them.

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