Week #7: Where are the Egyptians?

A common theme in this week, as well as throughout Egyptian history in general, is the placement of non Egyptians in ruling positions.  It makes me curious as to whether or not the ancient Egyptians ever had the thought, “Egypt for Egyptians”?  The fact that the Ptolemies refused to even reproduce with actual Egyptians is kind of ridiculous.

We know that pharaohs  were supposed to be descendents of the gods or in the very least chosen by the gods, and that due to their divine connections their authority was to be absolute and unquestionable. All of that helps explain why the Egyptians would blindly follow their ancient rulers, but the Greeks, like the Hyksos, were not Egyptian.  This raises the question were the Egyptians also afraid of foreign gods?

Many non Egyptian ancient rulers of Egypt also chose to adopt certain cult practices such as the worship of Egyptian gods and deities in order to help the actual native Egyptians accept them.  This is one of the few reasons I can think of to understand or explain why the Ptolemies chose to intermarry brothers and sisters.

If the pharaoh is supposed to be a descendent of the gods, then that means his blood is already supposedly pure.  If the Ptolemies were attempting to convince the Egyptians of their divine birth right, then they would have to demonstrate in some way their blood’s superiority.  Since fighting could backfire and any other ‘tough man’ competition could ultimately lead to the family’s demise, one of the easiest ways to show their superiority was to seclude themselves.

Another possible reason would be for protection of their royal status.  By marrying their siblings, the Ptolemies could effectively defeat the inner-family struggling that commonly plagued other kingdoms as well as discourage foreign diplomats of political marriages.  If the Ptolemies had allowed foreign marriage or marriage with outsiders of the family, it would have allowed an opportunity for an empire take over.

Week #6: Divided Power

One thing that truly sticks out in the readings this time around is the rapidly changing power cycle.  Last week in the readings it had seemed as though we would move on to a time of a weakened and possibly soon to be destroyed or forgotten royal era and now this week the readings began to discuss more cycles of royal rulers.  One differing aspect, though, is the two other high positions in the ancient Egyptian government or ruling class.

Obviously throughout history, as I have mentioned in previous blog posts, religion has played a key role in the position of power and this has held true for every culture and country/province/etc. The high priest position is not a new idea, but it was made more interesting to read about the position being as valuable and powerful as the ruling king.

The position of a priest or any learned scholar or source of authority in a religion is to guide the people of that religion through the practices and to teach them the beliefs.  The idea that a high priest would have the authority or the desire to use government power to gain land or valuables to further advance their own power or influence came as a surprise until I remembered the pope.

A closer inspection of history shows that this is actually a common occurrence for a religious leader to hold power and wield it for his own benefit.  I say his because most of these powerful religious leaders were men and I am sorry if the idea of power wielding religious tyrants offends anyone who reads this.  The main reason I found it interesting for this to also occur in ancient Egypt is because of the idea of an absolute ruler.  If the pharaoh or king is supposed to be related to or chosen by the gods, then how could a mere mortal who worships said gods be good enough to wield power in the gods’ names?

Week #5: Middle Kingdom

Rather than only type about the happening of the Middle Kingdom, I want to type about the ‘rise and fall’ of it.  The readings briefly talk about the reunification, but they mostly talk about the beginnings of discord among the Egyptian rulers’ authority and the common people.  The readings begin the discussion by discussing how there was a new rise in provincial leaders or rulers which began to take precedence over the one absolute ruler.

Maybe I was reading it wrong, but I took the readings to be saying that the provincial rulers formed this elite class that began to have more control.  The commoners didn’t appear to really notice too much of a change and that seems, in my opinion, to stem most likely from the fact that they were required to give a form of tax either way.  The commoners had always been ruled over and therefore it didn’t seem like much of a change.

Also, this was a gradual change.  Instead of the elite class consistently reminding you that you were doing this for your leader, they would maybe change it to be that you were giving this food/money/valuable/tax for your country.  That is most likely why the kings felt the need for that passage (‘The Loyalist’ I think) describing why the people should work for their ruler and should be loyal to him.  Why else would the passage contain the ‘or else’ threat of having no tomb and instead having your body be thrown into the waters.

I don’t think that the Hyksos had any intention of taking over, but rather that the Egyptians had already become so divided that it seemed a waste not to form some type of official government for themselves.  Evidence of the lack of ambition to take over Egypt is demonstrated through their attempts to adapt into the Egyptian society and to try and become Egyptian themselves.

I apologize if I might have misspelled some words (such as Hyksos) but my adobe plug ins decided to crash so I couldn’t watch the videos a second time to check and the PDFs didn’t want to work.  If I misspelled their name then please, someone leave a comment and tell me if I don’t change it first.

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.

Week 3: Unification of Upper and Lower Egypt

Although it is an obvious fact, the idea of Egypt not having been unified for it’s entire history was slightly amazing to me.  When a person thinks about Egypt, they think pharaohs.  It’s just a natural reaction to the typical history fed to us in primary through high school.

Before starting this course, I was still ridiculously under the impression that there had always been one absolute ruler of Egypt.  After this week’s readings and lectures, I couldn’t help but think about how different the unification process of ancient Egypt was compared to other cultures.

In ancient ‘Europe’, it was a blood bath to finding the one ruler and then it eventually fell into a disarray of many different rulers who still battled for total power.  In many Asian countries, people naturally followed the eldest and thought to be wisest members of their groups.  Eventually through natural peaceful methods and not so peaceful methods, they bowed to one ruler.

There is a lot of emphasis on pottery being a major factor of unification or at least that is what it sounded like.  Rather than the ceramic vessels being the, for a lack of a better word, vessel of unification, should it not be credited to the people carrying and trading them?

I actually did not find it incredibly surprising to discover that there wasn’t one major military campaign for unification.  I mean, with all of the emphasis on ceramic vessels, trade must have played a huge role along with the natural migration of the people themselves.  I think that many people nowadays tend to forget that human beings weren’t naturally a stationary group of mammals, but rather a migratory one.

With the natural migration and trade, it is common sense to think that the people would find a common form of communication and share their traditions and cultures, right?  So, that is my reasoning on why the lack of a single military conquest isn’t so hard to believe; although, those ceramics did depict a rather less than happy history of events.

Rikki Valkema

Hello, my name is Richelle Valkema and I am a senior anthropology major at MSU.  My family, friends and complete strangers refer to me as Rikki so that is what I’d like for everyone here to call me also.

Out of all of the ancient civilizations, I have the most interest in ancient Egypt.  Like most young girls who start studying Egypt, my love began with Cleopatra and her reign.  I’ve studied a lot of different texts that looked at the Egyptian empire from the period of time that Cleopatra was alive and the relations between Egypt and Rome, but not a lot on the architectural side.

My interests besides anthropology include anthropology.  I’m a cultural focus anthropology student and I enjoy learning other languages such as Korean and Spanish and studying other cultures.   I help with the MSU Korean Coffee House and I try to volunteer with other cultural student events when I can (so if you know of any or need help with any, let me know!).

This summer I am on campus working and taking two online courses, this one and HST 320.  I work in the Turfgrass Information Center in the Main MSU Library as a Level III Team Supervisor and I spend my time proofing other people’s records and running around the library looking for books that need to be entered and/or searched for reprints.

This is the second online class I have taken and the other class also used Word Press so I am fairly familiar with the set up.  I just can’t wait to leave my parents’ house and get back to my reliable internet back on campus in my apartment.

Next year I plan on moving to South Korea for a year and teaching English.  I figure that it will give me time to study a culture I have a lot of interest in while making money without being dependent on our government for funding.  Also, it means I can do my own research without the restraint of being part of a team of people with one common research goal ^_^