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Egypt: History - Pharaonic Dynasty VI (Sixth Dynasty)


Sixth Dynasty

After Wenis the Turin Canon inserted a total of all the years from the accession of Menes down to that reign. The number is unfortunately lost, but the entry serves a useful purpose by showing that a great period was thought of as terminating here. Manetho is in agreement, starting his Sixth Dynasty of six Memphites at the same point, and naming as its king an Othoes who is obviously the Teti given as the successor of Wenis in the Abydos and Saqqara king-lists. Manetho had curiously and doubtless inaccurately designated Elephantine as Dynasty V's place of origin. He was correct, however, in describing the next dynasty as Memphite, since the pyramids of all its rulers are situated at Saqqara within a few miles of one another. Indeed it was the pyramid of its third king Pepy I, called Mn-nfr ', that gave its name to the great city of Memphis in the midst of the Valley just opposite Saqqara. It is unknown why Teti should have been regarded as the inaugurator of a new dynasty, but it is about this time that we first become fully aware of the momentous change that had come about in the character of the Egyptian realm. Past was every nobleman's highest ambition to be accorded a tomb beneath the shadow of his sovereign's pyramid. The generosity of the Pharaoh towards his favorites was now finding an unwelcome reward. Not only was his own wealth becoming depleted, but that of his nobles was so greatly increased that they could almost vie with him in power and importance. Fine cemmetaries had sprung up everywhere in the neighborhood of the larger provincial towns, where not only the local princes but also the most prominent of their servants sought to invest their mastabas and rock-tombs with something of the splendor that had been achieved at the royal capital. Here we need only mention the tombs that have been excavated and copied at such sites as Zawiyat el-Amwat, Mer, Der el-Gebrawi, Akhmim, Dendera, Edfu, and Aswan. There were even one or two at Thebes, though the pre-eminence of that place still lay very far ahead. Although such a provincial aristocracy had already firmly taken root, it must not be imagined that the Pharaohs of Dynasty VI were by any means weaklings. On the contrary, they included among their number some of the greatest names in all Egyptian history; if one may judge by the ubiquity of their cartouches and the echoes of their energy and enterprise that have come down to us. It is true that their monuments cannot contend artistically with the achievements of previous generations, and have little to show in the way of originality. The workmanship of their pyramids is decidedly shoddy, so that most of them have collapsed into shapeless rubbish heaps. Gone also was the religious fervor which concentrated almost all the efforts of Dynasty V upon honoring the sun-god. Instead of this, the Pyramid Texts which lined the walls of their burial chambers had sole aim of promoting the welfare of the god Osiris, with whom, as we shall see later, the deceased king was actually identified. It may be objectionable that a development such as is here described must of necessity; have been gradual, and that our judgment is apt to make a comparision with the building of Dynasty VI. For example, we possess from Abydos an isolated charter of immunity granted by Nerferirkare' to the priesthood of that place similar to many of later date. Nevertheless, the general trend is unmistakable. Though hand in hand with the appointment of prominent provincials to be great chieftains in their nomes, for example Ibi in the nome of Viper-mountain, the Pharaoh will have wished to participate in the building of the local temples and the freeing of their dependents from irksome duties. Thus, to quote only a few examples, charters were given by Teti and Pepy II at Abydos and Coptos respectively. At Bubastis are the remains of a sanctuary erected by Pepy I, who also undertook important building in Heliopolis. That city's god accordingly was not being ignored, even if he was a little out of fashion. In Ptolemaic times, the name of the same monarch was remembered in the Temple of Dendera as that of its founder. At Hieraconpolis two copper statues of his were discovered, the finest specimens of metalwork that have survived from the Old Kingdom. Even if under Dynasty VI the provinces came into ever greater prominence, there will have remained dignitaries enough whose duties dictated the acquisition of a tomb near the capital. The excavations by Loret, Quibell, and Firth around the pyramid of Teti have revealed many such. His Vizier Mereruka, who was also his son-in-law, was the owner of one of the finest of all mastabas. A high-priest of Memphis named Sabu boasted of the protection which he afforded His Majesty when he went aboard his bark on ceremonial occasions, and a second high-priest of the same name expresses his pride at his appointment. Another official tells how he was sent to Tura to fetch limestone for some building operations. The existence of two of Teti's spouses is recalled by the great Memphite Mastabas of Khuye and the neighboring Pyramid of Ipwe. The latter queen was the mother of Pepy I, who took steps to secure the unhindered administration of a cenotaph of hers at Coptos. Of Teti's own doings nothing is known, and it is impossible to know whether there is any truth in Manetho's report that he was murdered by his bodyguard.


The reign of his successor Userkare' was evidently ephemeral, since he is known only from the Abydos king-list and two cylinder-seals. The impression of greatness which the name of Meryre' Pepy I evokes rests upon no imposing monument that has survived, but rather upon the superabundance and wide diffusion of the inscriptions mentioning him. Further indications are the facts that, as already mentioned, Memphis was called after his pyramid and that he was remembered with veneration many centuries later. His reign was apparently a long one. Manetho, whose figures for this dynasty seem more trustworthy than elsewhere, credited him with fifty-three years. An expedition to the alabaster quarry of Hatnub is dated in the year of the twenty-fifth cattle count, which being biennial at this period means his fiftieth regnal year. The same rock-inscription, as well as others in the Wady Hammamat, mentions the first occasion of his Sed-festival, which may have been celebrated in his thirtieth year. Pepy was proud of this event and commemorated it on alabaster vases now in the Louvre and elsewhere. No satisfactory explanation has been given of the well-attested change of his early Prenomen Neferzahor into Meryre'. The Horus name Mery-towe 'Beloved of the Two Lands' may have expressed a reputation to which he really aspired. An unpretentious outlook seems indicated by his marriages, doubtless consecutively, to two daughters of a local hereditary prince named Khui, whose home appears to have been in Abydos. Both daughters were accorded the same name, Meryre'-'ankh-nas, and if we may believe the inscription recording this fact, the one became the mother of Pepy I's successor Merenre' and the other of his second successor Pepy II. Their brother Dja'u was given the high office of vizier. This connection with the provinces seems quite in accordance with the spirit of the times.

An insignificant looking slab of stone from a tomb at Abydos recounts the way in which Wenis, a man of humble birth, rose to one of the most exalted positions in the land. After serving as a minor official under Teti, he was made a 'Friend' or favored courtier by Pepy I, this dignity being coupled with a priestly post in the pyramid-town. So quickly did he win the confidence of the king that he was next appointed a judge, in which capacity he was called upon, as sole assessor of the vizier, to hear cases of conspiracy that had arisen in the royal harem and the Six Great Houses. This important duty fulfilled, he felt entitled to crave assistance for the adornment of his tomb, a request readily granted by the sovereign:

His Majesty caused a god's seal-bearer to cross the Nile, with a company of sailors under him, to fetch me this sarcophagus from Tura. It returned with him in a great barge of the Court together with its lid, a doorway, lintel, two jambs, and a libation-table. Never had the like been done for any servant....

The following paragraphs are of great intrinsic interest and are expressed in a manner that is typically Egyptian:

Whilst I was a (mere) magistrate, His Majesty made me a Sole Friend and Overseer of the tenants of the Palace, and I displaced four Overseers of the tenants of the Palace who were there, and I acted to His Majesty's satisfaction in giving escort, in preparing the king's path, and in taking up courtly positions, I doing all so that His Majesty praised me for it beyond anything. When their litigation in private in the king's harem against the Queen, His Majesty caused me to hear (the matter) alone, without there being any vizier or any official there, only myself alone, because of my excellence and of my being firmly planted in the heart of His Majesty, and because His Majesty had confidence in me. It as I who put it in writing alone with one magistrate, though my rank was that of an Overseer of the tenants of the Palace. Never before had the like of me heard a secret matter of the King's harem, but His Majesty caused me to hear it, because I was excellent in the heart of His Majesty beyond any servant of his. When His Majesty inflicted punishment upon the Asiatic and Sandwellers, His Majesty made an army of many tens of thousands from the entire (land of) Upper Egypt, from Elephantine in the south to Medjneye in the north, from Lower Egypt, from the Two Sides of the House in their entirety, from Sedjer, from Khen-sedjru, from Irtje-Nubians, Medja-Nubians, Yam-Nubians, Wawae-Nubians, Kaau-Nubians, and from the land of the Tjemhu His Majesty sent me forth at the head of his army, there being counts, seal-bearers of the King of Lower Egypt, Sole Friends of the Palace, chieftains and heads of towns of Upper and Lower Egypt, overseers of dragomans, overseers of prophets of Upper and Lower Egypt and the towns and villages which they ruled and the Nubians of these foreign lands. It was I who was in command of them, though my office was (merel) that of an Overseer of the tenants of the Palace, because I was well suited to prevent one from quarreling with his fellow, to prevent any one of them from taking bread or sandals from a wayfarer, to prevent any one of them from taking a loin-cloth from any village, to prevent any one of them from taking any goat from any people. I dispatched them from Northern Isle, Gate of Imhotep, and Leg of Hor-Nebma'e, though I was of this rank....There was revealed to me the number of these troops, thought it had never (before) been revealed to any servant.

At this point Wenis breaks into poetry, a unique feature of this inscription:

This army returned in peace, it had harried the land of the Sand-dwellers. This army returned in peace, it had razed the land of the Sand-dwellers. This army returned in peace, it had overthrown its walled settlements.This army returned in peace, it had cut down its figs and its vines.This army returned in peace, it had cast fire into all its princely houses. This army returned in peace, it had slain troops in it many tens of thousands. This army returned in peace, it had carried away very many troops as prisoners.And His Majesty praised me on account of it more than anything.

This narrative, continuing in prose, proceeds to tell how Wenis was dispatched five times to deal with the rebellious Sand-dwellers. Then came the report of an insurrection at Nose of the Gazelle, a region that has been conjectured to be Mount Carmel. Crossing by ship with his troops to the back of the hill-country to the north of the land of the Sand-dwellers, while half of the army approached along the high desert road, Wenis managed to catch and kill all the insurrectionists.

Wenis' autobiography now switches to the reign of Merenre'. At this point a serious problem confronts us. It has been seen that Wenis held a minor office already in the reign of Teti, and evidence utilized above seemed to demand for Pepy I a reign of over fifty years. On the assumption that Merenre' succeeded to the throne only after his father's death, Weni will have been well over 60 when he passed into the service of a new royal master. Under Merenre', however, further strenuous tasks awaited him, tasks which it is hard to believe were imposed upon a man so advanced in age. This difficulty would be mitigated, even if not completely overcome, if it turned out that Pepy associated Merenre' with himself as king a number of years earlier. The royal commands could be assured in either name, and for such an association, although somewhat slender, evidence has actually been discovered. At the beginning of Merener's reign Wenis appears to have been merely a chamberlain and sandal-bearer, but it was not long before he was elevated to the post of Governor of Upper Egypt. As holder of this all-important administrative office in the southern half of Egypt he had to collect all the revenues due to the Residence and to exact all the labor required. This he did twice over before being sent to a distant Nubian quarry to fetch the sarcophagus and a precious pyramidion for the king's pyramid, while at Elephantine he secured doors of red granite and other parts for the same monument. All this he performed in one single expedition. Worn out as he may well have been, off he had to go to the alabaster quarry of Hatnub, where he cause to be hewn a great offering-table the transport of which necessitated the building of a ship 60 cubits long and 30 broad. It was an astonishing feat to have acquitted himself of this formidable commission within three weeks of the third month of Summer, when the river was at its lowest. Yet another big tasks awaited him, including the cutting of five navigable channels in the First Cataract, and the building of seven vessels of acacia wood contributed by the chieftains of various Nubian districts. After so long and meritorious a career it seems rather hard that Wenis should have been constrained to attribute all his successes to the might and strength of purpose of his sovereign. But perhaps he would never have attained to such eminence without his character comprising an extra dose of obsequiousness.

From this narrative it emerges that Egypt had far greater difficulties to contend with on her north-eastern border than on her southern front. Even if the enemy here are regularly referred to by the term hriw-s', literally 'those upon the sand', it would be a mistake to imagine that only the poverty-stricken nomads of the Sinaitic peninsula were meant. To repel these no army of thousands would have been required. Unless the mention of figs and grapes in Wenis' poem is to be dismissed as mere fancy, at least some considerable part of southern Palestine must have been involved, and probably the most plausible guess is that what was euphemistically described as rebellion was in reality the first wave of that Asiatic aggression which overwhelmed Egypt little more than 100 years later and was a recurrent menace throughout all her history.

It was natural that relations with Nubia should have been more peaceful. Here the advantages to be gained from friendly intercourse were mutual. Nubia was the source of various prized commodities unobtainable elsewhere. The Nubians for their part were very dependent upon their richer and more civilized neighbors, corn doubtless being their greatest need, though this is not mentioned in the sole record of what the Egyptians brought with them for purposes of barter and where the items named are 'oil, honey, clothing, faience, and all manner of things'. Not until a much later date did the thought of colonizing Lower Nubia enter the Egyptians' minds. Wisely, they accepted Elephantine as their southern frontier, realizing that the country beyond the First Cataract was undesirable as a possession and that their requirements could best be satisfied by special expeditions. In Dynasty IV, Cheops was already causing diorite to be fetched from a quarry to the north-west of Toshka where the cartouches of several of his successors are also found. But the silence enveloping the details of all such enterprises remains unbroken until Dynasty VI. In the decree of Pepy I granting protection to the dependents of Snofru's two pyramids, several clauses forbid interference with them by 'peaceful Nubians', a term by which policemen like the Medjayu of later times have been thought to be meant. That Wenis, as we have seen, was able to recruit for his Asiatic campaigns soldiers from various Nubian tribes shows how willingly these seized the opportunity of finding work in a land so much more agreeable than their own. In the first year of Merenre' he visited the region of the First Cataract in person to receive the homage of the chieftains of Medja, Irtje, and Wawae. Apart from the facts just mentioned, little would be known about the dealings of the Egyptians of Dynasty VI with Nubia were it not for the inscriptions which several successive princes of Elephantine caused to be carved upon the walls of their tombs opposite Aswan. These princes were probably themselves half-Nubian by race At least they were acquainted with the language or languages of the tribes which they were called upon to visit. They seem also to have been hardier and better adapted for foreign travel than most Egyptian nobles, since Pwene and Byblos are mentioned as places to which one of their number was repeatedly sent, while another was dispatched to the country of the Asiatics', probably somewhere on the Red Sea, to retrieve the body of an Egyptian official slain together with all his company while building a ship for a journey to Pwene. It is certain that in spite of the usual good relations serious troubles could also break out in Nubia, for the Pepinakht from whose tomb was learned the fact just mentioned had previously recorded as follows:

The Majesty of my lord sent me to harry the lands of Wawae and Irtje. I acted to the approval of my lord and slew a great number there, the children of the chieftain and doughty army-captains. And I brought thence to the Residence a large number of prisoners, I being at the head of many strong and bold soldiers.

Perhaps the most informative of these Aswan inscriptions is that from which was drawn the letter about the dancing pygmy translated above. It begins in the usual way with titles and epithets of the prince and overseer of dragomans Harkhuf, and then continues as follows:

He said: The Majesty of Marenere' my lord sent me together with my father the unique friend and lector-priest Iri to Yam to open up the way to this country. I did it in seven months, and brought back from it all manner of goodly and rare presents, and was praised greatly on account of it. His Majesty sent me a second time alone. I set forth upon the Elephantine road and returned from Irtje, Mekher, Tereros, and Irtjetj in the space of eight months. I returned and brought presents from this country in very great quantity, nor had ever the like been brought to this land before. I returned through the neighborhood of the house of the chieftain of Zatu and Irtje. I had opened up these countries. Never had it been found done by any friend and overseer of dragomans who had gone forth to Yam before. His Majesty sent me a third time to Yam. I set forth from the Thinite nome upon the Oasis road, and found the chieftain of Yam gone to the Tjemeh-land to smite the Tjemeh to the western corner of heaven. I went forth in pursuit of him to the Tjemeh-land, and I satisfied him so that he praised all the gods for the Sovereign. [I dispatched a messenger (?)...] Yam...to inform the Majesty of Merenre' my lord [that I had gone to Tjemeh-land] and had satisfied that chieftain of Yam. [I returned (?)...]in the south end of Irtje and the north end of Zatu, and I found the chieftain of Irtje, Zatu, and Wawae, [these three countries ?] united all in one, and I returned with three hundred asses laden with incense, ebony, hknw-oil, st, leopard-skins, elephant tusks, and boomerangs and all goodly products. Now when the chieftains of Irtje, Zatu, and Wawae saw how strong and numerous was the troop of Yam that returned with me, then did this chieftain dispatch me and gave me oxen and goats and conducted me over the heights of Irtje by virtue of the vigilance which I had exercised beyond any friend and overseer of dragomans who had been sent to Yam before. Now when this humble servant fared downstream to the Residence, there was caused to come to me the unique friend and overseer of the double bathroom Khuni, meeting me with ships laden with date-wine, cake, bread, and beer. The prince, seal-bearer of the King of Lower Egypt, unique friend, lector-priest, god's seal-bearer, confidant of (royal) commands, Harkhuf.

This narrative, concluding with the titles and name of the tomb-owner, has been translated in full to give some further idea of the diction and the difficulties of a so-called autobiographical inscription of the Old Kingdom. The main problem resides in the identification of the various Nubian districts involved. Where, above all, was Yam, the end-point of Harkhuf's journeyings, situated? It appears to have been successfully argued that this district lay to the south of the Second Cataract. Yet it is impossible to believe in its equation with Kerma beyond the Third Cataract, which in Dynasty XII became an isolated garrison in the heart of the Sudan. Of the other places, Wawae extended southwards from the First Cataract for a considerable distance, Irtje has been definitely located near Tomas half-way towards Wady Halfa, and Medja, mentioned by Wenis but not by Harkhuf, in the near neighborhood of the Second Cataract.

Merenre' reigned little more than ten years before being succeeded by his half-brother Pepy II. The new king can only have been a boy at the time since the Turin Canon and Manetho agree in according him a reign of well over ninety years. At the start he seems to have been under the tutelage of his mother, since she is mentioned with him in the record of an expedition sent to Sinai in the fourth year. Papyrus fragments of late date related how he was discovered paying long secret visits to one of his generals at dead of night, a story quite in the spirit of Herodotus. Some of the Nubian ventures alluded to in the last pages fell in his reign, of which in spite of its length little else is known. He had, at all events, plenty of time to devote to the building of his pyramid at South Saqqara, which was larger than those of any of his immediate predecessors, and which, thanks to the admirable excavations of G. Jequier, gives a better idea of the nature of an Old Kingdom pyramid-complex than any of its neighbors. Apart from this, we need recall only the decrees of immunity already mentioned and the 'autobiography' of a prince of the eighth and twelfth nomes of Upper Egypt named Dja'u, in which he plumed himself on having given a fine burial to his father and upon having obtained the wherewithal from the king. Poor material to sate the historian's appetite, but reading between the lines of such inscriptions, we cannot fail to perceive the gradual decadence of the kingdom, due in part no doubt to the monarch's own failing strength. We have seen that the Turin Canon added eight successors before reaching the total of 181 years for the whole period from Teti onwards. Of these successors of Pepy II the names of only four are preserved, while the reign-lengths of five of the eight amount together to no more than ten years. It thus appears that Dynasty VI ended in a whole series of ephemeral kings all of whom might well have been taken as belonging to that dynasty had not Manetho preferred to end it with Nitocris, a queen who, like Sobknofru the last ruler of Dynasty XII, had contrived to wrest to herself the throne of the Pharaohs. Concerning this Nitocris Manetho says that she was 'the noblest and loveliest of the women of her time', and to Heordotus is owed the story of her suicide after taking vengeance on certain Egyptians who had slain her brother in order to put her in his place. In the Turin Canon, Nitokerti--so her name is written there--was either the second or the third Pharaoh after Pepy II. Her historical existence can therefore not be doubted, but she can scarcely have been identical with the Queen Neith whose pyramid Jequier discovered at Saqqara, since that queen was the eldest daughter of Pepy I and can have become one of Pepy II's wives only at the beginning of the latter's long reign. Discussion of the remaining successors of Pepy II is reserved for the next section. All that need be said here about the close of Dynasty VI is that dynastic troubles clearly ensued immediately after the death of the aged king and that as in Dynasty XII a queen momentarily succeeded in taking advantage of the situation.

It is evident that, without a strong and highly organized administration, the vast architectural and artistic triumphs of the Old Kingdom could never have been achieved, but our materials for the reconstruction of a coherent picture are hopelessly inadequate. Valiant attempts have been made to infuse life and reality into the titularies of which the tombs are so lavish, but the highly precarious nature of the results has to be admitted. Here only the briefest sketch will be attempted, and it will be one which dwells rather upon the difficulties than upon the positive gains. A serious defect is that until Dynasty VI almost the sole source of our information is the Memphite area where the Court was situated, though from that time onwards Upper Egypt begins to make valuable contributions. Throughout the best part of Egyptian history the Delta is uniformly silent. One important effect is that we are embarrassed to know the exact import of that duality of form apparent in such titles as 'Overseer of the two granaries', 'Overseer of the two chambers of the king's adornment'. The usual explanation is that these are survivals from the period immediately following the union of the kingdoms of Upper and Lower Egypt, though recently the novel theory has been spread abroad that there never was such a union, and that the duality in question was a figment of the Egyptians' imagination based on the very different conformation of the two halves of the country. It is our conviction that the former explanation is broadly true, but even so there would remain the question whether there were not throughout the Old Kingdom independent granary-departments for the Delta and for the Valley, whether indeed we have not to assume a thoroughgoing separation of the governments of Upper and Lower Egypt. It would seem at least that there can have been no exact parallelism, no strict uniformity in the two halves of the country; Upper Egypt was essentially agricultural, the Delta pastoral. There is evidence that the cattle were regularly driven to the meadows of Lower Egypt to be pastured. As an example of the differing magistracies of the Two Lands one may perhaps quote the title imy-r sm'w 'Governor of Upper Egypt', to which in the Old Kingdom at least no corresponding title is found in the Delta, though in the Middle Kingdom there are frequent occurrences of a imy-r T-mhv 'Governor of Lower Egypt', and we have to confess our ignorance of the period when this office originated. Concerning the title 'Governor of Upper Egypt' there are great difficulties. It has been argued, probably rightly, that the post was created in Dynasty V both to ensure the collection of taxes throughout the southern nomes and also to counteract the growing power of the provincial nobles. Yet it seems certain that towards the end of Dynasty VI this title was often conferred on those very nobles as a purely honorific one or else was claimed by them as a hereditary right. There has been much discussion as to which individual cases can be regarded as referring to actual administrative functions and those where the designation was no more than an ornamental epithet, but the judgments passed in this matter seem often to have been very arbitrary. A similar problem has arisen with regard to an even more important dignitary, no less a personage than the vizier himself. The bearer of the title tty, appropriately translated as 'vizier', was at all periods of Egyptian history the most powerful officer of state, in fact second only to the Pharaoh himself. In Dynasty IV the vizier was regularly one of the royal princes, but later the office passed into the hands of some noble of outstanding ability, with whom it tended to become hereditary. Until half a century ago, it was firmly believed that the vizierate was confined to one person at a time, but this belief was finally disposed of when a relief was found at Karnak dated to the reign of Tuthmosis III (Dynasty XVIII) and depicting separate viziers for Upper and Lower Egypt. A generation later the funerary temple of Pepy II brought to light representations appearing to reveal the same state of affairs for the end of Dynasty VI. Further study has disclosed the existence of so many holders of the title that it is now assumed that besides the two viziers of the Valley and Delta there were others who were given or assumed the title in a purely honorary capacity. The evidence is confusing, and the last word on this subject has not yet been said.

How many of the functions ascribed to the vizier in an elaborate enumeration found in several tombs of Dynasty XVIII apply to the Old Kingdom is uncertain, but no mention is made of one title that occupies a prominent place in the titularies of all the early viziers, namely that of imy-r kt nbt nt nsw 'Superintendent of all the works of the King'. It is unlikely that many of the viziers were themselves skilled architects and sculptors like Imhotep, but at least it will have been their business to secure the most competent help available. That the vizier was the supreme judge was seen from the inscription of Wenis, and is reflected in his frequent epithet 'prophet of Ma'e', i.e. of the goddess of Truth. He prided himself on being accessible to all petitioners, who it was recognized cared more about being allowed to vent their grievances than about having them redressed. All royal commands seem to have passed through the vizier's hands to be dealt with by the scribes of his bureau. It was he who dispatched the messengers carrying orders to the heads of distant towns and villages. The corvee and taxation were duties of all, except when the king granted exemption to some local priesthood. As regards the various departments of State we are very ill informed, but references to the hwt-wrt 'Six Great Houses' indicate that there was strict departmental differentiation.

Needless to say, the Court required a great variety of functionaries. Within the snyt or courtiers 'surrounding' the Pharaoh the most favored persons were called smrwj or 'Friends', and besides those who attained this rank without qualification there were others honored with the epithet 'unique' or 'uniquely loved'. There is a doubt about the original meaning of the title iry-h nsw, later interpreted as "King's acquaintance', but the term seems to have been applied to relatives of the Pharaoh who were not actually children of his. Among officials whose duty it was to look after the king's own person there were sandal-bearers, keepers of the robes and crowns, barbers, and physicians, the last sometimes highly specialized like oculists, stomach doctors, and the like. A host of servants were employed in the kitchen and dining-room, and there was also domestics of a somewhat higher grade who kept order at the royal meals. What was left over from these was distributed by a special officer who bore the title hry-wdb 'he who is over the reversion'. And of course the sovereign had his own scribes to write his letters and commands, which were then sealed in his presence. The religious ceremonies of which the king was the center had their won personnel, the hry-hbt 'lector-priest' being the only one who can here be mentioned.

What has been said about the tendency of the higher administrative posts to become hereditary is true also of men occupying more subordinate positions. It became one of the most ardent wishes of these to be able 'to hand over their offices to their children'. At all levels of the bureaucratic scale the greatest importance was attached to promotion, and from whatever source this might actually come it was always attributed to the king's favor. There are two books of worldly wisdom giving advice to budding bureaucrats, and from these much may be learned concerning the qualities required for success in their careers. One is a mere fragment, but the Maxims of the vizier Ptahhotpe, who lived under Izezi of Dynasty V, became justly celebrated. Obedience to a father and a superior were the prime virtues, the ability to keep silence in all circumstances, tact and good manners in social intercourse, faithfulness in delivering messages and a humility in fact little short of subservience. If indeed the civil servants of the Old Kingdom actually possessed these qualities, it would go far towards explaining the success of one of the best organized civilizations that the world has ever seen.

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Last Updated: June 20th, 2011

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