City on Both Riverbanks - Visiting Amphipolis › Ancient Egyptian Government › Ancient Egyptian Law » Origins and History

Articles and Definitions › Contents

  • City on Both Riverbanks - Visiting Amphipolis › Origins
  • Ancient Egyptian Government › Origins
  • Ancient Egyptian Law › Origins

Ancient civilizations › Historical places, and their characters

City on Both Riverbanks - Visiting Amphipolis › Origins

Ancient Civilizations

Author: Spyros Kamilalis

This visit filled me with great pride. I was about to explore the history of my home region. The things that were happening ages ago to the place that my ancestors called home. My home city, on the banks of the Strymon river, is a very ancient settlement, dating back to the 1400's BCE, but it only became an important town, even reaching the level of provincial capital, during the Byzantine era, especially during and after the reign of the Macedonian dynasty. My home city is Serres, ancient Siris, and before the Byzantine period it was playing second fiddle to the other famous ancient city in the area: Amphipolis.

Lion of Amphipolis

Following the stream of the river Strymon to the south, just before it reaches the northern Aegean Sea, lies the town of Amphipolis. Now a small village, it was a thriving Metropolis during the Hellenistic and Roman periods, while becoming an important town for early Christianity, much like the city of Philippi, to the northeast. Being right on the Via Egnatia, like Philippi, it became a cultural and economic centre of the Mediterranean world. Its history starts much earlier than this, though, when as an ancient Athenian colony, it was the cause of much controversy during the Peloponnesian war that ravaged ancient Greece in the late 5th century BCE. Its history also crosses with the history of the rise of the Macedonian Kingdom and its subsequent spread of Hellenism in the eastern Mediterranean, with the campaigns of Alexander the Great.
Upon arriving close to the town, the first piece of history that awaits the visitor is one from the Byzantine era. The Byzantines built the north tower in 1367 CE which stands on the right-hand side of the road that leads upwards to the modern village, the museum and ancient ruins. The tower, along with its twin one on the other bank of the river, provided protection, among others, for the Athos peninsula and its monastic community. At this point, I wasn't sure that I was going the right way, so I hesitated to keep going uphill since I had already seen a sign that pointed to the bridge of Amphipolis. So, I headed back and went to see the bridge. I should mention here that I am Bridge Engineer, so this would be a unique experience for me.

Ancient bridge of Amphipolis


The ancient wooden bridge of Amphipolis was discovered in 1977 CE and is a unique find for Greek antiquity and a rare one for the wider ancient world. It was built to connect the city of Amphipolis with its port, crossing the river Strymon. The remains of the bridge include several petrified timber piles that supported the bridge's south abutment. Parts of the south abutment also survive, made of stone masonry and marble blocks that also form part of the north-west wall of the city. The bridge lies in front of Gate C of the city walls. The remains of the bridge cover an area of 13 m in width, and the diameter of the piles vary between 70 mm and 290 mm, most of which have a circular section while some have a square section. Their heights are between 1.5 m and 2.0 m. There are also several horizontal beams with the longest surviving one measuring 4.5 m which were used to support the bridge's timber deck. The lower ends of the piles were cut into shaped edges, which in some cases were placed in iron-pointed heads. Archaeologists discovered many such iron heads along with fragments of dowels, clamps and tools by the river bank.

Bridge, Amphipolis

The excavation is distinguished by two groups of piles:
1. Piles with large dimensions placed at deep levels.
2. Piles set higher with smaller diameters.
The lower piles give a better picture of the original pattern. Most of them are placed in small groups of three or four to strengthen the foundation of the bridge. They form 12 non-parallel rows, measuring 6 m in width. The total length of the bridge structure was around 275 m.

Fortifications of Amphipolis

With regards to the age of the bridge, the first historical reference of its existence dates back to 422 BCE. However, carbon dating techniques put the first construction of the bridge at around 600-550 BCE.
The first historical reference to the bridge is in the works of Thucydides, the Athenian historian and military commander who wrote about and fought in the Peloponnesian War. The bridge played a significant role in the battle of Amphipolis, in 422 BCE, between Spartan and Athenian forces for the control of Amphipolis and the nearby Pangaeon Mountain's gold and silvermines as well as the ship-making timber supply from the oak forests that surrounded (and still do) the Strymon river valley.
Amphipolis was initially captured and renamed (from its previous name Ennea Odoi meaning Nine Roads) by the Athenians, almost 40 years before the outbreak of the Peloponnesian war in 431 BCE, and introduced to the Delian League. During the few years preceding the war, the residents of Amphipolis were frustrated by their Athenian treatment and sought independence. Thus, when the Spartan general Brasidas arrived in the city in 424 BCE, he was greeted as a liberator, and the residents of Amphipolis, Siris and their nearby towns became allies with the Spartans.
The Athenians would not simply let their former allied city fall into enemy hands, so they tried to recapture it, an attempt that led to the Battle of Amphipolis in 422 BCE. The Spartans took advantage of the geography of the area with the help of the locals and used the bridge to narrow down the Athenian forces. These tactics are similar to the famous Battle of Thermopylae (480 BCE), or even more analogous to the Battle of Stirling Bridge (first war of Scottish independence, 1297 CE). The Spartans won the battle with the help of the residents of Amphipolis and other towns of the Strymon valley. Despite his win, Brasidas was wounded in the battle and died a few days later. The Amphipolitans buried him as a hero in the nearby necropolis. Archaeological excavations discovered his silver ossuary which is now on display in the Archaeological Museum of Amphipolis.

Wreath & Ossuary of Brasidas

The bridge appears later in history multiple times. It was crossed by Alexander the Great on the commencement of his historic campaign, in 334 BCE, after he possibly assembled his army and navy near the harbour of Amphipolis. There are accounts of systematic repair and maintenance works on the bridge during the Roman era, the Byzantine era and as late as the mid-Ottoman period in around 1620 CE, when the last historical trace of the bridge appears. The Byzantine extension of the bridge along with a dam built in the same period was destroyed in 1929-1932 CE when major works were done to shift the Strymon's riverbed.


Onwards to the Museum of Amphipolis, I was surprised to see that it is an imposing building, well organised to display the antiquities, and welcoming to the visitors. Chronologically ordered, the artefacts take you on a long trip through history describing the first settlements of the Strymon valley, the thriving Athenian colony, the Peloponnesian War, the Romans, the Early Christians and so on. One of the most impressive sets of exhibits was the children's toys. A very close look at the everyday life of ancient Amphipolitans, the raising of their children and the effort they made for their families. Of course, the silver ossuary of the Spartan general Brasidas is probably the highlight of the museum.

Poseidon Mosaic, Amphipolis


Greek Ceramic Toys


After leaving the museum, I headed further uphill to the remains of the actual city. The early Christian elements dominate the area as the remains of the basilicas, the Christian mosaics and Christian inscriptions are all over the place. But the visitor can also see the gymnasium and the remains of a mansion that may have been the one of the city's governors, the Christian bishop, or both, during the ages.

Remains of Amphipolis


Remains of Amphipolis


Remains of Amphipolis

Leaving Amphipolis, I headed towards where I knew that another ancient town is being excavated at the moment; the settlement of Argilos. Unfortunately, I did not take a perfect look at it because the archaeological works are ongoing, but I did manage to take a few photographs.


According to Ptolemy, the name of Argilos is of Thracian origin, even though the town was a colony of settlers from the Cycladic island of Andros. The legend says that the Andrian settlers saw a subterranean animal, possibly a mole, that was sacred to the Sun-god Apollo and, therefore, named the city after the clay ground (“argilos” means “clay” in Greek). This notion is supported by the coins found in the region which have a mole represented on them. The Andrian origin of the town is attested by the works of Thucydides, who also adds that the town was part of a larger colonial operation from Andros (655-654 BCE), including several other towns around the Gulf of Strymon, like Aristotle ’s hometown, Stagira. As a natural port, the town served as a trading centre of the northern Aegean.

Mosaic, Amphipolis

From Athenaeus' work, “Deipnosophist”, we learn about the local crops, being cereals, vineyards and several fruit trees. They were also very skilled animal breeders and supplied the area as well as the whole of the Aegean with meat. Herodotus also mentions the town while describing the march of Xerxes south of the Pangaion mountain, where he made a brief stop in Argilos. The town of Argilos was the major port city of the region before the rise of Amphipolis and its satellite port town of Eion. Strabo also mentions the town, so it was still active during Roman times, even if it had already declined, and this is the last time the town is mentioned in historical and geographical accounts.


Almost half way between Amphipolis and Argilos stands the most iconic monument of the ancient region of Serres and the Strymon Valley; the locally famous Lion of Amphipolis. It dates back to the days of Alexander the Great, and it's a monument to one of his generals, Laomedon of Mytilene. This Lion stands as a symbol for regional communities, being something like a coat-of-arms for the people. Even the city's football team use it as their symbol. It is a symbol of what it means to be a citizen of Serres.

Street, Amphipolis

I am acutely aware that anyone who may be reading this article, may expect to see a bit about the recently discovered tomb.Unfortunately, the site is so inaccessible, that there isn't an actual road to lead there. You'll need to go off road for a while to reach the place and still won't be allowed to see the findings. So even though I would love to mumble about the tomb, speculate about who it may have laid on its inside, it was not part of my visit, so I cannot digress too much.
This visit was the last ancient expedition that I undertook during that visit in Greece and I returned home full of images, motivation to read further, and a little bit of healthy national pride! I was also frustrated to see that there are so many beauties both natural and historical that the country should have been littered with tourist destinations (more than it already is). A foreign visitor cannot easily locate and access these places, so proper, and promotion is urgently required. None of the places I visited was more than an hour's drive from a pristine beach, a green forest or a mountain (in the case of Amphipolis the sea is ten minutes away) so tourism should have been thriving. It is a matter that I hope I can see resolved in the future, or, at least, considered.

Ancient Egyptian Government › Origins

Definition and Origins

Author: Joshua J. Mark

The government of ancient Egypt was a theocratic monarchy as the king ruled by a mandate from the gods, initially was seen as an intermediary between human beings and the divine, and was supposed to represent the gods' will through the laws passed and policies approved. A central government in Egypt is evident by c. 3150 BCE when King Narmer unified the country, but some form of government existed prior to this date. The Scorpion Kings of the Predynastic Period in Egypt (c. 6000-3150 BCE) obviously had a form of monarchial government, but exactly how it operated is not known.
Egyptologists of the 19th century CE divided the country's history into periods in order to clarify and manage their field of study.Periods in which there was a strong central government are called 'kingdoms' while those in which there was disunity or no central government are called 'intermediate periods.' In examining Egyptian history one needs to understand that these are modern designations; the ancient Egyptians did not recognize any demarcations between time periods by these terms. Scribes of the Middle Kingdom of Egypt (c. 2040-1782 BCE) might look back on the time of the First Intermediate Period (2181-2040 BCE) as a "time of woe" but the period had no official name.
The way in which the government worked changed slightly over the centuries, but the basic pattern was set in the First Dynasty of Egypt (c. 3150 - c. 2890 BCE). The king ruled over the country with a vizier as second-in-command, government officials, scribes, regional governors (known as nomarchs ), mayors of the town, and, following the Second Intermediate Period (c. 1782 - c.1570 BCE), a police force. From his palace at the capital, the king would make his pronouncements, decree laws, and commission building projects, and his word would then be implemented by the bureaucracy which became necessary to administer rule in the country. Egypt's form of government lasted, with little modification, from c. 3150 BCE to 30 BCE when the country was annexed by Rome.


The ruler was known as a 'king' up until the New Kingdom of Egypt (1570-1069 BCE) when the term ' pharaoh ' (meaning 'Great House,' a reference to the royal residence) came into use. The first king was Narmer (also known as Menes ) who established a central government after uniting the country, probably by military means. The economy of Egypt was based on agriculture and used a barter system. The lower-class peasants farmed the land, gave the wheat and other produce to the noble landowner (keeping a modest portion for themselves), and the land owner then turned the produce over to the government to be used in trade or in distribution to the wider community.
Under the reign of Narmer's successor, Hor-Aha (c. 3100-3050 BCE) an event was initiated known as Shemsu Hor (Following of Horus ) which would become standard practice for later kings. The king and his retinue would travel through the country and thus make the king's presence and power visible to his subjects. Egyptologist Toby Wilkinson comments:
The Shemsu Hor would have served several purposes at once. It allowed the monarch to be a visible presence in the life of his subjects, enabled his officials to keep a close eye on everything that was happening in the country at large, implementing policies, resolving disputes, and dispensing justice; defrayed the costs of maintaining the court and removed the burden of supporting it year-round in one location; and, last but by no means least, facilitated the systematic assessment and levying of taxes. A little later, in the Second Dynasty, the court explicitly recognized the actuarial potential of the Following of Horus. Thereafter, the event was combined with a formal census of the country's agricultural wealth. (44-45)
The Shemsu Hor (better known today as the Egyptian Cattle Count) became the means whereby the government assessed individual wealth and levied taxes. Each district ( nome ) was divided into provinces with a nomarch administering overall operation of the nome, and then lesser provincial officials, and then mayors of the towns. Rather than trust a nomarch to accurately report his wealth to the king, he and his court would travel to assess that wealth personally. The Shemsu Hor thus became an important annual (later bi-annual) event in the lives of the Egyptians and, much later, would provide Egyptologists with at least approximate reigns of the kings since the Shemsu Hor was always recorded by reign and year.
Tax collectors would follow the appraisal of the officials in the king's retinue and collect a certain amount of produce from each nome, province, and town, which went to the central government. The government, then, would use that produce in trade.Throughout the Early Dynastic Period this system worked so well that by the time of the Third Dynasty of Egypt (c. 2670-2613 BCE) building projects requiring substantial costs and an efficient labor force were initiated, the best-known and longest-lasting being The Step Pyramid of king Djoser. During the Old Kingdom of Egypt (c. 2613-2181 BCE) the government was wealthy enough to build even larger monuments such as the pyramids at Giza.
The most powerful person in the country after the king was the vizier. There were sometimes two viziers, one for Upper and one for Lower Egypt. The vizier was the voice of the king and his representative and was usually a relative or someone very close to the monarch. The vizier managed the bureaucracy of the government and delegated the responsibilities as per the orders of the king. During the Old Kingdom, the viziers would have been in charge of the building projects as well as managing other affairs.


Toward the end of the Old Kingdom, the viziers became less vigilant as their position became more comfortable. The enormous wealth of the government was going out to these massive building projects at Giza, at Abusir, Saqqara, and Abydos and the priests who administered the temple complexes at these sites, as well as the nomarchs and provincial governors, were becoming more and more wealthy. As their wealth grew, so did their power, and as their power grew, they were less and less inclined to care very much what the king thought or what his vizier may or may not have demanded of them. The rise in the power of the priests and nomarchs meant a decline in that of the central government which, combined with other factors, brought about the collapse of the Old Kingdom.


The kings still ruled from their capital of Memphis at the beginning of the First Intermediate Period, but they had very little actual power. The nomarchs administered their own regions, collected their own taxes, built their own temples and monuments in their honor, and commissioned their own tombs. The early kings of the First Intermediate Period (7th-10th dynasties) were so ineffectual that their names are hardly remembered and their dates are often confused. The nomarchs, on the other hand, grew steadily in power. Historian Margaret Bunson explains their traditional role prior to the First Intermediate Period:
The power of such local rulers was modified in times of strong pharaohs, but generally they served the central government, accepting the traditional role of being First Under The King. This rank denoted an official's right to administer a particular nome or province on behalf of the pharaoh. Such officials were in charge of the region's courts, treasury, land offices, conservation programs, militia, archives, and store-houses. They reported to the vizier and to the royal treasury on affairs within their jurisdiction. (103)
During the First Intermediate Period, however, the nomarchs used their growing resources to serve themselves and their communities. The kings of Memphis, perhaps in an attempt to regain some of their lost prestige, moved the capital to the cityof Herakleopolis but were no more successful there than at the old capital.
C. 2125 BCE an overlord known as Intef I rose to power at a provincial city called Thebes in Upper Egypt and inspired his community to rebel against the kings of Memphis. His actions would inspire those who succeeded him and finally result in the victory of Mentuhotep II over the kings of Herakleopolis c. 2040 BCE, initiating the Middle Kingdom.
Mentuhotep II reigned from Thebes. Although he had ousted the old kings and begun a new dynasty, he patterned his rule on that of the Old Kingdom. The Old Kingdom was looked back on as a great age in Egypt's history, and the pyramids and expansive complexes at Giza and elsewhere were potent reminders of the glory of the past. One of the old patterns he kept, which had been neglected during the latter part of the Old Kingdom, was duplication of agencies for Upper and Lower Egypt as Bunson explains:
In general, the administrative offices of the central government were exact duplicates of the traditional provincial agencies, with one significant difference. In most periods the offices were doubled, one for Upper Egypt and one for Lower Egypt. This duality was carried out in architecture as well, providing palaces with two entrances, two throne rooms, etc. The nation viewed itself as a whole, but there were certain traditions dating back to the legendary northern and southern ancestors, the semi-divine kings of the predynastic period, and to the concept of symmetry. (103)
The duplication of agencies not only honored the north and the south of Egypt equally but, more importantly for the king, kept a tighter control of both regions. Mentuhotep II's successor, Amenemhat I (c. 1991 - c.1962 BCE), moved the capital to the city of Iti-tawy near Lisht and continued the old policies, enriching the government quickly enough to begin his own building projects.His shifting of the capital from Thebes to Lisht may have been an attempt at further unifying Egypt by centering the government in the middle of the country instead of toward the south. In an effort which curbed the power of the nomarchs, Amenemhat I created the first standing army in Egypt directly under the king's control. Prior to this, armies were raised by conscription in the different districts and the nomarch then sent his men to the king. This gave the nomarchs a great degree of power as the men's loyalties lay with their community and regional ruler. A standing army, loyal first to the king, encouraged nationalism and a stronger unity.

Mentuhotep II

Amenemhat I's successor, Senusret I (c. 1971-c.1926 BCE) continued his policies and further enriched the country through trade. It is Senusret I who first builds a temple to Amun at the site of Karnak and initiates the construction of one of the greatest religious structures ever built. The funds the government needed for such massive projects came from trade, and in order to trade the officials taxed the people of Egypt. Wilkinson explains how this worked:
When it came to collecting taxes, in the form of a proportion of farm produce, we must assume a network of officials operated on behalf of the state throughout Egypt. There can be no doubt that their efforts were backed up by coercive measures. The inscriptions left by some of these government officials, mostly in the form of seal impressions, allow us to re-create the workings of the treasury, which was by far the most important department from the very beginning of Egyptian history. Agricultural produce collected as a government revenue was treated in one of two ways. A certain proportion went directly to state workshops for the manufacture of secondary products - for example, tallow and leather from cattle; pork from pigs; linen from flax; bread, beer, and basketry from grain. Some of these value-added products were then traded and exchanged at a profit, producing further government income; other were redistributed as payment to state employees, thereby funding the court and its projects. The remaining portion of agricultural produce (mostly grain) was put into storage in government granaries, probably located throughout Egypt in important regional centers. Some of the stored grain was used in its raw state to finance court activities, but a significant share was put aside as emergency stock, to be used in the event of a poor harvest to help prevent wide-spread famine. (45-46)
The nomarchs of the Middle Kingdom cooperated fully with the king in sending resources, and this was largely because their autonomy was now respected by the throne in a way it had not been previously. Art during the Middle Kingdom period shows a much greater variation than that of the Old Kingdom which suggests a greater value placed on regional tastes and distinct styles rather than only court approved and regulated expression. Further, letters from the time make clear that the nomarchswere accorded a respect by the 12th Dynasty kings, which they had not known during the Old Kingdom. Under the reign of Senusret III (c. 1878-1860 BCE) the power of the nomarchs was decreased and the nomes were reorganized. The title of nomarch disappears completely from the official records during Senusret III's reign suggesting that it was abolished. Provincial rulers no longer had the freedoms they had enjoyed earlier but still benefitted from their position; they were now just more firmly under the control of the central government.
The 12th Dynasty of Egypt's Middle Kingdom (c. 2040-1802 BCE) is considered the 'golden age' of Egyptian government, art, and culture, when some of the most significant literary and artistic works were created, the economy was robust, and a strong central government empowered trade and production. Mass production of artifacts such as statuary (shabti dolls, for example) and jewelry during the First Intermediate Period had led to the rise of mass consumerism which continued during this time of the Middle Kingdom but with greater skill producing works of higher quality. The 13th Dynasty (c. 1802-c. 1782 BCE) was weaker than the 12th. The comfort and high standard of living of the Middle Kingdom declined as regional governors again assumed more power, priests amassed more wealth, and the central government became increasingly ineffective. In the far north of Egypt, at Avaris, a Semitic people had settled around a trading center and, during the 13th Dynasty, these people grew in power until they were able to assert their own autonomy and then expand their control of the region. These were the Hyksos ('foreign kings') whose rise signals the end of the Middle Kingdom and the beginning of the Second Intermediate Period of Egypt.


The later Egyptian writers characterized the time of the Hyksos as chaotic and claimed they invaded and destroyed the country. Actually, the Hyksos admired Egyptian culture and adopted it as their own. Although they did conduct raids on Egyptian cities such as Memphis, carrying statuary and monuments back to Avaris, they dressed as Egyptians, worshiped Egyptian gods, and incorporated elements of Egyptian government in their own.
The Egyptian government at Itj-tawi near Lisht could no longer control the region and abandoned Lower Egypt to the Hyksos, moving the capital back to Thebes. As the Hyksos gained power in the north, the Kushites advanced in the south and took back lands Egypt had conquered under Senusret III. The Egyptians at Thebes tolerated this situation until c. 1580 BCE when the Egyptian king Seqenenra Taa (also known as Ta'O) felt he had been insulted and challenged by the Hyksos king Apepi and attacked. This initiative was picked up and furthered by his son Kamose (c. 1575 BCE) and finally by his brother Ahmose I (c. 1570-c. 1544 BCE), who defeated the Hyksos and drove them out of Egypt.
The victory of Ahmose I begins the period known as the New Kingdom of Egypt, the best-known and most well-documented era in Egyptian history. At this time, the Egyptian government was reorganized and reformed slightly so that now the hierarchy ran from the pharaoh at the top, to the vizier, the royal treasurer, the general of the military, overseers (supervisors of government locations like work sites) and scribes who kept the records and relayed correspondence.

Stela of Ptahmay

The New Kingdom also saw the institutionalization of the police force which was begun under Amenemhet I. His early police units were members of the Bedouin tribes who guarded the borders but had little to do with keeping domestic peace. The New Kingdom police were Medjay, Nubian warriors who had fought the Hyksos with Ahmose I and were rewarded with the new position. The police were organized by the vizier under the direction of the pharaoh. The vizier would then delegate authority to lower officials who managed the various patrols of State Police. Police guarded temples and mortuary complexes, secured the borders and monitored immigration, stood watch outside royal tombs and cemeteries, and oversaw the workers and slaves at the mines and rock quarries. Under the reign of Ramesses II (1279-1213 BCE) the Medjay were his personal bodyguards. For most of their tenure, though, they kept the peace along the borders and intervened in citizen's affairs at the direction of a higher official. In time, some of these positions came to be held by priests as Bunson explains:
The temple police units were normally composed of priests who were charged with maintaining the sanctity of the temple complexes. The regulations concerning sex, behavior, and attitude during and before all ritual ceremonies demanded a certain vigilance and the temples kept their own people available to ensure a harmonious spirit. (207)
The temple police would have been kept especially busy during religious festivals, many of which (such as that of Bastet or Hathor ) encouraged drinking to excess and letting go of one's inhibitions.
The New Kingdom also saw the reformation and expansion of the military. Egypt's experience with the Hyksos had shown them how easily a foreign power could dominate their country, and they were not interested in experiencing that a second time.Ahmose I had first conceived the idea of buffer zones around Egypt's borders to keep the country secure, but this idea was taken further by his son and successor Amenhotep I (c. 1541-1520 BCE).
The army Ahmose I led against the Hyksos was made up of Egyptian regulars, conscripts, and foreign mercenaries like the Medjay. Amenhotep I trained an Egyptian army of professionals and led them into Nubia to complete his father's campaigns and regain the lands lost during the 13th Dynasty. His successors continued the expansion of Egypt's borders but none more than Tuthmosis III (1458-1425 BCE), who established the Egyptian Empire conquering lands from Syria to Libya and down through Nubia.
By the time of Amenhotep III (1386-1353 BCE) Egypt was a vast empire with diplomatic and trade agreements with other great nations such as the Hittites, the Mitanni, the Assyrian Empire, and the Kingdom of Babylon. Amenhotep III ruled over so vast and secure a country that he was able to occupy himself primarily with building monuments. He built so many in fact that early Egyptologists credited him with an exceptionally long reign.

Amenhotep III

His son would largely undo all the great accomplishments of the New Kingdom through religious reform which undercut the authority of the pharaoh, destroyed the economy, and soured relationships with other nations. Akhenaten (1353-1336 BCE), perhaps in an attempt to neutralize the political power of the priests of Amun, banned all religious cults in the country except that of his personal god Aten. He closed the temples and moved the capital from Thebes to a new city he built in the Amarnaregion called Akhetaten where he sequestered himself with his wife Nefertiti and his family and neglected affairs of state.
The position of the pharaoh was legitimized by his adherence to the will of the gods. The temples throughout Egypt were not just places of worship but factories, dispensaries, workshops, counseling centers, houses of healing, educational and cultural centers. In closing them down, Akhenaten brought the forward momentum of the New Kingdom to a halt while he commissioned new temples and shrines built according to his monotheistic belief in the one god Aten. His successor, Tutankhamun (1336-1327 BCE) reversed his policies, returned the capital to Thebes, and reopened the temples but did not live long enough to complete the process. This was accomplished by the pharaoh Horemheb (1320-1295 BCE) who tried to erase any evidence that Akhenaten had ever existed. Horemheb brought Egypt back some social standing with other nations, improved the economy, and rebuilt the temples that had been destroyed, but the country never reached the heights it had known under Amenhotep III.
The government of the New Kingdom began at Thebes, but Ramesses II moved it north to a new city he built on the site of ancient Avaris, Per Ramesses. Thebes continued as an important religious center primarily because of the Great Temple of Amun at Karnak to which every pharaoh of the New Kingdom contributed. The reasons for Ramesses II's move are unclear but one of the results was that, with the capital of the government far away in Per Ramesses, the priests of Amun at Thebes were free to do as they pleased. These priests increased their power to the point where they rivaled the pharaoh and the New Kingdom ended when the high priests of Thebes ruled from that city while the last of the New Kingdom pharaohs struggled to maintain control from Per Ramesses.

Egyptian King-list


Egypt was again divided as it now entered the Third Intermediate Period (1069-525 BCE). The government at Thebes claimed supremacy while recognizing the legitimacy of the rulers at Per Ramesses and intermarrying with them. The division of the government weakened Egypt which began to degenerate into civil wars during the Late Period (c. 664-332 BCE). At this time, the would-be rulers of Egypt fought each other using Greek mercenaries who, in time, lost interest in the fight and started their own communities in the Nile River Valley.
In 671 and 666 BCE the Assyrians invaded and took control of the country, and in 525 BCE the Persians invaded. Under Persian rule Egypt became a satrapy with the capital at Memphis and, like the Assyrians before them, Persians were placed in all positions of power. When Alexander the Great conquered Persia, he took Egypt in 331 BCE, had himself crowned pharaoh at Memphis, and placed his Macedonians in power.
After Alexander 's death, his general Ptolemy (323-285 BCE) founded the Ptolemaic Dynasty in Egypt which lasted from 323-30 BCE. The Ptolemies, like the Hyksos before them, greatly admired Egyptian culture and incorporated it into their rule.Ptolemy I tried to blend the cultures of Greece and Egypt together to create a harmonious, multinational country - and he succeeded - but it did not last long beyond the reign of Ptolemy V (204-181 BCE). Under Ptolemy V's reign, the country was again in rebellion and the central government was weak. The last Ptolemaic pharaoh of Egypt was Cleopatra VII (69-30 BCE), and after her death the country was annexed by Rome.


The monarchial theocracy of Egypt lasted over 3,000 years, creating and maintaining one of the world's greatest ancient cultures. Many of the devices, artifacts, and practices of the modern day originated in Egypt's more stable periods of the Old, Middle, and New Kingdoms when there was a strong central government which provided the stability necessary for the creation of art and culture.

Egpytian Scribe's Palette

The Egyptians invented paper and colored ink, advanced the art of writing, were the first people to widely use cosmetics, invented the toothbrush, toothpaste, and breath mints, advanced medical knowledge and practices such as fixing broken bones and performing surgery, created water clocks and calendars (originating the 365-day calendar in use today), as well as perfecting the art of brewing beer, agricultural advances like the ox-drawn plough, and even the practice of wearing wigs.
The kings and later pharaohs of ancient Egypt began their reigns by offering themselves to the service of the goddess of truth, Ma'at, who personified universal harmony and balance and embodied the concept of ma'at which was so important to Egyptian culture. By maintaining harmony, the king of Egypt provided the people with a culture that encouraged creativity and innovation. Each king would begin his reign by 'presenting Ma'at' to the other gods of the Egyptian pantheon as a way of assuring them that he would follow her precepts and encourage his people to do likewise during his reign. The government of ancient Egypt, for the most part, kept to this divine bargain with their gods and the result was the grand civilization of ancient Egypt.

Ancient Egyptian Law › Origins

Definition and Origins

Author: Joshua J. Mark

Ancient Egyptian culture flourished through adherence to tradition and their legal system followed this same paradigm. Basic laws and legal proscriptions were in place in Egypt as early as the Predynastic Period (c. 6000- c. 3150 BCE) and would continue, and develop, until Egypt was annexed by Rome in 30 BCE. Egyptian law was based on the central cultural value of ma'at (harmony) which had been instituted at the beginning of time by the gods. In order to be at peace with oneself, one's community, and the gods, all one had to do was live a life of consideration, mindfulness, and balance in accordance with ma'at.
Humans are not always considerate or mindful, however, and history illustrates well how poorly they maintain balance; and so laws were created to encourage people on the desired path. Since the law was founded on so simple a divine principle, and since it seemed clear that adhering to that principle was beneficial to all, transgressors were often punished severely. Although there are certainly cases of leniency shown to criminal suspects, the operative legal opinion was that one was guilty until proven innocent since, otherwise, one would not have been accused in the first place.
The law in ancient Egypt functioned just as it does in any country today: there was a set of agreed-upon rules which had been formulated by men who were considered experts in the field, a judicial system which weighed evidence of infractions of those rules, and police officers who enforced those rules and brought transgressors to justice.
No Egyptian law code has as of yet been found which corresponds to Mesopotamian documents like the Code of Ur-Nammuor Hammurabi ’s Code but it is clear that one must have existed because precedent in deciding legal cases was set by the time of the Early Dynastic Period (c. 3150- c. 2613 BCE) as evidenced by their established use in the early years of the Old Kingdom (c. 2613-2181 BCE). These precedents were then used in judging cases during the Middle Kingdom (2040-1782 BCE) and onward through the rest of the country's history.


Even if the specifics of their law code are unknown, the principles it derived from are clear. Egyptologist Rosalie David comments on this:
Compared with other ancient civilizations, Egyptian law has yielded little evidence for its institutions. It was, however, clearly governed by religious principles: Law was believed to have been handed down to mankind by the gods on the First Occasion (the moment of creation), and the gods were held responsible for establishing and perpetuating the law. (93).
At the top of the judicial hierarchy was the king, the representative of the gods and their divine justice, and just beneath him was his vizier. The Egyptian vizier had many responsibilities and one of them was the practical administration of justice. The vizier heard court cases himself but also appointed lower magistrates and, sometimes, involved himself with local courts if circumstances required it.
The legal system formed regionally at first, in the individual districts (called nomes ) and was presided over by the governor ( nomarch ) and his steward. During the Old Kingdom, these regional courts were firmly consolidated under the king's vizier but, as David notes, the judicial system in some form had existed previously:
Inscriptions in tombs and on stelae and papyri, which provide the earliest extant legal transactions, can be dated to the Old Kingdom. They indicate that the legal system was well developed by this date and suggest that there must have been a long period of experimentation beforehand. Egyptian law ranks with Sumerian as the world's oldest surviving legal system and its complexity and state of development are on a level with ancient Greek and medieval law. (93).
The earliest form of the law at the regional level was probably quite simple but became more bureaucratic during the Old Kingdom. Aun así, en este momento, los jueces eran a menudo sacerdotes que conferían a su dios para llegar a un veredicto en lugar de sopesar la evidencia y escuchar testimonios.


Sólo durante el Reino Medio que los jueces profesionales se instalaron para presidir los tribunales y el sistema judicial operado en un paradigma más racional, reconocible. Este período también vio la creación de la primera fuerza de policía profesional, que hace cumplir la ley, tomó sospechosos en custodia, y testificó en la corte.

Administración de la ley

Los tribunales que administran la ley fueron los Seru (un grupo de ancianos de una comunidad rural), la kenbet (un tribunal en el nivel regional y nacional) y el djadjat (la corte imperial). Si un crimen se comprometieron en un pueblo y la Seru no pudo llegar a un veredicto el caso iría hasta el kenbet y luego, posiblemente, el djadjat pero esto parece una ocurrencia rara. Por lo general, todo lo que sucedió en un pueblo fue manejado por el Seru de esa ciudad. El kenbet se cree que ha sido el cuerpo que hace las leyes y infligido castigos a nivel regional (distrito) de nivel, así como a nivel nacional y la djadjat tomó la decisión final sobre si una ley es legal y vinculante, de acuerdo con ma' a.
En general, los antiguos egipcios parecen haber sido ciudadanos respetuosos de la ley en la mayor parte de la historia de la cultura, pero, aún así, no había argumentos relativos a los derechos de tierra y agua y disputas sobre la propiedad del ganado o de los derechos a un determinado trabajo hereditaria o título. Bunson observa cómo:
Egipcios esperaban en línea cada día para dar a los jueces de su testimonio o sus peticiones. Las decisiones relativas a estas cuestiones se basan en las prácticas jurídicas tradicionales, a pesar de que debe haber habido códigos disponibles para su estudio por escrito. (145).
Los jueces Bunson referencias fueron los miembros de la kenbet y cada capital de cada distrito tenía una en sesión diaria.
clip_image016 [1]

Estela de Ptahmay

The vizier was ultimately the supreme judge but most court cases were handled by lower magistrates. Many of the cases heard involved disputes over property following the death of the patriarch or matriarch of a family. There were no wills in ancient Egypt but a person could write out a transfer document making clear who should receive which portions of property or valuables. Then as now, however, these documents were often disputed by family members who took each other to court.
There were also instances of domestic abuse, divorce, and infidelity. Women could sue for divorce as easily as men and could also bring suits regarding land sales and business arrangements. Cases involving infidelity were filed by both sexes and the punishment for the guilty was severe.


La infidelidad se considera un delito grave sólo si los individuos involucrados convirtieron en uno. Un marido cuya esposa tuvo un romance podría perdonarla y dejar ir el asunto o podía procesar. Si optó por llevar a su esposa a la corte, y que fueron declarados culpables, el castigo podría ser el divorcio y la amputación de la nariz o la muerte en la hoguera. Un marido infiel que fue procesado por su esposa podría recibir hasta 1.000 golpes pero no enfrentar la pena de muerte. A medida que la familia nuclear se consideró la base para una comunidad estable, el adulterio era un delito grave, pero, de nuevo, sólo si los implicados lo trajo a la atención de las autoridades o, en algunos casos, si un vecino informó en contra de ellos.
EN tribunales egipcios, una persona que había sido acusado era culpable hasta que se demuestre inocente, tan testigos fueron golpeados a menudo para asegurarse de que estaban diciendo la verdad.
Este mismo modelo parece haber sido utilizada en otras áreas también. Era el deber de la familia para proporcionar tumbaofertas por sus seres queridos fallecidos y, si no tienen el tiempo, podrían contratar a alguien más para hacerlo. Estas sustituciones se conocen como ka-sacerdotes que, por un precio, proporcionarían las ofertas de comida y bebida a diario en una tumba. Mientras la familia mantuvo el pago, un ka-sacerdote tenía que mantener su posición e incluso entregar el testigo a su hijo. Si una familia dejó de pagar, el cura podría simplemente seguir adelante o podría demandar a la familia para la continuación de la posición y el pago retroactivo. Una familia también podría tomar un ka-cura a los tribunales por no cumplir con sus deberes jurados.
No hubo abogados en el antiguo Egipto. Un sospechoso fue interrogado por la policía y el juez en la corte y los testigos fueron llevados a declarar a favor o en contra del acusado. Desde la creencia predominante era que una persona que había sido acusado era culpable hasta que se demuestre lo contrario, los testigos fueron golpeados a menudo para asegurarse de que estaban diciendo la verdad. Una vez que uno había sido acusado de un delito, incluso si uno finalmente fueron declarados inocentes, el nombre de uno se mantuvo en el registro como haber sido sospechoso. Como tal, la vergüenza pública parece haber sido tan grande como un elemento de disuasión cualquier otro castigo. Incluso si uno estuviera completamente exonerado de toda las malas acciones, se podría todavía ser conocido en la comunidad de uno como ex sospechoso.
Fue debido a esto que el testimonio de las personas en relación con el carácter de uno -, así como uno de coartada - era tan importante y por qué los falsos testigos fueron tratados con tanta dureza. Uno podría acusar falsamente a un vecino de la infidelidad para cualquier número de razones personales y, aunque los acusados fueron declarados inocentes, todavía caería en desgracia.
Una carga falsa, por lo tanto, se consideró una fosa ofensa y no sólo porque deshonró a un ciudadano inocente, sino porque pone en duda la eficacia de la ley. Si una persona inocente podría ser castigado por un sistema que se cobró origen divino a continuación, ya sea el sistema que estaba mal o los dioses, y las autoridades no estaban interesados en que se debate sobre esos puntos. El testigo falso, por lo tanto, se trató con dureza: cualquier persona que intencionalmente y con conocimiento mintió al tribunal sobre un crimen podría esperar ningún tipo de castigo de la amputación a la muerte por ahogamiento. Debido a esta situación, en general parece se hizo todo lo posible para determinar la culpabilidad de un sospechoso e imponer el castigo adecuado.


En general, si el delito era grave - como la violación, el asesinato, el robo a gran escala, o robo de tumbas - la pena era la muerte o desfiguración. Hombres encontrado culpable de violación fueron castrados o tenía su pene amputado. Asesinos fueron golpeados y luego se alimentan a los cocodrilos, quemado hasta la muerte ni ejecutado en otras formas desagradables. Los ladrones suelen sufrieron la amputación de la nariz, las manos o los pies. David señala el castigo para aquellos que mataron a los miembros de su propia familia:
Los niños que mataron a sus padres se sometieron a una prueba en la que se cortaron trozos de su carne con las cañas antes de que se colocaron sobre un lecho de espinas y quemados vivos. Sin embargo, los padres que mataron a sus hijos no fueron puestos a muerte, pero en cambio se ven obligados a sostener el cuerpo del niño muerto por tres días y noches. (94).


El problema de los falsos testigos no era tan frecuente en los primeros siglos de la civilización, pero se hicieron más frecuentes con el descenso del Imperio Egipcio y una pérdida de confianza en los conceptos que habían regulado la sociedad y la cultura egipcia desde hace miles de años. Durante la última parte del reinado de Ramsés III (1186-1155 aC), la creencia en la primacía de ma'at comenzó a romperse cuando el faraón parecía menos preocupado por el bienestar de su pueblo que con su vida en la corte.
The tomb worker's strike at Deir el-Medina in 1159 BCE is the clearest evidence of the fracturing of a bureaucracy which had served the society for millennia. These workers were regularly paid in grain, beer, and other necessary items for which they relied on the government since they lived – at the government's discretion – in an isolated valley outside of Thebes. When the wages failed to arrive, the workers went on strike and the officials were unable to handle the situation.
The pharaoh had failed to uphold and maintain ma'at and this affected everyone from the top down in the hierarchy of Egyptian social structure. Tomb robbing became more prevalent – as did false witnesses – and even law enforcement became corrupt.The testimony of a police officer was considered completely reliable but police during the latter part of the New Kingdomcould accuse someone, have them sentenced, and then take whatever they wanted from the suspect's possessions.

Ipuwer Papyrus

A letter from the reign of Ramesses XI (1107-1077 BCE) discusses two policemen who are accused as false witnesses. The author of the letter, a general in the army, instructs the recipient to have the two officers brought to his house where they will be examined and, if found guilty, will be drowned in baskets in the River Nile. The general, however, is careful to remind the letter's recipient to drown the officers at night and to make sure they “do not let anybody in the land find out” (van de Mieroop, 257). This cautionary warning, and others like it, was made to try to cover up the corruption of the police and other officials. No amount of caution or cover-up could help, however, because the corruption was so widespread.
At this time, too, tomb robbers who were caught and convicted could buy their way out of jail and sentencing by bribing a police officer, bailiff, or court scribe with some part of the treasure they had stolen and then return to robbing tombs. Judges who were supposed to be handing down sentences might instead serve as fences for stolen goods. Viziers who were supposed to embody and uphold justice and balance were busy enriching themselves at the expense of others. As stated before, the pharaoh, who was supposed to be maintaining the foundation of his entire civilization, was more interested at this time in his own comfort and ego gratification than the responsibilities of his office.
Further, the final years of the New Kingdom and the succeeding era of the Third Intermediate Period (c. 1069-525 BCE) saw a return of the legal system to the Old Kingdom methodology of consulting a god regarding innocence or guilt. The Cult of Amun, regularly the most powerful in Egypt, had by this time almost eclipsed the authority of the throne. During the Third Intermediate Period, suspects would be brought before a statue of Amun and the god would render a verdict. This was accomplished by a priest either inside or behind the statue moving it one way or another to give an answer. This method of administering justice allowed for numerous abuses, obviously, since cases were now being heard by a priest hiding in a statue rather than an officially appointed judge in a court of law.
Although Egypt would see some bright moments in the return to law and order throughout the later periods, the legal system would never again function as efficiently as it had during the periods up through the New Kingdom. The Ptolemaic Dynasty(323-30 BCE) revived the practices and policies of New Kingdom administrative justice – as they did with many aspects of that period – but these initiatives did not last far beyond the first two rulers. The latter part of the Ptolemaic Dynasty is simply one long, slow, decline into chaos until the country was annexed by Rome in 30 BCE and became another province of their empire.


Article based on information obtained from these sources:
with permission from the Website Ancient History Encyclopedia
Content is available under License Creative Commons: Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported. CC-BY-NC-SA License

See other Related Content for Ancient History ››

Recommended Contents