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Ancient Man and His First Civilizations

 

Tomb inscription of Sheshi

6th dynasty

 

Egypt had been a well ordered country mainly at peace for hundreds of years by the time Sheshi died. The virtues required in such a mature society were those that would enhance social stability: serving one's superiors and being just and benevolent towards one's dependents. These precepts are repeated time and again in the various teachings.

 

I have come from my town;
I have descended from my nome;
I have done justice for its lord;
I have satisfied him with what he loves.
I spoke truly; I did right;
I spoke fairly; I repeated fairly;
I seized the right moment,
so as to stand well with people.
I judged between two so as to content them;
I rescued the weak from one stronger than he
as much as was in my power.
I gave bread to the hungry, clothes ...;
I brought the boatless to land.
I buried him who had no son;
I made a boat for him who lacked one.
I respected my father; I pleased my mother;
I raised their children.
So says he whose nickname is Sheshi.

Miriam Lichtheim, Ancient Egyptian Literature, Volume 1, p. 17.

   

 

 

It is doubtful that many people could have asserted to have followed these precepts during the turmoil that followed the sixth dynasty. The order people had got used to, broke down. Manetho's claim that seventy kings followed each other in the span of seventy days, may be exaggerated, but during decades there was virtually no central power. Local lords, often at odds with their neighbours, raised armies of conscripts. This militarisation is reflected by the funeral equipment in the rulers' tombs which began to include model warriors and funerary boats protected by shields.
   

The political instability was accompanied by famines. Whether these were the consequence or the cause of the breakdown of order cannot be decided.
   

The Leyden papyrus, the Admonitions of Ipuwer, supposed to describe the upheavals of the First Intermediate Period and from which the following excerpts are taken, is probably tendentious. Robbers may flourish during times of lawlessness. Poor people rarely do so. The rich on the other hand have been known throughout history to be quite able to defend themselves and their wealth.

The bowman is ready.
The wrongdoer is everywhere.
There is no man of yesterday.
A man goes out to plow with his shield.
A man smites his brother, his mother's son.
Men sit in the bushes until the benighted traveler comes, in order to plunder his load.
The robber is a possessor of riches.
Boxes of ebony are broken up.
Precious acacia-wood is left asunder.
He who possessed no property is now a man of wealth.
The poor man is full of joy.
Every town says: let us suppress the powerful among us.
He who had no yoke of oxen is now the possessor of a herd.
The possessors of robes are now in rags.
Gold and lapis lazuli, silver and turquoise are fastened on the necks of female slaves.
All female slaves are free with their tongues.
When their mistress speaks it is irksome to the servants.
The children of princes are dashed against the walls.