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15 June, 2009

Price of Power

Here's some more Pagan Values Blogging, specifically dealing with the concept of rulership/leadership. Here is a reconstructionist approach, for those who are less familiar with the process of reconstruction; I look at the texts and evidence of the ancients, what they thought was the right thing to do, in order to derive an understanding that can be applied to the now.

Obviously, in a system that was, effectively, a theocracy mediated through a half-divine king, the concepts of rule and leadership were tightly intertwined with religion. Many of the royal duties were to perform ceremonial functions bound up with the gods' obligation to maintain the balance and function of the universe; in fact, many of those duties could only be performed by the king or his special delegates in the temples.

In the oldest days of dynastic Egypt, much was done solely in the name of the king as the son of the sun, by fiat, divine right as it were. In the turmoil of the First Intermediate Period, though, "I am in charge because I am in charge" lost a lot of its lustre; the nomarchs (local rulers) started to write tomb biographies explaining why they were the rightful rulers. It was not enough that they ruled and thus had the blessings of the gods; they established that the proof of the blessings of the gods was in how they ruled. That they upheld order and ruled properly showed that the gods had chosen them; that they were successful as caretakers of the people was proof of their worthiness to rule.

(Keep in mind that tomb inscriptions are basically propaganda, so that the afterlife judges will think the best of the official buried there. However, it's worth seeing what the ancients thought worthy of putting forth as propaganda.)

So, for example...

Nomarch Ankhtifi:

Heru (presumably of Edfu) asked Akhtifi to reestablish the rulership of the nome of the House of Khuu, and the rightness of this divine order is proven through its accomplishment. And how is that deed accomplished?

- the previous administrator, characterised as "a rebel and a wretch", was deposed (and history is written by the victors)
- peace was made between the survivors of murder victims and those who had done them harm (if I'm reading that line right)
- the hungry were fed; the naked were clothed
- those without oil for protecting their skin from the sun were anointed
- the barefoot were given sandals
- the unwed "were given" wives
- not only were the people of this nome fed in time of famine, but travellers from other nomes could trade for food

So: a justice system is reestablished, the needy are taken care of, there is no starvation, families were founded. (One does wonder about the opinions of the wives thus given, though.) Basically, the justification for the claim that the god willed this rulership is that the ruler took care of the people of the nome.

Nomarch Henku:

- fed the hungry, obviously a popular concern, including provisions for cattle
- depopulated towns were reestablished, and their proper organisation reaffirmed
- property rights were protected
- and he says he was a pretty nice guy

A little more bourgeois, this list, but much in the same mode: people were able to live good lives under his rule, so clearly he did it right.

Nomarch Tefibi:

- people were safe on the roads from bandits, brigands, and other evildoers
- the king was defended from rebels (in this time period, there was a lot of dispute over who was a proper king anyway; many nomarchs had their personal preferences)
- the temples flourished and proper offerings were made to the gods

This fellow had a rather militaristic attitude, and most of his tomb inscription talks about his success as a warrior in support of the king, but the support of both the ordinary person who would rather not be robbed and the proper heirarchy is present.

We also get a mention of the temples, which were, in many ways, the centres of the Egyptian economy. Not only did they serve as local collection points for tax money and redistribution of wealth to the needy, the temples were sources of education, trained medical practitioners, and similar professional-class services, and supported communities of artisans. If Egypt was a place of great culture and luxury, the means for that was largely focused through the religious structure.

Nomarch Kheti:

- built monuments
- supplied water where there had not been water access
- made sure grain harvests were plentiful
- provided tariff rebates (presumably to people in economic distress)
- cattle, again, and apparently magic extra-special fertile cattle which can certainly be chalked up to tomb inscriptions being propaganda pieces
- military competence
- shipbuilding
- speaker of truth
- close to the king

So this one, in addition to the standard "keeping people fed" procedures, offered public works products, support for local industry, tax rebates, and the suggestion that he had an in with the royal family that could be played for local advantage. Thus, we have introduced political awareness into the qualifications for rulership.

So what can we say, conclusively, about the theology of power here? That a theologically correct ruler will demonstrate that correctness in action; that the most important (or at least most consistently mentioned) action is the feeding of the hungry; that justice and public safety are established and reliable; that the economy is stable. The good ruler, in this system, proves the worth of that rule by the well-being of his people: their health, safety, security, and wealth.

And there is the religious justification for power, the thing that the heirarchy is intended to produce in all of that talk about social order and the right way to do things.

Health, safety, security, and wealth. These are the fruits of power well-applied.

I will conclude by quoting Sheshi:

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.

(I think next I will write about Wisdom Literature. I'll note I'll probably not write about the Negative Confessions, because I expect that most Egyptian recon types will wind up wanting to write about the Negative Confessions and there's a whole big heap of other stuff out there for exploring the concepts of values.)

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