Why did ancient egypt leave so little impact on the west?


Ad Honorem
Jul 2017
Crows nest
What we know about the Egyptians and their legal practices also involves knowledge of a particular branch of literature in the form of stories featuring great eloquence, typically in a court situations. They clearly appreciated oratory and a feller who could argue his case and turn a phrase effectively.
Which prompts me to post this extract from The Instruction of Amenemope translated by William Kelly Simpson.

Essentially it is an instruction on how to comport yourself as you go through life, and I'll quote chapter three, which while composed about 3,000 years ago, is applicable to us in the modern age, particularly in how we should behave in forums.

Do not get into a quarrel with the argumentative man
Nor incite him with words;
Proceed cautiously before an opponent ,
And give way to an adversary;
Sleep on it before speaking,
For the storm come forth like hay is
The hot-headed man in his appointed time.
May you be restrained before him;
Leave him to himself,
And God will know how to answer him.
If you spend your life with these things in your heart,
Your children shall observe them.

Outside of what it's about, it is interesting to note that in this tale, and many others, the word "gods" is rare as they usually refer simply to "God". Probably they are referring to God in the singular as a literary device in that it simplifies things, but there is still a possibility that at times they are in fact referring to one God, a God behind the others, though this is highly debatable.


Ad Honorem
Jul 2017
Crows nest
Don't know if I entirely buy that they were "no lower than blue-collar workers today", as they didn't have any role in making the law from what I've understood. But I see your point. I have no doubt ancient Egypt was very civilized.

This is a quite a piquant difference you raise, with the status of women - it is probably comparatively easier to have a female ruler in a society where men are not used to govern themselves. If the ruler achieves legitimacy largely through religion and through convention rather than consent, that might make it easier for the people to accept a female ruler. What difference will it make to them what sex their God is? On the other hand, if you have a society made up of largely self-sufficient farmer-soldiers then you are going to have a hard time convincing those people to elect a woman to public office, at least before the modern era. The classical citizen-ideal was in a sense quite restrictive no doubt, but I prefer a stratified society with a large, decentralized free class to a stratified society with a single ruler and a large bureaucracy - better to be unequal in freedom than to be equal under a tyranny (even if it is a "nice" tyranny), is my view. But you are absolutely right, both Greek/ Roman and ancient Egyptian societies are far from modern liberal interpretations of what is a just society, it's certainly not simply the case that Egypt was "totally totalitarian" and Greece/Rome was "totally free".

But everyone put all the agricultural produce in the temples, correct? So ergo all of the spoils of the land all belonged to the King, but people had formal right to the land - is that how it worked? If that is how it worked then I would make the case that whatever "right to the land" the people had was severely infringed.

When I say property I essentially mean land. The only meaningful kind of property (unless you live in a city state and happen to be a trader or craftsman) in a pre-modern context is land. It is the only thing that can guarantee you any kind of economic autonomy. This is why I am a bit skeptical when you speak of "property rights" etc. Rights are meaningless if you are totally reliant on somebody else to enforce them for you (yes, I do think this holds true in the modern world, largely), and you cannot dispose of your own produce the way you want. This is why I can't help but perhaps in turn romanticize the hoplite farmer a bit instead...

Hmmm. This sounds a bit like the situation with yeoman farmers in medieval (or even early modern) Europe. Makes sense. And the fact that land was inherited also implies some kind of property right, and not just that everyone was a slave to the state working on the ancient equivalent of the Soviet Kolzhoz, as I have sometimes heard it being portrayed. Perhaps I should read more on ancient Egypt. Do you have any good literature for the beginner?
Well there was certainly no democracy and what was law was determined by the king, or by, for the most part, the accretions of millennia of them working out what is right and what is wrong. We see this in the "negative confessions" which are for the most part a common sense list of how to behave, and some confessions must have a counterpart in their now vanished legal code, for instance murder, rape and theft.

The very few women who did become kings were all exceptional, I think they had to be, as those who while not becoming king, wielded influence, for instance the wife of Amunhotep III, Queen Tiye. Nefertari, wife to Ramesses II, was probably also an exceptional individual, and there are a number of other, Ahmose Nefertari and so on. However, they really did not want a female king and the system was designed to prevent this from happening, hiccups occurring at the end of the male line, or, in the case of Hatshepsut, an illegal usurpation of power, for the very young age of Thutmose III was no bar to him becoming king. In the temple, while there were no female lector, sem-priests or first prophets of whatever god etc, they did hold other positions, and not just at one temple such as the Vestal Virgins at Rome, but in all temples. They may have been subsidiary, but they were a visible presence. At the Hwt-bnbn at Karnak, Nefertiti was the chief officiant helped by her daughter Meritaten.

In any absolute monarchy, anything and anyone can be described as the property of the king, if not in a sense we would see as legal, then simply by having the power to do as they wished. But of course this has been the case until modern times, and the power is limited by the fear of palace coup or rebellion. For all intents and purposes, and what the situation was actually like, they did own their own land and property. The only times I can see where pharaoh seized land was after the inundation had subsided, all new islands that had formed were recorded and taken as the property of the king. Such islands however only lasted until the next inundation, so the king was taking that which was not of great use to anybody else. How can you claim historic and legal right to land that is here today and gone at the next inundation. Property rights, as Larrey has mentioned in a post in another closely related thread, were very jealously guarded down the generations over centuries, so while there was this possibility of pharaoh taking your stuff, this was slim and they viewed their property as theirs, and theirs alone.

Lack of a monetary system was a bar to commerce as we, or an ancient Greek or Roman would know it. The temples were to an extent just the local market to take things for barter, not a place for them to give all their stuff to pharaoh and walk away with a few beads for their troubles. That some of them became rich shows that commerce did work for anybody with the skill, and not just a milch cow for pharaoh.

As for literature, and in one book, then I recommend Ancient Egypt - Anatomy of a Civilization by Barry Kemp. This looks under the hood to see who they were and what they did and why, as best we can tell. For a multiple volume general history, and it cannot be put in just one book, then Ancient Egypt by John Romer. This is a three volume history, though volume three has not yet been published.


Ad Honorem
Jul 2015
I think it depends on how BIG a Fetish one has for mathematics. Yes the Egyptians were OK at it. They were good at the land surveying stuff, geometry. However – if one is Super Impressed by Maths as the be-all-end-all for evaluation general Smarts, then the Egyptians weren't quite up to the level of fancy the Mesopotamians were.
I am not sure whether that is correct or not. They did a lot. They needed to administrate a kingdom after all and calculate the work and material needed for building those stone tepees. Unfortunately their stuff was written on papyrus and not carved into their temples or clay tablets.
I'd suggest a large part of the idea that Mesopotamia was "more important" than Egypt is actually derived from the Super Special Status as general indicator of General Brainyness that is derived from an emphasis of maths. (It's serious nerd territory.)
Nonsense. Most of the math was entirely practical. How much material was needed, how much is the king owed in taxes, how can I avoid starving my army etc.
Move away from maths, and it's a different matter.
Probably, I am not well versed in other areas.

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