History : Jan-Feb 2019
uphold order through wise rule, just decisions, and humility before the gods. This belief united commoners and kings in the responsibility for maintaining balance and harmony in society, which may have led to fewer periods of civil un- rest in Egypt’s long history. Crimes in ancient Egypt tended to be divided into two categories: crimes against the state and crimes against individuals. Desertion, treason, and slandering the pharaoh fell into the first, while acts such as homicide, injury, robbery, and theft fell into the second. Much of what is known about ancient Egypt’s legal system comes from the New Kingdom period (ca 1539-1075 b.c.) and the archaeological site of Deir el Medina, across the Nile from Thebes. Located there was a vil- lage of artisans and workers, who labored in the Valley of the Kings and the Valley of the Queens, building tombs for pharaohs and their families. Digs at Deir el Medina have yielded more than 250 papyri and some ostraca (fragments of stone and potsherds) containing detailed accounts of legal matters at all levels of society. Divine Justice The texts reveal the different ways that people could seek justice. One of the most popular was the use of divine oracles. In and around Thebes A PALETTE BELONGING TO A ROYAL SCRIBE OF THE NEW KINGDOM QUINTLOX/ALBUM A land dispute document details the workings of New Kingdom courts, known as kenbets. Local kenbets passed serious cases to a higher kenbet. Heading up the system was the vizier, second only to the pharaoh. An early 20th-dynasty document, the Papyrus Salt 124, presents the charges against a corrupt Deir el Medina worker to the vizier, revealing the power wielded by the pharaoh’s deputy. The Judicial Papyrus details a trial of conspirators targeting Ramses III. Despite the harsh justice meted out, the plot is part of a series of succession crises heralding the decline of the New Kingdom. Circa 1190 b.c . 1156 b.c . Circa 1286 b.c . JULIAN LOVE/AWL-IMAGES THE FATE OF FOREIGN REBELS Native Egyptians were not the only ones subject to the king’s severe justice. The first pylon of the Mortuary Temple of Ramses III at Medinet Habu depicts the pharaoh seizing foreign enemies by the hair in preparation for their collective smiting.