Thursday, December 6, 2007

Die! Die, Rebel! Die!

Today, while my game is compiling, I am going to discuss crime and punishment in Ancient Egypt as illustrated in the paper Harco, Willems."Crime, Cult and Capital Punishment (Mo'Alla Inscription 8)". Journal of Egyptian Archeology. EES. London. Volume 76. 1990. Willems discusses an inscription in the famous Mo'Alla tomb of Ankhtify (First Intermediate Period) whereby any violator of the tomb is threatened. Whether the vandal is threatened with ritual dismemberment or with a scapegoat-like sacrifice is the subject of the paper. Willems argues for human sacrifice. I don't really care about Ankhtify, so I'm going to cover the parts where it illustrates how you can get the hard spanking of the law.
The "natural order" of things was very important to the Ancient Egyptians. They were a very conservative people. To commit a crime such as, say, vandalism of a tomb, was a digression against this natural order from both a societal point of view and a religious one. A vandal would be labeled not only "criminal", but "rebel". (Sbi) You have to remember that there was no real difference between government and religion in Ancient Egypt (or most ancient societies). Religious mores were an integral part of Egyptian Society. So if you go and rob someone's tomb, or deface their inscriptions, you're committing a crime worthy of punishment and an offense against whichever local god currently has a powerful cult.
The problem with pointing to a particular punishment for vandalism is that the Egyptians didn't like to speak of horrible punishments, or non-military violence, or sex in polite company. Since most inscriptions are religious or in tombs, what we get are a lot of euphemisms along the lines of the phrase "skhi hpsh-f" "sever his foreleg" (foreleg clearly implies the leg of an ox via the determinative). (Willems, 29) The question is whether this means that the offender had a limb severed or had an ox's limb severed on their behalf. One could also argue that these threats are more along the lines of wishful thinking from the tomb owner and not the actual law. We know in the new kingdom the punishment was clearly mutilation, though whether it was always enforced is questionable.
A vandal would presumably have a limb cut off, have their head cut off, and be burnt, the ashes scattered. This is BAD in a society that believes that the spirit has to recognize the body in order for a person to have an afterlife. If you vandalize stuff, or rob tombs, you get no afterlife, and you get killed rather nastily in this one. This would probably take place in a temple. Willems likes to liken this to human sacrifice, but if you look at it in the context of religion = government, it is really more of an execution with a ritual component. The robber's family would be stripped of status and there would be implications for the culprit's children, too (execution or just loss of status?). The wife isn't really mentioned in the punishment lists.
But what was that ritual component, and more importantly, How can I curse people who have offended against my personal natural order?
How To Curse Your Enemies
The Egyptians were big on consigning peoples' memories to oblivion. If no one remembers you, there can be no afterlife. A sentence for a severe crime would be to change a person's name such that it was a "bad" version of the name. For example, if a person's name meant "Amun Protects Him," his name might be changed to "Amun Abhors Him", and he would be referred to as such in record. We don't know the names of many of the conspirators in the Harem conspiracy that probably resulted in the death of Rameses III. They're all referred to in the trial documents by their "evil" names.
A person's name could also be simply removed from any inscriptions in which a person was mentioned. Tombs III, and IV in Asyut also say that "his remembrance will not be with the living and that his name will not be with his children" (Willhems, 37). I don't really know how anyone could have enforced strikes me more as wishful thinking on the part of the tomb owner.
If you wanted to curse someone by voodoo, you could do that, too. A part of the execution for tomb vandals described by Wilhems was that the condemned's name be written on wax figurines, which were then burnt, or on clay pots which were smashed.
As far as proclaimed curses go, wishing that a person was bitten by snakes and eaten by crocodiles was a perennial favourite in the Old Kingdom. When I was on a dig at the Abu Bakr Cemetery in Giza in 2005, we uncovered a false-door stela (previously found by Abu Bakr) where such a curse was proclaimed on one of the sideposts. The poor determinative at the end had multiple snakes hanging off of his limbs, and a few crocodiles chowing down on his legs, In case you didn't get the threat outlined above and needed a visual. Wishing your enemy's wife and children to be raped by a donkey was a fairly common curse as well, though fairly unrealistic. I don't consider donkeys among the group of animals that go around rampantly raping people but maybe they were different back then.

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