Pilot Who Knows the Waters
The Lord Hani Mysteries #6
by N. L. Holmes
Publication Date: June 15th, 2022
Publisher: WayBack Press
Genre: Historical Mystery / Political Intrigue
Hani must secretly obtain a Hittite bridegroom for Queen Meryet-amen, but Ay and the faction behind Prince Tut-ankh-aten are opposed--to the point of violence. Does the death of an artisan have anything to do with Ay’s determination to see his grandson on the throne? Then, another death brings Egypt to the brink of war…
Hani’s diplomatic skills will be pushed to the limit in this final book in The Lord Hani Mysteries.
Society in Ancient Egypt
Ancient Egypt was a conservative society, changing little in its basic outlines over the course of its millennial history. But there were changes, and particularly in the New Kingdom, which saw Egypt become a real empire, ruling over many countries and cultures. This period (1550-1069 BCE) was one of technological shifts, like the introduction of the horse and chariot and the vertical warp-weighted loom. As we know from our own times, technological change can be destabilizing in unexpected ways. Then, there were the monumental, overnight changes in religion, art, and literature wrought by Akhenaten, the «Heretic Pharaoh» in the mid-fourteenth century. All of these things must have contributed to a climate in which people—especially the literate classes—felt confused, left behind, betrayed, their moral code undermined. A volatile moment in which to set a mystery series!
But the basic social fabric of Egypt was solid, and that’s undoubtedly what saved this age-old society. The composition of Egypt was highly stratified—you always knew where you stood. The god-king was at the top, light years above any of his subjects. Scholars estimate that just one of the solid gold coffins of Tutankhamen was worth 3000 years’ salary of an ordinary worker! Below that was an elite made up of the literate 1%, who served the king or lower rulers or rich individuals.
Refreshing, huh? In Egypt it wasn’t the armed man who had status but the man who could write. And generally, that did mean men, males. Here and there, we hear of literate women who held prominant rôles in society: doctors, priests, village mayors, even a vizier. And of course, reigning queens. Those cases remained an exception; yet for all that, women were valued and enjoyed equal legal rights, including divorcing, bringing lawsuits, and giving witness in court. The equivalent importance of man and woman was baked into the Egyptian worldview by their religion, and the marvelous power to bear children, to «make people», was venerated. Children were valued and indulged. The growing-up years were clearly divided into stages, so a young person knew what was expected of them at every stage.
Below the scribbling class were artisans, then workmen and farmers. Trade on everything but the local level was a royal monopoly, so merchants played less of a social rôle than in many countries. There was no coinage, but there was a kind of metal standard behind the usual transactions in kind, with prices understood to be worth certain amounts of bronze or silver, or even gold. Technically, all resources belonged personally to the king, who had a duty to take care of his subjects. Thus, workmen often had housing or food supplied or even objects for their tombs. People actually paid their taxes in labor, skilled or unskilled. Thus, fabulous manpower-devouring projects like the pyramids were not built by slaves (they didn’t really have slaves), but by citizens donating some months a year to the government.
Egyptians were a joyous people, who loved beauty, flowers, and good food and drink and valued the good life of this earth so much that they wanted to live the same thing for eternity. Every ten-day week had its two-day weekend, and there were so many festivals that only about a third of the days of the year were devoted to work! They were very free about sex and the body and devoted to their families, which tended to be large, although they employed birth control as needed. The beautiful Field of Reeds, where those who had lived morally in this life would be rewarded, could count on a life like that of earth only better, surrounded by their loved ones. The dead were still close to their descendants on earth, and several festivals involved visiting their tombs and sharing a banquet with them. All this is why an intact body was a part of the ideal and mummification was so important: the physical body would still be needed to enjoy the sensations of the afterlife. Fortunately, their healthcare, although primitive by modern standards, was by far the best of its time.
Although Egyptian religion may seem alien, with its animal-headed gods, it was really the straightforward worship of nature. The sun, Ra, was the chief deity through history, in the New Kingdom merged with the local god of Thebes, Amen, the Hidden One, a creator god. The moon, the stars, the earth, and the forces at work in nature were seen as gods and goddesses, often personified by animals that shared some aspect of the deity—power or kindliness or even ferocity. As a culture born and sustained by the Nile River with its annual floods, the Egyptians saw creation as an emergence of land from the chaotic waters. All of life was perceived as a struggle between order and chaos, between truth and falsehood, between good and evil, with the latter personified as Seth and the former concepts summed up as Ma’at. Every good Egyptian strove to live in harmony with ma’at, and one of the most popular literary genres was aphorisms for living a moral life. By the New Kingdom, the gods were seen not only as great forces in the sky, but dwelling within a person’s heart, giving comfort and counsel.
In short, in many ways, this society which had reached its recognizable form over five thousand years ago, was strangely modern. We might call it Third World today, but when one considers the works of engineering, art, craftfsmanship, and wisdom the Egyptians produced even with a basic level of technology, one might well ask if they weren’t onto something valid in their priorities.
N. L. Holmes
N.L. Holmes is the pen name of a professional archaeologist who received her doctorate from Bryn Mawr College. She has excavated in Greece and in Israel, and taught ancient history and humanities at the university level for many years. She has always had a passion for books, and in childhood, she and her cousin (also a writer today) used to write stories for fun.
Today, she and her husband live in France with their chickens and cats, where she weaves, plays the violin, gardens, and dances.
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