The ancient Egyptian police
The organization
   Appointment of officers
   Protecting civilians
   Guarding sites and property
   Policing the borders
   Dealing with suspects
      The arrest
   Carrying messages
Police and citizens
Policemen as citizens

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The police in ancient Egypt

Stela of Shemai     If in the earliest historical times there were people whose duty it was to ensure the safety of the citizens and their property, very little is known about them. A well-organized police force seems not to have existed. [1]

The chief of police Shemai
Aswan, 12th dynasty

    But there were doorkeepers who controlled the traffic at gates and doors, be it at the entrances of temples, at city gates or at the doors of manufactures, who, at least according to Kheti in his Satire of the Trades, had to be bribed by the weavers working inside, when they wanted to leave to get a breath of fresh air; and there were guards who supervised the goings-on in the market places, and where they apprehended thieves, occasionally at least with the help of trained monkeys. Ipuwer bemoaned
The storehouse is empty and its keeper is stretched on the ground.
This fictional guard appears to be somewhat of an exception, having been killed in the line of duty. His zeal to protect what was entrusted to him, was more remarkable than the sense of commitment of many real life security personnel known from historical sources, who gained immortality because of their corruption rather than their integrity.
    These early guards and watchmen may have been, at least in part, purely local answers to security concerns and may have been employed by private persons and local institutions such as temples or rich landowners, but there were apparently also larger scale organizations, as hinted at by the title of Supervisor of the Hundreds, jm.j-r'-SnT, i.e. chief of police, [3] known from the coffin of Qeri, [4], whose bearer would quite likely have had some SnT at least to supervise.
    The sA-pr appear to have been a private guard force of the great landowners originally. During the Middle Kingdom they became royal functionaries and were still active in the Late Period. [58] One of their duties was to help in the collection of taxes and to punish defaulters. In depictions they are often shown roughly handling peasants and applying their staffs.[59]
    During the Middle and New Kingdoms a nationwide police force grew out of the semi-military units securing the borders, which consisted to a large part of Nubian Medjay[60] who had been employed during the late Old Kingdom in accompanying expeditions into the South and policing the frontier region of the country. [5] This police force became identified with these mercenaries to such an extent that in the New Kingdom their ethnonym was synonymous with "police". [7]

The organization

    At the head of the police during the New Kingdom was the Chief of the Medjay (wr n mDAj, lit. Great(est) of the Medjay) who had one or more deputies, the jdn.w n mDAj. Regional and municipal forces were commanded by captains, Hr.j mDAj (lit. Highest of the Medjay). Most of these high officers were native Egyptians, as were by this time most of the constables. [45] Little is known about the structure of the ancient Egyptian police force otherwise, but whatever its actual organization, significant numbers of gendarmes could be assembled to guard strategic places in times of need or accompany expeditions: A mining party more than nine thousand men strong under Ramses IV was accompanied by a unit of fifty policemen [6], and when there was somewhat of a security situation in Upper Egypt during the late New Kingdom, the authorities ordered police from the region to assemble in order to protect the Theban necropolis:
...They plundered everything and burned its people, so they say. Now the high priest of Amen said to us, Bring the police of Per-nebyt together with those who are in the South and those of the Necropolis and let them stand there guarding the Necropolis...
A. G. McDowell, 1999, p.228
    The police were paid by the treasury, but apparently they had at times a supplementary income, tapping into local resources (as still happens today, occasionally). Community policing may often have equalled the provisioning and appeasing of a village tyrant, more popular with well-to-do scribes to whom he was likely to be deferential, than with the poor who had to bow to his every order:
Befriend the herald (i.e. policeman) of your quarter,
Do not make him angry with you.
Give him food from your house,
Do not slight his requests;
Say to him: "Welcome, welcome here."
No blame accrues to him who does it.
The Instruction of the scribe Any, New Kingdom [8]
    In the remoter regions of the country policing was done by Medjay or sometimes by the army, generally units of Nubian bow men. Quarrying and mining expeditions were accompanied by soldiers [9] and even the honey hunters in the desert received at times protection from archers.
    Police chiefs were often former army officers. Didu, after a life as a soldier, administrator and diplomat was appointed chief of police,[10] as much a reward for a loyal servant as it was insurance for the pharaoh to have a trustworthy man in this post. The priesthood too had an interest in placing their people in commanding positions. After the statue of Isis had marked out a police officer, he advanced at an astonishing speed in the police hierarchy.
    Foreign conquerors left the Egyptian civilian organizations mostly intact and used them for their own purposes. Under the Roman occupation the police became an arm of the military, being locally supervised by centurions. The office of the strategos examined the evidence gathered by the police and prepared the court case which would be presented to the viceroy or one of his deputies for judgment.


    Nubian Medjay and Blemmyes, Libyans and Asiatics–foreigners from the deserts and semi-deserts surrounding the Nile valley–seem to have been strongly represented in the Egyptian border police securing the country's frontiers and also in the gendarmerie. Egypt was a prosperous land, at least compared with most other ancient societies, and attracted strangers above all in times when hardship reigned in the neighbouring lands. The following dispatch from the southern border post of Semna was just one of many similar ones, written during the Middle Kingdom:
May your heart be informed, you being healthy and well, that 2 men of the Medjay, 3 women of the Medjay and 2 children have descended from the desert in the year of the reign 3, month 3 of the peret-season, day 27. They said: We have come to serve the Great House, l.p.h.
Middle Kingdom dispatch from Semna.[11]
    Whether these two ethnic Medjay wanted to volunteer to become Egyptian policemen is not known, but it is quite likely that that was their intention. Another source of foreign recruits were prisoners of war, men who had experience in the employment of weapons, were used to military discipline and were, as foreigners, less likely to be involved in Egyptian politics.

Appointment of officers

    The highest officers were appointed by the king or the vizier. It was therefore definitely advantageous to be known personally to the ruler. One was quite likely to gather various appointments and titles as did Qeri, who was a nomarch during the sixth dynasty:
The hatia (nomarch), lower Egyptian seal bearer, unique friend (of the pharaoh) and supervisor of police Qeri.
Coffin inscription.[4]
    Min-iniuy (see below) had looked after the king's horses before becoming chief of police at Thebes and Didu had been a professional soldier before being raised to the position of standard bearer of the royal guard and then to that of chief of police.


    The police force, like any other hierarchical organization, was prone to power struggles, with the various officers building alliances and jockeying for position. In a letter to the vizier Khai the head of the Medjay Min-iniuy, who had been a senior servant of Horemheb before being elevated to the post of head of police, reported that the royal palace was well ordered and the walls in the area in good shape:
I served as overseer of the desert police of western Thebes and I protected the walls of his palace. When I was appointed to chief of police, I was robed with a dress because of the dignity of its duties.
Behold! it was the overseer of police Nakht-Sobeki who harmed the Great House of Pharaoh, l.p.h., in which I was.//// my lord his seniors /////////// for (he ?) beat the Medjay as instruction (?)
Letter from The chief of police Min-iniuy to the vizier Khai.[12]
New Kingdom.
Min-iniuy also complained about irregularities in the conduct of Nakht-Sobeki who had superseded him. According to his letter Nakht-Sobeki had taken over land which did not belong to him and given it to another chief of police and the High priest of Montu.
    At times involvement in the politics of the organization did not satisfy them and high police officials used their power to further the interests of one of the parties which existed at court. And if they conspired against the king, they were playing for very high stakes indeed, as did in the words of the Judicial Turin Papyrus The great criminal, Binemwese, formerly captain of archers in Nubia, who had colluded with a great number of court officials under the leadership of Ramses III's wife Tiy in the murder of the king and the elevation of prince Pentaur to the throne. He was found guilty by a commission of inquiry and they brought his punishment upon him.


Royal cavalcade, Akhetaten     The basic tasks of the police have not changed much over the last four millennia.

The chief of police Mahu and his men greeting the royal cavalcade
Tomb of Mahu, Akhetaten

They have always included some attempts at least however feeble and ineffective at the prevention of crime and the apprehension of criminals.
    Mahu was chief of police at Akhetaten under Akhenaten. He decorated his tomb with scenes from his working life such as escorting robbers to court and looking for fugitives.[13] and in the tomb of Merya police units are depicted preceding the royal cavalcade, [14] some of the tasks policemen still fulfill today.

Protecting civilians

    Of the border police it is known that they patrolled the area they were responsible for. In towns and countryside the ordinary police probably walked the beat, making their presence felt and hopefully deterring criminals. But not always was their intervention in the interest of the victims of crime, though, as we generally have records of the arguments of one side of these affairs only, we should be cautious in drawing conclusions. The following occurrence happened to a householder, whose courtyard had been broken into. The thieves had made off with two white donkeys and after a complaint to the archephodos, the local chief of police, he pursued the thieves himself. Just as he was about to catch them, he, his helpers and the archephodos, who accompanied him, were arrested by the archephodos of Bacchias and kept in jail for three days, during which time the thieves could make good their escape. In addition he was also robbed and beaten by the police of Bacchias. [15]
    Even harder was the fate of the probably fictitious priest of Amen, Pediese, who was robbed of his property, almost beaten to death, lost some of his family members in a feud with the priesthood of Teudjoi, and received remarkably little protection from the authorities.
    The police seem to have shown more zeal when protecting royal functionaries–from the public. Tax men have never been the most popular kind of officials and few peasants parted with a considerable part of their produce with much joy. They may–at least in normal, well ordered times–not have threatened the tax men with violence, but quite a few probably tried to hide part of their harvest, so that they would not have to pay. Policemen therefore often accompanied the tax men and helped them collect the taxes, [16] which generally meant that they beat the truth out of the reluctant taxpayers, or at least what they thought was the truth.
    At times taxpayers, who felt they had been treated unfairly, lodged a complaint, as did the goldsmith Menches when he wrote to the epimeletes (overseer) Protarchos:
...After Ptolemaios, tax farmer of the goldsmiths' tax for the nome, found me in Krokodilopolis and made accusations against me (although I owed nothing to the king) and took with him as a helper Menelaos, a police officer, and they led me off and treated me violently and took away from me the silver lump that I had under contract and the necklace, for which things the weight is 108 drachmai, for which the documents will be attached, I appeared against them before Asklepiades, your agent, and they agreed and said they would return the things, but as of this hour they have not given them back...
ca. 194/193 BCE [17]

Guarding sites and property

depiction of doorbolt

Relief of a door bolt.
Serdab of Seshemnefer II at Giza
Excerpt: Naguib Kanawati, Tombs at Giza, Vol. II,, Aris and Phillips Ltd. 2002, pl.32

    People protected themselves and their property as well as they could. They surrounded their houses and courtyards with walls, put bolts on the inside of gates and of doors, preferred the windows to be small and high up close to the ceiling, where they were difficult to reach from the outside, and kept dogs:
A barking domestic dog is the one who causes his master to be safe.
P. Brooklyn 47.218.135 [18]
    What they did not have were locks, which would keep ordinary people out and at least delay professional intruders. So when there was nobody alive inside a property who could sound the alarm, one had to rely on guards, who in the great necropoles formed special police forces. The custom of burying the dead with grave goods, which in the case of royals could be of huge value, attracted the less superstitious and more enterprising among the citizenry, who broke into the tombs and plundered their contents the moment they were badly guarded. This occurred frequently in times of a weak central government, when the security situation of the whole country deteriorated.
    According to the The Abbott Papyrus Pewero was the mayor of western Thebes and chief of police of the Theban necropolis under Ramses IX during such a period. Paser, the mayor of eastern Thebes accused him of neglecting his duties. During the investigations that followed a number of tomb robbers were apprehended, but Pewero remained in office and the robberies continued.
    Even more difficult than keeping robbers out of tombs was the prevention of agricultural theft. The areas that had to be patrolled were extensive and discipline among the guards was sometimes lax. The chief of police at Ibion Eikosipentarouron, Appolonios, reported on the dereliction of duty on behalf of a number of guards and suggested that disciplinary steps should be taken:
...Diotimos son of N.N., and Petosiris the elder, son of Psenesis, and Petosiris the younger, and Petosiris son of Horos, of the guards from Tebtunis, having been selected by Ptolemaios, the archiphulakites (i.e. chief constable) of the division, and having taken in writing the oath by the king that they would devote themselves to the guarding of the crops of the aforesaid Ibion and of Xulitis for the 29th year, Petosiris the younger, son of Psenesis, did not present himself to guard. Since, therefore, we have forebodings that the rest may also perhaps abandon the guarding if no notice is taken, we thought it necessary to write, in order that, if you think fit, you may report him to N.N., one of the diadochoi and epimeletes, and he may answer for [his conduct?]...
P.Tebt.0731, Tebtunis 153/152 or 142/141 BCE [19]

Policing the borders

    Even when they were deployed far from the borders, the Medjay displayed many characteristics of a gendarmerie force: At Akhetaten they were housed on the outskirts near the military barracks, and they had horse stables near by, which meant that they used chariots for fast deployment.[20]
    As border police they were stationed in fortresses like Semna on the Nubian border, from where they undertook forays into the desert gathering intelligence which they relayed to their superiors at headquarters:
...We have found foot marks of 32 men and 3 donkeys...
Dispatch from Semna, Middle Kingdom [21]
The Medjay controlled travellers wanting to leave or enter Egypt, interrogated them and if they did not meet the necessary criteria, they were refused passage and captured if they were runaway slaves trying to flee the country or turned back to their desert if they were foreigners, even when they were attempting to escape a famine where they had come from:
Asked concerning the desert they said: We do not hear anything, but the desert is dying of hunger. So say they all. This servant (i.e. the writer of the dispatch) ordered them to be sent back to their desert the same day
Dispatch from Semna, Middle Kingdom [22]
    The border police also reported on mail being sent abroad. Thus there is a record dating to day 15 of the first month of the third season of the year 3 of the reign of Seti I:
The Guardsman Baal-roy, son of Zippor, of Gaza, went up, who had two different despatches for Syria: the Commander of the Garrison Khay, one despatch; the Prince of Tyre Baal-termeg, one despatch.

Dealing with suspects

The arrest

Prisoner Yoked prisoner accompanied by two armed guards
Tomb of the Old Kingdom vizier Henqu II, Deir el-Gebrawi [23]

    Not much is known about how they took a suspect into custody. At times they seem to have put a wooden shackle around his neck, as in the Old Kingdom depiction on the right [24] tied up his hands in a number of ways, as they did to prisoners of war during the New Kingdom, who are shown with elbows tied together behind their backs, arms raised above the head and bound together,[25] or wrists manacled with handcuffs in the form of lions or other animals. Handcuffed Asiatic prisoner of war

Handcuffed Asiatic prisoner of war.[26]

In a possibly fictitious petition, a priest, Pediese, who lived under the Persian dynasty, described how he was arrested:
They seized me, my son and four brothers of mine. They put us into instruments of torture. They incarcerated us in a courtyard of a temple. Pakap dismissed Djedbastetiufankh, son of Irethoreru, as mr Sn. He had him bound with handcuffs. He ordered him to be thrown into the place where we were.
    After the arrest the suspects were kept in prison, but at least in Graeco-Roman times there was the possibility of being released on bail:
Copy of a bond.
Theon, son of Ammonius, a Persian of the Epigone, to Demetrius, governor of the prison of Zeus. I swear by Tiberius Caesar Novus Augustus Imperator, that I have thirty days in which to restore to you the man whom I bailed out of the public prison in Phaophi of the present year, Sarapion, son of Sarapion, arrested through Billus, assistant to the dioecetes, on account of a note of hand for a gold bracelet weighing two minae to Magianus on behalf of Aline, citizen, daughter of Dionysius. If I do not produce him within the said number of days, I will pay the said two minae of gold without delay, and I have no power to obtain a further period of time nor to transfer myself to another prison If I swear truly, may it be well with me, but if falsely, the reverse.
9th year of Tiberius Caesar Augustus, Pachon 22.
P.Penn. Museum inv.E02798, 23 CE[27]


    It appears that the interrogation itself was the responsibility of the higher officers. The commander at Mirgissa reported that a contingent of seventy Medjay policemen, whom he had sent out to patrol the desert, had brought back a small group of Nubians whom he interviewed himself. [28] It was also the higher ranking officers who participated in the investigative commissions which in important affairs were led by the vizier himself. In a letter found at Illahun one Pepu writes to a certain Sobek-hetepu, lady of the house, discussing the questioning of a thief:
...Has the interrogation of a thief by anybody but the chief of police (ever) been ordered? But the chief of police cannot interrogate the thief, if he was not caught by him.
Middle Kingdom [29]
    Interrogation methods used by the police were of the rough and ready kind. According to the Mayer papyri suspects of tomb robberies
were tortured at the examination on their feet and their hands, to make them tell the way they had done exactly.
The Mayer papyri
Late Ramesside Period


    Complaints did not necessarily lead to an arrest and a court case, even if they were justified. The local police might try and mediate between the parties, as happened–unsuccessfully–in the case of the priest Aurelius Pakysis and the thieves of his grain, who did not deny having stolen the corn when interrogated by the police and were bound by the archephodos to return seven artabs of wheat to the rightful owner. When they did not fulfill their commitment, Aurelius Pakysis complained before the strategos of the Themistos and Polemo districts of the nome of Arsinoe. [53]


    Little is known about ancient Egyptian prisons. [30] The smaller ones were possibly just a pit in the ground or a room in the police station, the larger ones may have been fortress-like or may have resembled work-houses. The Egyptian terms jtH [31] and xnr.t [32] appear in the context of both fortress and gaol, the Semitic loan word Sar [33] refers to the gatehouse of temples, while DdH.w came from DdH[34] to lock up. Village prisons were probably run by the local chief of police. The greater town prisons were administered by a supervisor and scribes keeping the prison records. [35] The personnel were apparently thought of as police: the security officer, who had fraternized with imprisoned harem women involved in the conspiracy against Ramses III and had caroused with them together with other officials, was referred to in the records of his conviction as the great criminal, Oneney, formerly captain of police. Among the accused Oneney was the most likely to have been a gaoler.
    Egyptian gaols did not, generally, hold prisoners for any length of time, but were rather used to detain people being interrogated, standing trial or awaiting the execution of their sentence. Imprisonment was rarely among the punishments imposed by the courts, who preferred to express society's displeasure at the disturbance of Maat by impaling, cutting noses and ears, beatings and the like of criminals, though banishment to a border fortress must have been very much like a prison sentence.
    But there are records of prolonged detainment, both literary and real. In the introduction to the Instruction of Ankhsheshonq the author of the teachings is being kept imprisoned at the pharaoh's pleasure, for not having informed the authorities about the regicidal plans of a friend; [36] while in real life people were apparently at times detained for personal, corrupt reasons, as happened to Thasis, daughter of Horos from Crocodilopolis (Arsinoe). She wrote to Aetos the strategos, the highest official in the region. accusing a certain Anches of having Aetos' assistant Alexandros put her in prison illegally. [37] Similarly a man was taken to the Big Jail of Crocodilopolis in the year 177 BCE or thereabouts and was kept there for three years, despite having been acquitted. [38]


Punishment scene in the tomb of Mereruka

Punishment scene
Mastaba of the vizier Mereruka, 6th dynasty

    The police were the executors of the sentences imposed by the courts which included such corporal punishments as giving on top of the stake, which meant a slow death being impaled, cutting of noses and ears, opening five wounds and various kinds of beating. The Great Edict of Horemheb lists a multitude of crimes and their punishments in an attempt to curb the corruption which was widespread in governmental agencies at the time.

Carrying messages

    An official postal service did not exist under the pharaohs. Policemen, being among the most mobile of Egyptians and as officials probably more trusted than just any ordinary traveller, were therefore often used as messengers for both official and private correspondence.
I have sent (a letter) with the policeman Hed-nakht of the administration of the necropolis in order to let you know.
New Kingdom [39]
    At times the impression is created that the only purpose of a policeman's journey was the conveyance of messages:
When the policeman Hed-nakht reaches you, you shall send him on his way immediately.
New Kingdom [40]
Note for Montumose     Policemen also appear to have run errands occasionally, as did the chief of police of Deir el Medina, Montumose. Buying a billy goat for one of the inhabitants of the village was probably rather a personal favour than part of his duties:
To the chief of police Montumose:
What is the point of my sending that
hin-measure of nHH-oil to the marketplace (lit. riverbank)? Look for a he-goat for my woman who is ill and take possession. I am not aware that <I> have been removed <from> the necropolis community.
Ostracon Wente, New Kingdom[41]

Police and citizens

    Djehuti-mesu was apparently worried because of a policeman and had to be reassured. Bu-teh-Imen and his friends at least thought that everything was just as it should be:
Concerning your mentioning of the affair of the Medjay policeman Kasi of the necropolis, no one has spoken (badly) about him. He fulfills his duty. Do not concern yourself with him!
pTurin 1971, Letter from Deir el Medina, New Kingdom [42].
    But at times policemen did more than just fulfill their duty. It took a popular uprising for the authorities to try and curb the high-handed exercise of power by its officials and policemen. The amnesty decree of the year 186 BCE (pKroll) contained the possibly oldest form of habeas corpus: imprisonment for private reasons, as had–according to her own testimony–happened to Thasis in the year 202 BCE and to many others before and after her, was forbidden and the accused had to be presented before a judge. These philantropa seem to have had but little effect. [43]
    Living with an at times overbearing police may not have been what the man in the street prayed for, but there was an awareness of the importance of an orderly, well-led constabulary:
When Pre is angry with a land he appoints its washerman as chief of police.
The Instruction of Ankhsheshonq [46]


    The gifts given to the local policemen, as recommended in the Instruction of Any, may just have been tokens of gratitude for services rendered, but many cases of policemen abusing their power are known. [61] Incidents like the one, when the chief of police at Deir el Medina, Montumose, did not pay up as had been agreed upon, were not rare among the Egyptian civilian population either; but whether an ordinary citizen could have delayed payment for years with the same ease as a constable, who may have imagined himself to be unassailable as a member of the very authority empowered to investigate and prosecute such behaviour, is doubtful:
Year 17, day [blank] of the first month of summer in the reign of Usermare-Miamun (Ramses III). On that day the workman Menna gave the pot of fresh fat to the chief of Medjay Mentmose, who said: "I will pay you for it with barley from this brother of mine who will be responsible. He is my guarantor. May Pre keep you in health!" So he said to me. Three times have I reported him in the court before the scribe of the tomb Amennakhte; he has up to today given me nothing. And see! I reported him to him on the fifth day of the second month of summer in the third year of King Heqmare-Setpenamun (Ramses IV), that is eleven years later. He took an oath by the Lord, saying: 'If I don't pay him for this pot before the last day of the third summer month of the third year, I shall receive a hundred blows with the stick, and shall be liable to pay double.' So he said before the three domestic captains, the external agents, and the whole gang (of workmen)
Deir el Medina, New Kingdom [47]
    From the Graeco-Roman period many examples have survived of citizens unwilling to accept illegal behaviour on behalf of their policemen. Whether this attitude was widespread in earlier times cannot be said, but at least the peasant in the tale The Eloquent Peasant was not afraid to call a spade a spade in the face of official indifference and corruption:
Behold, you are a policeman (SnT) who steals...
The Eloquent Peasant [56]
    As the central power decayed in the late New Kingdom, so did the ability of the state to provide for its servants and control them, and as a consequence corruption became widespread. Penanukis, priest of Khnum at Aswan, included the local administrators, among them the chief of police in his corrupt practices. [48] He disposed of black cattle-images of Mnevis, selling one of them to Medjay from the Senmut fortress, who apparently slaughtered and consumed it, committing thereby a terrible sacrilege. [49]
    Unlawful imprisonment was one of the tools corrupt policemen had at their disposal to put pressure on civilians. They may have done so to please somebody else or for personal gain. Violence was often used to subdue the prisoner. Such cases are known from complaints sent to high officials during the Ptolemaic period:
... I [paid] 1300 drachmai every month and regularly until Pachon for which I have the receipts. But on the 5th of Pauni, Ptolemaios found me in the silversmithy in Krokodilopolis, took me to the bank, and handed me over to Menelaos, the police officer in the city. Although I stated that I owed nothing, he (Ptolemaios) made him (Menelaos) whip me, and, after my person had been searched, they found that I had a lump of silver and a necklace, which Menelaos took away from me, altogether 108 drachmai in value; he led me off to prison until next morning and deprived me of the aforementioned articles. Therefore I ask that you summon Menelaos and Ptolemaios in order that I might obtain justice for myself through you and recover the objects of my complaint. Farewell.
P.Mich.inv. 6960, ca. 194 BCE [50]
    One of the schemes for extorting money rom the citizenry was to accept bail and then to refuse to release the prisoner:
...having given bail to Sokomenis, the warden, to release me in light of the circumstances. But Sokomenis, after receiving two bail payments from me, is not acting in good faith. I am asking that, if you agree, to the extent that you take the matter in hand and bring it to a head (?), you not overlook me, who has wasted away 8 months and been disdained by the...
P.Tebt.0777, Early 2nd century BCE [51]

Policemen as citizens

    Similar to the professional soldiers, the ordinary Medjay policemen with their heavy staffs of office and their right to use them were socially above craftsmen and farmers,[52] but appear to have been at the beck and call of the upper classes.
    The term Medjays could also simply refer to people of Nubian extraction. The Medjay Hed-nakht in the following letter was apparently a policeman employed as a messenger and not held in high regard by his superior, while the Medjay Kesi seems to have been a labourer of Medjay extraction:
Moreover: Do not express displeasure vis-à-vis the Medjay Kesi, but give him rations and make him weave the yarns. Also take care of the carriage-donkeys of the people in the field. Send the Medjay Hed-nakht and make him come to me quickly and do not allow him to dawdle. I have sent you (a message) concerning him before with the Sherden Hori.
pBM 10326, Letter from Deir el Medina, New Kingdom [54]
    Distinguishing between the two meanings of Medjay is not always easy. A letter on papyrus dating to the 19th dynasty speaks of a Medjay doing forced labour, the translation below refers to him as a policeman:
The Medjay Nakht-Seti is (doing) corvée duty when he is beaten with a stick because he is like an enemy of the sun god.
pTurin 1977, 19th dynasty [55]
    The contact of policemen with crime is, by the very nature of their profession, close. Generally they take on the role of preventer or avenger and at times, hopefully rarely, of perpetrator. In a strange incident two Medjay were the intended victims. It seems that they had incurred the wrath of an army general by spreading some sort of information which was most objectionable in his eyes, and he ordered his underlings in a number of letters to get rid of them:
The general of the army of Pharaoh, l.p.h. to the scribe of the king's necropolis Tjary.
As follows: I have heard of every affair concerning which you have sent (messages) to me. Concerning what you have reported about the matter of the two policemen, literally: they have spoken these words. Get together with Nedjem and also with Pa-shu-uben and they shall send and bring them (i.e. the two policemen) to this (i.e. my) house and they shall make an end to their talk once and for all. Should they (i.e. Nedjem and Pa-shu-uben) realize that it is the truth, then you shall put them (i.e. the policemen) into two baskets and throw them into the river at night and prevent anyone in the land to get knowledge of it...
pBerlin 10487, Deir el Medina, New Kingdom [57]

Douglas J. Brewer, Emily Teeter, Egypt and the Egyptians, Cambridge University Press 2007
Ann Rosalie David, Handbook to life in ancient Egypt, Oxford University Press US, 1999
I. E. S. Edwards (ed.), The Cambridge Ancient History, Vol. I, Cambridge University Press 2000
Adolf Erman & Hermann Grapow Wörterbuch der ägyptischen Sprache, Berlin, 1971
Robert Hari, New Kingdom Amarna Period, Brill, 1985
T. G. H. James, Pharaoh's People: Scenes from Life in Imperial Egypt, Tauris Parke Paperbacks 2007, ISBN 1845113357
Richard Jasnow, A Late Period Hieratic Wisdom Text, SAOC 52, University of Chicago 1992
Miriam Lichtheim, Ancient Egyptian Literature, Vol. 1 to 3, University of California Press, 1973-80
Peter der Manuelian (ed.), Studies in Honor of William Kelly Simpson, Museum of Fine Arts Boston, 1996
A. G. McDowell, Village Life in Ancient Egypt, Oxford University Press 1999
Pierre Montet, Everyday life in Egypt in the days of Ramesses the Great, University of Pennsylvania Press, 1981
Norval Morris and David J. Rothman, Oxford History of the Prison, Oxford University Press 1997
David B. O'Connor, Eric H. Cline, Amenhotep III: Perspectives on His Reign, University of Michigan Press 1998, ISBN 0472088335
Michael Rice, Who's Who in Ancient Egypt, Routledge, 2001
Serge Sauneron, David Lorton, Jean-Pierre Corteggiani, The priests of ancient Egypt Cornell University Press 2000
Ian Shaw, The Oxford History of Ancient Egypt, Oxford University Press, 2003
Emily Teeter, Egypt and the Egyptians, Cambridge University Press, 1999
Bruce G. Trigger, Understanding early civilizations: a comparative study, Cambridge University Press, 2003
Pascal Vernus, David Lorton, Affairs and scandals in Ancient Egypt, Cornell University Press 2003
J. H. Bondi et al., Aegyptiaca, Festschrift für Georg Ebers, Wilhelm Engelmann Leipzig 1897

[1] Shaw, 2003 p.92
[2] Manuelian 1996, Vol.1, p.94
[3] Wb (Erman's Wörterbuch see Bibliography) 4, 498.1
[4] CG 28009, according to Kanawati dating to the 6th dynasty. Thesaurus Linguae Aegyptiae website Altägyptisches Wörterbuch, Berlin-Brandenburgische Akademie der Wissenschaften => Grabinschriften => Achmim => Felsgräbernekropole von El-Hawawisch => einzelne Objekte => Särge im Kairo-Museum => Sarg des Qeri, CG 28009 => Opferformeln und Opferliste => Opferformeln => Seite 1
[5] Ian Shaw, The Oxford History of Ancient Egypt, Oxford University Press, 2003 p.106
[6] Montet 1981, p.136
[7] Brewer & Teeter 2007, p.88
[8] Lichtheim, Vol. 2, p.143
[9] An expedition under Ramses IV included 5000 soldiers and fifty policemen. 5000 men are excessive for the purpose of protecting such an expedition, and we may suppose that most of the soldiers were used as manual labourers. 50 police would appear to be adequate for guarding the peace in such a temporary desert community itself, but not sufficient for protecting it against an attack by a large bedouin tribe. This was probably the task of a small part of the military troops.
[10] O'Connor & Cline, 1998, p.199
[11] After the transliteration and German translation on the Thesaurus Linguae Aegyptiae website => Altägyptisches Wörterbuch, Berlin-Brandenburgische Akademie der Wissenschaften => Briefe => Briefe des Mittleren Reiches => Verwaltung/Alltag => Briefe aus Theben => pBM 10752 recto (Semna Dispatches) => Dispatch 5
[12] After the transliteration and German translation on the Thesaurus Linguae Aegyptiae website => Altägyptisches Wörterbuch, Berlin-Brandenburgische Akademie der Wissenschaften => Briefe => Briefe des Neuen Reiches und der Dritten Zwischenzeit => Verwaltung/Alltag => Briefe aus Theben => oToronto A 11 => [rt.12-30]: Brief des Min-iniuy an den Wesir Chay
[13] Rice 2001, p.104
[14] Hari 1985 p.23
[15] P.Mich.inv. 2921, reign of Claudius, http://wwwapp.cc.columbia.edu/ldpd/app/apis/item?mode=item&key=michigan.apis.1688, accessed June 2009
[16] David 1999, p.92)
[17] P.Mich.inv. 6952, ca. 194/193 BCE, http://wwwapp.cc.columbia.edu/ldpd/app/apis/item?mode=item&key=michigan.apis.3041, accessed June 2009
[18] Jasnow 1992, p. 34
[19] http://wwwapp.cc.columbia.edu/ldpd/app/apis/item?mode=item&key=berkeley.apis.956, accessed June 2009
[20] Teeter 1999, p. 57
[21] After a transliteration and German translation on the Thesaurus Linguae Aegyptiae website, I. Hafemann ed. => Altägyptisches Wörterbuch, Berlin-Brandenburgische Akademie der Wissenschaften => Briefe => Briefe des Mittleren Reiches => Verwaltung/Alltag => Briefe aus Theben => pBM 10752 recto (Semna Dispatches) => Dispatch 4
[22] After a transliteration and German translation on the Thesaurus Linguae Aegyptiae website, I. Hafemann ed. => Altägyptisches Wörterbuch, Berlin-Brandenburgische Akademie der Wissenschaften => Briefe => Briefe des Mittleren Reiches => Verwaltung/Alltag => Briefe aus Theben => pBM 10752 recto (Semna Dispatches) => Dispatch 5
[23] Excerpt. Naguib Kanawati, "Extreme physical punishment in Old Kingdom Scenes" in Newsletter No 93 of the Rundle Foundation dor Egyptian Archaeology, July 2005
[24] In the New Kingdom tale of The Taking of Joppa the Egyptians fettered the soldiers of Joppa with a qA, a wooden shackle around the neck, and the god Seth was manacled in a similar way in The Contendings of Horus and Seth.
[25] cf. Slavery
[26] Louis Keimer, "Notes de lecture", BIFAO 56, 1957, p.106
[27] http://wwwapp.cc.columbia.edu/ldpd/app/apis/item?mode=item&key=upenn.apis.50, accessed 17th May 2009
[28] Thesaurus Linguae Aegyptiae website: Altägyptisches Wörterbuch, Berlin-Brandenburgische Akademie der Wissenschaften => Briefe => Briefe des Mittleren Reiches => Verwaltung/Alltag => Briefe aus Theben => pBM 10752 recto (Semna Dispatches) => Dispatch 3)
[29] After a transliteration and German translation on the Thesaurus Linguae Aegyptiae website: Altägyptisches Wörterbuch, Berlin-Brandenburgische Akademie der Wissenschaften => Briefe => Briefe des Mittleren Reiches => Verwaltung/Alltag => Briefe aus Illahun => London => pUC 32200 => Brief des Pepu an die Hausherrin Sobekhotepu
[30] So little in fact that Morris and Rothman in their Oxford History of the Prison claim that One of the most useful accounts of prison in ancient Egypt is the passage in the Book of Genesis (39:20-40:5) describing the confinement of the Hebrew slave Joseph by the Egyptian royal official Potiphar, an account from a source the historicity of which is doubtful concerning people whose existence can not be proven living under a nameless pharaoh.
[31] Wb 1, 148.24-25
[32] Wb 3, 296.14-18
[33] Wb 4, 421.15
[34] Wb 5, 635.6-12
[35] Morris & Rothman 1998, p.9
[36] Lichtheim Vol, 3, 1980, p.159
[37] P.Duk.inv. 677, 202 BCE; http://wwwapp.cc.columbia.edu/ldpd/app/apis/item?mode=item&key=duke.apis.31194799, accessed June 2009.
[38] P.Tebt.UC 1583 Recto, http://wwwapp.cc.columbia.edu/ldpd/app/apis/item?mode=item&key=berkeley.apis, accessed June 2009
[39] After a transliteration and German translation on the Thesaurus Linguae Aegyptiae website: Altägyptisches Wörterbuch, Berlin-Brandenburgische Akademie der Wissenschaften => Briefe => Briefe des Neuen Reiches und der Dritten Zwischenzeit => Verwaltung/Alltag => Briefe aus Theben => Briefe des Deir el-Medina Corpus (Auswahl) => Briefwechsel des Djehuti-mesu => pBM EA 75020 (Bankes) => Brief an [Djeuti-mesu] über ein Missverständnis
[40] After a transliteration and German translation on the Thesaurus Linguae Aegyptiae website: Altägyptisches Wörterbuch, Berlin-Brandenburgische Akademie der Wissenschaften => Briefe => Briefe des Neuen Reiches und der Dritten Zwischenzeit => Verwaltung/Alltag => Briefe aus Theben => Briefe des Deir el-Medina Corpus (Auswahl) => Briefwechsel des Djehuti-mesu => pBM 10411 => Brief des Bu-teh-Imen an Tjary (Djehuti-mesu)
[41] Edward F. Wente, "A Goat for an Ailing Woman", in Manuelian 1996, Vol.2, p.860
[42] After a transliteration and German translation on the Thesaurus Linguae Aegyptiae website: Altägyptisches Wörterbuch, Berlin-Brandenburgische Akademie der Wissenschaften => Briefe => Briefe des Neuen Reiches und der Dritten Zwischenzeit => Verwaltung/Alltag => Briefe aus Theben => Briefe des Deir el-Medina Corpus (Auswahl) => Briefwechsel des Djehuti-mesu => pTurin 1971 => Brief an Djehuti-mesu von Bu-teh-Imen, Schedu-em-duat und Hemet-scheri
[43] http://tebtunis.berkeley.edu/lecture/revolt.html accessed June 2009
[44] But even if guards had been hired, thieves might take advantage of their temporary absence: ... when I inspected the plot of land which I have leased(?) in the neighbourhood of Psenarpsenesis I discovered that very much wheat was stolen from it while the watchmen of the field [were absent]. ..., (P.Mich.inv. 6807, http://wwwapp.cc.columbia.edu/ldpd/app/apis/item?mode=item&key=michigan.apis.2944 accessed June 2009)
[45] Edwards 2000, p.370
[46] Lichtheim, Vol.3 p.164
[47] James 2007, p.47
[48] Sauneron et al. 2000, p.16
[49] Vernus & Lorton 2003, p.99
[50] http://wwwapp.cc.columbia.edu/ldpd/app/apis/item?mode=item&key=michigan.apis.3049 , accessed 11th May 2009
[51] http://wwwapp.cc.columbia.edu/ldpd/app/apis/item?mode=item&key=berkeley.apis.999
[52] Trigger 2003, p.155
[53] Fritz Krebs, "Die Polizei im römischen Ägypten", in Bondi et al. 1897, p. 31
[54] After a transliteration and German translation on the Thesaurus Linguae Aegyptiae website: Altägyptisches Wörterbuch, Berlin-Brandenburgische Akademie der Wissenschaften => Briefe => Briefe des Neuen Reiches und der Dritten Zwischenzeit => Verwaltung/Alltag => Briefe aus Theben => Briefe des Deir el-Medina Corpus (Auswahl) => Briefwechsel des Djehuti-mesu => pBM 10326 => Brief von Djehuti-mesu an Bu-teh-Imen, die Schedu-em-duat und die Hemet-scherit
[55] After a transliteration and German translation on the Thesaurus Linguae Aegyptiae website I. Hafemann ed., => aaew =>Altägyptisches Wörterbuch, Berlin-Brandenburgische Akademie der Wissenschaften =>Briefe =>Briefe des Neuen Reiches =>Verwaltung/Alltag =>Briefe anderer Herkunft =>pTurin 1977
[56] After a transliteration and German translation on the Thesaurus Linguae Aegyptiae website => Altägyptisches Wörterbuch, Sächsische Akademie der Wissenschaften => 2. Reden und Dialoge => Der beredte Bauer => pBerlin P 3023 + pAmherst I (Bauer, B1) => Der beredte Bauer (Version B1)
[57] After a transliteration and German translation on the Thesaurus Linguae Aegyptiae website: Altägyptisches Wörterbuch, Berlin-Brandenburgische Akademie der Wissenschaften => Briefe => Briefe des Neuen Reiches und der Dritten Zwischenzeit => Verwaltung/Alltag => Briefe aus Theben => Briefe des Deir el-Medina Corpus (Auswahl) => Briefwechsel des Djehuti-mesu => pBerlin 10487 => Brief des Generals des Pharao an Tjary (Djehuti-mesu) über zwei Polizisten
[58] Jean Yoyotte, "Un corps de police de l'Égypte pharaonique" in Revue d'égyptologie 9, 1952, pp.139-151.
[59] Waltraud Guglielmi, Reden, Rufe und Lieder auf altägyptischen Darstellungen der Landwirtschaft, der Viehzucht, des Fisch- und Vogelfangs vom Mittleren Reich bis zur Spätzeit, thesis presented to the University of Tübingen, 1969/70, p.122
[60] MdC transliteration: mDA.y. As Nubian ethnonym: Wb 2, 186.3-8; as police: Wb 2, 186.9-13
[61] Much of such information stems from petitions by citizens and give, by their very nature, a one-sided picture. They may not be the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

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