ancient egypt: history and culture
Ancient Egypt: Egyptians and foreigners - The Egyptian view of the world, The nine bows, Knowledge of foreign cultures, Cultural influences, Migrants, Merchants, migrants, mercenaries and settlers, Refugees, Slaves, Conquerors
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Egyptians and foreigners

The Egyptian view of the world

    The Egyptian world view was insular. In one of their creation myths the earth rose out of the primordial waters of Nun. The first dry land was the spot where the temple of Heliopolis was built, the abode of the life-giving sun-god. Egypt was thus from the very beginning the centre of the world, surrounded by lands of chaos beyond the order of the gods. This divine realm was protected by deserts on the east and west, and the Mediterranean Sea to the north. But the obstacles would-be invaders faced were not insurmountable and for two millennia - the chaotic centuries of the intermediate periods excepted - pharaonic armies defended maat, the divine world order, until the final decline in the first millennium BCE.
One will build the Walls-of-the-Ruler, to bar Asiatics from entering Egypt; they shall beg water as supplicants, so as to let their cattle drink. Then Order will return to its seat, while Chaos is driven away.
The Prophecies of Neferti, Middle Kingdom [17]
    Some conquering pharaohs, such as Senusret III in the Middle and Thutmose I [11] in the New Kingdom, set up border stones to mark the extent of their possessions:
Southern boundary, made in the year 8, under the majesty of the King of Upper and Lower Egypt, Khekuer, who is given life forever and ever; in order to prevent that any Negro should cross it, by water or by land, with a ship, (or) any herds of the Negroes; except a Negro who shall come to do trading in Iken, or with a commission.
    As far as one can tell, the sense of identity of the ancient Egyptians, who called themselves rmT (remetch) - the People - was based on culture rather than ethnicity or race.[12] Foreigners, even slaves, living in Egypt who accepted Seti I Egyptian ways were seemingly rapidly integrated into society, foreigners who did not–as happened ever more frequently from the Third Intermediate Period on–remained champions of chaos, rebels [6] against the pharaoh, the defender of the divine order, and therefore enemies to be defeated. In the words of Kamose:[13]
I will close with him that I may slit open his belly; for my desire is to rescue Egypt and to drive out the Asiatics.

Seti I, Karnak [19]

    The aim of Egyptian foreign politics was not to destroy the foreigners but to subjugate and exploit them, as is so well expressed by the many reliefs showing pharaohs holding their enemies by their hair, domineering over them with their raised maces rather than crushing them, or, at least, to keep them at bay.
    During the Amarna Period the followers of Aten came to see the distinctiveness of alien peoples as the result of god's will rather than of their belonging to the realm of isfet.
The countries of Syria and Nubia, the land of Egypt,
Thou (i.e. the Aten) settest every man in his place,
Thou suppliest their necessities:
Everyone has his food, and his time of life is reckoned.
Their tongues are separate in speech,
And their natures as well;
Their skins are distinguished,
As thou distinguishest the foreign peoples.
The Great Hymn to the Aten, 14th century BCE[20]
    But even earlier foreigners were often seen in a positive light. In the Middle Kingdom Tale of Sinuhe the fleeing Egyptian Sinuhe is befriended by Asiatics, accepted into their society and allowed to rise to an eminent social position.

The nine bows

    In pre-dynastic times the nine bows seem to have been native enemies rather than foreigners. Kings, and later pharaohs, were described as master of the bows. The nine bows were identified with specific peoples only from the Middle Kingdom onwards.
    After the Second Intermediate Period the nine bows denoted exclusively foreign peoples: Naharin , Keftiu (?), Mentius (?), Retenu and others. Amenhotep III listed the following (their identification is somewhat speculative):
  1. The Hau-nebu on the north-eastern coast of the Mediterranean
  2. Shat, a people to the south of Egypt, near the third cataract
  3. The Ta Shema
  4. Sekhet-iam, western oasis dwellers
  5. Ta Mehu
  6. Pedjtiu-Shu who roamed the eastern desert
  7. The Libyan Tehennu
  8. Iuntiu-seti, a nomadic people, possibly Nubian
  9. Mentiu nu Setet who were Asiatics found in Canaan and along the coast up to Ugarit
    When the Libyan Meshwesh came into contact with the Egyptians they were added to the list, and later Assyrians and Babylonians were included, but by the Late Period the names of the nine bows had little to do with contemporaneous neighbouring peoples.

To the east: the Asiatics

    For a long time the Egyptians did not differentiate between the various peoples of the east, they were all Asiatics, aAm.w, or sand-dwellers, SAs.w [7], to them and, generally being seen as enemies, often given epithets like wretched or craven:
- Beduin, Source: Catalogue of the Egyptian Museum, Cairo Syrian, Source: Catalogue of the Egyptian Museum, Cairo

Asiatics: Right: Captured Bedouin - Left: Fettered Syrian
Multicoloured Faience; 20th dynasty, Medinet Habu [21]

Speak thus concerning the barbarian: As for the wretched Asiatic, unpleasant is the place where he is (with) trouble from water, difficulty from many trees, and the roads thereof awkward by reason of mountains.
He does not dwell in one place, being driven hither and yon through want, going about [the desert] on foot. He has been fighting since the time of Horus; he never conquers, yet he is not conquered, and he does not announce a day of fighting, like a thief whom a community has driven out.
But I lived, and while I existed the barbarians were as though in the walls of a fortress; [my troops] broke open [///]. I caused the Delta to smite them, I carried off their people, I took away their cattle, until the detestation of the Asiatics was against Egypt. Do not worry about him, for the Asiatic is a crocodile on his riverbank; he snatches a lonely serf, but he will never rob in the vicinity of a populous town.

To the south: the Nubians

Nubian, Source: Catalogue of the Egyptian Museum, Cairo
    Some Egyptian leaders and rulers used invective whenever mentioning foreign enemies. Others, like Weni whose army included Nubians and ravaged the Sand-dwellers' land described his relations with the foreigners matter-of-factly

Captured Nubian
Multicoloured Faience; 20th dynasty, Medinet Habu [21]

His majesty sent [me] to dig five canals in the South and to make 3 cargo-boats and 4 [tow]-boats of acacia wood of Wawat. Then the Negro chiefs of Irthet, Wawat, Yam and Mazoi drew timber therefor, and I did the whole in only one year.
    The ancient Egyptians were not the most militaristic of peoples. Still, their view of foreigners - at least as far as the pharaohs were concerned - was often influenced by admiration of their own military prowess and success and contempt for their enemies' lack of them:
Attack is valour, retreat is cowardice. A coward is he who is driven from his border. Since the Nubian listens to the word of mouth, to answer him is to him retreat. Attack him, he will turn his back. Retreat, he will start attacking. They are not people one respects. They are wretched, craven-hearted.
    Turi, viceroy under Thutmose I, confronted the southern neighbours frequently and consolidated the Egyptian rule there
Year 3, Pakhons 20th, his majesty passed this canal in force and power in his campaign to crush Ethiopia the vile.
Prince Turo
18th dynasty [23]

To the north: the Aegeans and the Hittites

    Egypt had trade relations with the peoples of the Aegean from quite early on, above all Senusret I expanded the commerce between Egypt and the Aegean isles.[15] Crete especially left its mark. Silver vessels from the time of Amenemhet II were, if not made in Crete itself, at least fashioned in the Cretan style. The Hyksos palace at Tel el Daba was decorated with Minoan paintings and a tomb picture from the middle of the 15. century shows the chief of the Keftiw (generally identified as Crete) bringing tribute and prostrating himself.[14]
    The Aegeans were depicted wearing a breech cloth and a codpiece held in place by a wide belt, or an embroidered kilt, sandals and leggings.[16]
    Relations with the Hittites were less peaceful. Conflict with Hatti began in the 14th century BCE when the Hittites extended their empire into the traditional Egyptian sphere of interest on the Syrian coast.
Hittite, Source: Catalogue of the Egyptian Museum, Cairo When his majesty reached the city (i.e. Kadesh), behold, the wretched, vanquished chief of Kheta had come, having gathered together all countries from the ends of the sea to the land of Kheta, which came entire: the Naharin likewise, and Arvad, Mesa, Keshkesh, Kelekesh, Luka, Kezweden, Carchemish, Ekereth, Kode, the entire land of Nuges, Mesheneth, and Kadesh.
Egyptian accounts of the battle of Kadesh, 13th century BCE
Multicoloured Faience; 20th dynasty, Medinet Habu [21]

    The Egyptians kept up the pretence of superiority over other peoples, even when facts did not warrant any such claim. After the battle of Kadesh an equilibrium was reached between the Hittite and Egyptian empires in Canaan, still Ramses II considered the Hittite peace offer almost a surrender:
The chief of Kheta sent, asking of me permanent peace. Never did he /// for them. Now [afterward] ////// under the great fame of the Lord of the Two Lands, King Ramses (II).

To the west: the Libyans


Multicoloured Faience; 20th dynasty, Medinet Habu [21]

    By historic times the lands to the west had undergone desertification and were of little interest to the Egyptians who continued to direct their efforts towards Nubia and the Levant. There were Libyan campaigns during the Old and Middle Kingdoms, but it was from the New Kingdom onwards that major conflicts with Libyan peoples erupted, and at first the Egyptians were still capable of driving them off:
The wretched, fallen chief of Libya, fled by favor of night alone, with no plume upon his head, his two feet [failed].
    The frequency of circumcision among Egyptians remains unclear. But the complete lack of it among the Libyans set them apart and drew the attention of the victors:
Then returned the captains of the archers ...... driving asses before them, laden with the uncircumcised phalli of the enemy of Libya together with the hands of every other country that was with them
The Great Karnak Inscription of Merneptah, 13th century BCE
J. H. Breasted, Ancient Records of Egypt, Part Three, § 587

Knowledge of foreign cultures

Foreign languages

    Foreign languages were as incomprehensible to the Egyptians as were foreign cultures. They lived in a society with very limited exposure to influences from abroad. Soldiers campaigning in Nubia, Libya or Canaan came into contact with populations whose language they could not understand, but the military rarely has an eye for linguistic nuances and a sword makes those who are threatened by it into fast learners of the ways of their conquerors.
    Merchants on the other hand needed to make themselves understood. They may have hired interpreters or learned the languages of their trading partners. Some of their knowledge found its way into the general culture, as many loan words appearing in Middle and New Kingdom Egyptian indicate. There are even some magical spells written down in their original languages in Egyptian transcription. (The names of the Minoan gods in the following charm are Razaya, Lazaya or the like and Ameya or Amiya, the Egyptian determinatives are set in small type):
Incantation of the sAmawnAillness:
illness sAtbread sAbwjAyDAAgo hwmakAAtwman rTAjj, the great god, amajA, god.
(This) sentence has to be said 4 times!
London Medical Papyrus
Source: Peter Haider, Minoan deities in an Egyptian Medical Text
Ægæum 22, 2001, p. 480
    But it must have happened often that the foreigners learned from their mighty neighbour [3]. Among the tribes living close to Egypt one may expect at least the elders, who negotiated deals with strangers, to have had some knowledge of Egyptian. During the New Kingdom young noblemen from the small kingdoms making up the Egyptian "empire" were taken as hostages to be educated in Egypt.[24] The foreign ruling classes in these neighbouring countries had therefore often extensive knowledge of the Egyptian language and culture.
    When the protagonist of the fictional Middle Kingdom Tale of Sinuhe reached Upper Retenu he was greeted by the ruler Ammunenshi:
"You will be happy with me; you will hear the language of Egypt."
He said this because he knew my character and had heard of my skill, Egyptians who were with him having borne witness for me.
The Tale of Sinuhe, Middle Kingdom
M. Lichtheim, Ancient Egyptian Literature, Vol.1, pp. 224f

    During the second millennium BCE diplomatic business with foreign powers was conducted in Akkadian, the lingua franca of the day, which was written in cuneiform. At Amarna a collection of letters was found sent by mid-eastern rulers to Amenhotep III and Akhenaten. They cast much light on the relationships between the states of the regions during the 14th century BCE.
    These letters had to be translated into Egyptian so that the king and his administrators would understand them; and answers had to be written in Akkadian. There were also representatives of foreign governments who carried such missives and had to be received at court and entertained. The identities of the translators and interpreters involved in these tasks are unknown. They may have been Egyptians who had acquired the necessary skills, or captured or hired Asiatics who had become naturalized.
    During the first millennium BCE foreign languages were forcefully introduced into Egypt by conquerors. Mercenaries and settlers often insisted on speaking their own languages. At first this probably did not affect the population as a whole to any significant extent. But during the 6th century BCE Aramaic became the lingua franca in the Levant, spoken in Egypt by Jews, Aramaeans and other mercenaries. From 300 BCE onwards Greek culture in its Hellenized form was well established, and the Greek tongue became the recognized second language of the country. It heavily influenced the native Egyptian, even though the majority of the population did not become bi-lingual, and brought about the disappearance of the demotic and hieroglyphic scripts and their replacement by Coptic, an alphabetic script based on the Greek alphabet.

The geography of foreign countries

    Knowledge of foreign countries was generally slight. Near-by regions like the Sinai and southern Canaan, northern Nubia or eastern Libya were considered tAS lands, countries inside the border (tAS), and the Egyptians, through numberless forays and later through campaigns of conquest and through occupation, came to know them quite well. Information, often tenuous, about countries farther off was gained from various sources: traders, emissaries, soldiers and royal ambassadors. Extant written sources concerning foreign lands are so vague as to be virtually useless, if one had to plan an excursion abroad. Intelligence gathered by soldiers or merchants seems to have remained personal, passed on in private correspondence.
    In an apparently ficticious letter a scribe asked his colleague Amenemope questions about Canaan, in this case rhetorical ones as the writer himself knew the answers but suspected that his correspondent did not:
Pray, teach me about the appearance of Qiyen, let me know Rehob, explain Beth shean and Tirqa-El. The stream of Jordan, how is it crossed? Let me know the way to pass Megiddo, which is above it.
Papyrus Anastasi I: XIX
Thirteenth century BCE.
Translation by A. Gardiner
Queen of Punt     Punt, a region with relatively frequent trade contacts to Egypt and reasonably realistically depicted in murals, is so badly defined geographically that historians are still at odds where it should be located. The name seems to have been applied to all the lands one can reach by sailing down the Red Sea: South west Arabia, Erithrea, Somalia etc.

Queen of Punt
Source: Art History Resources, Duke University

    The location of God's Land, quite often mentioned in the sources, is even less clear. Sometimes the texts point to a region north of Egypt, in the direction of Mesopotamia, at other times God's Land appears to be almost synonymous with Punt [1]. God's Land seems to have been a generic name for some kind of foreign regions, possibly those covered with woods.
    As time passed, the Egyptians came into contact with the Mitanni in western Mesopotamia, the Hittites whose capital was in Asia Minor (c.1300 BCE), or - half a millennium later - the Assyrians who first conquered Egypt and whom, a few years later, the Egyptians tried to support through an ultimately unsuccessful campaign against the Babylonians (c.620 BCE). They often concluded alliances with these eastern powers and exchanged ambassadors. But geographical ignorance - sometimes feigned - was the lot even of kings. The Babylonian Burnaburiash, who must have been aware that his messengers to Egypt were absent for months, complained to Akhenaten:
I vented my anger with my brother with the following words: Should my brother not know that I am ill? Why has he not supported my head? Why has he not worried and sent his messengers?
The envoy of my brother has spoken thus: The way is not short, so that your brother can find out and send you greetings. The passage is long to your brother. Who can inform him, so that he sends a greeting to you quickly?
He next spoke thus: Question your messenger if the passage is not long...
As I asked my messenger, and he said that the way was long, no longer make I my brother the object of my anger.
    The known world was thus continuously enlarged, but just as Medieval geographers tagged unknown territories: "here be monsters" or the like, distant countries, deep in the shadow of Chaos, remained fantastic realms in the eyes of the Egyptians, and anything seemed possible there.

Cultural influences

    The Egyptians may not have thought much of what the foreigners stood for, but their material culture was influenced to quite some degree by the arrival on their shores of ideas, artefacts and people. Just a few examples:
  • Some of the decorative palettes of the pre-dynastic have designs originating in Mesopotamia.
  • Their Middle Kingdom pottery echoes at times Minoan and Phoenician styles.
  • The Hyksos revolutionized Egyptian warfare by their introduction of the horse-drawn chariot.
  • In the 16th century BCE the shadoof was introduced, possibly from Mesopotamia.
  • During the New Kingdom, influenced by Asiatic designs the Egyptians begin to build stone clad fortresses, the so-called migdols.
  • Foreign deities entered the Egyptian pantheon. [2]
  • The Philistines were better metal-smiths than the Egyptians, and iron working in the first millennium BCE was centered on Naucratis, a city populated by Greeks.
  • Coined money (at first imported) began to be used in the second half of the first millennium BCE because of the insistence of Greek mercenaries on being paid in specie rather than in kind.
  • The techniques for working glass, above all glass-blowing invented in Syria in the first century BCE, were influenced by the art of Phoenician craftsmen.
    The cultural exchange worked in both directions. Egypt's influence on its neighbours - above all on the Nubians and Canaanites - was significant, but at times claims were made which had more to do with foreign reverence for the most ancient culture known than with facts.
It was Amasis too who established the law that every year each one of the Egyptians should declare to the ruler of his district, from what source he got his livelihood, and if any man did not do this or did not make declaration of an honest way of living, he should be punished with death. Now Solon the Athenian received from Egypt this law and had it enacted for the Athenians, and they have continued to observe it, since it is a law with which none can find fault.
Herodotus, Histories, Vol. II
  • The writing system of the Luwians, an Anatolian Bronze Age people, and to a larger extent that of Crete was influenced by Egyptian hieroglyphics [10], just as the later Semitic alphabets may have been based on the Egyptian script.
  • Egyptian physicians and magicians were much sought after; e.g. Ramses II sent a physician to attend to the Hittite king.
  • Close trading partners like Byblos were especially prone to copy Egyptian practices, like burials in stone sarcophagi - e.g. King Ahiram of Byblos, 13th century BCE
  • The Kushites became devout followers of Amen
  • Religious writings of the Amarna Period are thought to have influenced the Hebrew tradition
  • Egyptian papyrus replaced clay and wax tablets as writing material throughout Europe and the Middle East.
  • The Isis worship became one of the major religions in the Roman empire.

Merchants, migrants, mercenaries and settlers

    Among the foreigners who voluntarily entered Egypt, merchants seem to have enjoyed a special status, above all when they were emissaries from a foreign king. They and their goods were protected by international common law. Anybody who attacked them was to be punished and any stolen goods were to be restituted.
    Bedouins of the Sinai, Canaanites, among them probably the Hebrews, and Libyans of the Sahara lived in regions where drought was frequent. While Egypt was part of the same climatic area, the country did not depend on the north African weather for water, but rather on the monsoon rains falling in east Africa. When living conditions became difficult for nomads of the desert and semi-nomadic tribes of southern Canaan they could move to the shores of the Nile where they were allotted a region in which they could settle.
Another communication to my [lord], to [wit:]
[We] have finished letting the Bedouin tribes of Edom pass the Fortress (of) Merneptah Hotephirmaat - l.p.h.! - which is (in) Tjeku, to the pools of Per-Atum (of) Mer(ne)Ptah Hotephirmaat, which are in Tjeku, to keep them alive and to keep their cattle alive, through the great ka of Pharaoh, l.p.h. - the good sun of every land, in the year 8, 5 (intercalary) days, (the birth of) Seth ....
pAnastasi VI (British Museum 10245), ANET, page 259
Translation by A. Gardiner
    The Egyptians tried to police their borders, at some times with more, at others with less success, and often humanitarian considerations did not affect the officials' decisions. During the reign of Amenemhet III a commander of the border police at Elephantine wrote the following report:
May your heart be informed, you being healthy and well, that 2 Medjai men, 3 Medjai women and 2 children descended from the desert in the third year of the reign, the third month of the peret-season, day 27. They said: "We have come in order to serve the Palace (pr-aA - whence pharaoh), life-prosperity-health."
Asked as to the condition of (in) the desert they said: "We do not hear anything, but the desert is dying of hunger," thus they spoke.
This servant (i.e. the writer of the report) ordered them to be expelled into their desert the same day.
Semnah dispatches, pBM 10752 recto, Dispatch 5
After a transliteration and German translation on the Thesaurus Linguae Aegyptiae web site
The arguments which followed this decision are mostly unintelligible because of the condition of the papyrus.
    But foreigners did not only try to enter the country, sometimes they wanted to leave it. While the story of the exodus of the Hebrews is not mentioned in any contemporary inscription and remains a subject for speculation rather than historical research, a similar incident happened during the reign of Wahibre when foreign mercenaries tried to leave the country and were prevented from doing so. It casts a light on how the pharaohs regarded strangers living in Egypt: by settling in his realm they had become subjects of the crown.
For ye rescued me from an evil plight, from the mercenaries [Libyans], Greeks, Asiatics, and foreigners, who had it in their hearts to ///, and who had it in their hearts to go to Shas-heret. His majesty feared because of the evil they did. I re-established their heart in reason by advice, not permitting them to go to Nubia, (but) bringing them to the place where his majesty was; and his majesty executed their punishment.
Inscription of Nesuhor, reign of Apries, 6th century BCE
J. H. Breasted Ancient Records of Egypt, Part Four, § 994
    In the course of the centuries Nubians and Libyans who had settled in the country were culturally integrated into the Egyptian mainstream; but the colonists of the first millennium BCE, the Ionians, Carians, Jews, and Greeks did not abandon their own traditions and remained to some extent alien [5]. They perpetuated their status as foreigners by settling in close proximity to each other and forming often exclusive communities
Round about this (sacred) enclosure (at Memphis) dwell Phoenicians of Tyre, and this whole region is called the Camp of the Tyrians. Within the enclosure of Proteus there is a temple called the temple of the "foreign Aphrodite," which temple I conjecture to be one of Helen the daughter of Tyndareus, not only because I have heard the tale how Helen dwelt with Proteus, but also especially because it is called by the name of the "foreign Aphrodite," for the other temples of Aphrodite which there are have none of them the addition of the word "foreign" to the name.
Herodotus, Histories, Vol. II


    Significant numbers of Jews fled to Egypt after the Babylonians invaded their country. They settled in the Fayum, Upper Egypt and other places. Many of them served in the Egyptian army. A Jewish contingent was stationed at Aswan and records concerning their community were found.
    Another wave of Jewish refugees arrived in Egypt during the Ptolemaic Period when war broke out in Palestine between the Hellenist Seleucids who controlled the country and the nationalist Maccabees.
    While initially the Egyptian Greeks showed a large measure of tolerance towards the Jews, the relations between the two communities worsened and riots erupted, until under the Roman emperor Caligula Jews from Syria or the Egyptian countryside were forbidden to enter Alexandria.


    As a result of their incursions into Nubia and Canaan many foreigners fell into Egyptian hands. Some at least of these campaigns may well have been planned with this objective in mind. The prisoners were at times enslaved, forcibly settled in Egypt, or inducted into the army, as happened to the Medjay and later to some of the Sea Peoples after their failed invasion of Egypt. Most of the slaves in Egypt were foreigners, though after a generation or two they blended in with the general population.


    The Hyksos are often described as Asiatics completely alien to Egypt. But apparently, after living in the country for a century, they had accepted many local customs [9]. In the Sallier Papyrus, written 300 years after their expulsion, the Hyksos rulers are referred to as kings, and the traditional life, prosperity, health-wish, L.P.H., is not omitted.
Misery was in the town of the Asiatics, for Prince Apophis, L.P.H., was in Avaris, and the entire land paid tribute to him, delivering their taxes, (and) even the north bringing every (sort of) good produce of the Delta.
So King Apophis, L.P.H., adopted Seth for himself as lord, and he refused to serve any god that was in the entire land ex[cept] Seth. He built a temple of fine workmanship for the eternity next to the House of the [King Apo]phis, L.P.H., and he appeared [at break of] day in order to sacrifice ... daily to Seth, while the officials [of the palace], L.P.H., carried garlands, exactly as is practiced (in) the temple of Pre-Harakhte.
The Quarrel of Apophis and Sekenenre
Sallier Papyrus, c. 1274 BCE
    The less than complimentary wording Kamose used may well have been a case of the victors rewriting history.
His majesty spoke in his palace to the council of nobles who were in his retinue: 'Let me understand what this strength of mine is for! (One) prince is in Avaris, another is in Ethiopia, and (here) I sit associated with an Asiatic and a Negro! Each man has his slice of this Egypt, dividing up the land with me.
No man can settle down, when despoiled by the taxes of the Asiatics. I will grapple with him, that I may rip open his belly! My wish is to save Egypt and to smite the Asiatic!
The Kamose inscription, 16th century BCE
    Like many generals in earlier times, Kamose too employed Medjay, Nubians who had been integrated into Egyptian society but were seemingly still a distinctive entity, to fight the Asiatics:
The troops of the Madjoi were on the upper part of our cabins, to seek out the Asiatics and to push back their positions.
The Kamose inscription, 16th century BCE
    Following Assurbanipal's sack of Thebes, Mentuemhet, son of Nesuptah who had been the prophet of Amen and prince of Thebes, restored his capital:
I purified all the temples in the nomes of all Patoris, according as one should purify [violated] temples, /// after there had been [an invasion of unclean foreigners in] the Southland
Inscription of Mentemhet, reign of Taharka, 7th century BCE
J.H. Breasted Ancient Records of Egypt, Part Four, § 905
    Calling these foreign invaders unclean may have been just a matter of fact statement of their not having been ritually purified, or may have contained an insult. The treatment the vanquished rulers of Lower Egypt received at the hands of Piye, the Kushite king more observant than the Egyptians themselves, seems to be an expression of his contempt:
... these kings and princes of the Northland who came to behold the beauty of his majesty, their legs were as the legs of women. They entered not into the king's house, because they were unclean and eaters of fish; which is an abomination for the palace. Lo, King Namlot, he entered into the king's house, because he was pure, and he ate not fish. There stood three upon their feet, (but only) one entered the king's house.
The Stela of Piye, 8th century BCE
    The following centuries showed mostly vain Egyptian attempts to defend their country against Persians, Macedonians, and Romans. The rulers of these conquering nations were considered pharaohs, but the title had lost much of its former splendour by this time and the foreign pharaohs did not command the unquestioning loyalty the native kings had enjoyed. The priesthood, the local Egyptian leadership, played at times an important role in fomenting unrest against foreign rule [8] and at others in building bridges between the different cultures.
    While the Persians and Romans ruled Egypt from afar as a distant, albeit rich province, the Ptolemies created a partly Hellenized society which brought forth and employed a great number of men who created the foundations of European culture. But speaking a foreign tongue, the Hellenists always remained a foreign element and many rebellions attest to the fact that the indigenous Egyptians never really accepted them and their rule.
    The influence these recurring collapses of the Egyptian state had on the world view of its inhabitants was dramatic. There was a steady increase in the importance of magic, in an attempt to ward off the social and political chaos into which a country often falls during an occupation [4] by alien forces, and the threatening cosmic chaos with which foreigners were still identified to some extent. The fear that the world as it should be, ruled by Maat, was going to end, led to rituals such as the destruction of statuettes symbolizing isfet, Chaos. It prepared the Egyptians for a religion which promised them an eternal world beyond this one, resulting in the complete disappearance of the ancient gods by the fourth century CE.

[1] God's land is listed among other Middle Eastern countries on the Poetical Stela of Thutmose III:
I came to let you tread on eastern lands
to crush the dwellers in the realm of god's land.
M. Lichtheim, Ancient Egyptian Literature, Volume II, p.37
The Punt reliefs of Hatshepsut have an inscription describing the setting out of the fleet
Sailing in the sea, beginning the goodly way toward God's Land, journeying in peace to the land of Punt ...
J. H. Breasted Ancient Records of Egypt Part Two, § 253
Ramses II appears to have placed it in the region of Naharin (western Mesopotamia and Syria), though the description of the wares brought to him, sweet wood (i.e. fragrant wood), would point to its being located in Africa. Gold also would be more likely to have been part of the tribute of an African rather than a western Asian country. On the other hand, receiving tribute from African countries up north in Syria is somewhat unlikely, but cannot be excluded. Or the text was simply copied verbatim from another inscription where the content would have been more appropriate.
Lo, his majesty was in Naharin according to his yearly custom, while the chiefs of every country came bowing down in peace, because of the fame of his majesty. From the marshes was their tribute; silver, gold, lapis lazuli, malachite and every sweet wood of God's Land were upon their backs, each one leading his neighbour.
J. H. Breasted Ancient Records of Egypt Part Three, § 434
[2] Such as Reshef and Astarte:
Then the king's son was told to look after some horses of the king's stable. He did what he was told, and Reshef and Astarte rejoiced over him as he did all that his heart desired.
The great sphinx stela of Amenhotep II at Giza
M. Lichtheim Ancient Egyptian Literature Volume II, p.42
[3] Not very flattering was the scribe Any when in his Instruction he ranks foreigners among other teachable creatures
The dog obeys the word,
And walks behind its master.
The monkey carries the stick,
Though its mother did not carry it.
The goose returns from the pond,
When one comes to shut it in the yard.
One teaches the Nubian to speak Egyptian,
The Syrian and other strangers too.
Say: "I shall do like all the beasts,"
Listen and learn what they do.
The Instruction of Any
M. Lichtheim Ancient Egyptian Literature Volume II, p.144
Even when Egypt's power waned during the 20th dynasty, trade with the Levant continued and according to the tale Wenamen found an interpreter in Alasiya as late as the end of the 20th dynasty
And I greeted her (i.e. the queen of Alasiya), and said to the people who stood around her: 'Is there not one among you who understands the language of Egypt?'
And one among them said: 'I understand it.'
[4] During foreign occupations the direct administration of the country remained in the hands of Egyptians while security lay with the occupying powers:
I spent seven years as controller for this god,
Administering his endowment without fault being found,
While the Ruler-of-foreign-lands was Protector in Egypt,
And nothing was in its former place,
Since fighting had started inside Egypt,
The South being in turmoil, the North in revolt;
The people walked with [head turned back],
All temples were without their servants,
The priests fled, not knowing what was happening.
Inscription from the tomb of Petosiris
M. Lichtheim, Ancient Egyptian Literature, Volume III, p.46
[5] Strangers who were perceived as such by the native Egyptians, suffered at times ill-treatment because of xenophobia. The remarks in the Late Period Insinger Papyrus are general and not specifically descriptive of the fate of aliens in Egypt:
Everywhere the stranger is the servant of the inferior man.
He arouses wrath in the crowd though he has done no wrong.
Someone will despise him <though> he does not spite him.
He must listen to insulting cursing and laugh at it as a joke.
He must forget the crime of (being treated as) a woman because he is a stranger.
A rich man who is abroad is one whose purse gets rifled.
When a wise man is far away his heart seeks his town.
Papyrus Insinger
M. Lichtheim, Ancient Egyptian Literature, Volume III, p.208
[6] rebels: We understand this term to mean people who rise against the ruler of their country. To the Egyptians they rebelled against the world order represented by the pharaoh, whether they were foreigners - neighbouring peoples who lived in the Egyptian sphere of influence - or native Egyptians:
Shall the land (i.e. Egypt) be wasted .... while the Nine Bows plunder its borders, and rebels invade it every day?
J.H. Breasted Ancient Records of Egypt, Part Three, § 580
King Ramses ... fighting in the territory of rebels who know not Egypt
Ramses III
J.H. Breasted Ancient Records of Egypt, Part Four, § 62
The Kushite Piye saw himself as the rightful pharaoh of Egypt, therefore those who opposed him and the god Amen he purported to represent, were treated as rebels. Those of his opponents who surrendered were treated leniently:
Look ye to the nomes of the South, not a single one has been slain therein except the enemies who blasphemed against the god, who were dispatched as rebels.
J.H. Breasted Ancient Records of Egypt, Part Three, § 857
See also the Ahmose memorial. According to this piece of self-delusion the Nubians, Syrians and even the inhabitants of the Aegean islands accepted the pharaoh as their rightful master.
[7] Until the New Kingdom the term SAs.w was also used for the nomads of the western desert and of the south.
[8] It was possibly the priests of Khnum who composed a text of a purportedly ancient oracle to criticize the foreigners.
[9] Cf. below C.J. Chimko, pp.16-19
[10] Cf. below F. C. Woudhuizen, p.30
[11] In the eyes of Thutmose I the supremacy of Egypt was divinely ordained: He himself was the son of god removing evil from the world. The submission of all other peoples was therefore his due.
The gods have joy in my time, their temples are rejoicing. I have fixed the borders of Egypt including all which the sun encircles. I let those be victorious who were in terror. I remove evil from it. I make Egypt the head and every (other) land its slave, as does the unique praised one of Amen, the sun's son of his (i.e. the sungod's) body, Thutmose beloved of him, who appeared like Re...
Stela in the temple of Osiris at Abydos
After K. Sethe, Urkunden der 18. Dynastie, Band I, p.52
[12] Shaw & Nicholson 1995, p.239
[13] Shaw 2003, p.197
[14] Shaw & Nicholson 1995, p.115
[15] Bunsen 2002, p.363
[16] Diamantis Panagiotopoulos, "Foreigners in Egypt in the Time of Hatshepsut and Thutmose III" in Cline & O'Connor 2006, p.393
[17] M. Lichtheim Ancient Egyptian Literature, Vol.1 pp. 139f
[18] J. H. Breasted, Ancient Records of Egypt, Part One, ? 652
[19] Excerpt, source: Jon Bodsworth
[20] from Pritchard, James B., ed., The Ancient Near East, - Volume 1
[21] Source: Catalogue of the Egyptian Museum, Cairo
[22] M.Lichtheim, Ancient Egyptian Literature, Vol.1, p.119
[23] W.M.Flinders Petrie, A History of Egypt, Part Two, p.67
[24] Diamantis Panagiotopoulos, "Foreigners in Egypt in the Time of Hatshepsut and Thutmose III" in Cline & O'Connor 2006, p.400

  • Jan Assman, 1983, Krieg und Frieden im alten Ägypten: Ramses II und die Schlacht bei Kadesch
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  • E.H. Cline & D. O?Connor (eds), Thutmose III. A New Biography, Ann Arbor 2006
  • Alan H. Gardiner, Egyptian Hieratic Texts - Series I: Literary Texts of the New Kingdom
  • Peter Haider, Minoan deities in an Egyptian Medical Text, Ægæum 22, 2001
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  • Stephan Pfeiffer, Entstehung und Entwicklung einer multikulturellen Gesellschaft im griechisch-römischen Ägypten, in Jahrbuch der historischen Forschung in der Bundesrepublik Deutschland 2004, Munich, 2005
  • Janet Picton, 2000, Who are you calling a foreigner? Ancient and modern perspectives on craft workers in Egypt, Paper presented at the international conference Encounters with Ancient Egypt, UCL Institute of Archaeology on 16th-18th December 2000
  • James B. Pritchard, ed. ; 1969, Ancient Near Eastern Texts, Princeton
  • Aminata Sackho-Autissier, 2000, L'Égypte face aux pays étrangers : des relations ambivalentes,, accessed December 2003
  • Kurt Sethe , 1914, Urkunden der 18. Dynastie Band I, J. C. Hinrich, Leipzig
  • Ian Shaw, The Oxford history of ancient Egypt, Oxford University Press, 2003
  • Ian Shaw & Paul Nicholson 1995
  • William Kelly Simpson, ed.; 1972, The Literature of Ancient Egypt, Yale University Press
  • Frederik Christiaan Woudhuizen, 2006, The Ethnicity of the Sea Peoples, dissertation, Erasmus Universiteit Rotterdam
  • Katharina Zinn, 2000, Fremdsprachigkeit im Alten Ägypten,, accessed December 2003

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