Ancient Egypt: History and culture
Ancient Egypt: The Heqanakht papyri
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The Heqanakht Papers

First letter

(Writing) that the ka servant Heqanakht (HqA-nxt) sends to his household of Nebsyt (nbsy.t).
Words by ka servant Heqanakht (HqA-nxt) to Merisu (Mr-sw).
As for every part of our land that is flooded, you are the one who shall cultivate it, taking heed, and all my people as well as you. Look, I shall hold you accountable. May you be very diligent in cultivating. Take care that my seed is guarded and that all my property is protected. Look, I shall hold you accountable. Take very good care of all my property.


Middle Kingdom
Deir el Bahri, tomb complex of Ipi
-Nebsyt: location south of Thebes
-ka servant: mortuary priest
-I shall hold you accountable: lit. I count it against you
Arrange to have Heti's (Htj) son Nakht (nxt) and Sanebniut (zA-nb-n'.t) go down to Perhaa (Pr-hAA) to cultivate for [us] 2/4 [A]H.t of land on lease. They should take its lease from that cloth woven here (where you are). If they have collected the equivalent value of that emmer that is (owed me) in Perhaa, they should use it there as well. Should you have nothing more (to do with) that cloth of which I have said: "Weave it!", they should take it after purchasing it from Nebesyt (nbsy.t) and lease land for its value. Now, if it pleases you (all) to cultivate 2/4 AH.t of land there, cultivate it. You should find land, ¼ AH.t of land in emmer, ¼ AH.t of land in Lower Egyptian barley, in the [good] land [of] Khepeshyt (xpSy.t). Don't descend on the land of just anybody. You should ask from Hau the Younger (hAw-Srj). If you don't find (any) with him, you will have to go before Herunefer (hrw-nfr). He is the one who can put you on qb.t land of Khepeshyt. -Perhaa: location south of Thebes
-AH.t: measure, 10 arouras - about 27,000 m²
-Weave it: much of the linen produced in ancient Egypt was woven by the female family members of the peasants.
-value: Sna.t, value equivalence in silver, during the New Kingdom one twelfth of a deben, 7.6 grammes.
-Khepeshyt: location south of Thebes
-qb.t: lit. calm or cool, perhaps resting, i.e. fallow.
Now look, (Merisu), before I came upstream here, you apportioned to me the lease for ¾ AH.t of land in Lower Egyptian barley alone. Mind you! do not defraud even of a sack of Lower Egyptian barley. Do not deal with his/its (?) own Lower Egyptian barley, because you have damaged the lease which belongs to me, yielding only Lower Egyptian barley as well as its seed. Now look, when dealing with Lower Egyptian barley, 69 (?) sacks of Lower Egyptian barley from ¾ AH.t of land, corresponding to 9 sacks of Lower Egyptian barley from 1 aroura of land, is not a bad yield. Behold, 4/4 AH.t of land will yield 100 sacks of Lower Egyptian barley. Mind you, do not be bold with (even) one oipe of Lower Egyptian barley belonging to it. Behold, this is not the year of indolence for a man towards his master, towards his father, towards his brother. -seed: the ratio between seed and yield is estimated to have been about 1 to 10.
-sack: XAr =10 heqat, either 48 or 96 litres during the Middle Kingdom.
-is not a bad yield: cf. grain yields
-oipe: jp.t - a grain measure: bushel, about 19.2 litres during the New Kingdom
Now, concerning all that Heti's (Htj) son Nakht (nxt) in Perhaa will do for me, behold, I have not calculated more than one months income (as) surplus for him, consisting of a sack of Lower Egyptian barley, calculating a second one of 5 oipe of Lower Egyptian barley for his dependents on the first day of the month.
Behold, if you exceed this I will consider it as theft on your behalf. As for that which I told you with the words: "Give him a sack of Lower Egyptian barley per month," you should give (it) to him as 8 oipe of Lower Egyptian barley per month. Beware!
-income: aq.w, lit. loaves of bread
Now, what about Sahathor (ZA-Hw.t-Hr) coming to me with old, dried-up Lower Egyptian barley that was in Djed-sut (Dd-sw.t), without giving me those 10 sacks of Lower Egyptian barley as new, good Lower Egyptian barley? Don't you have it good, eating good Lower Egyptian barley while I am on the (naked) earth? Now, the boat is moored in your harbour, and you do everything that is evil. If you have old Lower Egyptian barley brought to me in order to deliver that new Lower Egyptian barley, what can I say? How good is this? (But) if you can't apportion a single (measure) of Lower Egyptian barley to me as new Lower Egyptian barley, I shall not apportion any to you for all eternity. -old, dried-up Lower Egyptian barley: stored grain was often infested with rodents, grain eating insects and moulds which ruined a significant percentage of the cereal.
-Djed-sut: short for Djedsut Teti which was the name for the pyramid complex of Teti, 'Enduring-are-the-places-of-Teti'
Now, didn't I say "Snefru (snfr.w) has grown up"? Take good care of him! Give him an income. And greetings to Snefru as Khenti-kheti (xnt.j-X.ty) says, a thousand times, a million times. Pay attention, now that I have written. Now, when my land is watered, he should cultivate it with you and Anpu (jnpw), as you take care, and Sahathor. Look after him well! Send him to me after the plowing. Have him bring me 2 sacks of zwt-emmer along with whatever Lower Egyptian barley you find, but only from the excess of your incomes until you reach summer. [Don't] be neglectful of anything I have written to you about. Behold, this is a year when a man works for his master.
Now, as for all the affairs of my district and all the affairs of my watered land in Sinwi (sjn.wj), I have planted it with flax. Do not allow anybody to descend upon it! Moreover, if anyone will speak to you, you should go because of it (?). Now, you should plant Lower Egyptian barley on that watered land. Don't plant emmer there. But if it will come as a great inundation, you should plant it with emmer.
Take good care of Anpu and Snefru. You die with them (and) you live with them. Beware! Look, there is nobody above him (i.e Anpu and Snefru) in this house, including you. Be not negligent.
Now, expel that housemaid Senen (znn) from my house! Beware, on the day Sihathor reaches you (with the letter), she shall spend (only) one (more) day in my house. Is it really you who lets her do ill to my second wife. Have I ever allowed ill to be done to you? What did she do against (any of) you, you (Merisu) who hates her?
And greetings to my mother Ipi (jpj) a thousand times, a million times. And greetings to Hetepet (Htp.t), and the whole household, and Nofret (Nfr.t). Now, what shall be done about these bad deeds committed against my second wife? Do your duty. Are you not established as my partner? How good it would be for you to stop it (i.e. the evil deeds).
And have a record sent of what was collected from those of Perhaa. Beware, don't be neglectful.
(Address:) That which the ka servant Heqanakht is sending to his household at Nebsyt.

-second wife:, also translated as concubine. Taking a second wife while still married to another was apparently rare among ordinary Egyptians. Cf Man and Woman

Second Letter

A son speaks to his mother, (namely) the ka-servant Heqanakht to his mother Ipi (jpj) and to Hetepet (Htp.t):
How is your wellbeing through the favour of Monthu, Lord of Thebes (wAs.t)? And how is your whole household, how is your wellbeing?
Do not worry about me! Behold, I am healthy and alive. Behold, you are like one who can eat his fill, when he was (already so) hungry that he had sunken eyes. Behold, the whole of Egypt has died (and) you did not hunger.


-wellbeing: anx-wDA-snb - life, prosperity (actually wellbeing), health, abbr. lph
[Image: Starving Bedouin, FIP]-Starving bedouins
First Intermediate Period
Source: Metropolitan Museum
Behold, before I came here upriver I had fixed your incomes well. But now, has the inundation been very [great]. Behold, we have fixed our incomes according to the nature of the inundation which one has to endure according to the names. Behold, I have reached this day together with you provisioning you.
Record of the household's incomes:
Ipi (jpj) and her servant woman 8 (heqat)
Hetepet (Htp.t) and her servant woman 8 (heqat)
Heti's (Ht) son Nakht (nxt) together with his dependants 8 (heqat)
Merisu (mr.sw) and his dependants 8 (heqat)
Sahathor (zA-Hwt-Hr) 8 (heqat)
Sanebnut (ZA-nb-n'.t) 7 (heqat)
Anpu (jnp) 4 (heqat)
Snefru (snfr.w) 4 (heqat)
Sa-inut (zA-jnw.t) 4 (heqat)
Mai-sa-hetepet (may-zA-Htp.t) 5 (heqat)
Nofret (nfr.t) 3½ (heqat)
Satwerut (zA.t-wr.wt) (?) 2 (heqat)
Total 79½ (heqat)
-the nature of the inundation: if the Nile rose too little, large tracts of the floodplain could not be cultivated and famines might ensue. Cf. The Nile and ancient Egypt
-household: pr, also referred to as domain, was the basic economic unit, cf. The ancient Egyptian Economy.
-incomes: if this was the full extent of the monthly allowances and these were measured in heqat (the unit is not mentioned in the text) and the heqat was about five litres, then they were certainly less than lavish, but during the Middle and New Kingdoms a common heqat was also in use measuring 9.6 litres. The monthly grain consumption of a grown-up in Graeco-Roman Egypt was about 25 to 30 litres (Monson, 2005). 8 heqat (38.4 litres) per family would not have met their caloric needs, while 8 common heqat (76.8 litres) would just about have sufficed for a family of four.
The income of Sanebnut (ZA-nb-n'.t) shall be commensurate with his Lower Egyptian barley which existed on his threshing floor until he left Perhaa. Thus shall be prevented your becoming angry because of it - for the whole household are like children of mine. Everything belongs to me and one says: "Half a life is better than a (whole) death."
Behold, one calls 'hunger' only (real) hunger, namely only when one begins to eat human beings, never were they (i.e. the human beings) given such (high) salaries anywhere. Conduct yourself bravely until I come to you again, for, behold, I shall spend the summer here.
A message from the ka servant Heqanakht (HqA-nxt) for Merisu (Mr-sw) and for Heti's son Nakht (nxt) subordinately:
You shall give these incomes to my people when they are doing (their) work. Be very careful! Hoe all my fields! Sieve with the sieve! Hack with your hoes at work! For if they are proficient, the good god will be praised on your behalf and I shall not allow it to be disadvantageous for you.
-threshing floor: only after separating the grain from the chaff could a farmer know how well he had done.
-the whole household are like children of mine: domains like Heqanakht's were quite similar to the family businesses which Europeans knew a few centuries ago, with family members, servants, apprentices, and workers living and working under the same roof. On mortuary stelae such as the stela of Mentuhotep, servants were often depicted together with the children.
-eat human beings: This description of what "real hunger" is does not prove that there was cannibalism even during times of famine, nor does the contention of Ankhtifi that he had supplied food to people who were eating their children because they were dying of hunger. Heqanakht is replying to what he considers whingeing, while Ankhtifi is going for some brownie points with the gods. On the other hand some people may well have been driven to cannibalism when they were starving.
One shall begin giving these salaries, concerning which I have written to you, on the first day of the month Khent-kheti-perti (, (and) on every new first day of the month -Khent-kheti-perti: third month of the season of shemu.
-first day of the month: wp.w, lit. the Opener, i.e. day one of the lunar month.
Do not neglect to hoe these 4/4 AH.t of land which are near-by and have been given to Ipi-sheri's (Jpj-Srj) son Khent-kheti ( Work very hard for you are about to eat my revenues.
Concerning all the chattels of Anpu which are in your hand, return them to him! Concerning that which has been lost, replace it for him! Do not make me write to you a second time because of this, as I have written to you twice about this already. Furthermore, if Mer-snefru (Mr-snfr.w) wishes to be following these oxen then you shall let him follow them. For neither does he enjoy ploughing with you, ascending and descending, nor does he like to come here to me. Whatever he wishes, satisfy him (by giving him) what he wants.
-4/4 AH.t: 10 arouras, c. 2.7 hectares
Concerning anyone among the women and the men who refuses these salaries: he shall come here to me and he shall live the way I live. When I had not yet come here I told you: "Do not keep any friend of Hetepet (Htp.t) from her, neither her hairdresser nor her servant. Take good care of her! Alas, if only you were as successful at all things!
But if you do not want her, then you should send Iut-en-hab (Jwt-n-HAb) to me.
This man lives for me, I speak of Ipi who will commit an (evil) deed, (as if) on a battlefield, against (my) second wife; he is against me, (so) I am against him. Behold, this is my second wife. It is known what is to be done for a man's second wife. For all that one does to her is equally done to me. (If) one among you would tolerate his wife being accused before him, then I would tolerate it (as well). Can there be a form of my being with you at one dining table. Not if you do not respect my second wife for my sake.
Behold furthermore, I have sent you 24 deben of copper by Sahathor for the lease of the field. Cause further that be cultivated for us 2/4 AH.t in lease in Perhaa, beside Hau-sheri (hAw-Srj), either (for) copper or cloth or Lower Egyptian barley [or] something (else), but only if you have (already) taken the value there of oil or something else.
Pay good heed! You are extraordinarily capable. Be vigilant! Behold, you are now on the good, calm (rested ?) field of Khepshit (xpSy.t).
(Address:) That which the ka servant Heqanakht is sending to his household of Nebsyt (nbsy.t).

-24 deben of copper: this passage has been interpreted by some to mean that there were pieces of copper, probably in the form of rings, each weighing one deben (c. 27 grammes before the New Kingdom) being used as a kind of currency.
-copper: copper was of course not just a means for comparing the prices of various commodities, but was also a commodity itself.
-oil: being less perishable than many other foodstuffs, oil was used occasionally as a means of exchange.

Third Letter

The servant of the funerary estate the ka servant Heqanakht speaks:
Your condition is like life a million times. May Herishef (Hr.j-S=f), lord of Heracleopolis, and all the gods who <are in heaven and earth> be active on your behalf! May Ptah (PtH) who is south of his wall refresh your heart through life and very old age. May your perfect dignity be with the ka of Herishef lord of Heracleopolis.


-Herishef: Harsaphes - Osiris
-Ptah: creator god of Memphis.
The servant there says: Let your scribe, l.p.h., know that I have caused Heti's son Nakht together with Sa-neb-nat (zA-nb-n'.t) to come because of this Lower Egyptian barley (and the) emmer which is here. It is the duty of your scribe l.p.h. to order it being collected without permitting any of it to be mixed corresponding with all your perfection. May you be healthy and live!
Furthermore, as to (what is to be done) after collecting, it shall be delivered to the house of your scribe l.p.h until one comes for it. Furthermore behold, I have made them bring this corn measure in which it is measured, being decorated with black hide.
-l.p.h.: Life, prosperity, health
-corn measure: jp.t: the oipe was both a dry measure and a measuring vessel. Corn in ancient Egyptian context refers generally to wheat and barley.
Furthermore behold, 15 sacks of emmer are in the possession of Nenek-su (nnk-sw) at Hut-haa (Hw.t-hAA) and 13 (sacks ?) and 5 (bushels ?) of Lower Egyptian barley are in the possession of Ipi the Younger (jpj-Xrd) at Yusebek (jw-sbk). That which is in the possession of Neher's (nHr) son Ipi (jpj) at Sepat-mat (spA.t-mA.t) (amounts to) 20 (sacks of) emmer and (in the possession of) his brother Desher (dSr) 3 (sacks). The total is 38 (sacks of emmer and) 13 (sacks) and 5 (bushel ?) (of Lower Egyptian barley).
Concerning anyone who will give me oil in payment - he shall give me 1
hbn.t-jar for 2 (sacks) of Lower Egyptian barley or for 3 (sacks) of emmer.
-in the possession: lit. 'in the hand'
-Yusebek (jw-sbk): 'Island of Sobek' south of Thebes.
-Sepat-mat (spA.t-mA.t): locality between Sumenu (er-Rizeiqat) and Thebes.
-hbn.t-jar: a big, bulbous vessel, also used as a measure of capacity.
But behold, I prefer my property to be given to me in Lower Egyptian barley. And one should not permit Nakht (nxt) to be neglected or anything because of which he comes to you. Behold, it is he who looks after my property.
(Address:) Overseer of Lower Egypt Heru-nefer (hrw-nfr).


Fourth Letter

[It is a daughter] speaking to her mother, it is Sat-neb-sekhtu (zA.t-nb-sxt.w) speaking to Sat-neb-sekhtu (zA.t-nb-sxt.w):
A thousand underlings (present ?) at the greeting with 'Life, prosperity, health.' May you //// so that your heart is happy. May Hathor gladden your heart for me. Do not worry about me. Behold, I am healthy. Behold, concerning all that which is being brought to [Nefer]-Ibed (nfr-jbd) as an oral explanation, it has been brought to you as well.
And greet Gereg (grg) with 'Life, Prosperity, Health.' Behold, I have sent Sa-[hathor] (zA-hwtHr) to inspect you. Do not allow Gereg to be negligent concerning /// him. And greet the whole household with 'Life, Prosperity, Health.'
(Address:) The overseer of the administration [of ////] Gereg.

After the transliterations and translations into German on the Thesaurus Linguae Aegyptiae website.
Thesaurus Linguae Aegyptiae => Altägyptisches Wörterbuch, Berlin-Brandenburgische Akademie der Wissenschaften => Briefe => Briefe des Mittleren Reiches => Verwaltung/Alltag =>Briefe aus Theben =>Briefe der Pap. Hekanakhte


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© May 2006