Ancient Egypt: History and culture
Ancient Egypt: Diodorus Siculus - The daily routine of the pharaohs
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Diodorus Siculus
The daily routine of the pharaohs

    As far as the way of living of the kings of Egypt is concerned: they were not like other monarchs who have the absolute power to act everywhere according to their whim, but everything was ordained by laws, not only their official business, but also their daily domestic life. They were not served by slaves, whether bought or born in the House, but only by sons of the noblest priests, who were older than twenty years and the best educated among their fellow countrymen. By being constantly surrounded, day and night, by the noblest looking after his bodily needs, any base act of the king would be prevented. No prince can sink too deep into depravity if he does not have willing servants to his passions.
    The hours of day and night were dedicated to certain tasks the king had to perform, laid down by laws and not at his own discretion. After rising in the morning he had to receive the letters which had arrived from all parts, so that he could make correct decisions based on precise knowledge of all happenings in the affairs of the state. Then he had to take a bath, and, decked out with the insignia of royal power and a white robe, sacrifice to the gods. It was the custom that the High Priest stood by the side of the king when the sacrificial animal was led to the altar, and prayed in a loud voice before the people of Egypt that health and every other boon may be given to the king if he fulfilled his obligations towards his subjects. All his virtues were enumerated and it was claimed that he was pious and very humane, just and noble spirited, moreover he abhorred lies and loved to share, in short he was above all passions, when prosecuting transgressions the punishment was less severe than the guilt and when he returned favours the rewards surpassed the merits.
Much more of this kind was mentioned by the priest saying the prayers and lastly he pronounced the curse against the sins of ignorance, voiding any accusation against the king and making those who had counselled evil and assisted him, responsible for the damage they had instigated. This act had the purpose to encourage the king to make pious and god pleasing changes and to make him become accustomed to orderly behaviour, not by exasperating reprimands but by courteous praise which extolled his virtues. After the king had viewed the sacrifice and detected auspicious omens in it, the lector-priest read out useful advice and chronicles of the deeds of the most outstanding men from the holy scriptures, in order to direct the thoughts of the prince, who wielded all power, towards the noblest endeavours, while he was busy fulfilling the ordained tasks.
    Not just public business and court hearings had their prescribed hour, but also the stroll, the bath, the marital cohabitation, in sum all of life's functions.
    The diet of the kings had to be quite simple; veal and goose were served at their table, and they drank wine not exceeding a certain quantity, so that overeating and drunkenness were impossible. Generally speaking, their whole way of life was ordered so uniformly that one might have thought it had not been ordained by a law-giver, but ordered by a most competent physician calculated from rules of healthy living.
    One may think it strange that the kings could not decide freely over their daily diet, it is even stranger that they did not administer justice and make decisions according to whim and that they were not allowed to punish somebody moved by fancy or anger or some other base cause, but had to keep to the letter of the law every single case. They obeyed these customs not with displeasure or reluctance, they were rather convinced that they were leading the happiest life. They think that other people are led astray by an unreasonable forbearance for sensual urges and commit many acts which lead them into misfortune or danger, and that a few are probably aware that their intentions are improper and yet they commit evil, driven by love or hatred or another passion. Fewer cases of hastiness happen to them because they follow rules of conduct approved of by the most reasonable men.
   Because the kings treated their subjects so justly, the affection the people had for their princes was stronger than the love between the closest relatives ever was. Not just the community of the priests, but all Egyptians did not care as much for their wives and children and their other goods as they cared for the welfare of their sovereigns. Therefore, the wisest of the known kings have preserved the native order, for as long as the legal institution we have just described, existed.
    Moreover they subjugated many peoples and possessed great fortunes. Throughout the whole land they commissioned unsurpassable works and institutions and in the cities they built all kinds of marvellous monuments at great expense.
- Diodorus Siculus c. 80 to 20 BCE

The description Diodorus gives of the daily routine of the Egyptian kings is second or third hand knowledge. It also has a strong flavour of utopianism: the excellent qualities of a far off and recently defunct administration are extolled.

   served by slaves: Many rich and noble Romans - the people Diodorus wrote for - relied on slaves or freed men to administer their possessions and serve their daily needs. Slavery was not quite as widespread in Egypt as it was in European Mediterranean countries.
   laid down by laws: Monarchies have a strong tendency to become ritualistic. The Ptolemies were in power for more  than two centuries, long enough for elaborate court ceremonies to develop. Moreover they must have been influenced by earlier, millennia old customs.

Diodorus Siculus Historic Library Vol 1, Chapters 70 and 71
After a German translation by Julius Friedrich Wurm [1]


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-[1] Diodor's von Sicilien Historische Bibliothek, digitalisiert von: Benedikt Klein

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June 2004