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Ju an Carlos Moreno Garca

The state and the organisation of the ru ral land scap e in 3rd m illenniu m BC
p haraonic Egyp t, p p . 313 330

O ffp rin t

Arid ity, Change and Conflict in Africa

Proceed ings of an
International ACACIA Conference
held at Knigsw inter, Germ any
October 13, 2003

Ed ited by Michael Bollig, Olaf Bu benzer, Ralf Vogelsang

& H ans-Peter Wotzka

Colloqu iu m Africanu m 2, 2007

(Kln: H einrich -Barth -Institu t)

Juan Carlos Moreno Garca

The state and the organisation of the rural landscape in 3rd millennium BC
pharaonic Egypt
The state played an important role in the organisation of the rural landscape in pharaonic Egypt during the Old
Kingdom. The study of the titles and inscriptions of the officials shows the foundation, development and
disappearance of several kinds of royal rural centres in the 3rd millennium BC, as well as regional differences
concerning their presence or absence in the Egyptian countryside. It also reveals the changing power balance
between the local elite and the royal agents. In fact, recent discoveries underscore the complex relationships
between local temples (controlled by powerful provincial families) and the royal agricultural foundations in
some Upper Egyptian provinces. Finally, the foundation of rural centres had durable effects on the peasant
population as well as on the organisation of their productive activities.
Keywords: Agriculture, rural landscape, royal domains, institutional agriculture, provincial elites, Old
Kingdom, Egypt

State, rural landscape, and domestic vs. institutional agriculture in the 3rd millennium BC
For historians specialising in the study of modern and contemporary history it would
be obvious to accept that the state has, in many ways, shaped the landscape in order
to achieve some specific goals: an efficient fiscal organisation; the design of ways
of communication available for traders, messengers, functionaries and armies; the
transport of great quantities of commodities and people by means of roads, railways,
bridges and channels; the investment in particular areas in order to improve their
economic production, and so on. The enormous irrigation investments intended to
stimulate the agricultural production, necessary to cope with the industrial needs of
Europe and North America in the past centuries, have influenced the researchers of
ancient societies. One example is the expansion of the cotton production, which lies at
the origin of the enormous contemporary hydraulic works in Egypt or in the former
Soviet Central Asia; or the complex channel projects intended to develop agriculture
and settlement in the Middle East, the United States, or in the Indus Valley during the
19th and 20th centuries; or, last but not least, the building of networks of dams and
channels which accompanied the green revolution of the 1960s, which was supposed
to put an end to the famines of the Third World as well as to ensure its alimentary

State and rural landscape in pharaonic Egypt


self-sufficiency. The importance of the initiatives taken by the state in these hydraulic
and agricultural achievements has led many historians to take them for granted and
suppose that the ancient states have played a similar role. In fact, the idea that the origin
of the state and of complex societies was a natural response to the irrigation needs of
ancient populations has been widely accepted by scholars until recent years (Moreno
Garca 2006).
But the central role played by the ancient states in agricultural and irrigation matters
has recently been challenged due to the influence of modern evidence, above all when it
became evident that some of the most ambitious agricultural projects of the last decades
had failed to accomplish their goals. Consequently, anthropologists, agronomists and
historians have shifted the focus of their research. Instead of the central institutions and
the state they have begun to value the role played by the rural communities in the
management of their local resources, in the organisation of their agricultural activities,
in the use of efficient traditional local techniques well adapted to the ecological
environment, and in the choice of the most suitable productive options in order to
ensure food production as, for instance, the balance between agriculture, animal breeding
and gathering; the complementary exploitation of various ecological zones; the
diversification of the peasant production; the importance and extent of social practices
such as mutual assistance and communal storage, etc. The influence of this research has
led to a finer and more accurate approach to ancient agriculture. Finally, the broad use
of archaeological surveys both on a regional and a local scale, the study of ancient field
and irrigation systems, the integration of palaeobotanical and archaeozoological analyses,
the study of the interaction and regional integration of villages and cities, and of
pastoral and agricultural activities, have opened new ways of research. These technical
approaches must be complemented by a more sociological one in order to get a thorough
understanding of the stratification of the rural society, as well as of the complex
relationship between the countryside and the central government, and between the local
and the palatial elite. In short, it is the social organisation of ancient agriculture which is
at the core of current research (Moreno Garca 2006).
The pharaonic agriculture and its specific forms of organisation of the rural landscape
were the result of the interaction of two different poles: the domestic and the institutional one. I prefer to use the term domestic rather than private in order to refer to
the agricultural activities of the peasant population not directly controlled by the
institutions (Moreno Garca 2001). Private agriculture is a wider concept as it concerns
all the actors of rural life, from peasants to rural potentates not integrated in the
administration of the state, from absentee landlords to the personnel of the court and of
the administration who possessed private, patrimonial, fields. Of course, all of them
might also have worked full or part-time for the state or for an institution in exchange
for some kind of remuneration. On the other hand, institutional agriculture concerns the


Juan Carlos Moreno Garca

exploitation of the fields of the institutions more or less attached to the state: the state
farms, the domains and rural centres of the crown, the landed properties of the temples,
and the fields granted as remuneration to the palatial elite. Naturally, people might be
engaged in the two poles: peasants, for instance, had to work in the fields of the state
whereas rural potentates could exploit their own, patrimonial, fields as well as some
land belonging to the institutions in their neighbourhood. But I think that the domestic
agriculture, that is to say, the ways in which peasants exploited their own fields,
pursued specific methods of production and was possible thanks to particular ways of
work and of technical means of production which might have been quite different from
those specific to the institutional pole, above all in the use (or not) of animal power, in
the choice between intensive or extensive agriculture, in the management and design of
hydraulic systems, in the type of crops cultivated, in the complementary exploitation
of the local ecological resources, and so on. One must also consider the regional and
chronological differences of the relationship between the rural and the palatial potentates, the presence or absence of institutional centres, the local impact of the taxes and
work requirements of the state, and the distribution of the local surplus between the
central and the local elite. All these factors underscore the complexity of the social
organisation of the Egyptian agriculture, and they deserve a careful evaluation in order
to get a complete picture of the rural world of pharaonic Egypt.
It would be impossible to sketch even a superficial approach to all these topics related to
the agricultural organisation of ancient Egypt. Accordingly, I will limit my study to the
role played by the state in the organisation of the rural landscape and the agricultural
activities during a particular period, the 3rd millennium. The sources are neither as rich
in detail nor as extensive as those from some later periods, e.g. the New Kingdom. But
recent discoveries, a more careful study of the archaeological and epigraphic records,
and the renewal of the theoretical discussion on the structure of ancient states, have cast
a new light on these questions. Some sources are particularly well documented for the
3rd millennium, such as the titles of several thousands of officials and local administrators, the royal decrees which describe the economic activities of some cultic centres,
and the royal annals. If the private correspondence or the juridical documents are rather
limited in number and content, the corpus of administrative papyri has been enriched
thanks to the discovery of the archives of the mortuary temple of pharaoh Reneferef, as
well as by the publication of the Gebelein papyri. The careful excavation of some urban
centres and governmental buildings in Balat and Elephantine are providing fresh
evidence of a kind poorly documented until present, such as letters, administrative
orders, lists of workers, or seals of provincial administrators. The specific information
conveyed by these texts allows a better understanding of the relationships between
central and local administrative centres, as well as of the rural landscape and the
productive activities these centres controlled.

State and rural landscape in pharaonic Egypt


On the other hand, the palaeobotanical and archaeozoological research at sites such as
Kom el-Hisn shows the limits of the documentary record. The administrative texts are
rather selective as they only concern the activities of interest to the state, not the entire
economic life in a given area. As a result, the sources pass over many activities in silence
or they only inform about some particular details, a difficulty of which researchers from
other disciplines are well aware (Halstead 2003). But a careful recovery of the organic
records proves the existence of economic activities and exchange circuits which linked
up different regions of the country and that were not organised nor controlled by the
Finally, I would like to stress the fact that most of our sources come from ritual
official contexts (tombs, temples and autobiographies), whose contents were intended
to encode and convey the ideological values of the elite. These values stressed the
notions of order and good government placed in an ideal landscape, probably very
different from the real one which prevailed in a rural, non-elite, environment. Accordingly,
researchers must be cautious when using the scenes and inscriptions as historical
sources so as to avoid running the risk of taking them at face value (Moreno Garca

The first sources (c. 3320 2575 BC)

The origin of the pharaonic kingdom is a much debated subject, but new discoveries
have provided rich evidence on the economic organisation of the proto-state of Abydos,
whose rulers became the first pharaohs of the unified Egypt at the turn of the
4th millennium BC. An important amount of administrative labels, originally attached to
offerings and items, have been discovered in the local tombs of the predynastic rulers
and of the kings of Dynasties I and II, and they contain invaluable information on the
high administrators of the state, the departments they were in charge of and the
products and workers that they levied. From these documents it becomes evident that
the economic roots of the archaic kingdom go back to the predynastic period, as the
labels from tomb U-j show an astonishing display of power and territorial control at a
date as early as 3320 BC, when products coming from Nubia as well as from some nomes
of the Delta and Middle Egypt and from specific localities in Upper and Lower Egypt
were recorded by means of a primitive writing system (Dreyer 1998; Vernus 2001; Kahl
2003). The discovery of Egyptian objects, ceramics and settlements in Palestine confirms
that the predynastic rulers of Abydos were powerful enough to extend their authority
beyond the limits of Egypt and to promote some kind of colonial control over this
neighbouring region. It is probable that the search for minerals as well as for specialised
agricultural products such as wine and oil explains this early Egyptian expansion into
Asia, which was based on the establishment of a network of trade bases, Egyptian


Juan Carlos Moreno Garca

settlements and administrative centres that allowed the control of the flow of local
products into Egypt (Van den Brink & Levy 2002). The importance of these networks of
administrative and production centres was essential for an effective state control over
specific areas, inside or outside Egypt, and contributed not only to the organisation of
their productive activities but also shaped their spatial organisation.
The beginning of the dynastic period is a period of steady increase in the amount of
written sources. Administrative labels continued to be used to record the offerings and
products delivered to the tombs of the kings, and high officials began to be depicted in
stelae and in their funerary monuments with their titles. But the most valuable information
on the territorial organisation of the kingdom comes from ink inscriptions written on
several hundreds of vessels found in the galleries of the mortuary complex of pharaoh
Djeser, dating from the IIIrd Dynasty (Lacau & Lauer 1959; 1965). The vessels were partly
produced in the royal workshops during the reign of Djeser himself, but lots of them
came from the tombs of his ancestors. The texts mention the officials, institutions and
regions which delivered precious products to the mortuary royal complex, and they
catch an accurate glimpse of the provincial management as well as of the institutions
which ensured the kings control over the countryside. From these documents we learn
that some provinces had local leaders at their head, called sSm tA leader of the land or
HoA governor, whose existence and power are confirmed by the discovery of some
huge contemporary tombs at Abydos, Thebes and Elkab using the same techniques
employed in the monuments of the capital, Memphis (Moreno Garca 1999c: 233 f.).
The inscriptions also refer to some royal institutions, better known from later
inscriptions, which served as centres of royal power and institutional agriculture in the
rural countryside. They were the Hwt-aAt great Hwt and the Hwt, a kind of royal farm,
warehouse, processing and administrative centre, and defensive building in fact, the
Hwt-hieroglyph represents a tower (Moreno Garca 1998a; 1999c). The differences between
the Hwt-aAt and the Hwt were probably only of scale, the first one being the centre of larger
agricultural units than the second one. Later sources show that the Hwt-aAt were only
founded in certain regions, where land was particularly abundant, whereas the Hwt
figures prominently in almost all the nomes of Upper Egypt as well as in the capital. The
conclusion which can be drawn from the study of the geographical and chronological
distribution of these institutions is that the Hwt-aAt are more frequently mentioned than
the Hwt in the ink texts and in private inscriptions at this early stage of Egyptian history,
a trend confirmed by later documents and which continued until the last centuries of the
3rd millennium. Apart from Hwt-aAt and Hwt, texts also mention the pr house of officials
and provincial magnates as a source of products delivered to the royal tomb. In the light
of this evidence we can reasonably infer that the local basis of state power consisted of a
combination of royal centres founded at some strategic localities, the sporadic intervention
of itinerant crown agents, and the collaboration of local potentates who did not yet
display administrative or rank titles.

State and rural landscape in pharaonic Egypt


The recent discovery of hundreds of administrative seal stamps at Elephantine shows

that an elaborate administrative system was in operation at this locality during the first
dynasties, when its primary role was that of fortress and frontier-city facing the Nubian
populations of the south (Ptznick 2005). Many of the stamps found, as well as three
hieratic inscriptions (Dreyer 1987), date from the IIIrd Dynasty and they concern the
activities carried out by different officials and crown agents, including some kind of
cereal transfer involving a chief of a village and an official in charge of ships. Cereals
also came from the state warehouses in the vicinity of Abydos and they served to pay the
agents of the pharaoh in the remote south. This redistributive pattern consisted of a
network of state warehouses, production centres, agricultural domains and mooring
posts scattered all over the country which made the circulation of products at a local and
a regional level possible between the royal centres and the local arrival points. All these
activities were supervised by a large and complex bureaucracy of which the officials in
charge of warehouses, cereals, seals and people are prominently quoted in the seal
stamps. Other categories of people seem likewise to have played an important role at a
local level though they did not belong to the administrative hierarchy of Elephantine.
No more administrative sources are known from this early period of the pharaonic
history, but the study of the archaeological remains of some ritual monuments reveals
the existence of some sort of ideal landscape where archaic sanctuaries and small step
pyramids served as markers of the frontiers of the kingdom as well as memorials of the
kings power. The recently discovered archaic temples at Thebes and Tell Ibrahim Awad
must be added to the examples already known at Elephantine, Hierakonpolis and
Coptos (Vrs 1998; Belova & Sherkova 2002). Archaeologists have emphasised the fact
that some of these temples were founded at the frontiers of the kingdom (Tell Ibrahim
Awad; Elephantine) and in localities with a great symbolic and perhaps political
significance for the monarchy (Hierakonpolis; Coptos; Thebes). As for the small step
pyramids, they were built at these same sites or in their close proximity (Elephantine;
Hierakonpolis; Nagada; Abydos) as well as near Memphis and Edfu and Zawiyet elMaiyitin (Seidlmayer 1996: 122126). In fact, the royal annals of the Old Kingdom
record the foundation of cult centres as one of the most celebrated types of activity of
the monarchy, no doubt because of their symbolic importance, both as ritual buildings
and commemorative centres of power. Later sources confirm that the temples and
chapels erected by the kings in the nomes, as well as the votive royal offerings placed in
the chapels of some local potentates, were important symbolic means used to enhance
the presence and authority of the crown in the provincial world.
In the light of the preserved textual and archaeological sources, we can conclude that the
rural landscape was already organised in a complex way from the beginning of the
Egyptian history, and that the foundations of some of its later characteristics and
institutions were already laid down at the beginning of the 3rd millennium BC. The


Juan Carlos Moreno Garca

setting up of administrative and agricultural units of the crown all over the country was
accompanied by the building of temples and ceremonial centres which marked, all
together, the extent and the power of the reigning pharaoh.

The beginning of the IVth Dynasty: King Snofru and his officials
If there was a pharaoh of the 3rd millennium whose measures had a durable influence on
the regional organisation and the rural landscape of the kingdom, the honour might
probably go to Snofru. In general, the scarcity of sources is the main obstacle to a
thorough understanding of the rural and provincial administration of the IVth Dynasty,
but the reign of Snofru is a happy exception to this rule. The royal annals record the
founding of 35 rural establishments (Hwt-aAt or perhaps Hwt) in a single year of his reign,
as well as some cattle centres. Another year was celebrated because some agricultural
Hwt units were created in Upper and Lower Egypt. This policy is corroborated by the
number of historical place names which bear the name of King Snofru. Even the
mortuary temple of this active pharaoh records for the first time a scene which was to
become canonical in the royal and private monuments of the 3rd millennium: the
procession of men and women, each of them identified by a place name, who were
depicted carrying offerings and were supposed to personify the Egyptian localities that
delivered agricultural and craft products to the owner of the tomb. Most of the place
names were fictitious, but both their representation and their number convey the notion
of the richness and power of the dead (Moreno Garca 1999c: 152154). This artistic
motif appears for the first time during the reign of Snofru, both in the monuments of the
king and of his highest officials, such as Metjen and Pehernefer.
The inscriptions in Metjens tomb are the most detailed ones dealing with the
regional and agricultural organisation of the kingdom during the 3rd millennium (Sethe
1933: 15). His activities mainly concerned the Delta, but he also fulfilled some
governmental responsibilities over two Upper Egyptian provinces. From the titles
which display the scope of his activities one can infer the predominance of the royal
agricultural centres Hwt-aAt and Hwt in the countryside (as was also recorded in the royal
annals of Snofru) as well as the foundation of agricultural units named grgt and aHt
(Moreno Garca 1996). Furthermore, these royal settlements replaced in some cases
other territorial units called pr house, each of them consisting of several localities. In
fact, some toponyms in Metjens inscriptions are named either Hwt(-aAt) or pr; as pr was
no longer used to designate territorial areas in Egyptian sources until the end of the Old
Kingdom, it is probable that these alternative names for the same toponym in Metjens
texts show the gradual replacement of the pr by the Hwt(-aAt). The ink inscriptions from
Djesers pyramid as well as the names of some districts at the end of the 3rd millennium
show that the pr toponyms were usually formed after personal names, a feature which

State and rural landscape in pharaonic Egypt


might hint at the existence of local potentates: one famous example is pr-ww, where
wws name, the governor of Edfu in the First Intermediate Period, was used to designate
the three southernmost nomes of Upper Egypt. Sometimes the geographical provenance
of worker teams was indicated either by the name of the locality from which they came
or by the name of the official in charge of a specific region, as if his name had some kind
of toponymic value (Arnold 1990: 26). In any case pr, Hwt-aAt and Hwt appear in Metjens
titles as territorial units which included several localities and agricultural domains. The
general picture which emerges from this rich epigraphic record is that Metjen was an
official involved in the territorial administration and productive organisation of large
areas of the Delta, including the foundation of many agricultural domains and the
probable replacement of ancient districts by new territorial units dominated by royal
centres. It also seems that one of the aims of King Snofrus policy was the pursuing of
some kind of territorial administrative homogeneity, as one can deduce from the
replacement of the pr units by the royal establishments.
The inscriptions and administrative titles of other officials, such as Pehernefer,
Netjeraperef, Isi or Nesutnefer confirm this picture. Even if the dates of their monuments
cannot always be established with reasonable accuracy or be assigned to a specific
reign, their titles nevertheless underscore that the policy of the first pharaohs of the
IVth Dynasty pursued an effective territorial control and agricultural organisation of the
countryside. The titles of Nesutnefer, for example, suggest that the control of workers
and defensive buildings (the towers swnw) usually went together in some provinces in
Upper Egypt, whereas the duties of some officials of the IVth and Vth Dynasty exhibit the
same concern for the simultaneous control of workers and towers in some Upper
Egyptian provinces where agricultural centres such as the Hwt-aAt were also documented
(Moreno Garca 1997). In fact, temples, Hwt-aAt, grgt and the towers swnw were the most
conspicuous elements of the rural landscape during the IVth Dynasty. Their frequency in
the titles held by high officials, usually with extensive territorial responsibilities, displays
the importance attached by the crown to the production, storage and delivery of
agricultural items, especially in the regions close to Memphis Lower Egypt and some
provinces in Middle Egypt (Moreno Garca 1996; 1997; 1998a). This importance is
exemplified by the papyri of Gebelein, dating from about the end of the IVth Dynasty
(Posener-Krieger 2004), an administrative archive which records the lists of the inhabitants
of some localities close to Gebelein classified by name, title, locality and the kind of work
that they accomplished. The villages formed an administrative unit (pr-Dt) and the
individuals who lived there were often designated as royal serfs (Hm-nzwt) in the
context of deliveries of grain and cloth and of construction activities in a temple of
Snofru (Hwt-nTr nt nfrw). The enormous building projects of the IVth Dynasty pharaohs
were only possible thanks to the mobilisation of great quantities of workers and raw
materials, as well as to a complex labour organisation whose traces can be found at the
pyramid workers city at Giza. Later sources mention the fact that the labour force


Juan Carlos Moreno Garca

employed in the construction of the Middle Kingdom pyramids came, precisely, from
Lower and Middle Egypt (Arnold 1990: 24 fig. 1). In fact, the foundation of agricultural
domains and the organisation of the rural landscape intended to cope with the needs of
the monarchy in a period of imposing architectural activity.
The existence of these economic and redistribution circuits is confirmed by archaeology.
The excavations at the locality of Kom el-Hisn, in the western Delta, have unearthed the
remains of a specialised productive centre. According to the analysis of the faunal and
vegetal remains, Kom el-Hisn was a livestock breeding centre whose production was
only partly consumed by the local inhabitants (Moens & Wetterstrom 1988; Wenke et al.
1988; Cagle 2003). Accordingly, the flocks were perhaps driven to Memphis in order to
provide the workers employed in the crowns building projects with the rations necessary to feed them. It also seems that certain species of fish were locally processed and
delivered to other localities (Cagle 2003: 128130). The existence of economic circuits
which might have connected Memphis and Kom el-Hisn seems realistic on an epigraphic ground, as some officials of the Old Kingdom were responsible for a rearing
centre (Hwt-jHt the Hwt of the cow) situated exactly in the vicinity of this locality. But if
the circulation of cattle was probably under the control of the state, the study of the
faunal remains from Kom el-Hisn suggests alternative economic circuits, not controlled
by the state, which ensured the supply of the local population with pigs and also with
fish coming from the coastal Mediterranean areas. So two different economic realities,
an institutional one and a domestic one, coexisted at the same locality and can be spotted
in the rural landscape.

The state and the rural landscape until the end of the Vth Dynasty: Temples and royal
agricultural centres
The royal annals of the Vh Dynasty and the increasing number of inscriptions concerning the provincial administrators give a more accurate picture of the royal involvement in the organisation of the Egyptian rural landscape. Both types of source provide
crucial information about the two most important pillars of the state in the countryside:
the temples and the agricultural centres of the crown. For the first time temples have
become an important element of the rural landscape in the epigraphic record. Probably
this does not mean that their role was insignificant before, as can be inferred from
inscriptions such as those in the tomb of Nikaankh of Tehne. This provincial official and
his family succeeded in controlling both the local temple of the goddess Hathor and the
royal agricultural centres of the crown in the province (jmj-r nwwt mAwt overseer of the
new localities; jmj-r pr n Hwt-aAt administrator of a great Hwt) at the beginning of the
Vth Dynasty. The texts in his tomb also describe an important event: the donation of a

State and rural landscape in pharaonic Egypt


field of two arouras by king Mykerinos of the IVth Dynasty, a donation which was
confirmed by subsequent kings.
As to the royal annals of the Vth Dynasty, they contain detailed descriptions of the
fields allotted to the provincial temples by the king (Sethe 1933: 235249). This activity
was considered one of the most important events in the reign of a pharaoh, and the
donations were numerous and sometimes involved fields of a considerable surface area,
of about 350 arouras (= 96 ha). It is difficult to know the social and economic context of
these transfers of land; sometimes they were accompanied by the allotment of workers
and processing centres, and later examples from Coptos reveal that the fields were taken
from royal pastures and riparian land, as if the allotment of royal land to the sanctuaries
implied the obligation to bring the fields into cultivation. This probably explains the
frequency of the donations in Lower Egypt, a region which may be considered a kind of
frontier area, with extensive grazing and agricultural land. We also know that provincial
sanctuaries in Upper Egypt were often controlled by powerful local families, and one
can infer that the control of a sanctuary had deep social and economic effects at a local
level, as it placed the chief of a temple at the head of considerable resources and,
probably, also of clientelism networks that he could use to his advantage. The case of
Nikaankh of Tehne is worth remembering, as he and his wife and children monopolised
the main ritual functions of the local temple of Hathor.
On the other hand, the inscriptions from some provincial cemeteries such as Deshasha,
Tehne or Hemammiya show, for a brief period of time, the emergence of local potentates, who were in charge of the agricultural centres of the crown: the towers swnw, the
new royal agricultural foundations called nwt mAwt, the riparian domains grgt, the royal
agricultural and administrative centres Hwt-aAt and, finally, the agricultural centres Hwt.
The Hwt-aAt were more frequently mentioned in the titles of local administrators prior to
the beginning of the VIth Dynasty, when they disappeared almost completely, replaced
by the ubiquitous Hwt, whose presence is attested in nearly every province of Upper
Egypt during the VIth Dynasty. Thanks to the royal decrees of the Vth Dynasty it is
possible to understand the governmental system implemented in the nomes; these
documents mention the royal agents sent to the provinces: they were the srw dignitaries, the rx nzwt acquaintance of the king and the Hrj wDb, a title which refers to the
control of the distribution of agricultural produce. On the other hand, the provincial
governors display rather different titles, mostly concerned with the territorial administration (sSm tA leader of the land, jmj-r wpt overseer of commissions) or the direction
of the agricultural centres of the crown (HoA Hwt-aAt governor of a great Hwt, jmj-r nwwt
mAwt overseer of the new agricultural domains, jmj-r swnw overseer of the towers). It
seems that the difference exhibited in the titles points to an important change, where the
itinerant agents of the royal palace were gradually substituted by provincial governors
who resided permanently in the provinces they administered and were also buried


Juan Carlos Moreno Garca

there. The link between the palatial and the provincial bureaucracies was ensured by the
officials mentioned in the royal decrees.
In any case, the existence of these provincial governors was confined only to some
provinces in Middle Egypt (the nomes 9, 10, 15, 16 and 20, roughly from Akhmim in the
south to the Fayum in the north), and the titles of some of them (jmj-r kAt m zpAwt Hrjwt-jb
maw overseer of works in the middle provinces of Upper Egypt, jmj-r zpAwt Hrjwt-jb
maw overseer of the middle provinces of Upper Egypt) lend additional support to the
idea that this geographical area might have been closely supervised by the crown. But
supra-provincial administrators were not exclusive to this particular region, as their
counterparts both in the Delta (jmj-r zpAwt A-MHw overseer of the provinces of Lower
Egypt) and in Upper Egypt (jmj-r zpA(w)t maw, jmj-r jxt msw nzwt m zpAwt maw) are also
well attested in the Vth Dynasty. From this evidence, it is possible to guess at some
particularities of the rural organisation of the Egyptian landscape during the Vth Dynasty.
First of all, it seems that a broad region including the Delta and most of Middle Egypt,
north of Abydos, was directly administered by the crown, an area with abundant
resources in land and livestock and sparsely populated. If we also bear in mind that the
decorated tombs of the provincial governors are a crucial source of knowledge on the
scope of their activities, as well as the local organisation of the kingdom, the absence of
these monuments in the Delta suggests that the local administrators preferred to be
buried in the Memphite cemeteries. With regard to the nomes 17 of Upper Egypt, the
lack of provincial governors there and of any mention of overseers of royal agricultural
centres (Hwwt-aAt, nwwt mAwt, swnw, Hwt) may indicate a larger autonomy as well as the
existence of powerful families who continued the traditional administrative relation
with the capital, Memphis, and who succeeded in limiting the local influence of the
crown in some way (Moreno Garca 1999c: 238241). Later examples from Coptos,
Akhmim and Elkab confirm the existence of these families, the control they exercised
over the local sanctuaries and the rarity (or complete absence) in their provinces of the
agricultural centres of the crown.

wt , temples, and the expansion of the provincial administration in the VIth Dynasty
The beginning of the VIth Dynasty was a period of important changes in the territorial
organisation of the kingdom. Provincial governors (Hrj-tp aA n zpAt great chief of the
nome) were appointed to most of the provinces of Upper Egypt, whereas the ancient
agricultural centres of the crown in the nomes (swnw, Hwt-aAt, grgt) were replaced by the
Hwt. Although Hwt appears from an early date in the epigraphic record, its role seems
rather secondary when compared to other royal agricultural centres such as the Hwt-aAt.
However, the situation changed at the end of the Vth Dynasty, when the title HoA Hwt
governor of a Hwt became commonly attested in most of the Upper Egyptian nomes. In

State and rural landscape in pharaonic Egypt


fact, Hwt is the only royal agricultural centre which is mentioned in the monuments of
the southernmost nomes of Upper Egypt. The extent and increase of the Hwt in the
Egyptian rural landscape is furthermore corroborated by the fact that nearly 90 % of the
c. 200 HoA Hwt known from 3rd millennium sources lived between the VIth Dynasty and
the end of the 3rd millennium. Their geographical distribution in Lower and Upper
Egypt was quite similar, although a considerable difference can be detected: whereas in
Upper Egypt they were buried in the provinces where they exercised their administrative functions, the bulk of the HoA Hwt of Lower Egypt are only attested in the necropolis
around Memphis. This circumstance and the absence of provincial governors in this
region reinforces the idea that the Delta was directly administered from Memphis.
Another important aspect which emerges from the study of the upper Egyptian
HoA Hwt monuments is that considerable differences emerge between neighbouring
provinces. For instance, no HoA Hwt is known at Coptos or El-Hawawish (but two of them
are mentioned in the monuments of other minor cemeteries of the same province), and
only one at Elkab. These three localities are exceptional not only because of the rarity
(or absence) of HoA Hwt despite their rich epigraphic record , but also because the local
temples happened to be the most important power centres in their respective provinces,
to the extent of probably having prevented the foundation of crown centres well attested
in the neighbouring nomes. Another common feature is the existence of true dynasties
of temple overseers whose members, all belonging to the same families, succeeded in
controlling the function of chief of priests in their respective local sanctuaries, over six or
even eight generations, together with many other ritual responsibilities. Finally, it is
perhaps worth considering that at least two of these provinces (Coptos, Elkab/Hierakonpolis) were important political centres prior to the Egyptian unification at the end of
the 4th millennium. But the incompatibility of the temples and the crown centres is only
apparent and perhaps limited to these provinces, as in many cases the HoA Hwt were also
temple directors and provincial administrators (Moreno Garca 1999c: 252265).
Assuredly, the Hwt were important centres in the organisation of the rural landscape.
So were temples. The rich epigraphic corpus of royal decrees from the temple of Min,
at Coptos, provides a detailed insight into the founding of agricultural domains and
their impact on the peasant communities in their vicinity: first of all, the overseer of the
sanctuary chose a tract of land in a flooded environment with the assistance of the
scribes of the fields; he marked out the plots of land and named the domain and, finally,
an administrative council was established in order to ensure the running of the fields.
The labour force was provided by the peasants from the neighbouring villages, whose
chiefs were also members of the council. The inscriptions mention that the domains
were usually assigned to specialised processing centres whose main concern was the
transformation of the products into offerings which were later presented to the god
(Moreno Garca 1998b). But temples were not only beneficiaries of the royal largesse,
they were also liable to the payment of taxes and the delivery of certain goods (skins,


Juan Carlos Moreno Garca

precious metals, cloth, etc.). Royal chapels (Hwt-kA) were also built inside them (Moreno
Garca 1999c: 164; 251 f.). In fact, temples and Hwt were part of a network of economic
and productive centres spread all over the country and which were more or less
dependent on the crown; their produce was usually at the disposal of the kings officials
as it is stated in the letter sent by Pharaoh Pepi II to Herkhuf of Aswan:
Orders have been brought to the governor(s) of the new localities, the companion(s) and the overseer(s)
of priests to command that supplies be furnished from what is under the charge of each from every Hwt
belonging to a processing centre and from every temple without any exemption. (Sethe 1933: 131,46)

The role played by the Hwt in providing the agents of the king with supplies is also
exemplified by the inscriptions of Hatnub mentioning the equipment delivered by the
local Hwt to the teams of workers sent to the quarries, the organisation of the expeditions
by an overseer of Hwt, or the close relationship between the Hwt and the agricultural
domains nwt mAwt, as it was also pointed out in the autobiography of Herkhuf just
quoted (graffiti 1 & 6: Anthes 1928) and in a fragmentary inscription from the beginning
of the VIth Dynasty (Sethe 1933: 87,2). Finally, a fragmentary text from the tomb of Ibi,
governor of Deir el-Gebrawi, shows that fields of considerable extent (about 50 ha)
belonged to a Hwt which, at the same time, depended on a processing centre pr-Sna (Sethe
1933: 144,11145,3); the agricultural domains nwt mAwt and the Hwt are also mentioned
together in an inscription from the reign of Teti (Sethe 1933: 87,2).
The royal decrees from Coptos reveal that the main concern of the central administration in the nomes was the control of the local labour force and fields, the
collection of goods and taxes, the accomplishment of numerous works for the royal
residence, the sending of messengers to the provinces and the keeping of documents
which included lists of workers who could be called up (Moreno Garca 1999c: 248 252).
The titles of the officials involved in these activities are very different from those borne
by local administrators and displayed in their monuments, as well as in some
autobiographical accounts i.e. of Weni of Abydos. It is in this context that the Hwt appear
as a crucial link in the geographical tax system of the Old Kingdom: they were founded
in almost every province, they acted as agricultural centres provided with fields, cattle
and workers, they were also local warehouses where the agricultural produce was
stocked and delivered to the royal agents in mission, and they formed, together with the
temples, the domains of the crown and the processing installations, a network of royal
centres which allowed the collection of taxes and the mobilisation of the countrys
labour force.
In general, the pharaohs of the VIth Dynasty seem to have further developed and
deepened the model of territorial organisation of the kingdom set up by their predecessors. The decrees from Coptos and the titles of the officials buried at Akhmim suggest
that the provincial temples continued to benefit from important transfers of land:
the Coptos decrees reveal that royal grazing lands were converted into agricultural

State and rural landscape in pharaonic Egypt


domains granted to the sanctuary of Min as a source of divine offerings; and the titles
from Akhmim show that the disappearance of the agricultural centres of the Vth Dynasty
(nwt mAwt, Hwt-aAt) in the epigraphic record was not accompanied by the foundation of
Hwt in the VIth Dynasty, as it was the case in most of the Upper Egyptian provinces, but
by an increase in the number of titles concerning the local temple of Min and the control
of fields and workers devoted to provide divine offerings. This was also a period of
intense activity in Middle Egypt, where important cemeteries and urban centres
developed at Siut, Zawiyet el-Mayetin, Der el-Gebrawi, Meir, Quseir el-Amarna, Sharuna,
etc. (Adams 1998; Huber 1998; Leospo 1998; Moeller 2005), and where regional officials
were appointed to control this sector of the Nile valley: Pepiankh the middle of Meir
was jmj-r maw m zpAwt Hrjwt-jb overseer of the middle provinces of Middle Egypt,
whereas Niankhpepi of Zawiyet el-Mayetin was jmj-r wpt m zpAwt 9 overseer of
commissions in the nine provinces. Many officials from Memphis and from the provinces
were nominated jmj-r maw overseer of Upper Egypt, a function of variable territorial
scope but which implied a general control over the work and taxes due to the royal
residence in the southern provinces, as it is explicitly stated in the Coptos decrees and in
the autobiography of Weni of Abydos. With regard to Lower Egypt, its administration
continued to be exercised in a rather centralised way as there is no evidence of any Hrj-tp
aA n zpAt great chief of the nome from this region, and there was no counterpart of the
function of jmj-r maw overseer of Upper Egypt for the Delta, with the only exception
being Ishti-Tjeti, a jmj[-r] zpAwt A-MHw overseer of the provinces of Lower Egypt
buried in Memphis.
Livestock breeding was another important economic activity whose traces are difficult
to discern in the organisation of the rural landscape. The archaeological excavations at
Kom el-Hisn have revealed the existence of a centre specialised in cattle breeding, a kind
of installation only known so far through titles such as jmj-r Hwt-jHt overseer of the Hwt
of the cow. The officials in charge of these breeding centres usually fulfilled other
functions connected with the control of vegetation, pasture zones and marshy areas, and
the decrees of Coptos show that riparian grazing zones could be transformed into
agricultural fields. Although flocks are a typical element of the iconography of the Old
Kingdom, it is difficult to discern the modalities of their management and the involvement of the central and provincial administration in these activities. The scenes from the
private tombs of the 3rd millennium suggest the existence of some kind of transhumance
from the swampy areas of the Delta to the high lands but, unfortunately, we are
unaware of the characteristics and ways it took. Nevertheless, it is noteworthy that titles
and texts refer to a term, gs-pr, usually associated to the Delta but whose existence is also
attested in Upper Egypt, and which in some contexts designates an extensive zone
devoted to rear flocks (Moreno Garca 1999a). Together with the Hwt-jHt and the gs-pr,
texts also mention stalling as another modality of cattle breeding. In his autobiographical account, Qar, governor of Edfu, prides himself on having bred cattle for the crown in


Juan Carlos Moreno Garca

the most satisfactory way, as well as having put the stables of his province at the head of
those of Upper Egypt:
I was a judge for all of Upper Egypt. I had caused oxen of this nome to be foremost among oxen, and my
cattle stables (to be) at the head of all Upper Egypt. This was not something which I had found (done)
by (any) chief who was in this nome before (and was the result) of my steadiness and of the excellence
of my direction of the business of the (royal) residence. (Sethe 1933: 254,711)

Later inscriptions of local administrators such as Imeny of Beni Hasan or Henenu,

dating from the beginning of the 2nd millennium BC, reveal that the crown assigned
flocks to the provinces in order that they would breed cattle and hand over an annual fee
to the royal treasury (Moreno Garca 1999b).
Finally, one particularity of the Egyptian ideology is the representation of the reality
by means of pairs of concepts, a tradition which turns out to be a valuable source of
information on how the Egyptians envisaged their landscape. Furthermore, the replacement of one pair of concepts by another one might reveal contemporaneous transformations in the Egyptian landscape. From the beginning of the IVth Dynasty, texts and titles
reveal that the localities nwt and the royal foundations grgt were habitual in the rural
landscape, and expressions formed with this pair of elements appear in ritual corpora
such as the Pyramid Texts. But from the beginning of the VIth Dynasty, texts mention a
new pair of concepts, nwt and the royal centres Hwt, just when grgt disappear from the
titles of the officials and when the number of HoA Hwt governor of a Hwt increases
dramatically in the epigraphic sources. The decline of the Hwt at the beginning of the
2nd millennium is also evidenced in the inscriptions, when a new pair of concepts, nwt
and spAt domain, became frequent in some stereotyped expressions to denote the
totality of the inhabited areas. Consequently, there is a clear correlation between pairs of
concepts, mental landscapes and territorial organisation, to such an extent that the
changes in the use of pairs of concepts over time are valuable indicators of the transformations of the rural landscape, although it must be always contrasted with the
administrative record (Moreno Garca 1999c: 117150).

The changes at the end of the 3rd millennium

The Egyptian rural landscape was not a static one as it was subject to changes which
were dependent on numerous factors, the most influential being doubtless the balance
of power between the central government and the provincial nobility. It was such a
balance which determined the distribution of wealth between the different sectors of the
Egyptian elite on a local and national basis, and it was a crucial factor in ensuring the
stability of the kingdom, as it displayed the capacity of the king to integrate the
provincial nobility in the structure of the state. The changing balance of power between

State and rural landscape in pharaonic Egypt


the royal palace, the factions of the court, the provincial nobility and the local sub-elite,
as well as the variable conditions on which individuals could circulate from one of these
poles of power to another, possibly explain the recurring alternation of periods of an
apparently solid central government with periods of disintegration of the state. The
rural landscape reflects the capacity of the state to organise the territory in order to
collect taxes and work, and it is expressed in a kind of fiscal geography formed by a
network of royal centres, agricultural domains and processing units. The foundation or
disappearance of the elements which integrated this network are good indicators of the
changes of the fiscal base of the state and, consequently, of the balance of power between
the core and the periphery of the kingdom. The local presence of Hwt, for example, was
dependent not only on the royal will but also on the importance of the local temples and
on the power of the families who controlled them (Moreno Garca 2004).
The crisis of the state at the end of the 3rd millennium was accompanied by some
changes in the organisation of the rural landscape, to the extent that it became somewhat
different from that which had prevailed in the previous centuries. wt continued to be
recorded in the formal monumental and literary texts, but the study of the administrative titles of the 2nd millennium shows that the title HoA Hwt was no longer of common use,
and that its gradual disappearance was a consequence of the troubles which affected the
monarchy at the end of the Old Kingdom. The reunification of the country at the end of
the XIth Dynasty did not involve the restoration of the network of Hwt that had prevailed
during the VIth Dynasty, but new centres arose to cope with the needs of the reestablished unitary monarchy, and they left their traces in the organisation of the rural
landscape. These were the work centres called xnrt, which appear in the epigraphic and
papyrological record from the beginning of the 2nd millennium (Quirke 1988). For the
first time, the provincial temples began to be decorated and built in noble materials on a
monumental scale, and became a common and visible architectural element out of the
Memphite area.

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Juan Carlos Moreno Garca

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