Records of the strike in Egypt under Ramses III, c1155BC

Records of the strike in Egypt under Ramses III, c1155BC

A contemporary document recounting the first ever recorded labour strike, which occured in Deir el Medina, Ancient Egypt during the reign of Ramses III when workers did not receive their rations.

The stoppage occurred in the 12th century BC, on the 21st day of the second month in the 29th year of the reign of the pharaoh Ramses III, while Ramses was fighting a series of wars and engaging in an extensive building campaign.

The strikers were hereditary craftsmen who worked on the tombs of the pharaohs, the vast complexes that to this day draw visitors from all over the world to the Valley of the Kings.

This papyrus was written by the scribe Amennakhte at Deir el Medina. It describes the workers' struggle, and the corruption which had spread throughout the administration.

Year 29, second month of winter, day 101
On this day the crew passed the five guard-posts2 of the tomb saying: "We are hungry, for 18 days have already elapsed in this month3;" and they sat down at the rear of the temple of Menkheperre4.

The scribe of the enclosed tomb, the two foremen, the two deputies and the two proctors5 came and shouted to them: "Come inside."

They swore great oaths (saying): "Please come back, we have matters of Pharaoh."

They spent the night in the Tomb.

Year 29, second month of winter, day 10
The entire crew passed the five guard-posts of the tomb. They reached the inner part of the temple of Pharaoh6. The three captains, the (two) deputies and the two proctors came (?). They found them seated at the rear of the temple of Menkheperre in the outer road.

Year 29, second month of winter, day 107
On this day the crew passed the guard-post because of their ration.

(day 10)
(They) passed the guard-post because of their ration, near the causeway of (Ki)ng (Mentuhotp)e8.

Year 29, second month of winter, day 11
They passed again. They reached the gate of the southern temenos-wall9 of the Temple of Wesermaatre-setepenre.

Year 29, second month of winter, day 11
There were brought by the scribe Pentaweret: s'b-cakes: 28, s'b-cakes: 27. Total 55.

Year 29, second month of winter, day 12
They reached the temple of Wesermaatre-setepenre10. They spent the night quarrelling (?) in its entrance. They entered into its interior, and the scribe Pentaweret, the two chiefs of police, the two gatekeepers, the gatekeepers of the Gatehouse of the Tomb ... (The chief of police) Mentmose (declared that he would go) to Thebes saying: "I will fetch the mayor of Thebes11. He ..."
I (Mentmose) said to him: "Those of the Tomb are (in) the temple of Wesermaatre-setepenre."

He said to me: "... treasury ... you ... there is not ... give you ... (to the place where) one is ..."

The two chiefs of police ... Pharaoh, the accounts scribe Hednakht, the god-fathers of this administration (came out (?)) to hear their statement. They said to them12: "The prospect of hunger and thirst has driven us to this; there is no clothing, there is no ointment13, there is no fish14, there are no vegetables. Send to Pharaoh, our good lord, about it, and send to the vizier, our superior, that we may be supplied with provisions."

The ration of the 1st month of winter was issued to them on this day15.

Year 29, second month of winter, day 12
They passed and (they) reached the Temple of the King of Upper and Lower Egypt Wesermaatre-setepenre. ... Mentmose (?) (said) to the crew: "Finish 'whatever you are doing' that we may go out."

Year 29, second month of winter, day 13
At the Gatehouse of the Tomb. Declaration by the chief of police Mentmose16: "I'll tell you my opinion. Go up, gather your paraphernalia, close your doors, fetch your wives and your children, and I'll lead you to the temple of Menmaatre and let you settle down there forthwith.

Year 29, second month of winter, day 1317
The chief of police ... "finish 'whatever you are (doing)' ..."

... (second month of winter, day 13)
likewise, they having taken their wives ... go/went out again saying ... the chief taxing master had brought to them ... list of that (?) which came to them ... (which) the chief taxing master Ptahemheb sent.

Second month of winter, day 15 (or 16)
.... "Give each man half a sack18 of barley19 (?)," so he said. Mentmose had one qbw-jar of beer and fifty (??) brought to them, but to no avail. They passed again and in the evening they were even carrying torches (?).

day 17
The imy-r mSaw20 of the temple of the King of Upper and Lower Egypt, Wesermaatre-meriamun21 came to the crew. He heard [their declaration, saying: "Tell (me) that which I shall write to Pharaoh about." The scribe Hori ... He said to me: "the mayor of Thebes ... spending the night."

I haven't got emmer to give to you. One gave a ration at the gatehouse ... in the second month of winter, day 17, likewise. The foreman, 7½ sacks, 18 men, each 5½ sacks, the two striplings, complete, the woman slave, complete.

Year 29, second month of winter, day 17
Giving the ration of the second month:
(Right side22)
1 foreman: 7½ sacks
the scribe: 3¾ sacks
8 men, each one: 52/4 sacks, making 44 sacks.
Left side:
1 foreman: 7½ sacks
the scribe: 3¾ sacks
8 men, each one: 52/4 sacks, making 44 sacks.
The two gatekeepers, the four washermen ...

Year 29, third month of winter
The crew passed the guard posts; they sat down in the Tomb. The three captains went out to fetch them. And the workman Mose, son of Anakhte, said: "As Amun endures and as the ruler, whose wrath is greater than death, endures, if I am taken from here today I shall go to sleep only after having made preparations for robbing a tomb23. If I do not (i.e. keep the oath), it is because of this swearing of mine by the name of Pharaoh there that one shall punish me.
The crew went out to pass the guard-post from the rear of the village after the three captains had made a great shout against them at the gate of the village. The scribe Amennakhte of the enclosed Tomb made the two proctors and the two deputies go out to fetch them. The proctor Reshpetref returned saying to us: "Thus speak Qenna, son of Ruta, and Hay, son of Huy: 'We will not come back, you can tell your superiors that," - they stood in front of their comrades - "for sure, it is not because of hunger that we passed (i.e. that we are on strike), but we have a serious charge to make; for sure, something bad has been done in this place of Pharaoh', so they said."

And when we went out to listen to their statement, they said to us: "Tell it as it is."

Year 29, fourth month of winter, day 28
The vizier To went northwards after he had come to take the gods of the southern region to the Sed-jubilee. The chief of police Nebsemen, son of Pahnesy, came to say to the three captains and to the crew as they were standing at the gatehouse of the Tomb: "Thus says the vizier: 'Was it for no reason that I did not come to you? It was not because there was nothing to bring you that I did not come! As for your saying: 'Do not take away our rations!' am I the vizier who was promoted (recently)24 for the purpose of taking away? I may not give (you) what he who is in my position should have accomplished - it so happens that there is nothing in the granaries25 - but I shall give you what I have found.'
And the scribe Hori of the Tomb said to them: "There is given to you a half-ration and I will distribute it to you myself."

Year 29, first month of summer, day 2

Amenkhay and Weserhat gave the two sacks of emmer to the crew as ration for the first month of summer. The foreman Khonsu said to the crew: "Look, I tell you, accept the ration and then go down to the market-place to the gatehouse, and have the vizier's children26 tell him about it."

When the scribe Amennakhte had finished giving them the ration they betook themselves to the market-place in accordance with what he (i.e. Khonsu) had told them. But when they passed one guard-post, the scribe Amennakhte went out and said to them: "Do not pass to the market-place. For sure, I have just given you two sacks of emmer. You go then, and I'll have you convicted in any court you'll go to."

And I brought them up again.

Year 29, first month of summer, day 13
The crew passed the guard-posts saying: "We are hungry."

They sat down at the rear of the temple of Baenre-meryamun27. They shouted at the mayor of Thebes as he was passing by, and he sent to them the gardener Meniufer of the chief overseer of cattle to say to them: "See, I'll give these 50 sacks of emmer for provisions until Pharaoh gives you (a) ration.

Year 29, first month of summer, day 1628
Declaration by the workman Penanuke to the scribe Amennakhte and the foreman Khonsu: "You are my superiors, and you are the administrators of the Tomb. Pharaoh, my good lord, has made me swear an oath of fealty saying: 'I will not hear anything. I will not see any damage in the great and deep places and conceal it.' Now, Weserhat and Pentaweret have stripped stones from the top of the tomb shaft of Osiris King Wesermaatre-setepenre, the great god. And he took away an ox branded with the brand of the temple of Wesermaatre-setepenre, and it is standing in his stable. And he had intercourse with three married women: the lady Menat when she was living with Qenna, the lady Taiunes when she was living with Nakhtamun and the lady Tawerethetepti when she was living with Pentaweret. Now, you have seen the attitude of the vizier Hori concerning the taking away of stones, which was reported to him: 'The foreman Peneb' - my father - 'put men to take off stones from it, (he did) just that.' And Qenna, son of Ruta, did it in exactly the same way from the top of the tomb shaft of the royal children of King Osiris Wesermaatre-setepenre, the great god. Let me see what you will do to them, or I will report them to Pharaoh, my lord, and to the vizier, my superior."

He said: "Weserhat made plans for robbing his tomb and implemented them in the Valley of the Queens."

Text and footnotes taken from http://nefertiti.iwebland.com/texts/turin_strike_papyrus.htm
Translated by Paul J. Frandsen in Editing Reality: The Turin Strike Papyrus
Sarah Israelit-Groll, Studies in Egyptology, Vol.1, Jerusalem 1990, Magnes Press, Hebrew University

  • 1. One of the monthly rest days.
  • 2. Medjay guarding the necropolis.
  • 3. This has been interpreted to mean that pay-day was on the 21st of the month. Others claim, based on different evidence, that it was on the 28th.
  • 4. Thutmose III
  • 5. Proctors are officials at the universities of Oxford and Cambridge charged with keeping the students disciplined (P. J. Frandsen)
  • 6. Generally not accessible to the uninitiated.
  • 7. Two ostraca texts by unknown writers.
  • 8. according to Frandsen: Mentuhotep III
  • 9. temple enclosure
  • 10. Ramses II
  • 11. Ptahemheb, the mayor of Thebes, also held the position of chief taxing master, having access to the state granaries.
  • 12. i.e the strikers to the officials.
  • 13. of not insignificant importance in a hot fry climate.
  • 14. the main source of protein.
  • 15. about 21 days late.
  • 16. During this strike the chief of police sided openly with the strikers, probably not a good career move.
  • 17. Texts from two ostraca by unknown writers.
  • 18. In the New Kingdom about 80 litres
  • 19. for brewing beer
  • 20. According to Beinlich: travellers
  • 21. Ramses III
  • 22. In ancient Egypt workforces were generally partitioned into two halves, a right and a left side, each with their own hierarchies of foremen, scribes etc.
  • 23. Tomb robbing became a favourite pastime of both official and private looters in the late New Kingdom
  • 24. To, who had been vizier of Lower Egypt had been appointed vizier of the whole country on day 23 of the second month of akhet year 29.
  • 25. one of the reasons for the state of the granaries may well have been the corruption apparent everywhere.
  • 26. subordinates (Frandsen)
  • 27. Merneptah
  • 28. Cases of corruption were uncovered every now and then. Penanuke in his accusation of Weserhat and Pentaweret recalls a similar case of theft in which his own father, Peneb, had been involved decades earlier. In this context one may wonder why he also accuses Weserhat of having committed adultery.

Posted By

Steven.
Feb 26 2007 11:52

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royx1241
Apr 20 2013 06:19

This account does not give the result from the strike. Or did I miss something?