Records of the strike in Egypt under Ramses III, c1157BCE

 Judicial Papyrus of Turin, verso ii
Judicial Papyrus of Turin, verso ii, containing the records of the strike

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.

Submitted by Steven. on February 26, 2007

The Turin Strike Papyrus (now held in the Museo Egizio, Turin. Cat.1880) is contemporary account of the first labour strike in recorded history, which occurred on the West Bank at Thebes during the reign of Ramesses III, when the tomb workers of Deir el Medina did not receive their wage rations.

In the 29th year of Ramesses III’s reign (c.1157 BCE), the scribe Amennakhte records at the village of Deir el Medina a series of strikes and sit-ins undertaken by the artisans who lived there. These artisans were highly specialised workers, brought to the village in order to work in secret on the tombs in the Valley of the Kings which now draw crowds of visitors who marvel at the craftsmanship.

While Amennakhte records several dates on the papyrus prior to the strike, mainly administrative concerns that potentially indicate an issue prior to the contents of the papyrus, the first ‘strike’ recorded is dated to ‘Year 29, 2nd month of Peret (the Egyptian name for their Growing season), day 10’ with the workers ‘passing the walls’ to complain ‘we are hungry’ after having not been paid their wage rations, and ultimately staging a sit-in behind the mortuary temple of Thutmose III.

The papyrus is an interesting document, as it highlights the ongoing socio-economic problems that plagued Egypt in the later New Kingdom. Problems that drove the cost of food higher, and led, in just a few short years, to a widespread practice of high level corruption in Thebes and tomb robbery by the residents of Thebes in order to pay for it.

Mortuary temples where the workers went on sit-down strikes are underlined in blue. The workmen’s city of Deir el-Medina, where they and their families lived, is also underlined in blue. Source –

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
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

Introduction written by That Little Egyptologist who also wrote a short blog making some corrections of the original introduction taken from the nefertiti website

  • 1One of the monthly rest days.
  • 2Medjay guarding the necropolis.
  • 3This 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.
  • 4Thutmose III
  • 5Proctors are officials at the universities of Oxford and Cambridge charged with keeping the students disciplined (P. J. Frandsen)
  • 6Generally not accessible to the uninitiated.
  • 7Two ostraca texts by unknown writers.
  • 8according to Frandsen: Mentuhotep III
  • 9temple enclosure
  • 10Ramses II
  • 11Ptahemheb, the mayor of Thebes, also held the position of chief taxing master, having access to the state granaries.
  • 12i.e the strikers to the officials.
  • 13of not insignificant importance in a hot fry climate.
  • 14the main source of protein.
  • 15about 21 days late.
  • 16During this strike the chief of police sided openly with the strikers, probably not a good career move.
  • 17Texts from two ostraca by unknown writers.
  • 18In the New Kingdom about 80 litres
  • 19for brewing beer
  • 20According to Beinlich: travellers
  • 21Ramses III
  • 22In ancient Egypt workforces were generally partitioned into two halves, a right and a left side, each with their own hierarchies of foremen, scribes etc.
  • 23Tomb robbing became a favourite pastime of both official and private looters in the late New Kingdom
  • 24To, 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.
  • 25one of the reasons for the state of the granaries may well have been the corruption apparent everywhere.
  • 26subordinates (Frandsen)
  • 27Merneptah
  • 28Cases 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.


temple-map.jpg (33.56 KB)



11 years 3 months ago

In reply to by

Submitted by royx1241 on April 20, 2013

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


7 years 7 months ago

In reply to by

Submitted by Entdinglichung on November 23, 2016

some new research on workers' health conditions in Deir-el-Medina: