Strikes in ancient Egypt

by Egyptian Symbols February 01, 2020

Historians consider that the first strike in history occurred during the time of the New Egyptian Empire, in the reign of Ramses III.  There may have been others earlier in this civilization or in Mesopotamia but, undoubtedly, this is the first documented, thanks to the known as Papyrus of the  Strike in the Egyptian  Museum in Turin. Let's try to give some clues to the conflict.

Apparently, in times of the twentieth dynasty the inflation that was recorded in Egypt soared. In addition, the Asian empire had been lost, that is, beyond the Sinai peninsula. Rations for workers in Deir el-Medina, the community of workers and craftsmen created to build the royal tombs during the eighteenth dynasty, were not distributed as regularly as usual. 

But not only did the rhythm and regularity of the rations change, but they also decreased in quantity and quality. The rations that were delivered were the wages of the workers. Apparently, these rations were not very different among the different professional categories. A manager received 5.5 kilos of wheat and 2 kilos of barley, compared to 4 kilos of wheat and 1.5 kilos of barley from a simple artisan. 

Rations of other products were also given: bread, pasta, beer, oil, fish, vegetables, dates, some meat, crockery, clothing and sandals, but in a more irregular and scarce form. 

According to the stipulation, grain rations had to be paid regularly on the last working day of each month, but it became very common for them to be delayed until the middle of the following month. 

This caused discomfort among the workers. In the year 29 of the reign of Ramses III a  strike  broke out. The protests were loud and repeated over several days. 

The  workers  turned to the chief priests and scribes to complain that they were hungry and thirsty, that they had no clothes or other products, and asked them to explain this situation to  Pharaoh  and the  vizier  so that they could remedy it. The authorities tried to stop the protest with promises, but some scribes resorted to threats. Neither response made the workers give up. 

The documentation is incomplete and it is not known what the outcome of the wage conflict was, but we can affirm that these workers had acquired a kind of class consciousness or, at least, of their strength. From then on, when problems arose in relation to rations, protest actions were taken that could last from a single day to weeks. They were repeated on different occasions, until the dissolution of the community of Deir el-Madina in the time of Ramses IX.

Historians have valued these conflicts because they would mean a change in the way of expressing the discomfort of the Egyptian population when economic and/or political problems arose. 

Previously, in the stages of crisis, such as those caused by the so-called intermediate periods between the Empires, the population longed and claimed a central power, incarnated in the pharaoh, against the divisions. In addition, the complaint related to the elements. But in the New Empire the social mentality had evolved. 

At that time the complaint and protest went to the pharaoh because he did not attend to the needs of his workers. Pharaoh was called upon to put an end to the injustices generated by the abuses of his officials, especially of the scribes and foremen of the works, as well as of the vizier himself, because it was considered that they kept part of the rations that did not reach the  workers and craftsmen .

Egyptian Symbols
Egyptian Symbols



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