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Origin of the State. Predynastic and Early Dynastic Egypt

(Cracow, Poland: 28th August - 1st September 2002)
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Early Dynastic Egypt
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In the Beginning was the War
Conflict and the Emergence of the Egyptian State


University of Buenos Aires (Argentina)


The ensemble of evidence about conflicts during the time of the emergence of the Egyptian State (weapons, remains of "defensive" walls, iconographic representations) has recently grown as a consequence of the discoveries at Gebel Tjauti (Darnell 2002). These finds allow to reconsider the question of the relation between war and the emergence and initial consolidation of the State. That relation - from our point of view - implies not just a matter of coinciding events. The conflict is, in theoretical terms, a constitutive of the process of emerging practices which are based on the monopoly of force.

Over the last decades, different reasons have been suggested for those conflicts. Firstly, conflicts between nomadic herdsmen and sedentary peasants have been proposed (Monnet-Saleh 1986). However, this hypothesis is very little plausible: all we know about the economic basis of the pre-State communities provides an image in which agriculture and cattle-breeding are complementary strategies, and nothing allows us to think of different and antagonistic groups.

Secondly, it has been suggested that the conflicts might have emerged because of a high demographic pressure in a circumscribed territory (Bard & Carneiro 1989). However, there were large areas in Middle Egypt, with a low population number, which might have been a suitable space for the increasing southern population. Thus, the demographic constrictions required by this hypothesis cannot be recognised.

And lastly, the conflicts might have started as a consequence of the attempts of the Upper Egyptian communities to monopolise goods from exchange networks (Trigger 1983). This proposal remains interesting, if it is considered in terms of exotic prestige goods, which were required by local chiefdom elite for manifesting their social difference from the other members of their communities. Considering that an important proportion of those prestige goods had to be buried with their possessors when they died, the demand for such goods might have been considerable. During the epoch immediately preceding the emergence of the State, a relative increase in the offer of such goods (but not enough to supply adequately all of the elite) might have encouraged the demand and, at the same time, have caused a competition that might have generated warlike incidents. And the necessity to keep the defeated under control - so as to prohibit their demand of goods - might have forged a mode of domination not known until then.

Taking into account, on the other hand, that the leaders emerging from these conflicts soon acquired a status of warriors linked to the gods, it seems possible that the continuity of the conflicts did not remain restraint to a way of obtaining prestige goods. It can also be considered the confirmation of the leader as a divine warrior, as a Horus, imposing order in the place of chaos.




    BARD, K.A. & CARNEIRO, R.L., 1989.
Patterns of Predynastic Settlement Location, Social Evolution and the Circumscription Theory. CRIPEL, 11: 15-23.

   DARNELL, J.C., with the assistance of DARNELL, D. and contributions by DARNELL, D.; FRIEDMAN, R.F. & HENDRICKX, S., 2002.
Theban Desert Road Survey in the Egyptian Western Desert, Volume 1: Gebel Tjauti Rock Inscriptions 1-45 and Wadi el-Hôl Rock Inscriptions 1-45. Chicago.

   MONNET-SALEH, J., 1986.
Interprétation globale des documents concernant l'unification de l'Egypte. BIFAO, 86: 227-238.

   TRIGGER, B.G., 1983.
The Rise of Egyptian Civilization. [in:] TRIGGER, B.G.; KEMP, B.J.; O'CONNOR, D. & LLOYD, A.B., Ancient Egypt: A Social History: 1-70. Cambridge.


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