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Ancient History
Slavery
Ancient Egypt

How were the slaves in ancient Egypt treated?

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May 15, 2010 1:48AM

Probably depended on what kind of slave you were.

The Egyptians used slaves captured in war or bought from foreigners. Contrary to popular belief, the great pyramids were built by free, not slave, labor. The Egyptians did not use slaves in great numbers. The lands were farmed by free peasants who gave the pharaoh a portion of their crops. One historian noted that the peasants were "only a notch above nudity and starvation." All of the slaves captured in war were considered the property of pharaoh and were not sold to private citizens. Although, it is recorded that the pharaohs did give many slaves as gifts to generals or priests.

Pharaohs such as Thutmose III and Rameses II published detailed lists of the type and number of enemies captured during their campaigns into Canaan. Ahmose, a soldier under the Pharaoh Ahmose, founder of the 18th Dynasty, in describing the fall of the Hyksos capital at Avaris reports on the walls of his tomb: "Then Avaris was despoiled. Then I carried off spoil from there: one man, three women, a total of four persons. Then his majesty gave them to me to be slaves" (see Hyksos). Slaves were also obtained throughout the Pharaonic period by expeditions into Nubia. As in other ancient cultures, there was a strong link between military aggression and slavery.

Slavery is also found in the sections of the Bible related to Egypt. Joseph is sold into slavery in Egypt, and after his time, at the beginning of Exodus, all the Hebrews of Egypt have been reduced to slave laborers. Much like the story of Joseph, there are examples of slaves rising to higher social status, even of marrying into native Egyptian families. However, there are many more exmples of slaves being worked until death in Sinai copper mines. As in many later societies, there was a wide variety of slaves: from highly valued house servants and tutors, to skilled artisans, to field laborers (Canaanite "asiatics" are often depicted at the wine press).