The Egyptian Judicial System: Robust Pillar of Empire | Ancient Origins Members Site


The Egyptian Judicial System: Robust Pillar of Empire

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The Egyptian Judicial System: Robust Pillar of Empire

The Egyptian Judicial System: Robust Pillar of Empire

Down the millennia, right from the hoary Narmer Palette to the grand reliefs on the walls of the magnificent temples of Ramesses II and that of later rulers; Egyptian artistic canon depicted the classic and symbolic ‘smiting’ pose in which the pharaoh was shown striking fear and awe in the hearts and minds of terrified enemies. It was, after all, the king’s bounden duty to eliminate the crippling and fearsome forces of chaos (Isfet) and maintain justice and order (Ma’at). And so, in the daily functioning of the State, stringent and unsparing action against anyone who fell afoul of the law was an integral part of the ancient Egyptian judicial system.

Wall relief of Maat in the eastern upstairs part of the temple of Edfu, Egypt. Ma’at was associated with justice and the law in ancient Egypt.

Wall relief of Maat in the eastern upstairs part of the temple of Edfu, Egypt. Ma’at was associated with justice and the law in ancient Egypt. (Rémih/CC BY-SA 3.0)

Eyebrows weren't raised when corporal punishment was mentioned; for people were accustomed to it from childhood. Scribe Amenemope certainly followed this course in letter and spirit when dealing with his young charges; for he states matter-of-factly: "A boy's ears are upon his back. He only listens when he is being beaten." As with the multitude of gods who judged the souls of the dead rigorously in the Hereafter, the Egyptians were merciless in dealing with criminals while they lived. In the adult world, depending on the gravity of the crime one committed: impalement, drowning, decapitation, burning, or being thrown to crocodiles—were some of the brutal ways in which one could breathe his or her last.


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