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Estates (Old Kingdom)

Authors:
ESTATES (OLD KINGDOM)
عا/تا ) ا وا(
Juan Carlos Moreno García
EDITORS
WILLEKE WENDRICH
Editor-in-Chief
University of California, Los Angeles
JACCO DIELEMAN
Editor
University of California, Los Angeles
ELIZABETH FROOD
Editor
Area Editor Individual and Society
University of Oxford
JOHN BAINES
Senior Editorial Consultant
University of Oxford
Short Citation:
Moreno García 2008, Estates (Old Kingdom). UEE.
Full Citation:
Moreno García, Juan Carlos, 2008, Estates (Old Kingdom). In Elizabeth Frood and Willeke Wendrich
(eds.), UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology, Los Angeles. http://repositories.cdlib.org/nelc/uee/1012
http://repositories.cdlib.org/nelc/uee/1012
Version 1, November 2008
Estates (Old Kingdom), Moreno García, UEE 2008
1
ESTATES (OLD KINGDOM)
عا/تا ) ا وا(
Juan Carlos Moreno García
Domänen (Altes Reich)
Les domaines sous l’Ancien Empire
Estates (also referred to as “domains”) formed the basis of institutional agriculture in Old
Kingdom Egypt. Estates were primarily administered by the temples or by state agricultural centers
scattered throughout the country, but were also granted to high officials as remuneration for their
services. Sources from the third millennium BCE show that estates constituted production
networks where agricultural goods were produced, stored, and kept available for agents of the king
who were traveling on state business.
عا/ تا ارا سأ آ آا  ً و ا وا 
و دا ءأ  ة آ او و ارا آاا وأ ا ه آ
عا ه  آ  ًأ/تا  ةآ ا ر . كه
عا نا  دا  ا نا  رد/تا إ ت آ
 ا ا ءآ ة و  و ارا تا جإ  
و ر لأ.
states (also referred to as
“domains”) were one of the main
sources of income for the
Egyptian state during the Old Kingdom. Most
preserved sources concern the estates of
institutions such as temples or the
administrative centers known as Hwt (plural:
Hwwt), or of certain state officials, including
some members of the royal family. As estates
were scattered all over the country, they
constituted the links in a network of royal
warehouses, production centers, and
agricultural holdings that facilitated the
production and storage of agricultural goods
that were kept at the disposal of institutions
or of the royal administration when needed
(Moreno García 1999, 2001, 2007).
There is an important difference between
Old Kingdom estates and their counterparts
in later, better-documented periods: whereas
texts like the Ramesside Wilbour Papyrus
evoke thousands of estates directly controlled
by the temples (the most important economic
centers of the country from the New
Kingdom on), third-millennium inscriptions
show that royal centers founded by the king
and administered by state-appointed officials
controlled many estates and were, along with
the temples, prominent places of institutional
agricultural production.
The most ancient sources concerning estates
and their integration into the economic
structure of the Egyptian state date from as
early as the pre-unification period. Labels
from the tombs of the late-Predynastic kings
at Abydos appear to mention localities and
estates that produced goods for, or sent goods
to, the royal mortuary complexes (Dreyer
1998). Hundreds of inscribed vessels from the
3rd-Dynasty pyramid of Djoser at Saqqara
E
Estates (Old Kingdom), Moreno García, UEE 2008
2
contain brief references to the officials and
centers responsible for delivering offerings to
Djoser’s funerary monuments and to those of
his predecessors (Lacau and Lauer 1959,
1965). These texts inform us that the Hwt
(administrative center) and especially the Hwt-
aAt (literally “great Hwt”—administrative
center, probably larger than the Hwt), were the
most important royal production units in the
country. The existence of networks of this
sort, in which royal estates produced goods
collected at administrative centers and
subsequently redistributed to other localities
or officials, has recently come to light at
Elephantine: hundreds of seal inscriptions,
mainly dating to the 3rd Dynasty, record the
delivery of goods from Abydos, the most
important supra-regional administrative center
in southern Egypt, to the local representatives
and officials of the king in service at
Elephantine (Pätznick 2005). Slightly later
sources, from the beginning of the 4th
Dynasty, also evoke an economic and
production geography in which royal
administrative centers like the Hwt and Hwt-aAt
governed smaller localities, estates, and fields,
as was the case according to Metjen’s
inscriptions: many titles borne by this official
show that the Hwt and Hwt-aAt were the heads
of territorial and economic units, sometimes
referred to as pr (houses/estates; plural: prw),
that encompassed many localities (njwt; plural:
njwwt) located mainly in Lower Egypt (Sethe
1933: Urk. I: 1 - 7; Strudwick 2005: 192 - 194).
Therefore estates seem to have been firmly
controlled by royal institutions and appear to
have constituted the basic production units of
the royal economy. The taxation and
conscription of village inhabitants probably
formed the other main source of income for
the Pharaonic treasury, as the Gebelein papyri,
from the end of the 4th Dynasty, show
(Posener-Kriéger and Demichelis 2004).
Alongside the estates of the crown, temples
too possessed important estates that provided
the agricultural produce needed for offerings
or for the support of personnel in charge of
the cult. The Royal Annals mention estates
granted by the king to cults and temples
scattered throughout the country (Wilkinson
2000; Sethe 1933: Urk. 1: 235 - 249). The
beneficiaries of these donations usually
included the workers who cultivated the
fields, as well as the storage and processing
centers (pr-Sna) linked to the fields. The early-
5th-Dynasty inscriptions in the tomb of
Nykaankh at Tihna el-Gebel provide insight
into the organization of the economic
activities of a provincial temple. The local
sanctuary, dedicated to Hathor, had been
granted a field of 0.5 hectares by 4th-Dynasty
king Menkaura, a donation that was
confirmed by Sahura at the beginning of the
5th Dynasty (Sethe 1933: Urk. I: 24 - 32;
Strudwick 2005: 95 - 199). Nykaankh and his
family performed the required rituals and
were accordingly paid with the produce of
that field.
Sources from the 6th Dynasty show that
temples were important economic centers and
that their estates were usually exploited by the
local elite, who thus became integrated into
the economic, social, and political networks
controlled by the palace (Moreno García
2005). Royal donations to local temples
continued throughout the Old Kingdom, as is
recorded in the recently discovered Royal
Annals of the 6th Dynasty (Baud and Dobrev
1995). At the same time, the pharaohs built
royal chapels (Hwt-kA; plural: Hwwt-kA) in the
local sanctuaries and provided them with the
economic means necessary for their
construction: Iy-Mery of el-Hawawish in
Upper Egypt, for example, proclaimed in his
autobiographical inscription that he never
took away the grain that was in his charge,
except for that which constituted the
payments relating to the works on the Hwt-kA
chapel of Pepy at Akhmim (Sethe 1933: Urk.
I: 264; Strudwick 2005: 360). Titles and
inscriptions concerning the royal Hwt-kA, and
even their architectural remains at Tell Basta,
reveal that they were present in many
provinces of both Upper and Lower Egypt,
very often inside the enclosure of an existing
temple. Their construction suggests that the
king intervened in the internal affairs of the
temples and could control their economic
activities, as is further evidenced by the
decrees from Coptos.
Estates (Old Kingdom), Moreno García, UEE 2008
3
The most detailed sources concerning the
foundation, organization, and exploitation of
a temple domain are the royal decrees from
the temple of Min at Coptos, dating from the
6th Dynasty. Two of these decrees (Coptos D
and G) refer to the organization of a new
domain granted to the local god: first, the
location was chosen from a piece of land
comprising some fields that were inundated
on an annual basis; then, a storage and
processing center (pr-Sna) was created in order
to administer the domain, organize its work
force, and raise taxes; finally, the domain was
divided into plots and placed under the
supervision of an administrative council
comprising local governors, the high priest of
the temple, and some officials (Sethe 1933:
Urk. I: 288 - 295; Strudwick 2005: 112 - 115).
The role of the local governors consisted of
assembling the work force necessary to
cultivate the fields. Other clauses of decrees D
and G specified that the estates enjoyed
temporary tax exemptions. Such estates
formed the economic basis of the provincial
temples, and the recent discovery of 6th-
Dynasty clay tablets at Balat, in Dakhla Oasis,
shows that this kind of economic organization
existed even at a remote locality in the
Western Desert, hundreds of kilometers from
the Nile Valley (Soukiassian et al. 2002).
As for temples in proximity to the capital,
two important archives found at the Abusir
funerary complexes of 5th-Dynasty pharaohs
Neferirkara and Raneferef cast some light on
temple resources (Posener-Kriéger 1976;
Posener-Kriéger et al. 2006). It seems that the
temples’ main sources of income were other
temples, especially that of Ptah at Memphis,
as well as several royal institutions. Some
fragmentary papyri suggest that these temples
also possessed their own estates, but the role
played by the royal residence (Xnw) and the
royal house (pr-nzwt) appears far more
important in the provisioning of temples near
Memphis. In fact, the Royal Annals and the
administrative papyri from the Old Kingdom
show that the transfer of resources from the
royal sphere to the temples was a well-
established practice during the Old Kingdom.
The titles borne by the officials of el-
Hawawish also suggest that the crown
transferred some estates to the local temple of
Min (Kanawati 1980 - 1992; Moreno García
2005). These measures do not imply,
however, that the crown was losing resources
and power for the benefit of the temples. The
occasional tax exemptions granted to temples
were temporary and revocable, and
inscriptions like that of 6th-Dynasty official
Harkhuf of Elephantine proclaim that both
the temples and the royal estates formed
networks where food and products were
stored and kept at the disposal of the royal
agents (Sethe 1933: Urk. I: 131; Strudwick
2005: 333). The decrees of Coptos also
enumerate the officials and the royal
departments that usually requisitioned
workers and taxes from the temples.
A third kind of domain was formed by the
landed possessions held by royal officials as
remuneration for their services. Little is
known about the standard estates allotted to
each category of official (the categories having
been based on an individual’s rank, function,
and status). Some agents of the king boasted
in their autobiographical inscriptions of the
(presumably exceptional) estates granted to
them by the king to reward them for their
outstanding services: Metjen (4th Dynasty) was
rewarded with fields of variable dimensions
for his activities as governor of several royal
administrative centers (Hwt and Hwt-aAt) in
Lower Egypt (Sethe 1933: Urk. I: 1 - 5;
Strudwick 2005: 192 - 194); Sabni of
Elephantine (6th Dynasty) was nominated as
xntj-S (an honorific court title) of a royal
pyramid and was granted a field of about
eleven hectares after a successful mission in
Nubia (Sethe 1933: Urk. I: 140; Strudwick
2005: 338); and Ibi of Deir el-Gabrawy (6th
Dynasty) received a field of about fifty
hectares linked to a Hwt (Sethe 1933: Urk. I:
145; Strudwick 2005: 364 - 365). It seems
doubtful whether the descendants of an
official could have inherited the estates
granted in this way. Members of the royal
family (especially the royal sons) were possibly
an exception, as their property was
administered by a special administrative
branch: the Overseer of the Provinces of
Estates (Old Kingdom), Moreno García, UEE 2008
4
Upper Egypt Kapuptah (5th Dynasty), for
example, was also Overseer of the Property of
the Royal Sons in the Provinces of Upper
Egypt (jmj-r jxt msw nzwt m zpAwt Smaw),
whereas Ankhshepseskaf (5th Dynasty) was
Overseer of the Estates of the Royal Sons
(jmj-r prw msw nzwt), a title also borne by his
contemporary, the vizier Senedjemib-Inti; and
prince Nykaura, a son of pharaoh Khafra,
distributed his many estates among his wife
and children while he was alive, although it is
not certain that his instructions were also valid
after his death (Sethe 1933: Urk. I: 16 - 17;
Strudwick 2005: 200). Some royal decrees, as
well as the papyri from the royal funerary
complexes of Neferirkara and Raneferef,
show that the nomination of an official as
xntj-S of a royal pyramid was an important
source of income that included both offerings
and agricultural estates. But access to these
coveted honors was restricted, as the decrees
in the Raneferef archive proclaim (Posener-
Kriéger 1985; Strudwick 2005: 101 - 102).
The granting of estates as remuneration or
reward to the officials of the kingdom was so
widespread that an iconographic motif arose
in private tombs depicting processions of
offering bearers accompanied by place-names
that supposedly represented the estates
possessed by the tomb owner. However, these
place-names seem to have been for the most
part fictitious, used mainly as a decorative
device emulating the ideal landscape governed
by the king, a landscape represented in the
funerary monuments of the king himself: the
precisely symmetrical depiction of estates on
the walls of the tombs (even in cases where
the offering bearers bore no name), the
absence of any information about virtually all
these alleged place-names (even in the tombs
of the heirs of the original owners), and the
representation of exactly the same number of
estates in both Upper and Lower Egypt
suggest that this iconographic motif was not
intended to depict the estates actually granted
to an official.
Thus, estates composed a vital element in
the economic and fiscal organization of the
Egyptian state during the Old Kingdom. It
should be emphasized that most estates
depended on a network of royal centers
(mainly Hwt) directly administered by royal
officials—a feature that characterizes the Old
Kingdom—whereas in later periods of
Egyptian history the temples became the main
holders of estates, which were therefore
subject to a more indirect and fragile control
by the king.
Bibliographic Notes
The economy of Old Kingdom estates is treated in Moreno García (1999, 2001; 2004: 95 - 106;
2006, 2007). The processions of offering bearers are studied by Jacquet-Gordon (1962), but their
historicity is discussed by Moreno García (1999). Important sources relative to temple estates are
the archives from the funerary complexes of Neferirkara (Posener-Kriéger 1976) and Raneferef
(Posener-Kriéger et al. 2006), and the decrees of Coptos (Goedicke 1967). The oldest sources,
from the beginning of the Old Kingdom, also provide essential insights into provincial
administrative and agricultural organization (Lacau and Lauer 1959, 1965; Pätznick 2005). A
recent translation of most of the epigraphic and papyrological texts from the Old Kingdom can
be found in Strudwick (2005).
Estates (Old Kingdom), Moreno García, UEE 2008
5
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... Some of these estates were granted to the clergy or to officials of the royal court. Royal estates possibly existed even before the unification of Egypt and the establishment of the First Pharaonic Dynasty (Moreno García, 2008). ...
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Helen 1962 Les noms des domaines funéraires sous l'Ancien Empire égyptien. Bibliothèque d'étude 34
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  • Michel Wuttmann
  • Laure Pantalacci
Soukiassian, Georges, Michel Wuttmann, and Laure Pantalacci 2002 Balat VI: Le palais des gouverneurs de l'époque de Pépy II: Les sanctuares de ka et leurs dépendances. Fouilles de l'Institut français d'archéologie orientale 46. Cairo: Institut français d'archéologie orientale.
La pyramide à degrés IV: Inscriptions gravées sur les vases. Cairo: Institut français d'archéologie orientale. 1965 La pyramide à degrées V: Inscriptions à l'encre sur les vases
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Lacau, Pierre, and Jean-Philippe Lauer 1959 La pyramide à degrés IV: Inscriptions gravées sur les vases. Cairo: Institut français d'archéologie orientale. 1965 La pyramide à degrées V: Inscriptions à l'encre sur les vases. Cairo: Institut français d'archéologie orientale.