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The Economy of Human Resilience: Exploring Economic Growth During Periods of Political Fragmentation in Ancient Egypt


This dissertation explores the ways in which an ancient society could improve its economic performance after a time of collapse and political fragmentation, taking the transitional period between the Third Intermediate Period (1070-713 BC) and the Late Period (712-332 BC) in Egypt as a case-study. New Institutional Economics provides the broader theoretical foundations for this study, introducing the idea that the habitual aspects (institutions) of a society can have a profound impact on economic performance. I argue that in Late Period Egypt institutional retention enabled resilience and maintained social cohesion after the collapse of the superstructure embodied in the figure of the king at the end of the New Kingdom (1550-1070 BC). Within this broader framework, the theoretical discourse on craft specialization has informed my exploration of the modes of production of selected types of funerary artifacts and bureaucratic documents through an assessment of standardization and modularity performed with the aid of RStudio data analysis software. This part of my study has led me to the conclusion that the production of funerary artifacts and bureaucratic documents became more efficient at the end of the Third Intermediate Period, with a shift to the dynamics of producer specialization and organized division of labor. An assessment of the same artifacts through the lens of value theory and complexity theory shows that increased efficiency in the funerary industry and bureaucratic apparatus could be attributed to increased demand generated by expanding elite circles. Lack of correlation between the labor and resources invested in the production of coffins and the titles of the people who were buried in them suggests that political affiliation no longer granted exclusive access to funerary commodities. Likewise, ample use of filiations and the overall detail-oriented layout of documents of private transactions in the Late Period reveals the involvement of third parties in the enforcement of private transactions and the expansion of economic activities on a super-local level. My research shows that more specialized bureaucrats and artisans joined the workforce during the Late Period because more people were engaging in economic enterprises and had acquired enough wealth to afford their own funerary equipment.

Five spreadsheets have been uploaded as supporting materials: the first is a dataset of coffins of the 25th and 26th Dynasties (referred to as Spreadsheet A); the second dataset illustrates the frequency of polychromy in texts on coffins belonging to coffin sets of the 21st Dynasty assessed by Kathlyn M. Cooney (referred to as Spreadsheet B); the third is a dataset of mummy nets of the Late Period (referred to as Spreadsheet C); the fourth is a dataset of Ptah-Sokar-Osiris figures of the Late Period (referred to as Spreadsheet D); the fifth is a dataset of documents recording private transactions from the New Kingdom and the Late Period (referred to as Spreadsheet E). All the variables in each spreadsheet are explained in the relevant chapters and the variables in Spreadsheets A, C, D and E have been used to produce the visualizations presented in this dissertation.

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