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Open Access Publications from the University of California


  • Author(s): Moreno García, Juan Carlos
  • et al.

Microhistory is a rather ambiguous term, usually referring to the lives, activities, and cultural values of common people, rarely evoked in official sources. In the case of ancient Egypt, both the urban and village spheres provide some clues about the existence, social relations, spiritual expectations, and life conditions of farmers, craftspersons, and “marginal” populations (such as herders), and also about “invisible” elites that played so important a role in the stability of the kingdom. In some instances, exceptional archives (the Ramesside tomb-robbery papyri, Papyrus Turin 1887, recording the “Elephantine scandal,” and the thousands of ostraca recovered at Deir el-Medina) cast light on the realities of social life, in which crimes and reprehensible practices appear quite common. In other cases, structural archaeological evidence reveals the harsh conditions under which many Egyptians lived and died. Finally, small private archives, often associated with temple activities, reveal how some individuals managed to thrive and to follow personal strategies that enabled them to accumulate moderate wealth. Microhistory clearly has a role to play in Egyptology in balancing the information provided by official texts, with their biased perspectives of the social order and cultural values prevailing in the Nile Valley.

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