Coming of Age in Ancient Egypt*


by Daniel Kolos, MA,

Current affiliations:  Benben Books, Benben Publication

Based on a paper presented at the Sex and Gender Conference, The Egypt Centre, University of Swansea, December, 2005




Coming-of-Age ‘rites of passage’[1] are apparent in the ancient world and have been well documented into our own time.  Although there is a growing body of literature on gender roles and sexuality in Pharaonic culture, very little has been written on ancient Egyptian rites of passage for puberty.[2]  It is the purpose of this essay to present a theory and to set up a methodological framework within which to begin a systematic study.


Theoretical setting


I propose that the major common denominator in the Coming-of-Age rites of passage is to face and survive a life-and-death situation.  Looking at ancient Egypt in general, but concentrating on the New Kingdom, military training and service as well as forced labor would provide the necessary environment for males, while the exemptions would be apprenticeship in the trades.  Becoming pregnant and surviving childbirth would provide the necessary conditions for young females, while celibacy would serve as the exemption.  This paper proposes the theory of liminality in the Coming-of-Age rites of passage as the social/cultural vehicle within which primary as well as circumstantial evidence will be structured or gain context.  It will also explore scholarly opinion that touches on the issues and, finally, reinterpret the evidence.    


Coming-of-Age rites of passage as liminality


Liminality (from the Latin word līmen, or "threshold") is the condition of the second stage of a ritual in the theories of Arnold van Gennep,[3] Victor Turner,[4] and others.  In these theories, a ritual, especially a rite of passage, involves some change to the participants, especially their social status.  This change is accomplished by separating the participants from the rest of their social group (the first, or preliminary stage: separation); a period during which one has not only lost social status, but functions in a limbo, without the usual social contacts in a specially constructed group Turner called ‘communitas’ (the liminal stage); and a period during which one's new social status is confirmed (the postliminal stage: aggregation or reincorporation).  Liminality as a social phenomenon has been used in the study of ancient society elsewhere.[5]


A mythological model for the male Coming-of-Age rites of passage


We are fortunate that there is a mythological blueprint for the male coming-of-age process.  It is the New Kingdom story of Horus and Seth.  I am using Miriam Lichtheim’s translations. 


Horus’s social milieu is in the marshes where he was raised by his mother Isis.  In the beginning of this story he has come of age a “youth with strong limbs” and enters liminal space when appears before the court of the gods with his mother, Isis, as his chief advocate to “claim the office of his father, Osiris.”[6]  To claim a role in society initiates the coming-of-age process.  The question is whether or not he will survive that process.


Seth, his uncle, plays the role of the challenger when he declares, “Let him be sent outside with me and I shall let you see my hand prevailing over his hand….”  A series of contests follow that measure strength.  Some of the contests include the potential for death.


Banebdjede, the Ram-headed deity of Mendes complains through the pen of Thoth, scribe of the Ennead, “What shall we do about these two people, who for eighty years now have been before the tribunal?”  Thereby we know the contest takes a long time, so coming-of-age is not a single, symbolic ceremony.


Both contenders have advocates who try to manipulate the contest. The Goddess Neith, for example, tries to buy off Seth so that Horus would be exempted from the challenge.  She writes, “Double Seth’s possessions.  Give him Anat and Astarte, your two daughters.  And place Horus on the seat of his father!” 


We know Horus is a youth because Pre-Harakhti, the great-grandfather, tells him “You are feeble in body and this office is too big for you, you youngster whose breath smells bad.”  The word Lichtheim translates as ‘youngster’ is aDd (adjed) meaning ‘offender, wrongdoer’.  We have to assume that Seth, also, is a ‘youth’ for this occasion, because Atum refers to the two contenders as ‘these two youths,’ where the word for ‘youth’ is again aDd. 


One contest is totally different from all the others.  The two youths try to outwit one another.  It includes a homosexual attempt by Seth and revenge by Horus.  For the purpose of this paper, however, both contenders prove that they produce semen. 


Isis seems to be aware of the importance not just of semen production, but its placement or role in the coming-of-age ceremony.  She ritually masturbates her son and instructs him to place his own semen on the lettuce patch so that Seth will ingest it.  And, as is his custom, Seth eats lettuce for breakfast. 


The contest between Horus and Seth is resolved when Thoth calls forth these young men’s semen before all the deities.  Seth’s semen, on the one hand, is found discarded, or wasted, in the marshes.  Horus’s semen, on the other hand, seems to have found its mark in Seth’s belly.  It transforms into a golden sun disk that Thoth appropriates for himself.  More on Thoth’s curious taste in crowns later.


The goal of this contest is dominance and penetration.  Classical Greece had a male ‘penetrator’ culture based on dominance according to social status.[7]  Richard Parkinson comments on this potentially ‘same sex’ act as “aggression and the infliction of ignominy.”[8]  Even though Horus proves that he is the penetrator, the contest nevertheless continues.  In terms of literary criticism, this contest of penetration seems intrusive:  it could have been added while the story was still orally transmitted. 


The Horus and Seth story ends with the father, Osiris, declaring his son, Horus, his legitimate heir.  Seth is brought as a bound prisoner, a game that was played by post-pubescent boys throughout Egypt.[9]  Isis closes the ceremony by confirming Horus’s new identity as heir of his father Osiris and king of Egypt.


This story of Horus and Seth contains all three stages of liminality as it pertains to a rite of passage: separation from his customary environment (the marshes); a liminal state while he is at the court of the deities, and a reincorporation state as he is given the claim which he originally declared.  The Horus and Seth story will serve as a model to which all other male coming-of-age stories will be measured.


The mechanics of the Coming-of-Age rite of passage


These mechanics consist of:


1.      Physical maturity

Horus appears as a “youth with strong limbs”


2.      Making a claim

Horus enters liminal space when he “claims the office of his father, Osiris.”[10] 


     3.  Meeting a challenger

Seth, his uncle, plays the role of the challenger when he declares, “Let him be sent outside with me and I shall let you see my hand prevailing over his hand….” 


     4.  Preparing for and fighting contests

A series of contests follow that measure strength.  Some of the contests require preparation and/or include the potential for death.


     5.  Duration of the Coming-of-Age process

Banebdjede asks, “What shall we do about these two people, who for eighty years now have been before the tribunal?”  His words imply the contests take a long time.


    6.  Distracting the challenger

The Goddess Neith tries to buy off Seth so that Horus would be exempted from the challenge.  She writes, “Double Seth’s possessions.  Give him Anat and Astarte, your two daughters.  And place Horus on the seat of his father!” 


Isis tricking Seth into making a judgment in favor of her son on the Island-in-the-Midst is an example of forcing a concession to end the context and serves as a second distraction.


    7.  Age requirements

We know Horus is a youth because Pre-Harakhti, calls him a “youngster, ‘aDd’ whose breath smells bad.” In turn, Atum calls both Horus and Seth as “these two youths,” also using the word ‘aDd’.


8.     Change of Identity

There are several ways that identity can change:  physical, psychological and symbolic.  Some of the changes of identity in the Story of Horus and Seth happen when

a.  Horus received an insult.  Pre-Harakhty told him, “You are feeble in body and this office is too big for you….”

b.  when the White Crown was placed on his head and removed again

c.  when Horus willingly changed into a hippopotamus

d.  when Isis harpooned Seth, he cried out to her and in the process insulted Horus by calling him a ‘stranger’

e.  after Horus cult off his mother’shead, Seth blinded him, thus changing his identity until Hathor healed Horus’ eyes


     9.  Separation from the Mother

At the end of the Hippopotamus fight, when it becomes obvious that Isis has equal loyalty to her son and brother, Horus symbolically slays his mother.  In spite of the social disapproval, Horus is healed by Hathor and Isis recovers


    10. Establishing dominance

One contest is totally different from all the others.  The two youths try to outwit one another.  It includes a homosexual attempt by Seth, where Seth declares to the Ennead, “I worked Horus as a woman,” and a revenge by Horus.


11.Proof of semen production

In the course of this contest of dominance, both contenders prove that they produce semen. 


12. Winning the contest

Several of the contests produce a conclusive win for Horus.  Horus even complains to Neith, “…a thousand times now I have been in the right against him day after day…. I have contended with him in the hall ‘Way-of-Truth’,” and in three other halls, and “I was found right against him.”[11]


    13.  Acknowledgement 

A public declaration of the winner in the Horus and Seth story ends with the father, Osiris, declaring his son, Horus, his legitimate heir.


14.  Public humiliation of the loser

Seth is brought as a bound prisoner, a game that was played by post-pubescent boys throughout Egypt.[12]    


15.  Attainment of claim

Isis closes the ceremony by confirming Horus’s new identity as heir of his father Osiris and king of Egypt.  This ceremony also marks Horus’ reintegration into society.


These fifteen characteristics and activities in the Story of Horyus and Seth form a blueprint of a male Coming-of-Age rite of passage.  I propose a methodology to use these mechanics to test the evidence, which will be presented elsewhere.


Coming-of-Age among royalty


Pictures of royal princes are rare until the time of Ramses II.  Fortunately, some texts exist where kings talk about their youth.  Amenhotep II, for example, mentions several aspects of his rite of passage.  He indicates his physical maturity when calls himself “a beautiful youth who was well developed and had completed eighteen years upon his thighs in strength….”  We can assume that his claim is the throne of his father, Thutmose III.  He talks about his training:  “He was one who knew all the works of Mont….  He was one who knew horses….”  And he brags about winning contests:  “Not one among (his companions) could draw his bow.  He could not be approached in running.”[13]  And these claims are only the beginning of a long list of braggardry (sic, braggadocio) so that we can be certain the young king was well trained in Egypt’s martial arts.   He presents evidence of his winnings, shows dominance, obviously survives his rite of passage and is reintegrated into society because he rules Egypt as king.


Thutmose IV left, as his only evidence of having won a ‘contest’, a stela between the paws of the Great Sphinx.  This stela contains the text that contains his claim, put into his mouth by Re Harakhty himself, that he will be king of Egypt.  The challenge was to free the Sphinx from the encroaching sand.  His reintegration into society, again, is the fact that he ruled Egypt as king.


Amenhotep III appointed his eldest son, Prince Thutmose, High Priest of Ptah, but that is all we know of him.[14]  There is no known tomb for him.  He may have died a natural death, from illness, but it is also possible that boys, royal or otherwise, who died during their coming-of-age contests, were buried anonymously, because this motif recurs with soldiers and young women.


Considering the two curious references to the sun’s disk in the Horus and Seth story, particularly to the golden Aten Thoth takes as his crown, it is possible that Akhenaten may have adapted this story as symbolic of his own coming-of-age process.  As we have seen, the elements of liminality are present.  Akhenaten, like Horus, made a claim to kingship when his older brother died.  We don’t know what Akhenaten did previous to that, but his coronation changed his social status.  He entered a period of ambiguous life in which he contended with the priests of Amun-Ra for five years at Karnak.  In terms of the coregency debate, looking at Akhenaten at Karnak would support it, especially if Amenhotep III had spent those same five years at Malkatta Palace on the West Bank at Thebes, although the coming-of-Age rite of passage for royal children could not have depended on the presence of their father:  where a king dies in office with a pre-pubescent son, that son would presumably still have to go through his rite of passage. 

Another potential evidence that Akhenaten was going through a rite of passage at Karnak is his changing identity. His statues of himself and his name were constantly changing during that period, along with the status of Aten. 


At first his relationship with the priesthood of Amun-Ra was not life threatening.  According to D. B. Redford, he would likely annoy them by mounting his chariot at his palace, which was somewhere southwest of Karnak temple, and rid with Nefertiti through Karnak to his Gem-pa-Aten temple daily.[15]  Later, of course, Akhenaten complained that there were dark words spoken about him, his father and his grandfather,[16] so we have a hint the contests became more and more dangerous. 


After five years Akhenaten won the contest simply by shutting down the Amun-Ra temple altogether and moving to Akhetaten.  There he emerged as a full king, having allied himself with Thoth in the sense that the city of Akhetaten abutted, and perhaps even overlapped the precinct of the temple of Thoth across the Nile River at Hermopolis.  He was, in that geographic proximity, king over the precinct of Thoth, which would correspond to Thoth placing the crown of the sun disk, composed of Horus’ semen, on his head in the Horus and Seth story.  This connections would also serve as an argument in favor of finding the semen-producing segment of the Horus and Seth story intrusive.


Seth, as challenger, would have been Amun-Ra’s high priest and his advocates in the court of Ra would have been those deities who supported Seth’s claim, in this case caricatures of those Theban nobles who served as Amun priests.


Tutankhaten may have been nine years old when he was crowned.  The only evidence we have about his rise from childhood into adolescence is his change of name to Tutankhamun and the move from Akhetaten to Memphis.[17]  It is likely that this name-change and move coincided with his own puberty and initiated his rite of passage.  His early death, whatever the cause, may indicate that he completed his rite of passage and died afterwards:  his was not an anonymous burial!  In addition to his well-appointed tomb, fragments of blue faience pots and dishes were found around the Valley of the Kings with the young king’s name for years before the discovery of his tomb, evidence that his funerary banquet, following his burial, was very much a public affair.


Ramses II states in a dedication inscription on the façade of the temple of Abydos that “his father made him co-regent while he was still a little child.”[18]  Pictured as a child with the plaited sidelock of youth, he is dressed as a priest in three scenes in the Corridor of the Kings.  Young Ramses is shown reading from a papyrus scroll.  Evidently he was trained both in military arts and the scribal trade.


Since Sety I died while Ramses II was still young, it is possible that his coronation ceremony was his actual coming-of-age initiation, and, in a sense, the declaration of his intent, or claim on his society.  It is possible that the Battle of Kadesh was his challenge.  As for evidence of dominance, it is established by his oft repeated ‘victory’ scene at Kadesh.  Gay Robins noted that Ramses’ “youth” is reflected by having included in the Battle of Kadesh inscriptions a thanksgiving peon to his two horses who brought his chariot through the harrowing experience, and that his only known response to the soldiers who deserted him was a talking-to:  “What will people say when it is heard of: your deserting me, I being left all alone?  And not an officer, captain or soldier came to give me a hand as I fought!”[19]


In the Corridor of the Bull Ramses II as king is shown having lassoed a wild longhorn bull of Upper Egypt.  It may be interpreted as a Coming-of-Age scene with a declaration of claim and a challenge:  the king’s heir apparent, Amenhirkopshef, is running after the bull, pulling its tail.  His titles are: “Great heir-apparent of the entire land, King’s eldest bodily, beloved son, fan-bearer upon the king’s right-hand, who marshals the bowmen, a man of good counsel in the mêlée, who fights upon his legs, without peer, Amenhirkopshef, vindicated.”[20]


From these epithets, the prince’s credentials, we can surmise that he has participated in the ritual of being named ‘heir apparent’; that he was trained in archery and experienced ‘mêlées’ and ‘fights’.  Moreover, he had fared better than his older brother Khaemwase, and likely ‘won’ his place at his father’s side through various contests.  Amenhirkopshef also participates in another bull ceremony and later in a presentation of a flock-of-birds scene that is part of an ancient harvest and fertility rite.[21]


Many of the Ramses II temples show processions of his children, both males and females.  At Abydos, his daughters carry sistra and menat necklaces, both used to produce rhythmic percussion sounds.  On the South Wall of the First court, “he is accompanied by his sons in chariots.”[22] Ramses III has a similar procession of his children at Medinet Habu.  These scenes may very well indicate either that these children are either going through their Coming-of-Age rituals, or that they had successfully completed them.  Without other information no conclusions can be reached.


Within the theory of liminality royal princes would enter a period of anonymity, go through a potentially life-and-death challenge and either die or return into society.  Other than those who became kings, there is little, if any, information.  Since anonymity goes hand in hand with lack of information, the issue of what happened to those who did not ‘make the cut’ is lost in the obscurity of history:  what happened to all the royal princes whose names we know but whose mode of death and burial evidence is missing?  There may be a parallel with the case of the common soldier, below.


Coming-of-Age among noble youth


The oldest inscription we have is that of Weni from his sixth dynasty tomb at Abydos.[23]  He calls himself ‘one who wears a fillet,’ therefore, a youth.  Following the Horus and Seth mythological model it is possible that his ‘office’ as the ‘custodian of the storehouse’ for King Teti was his claim.  He must have done a good job because his offices kept rising under King Pepi.  Being in a charge of a storehouse, or even being its guard, does not sound like a liminal experience unless we look at its modern equivalent, let’s say the son of a wealthy banker put on trial for a year as a cashier. 


Similarly, we learn from the sixth dynasty tomb of Harkhuf at Aswan that he accompanied his father, “the sole companion and lector priest, Iri, to Yam, to open the way to that country.”[24]  That seven-month expedition would fulfill Harkhuf’s Coming-of-Age challenge.  The fact that he passed his ‘test’ with flying colors is indicated by being the sole leader of a second and a third such expedition. 


Coming-of-Age among the common people


The eighth dynasty soldier, Qedes, left a hint in his tomb inscription about the events of his youth.  Among other things, he seems to have had a very ambitious mother.

He “acquired oxen and goats, …granaries of Upper Egyptian barley, …title to a great field” at a time when he was still part of his father’s household.  These may be the rewards for contests he won because he states that he “surpassed this whole town in swiftness, its Nubians and its upper Egyptians!”[25]  However, he may have won these contests while still prepubescent because he admits that, in fact, it was his mother who took title to these belongings for him!  He nevertheless lived long enough to enter the military and survive life as a soldier. 


Emhab was a Seventeenth dynasty drummer who “was invited to… try his skills against those of another contestant.”  After secretly practicing his art,  Emhab beat out his opponent, pun intended, and became an army drummer, possibly for Kamose.  After a year of faithful drumming, the king rewarded Emhab with a female slave.[26]


We have several elements of the mechanics of a male Coming-of-Age rite of passage in the tomb inscriptions of Qedes and Emhab. 

1.       They both took on a challenge.  Qedes raced on his feet, Emhab went off by himself and practiced drumming.

2.       They both won a contest. 

3.       They entered liminal space by serving in the army where their skills were utilized.

4.       They both survived their military service

5.       Emhab received a reward as evidence of his usefulness.


Although this ‘class’ comprised the majority of ancient Egypt’s population, information concerning their puberty rite of passage is scant.  Yet, the ‘common people’ filled the ranks of the military services.  The theory of liminality supposes a veil of anonymity across the entire ancient Egyptian class structure toward their youth.



Childhood mortality and Coming-of-Age mortality


Childhood mortality right up to the end of the nineteenth century of our own era was high: one out of two children was expected to die by the age of five.  Modern statistics reflect this high mortality rates in particularly backward areas of our planet where mother mortality during birth also translates into infant mortality.[27]  A recent study shows a similar high rate of child mortality in ancient Egypt.[28]  Infant mortality coupled with mother mortality in childbirth and birth complications would become part and parcel of the Coming-of-Age rites of passage for pubescent girls, a topic that will be treated elsewhere.


There is, at the moment, no known process by which to determine the post-pubescent attrition rate for boys.  Evidence is lacking concerning those soldiers, and possibly members of labor battalions, who died in the line of duty or work.  We must nevertheless assume that such death must have occurred.


To suppose that the ancient Egyptians did not concern themselves with the death of their own sons in battle or at desert quarries would be to miss the point:  liminality is a tool to help society cope with high occurrence of death.


We have only one piece of evidence of common soldiers’ corpses being disposed, either buried in situ or brought back to Egypt.  Herbert Winlock, excavating for the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1925/26 found a cache of buried soldiers in the catacombs under the Middle Kingdom (11th dyn.) Deir-el Bahri temple of Mentuhotpe II.[29] The soldiers were covered in sand, likely during their transport from battlefield to burial:  they were neither eviscerated for embalming, nor mummified.  This single example reinforces the theory of liminality that these soldiers were outside the normal customs of society. 


In spite of numerous battle scenes actually showing Egyptian soldiers pierced by arrows and victory descriptions of battles, we have no other record, to the best of my knowledge, as to how many Egyptian soldiers died in any given battle, or how they might have been disposed.


I have categorized scribal schools and scribal service under exemptions, below, but the Satire on the Trades, ostensibly written to encourage scribal students to stick to their studies, not only shows the real dangers of a soldier’s life, but hints at their being abandoned to anonymity:


“He (the soldier) reaches the enemy while he is like a pinioned bird.  If he succeeds in returning to Egypt, he is like a stick that has been eaten by the worms.”[30]


The silence of anonymity is in the phrase, “If he succeeds in returning to Egypt….”


The theory of liminality allows a society to turn a blind eye to the personal pain and death of soldiers on a battlefield or young women on the birthing stool in the same sense that our own culture did not notice nor recognize various handicaps, nor the people who suffered them, until a well organized, long-term public education process culminated in governmental legislation and almost total integration that included wheel chair access to all public premises and handicapped parking spots everywhere.


Evidence of military training


The little evidence we have from ancient Egypt focuses on the training for ancient Egyptian youth.


Young and adolescent boys are often depicted naked, while, in the New Kingdom at least, adult male figures are rarely naked whatever their status.”[31]


Many of the youth are involved in games, sports and military exercises.  In Touny and Wenig’s book, “Sport in Ancient Egypt,”[32]  boys are often naked while young girls engaged in games and sports are fully clothed in Middle Kingdom tombs.  This gender differentiation is exactly the opposite of the New Kingdom naked girl genre, where, as Robins notes, “there is no real male counterpart to the naked girl image.  Male servants and musicians appear in tomb scenes, and male figures are found on ritual spoons and cosmetic objects, but they always have their genital region covered, and they do not give the impression of being adolescent.”[33]


While games, sports and military involvement continue for boys through out the Old, Middle and New Kingdoms, the naked girl genre with a girdle and tattoos of Bes or Hathor are unique to the New Kingdom.


Most of the young boys have the youth fillet on their heads indicating not only their youth but likely also their unmarried status.  Their games and sports are often military exercises.  Touny and Wenig note that many of what we call ‘sports’ events, such as shooting or rowing contests, were performed in front of the army, and therefore, could be called military exercises.  Duels, such as wrestling and single stick fighting ‘were probably included in military training.”[34]  They use the example of the Middle kingdom tombs at Beni Hassan of Baqti III (Tomb 15) Prince Kheti (Tomb 17) and Amenemhet (Tomb 2) where the wrestling events “are shown in long friezes … together with pictures of sieges of cities or fortresses, detachments of soldiers or duels. It has rightly been pointed out that the close proximity of such war-like scenes is important for an explanation of the wrestlers’ friezes;  it will have been a matter of military exercises in which soldiers did physical training and increased their fitness and powers of resistance.  The pictures below them – of duels to the death – show clearly how much importance the Egyptians attached to agility and fitness.”[35]  Single stick fencing is usually done by males dressed as soldiers, and there is no way of knowing whether these are married or unmarried youth.[36]  The fact that soldiers dominate so many ancient Egyptian scenes, especially at Akhetaten, means that Egyptian youth was not only conscripted into labor battalions, but also into the military. 


Male Exemptions


In the several literary works of complaints of the First Intermediate Period, there is only one reference to what happens to adolescents, and it is set in the negative light of the entire work.  It is the last line of the Admonitions of Ipuwer:  “There was an old man who was about to die, while his son was a child without knowledge.”[37]  It is possible, therefore, that one route to adulthood that may circumvent military or labor service is through the gaining of knowledge.  I have categorized scribal schools and scribal service under exemptions because, although some scribes serve as ‘scribes of the army,’[38] there seems to be no proof that all scribes took a stint in the military.


The Satire on the Trades, preserved on 18th and 19th dynasty papyri, gives us a clear picture that becoming a scribe is an alternative to military service, and a hint that the other ‘trades’ may also be exemptions and, therefore, alternative paths to the Coming-ofAge rites of passage.  Due to the brevity imposed on this study, I will deal only with the scribal path.


The scribal trainee who learns his craft is well rewarded:  “Barely grown, still a child,/ He is greeted, sent on errands,/ Hardly returned he wears a gown.”[39]  His teacher promotes him at the royal residence.  He is given endless rules of conduct to observe.  But the message is hypocritical:  learn to be subservient to those greater than you and you will be your own boss.  The challenger is the teacher, or the teacher’s stick.  The contest was to succeed, through mental gymnastics, to overcome contradictory concepts.   Success arrived when “the hearer became the doer.”[40]


At the end of the Satire on the Trades we encounter a phrase that may be the ancient Egyptian equivalent for the Coming-of-Age rite of passage:  ‘the path of life.’[41]


The scribal trade, of course, is juxtaposed with apprenticeship to other trades, where the process is less kind.  In these other trades youth are beaten; they are seized for labor; they are weary and worn out; they are ravaged by mosquitoes and gnats; they suffer; they work themselves to death and still can’t feed their families; they stink; they are joyless; their food is mixed with dirt.  This is satire, but I would expect a grain of truth hidden in each exaggeration.


Summary of Male Coming-of-Age rite of passage


An application of the Coming-of-Age theory to royal, noble and common people’s epithets and biographies yields a consistent response to the three stages of liminality: a declaration of intent that separates the boy from childhood; a period of time during which the boy performs tasks or wins contests or serves in either the army or at some trade; and finally a resolution of his identity where he is noticed, receives a reward and rejoins society.  Within these three stages of liminality, we find many of the ten steps or mechanics of the rite of passage that every young man must pass through.


Additional Notes


I have not included male circumcision among the above mechanics because of the current uncertainty about its universality in ancient Egypt.[42]  Moreover, there is the possibility that different types of circumcision were taking place.[43]  My inclination is to associate circumcision with the beginning of military training, but there is not enough information at the moment.


As we have seen in the story of Horus and Seth, dominance can be attained even by the illusion of sexual penetration.  The trickery involved is not unlike psychological phenomena.  In terms of the post-Freudian Psychoanalyst, Jean Lacan, the successful initiate is one who penetrates the consciousness of his superiors.  Tom Hare, in his work, Re-Membering Osiris, offers ample proof that the hieroglyphic script is overwhelmingly geared toward penetration and the number of words with the penis hieroglyph far exceeds those with female sexual organs.[44]  When Ptahhotep writes, “teach your son to be a hearer,”[45] we may understand thereby that even ancient Egyptian teachers expected their words to ‘penetrate’ the ears of their pupils.  Later, in the Satire of the Trades, as we have seen, this concept is repeated in the phrase, “the hearer becomes the doer.”[46] This culture of penetration has more to do with dominance and the individual identity as a ‘penetrator’ than with sexual performance.


In fact, the most surprising aspect of the male Coming-of-Age rites of passage is that it does not include sexuality!  It seems fairly certain that the ancient Egyptian pubescent youth had no libido issues.  Whether this freedom occurred because of unrestricted access to sexual activities or a general blindness to the same, cannot be discerned at the moment.  In many cultures, such as the Masaai in Africa, in the overcrowded Indian subcontinent, and until a century ago throughout Europe, children either slept in their parents’ bed or in the same room.  Children, therefore, were exposed to their parents’ sexual interactions without negative values like ‘shame’ attached to those interactions.  The possibility that such exposure is backed by evidence in ancient Egypt has already been raised by Lynn Meskell.  She notes several examples where adult sexuality is depicted in the presence of a child.  She writes, “…age seems no barrier for the most part to representations with sexual overtones, as we have seen with the genre of the adolescent serving girl.  This association with children and sexuality is something which scholars have not clearly set in its wider social setting.” [47]


*     *     *

Female Coming-of-Age Processes


It is far more difficult and rather more sensitive to define the female coming-of-age process.  Yet, the evidence is plentiful from mythological and literary stories, tomb and temple inscriptions, banqueting scenes, love and harpers’ songs, ostraca and papyrus paintings. 


Mythological Setting


We will look for the gods and goddesses who appear at scenes associated with sexuality, childbirth, music, dance and other forms of entertainment.  In mythological, funerary and general banqueting scenes and settings,  Hathor seems to be the goddess of every aspect of sexuality, whether it is pleasure, reproduction, entertainment, healing or childbearing.  According to one myth, she was brought into the Egyptian pantheon for pleasure at Ra’s request. Thoth magically transformed her from a fierce desert lioness into the goddess of love, two aspects Hathor already had if we equate her with the ‘apparition’ in the Middle Kingdom Herdman’s Tale.  There may also be a connection between Thoth’s ‘magic’ and his role as a trickster that becomes apparent in the New Kingdom love poetry.  It is through the magic of his words that Thoth is able to distract Hathor and make her believe that she is destined for a life of pleasure.  The contents of most of the later love poetry is almost entirely focused on sexual pleasure. 


As Thoth led Hathor into her Philae temple, Bes was present, the dwarf god who “played a part on the two most important occasions in a woman’s life,”[48] conception and childbirth.  Also present upon her arrival were musicians playing the angular harp, lyre, oboe and tambourine.  After exploring these instruments throughout her book, “Music and Musicians in Ancient Egypt,” Manniche remarks, “We may perhaps deduce that (these instruments) could not be played unless a sexual purpose was intended, be it procreation or rebirth.”[49]


One of Hathor’s first role in the Horus and Seth story may be that of the female entertainer, because, at a time when Pre Harakhty was sulking “she uncovered her nakedness before him,” in Lichtheim’s translation.   “Thereupon the great god laughed at her.”  Literally, she ‘uncovered her vagina’, and judging from the lion’s flank determinative, she exposed her vagina by bending forward, a popular pose among the relatively few illustrations of copulation we have from ancient Egypt. 


The way the words are written, the sexual act is implied, but not expressly stated.  The sun-god nevertheless emerges from his depression with satisfaction.  Perhaps someone can come up with another example where laughter is possibly a euphemism for orgasm. 


Another deity involved with fertility is Hapy.  A Middle Kingdom Hymn to Hapy, in a passage pertaining to fertility, includes singers and dancers and intimates that they are going to get pregnant:

“Songs to the harp are made for you,

One sings to you with clapping hands;

The youths, your children hail you,

Crowds adorn themselves for you,

Who…makes flourish every body;

Sustains the pregnant woman’s heart

And loves a multitude of herds.”[50]


Five more deities are introduced in the Westcar papyrus story of the birth of three children.  These are Isis, Nephthys, Meshkenet, Heqat and Khnum dispatched by Ra himself to help deliver the children.  These deities change their appearance to those of four dancing girls with Khnum acting the role of their porter.  They go directly to the birthing room and tell Rawoser, the husband, “Let us see her.  We understand childbirth.”[51] 


Upon the successful completion of the birthing ritual Rawoser ‘paid’ the midwives with a sack of barley and the deities left.


This Story of Wonder is one certain evidence that under the apparent frivolity of entertainment, these troupes of women musicians were also trained midwives.  Their decorated hips and perfumed wigs were a cover for other useful skills and that these young women may have performed valuable service to the villages they visited, other than to take the minds of scribal students off their work.


Meshkhenet, one of the goddesses in the story, is also the name of one of the two large bricks on which the mother squats for giving birth.  Robins cites a magical spell the subject of which is childbirth, which begins with the words: ‘to be spoken over the two bricks.’[52] 


Whereas Rud-Djedet gave birth in a room of her house, by the New Kingdom a special structure was built outside both individual households and villages for a birthing house.  By Ptolemaic times there were large, spacious, stone birthing houses attached to all temples where Isis or Hathor were worshipped.  The birthing house likely came into being and moved outside houses, villages and temples because of the increasing number of itinerant musicians, singers and dancers that began to troupe through Egypt.  The large incidence of mother and child mortality that accompanied first time births likely could not be handled in individual homes and may have been out of place in the temple precincts.


Royal Daughters


Very little is known about princesses until the New Kingdom.  I will dip into the Old Kingdom for just a moment where there are Priestesses of Hathor already attested, as we heard yesterday.  But Herodotus has a story for us about the daughter of Khufu: “No crime was too great for Cheops:  when he was short of money, he sent his daughter to a bawdy-house with instructions to charge a certain sum….”[53] Once we peel away Herodotus’s sense of moral outrage and assumptions on prostitution, we are left with the possibility that an Egyptian king allowed his daughter into a sexual liaison with his noblemen.  If there was such a sexual connection, it must have been done with the king’s blessings and had to have a socially acceptable context.  One such context would be the Coming-of-Age rites of passage.


Amenhotep III was the first king whose sexual life came to light through archaeological evidence, though that evidence has been mostly suppressed.[54] seemed to have had a prodigious appetite for young women, one that may have included his own daughter, Sitamun.  Unfortunately we have no evidence that, as the Strong Bull, or Ka-Nakht, he performed the ritual impregnation of the daughters of his noblemen. 


Robins writes:  “The evidence for the existence of father-daughter marriages in the reign of … Akhenaten is hotly disputed.  Two of the king’s daughters, Meretaten and Ankhesenpaaten, appear as the mothers of king’s daughters called Meretaten junior and Ankhesenpaaten junior respectively.  A third daughter, Meketaten, probably died in childbirth.  Unfortunately the paternity of the children is nowhere stated.  It is tempting to assume that the title ‘king’s daughter’ must mean that they are daughters of a king and thus Akhenaten, but there is some evidence that the daughter of a king’s son could also be called ‘king’s daughter’.  … …None of the three princesses who seem to have borne children have the title ’king’s wife’.  Later, towards the end of her father’s reign, Meretaten became ‘king’s principle’ wife’, but this was well after the birth of Meretaten junior.  There are too many gaps in our sources to determine whether or not Akhenaten fathered his daughters’ children.”[55]


Lyn Green mentions the possibility of two other princesses as royal wives, Isis and Henut-ta-Nebu.[56]  Dorothea Arnold believes that the scenes from the royal tomb at Amarna should be read as a coded reference to a hope for rebirth, as there are no other examples in Egyptian funerary evidence where the cause of death is shown.[57]


The theory of the Coming-of-Age rites of passage for females, however, provides a context in which the above situation, that Akhenaten fathered his daughters’ children, makes sense.  Moreover, if the king’s sense of divinity forced the royal family to distance itself from other mortals, then Akhenaten may have found no other choice than to bring his own daughters through the Coming-of-Age rites of passage ‘in house’, as it were.


Amenhotep III, Akhenaten and Ramses II were the kings during whose reigns such ‘king’s daughters’ were born.  Each of these kings had assumed a role of divinity no other Egyptian could match.  In such an untenable position, they would be the only ones eligible to perform the necessary ritual first impregnation of their own daughters.  In doing so, they would have also successfully removed themselves from the sort of public relations disaster that befell Khufu with regard to his daughter. 


Both Ramses II and Ramses III showed their sons and daughters in parade.  Sometimes the daughters would be wearing menat necklaces and the sons would be riding in chariots.  Unfortunately we cannot tell from looking at the scenes whether they were going through the coming-of-age process, or had just completed it.




Chastity is one option for avoiding pregnancy and the potential lottery of dying in childbirth.  It may be that at the beginning of the 18th dynasty the royal family hoped to avoid their daughters having to consort with lower classes, or to avoid pregnancy altogether by having their daughters live a chaste life as a ‘wife of Amun’.  Chastity or celibacy, however, cannot be confirmed until Ramses VI. 


Noble Ladies and Their Daughters


Robins wrote, “The title 'lady-in-waiting' is… found in the New Kingdom, where it is used by the wives and sometimes the daughters of high officials. For a long time the title was taken to signify a royal concubine.  Two scholars have pointed out the unlikelihood of this, since so many of the women were married to high officials.  It hardly seems possible that the king would have relinquished his sexual rights over these women and handed them on to his officials as 'royal rejects'.”[58] 


The situation this title masks may be the Coming-of-Age rites of passage for the daughters of high officials.  They would in fact be handed over to the king, or to the king’s household, not yet in the sense of the Feudal droit du segnor, but as an honor for the young girls to spend the first years of their sexually mature lives at court instead of on the road with troupes of itinerant singers and dancers, which seemed to have been the lot of the lower classes.  This way they could bear their first child in the relative comfort of the royal palace, a situation, no doubt, which would also give these girls a slightly better chance of survival.  When they had proven their ability to bear a healthy child, rather than being ‘royal rejects’, they would be married off as highly prized ‘brides’ whose proven child bearing abilities would be less likely to interrupt the service of their husband to the king by untimely and unexpected death in childbirth.


As to how these daughters of noble families, or families of high officials, would pass their time during the long year or even a few years of their social limbo, the New Kingdom evidence has been gathered by, among others, Gay Robins and Lise Manniche.  These girls did not linger in the royal harim, that is, they were neither married nor had ‘chattel’ status.  Rather, they constituted the singers, dancers and musicians that were attached to the palace, to the better funded temples, or to the wealthier private households.  They were the ones performing at the post-funerary meal of kings and high officials.


To find the relationship between the Coming-of-Age theory and ancient Egypt’s economy, I looked at Mark Lehner’s Giza workers’ village excavations and his argument that all of Egypt functioned under a household economy.  Gay Robins noted the economic content of late period marriage contracts and that one of the obvious advantages of a report from the time of Thutmose III was that wealth was being kept within the family.[59]


Coming-of-Age rites of passage as a social construct to ease a high rate of childbirth deaths


Robins and others assume that the “risk of death to women in childbirth” was taken within marriage.[60]  Whereas such death is always a risk in the ancient world, a majority of deaths in childbirth would occur during the first delivery attempt.  The risk of death to both the first time mother and her infant is very high.  Although estimates vary wildly from one in four children to one in ten,[61] either number is still high.  Even today, women in economically backward areas of the world suffer a mortality rate of one in seven.[62]  The statistics recur in various sociological studies, and, when complications due to pregnancy and later due to childbirth are included, mother mortality rates jump to 1 in 5![63]


Contrary to the opinion expressed by Robins, I propose that Egypt’s household economy did not accept the large number of deaths at first time births, for both for the mothers and for their children; that it must have been an unacceptable risk that would have caused constant economic interruptions.  Similarly, noblemen on duty at temples, at the king’s court, or on missions, would be seriously disrupted if their wives and children would die in childbirth at such a high rate.  There were lots of deaths in any case, in all households.  Depending on how we manipulate the available statistics, the childbirth deaths of first time mothers and their newborn would double that burden on the ancient Egyptian household.


The theory I present takes this initial risk out of marriage and places it in a socially acceptable setting where the girls are in limbo:  they are even marginalized as performers or entertainers at every sort of occasion in the sense that they are not part of the society that they entertain.  At the same time they are in the service of Hathor, learning to play music, to dance, to sing, to perform midwifery services, to entertain at wealthy private banquets, at temple ritual, funerary banquets as well as at the royal palace.  They remain socially useful in their separation.  They go through their life and death struggle anonymously, far removed from their families, whether noble or commoner, rich or poor.  And they die and are buried in anonymity. 


I must note that there is no hint of the Smayt being part of the Coming-of-Age rites of passage in Suzanne Onestine’s recent work.  She holds that these groups of women benefited the state and their children learned loyalty to the state.[64]


Manniche wrote that “a section of the (Abydos) necropolis was set apart for songstresses (Smayt) of a number of deities (Osiris, Isis, Horus, Mut, Amun) and their stillborn children.  It is not known why these women had a separate burial place.  It may indicate a favored status; perhaps it was a privilege for women dying in childbirth to be buried there; only one of the songstresses was accompanied by a husband and possibly these women had no fathers in whose tombs they could be buried.  Whatever the explanation, the burials indicate that chastity was not required for these musicians of the gods.”[65]


Reinterpreted in the light of the Coming-of-Age theory, we find these burials in a context that works:  these were singers and musicians who were assigned to perform at the numerous funerary banquets and festivals held at Abydos; that they became pregnant in the process, as they were hoping to do; and that they died in the process of childbirth anonymously.  Even the Turin Erotic Papyrus can be interpreted as evidence of this coming-of-age process.


Cognate Cultures


The proposed coming-of-age process of an ancient Egyptian young girl is mirrored both in historical, pre-Christian societies as well in recent and even contemporary non-Christian ones. 


One of the latter is the Maasai people of the Kalahari, another is the European Roma people.  Maasai girls are socialised to become sexually active at a young age, beginning from about 10 years old.  Prior to puberty, a Maasai girl gradually acquires her “right” to fertility.  The girl chooses one or several of the young warriors to live or consort with.  “A virgin bride is looked upon as an awkward phenomenon and somehow brings embarrassment on her family.”[66]  There is even a tenuous connection between the Maasai and ancient Egypt in that archaeological evidence suggests that the Maasai may have left the Nile Valley of Sudan for Kenya around 500 BCE.”[67] 

Even though Islam has been the traditional religion across North Africa for over a thousand years, the oases of the Sahara have harbored ancient customs until the early 20th century.  Among the Ouled Nail tribe of Algeria little girls were trained from an early age in the art of dancing and lovemaking.  They left their desert town between the ages of nine and twelve and went into the cafes of neighboring oases to practice their trade.  Some of these girls stayed in the oasis towns of the Sahara to guide younger incoming Ouled Nails but most returned to their desert homes about fifteen years later to get married.  The quality of the marriage depended greatly on the type of dowry they have saved for themselves.  Their away-form-home experiences, both their dancing and their sexual liaisons, did not come in the way of these women being good wives and mothers.  We may conclude that the Ouled Nail girls’ time away from their own towns was the equivalent of a liminal state.


The cultural drive to know the childbearing abilities of its post-pubescent girls also exists in pockets of Europe.  In Province Drente, the Netherlands, the custom was for a pubescent girl to “leave the window on the latch" so a boy could climb in and make her pregnant.  This was well watched by other boys to ensure that only one boy at a time had right of entry for 3 months.  After a number of boys tried and failed, she became a "maiden" and stayed unmarried. Her bedroom would be on the ground floor and so the entire village would know of it.[68]


One custom in common among the Masaai, the Ouled Nail, Drente Province and ancient Egypt is the lack of male concern with the sexual experiences their young females went through.  At least two possible explanations come to mind for this attitude that is so strange in our modern world.  First, in all of these cited societies the females enjoy a relative freedom because they are not considered to be ‘chattel’ as in most other ancient and modern societies.  Secondly, because the society does not consider the activities of the second stage liminal experience ‘real’:  if these females are going through a coming-of-age initiatory process, they are removed from normal social constraints and concerns, and perhaps are not even ‘seen’ in the sense of an accepted social amnesia.


The sexual liaison between naked female musicians and their male lovers, seen on the Turin Erotic papyrus, may represent the end of an evening of entertainment where the environment became conducive to sexual liaison.  Although this papyrus has satirical content, the curious presence of baldheaded men adds a note of realism to the scene.


It is possible to equate bald headed men with low rank or cast.  In the Admonitions of Ipuwer, among the lists of overturned social customs are the lines, “See, he who did not know a lyre owns a harp,/He who did not sing extols the goddess (Meret)…. /See, the baldhead who lacked oil/Has become owner of jars of sweet myrrh.”[69]


When we encounter bald headed men impregnating possibly drunken female musicians, we may be looking at the lower social levels enacting one aspect of the Coming-of-Age rites of passage.


Summary of female coming-of-age processes


First, the sheer number of young girls participating in ceremonial banquets at every level of society bodes favorably for the practice that at the onset of menses, most girls would have entered a liminal state by joining a musical troupe.  But, as Susan Onestine notes, not all girls had the title ‘Smayt’.  She narrows this title to the noble women, at first, and then to an artisan or middle class, and even among these not all girls and/or adult women (who would have kept the title) had this title.[70]


Secondly, the ancient Egyptian post-pubescent girl’s ambiguous position in society could only be resolved by her ability to bear a healthy child and stay alive herself.  High rates of both mother and child mortality in childbirth made her a liability in the highly organized household economy based on a lively fertility culture. 


The conditions of the Coming-of-Age theory stipulate that a post-pubescent girl has to bear a child before she is received back into her society.  In order to bear a child, ancient Egyptian society had to devise a role for these young girls where they would be

1.  separated from their usual social milieu at the onset of their menses;

2.  where they would serve a socially useful role;

3.  where they could become pregnant;

4.  where they could spend the time of their child’s gestation in a safe place;

5.  and where they could give birth under the best possible circumstances. 


That role was remarkably uniform throughout Egypt’s long history.  Although girls from different social classes entered this second stage of the Coming-of-Age rite of passage into socially differentiated forms of entertainment, each level allowed the girls to identify with the various gods and goddesses associated with music, dance, merriment, sexuality, conception, fertility and birth.  Their major problems were infertility and death in childbirth.


Thirdly, or finally, these girls would find a new social identity for themselves once they had given birth and survived.  For most that identity was marriage.  Just recently (in 2005) both Nicole Hansen (on the Amun Yahoo Groups discussion site) and Prof. John Gee in his public lectures (e.g. the 2005 SSEA Symposium at Toronto, Oct. 11,) have given examples they believe are marriage ceremonies or celebrations.  The theory of liminality requires a ceremonial reintegration of the individual within society, and such examples as will be shortly published may be interpreted to be the last part of the coming-of-age process, possibly for both boys and girls.




At the moment a gap exists as to how many women remained in the entertainment profession for the rest of their productive lives.  It would seem logical that many of the barren females would naturally remain as entertainers and make it their profession. 


Other questions remain.  What happened to the children these females produced during their time as entertainers?  There is both a logical answer to that question as well as some evidence from Deir el Medina.  Logically, in a fertility culture, the wealth of a household economy depends upon the size of the household.  One possibility would be if the entertainers left their children at the villages where the children were born.  Another, based on banqueting scenes, is that these children grew up with the entertainers and danced with their mothers.  Gay Robins noted that in the village of Deir el Medina census rolls show children living in various households whose parents are not the owners of that household! 


The interpretive theory as presented here is not all-inclusive.  It fails, for example, in the case of the childless couple, Ramose and Mutemwia from Deir el Medina’s Workers’ Village, whose two surviving monuments are dedicated to the fertility deity, Bes and the deity of childbirth, Taweret.  Robins cites two other childless couples from the 18th dynasty and an infertile male from the 20th.[71]  It is possible that the women went through their coming-of-age separation from their families, did not conceive, and returned to their villages and families and re-entered normal village life.  In that case the focus of the puberty ritual was not a successful birth, but the fact that the young pubescent girl went through the ritual, learned about childbirth and rejoined her society with her newfound knowledge.




There is more, a wealth of detail that could fill a book.  But I must end with a caveat.  Not all occurrences of sistra and menat necklaces lead to a free-for-all sexual melee.  Not every soldier was a ‘teenager’ going through his Coming-of-Age rite of passage.  There were adult women who served Hathor and there were professional soldiers who were educated in both the arts of the scribe as well as in the martial arts.  Further reinterpretation of the known evidence will have to answer questions such as, ‘was the liminal social status of young women serving in ceremonial roles at the palace, in temples, at funerals, and at various village festivals tantamount to enacting a ‘sacred’ role?’



A version of this paper was read at


* I am indebted to Dr. Lyn Green for numerous references in journals and books not ordinarily available to me in the Benben Books library.

[1] The term was first used by van Gennep, A. (1960). The rites of passage. (M. B. Vizedom & G. B. Caffee, Trans.) Chicago, 1909:University of Chicago Press.

[2] Rosalind M. Janssen and Jac, J. Janssen, Growing up in ancient Egypt, London, 1990: The Rubicon Press; Toivari-Vitala, Jaana, Women at Deir el-Medina:  A study of the status and roles of the female inhabitants in the workmen’s community during the Ramesside Period;  Meskell, Lynn. Private Life in New Kingdom, Princeton and Oxford, 2003: Princeton University Press; Manniche, Lise. Sexual Life in Ancient Egyp,t(London and New York, 1987: Kegan Paul International; Manniche, Lise. Music and Musicians in Ancient Egypt, London, 1991: British Museum Press;  Robins, Gay. Women in Ancient Egypt, Boston, 1993: Harvard University Press; 

[3] van Gennep, A. (1960). The rites of passage. (M. B. Vizedom & G. B. Caffee, Trans.) Chicago, 1909:University of Chicago Press.

[4]Turner, Victor W.  “Betwixt and between: The liminal period in rites de passage.” In Symposium on new approaches to the study of religion: Proceedings of the 1964 Annual Spring Meeting of the American Ethnological Society, edited by J. Helm, 4-20. Seattle, 1964: American Ethnological Society.

[5] Cantarella, Eva. Pandora’s Daughters:  The Role and Status of Women in Greek and Roman Antiquity.  Translated by Maureen B. Fand.  Baltimore and London, 1981, 1987: The Johns Hopkins University Press; Charachidzé, Georges, “The Cult of Helen and the Tribal Initiation of Women in Greece,” in Greek and Egyptian Mythologies.  Translated by Danielle Beauvais.  Compiled by Yves Bonnefoy.  Translated under the direction of Wendy Doniger.  Chicago and London, 1992: The University of Chicago Press; Tyrrell, William Blake, Amazons: A Study in Athenian Mythmaking.  Baltimore nd London, 1984: The Johns Hopkins University Press

[6] Miriam Lichtheim, Ancient Egyptian Literature, vol. II, Berkeley, 1976: University of California Press, p. 214-223

[7] D. M. Halperin, One Hundred Years of Homosexuality and other essays on Greek Love, London, 1990: p. 29-30

[8] R. B. Parkinson, “’Homosexual’ Desire and Middle Kingdom Literature,” in Journal of Egyptian Archaeology Vol. 81 (1995) p. 65,

[9] A.D. Toouny and Dr. Steffen Wenig, Sport in Ancient Egypt, Translated from the German by Joan Becker. Leipzig, 1969:  Editions Leipzig, pp. 56-57

[10] Miriam Lichtheim, Ancient Egyptian Literature, vol. II, Berkeley, 1976: University of California Press, p. 214-223

[11] Papyrus Chester Beatty I, Recto, sheet 14

[12] A.D. Toouny and Dr. Steffen Wenig, Sport in Ancient Egypt, Translated from the German by Joan Becker. Leipzig, 1969:  Editions Leipzig, pp. 56-57

[13] Lichtheim, Vol. II, p. 41

[14] Nicholas Reeves, Akhenaten, Egypt’s False Prophet, London, 2001; Thames and Hudson, pp.61-62

[15] Donald B. Redford, personal communication, Toronto, Ontario

[16] Donald B. Redford, personal communication based on an unpublished teletat in a Luxor warehouse.

[17] Christiane Desroches-Noblecourt placed Tutankhamun in Thebes based on monumental evidence (Tutankhamen, New York, 1963: New York Graphic Society, pp. 173ff) while Nicholas Reeves admits only that the Egyptian administration moved ‘back’ to Memphis even though one copy of Tutankhamun’s Restoration decree was found in Memphis together with a ‘House of Nebkheprure’ (The complete Tutankhamun:the King – The tomb – The Royal Treasure,  London, 1990: Thames and Hudson, pp. 25, 28

[18] Omm Sety and Hanny el Zeini, Abydos: Holy City of Ancient Egypt, Los Angeles, 1981:  LL Company, p. 154

[19] Kitchen, Kenneth A, Pharaoh Triumphant; The Life and times of Ramses II, Warminster and Mississauga, 1982 (1985): Aris and Phillips; Benben Publications, p. 60

[20] Rosalie David,  A Guide to Religious Ritual at Abydos, Warminster, 1981: Aris & Phillips, p. 113

[21] David, p. 114

[22] David, p. 15

[23] Lichtheim, Ancient Egyptian Literature, Vol. 1, p.18

[24] Ibid, p. 25

[25] Ibid, p. 90

[26] Manniche, Music, p. 75

[27] Afghanistan's remote Badakhshan province currently holds a grim world record. Last year (2004), 6,500 women died giving birth in the region - a mortality rate of 64 per cent.

[28] "The percentages of infant burials found in the cemeteries of Gurob, Matmar and Mostagedda, dating to the New Kingdom and Third Intermediate Period, have been calculated by Diana Patch. She determined that fifty percent of the 276 graves at  Gurob, forty-eight percent of the 233 graves at Matmar and forty-two percent of the 31 graves at Gurob contained children's burials."  (J.F. Romano, "The Bes-Image in Pharaonic Egypt,"unpublished doctoral dissertation, New York University (Ann Arbor, 1989), 111 n. 250.)  My thanks goes to Dr. Deborah Sweeney of the Department of Archaeology and Ancient Near Eastern Cultures, Tel Aviv University, for pointing out to me this statistic.

[29] H.E. Winlock, The Slain Soldiers of Neb-hepet-Re’ Mentu-hotpe. New Yorkm 1945: Publication of the Metropolitan Museum of Art Egyptian Expedition XVI

[30] Bridget McDermott, Warfare in Ancient Egypt,  Thrupp, 2004:  Sutton Publishing, p. 106

[31] Robins, pp. 185-186

[32] A. D. Touny and Dr. Steffen Wenig, Edition Leipzig, 1969

[33] Robins, Women in Ancient Egypt,  p. 186

[34] Touny and Wenig, p. 15

[35] Ibid, p. 19

[36] Mortuary Temple of Ramses III at Medinet Habu and limestone fragments from the early 2oth dynasty

[37] Lichtheim, I, p. 161

[38] E.g. Amenhotep, Son of Hapu and Horemheb

[39] Lichtheim I, p. 186

[40] Ibid., p. 191

[41] Ibid., p. 191

[42] Janssen & Janssen, Growing Up in Ancient Egypt, pp. 90-97 believe it is universal;  John Nunn, Ancient Egyptian Medicine, Norman, 1996; University of Oklahoma Press,, p. 171, disagrees.

[43] For mass circumcision, see Ann Macy Roth, Egyptian Phyles in the old Kingdom, Chicago, 1991: University of Chicago Press; for different types, see Emoke Bailey, “Circumcision in Ancient Egypt,” in The Bulletin of the Australian Centre for Egyptology, vol. 7 (1996): 15-28

[44] Tom Hare, ReMembering Osiris: Number, gender and the word in ancient Egyptian representational systems,  Satnford, 1999: 

[45] Lichtheim, Vol. 1, p. 66

[46] Ibid., p. 191

[47] Lynn Meskell,, “Re-embedding sex: domesticity, sexuality, and ritual in New Kingdom Egypt,” in Archaeology of Sexuality, Robert A Schmidt and Barbara L. Voss, eds., London and New York, 2000: Routledge, p. 258

[48] Lise Manniche, Music and Musicians in Ancient Egypt, London; British Museum Press, 1991, p. 57

[49] Ibid. p. 118

[50] Lichtheim, Vol. I, p. 208

[51] Miriam Lichtheim, Ancient Egyptian Literature, Vol. 1 (Berkeley, U of Cal Press, 1975) p. 220

[52] Robins, p. 83

[53] The Histories, Book Two, 126, Aubrey de Sélincourt, London, Penguin Books, 1954, p. 152

[54] Reeves, p. 61

[55] Women in Ancient Egypt, p. 29

[56] Green, Lyn, “Who was Who at Amarna,” in The Royal Women of Amarna, Dorothea Arnold, ed.  New York, 1996: The Metropolitan Museum of Art.  p. 9

[57] “Aspects of the Royal Female Image.” in The Royal Women of Amarna, p. 115

[58] Robins, p. 117

[59] Robins, p. 58

[60] Ibid, p. 61, 64


[62] WHO Maternal Health and Safe Motherhood Program

[63] Hanawalt, Barbara, Growing Up in Medieval London, Oxford, 1993:Oxford University Press, p. 43 and 234

[64]  “The role of the Chantress in Ancient Egypt,” in British Archaeological Reports: International Series 1401, Oford, 2005: Archaeopress, p. 32

[65] Music, pp. 124/25

[66] Fosbrooke H. A. (1948) “An Administrative Survey of the Masai Social System,” in Tanganyika Notes and Records 26:1-50. Also referred to by Bernardi, B. (1955) “The Age-system of the Masai,” Annali Lateranensi XVIII:257-318, at p282n


[68] Adrian vander Meijden, personal communication

[69] Lichtheim, Vol. I, p. 156-57

[70] Onestine, p. 37

[71] Robins, p. 77