Melinda G. Nelson-Hurst
Ideology and Practicality in Transmission of Office During the Middle Kingdom of Ancient Egypt: An Examination of Families and the Concept of i3t (Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations)
Scholars often remark on the high level of detail at which the ancient Egyptian administration of the Middle Kingdom period (c. 2008–1685 B.C.) operated. Many studies have addressed the titles held by the officials who ran this administration and aimed to reconstruct the hierarchical structure of offices. However, rarely have these studies examined questions related to the officials themselves, including how they obtained their positions. Instead, scholars have frequently relied on the concept of hereditary office as an explanation for how men gained administrative positions. This study examines the careers of officials and their family connections in order to ascertain how these men acquired offices and how this process perpetuated the administration from one generation to another during the Middle Kingdom, thus testing previously held assumptions about office transmission and acquisition practices. This work incorporates two methodologies, first a lexicographical examination of the word i3t to identify the conceptual background of this word and whether it represents the “regular title,” that is, a title that included specific duties and pay and held a level of permanency. Second, a prosopographical study of officeholders examines and compares what the officials who left behind biographical texts tell us about their careers with the strictly genealogical and titular information of a wider selection of officials. The combination of biographical texts with genealogical and titular data provides us with information on officials of various administrative levels who span the period of the Middle Kingdom. The results of the study indicate that hereditary practices were not the main means through which officials obtained their positions during this time. Instead, a variety of factors combined to create an inherently flexible feedback process through which a man's family helped him gain experience or training to prove his merits in office, which then brought him recognition and promotion from his superiors, resulting in the perpetuation or elevation of the man's family prestige. Overall, the adaptability of the process for attaining office allowed it to continue, essentially unchanged, from the early Middle Kingdom to the late Middle Kingdom, even while other social and administrative changes took place.