3600-Year-Old JURIDICAL STELE: Oldest Proof of Administrative Event of Ancient Egypt

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3600-Year-Old Proof of

Administrative Event

Egypt a country that is rich in culture and famous for its beautiful ancient monuments and mummies whether it is a pyramid of Giza, mummy of the influential prophetess of antinopolis or temple of Luxor. Hieroglyphic script was the prominent way in ancient Egypt to carve all the important events over the walls. Like one 3300 year old Stele revealed the drilling of a well in Egypt’s desert by Ramses II to begin the water supply in the middle of the desert.

In the same way, another very important stele was discovered in Karnak temple of Egypt which explains one of the administrative processes of ancient Egypt

What is the Juridical Stele of Karnak?

The Juridical Stela or Cairo Juridical Stela is an ancient Egyptian stele issued in c.1650 BCE. Its main purpose is to document the sale of a government office. The monument is considered one of the most important of its kind because it provides valuable juridical information about the provincial administration in Ancient Egypt and about both the inheritance of an office and the possibility of trading it.

Discovery of Juridical Stele

This stele was found by a French archeologist in 1927 during the consolidation of the columns in the hypostyle hall of Karnak where it was placed during the New Kingdom. It was not part of the materials used to establish the foundations of each of the columns, but it was embedded in the embankment forming the soil itself and was pressed against the foundations of column 37. The stele is actually older than the Hypostyle Hall, being issued during the Second Intermediate Period, and it is dated to the regnal Year 1 of the Theban Pharaoh Nebiryraw I of the 16th or 17th Dynasty.

Measurement of Stele

The stele is made of limestone, it measures 1 m. 18 in height and o m. 72 in width. It includes the winged disc in the hanger and immediately below, twenty-eight lines of text normally oriented from right to left. There is no trace of colors left.

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Translation of Stele

Juridical Stele Egypt

The winged disc is flanked by the two Uraeus. It is surrounded by a double circle and the body of the two snakes that surround it is reduced to a geometric outline as it often happens.

Winged Sun Disc
The winged disc is flanked by the two Uraeus

The very presence of the disc at the top of a stele has no doubt a significance that we often forget. Here, it seems that it indicates that the stele was exposed outside, in the open air, in one of the courtyards of the temple; which is logical because this stele, we will see, aims to display in the sacred territory a legal text intended for passers-by and which in fact has nothing religious.

Line – 1

Just below the disc, the first line of text breaks down as follows: on the right and on the left, under the two wings, the name of the disc is written

That of the city of Behoudit the great god, master from the sky

“Granted by favor of by the king for (being placed in) the temple Amon-Re “

The favor granted by the king is twofold: it consists both in the gift of the stele and in the authorization to place it inside the temple of Amun.

This precise indication is given at the head of the stele which gives it all its meaning: it guarantees the authenticity of the legal documents and it places these texts under the protection of Amon in its temple itself. It was a precious favor and of real practical significance, both for the king and for the official who dedicated the stele. It is indeed of the transmission of a major office, that of the governor of El-Kab. This was certainly an exceptional fact; there was, therefore, a real interest for the new owner of the function in what he could make note officially this transmission to avoid any dispute. But it was also in the public interest that the conditions of this abnormal transmission were out of the question.

Line – 2

Line 2 begins the actual text. It includes the complete protocol of the king:

It is alive the Horus that which makes green the two grounds “, the Mail of the two goddesses that which is divine in its existences”, the Horus that is beautiful in its risings “, the King of High and Lower Egypt endowed with life, loved by Amon-Re master of thrones of the two lands, the great god, master of heaven, the Son of Re he lives forever.

The one whose heart expands on the throne of Horus of the living, the one who is beautiful to see as the rising of the solar disc, the son of Amon, that of his flank, he has begotten of his precious seed, the one who is loved.

At the end of line 2 and all of line 3 gives us a series of designations relating to the king; it is the constant process. In any stele, immediately after the protocol, a king’s praise is aligned.

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Juridical Stele of Karnak

Event for which Stele was Created

The text on the stele reports the sale of the office of governor of El-Kab from a man called Kebsi to a relative called Sobeknakht (Ancient Egyptian official of the Second Intermediate Period). It seems that Kebsi contracted a significant debt of 60 gold Deben ( one Deben was equal to about 91 g ) towards Sobeknakht and not having the possibility to pay.

Kebsi decided to sell his office to Sobeknakht who would become the new governor of El-Kab, with all the benefits that this charge entailed.

All the documents necessary for the transaction were brought to the Vizier (Highest official in ancient Egypt to serve the pharaoh during the Old, Middle, and New Kingdoms) who checked Kebsi’s genealogy in order to confirm that he was indeed the heir of the office.

The Vizier confirmed that Kebsi heard of the office of governor of El-Kab. The whole process was sealed in the Vizier’s quarters with the participation of witnesses, whereupon Sobeknakht received the rights to the office.

Importance of this Event

The monument is considered one of the most important of its kind because it provides valuable juridical information about the provincial administration in Ancient Egypt and about both the inheritance of an office and the possibility of trading it. 

The Juridical Stela is also an important temporal link within a quite obscure period of Egyptian history – the Second Intermediate Period – between the 13th Dynasty king Merhotepre and the later Theban king Nebiryraw I




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