ancient Egypt as if you were there

The book. While the “Ramses and the Gold of the Pharaohs” exhibition triumph at the Grande Halle de La Villette, in Paris, appears a book devoted to daily life in Egypt at the time of Ramses II. Even if the period chosen – this XIIIe century before our era which marks the golden age of the New Empire – is the same, the work, of exemplary clarity, deliberately stays away from the spectacular and flashy Parisian event. Its author, the Egyptologist Renaud Pietri, seeks, in fact, to free himself as much as possible from clichés about Egypt, very centered on the figure of the pharaoh.

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The idea therefore consists in imagining a day not “of” Ramses II, but “under” Ramses II, precisely in the year 55 of his reign, which will last nearly sixty-seven years. Thanks to the study of written sources, thanks also to numerous archaeological discoveries, Renaud Pietri wants “to nuance the fantasy of an immutable civilization obsessed with the worship of its gods and survival after death”. Give flesh to Egyptian society, shine the spotlight on the anonymous population, on its living conditions, its food, its productions, trade with neighboring countries, the functioning of Egyptian society, from the artisans of Memphis up to the royal family.

Six characters who actually existed

Throughout this day, we will go down the Nile, this backbone of the country, starting from Aswan to go to the capital Pi-Ramses, located in the delta. Alternately parade six characters who really existed: Khay the vizier and his administrative work; the high priest of Amun Bakenkhonsu in Thebes; Qenherkhepechef, the scribe of the tomb, this very particular organization which, on the site of Deir El-Medineh, prepares the final resting place of the pharaoh; General Youpa, who follows the training of the troops in Hermopolis; Prince Khamouaset in Memphis, who will die before he can succeed his father; and, finally, Ramses II himself, a living god, already very old and sick, but who, by his exceptional longevity, will mark the country forever. Through them we observe the daily life of craftsmen, the arming of soldiers, the construction of temples, religious practices, but also the dangers linked to the venomous fauna of the desert, the preponderant role of cereals in the diet, the hobbies of the rich, the importance that courtiers give to their appearance, their make-up, their wigs…

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Despite his constant efforts to aim the lens at the majority of the Egyptian population, Renaud Pietri does not always succeed. He also has the honesty to concede the bias imposed on him by the sources. “The material culture that we know, he writes, (…) is essentially that of the Egyptian nobles, an educated and wealthy elite, whose daily life is much gentler than that of ordinary men and women. » Even if the sands and the aridity of the desert preserve everything, those who have nothing leave nothing…

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