Monday, July 20, 2009

Book Review - The Court and Court Society in Ancient Monarchies

Accessed July 20, 2009 | Bryn Mawr Classical Review | by Rolf Strootman

The book under review is the result of a workshop held in 2004 in Newcastle, where seven scholars met to discuss and compare seven royal courts in different cultures and periods: the Achaemenid, Argead Macedonian, and Sassanid, early and late imperial Roman, Han Chinese and New Kingdom Egyptian.

The volume ends with a chapter by Kate Spence, who considers the court in pharaonic Egypt in the late Second Millennium BCE -- a difficult task since official royal texts rarely mention individuals other than the pharaoh: "building temples, fighting wars and performing ritual were recorded as historical events but were usually presented as if kings acted in isolation" (p. 267). Spence therefore focuses on the relatively well-documented court of the reformer Akhenaten at el-Amarna. As in most other ancient monarchies, courtiers in pharaonic Egypt doubled as administrators. Since priests played a crucial role in pharaonic administration, Spence interprets Akhenaten's abolition of the powerful priesthood of Amun -- normally considered as a religious measure -- as an effort by the king to shift the balance between himself and his officials, an active reform of the administration encountered more often in Egyptian history.

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