Smiting Pharaohs: Violence and Power in Ancient Egypt

Author(s): Roselyn Campbell

Year: 2016


Violence against the physical bodies of both the living and the dead provides a powerful way to create and reinforce power dynamics, modify and maintain social roles, and to structure identity groups. The human body has been used as a canvas for violent messages both in modern communities and in past societies. Throughout the long history of ancient Egypt, violence against foreigners and prisoners of war was regularly depicted in art that was intended to demonstrate the king’s dominance over enemies and forces of evil. Many have assumed that such depictions of state-sanctioned violence were purely symbolic, but there is evidence to suggest that ritualized killing did take place in ancient Egypt for a variety of reasons. This evidence spans much of Egyptian history, from the hundreds of subsidiary, apparently sacrificial, burials accompanying the tombs of the earliest Egyptian kings, to the bound body buried at a temple in southern Egypt a millennia later. Violence seems to have been a valid method of communicating power relationships both between Egyptians and outsiders, and within Egyptian society itself. This paper will examine how the ancient Egyptians used violence to negotiate and reinforce social relationships through the medium of the human body.

Cite this Record

Smiting Pharaohs: Violence and Power in Ancient Egypt. Roselyn Campbell. Presented at The 81st Annual Meeting of the Society for American Archaeology, Orlando, Florida. 2016 ( tDAR id: 403087)


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min long: -18.809; min lat: -38.823 ; max long: 53.262; max lat: 38.823 ;