Machiavellian Masculinities: Historicizing and Contextualizing the “Civilizing Process” in Ancient Egypt

In: Journal of Egyptian History
Ellen Morris Barnard College, Columbia University

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To judge from wisdom literature and artistic production, the ideal man in pharaonic Egypt was as polite and even-tempered as he was well groomed. This article examines the evidence for warrior burials from periods when the state was decentralized or relatively weak and argues that conceptions of manhood in fact oscillated between an irenic ideal and a more violent counterpart. Drawing upon comparative case studies and advice given by Niccolò Machiavelli to his prince, I argue that hegemonic masculinity in Egypt did not simply reflect the character of the times. Rather, rulers actively promoted the type of masculinity that best served their purpose. To an ambitious local ruler engaged in enlarging his core territory, it was beneficial to appeal to and encourage ideals of valor among potential soldiers and supporters. Once peace had been established, however, violent masculinities proved disruptive. Based on internal evidence as well as observations of authoritarian governments that aimed similarly to solidify their power and pacify their realms, I suggest that pharaohs and their advisors likely employed five specific strategies to neutralize potential competitors and transform an honor-bound warrior aristocracy into courtiers and bureaucrats.

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