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“We have come from the well of Ibhet”: Ethnogenesis of the Medjay*

In: Journal of Egyptian History
Author:
Kate Liszka University of Pennsylvania liszka@sas.upenn.edu

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Abstract

Our current understanding of the ancient Nubian people called the Medjay has been informed by textual and artistic representations created by the ancient Egyptians. By studying these sources, Egyptologists have argued that the Medjay were an ethnic group living in the Eastern Desert near the Second Cataract. Yet these studies exhibit an Egyptocentric bias, in which the Egyptian sources have been interpreted literally. This paper reexamines Egyptian references to the Medjay before the New Kingdom and demonstrates how the Egyptians conceptualized and fostered the creation of a Medjay ethnicity. The Egyptians perceived the people of the Eastern Desert near Lower Nubia as one unified ethnic group. Yet these people were not politically unified and did not identify themselves as Medjay until the middle of the Twelfth Dynasty. Increased interaction between the Egyptians and the people of the Eastern Desert caused certain pastoral nomads to adopt the term “Medjay.” Whatever role ethnicity may have played in their society previously, ethnogenesis of a “Medjay” ethnic group began towards the middle of the Twelfth Dynasty.

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