“We have come to serve Pharaoh”: A study of the Medjay and Pangrave as an ethnic group and as mercenaries from c. 2300 BCE until c. 1050 BCE

Kate Liszka, University of Pennsylvania


The Medjay were an elusive people whom Ancient Egyptian texts seem to refer to as either an ethnic or an occupational group. In the early part of their history, they appear to have been a subgroup of Nubians associated with a land called Medja. In the later part, the word Medjay appears to indicate desert policemen of Egyptian origin. Additionally, scholars have associated the Medjay with the Pangrave archaeological culture that appears from the end of the Middle Kingdom through the Second Intermediate Period (c. 1750-1550 BCE). Attempting to make sense of this shift, scholars some fifty years ago postulated that the original desert-dwelling Medjay moved to Egypt as mercenaries and then assimilated into Egyptian society. Yet, since that time, new evidence and new theoretical perspectives have appeared that can help us reexamine the question of who the Medjay were. This dissertation reassesses the primary textual, artistic, and archaeological material and the secondary sources for the Medjay and the Pangrave. Moreover, it examines this question with the help of anthropological theory and other interdisciplinary and comparative methodologies in order to reexamine the framework for how and why the Medjay changed diachronically. It concludes that 1) Egyptians likely created the Medjay ethnicity as a stereotype that did not reflect autochthonous ethnic divisions. 2) The Medjay prior to the Second Intermediate Period were primarily pastoral nomads who took a variety of jobs, not just as mercenaries. A specialized Medjay military unit probably did not exist until the Second Intermediate Period. 3) The role of the Medjay in the Egyptian army of the Second Intermediate Period probably caused the definition of the word Medjay to shift to an occupation. 4) A Medjay military unit may have incorporated Egyptians as early as the beginning of Dynasty 18. 5) The definition of the word Medjay changed after the Second Intermediate Period, which did not reflect a change in the population of the Eastern Desert. 6) For several reasons, scholars should doubt the connection between the Pangrave and the Medjay, and they should not supplement evidence for one in studying the other.

Subject Area

Archaeology|Near Eastern Studies|Ancient history

Recommended Citation

Liszka, Kate, "“We have come to serve Pharaoh”: A study of the Medjay and Pangrave as an ethnic group and as mercenaries from c. 2300 BCE until c. 1050 BCE" (2012). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI3509198.