A social and historical analysis of Egyptian non-royal epithets in the Middle Kingdom

Denise Mary Doxey, University of Pennsylvania


Ancient Egyptian non-royal biographical texts typically include a series of laudatory epithets, including nouns, adjectives, and relative clauses, which follow the name and titles of the monuments' owners. The epithets served to demonstrate that these individuals were worthy of an honored place in the afterlife; to perpetuate their memory in a favorable fashion; and to encourage the maintenance of their mortuary cults. Although these phrases are often formulaic and in some cases consist of hyperbolic stereotype, they often reflect cultural attitudes, historical circumstances, and administrative responsibilities. By collecting, classifying, and analyzing the epithets from a large sampling of well-dated inscriptions, including texts from tombs, mortuary stelae, votive stelae, and expedition memorials, it is possible to draw conclusions about the social and historical significance of such epithets in general, and about the meaning of specific expressions. This study uses epithets as a basis for observing the manner in which the Egyptian non-royal elite of the Middle Kingdom viewed themselves relative to the gods, the king, their peers, and the common people. In addition, it analyzes the relationship between the subject matter of the epithets and the wider system of behavior considered appropriate for the holders of high administrative offices. The subject matter of epithets is shown to reflect the same principles of behavior found in contemporary literature, stressing knowledge, eloquence, obedience, efficiency, attentiveness, accuracy, and self-control, as well as personal prosperity and generosity toward the poor. A chapter is also devoted to the epithets of male and female relatives who are depicted and labelled alongside the owners of the monuments. This section makes observations about the effect of gender on the selection of epithets. Among the other variables that influence the subject matter of epithets are the function of the monument, the location of the inscription, and the official responsibilities of the owner. The nature and purpose of the epithets themselves is connected to widespread Egyptian beliefs about their own world and about the afterlife.

Subject Area

Ancient history|African history|Ancient languages

Recommended Citation

Doxey, Denise Mary, "A social and historical analysis of Egyptian non-royal epithets in the Middle Kingdom" (1995). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI9532167.