Seasonal WorkersThe Builders - Builders & Buildings
Who are the Seasonal Workers and what did they do for Ancient Egypt?
As with all of the Pharaoh’s monumental buildings in stone, there were three types of Workers needed to complete any of Pharaoh’s great building projects: Skilled Workers, Seasonal Workers and Supporting Workers. The jobs allocated, but not limited to, were as follows:
- Skilled Workers: employed on a formal basis by the Royals to build their monuments and usually lived on site with their families; they were usually highly skilled in their given profession
- Seasonal Workers: utilised to Quarry materials, move the materials, set the stones in place, or in terms of building a Pyramid the “unskilled” labourers
- Supporting Workers: these workers could also be employed on a seasonal basis as the workforce grew, but some would have been employed full time as the Skilled Workers needed their support. These tended to be bakers, carpenters, butchers, leather workers, cooks, water carriers, brewers, weavers for clothing and others
What type of People were “drafted” as Seasonal Workers?
Differing theories abound. Personally, I favour the theory that is backed by their devotion to their Religion with Pharaoh as the link between the populace and their deities.
Every family was involved in some format with the erection of the great Monuments of the Pharaohs. During the Season of the Akhet where all Agricultural work ceased due to the annual Flooding of Nile (For more information about this, please click here) these were people who were superfluous in their own Villages for at least 3 months a Year, and these were the workforce that Pharaoh called on through the Nomarch of the individual Nomes of Egypt.
The Term I will use regarding the co-opting of the Seasonal Workforce is “drafting” although I believe that this was undertaken more willingly as the knowledge, prestige and religious points this gave an Egyptian was a huge motivator; skilfully, in standing and ecclesiastically.
Indeed, a drafted worker would leave a community of around 50 people to live, work and socialise in a Worker’s Village of up to 20,000 plus people. They would return home, throughout Egypt, with a profound sense of their Nationality, a national unity and with newly gained skills, knowledge and experiences. Every family was then “tied in” to a national project and they could all claim a part of it.
An inscription has been located on the Tomb of a Priest, who also served as a Judge, who was buried close to the Worker’s City at Giza, which stated, “I paid hem in Beer and Bread, and I made them take an Oath that they were satisfied”.
How many people were “drafted”?
This does depend on which project you are looking at. Some projects were smaller logically meaning that the numbers of workers and supporting workers required would be less. Looking at the Great Pyramid and the Mortuary Complex for Pharaoh Khufu (click here for further information), the largest found throughout Egypt, then evidence indicates that around 20,000 Skilled and Unskilled Workers working in three-month shifts would have taken 20 years to build the Pyramid and its Complex.
So this would suggest that during the 3 month period of Akhet could draft 10,000 to 15,000 Unskilled Workers at the start of a Mortuary Complex erection; remembering that not all of these would be working on the Pyramid itself. For the Pyramids of Khafre and Menkaure the number of Skilled and Unskilled Workers appears to have been nearer 13,000 workers at any one time.
How were the workforce utilised?
There is an interesting theory about this. Temples already employed large numbers of a workforce, at the beck and call of the deities. It has been surmised that the administration of a labouring force was broken down as were the Temple staff as the Viziers and the Egyptian populace knew and understood this method and, more importantly, know that it worked. For more information about Temple Staff, click here.
To explain how the Pyramid Workforce was divided, please see below. Please note that these thoughts are based on what has been discovered by Archaeologists and some supposition
- A Crew = 2,000 men divides into 2 Gangs
- A Gang = 1,000 men divides into 5 Zaas
- A Zaa = 200 men which was then called a Phyle
- A Phyle = 200 men which was divided into divisions, or “Troop” of 20 workers each
Each level of course had its own Leader who was responsible for reporting to the Leader above, ending with the Vizier in charge of the whole project. Important to note that although 2,000 men could be working at a time on the Project, it may not mean that all 2,000 were carrying out the exact same jobs at the same time, allowing for room and logistical planning.
At Giza, for Pharaoh Khufu’s Pyramid Complex, we know that the Phyle, or each 200 men, were named after the different parts of a Boat. We can safely assume that a Boat was used as innumerable numbers of the populace would be used to watercraft as their main method of transportation and so all would be fairly familiar with the nautical terminology. The Phyle were called:
- The Great: named for the Starboard
- The Asiatic: called for the Port
- The Green: listed for the Prow
- The Little: labelled for the Stern
- The Good: thought to be so called for the Helmsman