Tomb WorkersThe Workers - The People
The Workers of the Village at Deir el Medina situated in the Theban Necropolis were exclusively used by Pharaoh, the Royal Family and High Officials who the Pharaoh favoured by lending the Official his skilled workforce and for themselves.
In general terms there would have been approx. 60 Workers working at any one time on any one Tomb. These Tomb Workers were
- The Two Foremen; at the head of the physical Workers, who would report to the Architects, Draughtmen and Vizier
- The Two Deputy Foremen; in daily charge of the Gangs of workers and would report to their Foreman and Scribes
- The Quarrymen who would hew the Tomb out of the rock
- Stone Workers, or Chiseller’s, followed the Quarrymen aligning and smoothing the hewn bedrock
Also, in the Valleys working were
- Doorkeepers to the individual Tombs in the Valleys; usually 2 per tomb
- The Guardians who simply put “guarded” the Materials and Tools which the Quarrymen, Stone Workers and Artisans needed to complete their works
- The Guards or Medjay who were drawn from Pharaoh’s elite Bodyguards and protected not only the Workers but the Village and the Valleys (for details about the Medjay, click here)
As with nearly all the governance and administration within Egypt during this time the Valley workers had a strict hierarchy. As with many other administrations, the Workers were formed into 2 Gangs: The Left Gang and the Right Gang, literally denoting what side of the Tomb that gang would work. Administratively this was the same as how the crew on any boats worked.
The Working Year, Month, Week and Day
Work commenced in the Valleys throughout the Year, through Summer Heat and Winter Chills in the desert area. As the Egyptian Month was divided into 3 equal periods of 10 days apiece, the week was divided into periods of 10 days. The working week was 8 days long with the remaining 2 days for rest or as we would now term it the weekend.
Festival Days were also Rest Days and the Workers seem to have joined many of these throughout the year. To learn more about Egyptian Festivals, click here.
The Day itself would have a morning shift and an afternoon shift with a break around midday for food and rest. So very similar to most people’s working plan today.
After work ceased, the shifts spent their evenings together in their Worker’s Huts rather than return to their Village at Deir el Medina. The Huts were located adjacent to the Pathways between the Village and the Valleys, usually at the top of the Theban Hills. For more details about the Worker’s Huts, click here.
The Foreman, along with the Scribes and Deputy Foreman for each side of the Gang would lay out the details of that day’s or week’s work. The Deputy Foreman would gather your Gang together and as one group you visited the Guardian. He, under the observant eye of the Foreman, would hand you your sharpened and maintained Tools, whilst his Scribe logged your Name, Gang name and the Tools and Materials handed out so replacements and stock levels could be monitored.
Work was very much a Team undertaking, which would commence within your Gang using salted oil lamps for light which were lit with wicks of linen material which were precisely cut to burn for 4 hours, the length of each work shift. The salt was added to protect the workers from breathing in any smoke whilst working in the fairly cramped contains of a Tomb.
Egyptologists believe that a Tomb could be completed from scratch within approx. 7 to 10 years depending on its size and complexity of its decoration.
Every Skilled Worker or Artisan who entered the Pharaoh’s workforce in the Theban Necropolis would receive the following “SWT” as part of his official property:
- PR: House in the Village of Deir el Medina – click here for details about the Houses in the Village
- ‘.T: Hut near the Valleys – click here for further details about the Worker’s Huts
- M’H’T or HNW: a Tomb – click here for further details about the Worker’s Tombs
These Swt remained the possession of the Governance and Pharaoh. They could be used by the Worker and his Family for his lifetime and beyond if the children followed in their father’s footsteps which was more often than not the case.
As with much of Ancient Egypt, any worker would be catered for with a Salary, but not one of monetary value that we would anticipate in our monthly wage packet. They were paid for their labour in kind with food, drinks and materials needed to keep their lives in the Village sustainable and to a point, quite pleasant.