Thursday, April 14, 2011

Worldbuilding A to Z: I and J

This Challenge is seriously kicking my butt. Though it doesn't help that my family got sick this week. (Looks like we managed to keep it away from the new baby.) So now I'm playing a little catch up. I'll be posting I and J today, K tomorrow and L and M on Saturday. I'll try to keep the double days short. Maybe on Sunday I can even find the time to get ahead for next week. (Right, that's what I said last Sunday.) Ah well, onward to today's subjects!

I is for Industry...

...which is really just an excuse for me to talk about economy under the letter I since E was used for something else.

There are two main aspects that I will be bringing over from Ancient Egypt into Akhet. One is the centralization of the economy. Everything was ultimately managed by regional administrators. While the bulk of the population was composed of farmers, the land they farmed was owned by the state, the local temple, or noble families. The resulting product would be collected and stored by the temple in granaries from which it would be redistributed to the population. (The Bible story of Joseph makes a big deal of him doing this same thing to save Egypt from the famine, but the fact was that they had always been doing it.) This centralization was one of the aspects of Egyptian culture that kept them stable for so long.

The second aspect is the labor system used to build Egypt's monuments. Most people think it was done by slaves, but this is not the case. The workers were free Egyptians. They didn't exactly have a say in whether or not they were put to work, but they were not owned and they were apparently well compensated. Workers in Egypt were paid in foodstuffs since there was no coinage until the Late Period. Evidence shows that the workers who built the Giza pyramids were fed beef everyday making them some of the most well fed people in the country. It was a tough construction job for sure, but would you do it for the opportunity to eat beef instead of soupy beer everyday? I would.

J is for Justice...

The Egyptians had a very strong sense of justice, which I will be using as a model for Akhet. Ma'at was the name of their concept of truth, order, balance, law, morality and justice. The concept was personified as a goddess who regulated the stars and the seasons and maintained order in the universe.The King was, in a sense, an agent and representative of Ma'at. He was the official head of the legal system and was responsible for enacting laws, delivering justice, and maintaining law and order.

We have no surviving legal codes from Egypt, but court documents show that their laws were based on a common sense view of right and wrong that emphasized reaching agreements and resolving conflicts rather than strictly adhering to a complicated set of statutes. In these days of  complicated legal documents and codes, lawyers and lawsuits I find the idea of a "common sense" law refreshing. It's one of the things I will try to bring to life in Akhet.


  1. Wow, the world of your novel is going to be so intricate and detailed. And, yeah, I thought slaves built the pyramids. That's interesting that they were fed a better diet than the average worker. It's fascinating how much information is known about such an ancient culture.

  2. Common sense law. Refreshing, indeed. Now if we just had enough people who showed common sense to make it possible.

    Good post!

  3. This really is interesting, and your style keeps it very clear.

    I'm not sure the distinction between being owned and having no choice is so great, and use of common sense does still depend on the individual, but it's obvious this was not quite the place many of us believe it was.

    Interesting too about the centralisation. There's a view of course that this leads to instability, for the resistance, the constant pushing against limits, or the problems in accurate feedback. Look at the Soviet Union and satellites for example. The devil is in the detail of each case no doubt.

    Human life is much more, and has been much more, than is generally considered, and your series is a very useful reminder.

  4. Donna, the advantage of writing fantasy is that I can make people have as much common sense as I want. ;)

    Porky, I think the distinction is clear. When talking about it with my husband, he compared this type of "forced labor" to the draft. We certainly wouldn't consider our soldiers that were drafted into the army as anything other than free men, still they had no choice in the matter. The building Egypt's monuments was like drafting people into a public works project.

    But furthermore, my researches into the belief system of Egypt leads me to think that such monuments, tombs and temples were so important to the Egyptian people that they would have been willing be part of their construction. Egyptians took immense pride in their cities and their tombs were an incredibly important part of their religious beliefs.

    The centralization of the Egyptian government and economy undoubtedly was a main factor in their stability as a culture. (The other main factor being related to their climate and geography.) I think it's telling that the Egyptian government never really met with resistance from the people. The state government broke down a bit at the end of the Old Kingdom and the regional nomarchs took control, but the common people were relatively unaffected. And every time the King lost control (due either to the nomarchs becoming too powerful or due to conquest from outside) when the dust settled the country eventually went back to pretty much the same system it had before, until the Muslims took over. The system worked and the people led relatively uneventful lives. This may also be partly due to their strong religious beliefs which were the most important aspect of their lives.

    Anyway, I'll talk a bit more about this when I get to P for Politics and R for Religion.

  5. Very interesting Sarah. I am a fan of Egyptology. Looking forward to your next installment.

  6. Great post. I like the images you use along with the information provided. Very important world-building elements.

  7. Informative and educational post - thanks for teaching me :)
    Wagging Tales - Blog for Writers

  8. I love Egyptian history. I have a friend who loves it also. She wrote a book (I think it is a YA) about a fictional account of a girl who goes back in time and meets King Tut and falls in love with him. She did a lot of research and its a wonderful story.Anyway you are so right about the A-Z kicking your butt, except in my case, I am the one who is sick. But I keep on keepin on.

  9. Good stuff. Maybe if were still using their model for industry and law, we'd be in a lot less trouble than we are today.


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