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07 April 2009

Kinship and Family Relations [in Ancient Egypt]

By Marcelo Campagno
Source: UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology [via California eScholarship repository]

Full Citation:
Campagno, Marcelo, 2009, Kinship and Family Relations. In Elizabeth Frood, Willeke Wendrich (eds.), UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology, Los Angeles.

Entry link to PDF article

Excerpt from article:

The existence of terms like these that refer to larger kin groups is significant because it points toward the prominence of kinship in ancient Egyptian social organization (Campagno 2006). Kinship links were likely of great importance in the articulation of social ties both before and after the emergence of the state in the Nile Valley. In accordance with anthropological models of non-state societies, it can be hypothesized that, during Predynastic times, kinship constituted the main axis of social organization in village communities. Archaeological evidence seems to support this assumption: the grouping of tombs in clusters in cemeteries at various sites, such as Badari, Armant, Naqada, and Hierakonpolis, is similar to funerary practices known through ethnographic evidence, where such a distribution of burials reflects contemporaneous descent groups; the parallelism in the shapes of Predynastic tombs and houses (both were oval or rounded from the earliest times but included rectangular shapes from Naqada I on) may reflect a perception of continuity between the two domains, which in turn may suggest the perceived symbolic survival of the dead kin as members of the community; and indeed, the disposition of grave goods around the deceased could reflect notions of reciprocity, which are at the heart of kinship relations (Campagno 2000, 2002, 2003).

In Dynastic times, the state introduced a new mode of social organization based on the monopoly of coercion, but kinship continued to be a decisive factor in many social realms. Some pointers hint at its importance among the peasantry: the organization of agricultural tasks in family units (Eyre 1999: 52), practices involving cooperation (that is reciprocity) in the field labor, such as we see in tomb representations (discussed, for example, by Caminos 1990) or in the management of irrigation (Butzer 1976: 109 - 110), the (likely) prominent role of village elders in local decision-making (Moreno GarcĂ­a 2001), the scant interference of the state in intra-community matters—all these suggest the importance of kinship logic in the articulation of social dynamics in peasant villages.