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What Makes Shabti Slave?

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The first part of this paper considers why small funerary figures called shabtis, were willing to slave in the Beyond for deceased Egyptians. The proposed answer is that they agreed in return for being given "life" by the craftsman. It is well understood that ancient Egyptians were willing to utilize standard legal forms to mediate between the earthly and supernatural dimensions. However, consideration of the "contract" between craftsmen and shabtis casts new light on the nature of ancient Egypt's labor market and, more specifically, on the prevalence of resorting to contractual slavery. The second part of the paper uses economic analysis to reinforce the suggestion that temple ateliers probably earned a substantial profit by marketing shabtis. La première partie de cet article envisage les raisons pour lesquelles les figurines funéraires appelées oushebtis consentaient à servir les Egyptiens comme esclaves dans l'au-delà. Nous proposons que ces figurines acceptaient ce rôle en échange de la « vie » que leur insufflaient les artisans. Il est bien connu que les anciens Egyptiens employaient des formulaires juridiques comme mode de médiation entre le domaine terrestre et celui du surnaturel. L'examen du « contrat » passé entre artisans et oushebtis éclaire néanmoins d'un jour nouveau la nature du marché du travail dans l'Egypte ancienne, notamment le recours répandu à l'esclavage contractuel. Dans la seconde partie de l'article, une analyse économique confirme que la vente des oushebtis assurait vraisemblablement des profits substantiels aux ateliers des temples.

Affiliations: 1: Professor Emeritus of Economics, City College of the City University of New York, USA


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