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(Un)Dying Loyalty: Meditations on Retainer Sacrifice in Ancient Egypt and Elsewhere

Morris, Ellen F.

What I would like to do in the context of this necessarily brief essay is to push the discussion of retainer sacrifice a little further by posing three questions (or sets of questions) concerning retainer sacrifice, provoked in part by my own studies of the custom as it is manifested in First Dynasty Egypt and in part from readings on other instances of retainer sacrifice known from archaeological or historical records. !e first asks how distinct a practice retainer sacrifice was from human sacrifice, given that – although scholars contrast the two traditions – they frequently occurred at the same ceremonies. !e second asks questions concerned with the nature of the relationship – ideal and real – between the deceased and those sacrificed as part of his or her entourage. According to the official view, were lives sacrificed willingly out of love or fealty? Or were retainers viewed as functionally equivalent to grave goods – i.e., as possessions indicative of the deceased’s wealth and power, objects to be disposed of freely? !e third and final set of questions examines whether or not the trajectories of retainer sacrifice provide evidence that – despite the best efforts of elite ideologies – retainer sacrifices were viewed as violent by those who gave their lives, by those whose loved ones did, and by society at large.


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Also Published In

Violence and Civilization: Studies of Social Violence in History and Prehistory
Joukowsky Institute Publications,

More About This Work

Academic Units
Classics and Ancient Studies (Barnard College)
Joukowsky Institute Publications
Published Here
June 14, 2018