Machiavellian Masculinities: Historicizing and Contextualizing the “Civilizing Process” in Ancient Egypt

Morris, Ellen F.

This article examines the evidence for warrior burials from periods when the state was decentralized or relatively weak and argues that conceptions of manhood in fact oscillated between an irenic ideal and a more violent counterpart. Drawing upon comparative case studies and advice given by Niccolò Machiavelli to his prince, I argue that hegemonic masculinity in Egypt did not simply reflect the character of the times. Rather, rulers actively promoted the type of masculinity that best served their purpose. To an ambitious local ruler engaged in enlarging his core territory, it was beneficial to appeal to and encourage ideals of valor among potential soldiers and supporters. Once peace had been established, however, violent masculinities proved disruptive. Based on internal evidence as well as observations of authoritarian governments that aimed similarly to solidify their power and pacify their realms, I suggest that pharaohs and their advisors likely employed five specific strategies to neutralize potential competitors and transform an honor-bound warrior aristocracy into courtiers and bureaucrats.


  • thumnail for Morris_2020_Masculinities.pdf Morris_2020_Masculinities.pdf application/pdf 799 KB Download File

Also Published In

Journal of Egyptian History

More About This Work

Academic Units
Classics and Ancient Studies (Barnard College)
Published Here
October 11, 2021


Egyptian archaeology, Egyptian army, masculinity, warriors, courtiers, scribes, statecraft, weapons (daggers, axes) honor...

Published in Journal of Egyptian History 13.1-2. Special Issue: “Egyptology and Global History,” 127-168.