General Question

troubleinharlem's avatar

Were there Egyptian slaves?

Asked by troubleinharlem (7978points) February 6th, 2010 from iPhone

I’m watching The Prince of Egypt and there are slaves running around the palace… are they Hebrews or Egyptians? I know this movie is an artist’s interpretation, but still.

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14 Answers

willbrawn's avatar

Yes there were slaves. The Hebrews which were eventually set free by Moses.

troubleinharlem's avatar

@willbrawn; no, I know that. I mean, were there slaves that were Egyptians.

marinelife's avatar

It is difficult to tell whether there were native slaves:

“In ancient Egypt, textual references to slaves are indistinct. From word usage along, it is difficult to ascertain whether one was a slave or a servant. For example, a priest could be read as a god’s slave, but by our definition and understanding of slavery he was not. In reading Egyptian texts, therefore, context is the only criteria for determining such a status, and even then, it can be difficult, because there were different levels of servitude. Those who were not free might not only include slaves, but also those with various degrees of encumbered liberty. For example, could an artisan who worked on tombs who lived in the Deir el-Medina worker’s village on the West Bank at Thebes simply walk of his job? In effect, almost anyone under the authority of an absolute ruler such as a pharaoh might in some degree be considered a slave. ”


MissAusten's avatar

This article might also provide the information you are looking for.

The_Idler's avatar

Yeah, as @marinelife said, pretty much every normal citizen was a slave to the God-Emporer.

The whole idea of Pharaoh being God gives you an idea of the power he wielded over the people of the Kingdom. His will was their command.
At his wish, the people of a nation toiled away their lives to construct what turned out to be the tallest man-made structure on Earth for the next 3,800 years.

That’s as close to being a god as any man could imagine.

Jack79's avatar

Just like Ancient Greece and other places, the social hierarchy in Ancient Egypt was different than ours.

There were various “levels” of social standing among the native population, including “workers”. The vast majority of Egyptians were either serfs or artisans. They were not “slaves” in the traditional sense, and the ones that built the pyramids for example were not locals (though apparently some locals must have been employed). This social system more or less survived all the way to the Middle Ages in Europe.

Other than that, there were “slaves” (the actual term “slave” comes from “Slav” and did not appear until Byzantine times), usually conquered tribes from nearby lands, including the Jews which are mentioned in Exodus. The conditions for these were even worse than the locals, but the social distinction was not as we imagined: eg in the early years, slavery in the US meant that everybody who was white was free and could own property, and everybody who was black was owned and treated like an animal. Conditions of slavery in the ancient world were not so extreme: poorer families in Ancient Egypt may have lived in a way similar to poor families in our modern world, working long hours and never making enough to eat. And “slaves” could own property, often other slaves, and could even buy off their freedom (just like people doing community service in our society). The biggest distinction between “slaves” and “free men” (at least in Athens) was that, not being of local origin meant you could not vote, and generally had no rights. The difference was more that of poor (but legal) Portoricans and illegal Cubans in the Bronx rather than that of Whites and Blacks in the cotton-fields.

Rarebear's avatar

@willbrawn Were there Hebrew slaves? Is there any evidence, besides the Bible, of Hebrew slaves?

galileogirl's avatar

If you think of slavery in the work for no pay, everyone into the fields, the boss can buy and sell you American model, then no, the Hebrews were not slaves. As @Jack79 pointed out they were closer to European or Russian serfs who were subjects of absolute monarchs, Pharoahs. Everyone who lived in his territory was subject to his commands.

Originally they were nomadic people who found protection in Egypt. After generations the became an important part of society. When they decided to “secede” they were challenging the Pharoah’s authority. If he let them go it might have made him look weak and vulnerable. Absolute monarchs who look vulnerable are subject to attack from within and outsiders.

filmfann's avatar

The Jews were not enslaved because they were Jews. They became indebted to Egyptians for food, water, and other needs.
It is easy, therefore, to assume some Egyptians also became indebted.

Rarebear's avatar

@filmfann I asked this before, and I’ll ask it again. Is there any evidence, besides the Bible that Jews were really enslaved in Egypt?

galileogirl's avatar

@Rarebear Read the post right before yours. filmfann said no, therefore would have no evidence. As for the Bible being evidence-it isn’t. Every time something is translated there are sometimes subtle and often gross changes in meaning especially when there are great cultural differences. Therefore our definition of “slavery” would have nothing to do with the status of former numads living along the Nile 2000–1200 BCE

Rarebear's avatar

@galileogirl Okay, let me rephrase. Is there any evidence that the Jews were ever in Egypt slaves or otherwise?

galileogirl's avatar

“Hebrew Civilization
Dwarfed by the great empires of the Sumerians, Akkadians, Babylonians and Egyptians, were the Hebrews. Of all the ancient civilizations, it was the Hebrews who exerted perhaps the greatest influence on western society as well as the western intellectual tradition.

The Hebrews, a Semitic-speaking people, first appeared in Mesopotamia. For instance, Abraham’s family were native to Sumer. But between 1900 and 1500 B.C., the Hebrews migrated from Mesopotamia to Canaan and then into Egypt. At this time, a tribe of Hebrews who claimed to be the descendants of Abraham began to call themselves Israelites (“soldiers of God”). The Hebrews were enslaved by the Egyptian pharaohs until 1250 B.C. when their leader, Moses, led them on an exodus out of Egypt to the Sinai peninsula. Moses persuaded his followers to become worshippers of Yahweh or Jehovah.

The Hebrews who wandered into the Sinai with Moses decided to return to Canaan. The move was not easy and the Hebrews were faced with constant threats from the Philistines who occupied the coastal region. Twelve Hebrew tribes united first under Saul and then his successor, David. By the 10th century, David and his son Solomon had created an Israelite kingdom. Economic progress was made as Israeli people began to trade with neighboring states. New cities were built and one in particular, Jerusalem, was built by David to honor God.

In 586, the region of Judah was destroyed and several thousand Hebrews were deported to Babylon. (200 years earlier the northern country of Israel was destroyed by the Assyrians. The 586 destruction completed the destruction of the two regions.) The prophets Isaiah, Ezekiel and Jeremiah declared that the Babylonian captivity was God’s punishment. The Hebrews, in other words, had brought upon their own captivity because they had violated God’s laws. Despite this calamity, the Hebrews survived as people. In the 4th century, Alexander the Great conquered nearly all of the Near East and Palestine was annexed to Egypt and fell under Greek control. And by the 1st and 2nd centuries B.C., the Hebrews lost near total independence under the Romans. But the Hebrews would never give up their faith or their religion.

The Hebrews were, as a people, committed to the worship of one God and His Law as it was presented in the Old Testament. The Old Testament represents an oral history of the Jews and was written, in Hebrew, between 1250 and 150 B.C. The Old Testament was written by religious devotees and not by historians – it therefore contains factual errors, discrepancies and imprecise statements. Still, much of the 39 books of the Old Testament are also reliable as history. No historian who wishes to understand the religious faith of the Jews can do so without mastering the Old Testament.:”

1500 BC 1500 BC – The Hebrews played but an unimportant part in ancient history. Following the exodus from Egypt about 1500 BC, they subjugated the tribes of Canaan and otherwise than for the cruelty of their warfare as it is described in the Old Testament, there is but little of interest in…
From What Makes Life Worth Living – Related web pages…

1400 BC 1400 BC – About 1400 BC, a people called Hebiri are mentioned on the Egyptian monuments. They appear as troubling Palestine, and have been identified with the Hebrews. If this identification is correct, we have here the first appearance of the Hebrews as such on the scene…About 1400 BC, a people called Hebiri are mentioned on the Egyptian monuments. They appear as troubling Palestine, and have been identified with the Hebrews. If this identification is correct, we have here the first appearance of the Hebrews as such on the scene of history. There has been discovered no earlier history of the Hebrews. Their reputed ancestors, Abraham, Isaac, end Jacob are just mythical heroes. Originally they seem to have been gods associated with local…

From Dead Sea Scrolls and the Life of the Ancient Essene…

1250 BC 1250 BC – Some experts on this subject write: “As dim and uncertain as Hebrew history is in the age of the patriarchs, there is no question that the migration out of Egypt around 1250 BC is the single most important event in Hebrew history. More than anything else in…Some experts on this subject write: “As dim and uncertain as Hebrew history is in the age of the patriarchs, there is no question that the migration out of Egypt around 1250 BC is the single most important event in Hebrew history. More than anything else in history, this event gave the Hebrews an identity, a nation, a founder, and a name, used for the first time in the very first line of Exodus , the biblical account of the migration: “bene yisrael,” “the children of Israel.”

From The Origin of the Jews – Part One – Related web pages

basstrom188's avatar

Slaves in Ancient Egypt were not numerous until the New Kingdom (c.1500BC).
Slave life in ancient Egypt, was contradictory. Many slaves in ancient Egypt performed the role of servants in the house of the wealthy. They were usually fairly treated, adequately clothed and well fed. Remember there were no modern labour saving devices. Every household job had to be done by hand. It was hard graft.
Those who were less fortunate were forced to do humiliating, degrading and often dangerous work such as working on the land, digging canals, building monuments, quarrying and worst of all working in the mines. They were at the mercy of tough overseers. Food was pretty basic and they were usually naked.

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