Accounting, The Divine and the Symbolic - Thememorial Temples of Ancient Egypt

December 6, 2017 | Author: Michael Nabil | Category: Ancient Egypt, Epigraphy, Osiris, Genesis Creation Narrative, New Kingdom Of Egypt
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Mahmoud Ezzamel Cardiff Business School Cardiff University Aberconway Building Colum Drive Cardiff CF10 3EU E-mail: [email protected]

Second draft: March 2003

* An earlier draft of this paper was presented at the staff seminar series, in the Department of Sociology, Cardiff University and the Accountancy, Finance and Information Systems Department, University of Canterbury, Christchurch, New Zealand, September-October 2002. I am grateful to my son, Adam, for translating some of the source material from French into English.


ACCOUNTING, THE DIVINE AND THE SYMBOLIC: THE MEMORIAL TEMPLES OF ANCIENT EGYPT Abstract This paper explores the symbolic and ceremonial roles of accounting in organisations and society. These roles are explored further in this paper by examining the link between accounting and the unique setting of religious and cosmic order in the New Kingdom (1552-1080 BC), ancient Egypt. Accounting is conceptualised as an integral part of the constellation that formed the heavenly order that was deemed by the ancient Egyptians to have underpinned their world. This constellation brought into a fragile equilibrium a complex assemblage of relations between the gods in the sky, the Pharaoh representing the gods on earth, the dead and the living. Central to these conceptions were carefully articulated notions of time and space. Any destabilising of this order was considered catastrophic, and accounting, just like writing, was considered instrumental in ensuring that this necessary equilibrium was observed and maintained. In this setting, accounting was strongly intertwined with conceptions of religion, cosmic order, and sacred time and space. Accounting inscriptions were frequently combined with linguistic texts and pictorial scenes as well as religious monuments to produce a powerful discourse that made possible the construction and perpetuation of this orderly universe.



The symbolic role of accounting in organisations and society has been recognised for some time. For a few decades, researchers have been attributing roles for accounting that emphasise ceremonial, ritual, mythical and magical dimensions (e.g Cleverley, 1973; Gambling, 1977, 1985; Burchell et. al., 1980; Meyer, 1986; Ezzamel and Bourn, 1990). For example, Gambling (1977; 1985), Burchell et. al. (1980) and Ezzamel and Bourn (1990) have explored the role of accounting in legitimising favoured courses of action, and in providing ammunitions to discredit the arguments of opposition. Meyer (1986) has noted how accounting operates as an institutionalised practice that can lead to a decoupling between declared intentions and organisational action in order to preserve the status quo. Gambling (1977) has drawn parallels between some aspects of modern accounting and traditional witchcraft practices in considering both as providing complicated rituals in response to uncertainty. Just like witchcraft, Gambling contends that accounting can operate in a manner that renders possible the accommodation of ‘awkward facts’ whilst not undermining the fundamental beliefs which form the fabric of society. Other writers, e.g. Cleverley (1973) have even asserted that accounting and budgeting systems function as a sort of religious ceremony – a rain dance. These extensions beyond the roles traditionally ascribed to accounting have significantly enriched and broadened our understanding and conceptualisation of accounting. In these studies, any new roles attributed to accounting are typically teased out in a context where both the traditional and non-traditional roles intermingle. In many cases, this has led to situations of contested claims by different schools of thought (see for example the debate on the ‘traditional’ versus ‘new’ accounting history, e.g. Edwards and Newell, 1991, Edwards et. al., 1995; Miller and Napier, 1993; Hopper and Armstrong, 1991). Those who see the role of accounting as exclusively traditional would claim that an attribution of non-traditional roles is the outcome of the discretion of the researcher in interpreting the data, rather than being underpinned by concrete evidence (Fleishman et. al., 1996; Fleischman and Tyson, 1997). In contrast, those attributing new roles to accounting


would argue that researchers denying these roles are handicapped by an obsession with a demand-response paradigm (Carmona et. al., 1997; Ezzamel and Hoskin, 2002). This paper aims to contribute to this debate by focusing upon the symbolic role of accounting drawing upon evidence from the New Kingdom (1552-1080 BC), ancient Egypt.1 The historical evidence is in the form of accounting inscriptions related to royal memorial temples. These inscriptions were either engraved on the walls (external or internal) of the temples, frequently combined with linguistic texts and pictorial scenes, or written on papyri. The temples played very significant religious activities that were integrated with the political and economic dimensions of the state. They employed large numbers of staff and owned considerable amounts of land. The emphasis of this paper is radically different from previous work that explored the role of accounting in religious institutions which in the main had a strong functional focus (e.g., Flesher and Flesher, 1979; Laughlin, 1988; Swanson and Gardner, 1988; Booth, 1993; Duncan et. al., 1999; Lightbody, 2000; but for an exception see Quattrone; 2002). The historical material on which this paper draws is of an altogether different type compared to accounting and administrative practices used in these previous contexts. First, most of the inscriptions examined here were recorded at one point in time but covered many years after the succession of the Pharaoh, sometimes written shortly after his death. These inscriptions exhibit the attributes of a final, completed text intended to last for perpetuity, rather than being the ephemeral record-keeping intended for day-today monitoring and control. Some could argue that these were summary records which must have been drawn from more detailed, regular accounts that could have been used for functional purposes, but given the lack of evidence it is not possible to either support or contest such a claim. Either way, a functionalist interpretation does not fully explain why these summary accounts were inscribed so much later, in some cases over thirty years, after the dates in which they occurred (see Papyrus Harris I). Secondly, most of the 1

Egyptologists typically divide ancient Egyptian history into Pre-dynastic and Dynastic eras. The Dynastic era is further divided into Early Dynastic Period (3300 – 2700 BC), the Old Kingdom (2700 – 2200 BC), the Middle Kingdom (2050 – 1780 BC), the New Kingdom (1552 – 1080 BC) and the Late Dynastic Period


entries deal with aggregate annual amounts of expected deliveries of goods and resources to the temple but without corresponding entries showing actual deliveries and any shortages. Hence, these amounts seem to correspond to aggregate theoretical deliveries only and would therefore be insufficient on their own for monitoring and control purposes. Thirdly, the papyri on which a vast number of entries were recorded were intended for burial in the tomb of the dead Pharaoh (see later) thereby indicating yet again the unlikelihood that they were intended for monitoring and control purposes. The unquestionable ceremonial nature of these inscriptions provides a unique opportunity to further our understanding of the symbolic role of accounting. Any doubts about the purpose of the inscriptions which has clouded the investigations of earlier researchers examining accounting practices in less ‘pure’ ceremonial settings can therefore be laid to rest in order to clear the way for a more focused investigation of accounting symbolism. Having said this, it is important to avoid any binary schemes that see the functional and symbolic as purely distinct, unrelated categories. The symbolic role may emerge as an unintended consequence of accounting practices that were designed with the functional in mind, and equally the functional potential of accounting may become only evident from its use in symbolic contexts. Further, even if accounting practices were intended to function in a purely symbolic capacity, important insights could be gleaned concerning their technical structure and organisation that may have implications for accounting’s potential functionality. A whole host of questions could be raised in this context. Who were the intended audiences of such ceremonial inscriptions? Was it the gods? Or was it humans, those who were living at the time and those to come in the future? If the sole (or at least main) purpose of these inscriptions was ceremonial, why did they take this apparently precise format, with units enumerated either through counting of similar identities, or via a ‘money of account’ that brought different commodities into equivalence instead of other forms of inscription? What is it about accounting inscriptions that rendered them more

(1080 – 332 BC). These latter four Periods were interspersed with Intermediate Periods each lasting for a considerable number of years. 5

‘desirable’ as a form of writing intended for the divine and spiritual? How was accounting implicated in the diverse and varied activities of the temple, and in the conceptualisation of the temple as the loci of secular and sacred time and space? How, and to what extent, did accounting underpin the notion of Maat (order, justice, right, pristine condition of the world), so fundamental to the order of the ancient Egyptian universe? What symbolic roles did accounting play in re-affirming the divinity of the dead Pharaoh? What insights can be gleaned from such ceremonial accounting inscriptions about the potential form, substance, and functioning of accounting and administrative practices in the society of ancient Egypt specifically and more generally? Addressing such questions is extremely important if we are to gain a more informed understanding of the roles of accounting in organisations and society. However, at this embryonic stage of investigation, it is the raising of these questions that is of greatest concern to this paper. This paper argues that accounting was conceptualised as an integral part of the constellation which formed the heavenly order that underpinned the world of the ancient Egyptians. This constellation brought into a fragile equilibrium a complex set of relations between the gods in the sky, the Pharaohs representing the gods on earth, the dead and the living. Any destabilising of this order was considered catastrophic, and accounting, just like writing, was considered instrumental in ensuring that this necessary equilibrium was observed and maintained. In this setting, accounting was strongly intertwined with conceptions of religion, cosmic order, and sacred time and space. Accounting inscriptions were frequently combined with linguistic texts and pictorial scenes, as well as religious monuments to produce a powerful discourse that made possible the construction and perpetuation of this orderly world. The remainder of the paper is organised as follows. The next section offers a brief discussion of the sacred domain of the temple, drawing on the myth of creation, conceptions of the existent/nonexistent and notions of sacred time and space. This leads to a reference to the potentially symbiotic relation between the gods and the Pharaoh (king) which opens up the space for examining the ceremonial role of accounting. In two


following sections, the paper provides some detailed analysis of accounting practices in various types of ceremonial texts. This leads to an extended discussion and conclusions section that develops further the possibility that accounting practices were an indispensable part of the overall order of the ancient Egyptian universe, draws together the main arguments of the paper and considers their wider implications for the theorising of accounting.

THE MYTH OF CREATION, TEMPLES AND ACCOUNTING This section explores briefly a number of themes beginning with the concept of creation and progress through the emergence of the world (order), development of religion, including conceptions of sacred time and space, to building temples for the gods, as distinct from temples for the Pharaohs. There follows a description of the context of the New Kingdom era from which is drawn the main material used in the paper. The section concludes by a discussion of the ‘Temples of Millions of Years’ which provide the main monumental cites of religious and spiritual activities analysed here. The Myth of Creation: Order/Disorder; the Existent/Nonexistent The myth of creation is fundamental to the development of any discussion of order/disorder, or the existent/nonexistent; such socially constructed qualities that had a profound impact on the world of ancient Egypt. The myth is extremely complex, with many variations of it being advanced by different scholars (see for example the accounts given by Hornung, 1996; Hare, 1999; Assmann, 1995, 2001, 2002). Told in a most straightforward manner, the myth proceeds as follows. In the beginning there was the Nun, god of the primeval waters. This is a state identified by the ancient Egyptians as a form of chaos that sustains and regenerates the world (precosmic and extracosmic chaos; Assmann, 2002, p. 207). It is the condition to which the world would revert at the end of time; hence it is neither nothingness nor nonexistent, but an undifferentiated unity. From these waters, the creator god Atum/Re (the All; the Complete One) arose by himself (i.e. created himself) and subsequently created, without the help of a female, two more gods: Shu (male, signifying air/light/life) and Tefnut (female, signifying moisture/order/Maat).


The union of Shu and Tefnut resulted in the birth of Geb (male, signifying earth) and Nut (female, signifying sky), whose union led to four more gods; Isis (female), Osiris (male; god of the netherworld) Seth (male), Nephthys (female). Osiris and Isis produced Horus (male). When Atum was alone in the primeval waters, that state designated preexistence; a condition not susceptible to description through time or space simply because it is before either time or space could be conceived. The creation of Shu and Tefnut ushered in the beginning of primeval time, or cosmic time, known as First Time (time associated with the First Creation). The arrival of the remaining five gods heralded the beginning of historical time (Assmann, 2001, p. 121) and also endowed space with meaning. The world in ancient Egypt was made up of two spheres, the cosmos (air and flood) and society (gods and humanity). Ancient Egyptian society, comprising the gods, the Pharaoh, the dead and the living, had three realms: earth, sky and the netherworld. As Shafer (1998, p. 1) has noted: “These three realms converged in temples and cohered in rituals. There the power of creation was tapped, chaos was bridled, and cosmic order was renewed. There a hierarchy of relationships and values was negotiated and maintained. There beings were transformed and even transposed between realms.” The cosmos and society were linked together through the all-important concept of Maat, which signified ‘right’, ‘truth’, ‘justice’, ‘order’, and ‘cosmic-social harmony’ (Lichtheim, 1992). For the ancient Egyptian, Maat was a way of life and of doing things “projected back into the timelessness before time…[it] was the concept that gave meaning to life by structuring both the human and divine worlds” (Bell, 1998, p. 128). Assmann (2002, pp. 127-128) coined the translation ‘connective justice’ to Maat which has been defined in Middle Kingdom texts in terms of “The reward of one who does something lies in something being done for him. This is considered by god as ma’at.” So, restitution and reciprocity lie at the very heart of Maat; this reciprocity has a temporal dimension reflecting human capacity for recollection and subsequent reward or acting for those who acted for you. As Asmmann (ibid, p. 129) notes: “This emphasis on time and memory gives the Egyptian concept of reciprocity, of doing-something-for-one-another,







remembering, inaction forgetting.” In the New Kingdom, particularly after the end of the


traumatic Amarna period2 and the reassertion of all the gods of the Egyptian pantheon, this concept of connective just gave way to a new expression. From then on, Maat came to signify a connectivity not residing in human action but rather stemming from god’s will. Assmann (2002, p. 230) notes that during the New Kingdom, being just “no longer means integrating oneself into the network of the community via self-effacement and solidarity, but now requires giving oneself up in humility and obedience to the will of god, who… ‘gives maat to whom he pleases.’” For the Egyptians of the New Kingdom, Maat became reflected in the will of god. Maat also signified the pristine condition of the world; it is a quality that had its roots in creation or existence, when the cosmos existed in perfect harmony. In contrast to the existent there was the nonexistent (uncreated). Being unbounded, the nonexistent penetrated the boundaries of the existent. Much of the nonexistent, e.g. darkness and desert, signified hostility, chaos, and disorder. Chaos which the ancient Egyptians equated with the nonexistent, or nothingness, was the outcome of the destructive force of Apep, a huge serpent that always threatened to drink all the primeval waters dry, leading to entropy and the collapse of the world. In contrast to the first form of chaos, this was 'inner chaos'. There were three aspects to disorder: collapse of the cosmic order; inversion of social relations; and dissolution of interpersonal bonds (Assmann, 2002, pp. 176-177). Disorder was much feared for it threatened the status quo, or equilibrium, established since creation, as reflected in order and harmony both on earth and in the cosmos. Disorder was the very antithesis of Maat. For the ancient Egyptian, at least ideologically, the ‘here’ (this world) and the ‘there’ (the spiritual; the underworld) were not separate but were two spheres that cohered into a single sphere of belonging. The worldly was so coupled with the spiritual that if harmony and order on either sphere were destabilised disruption in the other sphere was certain to follow. In this scenario, “Maat, the quintessence of the laws that welded humans into a community, was regarded as the holiest of the holy, the supreme essence of all life-serving and salvational values (Assmann, 2002, p. 170).


This was a period when Pharaoh Akhenaten (1365-1349 BC) abandoned the worship of all gods and replaced them with the solar disk (the Aten) as the sole god. 9

Conceptions of time were similarly interconnected among themselves and also with conceptions of space. For the ancient Egyptians, secular time was similar to contemporary conceptions of linear, or ‘concrete’ time; it signified the un-relentless forward march of time, such as the passage of time through the differing phases of life cycles that can neither be avoided nor repeated. This linear, historical time was the prerogative of the Pharaoh ruling on earth as reflected in his fate-determining actions. In contrast, sacred time was abstract and entrusted to the gods as cosmic time. To signal such abstract quality, two words were used; the first, djet, designated timelessness: the stability of the changeless realm of Osiris, Lord of the Dead where beginning and end, or first and last, coincided. The second word, neheh, referred to cyclical time, which involved a regular or periodic return to the original starting point at the completion of each cycle, signifying perpetual recurrence of things. As Bell (1998, f.n. 10, p. 283) notes, both these two words with their associated concepts of time “define overlapping aspects of eternity or infinity, and both are connected with the redemptive aspect of sacred time that permits escape from the constraints of secular time’s relentless forward flow.” The two concepts neheh and djet should not be viewed as binary extremes of opposition, rather they are a complementary duality that defines and encompasses total time. To clarify the distinction between the two conceptions of time, the key characteristics of each concept are shown below: Neheh


Day/Re /Life/Sun Dynamic/Change/Occurence Cyclical Perpetuity Flow of Time/virtuality Associated with Becoming Plenitude of time Renewed Continuity Imperfectivity


Night/Death/Osiris/Earth Static/Duration of the completed Suspended Time/Permanence Resultativity (continuation of the Result of completed actions Associated with Everness Endurance Discontinuity Perfectivity

Time is not cyclical 'in itself': "Cyclicality is rather a cultural form imposed on the world by semantic and ritual efforts" (Assmann, 2002, p. 207). The rituals ensure the salvation of the world, not in terms of redemption but in the form of a renewal that defies death and destructive inner chaos. In ancient Egypt, cyclical time was manifest in numerous observable aspects: for example succession of day and night; rotation of the seasons; phases of the moon; and migration of fish and birds. These phenomena were marked daily, weekly, monthly and annually through the invention of the religious and civil calendars. As secular time belonged to the immortals, it encompassed the life cycle of the gods and kings: “The divine king and the other gods participated in an eternal cycle of death and rebirth in which they maintained their personal identity – a characteristic that set them apart from the world of mortals” (Bell, 1998, p. 130). In this context, life and death were seen as reciprocal states of existence. Cyclical, sacred time was therefore a time of orientation and renewal, a spiral of patterned repetition and rebirths. The purest moment of sacred time was when creation occurred, when the orderly existent emerged from the chaotic nonexistent. Thereafter, time became vulnerable to disorder; for example during the interval between sunset and sunrise, until the sun was born again the following morning. Hence, cyclical time is inextricably bounded with the notion of creation not as a singular unique and unrepeatable moment, but as “a series of ‘first times’, of sacred regenerative moments recurring regularly within the sacred space of temples through the media of rituals and architecture” (Shafer, 1998, p. 2). Djet is “the sacred dimension of everness, where that which has become – which has ripened to its final form and is to that extent perfect – is preserved in immutable permanence” (Assmann, 2002, p. 18). Hence, as a concept of eternal time, djet is associated with notions of stability, lasting, permanence, discontinuity, endurance, resultativity, and perfectivity. Just because it is seen as the opposite of cyclical time, neheh, djet does not signify linear time but rather it is the suspension of time, for it refers neither to the past, nor to the future. Time in djet is at standstill and only moves in neheh. Throughout the Old and Middle Kingdoms, random occurrences were susceptible only to the power of magic and considered extraneous to the sphere of doing and faring as reflected in the notion of Maat as connective justice. After the Amarna period in the New


Kingdom, as Maat became manifest in god’s will, random occurrences were rescued from the power of magic and entrusted to the will of god, and in doing so they entered the domain of meaningful time. As Assmann (2002, pp. 243-244) notes “Neheh (cyclical infinitude) and djet (unchanging permanence) were joined by ‘history’ as the third aspect of time…The time created by Amun encompassed the events-themselves the work of Amun’s will-that happened in it.” The New Kingdom The decline of the Middle Kingdom was followed by the Second Intermediate Period (1780-1552 BC, see footnote 1 above), which witnessed the collapse of central authority and the emergence of several centres of local power, and invasion by the Asiatic Hyksos. With the defeat of the Hyksos, the New Kingdom (XVIII-XX Dynasties: 1552-1080 BC) was born (Kuhrt, 1997, p. 173) and it soon embarked on foreign conquest and the building of a large empire, and boasted immense wealth and a high degree of stability, power and maturity (Kemp, 1989, p. 183). Expansion through empire building was a radical difference from past Kingdoms, where Egypt sought her security through subordinating, or building alliances with, its neighbours. The restructuring of the state and its economy involved the introduction of centralised control over the provinces. The political, social and economic systems continued to be assumed, as in the Old and Middle Kingdoms, to be part of an immutable order of the universe symbolised by Maat. Kingship was propagated and promoted as a heavenly-rooted right and a necessary condition for securing order and observing Maat (Kemp, 1989; Kuhrt, 1997). With the exception of the Amarana revolution, The New Kingdom placed considerable emphasis upon the sun god, Amon, along with the other gods of the Egyptian pantheon such as Re and Ptah. The daily journey of the sun god from sunrise to sunset and through the night into the dawn of a new day signified the cycle of death and perpetual recurrence of life. Accolade to the sun god was celebrated through an abundance of sun hymns recited daily on a scale never before paralleled in ancient Egyptian history. As Assmann (1995, p. 1) has noted “No other period of Egyptian history, indeed no other culture, has produced such an abundance of poetry in praise of the sun god.” The New Kingdom


witnessed two other key developments. First, full-time priesthood began for the first time in ancient Egypt, signifying the increased importance of conducting ritual temple practice (Shafer, 1998, p. 9). Secondly, during the reign of Hatshepsut (mid 15th century BC) that the joint office of Town Governor that previously linked government and temple was abolished and temple matters became entrusted to a High priest or Overseer as a trusted prince, who ultimately became a very powerful person (ibid, p. 13). The temple on the New Kingdom played a crucial role in the world of the ancient Egyptians. As Shafer (1998, p. 8) has noted “The temple was a branch of cosmic government and participated in the order of the universe by sun and king. It served pharaonic governance by maintaining the cosmos ritually.” Royal Temples The temple was the loci of not only perpetual struggle and opposition between order and chaos but also the interaction of time and space. It was the location whereby secular time and space existed along sacred time and space. Hence, the temples of ancient Egypt are unique cites for examining the roles of accounting and administrative practices in sustaining and underpinning these secular and sacred conceptions of time and space. Concepts of order and disorder, the existent and nonexistent, were bounded by important conceptions of space and time, with immediate implications for the role of the temple and also accounting. Sacred space was where orientation to the cosmos and immersion in primordial order occurred; a space where the ‘dead’ Pharaoh came into direct contact with divinity, where gods and Pharaoh became transparent to one another. It was there that the ‘dead’ Pharaoh experienced truth and regeneration of life (Shafer, 1998). Despite the paradoxical passage from one mode of being into another in this sacred space, it was presumed that over time sacred space had a stable and permanent quality that defied the passage of time; it was an invariant space that never grew old or lost any of its parts. Side-by-side with sacred space, secular space existed whereby the mundane activities of the living in charge of the temple took place. This was the space not only where acts of worship and cult preservation by the priests took place, but also where maintenance and building work, security, provision and distribution of offerings, and a whole host of other administrative and accounting activities occurred. The temple was the loci of both types


of spatial concepts, which while distinguishable from each other remained strongly connected for the ancient Egyptians. Traditionally, it has been assumed that the temples of ancient Egypt divided into two main types: those dedicated to the royal cult (funerary/mortuary/memorial/royal) and those dedicated to the cults of the gods (divine). More recently, Egyptologists have begun to acknowledge that this binary distinction between ‘mortuary’ and ‘divine’ temples can be misleading for three reasons (see Shafer, 1998, pp. 2-9). First, it implies that cultic practices in a particular temple were restricted to either Pharaoh or god. There is sufficient evidence to suggest that throughout ancient Egyptian history the cults of the gods (or deities) and of dead Pharaohs merged in the same temple because of the mutual support between both types of cult (e.g. Arnold, 1998; Haeny, 1998; Bell, 1998). As Quirke (1997, p. 46) has pointed out, we should always beware that “at all periods all royal cult involves the gods, but equally that all cult of the gods involves the king – in Egypt all cult is royal cult.” Secondly, this binary distinction implies that the Pharaoh as a recipient of mortuary rituals was not divine, which runs counter to the conceptualisation of the Pharaoh as god and a conduit between his mortal subjects and the gods. Also, the so-called ‘mortuary’ temples were places where rituals were performed on the ‘dead’ Pharaoh to transform him into a divine being. Similarly, ‘divine’ temples were the spaces where the gods went through the process of death and regeneration and where the realms of sky, netherworld and the living were symbolised. Thirdly, this dichotomy suggests that the ancient Egyptians held the same distinction between the two types of temple and the specific rituals and functions performed within them. As Shafer (1998, p. 4) neatly sums up this debate about the distinction between ‘mortuary’ and ‘divine’ temples: “the temples functions and symbolic representations were on the one hand too varied and on the other hand too intertwined. Inasmuch as ‘mortuary’ cult complexes like the pyramids served the god of the state embodied in the king, they were parts of the divine cultus. Inasmuch as the sanctuary of the cult complexes like Edfu symbolized the place of the sun god’s death as well as birth, ‘divine’


temples had a significant mortuary aspect.” Much of the accounting material analysed in this paper relates to the so-called temples of Millions of Years. The Temples of Millions of Years: The temples of Millions of Years date back at least to Dynasty 13 (Middle Kingdom), but became more frequent during the New Kingdom (Haeny, 1998) when they shared one common feature: they were built to pay homage to the Pharaoh and consolidate his union with divinity. They also aimed to immortalise the conformity of the Pharaoh with Maat and to celebrate and glorify his achievements (Leblanc, 1997). To honour the gods, not only were their names glorified in prayers, but also offerings were made to them to maintain communications and good relations between earth and the surrounding cosmos. The organisation of frequent and lavish festivals, presided over by the reigning Pharaoh, was one way of reinforcing this intimate relationship between Pharaoh and gods, and population and cosmos, so that order and Maat were seen to be preserved. Offerings to gods were part of an essential reciprocal relationship by giving back to god something (e.g. foods) in return for what god gave the Pharaoh and Egypt (stability and order). This reciprocity, in terms of receiving and giving, was also an expression of Maat and the divinity of the Pharaoh: [god = Maat; Pharaoh = Maat; Pharaoh = god]. Pharaoh and Maat merged into a common identity fusing into one body; an intimate symbiosis existed between Pharaoh and Maat (Leblanc, 1997) which rendered the Temple of Millions of Years both a material and spiritual memorial to perpetuate the cult of the Pharaoh. The Temple of Millions of Years was the site where numerous texts and images celebrating the youthfulness, regeneration, strength, wisdom and power of the Pharaoh, and kingship in general, were constructed. As Leblanc (1997, p. 54) has suggested: “In effect, the scenes which cover the walls…Political images, military sequences, cultural events, and family pictures most certainly established the authority of the King, and in a more general way, that of the monarchy. They also give an account of the glory of a Pharaoh, who knew how to lead his people, who knew how to defeat foreign invasions, who honoured the sacred world by the duty of his cult, and who insured, by his procreating actions, the continuation of life because, by his offspring, the institution remained perpetuated. But, what one must not lose sight of


is that all of the themes give, above all, the clearest illustration of intimate symbiosis that existed between the King and Maat… the temple of ‘millions of years’ became both a material and spiritual memorial.”

During the New Kingdom, the conceptualisation of kingship became even more refined with the terrestrial and celestial dimensions both demarcated and conjoined more elaborately. This development had its roots in the reign of Queen Hatshepsut, and continued through the reign of Amenophis III and thereafter until the end of the Ramesside period. The divine nature of the Pharaoh was acknowledged as embracing Osiris (god of the Underworld) and Re (the creator, sun god), thereby combining both Eternity and Divine Unity. The cult of the dead Pharaoh was celebrated in honour of his living image, and perpetuated long after his death, combining both notions of sacred time, djet and neheh. According to Leblanc (1997, p. 55): “For the Pharaoh, death no longer seemed to be an incarnation, since by being confirmed by his divine power, he had already during his life – at least from the New Empire onwards – earned his immortality. His terrestrial entity would be fused in Osiris (= the royal tomb), his celestial hypostasis would be absorbed by Re into the cosmos (= the temple of the royal cult): he would be ‘Osiris when he reposes in Re – Re when he reposes in Osiris’, that is to say Osiris-Re, or djt-nhh, the two unified principles of Eternity and Divine Unity.”

ACCOUNTING IN CEREMONIAL TEXTS The Pharaohs pledged to the gods a continuous flow of offerings. As one typical example of the types of offerings, consider the following text from the reign of Ramesses II: “I have endowed for him [god] the sacred offerings: regular daily offerings, (lunar) feasts whose days come on their appointed dates; and annual calendar feasts throughout the year, over and above the food offerings that are forthcoming in the (divine) presence, at the head of the sacred offerings for Ptah.” (Kitchen, 1996, p. 570)


In the above text, godly offerings span various temporalities, ranging from the daily through the monthly to the annual. Underpinning such temporal designations of offerings is the basic tenet that offerings by the Pharaoh will be always higher than “over and above” those offered by the Pharaoh’s predecessors. The rhetorical nature of the text is clear, as is the case in virtually all the documents examined in this paper. In this and the following section, however, the aim is to tease out and examine the accounting content of such texts, and consider their ceremonial implications. The texts included dedication texts, calendar of feasts, offering lists, scenes in temples and tombs, and papyri. The first four types are examined in the remainder of this section, while the next section is devoted to papyri documents. Dedication Texts Dedication texts were inscriptions, carved on temple walls or stelae, to bring to the attention of gods new temple restorations or buildings initiated by the Pharaoh. While these texts typically describe the building or restoration activities, they also frequently refer to provisions of resources as offerings. One example is where Amenhotep III boasts of the wealth he amassed for the god in the temple of the Memnon Colossi (Breasted, 1906/1988, Part Two, pp. 356-357): “It is supplied with a ‘Station of the King’, wrought with gold and many costly stones…Its storehouses contain all good things, whose number is not known…its cattle are like the sand of the shore, they make up millions.” The intention of the above dedication text is not to provide a precise enumeration, counting and valuation of economic resources given to the divine temple. Rather, the text is more concerned to establish a claim of a dedication by the Pharaoh to the god whereby nothing is apparently spared: “all good things”, of such large numbers as to make their counting meaningless “whose number is not known” because, in the case of cattle for example, they are countless like “the sand of the shore”. Thus, even when enumeration is used, “they make up millions”, the text remains silent as to exactly how many millions. To the extent that such dedication texts contain any numbers, these numbers should not be taken at face value, but rather as a means of rendering the giving by the Pharaoh as generous as can be imagined. The aim of the text therefore is to impress as befit a great


Pharaoh and to underscore the intimate symbiosis between him and the gods via his observation of Maat (the reciprocity established by giving to the gods in return for what the gods have given to Egypt). One of the exceptions to the above general rule is the text on the third pylon in the Karnak temple during the reign of the same Pharaoh. In this text, the weights of the monuments built are stated in deben3, a money of account, along with other items (Breasted, Part two, pp. 367-368). Even though we here encounter apparently more precise numbers stated as a money of account (e.g. Malachite: 4,820 deben), the message remains very much the same as before: it is one of showing the generosity and greatness of the Pharaoh, his attention to gods and his observation of Maat. These practices concerning dedication texts continued for hundreds of years thereafter, with very similar patterns. During the reign of Ramesses II numerous dedication texts were inscribed containing the familiar statements of gifts and provisions expressed in the most general terms (e.g. Kitchen, 1996, p. 403). During the reign of Ramesses III more specific items of dedication to the god Amun-Re began to be mentioned, such as grain, bread loaves, beer, cattle, desert animals, and jar stands of gold and silver (Breasted, 1906/1988, Part Four, pp. 7 and 150) with the number of feasts and the amounts of provisions being doubled (ibid, p. 40). Overall, three, perhaps subtle, attributes can be discerned in these dedications. First, items of offering or dedication began to be identified by type more clearly. Secondly, increasingly, items began to be expressed in terms of a money of account. For example, one dedication text included the following enumeration (Breasted, 1906/1988, Part Four, p. 16): “1. Gold of Kush. 2. Gold, 1,000 deben. 3. Gold of the mountain. 4. Gold of the water, 1,000 deben. 5. Gold of Edfu. 6. Gold of Ombos, 1,000 deben. 3

The deben is a member of a family of ‘monies of account’ in ancient Egypt. It was equivalent to approximately 91 grams of the particular object to which it was related, eg., gold, silver, etc. (Janssen, 1975a, pp. 101-102). 18

7. Gold of Coptos. 8. Lapis lazuli of Tefrer.” We note here not only the differentiation of precious metals by type (gold; lapis lazuli) and source (e.g. gold of Kush; gold of Edfu), but also on three occasions the gold is valued in terms of deben. It is possible that the values mentioned of 1,000 deben do not signal a precise number, but even if this were the case it is significant that the Pharaoh and his scribes decided to introduce this money of account valuation so that “I (Ramesses III) might present them to thee by the measure” (ibid, p. 16). Rather than a pure listing of dedications by type or source, the placing of what is seemingly more precise valuation in the form of deben demarcates these items much more clearly than in previous cases as items are now presented “by the measure”. Here, accounting calculations intervene to endow the offerings at least with a myth of more precise quantification, compared to statements such as “I multiply for thee wheat in heaps, thy granary approaches heaven” (Breasted, 1906/1988, Part Four, p. 7). Hence, accounting calculations began to ‘creep in’ more frequently into dedication texts. This quest for the more explicit use of “measures” or valuation via a money of account in dedication texts is further reinforced by an increased tendency towards accounting and administrative-like inscription where reference is made to such things as revenues, taxes, supply and provisions in fixed rations. Ramesses III declares to Amun (ibid, p. 7) “I bring to thee the tribute of every land, in order to flood thy treasury and thy storehouse.” Similarly, the same Pharaoh states (ibid, p. 82) “I taxed them (conquered countries) for their impost every year, every town by its name, gathered together, bearing their tribute, to bring them [to] thy ka, O lord of gods.” Further, the Pharaoh announces (Haring, 1997, pp. 44; 47) “I made Your fixed portion festive with bread and beer… The provision of the Ennead is in accordance with their number….Others are at their tasks in every work, in order to provide for Your fixed portion of daily requirements.” An administrative cycle of collection and provision of goods begins to unfold in these dedication texts, with accounting calculations determining the “fixed portion” sufficient for the god’s “daily


requirement” and of the fixed allocations for members of the Ennead, depending upon their numbers. The third attribute of dedication texts is the increased tendency to recognise the importance of stating dedications by stating them in writing. Thus, Ramesses III declares to the god: “All the products of the Southland are in the writings of Thoth; they are for thy house of millions of years” (Breasted, ibid, p. 18), Thoth being the god of the moon, writing and record-keeping. Inscribing dedications through the medium of sacred writing (and accounting) seemingly endowed dedications to the god with more express sacred and divine qualities. Inscription was also seen to fulfil another role, that of ensuring godly ownership of dedicated items. Thus, Ramesses III states to the god Amun (Breasted, ibid, p. 82), “I have put its (property) positions into writing, that I might inclose them in thy grasp. I made for thee thy property lists, that they might be forever and [ever] in thy name.” In summary, even in the case of dedication texts, arguably the least likely texts to be subjected to the intervention of accounting and administrative practices, it has been possible over time to discern a gradual and sustained encroachment of accounting terminology and calculations. These dedication texts had no obvious direct link to the mundane daily concerns of the administrators and scribes overseeing the functioning of the temples. The most likely explanation is that these dedication texts were primarily concerned with the symbolic and ceremonial dimensions of the ancient Egyptian world, and that greater intervention by accounting came to be recognised over time as a means of enhancing, or at least reinforcing, these dimensions and of underpinning the symbiotic relationship between the gods and the Pharaoh. Calendars of Feasts and Offering Lists Offering lists were inscribed in stone on the outside walls of temples, and were typically stated in the form of royal decrees stipulating revisions in the offerings established previously in calendar lists. Hence, temporally, offering lists have tended to post-date calendar lists (Haring, 1997, p. 93). Given this similarity, the discussion in the remainder


of this part will be concerned with calendar lists with the same conclusions applying to offering lists. Calendars of feasts and offerings record pledges of significant offerings for feasts, such as the royal coronation, the Opet feast, and the feast of the Valley. The practice of inscribing them in stone dates back to the Old Kingdom and continues through the Middle Kingdom to the New Kingdom. The length of festival activities seems to have varied over time, but it was nonetheless quite considerable, reaching approximately one day in three throughout the year during the reign of Ramesses III (Breasted, 1906/1988, Part Four, p. 84). From the earliest times these calendars contained details of offerings such as bread, beer, meat, fowl, honey, milk, figs, etc. Initially, the offerings were inscribed in little detail, but gradually quantities of items, their sources, and the baking ratios (conversion ratios of raw material into finished good) were stated for different loaves of bread and types of beer. Moreover, the summing up of amounts of cereals was apparently introduced in the Eighteenth Dynasty (Haring, 1997, p. 57). During the New Kingdom, the most important calendars were those of Ramesses II and Ramesses III; the latter which is much better preserved is generally acknowledged by Egyptologists to have been copied in the most part from the former. The calendar of Ramesses III was also replicated in its entirety on papyrus (Papyrus Harris I) which will be analysed in more detailed in a following section. Hence, the discussion here will focus more on the overall significance of such calendars but without commenting in detail upon their contents. The layout of the calendar seems to have changed little over the years. Typically, these lists contain entries indicating the occasion of the offering, the recipient, an enumeration of the items of the offering and their sources, and in the case of bread and beer their baking ratios, a pictorial representation of the items and the relevant numbers, and the grand total. The calendar was divided into two main sections with bread and beer (and the corresponding amounts of different grains required) entered in the first part and non-


cereal items (e.g. meat, wine, vegetables) entered into the second part. Figure (1) below is a typical example from the Abydos Temple, reign of Ramesses II. INSERT TABLE (1) ABOUT HERE Table (1) shows with the offering list of one day of the feast of Osiris. Having designated the precise date, month and season, the list then enumerates the quantities of foods relating to that day. The most prominent item is bread, which is divided initially into broad categories, such as bit bread (conical loaves made of barley), psn bread (flat, circular loaves made of emmer wheat), white bread, etc. To demarcate finer categories still, the baking ratio is used, so that for example there are four different types of bit bread differentiated by baking ratios ranging from 5 per hekat to 100 per hekat.4 A further conversion is made via which a given number of bread loaves with a particular baking ratio is translated into the equivalent in oipe as a common denominator or money of account. In the list, this is achieved by dividing the number of bread loaves by the baking ratio; for the first entry 15 loaves are divided by a baking ratio of 30 to obtain ½ oipe. Similarly, for the fourth entry 25 loaves are divided by a baking ratio of 100 to obtain ¼ oipe. In the case of beer the number of jugs is divided by the brewing ratio to obtain the equivalent in oipe. Thus, it was possible for the scribes to convert bread loaves with differing baking ratios into one common denominator. They were also able to do the same across different categories of bread and beer, hence these entries were intertranslatable via this money of account. At the end of this first part a series of aggregations takes place. First, there is the totalling of the assorted bread loaves (165), followed by the cakes (5) and the beer jugs (30). Another aggregate is made in terms of oipe which can now be achieved by summing up the final column of the list across all types of bread and beer (entered as 3+7) of 10 oipe. The second part of the list merely enumerates fowl, wine jars, baskets of incense and bouquets and baskets of fresh flowers.


The hekat was a member of a family of capacity measures used in ancient Egypt which included also the Khar, the oipe and the hin. The Khar was 76.88 litres, the oipe one quarter of the Khar (19.22 litres), and the hekat ¼ of the oipe (4.8 litres). The hin (0.48 litres) was 1/160 of the khar (see Janssen, 1975a, pp. 108111) 22

Other calendar lists, such as the Ramesseum (Ramesses II) and the Medinet Habu (Ramesses III) involved significantly larger amounts of foodstuffs compared to those of the Abydos temple discussed above. In contrast to the daily offerings of 10 oipe (2 ½ Khar) in the case of the Abydos Temple, The Ramesseum and Medinet Habu temples each had a minimum of 30 ½ khar daily offerings, rising in the case of feast days to more than 171 khar (Haring, 1997, p. 78). It is beyond doubt therefore that these temples were extremely large and supported a huge number of priests, administrators, scribes, craftsmen and workers. Given the sheer volume of these offerings, the calendar lists suggest that they were expected to be supplied to the Temple of Amun-Re by different sources including royal domains, royal granaries, royal gardens, the royal treasury, and other temples. The intervention of accounting practices in the construction of the calendars of feasts and offerings is evidently much more intensive than in the case of dedication texts. The calendar lists were accounts of provisions and offerings to the gods. A much more elaborate set of accounting measures were also used, as we have seen in the case of using baking ratios to convert bread into oipe equivalence as a form of money of account. This preponderance of accounting intervention has led some Egyptologists to attempt to piece together a picture of ancient Egyptian administration from these calendar lists. Haring, for example acknowledges that calendar lists “must be treated with caution when used as a source of administrative and economic information” because they are the result of “repeated copying of an original text” (ibid, p. 62). Yet, he goes on to suggest that “In view of their layout and their accounting procedures, their original version cannot be so old as to be considered entirely outdated, and the amounts they record are in keeping with the size of the temple for which they were presumably used” (ibid, p. 62). For these scholars, the calendar lists “must therefore to some extent reflect administrative reality” (ibid, p. 61). Even if Haring’s contention is tenable, the focus of this section is upon the ceremonial and symbolic roles of calendar lists rather than administrative reality. Because calendar offering-lists were recorded on the outside walls of temples, they tended to focus upon totals rather than individual items/objects; for example they stated


types and amounts of animals rather than naming and counting parts of animals. They focused upon resources pledged for the temple, and hence for some they may be seen to be a reflection of administrative ‘reality’ although care should be exercised in using this term given the intertwining of the domains of the secular and the divine in temple activities suggested earlier. The inscriptions on these calendar offering-lists have undergone considerable variations across time and space, and Haring (1997) contends that given their administrative focus these variations may have been in response to accounting and administrative demands. The ritual offering-lists were located in the inner rooms or private tombs within the temple enclosure. Their style tended to remain standardised throughout ancient Egyptian history, and they were concerned with detailed items (e.g. different parts of an ox rather than the whole ox). Items inscribed on ritual offering-lists did not contain any of the items mentioned in the calendar offering-lists, but the reverse is true: calendar offering-lists frequently included items inscribed on ritual offering-lists. These differences, however, could mask a closer relationship between the two types of list. Haring (1997, p. 58) has suggested that it is justifiable to regard “the offering-lists on the outside of the temples as the administrative ‘translations’ of the offering-cults going on inside, being copies on stone of papyrus documents that may with good reason be called ‘ritual’, but which incontestably have administrative aspects as well.” In my view, Haring reads far too much ‘rational’ administrative intent in these inscriptions, particularly given their aggregate nature and their inscription as a once and for all incidence, which renders them highly inflexible and non-responsive to variations in context which may demand frequent fine-tuning by the administrative machinery. A particularly relevant observation relates to the calendar inscriptions on the outside walls of the Medinet Habu Temple (Ramesses III). Haring (1997, pp. 73-74) notes that virtually all the offerings inscribed on that list were intended for the Temple of Amun-Re in Karnak. An intriguing question then is why were these lists inscribed on the walls of the Medinet Habu Temple rather than the Karnak Temple? Haring attempts to provide a number of plausible explanations, including for example the availability of the clean walls of the newly established Medinet Habu Temple for inscription compared to the by then fully inscribed walls of the Karnak Temple. But he then offers another possible clue


which relates more to the domain of the symbolic and ceremonial: “the initial position of lists 1-5 [parts of the calendar list] gave prominence to the king’s own endowments (albeit mainly for another temple), and in that way prevented the whole Medinet Habu calendar from becoming a mere copy of its original on the Ramesseum” (ibid, p. 74). Given this symbolic and ceremonial emphasis, why was such obsession with detailed accounting entries deemed essential to making the endowments of the Pharaoh prominent? Why were these texts inscribed on the outside walls of memorial temples rather than simply being recorded in internal administrative documents? Why were such accounting entries put on public display? These, and similar, questions are germane to the remainder of the material discussed in this paper and will be addressed together later. Scenes in Temples and Tombs Pictorial scenes engraved on the walls of temples and tombs celebrated daily and festival offerings in some considerable detail. These pictorial scenes were frequently supported by inscribed linguistic and numerical texts. They were not always a substitute for other texts, such as calendar lists and offering lists, but frequently they somewhat replicated the contents of these lists on the walls of the same temples or tombs, though not in exactly the same detail. Reasonably preserved examples from the New Kingdom include the Temples of Medinet Habu, Abydos, and Luxor. Depending upon the space available on the walls, the scenes for festival and daily offerings were either clearly separated (Abydos) or merged (Medinet Habu). The procession shows individuals carrying various items of foodstuffs, such as bread of different types, flour, grain, cakes, sweets, dates and other fresh fruits, beer, vegetables, and animals such as oxen and calves. In the case of bread, beer, gold and incense, more details were provided. For example, bread loaves were differentiated pictorially by shape into bit bread, psn bread, white bread, etc. with supportive inscriptions indicating the baking ratio as well as their specific sources of supply (Haring, 1997, p. 109). Beer was differentiated by type of jar and brewing ratio (for example 4 & 8, and 5 & 10; the latter figure of every pair being the exact double of the former, see Haring, ibid, p. 113). In the case of gold, it was differentiated by source (gold of water; gold of Kush; gold of the desert, etc.) which


presumably indicates quality, but also the amounts were in the order of 1,000 deben, leading Haring (ibid, p. 133) to suggest that these round figures, while not excessive, “clearly have a fictive character”. We have already encountered these same round figures when discussing dedication texts, and whether these figures had a “fictive character” or had become a ‘milestone’ of what counted as acceptable offerings to the gods is impossible to establish. Similarly, incense was measured in deben. The representations of offerings typically stated that they were of a fixed allocation; for example daily offerings are supported by the inscription “the divine offering of the fixed portion of every day” (Haring, 1997, p. 112). The scenes were of generally impressive scale, reaching at times over 25 meters across, but each appears to be in relative proportion to the size of the temple to which the offerings were intended, which could be taken to suggest a possible real life matching between offerings and temple requirements (ibid, pp. 103, 106). Although subject to some variation, the procession of offerings was led by a high ranking priest (burning incense) and the scribe of divine offerings. The roles of the scribes and priests added a further aura of symbolism and divinity to the scenes. In the latter case, accounting and divinity were brought into an immediate symbiosis. There was more to the role of the scribe than what seemingly resembled a simple and static representation. The scribe of divine offerings was shown to receive the carriers of offerings at the doorway of the temple (Abydos Temple). Further, a temple scribe (a different category of scribe) is shown urging the carriers of meat to the temple to hurry (Haring, ibid, p. 123), with the supportive text “Hurry up! [take] the meat-portions to the temple, which is open(?),. Come and carry out [your] tasks” (ibid, p. 126). Responsibility for receiving and monitoring offerings were divided, so that the scribe of the temple dealt with meat only (presumably because it was deemed valuable) whereas the scribe of divine offerings dealt with the remainder of offerings. Yet a different category of scribe was that of ‘scribe of the god’s sealed things’ who was attached to the temple treasury (ibid, p. 127). The scribe of the treasury was shown to weigh the quantities of gold, precious stones and incense delivered to the temple accompanied with the following inscriptions (Haring, ibid, p. 136):


“(Ineni) inspecting the [silver] and gold […] turquoise […] incense of the monthly requirement […] for the Ennead […] d’m gold […] by the overseer of the treasury…] Ipet[sut…] of Amun […] (Puyemre) [counting/weighing?] incense for the temples … which are in the retinue of the House of Amun, in the treasury of the temple”

Far from being a static, discrete set of scenes, these pictorial re-presentations, frequently supported by inscriptions, offer a dynamic narrative that depicts a rich tapestry of scribal involvement in different types of offerings, the process of such involvement in terms of receiving, monitoring, weighing, counting offerings and motivating other personnel to carry on with their tasks as efficiently as possible. This narrative creates a ‘reality’, whether fictitious or not, of an orderly, highly organised, efficient and exact process of offerings as befit the administration of a great Pharaoh who observes Maat. A series of inspections during the reign of Ramesses III, in his fifteenth regnal year, were recorded to have been performed by Penpato, the chief archivist of the royal treasury on the walls of the temples of Karnak, Tod, Edfu and Elephantine. Penpato was appointed by Ramesses III to consecrate all the temples of Egypt, to inspect the treasuries and granaries, and to double the divine offerings that had been allocated to them previously (Spalinger, 1991, p. 22). Spalinger surmises that this series of inspection and doubling of offerings was a way of redressing the neglect that the temples had suffered for some time because of economic dislocations caused by several significant wars (ibid, p. 24). This also attests to the power of the reigning Pharaoh in redistributing and redirecting resources across temples and other state institutions on a significant scale, a tendency that was by no means restricted to Ramesses III but rather occurred frequently throughout ancient Egyptian history (ibid). Such proliferation of accounting entries and the artistic representations/inscriptions of the scribes being involved in the measurement, receiving and doubling divine offerings, have led to the amazement, almost dismay, of some Egyptologists:


“the reliefs call to life the dreary administrative accounts and allow us a glimpse of the daily and festival offering-practice. As part of the temple decoration, just like the calendars, they present an ideal image of the customs connected with the offering cult.” (Haring, ibid, p. 116)

It is precisely the lack of appreciation of the symbolic and ceremonial role of accounting practices that leads some writers to view the intervention of accounting in divine settings as a “dreary” and unwanted encroachment. That accounting could have a ‘divine’ dimension to it in the thinking of the ancient Egyptians is not an idea that many commentators would contemplate. ACCOUNTING IN THE TEMPLES OF MILLIONS OF YEARS: PAPYRUS HARRIS I

This section is devoted to examining the symbolic and ritualistic nature of Papyrus Harris I which dates to the reign of Ramesses III. The text, which is identical to the calendar list on the walls of the Medinet Habu Temple referred to earlier, was composed shortly after the death of Ramesses III covering his full reign of thirty-one years. The text is the largest papyrus extant, measuring 133 feet long, about 95% of it devoted to gifts and lists (Breasted, 1906/1988, Part Four, p. 88). Complete translations of the papyrus are provided by Breasted (ibid) and Grandet (1994). Breasted (ibid, p. 88) describes this Papyrus thus: “Written in a magnificent hand, it is the most sumptuous manuscript left us by ancient Egypt.” Five scribes (deduced from their distinct writing styles) were employed each in inscribing one of the main sections: the Theban, Heliopolitan, Memphite, General (small temples), and Historical. The purpose of the papyrus was stated explicitly (ibid, p. 110): “He (Ramesses III) tells, in praise, and laudation, the many benefactions and mighty deeds, which he did as king and as ruler on earth, for…” Thereafter, the text lists as beneficiaries Amun (god of Thebes), Re (god of Heliopolis), Ptah (god of Memphis), all other gods and goddesses of Lower and Upper Egypt and the


people of the land of Egypt and every land (presumably the remainder of the Empire). The material contained in the text covers the following types of wealth/income: (1) god’s estate; (2) god’s income; (3) offerings to god; (4) grain for old feasts; (5) offerings for new feasts; and (6) offerings to the Nile god. Offerings to each god are clearly demarcated in detail under a separate section and the order of these sections remains exactly the same from year to year. While the Theban god Amun claims the lion’s share of temple income compared to the other temples, it is the Heliopolitan god Re who claims by far the highest share of the offerings. The earlier parts of the text initially contain some prayers by Ramesses III to the main gods, followed by parts that are very similar in style and content to those of the dedication texts. In these parts, various statements of offerings are made by the Pharaoh which take various forms. First, we encounter the ‘non-enumerated’ form with the implication being that the numbers are too great to count: “ships laden with barley and wheat for transport to its (the temple’s) granary without cessation” (ibid, p. 115). “bread, beer, oxen, fowl, wine, incense, and fruit without number” (ibid, p. 120). “its (the temple’s) granaries approached heaven, its herd were multiplied more than the sand” (ibid, pp. 122-123). Another form used provides some enumeration, but these cannot be taken at face value and are clearly more suggestive of symbolism than precision: “I filled its treasury with the products of the land of Egypt: gold, silver, every costly stone by the hundred-thousand” (ibid, p. 114) “I made for thee herds in the South and North containing large cattle, fowl, and small cattle by the hundred-thousand” (ibid, p. 120) “I made for thee wine-gardens in the Southern Oasis, and the Northern Oasis likewise without number; others in the South with numerous lists; they were multiplied in the Northland by the hundred-thousand” (ibid, p. 121).


INSERT FIGURE (1) ABOUT HERE The Papyrus then goes beyond dedication texts by providing more detailed, and seemingly very precise lists of income and offerings. Some of these are examined below, where extracts of the lists are used to analyse their significance as symbolic texts. The list of god’s estate typically enumerate the numbers of individuals ‘owned by’, or better attached to, the estate along with some mention of other resources such as cattle heads, gardens, lands, galleys, workshops and towns. These entries are no more than counting of items or objects and will not be discussed further here. The remaining categories deal with income and offerings (see Figure 1 below which provides an overall schema of the offerings lists), and because of some similarities and space limitations the remainder of this section will only deal with income, offerings, and grain for old feasts. It is in these income lists and offerings that we begin to encounter the use of monies of account in Papyrus Harris I to reflect the relative values of the different types of offerings. INSERT TABLE (2) ABOUT HERE Table (2) provides a list of the income stated as a form of impost exacted from the population for the benefit of the various temples of Amun. The list then shows different items which can be divided into three finer classifications. First, items valued in deben and kite (kidet); the deben (91 grams in weight) and the kite (1/10 of the deben). These items were clearly judged as less bulky and more valuable than the others, as they include gold, silver, copper, and yarn. The second type is grain, in this case barley, which is both bulky and of critical nutritional value, for which a capacity measure, the khar (76.88 litres) or 16-fold hekat (4.8 litres), is used as a money of account. The third type includes the remaining items for which simple counting of identities is used; for example jars of wine, bundles of vegetables, bales of flax, rolls (presumably) of linen, and heads of cattle. Hence, side-by-side, the income list deploys two different types of money of account (weight and capacity) and straight enumeration of items. In the case of precious metals, different types of gold are differentiated by source, valued in deben and kite, and then all gold is totalled. Silver is then listed and its value added to that of gold. Copper is valued


similarly but is not added to the total of gold and silver possibly because it was deemed less valuable. When similar items were enumerated via counting, they were also added together, such as the boats made of cedar and acacia. INSERT TABLE (3) ABOUT HERE Table (3) lists the Pharaoh’s gifts to Amun. As usual, the list is preceded by a text stating the kinds of goods given as gift. The list then shows the details of the individual types of goods given, so that, for example, gold is differentiated according to whether it is fine or white gold, and the state of the gold product is also mentioned: hammered work, ornaments, finger rings (raised work, beaten work or inlay), vases, amulet cords, and beads. Through the common denominator of the deben and kite, these monies of account are then used to place specific values on each quantity of gold, thereby bringing them all into additive quantities of monies that could be summed up across all items, hence the totals mentioned in the list. Objects made of other metals, in particular silver and bronze, are treated similarly, using the deben and kite, and oils (myrrh) are also converted into deben, hekat and hin. Linen, is enumerated through simple counting of identified and differentiated objects, and incense, honey, butter, oil and fats, are enumerated through counting numbers of jars (presumably of standard sizes). Other goods, such as grapes and cinnamon are measured by the bunch or crate, and fibre by ropes or loads, whereas salt and natron by bricks, etc. What is evident from Table (3) is the use of a combination of measures, each presumably deemed appropriate to the particular type of good recorded, to enlist each good at a precise quantity or value. INSERT TABLE (4) ABOUT HERE Table (4) shows only a small part of the offerings made by Ramesses III containing only bread and cakes (the remainder of the long account documents other goods ranging from cattle and fowl through oils, herbs and incense to statues and wood). The key points to note about the bread and cakes entries are that: (1) they are listed by type and enumerated by number or measure; and (2) because of knowledge of dilution measures such as the


baking ratio (psw; see earlier), the equivalent of the amounts of bread and cakes offered is measured in a precise number of hekat, hence different quantities of breads and cakes are inter-translated via the money of account (hekat) into one aggregate number. Apart from the remarkable clarity of the connections between the various types of lists, the accounts contained in these lists share several important characteristics. First, the entries were carefully arranged under carefully designated sections in an order that was adhered to throughout the whole document. Secondly, different measures were assigned to different goods/items, and more or less consistently used throughout the accounts. Different measures, e.g. the deben, or khar, were clearly differentiated from each other via different entries. Thirdly, a precise system of inter-translatability underpinned all the different monies of account used, so that items recorded in any of them could be easily reduced to any other money of account as a common denominator, thereby ensuring ‘adding apples with apples’. Fourthly, the entries, along with quantifications either via counting or valuing, created an aura of order, clarity, transparency and precision. Fifthly, the use of these quantification and valuation techniques had important symbolic significance beyond merely equating different items; they served to visualise the magnitude of the offerings made by the Pharaoh to the gods in their diversity and great value as a manifestation of reciprocity and observation of Maat. DISCUSSION AND CONCLUSIONS: ACCOUNTING AND DIVINE ORDER This paper has examined a number of ways in which accounting inscriptions were utilised to record and enumerate gifts given by the Pharaoh to the gods of ancient Egypt. These accounting inscriptions found their way into dedication texts, calendars of feasts and offerings, offering lists, scenes in temples and tombs and papyri frequently along with pictorial scenes and linguistic texts. Now it is relevant to re-ask some of the questions posed earlier in the paper: Why such level of detail in inscribing all the offerings and gifts? Why the enumeration by item, the counting, and valuation via a ‘money of account’ of different forms? Why is the obsession with aggregating and comparing totals and with feeding subtotals into totals? For whose benefit (humans; gods;


see also Haring, 1997, p. 158-160) were these inscriptions intended, given the very small percentage of literate people in ancient Egypt? Why were pictorial scenes and linguistic texts frequently combined with accounting numbers in monumental texts? Even though there may have been some functional roles intended for these accounting inscriptions, I have suggested already that recognition of their ceremonial nature is inescapable. This section seeks to advance the argument that these accounting inscriptions can be viewed as an intertwined element of order in the divine world of the ancient Egyptians. To clarify the contribution of this paper, this section is organised around a number of key issues. The Divine Genesis of Accounting At the most straightforward level, the connection between accounting and divinity can be sought through the medium of writing, itself a divine aspect of ancient Egypt. Language, and also writing, constituted a dimension of divine presence, with the hieroglyphic script being canonised as “divine speech” (Assmann, 2002, p. 238). Accounting as a form of inscription would have been equally endowed with this dimension of divinity. To develop the connection between accounting and divine order further, it is necessary to refer to the myth of Osiris. In the latter myth, Osiris was killed and dismembered by his brother Seth who buried each part of Osiris’ body in one of the nomes of ancient Egypt. Isis, the wife and sister of Osiris, patiently searched for and rediscovered the dismembered parts of her dead husband, except for his penis that was thrown by Seth into the Nile. A new penis was made, and along with the other parts of the body re-assembled into a ‘full’ but dead Osiris. So, we observe here an ‘economy’ of restitution whereby the body of Osiris is remembered by Isis (Hare, 1999). The restitution is not complete, however, as the original penis is replaced by an alternative (artificial!) but functional one that was subsequently deployed to impregnate Isis to give birth to Osiris’ son and heir Horus. Thoth, the good of writing, was also the god of record-keeping, time (the latter signified in the representations of Thoth by a moon placed above his head), and the patron of scribes to whom they prayed and made offerings. As the god of record-keeping, the connection between Thoth and account-keeping is fairly evident, and as god of time, with time and space for the ancient Egyptians being indivisible, it can be seen that in this myth there is a strong link between accounting, time and space. If this observation has any validity, then


it could be argued more generally that the association between Thoth and accounting implies that from its inception accounting is both temporally and spatially embedded. Thoth also figures quite prominently in the myth of Osiris; specifically in the restoration of the Eye of Horus (son of Osiris) in the battles he waged against Seth to avenge the death of his father and reclaim his throne. After Seth had decimated the eye of Horus, Thoth states: “I came seeking the eye of Horus, that I might bring it back and count it. I found it [and now it is] complete, counted and sound, so that it can flame up to the sky and blow above and below…” (Clark, 1978, p. 225)

Four immediate implications follow on from the above quote. First, Thoth, as the god of record-keeping counts and re-assembles the scattered parts of the Eye of Horus, so there is a sense of restitution taking place here. Secondly, like representation, restitution is never entirely perfect or complete (just as we observed in the case of Osiris), so the parts of the Eye of Horus that Thoth counts and re-members add up only to 63/64 of the complete eye! Restitution produces or reconstructs a different reality. Thirdly, The Eye of Horus ever since becomes an indispensable counting tool in the hands of the scribes in their measurements and accounting calculations, as it is then used as a system (known as the Horus Eye fractions) that arranges fractions into a descending geometric series ½ , ¼, 1/8, …, 1/64. Fourthly, this system of fractions is intertwined with a new way of seeing and using parts of integer numbers, for now the scribes can exercise their numerical skills in a manner that allows them to partition anything, be it a fraction of a bull or even a loaf of bread, into minutely small parts, thereby facilitating a new level of economic and social reciprocity. The link between the Eye of Horus and visualisation of accounting numbers, or the metaphorical seeing through accounts, is evidently there! Pictures, Words and Accounting Numbers Invoking the hermeneutic approach, texts (be they pictorial, linguistic or numerical) exhibit three dimensions: fictionality; intertextuality; and reception (Weinsheimer, 1991;


Loprieno, 1996). Fictionality creates a mutual complicity between the author and his/her model reader so that the representation of the world in the text does not necessarily have to perfectly map onto what may be perceived as a ‘factual’ reality. Intertextuality reflects the dialectic interrelations between texts. Reception implies the existence of an audience or a readership that converts the dialectics between author and text into a three-way interaction. It is important to note from the outset that these three modes of re-presentation are not in a relation of complete replication of each other. For example, Davis (1992, p. 240) has warned against “treating the pictorial text as merely a re-production or illustration of that other text”, and Bryan (1996) refers to the disjunction of (written) text and (pictorial) image in Egyptian art. The different meanings that different modes of re-presentations engender occur not only because the author may intend to use them to signal different things, nor only because we as readers may read different meanings in them. Also importantly, these modes differ in their accessibility to the audience and in their representation capacity. In a largely illiterate culture, like that of ancient Egypt, the illiterate will not be capable of reading words and numbers, but would be likely capable of reading various meanings from pictorial presentations, even though these could differ from one reader to another. Further, structural semiologists (e.g. Barthes, 1977) would argue that written (or numerical) texts can be treated as discrete texts where separate signs (words, numbers) can be identified. In contrast, individual signs are not capable of being singled out in pictorial representations, so that for example a figure cannot be detached from its context as the same brushstroke establishes simultaneously the figure and part of its background. In that sense, the whole scene is read as a single sign (as a whole). Other researchers (e.g. Elgin, 1983) have also noted that pictorial representations are generally far more dense compared to words or numbers. Thus, a small alteration in a pictorial re-presentation effectively annuls that re-presentation and creates another. In contrast, words and numbers are less dense and less restrictive; for example A, a, a, would all be taken to signify the same letter of the alphabet.


In seeking to understand the dialectics between pictorial, linguistic, and numerical signs it is important to note the broader context within which these modes of re-presentations were employed in ancient Egypt. As Wilkinson (1994, p. 149) notes, “Because these royal activities were often depicted in official representations with summary written ‘captions’, there was from the earliest times an important interaction in Egyptian culture between the function of writing and the use of representational works of art”. Egyptian hieroglyphs were assumed to be endowed with magical qualities not only within written texts but also as artistic re-presentations. The rebus rules were used at times to write (and re-present) the names of Pharaohs and other influential individuals. Similarly, objects or individuals were re-presented in the form of hieroglyphic signs to convey symbolic messages. There are numerous examples of this union of picture, word and indeed numbers in ancient Egyptian art, as Wilkinson (1994, p. 152) notes “The embedded or ‘encoded’ hieroglyphic forms also frequently interact to some degree with the texts or inscriptions with which they are associated, for the use of hieroglyphic form in Egyptian art rarely occurs in complete isolation from the written word.” In this context, “Figures, registers, and images tend to be organized hierarchically with no extraneous or competing pictorial matter. They can be accompanied by hieroglyphic texts, rebuslike signs, and other symbols that perform complementary, parallel, or identical referential operations…, with ‘picture’ and ‘hieroglyph’ often working together to constitute the ‘image’” Davis (1992, p. 4). There are three implications I wish to emphasise here in relation to the material on pictorial images, writing and accounting discussed above. First, Engravings and pictures create a lasting image and can also be ‘read’ by the majority of the Pharaoh’s subjects who were illiterate and hence could not decipher written texts and accounts. Inscriptions endow images with more precision via the use of numbers and, designation of space and time as well as the precise individuals involved. As Assmann (1994) has argued, with the combining of pictures and inscriptions into one representation, a complete fluidity and a mutual determination is attained between the text and the illustration. Assmann notes that this mutual determination creates three functions in writing; the first is to explain the picture; the second is to identify the persons or objects (such as the offerings); and the third is to supplement the rendering of


speeches, i.e. to record sound, in multiple media. In line with the argument advanced earlier that pictorial, written and numerical re-presentations are not redundant replications of each other, Bryan’s (1996, p. 164) comments ring true: “Although it often does, art does not necessarily coincide with text in the meaning it conveys. Nor, then, does text in monumental uses necessarily purely caption the art, as most writers have suggested it does. Rather, art may provide a different version of the same subject expressed in accompanying text.” Hare (1999, p. 71) sums up the effects of such a combination of picture and inscription thus: “The interaction, then, of picture and writing creates an integral whole that can scarcely be attained in writing systems like the Greek or Roman alphabet, relying as they do on conventional and arbitrary relations between sound and the written word, and insensible, as they are, to the iconic dimensions of writing that was so important and so engaging to the Egyptians.” The combination of the pictures of offerings and their inscription using the accounting signs, or numbers, yields more sophisticated knowledge of what is going on than either representation alone could achieve. These different modes of re-presentation were monumental statements of the greatness of the Pharaoh, his observation of Maat, his preservation of cosmic and worldly order, and his gratitude to the gods. Secondly, the use of accounting numbers in artistic representations (such as numbers of jugs of beer) can be linked to the symbolic nature of numbers in ancient Egypt. The Rhind Mathematical Papyrus, dating at least to the Twelfth Dynasty, presents itself thus: “Accurate reckoning [or Rules for reckoning, i.e.,] for inquiring into things, and the knowledge of all things, mysteries…all secrets” (Clagett, 1999, p. 122). Accurate computations were thus seen, or rather construed, as the gateway to knowledge of all things, mysterious and secret. For the ancient Egyptians, the use of numbers in temple inscriptions and scenes may therefore have been part and parcel of the orderly equilibrium of the world and the cosmos. As Wilkinson (1994, p. 126) has argued, “Just as verbal and ‘visual’ puns were felt to reflect an important aspect of reality, the relationships between the abstract numbers found in myth and in nature were also seen as meaningful patterns reflecting divine planning and cosmic harmony.”


Thirdly, of all items of foodstuffs, why was bread accorded so much detail, not only being differentiated by type, but also accurately enumerated with the precise baking ratio delineated? Bread was frequently considered synonymous with life, and the ankh, the key of life, was at times represented artistically in the form of an offering table loaded with bread loaves (see Wilkinson, 1994, figure 126, p. 169; see also p. 160). Bread therefore symbolised life-giving power. Further, the most common values of the baking ratios were 4 and 5 and their multiples, with the symbolic meaning of totality and completeness accorded to these numbers by the ancient Egyptians (Wilkinson, 1994, pp. 133-138). Perhaps it is stretching things too far to single out bread for a special significance in offerings, since all food may carry equal signification. Shafer (1998, p. 25) has argued that “ there must have been religious as well as socioeconomic meaning to partaking of god’s food, particularly since the food symbolized life, order, the self of good, and the selves of the donor and officiant. Those Egyptians sharing in the food must have experienced a sense of privileged communion with god and king that shaped their ritualised bodies and enhanced their feelings of unity, efficacy and power.” Accounting and Sacred Time The material examined here testifies to a symbiotic relationship between accounting and notions of sacred time and space. Accounting can be seen to be linked strongly to the conceptions of neheh (regularly recurring, cyclical time) and djet (unchanging, permanent, suspended time). Neheh is reflected in the periodicity of accounting entries, with the cyclical recurrence of days of the week, weeks of the month, months of the year and the years covering the duration of every royal reign. The offering lists, calendar of feasts, and the account-keeping of gifts in Papyrus Harris I are all examples of neheh as regularly recurring, cyclical time. In all these examples, the motion of time is captured and given concrete meaning by accounting entries. These accounting entries also set an expectation for new gifts, new temple income, new feast offerings, etc. to recur every day, week, month or year. Such expectation, and its subsequent honouring by the Pharaoh, reinforces the idea of restitution with the gods and endows the concept of Maat with the quality of recurrence. For the gods protected and provided for Egypt every year


on a recurrent basis and so the Pharaoh must reciprocate via ‘valuable’ offerings to the gods to retain this symbiotic balance and to observe Maat on a regular, recurring basis. In life, reciprocating underscored the divine nature of the Pharaoh; for when the Pharaoh offers gifts we have the equalities: god = Maat; Pharaoh = Maat; Pharaoh = god. To the extent that accounting practices functioned in a manner that underpinned Maat, by quantifying, measuring and rendering visible ‘valuable’ offerings to the gods then accounting may be seen as an indispensable mechanism through which the divinity of the Pharaoh was expressed and re-affirmed. Through the intervention of accounting an intimate symbiosis was forged between the Pharaoh and Maat, whereby their identities could be fused together into one coherent and integrated whole thereby ensuring the perpetuity of the material and spiritual memorial of the cult of the Pharaoh. In ‘death’, the Pharaoh as a terrestrial entity is fused in Osiris (the royal tomb), while his celestial hypostasis is absorbed by Re into the cosmos (the temple of the royal cult). This transformation which renders the ‘dead’ Pharaoh at once Osiris-Re effectively combines the two qualities of time, djet-neheh, bringing together the two concepts of Eternity and Divine Unity. It is through accounting for offerings and gifts and the ability to demonstrate the keeping of Maat, that the ‘dead’ Pharaoh could ensure the fulfilment of this transformation, by which Eternity and Divine Unity are unified in him. Whilst reflecting cyclical time, periodicity and recurrence (neheh), accounting simultaneously underscored and underpinned the suspended, unchanging concept of time (djet). For through emphasising recurrence, the repetition of the flow of offerings and gifts from the Pharaoh to the gods on a regular basis creates a sense of permanence, endurance, resultativity and perfectivity. At the same time every month, year or festival season, the giving by the Pharaoh is repeated as if nothing changes! This continuity of offerings and gifts in a cyclical fashion acts to reinforce the continuity of time itself, and constructs a reality of a static world in which all that is expected is both a reflection of the past and a continuation into the present and future projected into Eternity (djet).


A document from the reign of Sesostris I, Middle Kingdom, makes more explicit the connection between provision of offerings and the Pharaoh’s quest for eternity by emphasising the dimensions of time; neheh and djet (Assmann, 2002, pp. 60-61): “I have come as Horus… to establish the offering cakes of the gods, to accomplish the building works in the temple of my father Atum, to make him rich even to the degree that he had made me take rule, to provide his altars with food on earth. ……….. ……….. Neheh-eternity it means, to create the salvational. A king who is named for his work does not die, ………. ………. The things of djet-eternity do not die This text shows just how by building temples and sanctuaries for the gods, and by providing offerings and gifts the Pharaoh sought to immortalise himself. Accounting provided an indelible record of these achievements, not only through counting numbers of buildings or offerings, but by also placing a relative valuation, through the use of monies of account and rendered these offerings in their great ‘value’ visible to all, to signal more clearly the esteem with which the gods were held by the Pharaoh. Accounting therefore be said to have endowed the deeds of the Pharaoh with salvational and eternal qualities. Accounting in the temples performed two important and highly complementary roles. First, as a set of institutionalised rituals, it bonded the human world with its daily routine with the sacred circularity of cosmic life. To see how critical this first role is we only need to note how undesirable to the ancient Egyptian the state of the non-existent or disorder was. If the worldly was not brought into the cosmic, then disorder and decay were expected to ensue, with all that this entailed. By bringing the two realms together, accounting practices as rituals secured regeneration as a form of ‘First Time’ is ensured, and with it continuity of life after death. Secondly, by making it possible to observe Maat, for the ancient Egyptians accounting practices could be seen to have served to


sustain cosmic circularity and continuity. In commenting on the significance of the calendar, Assmann (2002, p. 72) has observed: “The ritual calendar was not just a representation of the cosmos, but a cultural form that stabilized the cosmos it represented. The motive for repetition was … the conviction that the cyclical stability of the cosmos is constantly in jeopardy and has to be sustained by ritual repetition. The ritual institutionalization of permanence thus has a cosmic significance: it generates cultural order with a view of sustaining cosmic order; memoria is raised to the rank of cosmogony. The world is commemorated in order to counterbalance the perpetual drift toward decline, inertia, entropy, and chaos.”

Virtually everything Assmann states about the significance of the ritual calendar to the cosmic order of ancient Egypt extends to accounting. The repetition of accounting entries and their periodicity produced an institutionalised cultural order that underpinned the concept of neheh time as circular and recurring, ensuring the sustaining of cosmic order. This accounting-inspired order acted as a counterbalance to the destructive forces of disorder and the non-existent to ensure the cyclical continuity of the cosmos. Accounting as ritual and ceremony is well equipped to function as a discourse that acts to sustain beliefs in cosmic order and harmony. The ritual aspects of both architecture and accounting practices issue new discourses that underpin each other’s ability to promote such perceptions of order and harmony for eternity. Again, as Assmann (2002, p. 73) has succinctly put it: “Th[e] sustenance of renewal of time through ritual complements the construction of the sacred permanence through monumental discourse. In this conjunction, we discern the two aspects of Egyptian thinking in connection with time, neheh and djet. Neheh, the generic term for all regularly recurring units of time is cyclical; it is formed and kept in motion by the rites. Djet, the unchanging permanence of that which has achieved perfection, is mirrored in the sacred spatial dimension of permanence constructed through the medium of monumental discourse.” Accounting and Sacred Space The three realms of ancient Egyptian society, earth, sky and netherworld, converged into the sacred space of the temples and cohered in rituals that took place into that space


(Shafer, 1998). Accounting played a crucial role in rendering this convergence and coherence possible. Accounting practices became super-imposed upon this sacred space of the temple, and accounting rules and procedures became a form of ritual that provided coherence to what went on in the temples. The space of the temple became the location whereby the receipt of gifts and offerings was recorded and monitored in an orderly and precise manner through the intervention of accounting. It was in this space that the Pharaoh could demonstrate through gifts and offerings, as a form of restitution or reciprocity, the intertwining link between his subjects (earth) and the gods (sky). Such restitution was crucial for the conceptualisation of the ancient Egyptian netherworld: for only through this restitution can the dead be granted safe passage through the netherworld. The secular space that was the location of the worship and cult preservation activities of temple priests, as well as the activities of all other personnel not performing religious duties, e.g. administrators, scribes, builders, artisans, guards, etc., was also the site of accounting intervention and monitoring. The tasks assigned to these individuals were carefully noted, work targets were set for most of them and regular reporting on their achievements compared to targets took place as part of daily scribal activities (Ezzamel, 2002d). The intervention of accounting rituals into the sacred and secular space of the temple ensured the existence of a measure of coherence, order, and equilibrium in the temple that mirrored cosmic order. The idea that inscriptions and monuments can be combined to yield a powerful discourse is not new. I have already alluded to some of the comments in this respect made by Hare (1999). In a similar vein, in commenting on this union of inscription and monumental work, Assmann (2002) has noted that: “The idea of inscribing texts onto walls and other parts of buildings suggests itself more obviously in Egypt than elsewhere. The stone of which these buildings for eternity were constructed was also the writing surface for the hieroglyphs. Unlike hieratic cursive, hieroglyphic writing is writing on stone. It was designed for the inscription of monuments, just as monuments were designed to be inscribed with hieroglyphs. In Egypt, stone structures and inscription - building and language - achieve a unique connection, constituting a ‘monumental discourse’ that reflects an unprecedented attempt to construct sacred time.”


By forcing its discourse upon both the inner space, be it sacred or secular, and the surface (outer space) of temple walls and other monuments accounting became completely intertwined and intermingled with these monuments in their entirety. For as we have seen, the inscriptions on the outside walls were not exclusively and only writing and pictorial scenes, but importantly included detailed accounting entries. Accounting discourse colonised both the interior and exterior of the temple: the activities conducted within were underpinned by accounting-inspired restitution and reciprocity, and the outside walls covered by the entries of gifts and offerings. The inner space of the temple, and the outer surface of temple walls became converted into a malleable space subjected to accounting inscription and intervention. The resulting combination, a monumental discourse endowed with calculative, seemingly precise, accounting terminology, produced stunning visual evidence, but only for the literate elite, of how a great Pharaoh attended to the gods and observed Maat. Accounting and Order These connections between accounting, time and space on the one hand, and the role of accounting rituals in constructing and underpinning economic restitution and reciprocity on the other hand provide a platform on which to make a number of fundamental statements linking accounting to order in the world of the ancient Egyptians, with both its sacred and profane dimensions. Before the role of accounting in shaping and securing ancient Egyptian conceptions of order are explored, it is worth noting the technical and linguistic attributes that accounting had at its disposal from its earliest genesis in ancient Egypt. First, it made use of a numbering system to enumerate objects and endow them with values (monies of account). This numbering system is highly structured and rule bound. As Porter (1995, p. xi) has noted, numbers and systems of quantification can be very powerful in supplanting human judgement by quantitative rules which instil a sense of impersonal order. Secondly, accounting had a linguistic, technical and fairly specific vocabulary that developed entirely for its own use; terms such as revenue, expenditure, receipts, remainders, sub-totals, totals, etc. Thirdly, when inscribed in accounts and journals numbers and values were contextualised in specific times and spaces, so that


they had the ability to function as ancient temporal and spatial ordering devices (in terms of days, weeks, months, or years, but not hours as in contemporary industrial societies). Fourthly, accounting had a means of combining numerical and linguistic signs and organising them into formats such as the grid structure, or the duality of debits and credits, or equity and balance, with their visibility being further facilitated through the use different ink colours (see Ezzamel, 2002e). Given the above, accounting can be viewed as a set of inscribed, calculative practices conceived by the ancient Egyptians as an essential tool for preserving the cosmic order of the world. In this context, accounting would be part and parcel of the divine/sacred world, a mechanism that is the operational counterpart of Maat, the pristine condition of the universe and the very essence of truth, justice and order. For the world of the ancient Egyptians, as we have seen, rested on a precarious notion of equilibrium, an equilibrium if disturbed would give rise to the forces of chaos, disorder and the nonexistent, bringing catastrophic consequences to the Egyptian world. As a set of ritualised practices, accounting functioned not simply as an instrument of power, but as power in itself, helping construct and legitimise cosmic and social order. Accounting rituals helped place each component of the ancient Egyptian realms in a particular location and in a position of relation to the other components. Accounting rituals regulated and formulated these relationships so that the position of the parts was clear whilst maintaining integration of the whole. Emphasising either duality (such as debits and credits; receipts and payments) or organisation (such as the grid structure of temple income accounts, or the temporallyordered sntries) through the combining of numerical and linguistic signs helped to create a sense of visibility, transparency and order in the accounts. Such order could be easily taken to drive chaos out of existence, and instil an ethic of coherence and balance that mirrors the image of cosmic and worldly order aspired to by the ancient Egyptians. If accounting can be premised to be part of a primordial world, at the very genesis of ancient Egyptian history, as implied by its roles in restitution in the myths of Osiris and Horus, and in the symbolic roles of the god Thoth, then its role can be readily extended to that of underpinning the relationship between the gods and Pharaohs. The ruling Pharaoh,


as god on earth and representative of the creator god Atum/Re could through inscribed accounting entries demonstrate, not only to the few literate mortals of his subjects but more importantly to fellow future Pharaohs and to the gods, and to a wider audience through pictorial scenes, that he is a great Pharaoh who observes Maat in his relationship with the gods. Such greatness was underpinned by the inscribing of the large, quantities, and also importantly the high values of the precious goods the Pharaoh offered to the gods. For as god himself, he is able to show, via accounting, how he upholds and observes Maat in his dealings with the gods. The offerings were a way of thanking the gods for what they have bestowed on the world of the Egyptians, by creating and protecting Egypt in the first instance, by providing for its people, and by securing the harmony of their world. The offerings were therefore the means by which the cycle of reciprocity was squared, something in return for what the gods have given and continue to give. While no precise numerical equivalence has been established in such ‘exchange’, so that we are not witnessing a precise ‘measure for measure’ reciprocity, the point remains that the more the Pharaoh gives, the more satisfied the gods are assumed to be. The enumeration by quantity and valuation via monies of accounting makes it possible for the values and plenitude of the goods offered to be visualised. In the case of those few of his literate subjects who could decipher the accounting entries enumerating the gifts, the Pharaoh demonstrated that he led by example, showing just how important the observing of restitution is for preserving the order of the world. In all these scenarios, accounting inscriptions provide a permanent and indelible record for all to see, gods and humans alike. Related to this is the role of accounting and the dead, or accounting for the underworld. Accounting practices, it has been argued elsewhere, forged strong relationships between the dead and the temple priests (in the form of inscribed wills as contracts to be effected after the principle had died) and provided a link between the living and the dead (Ezzamel, 2003). Hence, orderly relations between the dead, the living, and the gods (the three realms) can be seen to be underpinned via the intervention of accounting. Playing on this possible link between accounting, cosmic order and religion, Gambling (1977, p. 147) notes “Since the accountants are also the priests who


conduct the ceremonies [of drawing formal accounts], the extraordinary compound of fear and reverence which surrounds them is readily understood.” These accounting roles should not be seen as a form of unwanted, profane intervention in what is otherwise a sacred and divine domain of activities. In this context, accounting in itself is part of the divine and sacred. This role, however, can be complemented by the secular, more familiar roles of accounting ‘of this world’, or what we have referred to in the case of ancient Egypt as ‘society’ as contrasted with the ‘cosmos’ (Assmann, 2001, p. 175). For the Egyptians, society also rested on the observing of important values, again captured by the term Maat, but on earth meaning morality and equality (justice, fairness, order) for all humanity. In the realm of society, accounting played several important roles. It provided the basis on which a form of order within state institutions could be observed; this involved setting performance targets, organising work, reporting, monitoring and controlling activities, and regulating private exchange of goods in semibarter transactions. In this context, accounting practices operated as ancient time-space monitoring devices, and facilitated control at a distance (Ezzamel, 2002c; 2002d). Further, accounting ensured the functioning of the centralised state through accounting for taxation, in a full cycle that entailed assessment of taxable capacity, measuring actual crops, levying tax liability, collecting taxes, and transporting taxes to state stores. These accumulated state resources were later issued in the form of re-distributions to the population as wages in kind or provisions (Ezzamel, 2002a; 2002b). Both these sets of activities entailed some notion (no matter how basic it may seem to us today) of reciprocity or restitution between subjects as tax payers to the state and scribes as officials working on behalf of the state in the first instance, and the state as a provider for its citizens in the second instance. What import, if any, do these observations have for the debate on the nature and theorising of accounting in contemporary contexts? Perhaps once the ramifications of accounting explored in this paper have been fully appreciated and developed further, we may become more receptive to suggestions made by contemporary writers that would otherwise pass for, or dismissed as, mere assertions. For example, Cleverley’s (1973)


suggestion that accounting and budgeting systems function as a form of religious ceremony – a rain dance, can begin to be taken seriously, and its full implications explored much further. Similarly, the parallels drawn by Gambling (1977) between accounting practices and witchcraft can begin to be subjected to greater scrutiny. No longer should such arguments be made behind an ‘apologetic’ mask. A much more expansive approach could be fruitfully adopted to explore the functioning of accounting in these contexts than has hitherto been possible. For example, the rationalisation offered by Gambling (1977) for the role of accounting in terms of rendering possible the accommodation of ‘awkward facts’ or simply dealing with uncertainty is too restrictive to admit to the analysis the much richer, more complex, and more contingent roles of accounting explored in this paper. Similarly, the possible link between accounting and the supernatural, or cosmic, need not be dismissed out of hand, at least in certain cultural contexts. When Gambling (1977, p. 150) observes “As it stands, accounting is not a matter of the supernatural, but seems to have something of political activity about it, all be it with a small p!” this may be of relevance only to contemporary Western society. What this paper has shown is that, at least in the context of ancient Egyptian culture, a symbiotic relationship between the cosmic/supernatural and accounting was forged, with far reaching implications for those living in that society. Further, just because linkages between accounting and the supernatural could be forged, this should not be taken to imply that as a discipline, accounting is not susceptible to systematic and scholarly enquiry. Again, to quote Gambling (1985, p. 421): “we do have an underdeveloped science here, which is underdeveloped because it is almost impossible to research it! This ought not to surprise anyone, because it must be a very odd sort of science, which deals with social reactions to the uncertainties of the universe.” Contra Gambling, my contention is that, it is precisely because of these remarkable possibilities that new and very exiting research agendas in accounting are beginning to open up.


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Table 1* Offering List: 5th Standard Feast of Osiris – 6th Day Heading 109. [4th Akhet, x]: 6th day of the feast of Osiris; offerings for Osiris and his Conclave on the feast of this day. List 110 111 112 113 114 115 116 117 118 119 120 121 122 123

[bit bread [bit bread [bit bread [bit bread [psn bread [psn bread [good notched psn bread [psn ssrt bread [psn … bread [….. bread [white bread [bit cakes [white fruit bread [beer

BR30] BR40] BR60] BR100] BR5] BR10] BR10] BR20] BR10] BR20] BR20] BR10] BR80] BR20]

Ratio per heqat, 1 Ratio per heqat, 1 Ratio per heqat, 1 Ratio per heqat, 1 Ratio per heqat, 1 Ratio per heqat, 1 Ratio per heqat, 1 Ratio per heqat, 1 Ratio per heqat, 1 Ratio per heqat, 1 Ratio per heqat, 1 Ratio per heqat, 1 Ratio per heqat, 1 Ratio per heqat, 1

Loaves 15 Loaves 15 Loaves 15 Loaves 25 Loaves 5 Loaves 20 Loaves 5 Loaves 40 Loaves 5 Loaves 5 Loaves 5 Loaves 5 Loaves 10 Jugs 30

Making Making Making Making Making Making Making Making Making Making Making Making Making Making

½ oipe ¼ + 1/8 oipe ¼ oipe ¼ oipe 1 oipe 2 oipe ½ oipe 2 oipe ½ oipe ¼ oipe ¼ oipe ½ oipe 1/8 oipe 1+1/2 oipe

Summation 124 [Total, assorted loaves] for the sacred offerings, 165 bit cakets, 5; beer, jugs, 30; making grain, 3 oipe related to (?) 7 oipe. 125 [Total? ordinary fowl 5 Wine, jars 1 Incense, baskets 126 [Total? ….] , baskets 2 Fresh flowers, bouquets 5 Fresh flowers, baskets * Source: K. Kitchen, Ramesside Inscriptions, Volume II, Oxford: Balckewell, 1996, pp. 336-337.


5 5

Table 2* Income of the Temples of Amun Pl. 12a Things exacted, the impost of all people and serf-labourers of “The House (h t)-of-King-UsermareMeriamon,-L.-P.-H.,-in-the-House-of-Amon” (Medinet Habu temple), in the South and North under charge of the officials; the “House (pr)-of-Usermare-Meriamon-L.-P.-H,-in-the-House-of-Amon” (small Karnak temple), in the (residence) city; the “House (pr)-of-Ramses-Ruler-of-Heliopolis,-L.-P.H.,-in-the-House-ofAmon” (Luxor temple); the “House (h t)-of-Ramses-Ruler-of-Heliopolis,-L.-P.-H.,-Possessed-of-Joy-inthe-House-of-Amon-of-Opet” (southern Karnak temple); the “House-of-Ramses-Ruler-of-Helipolis,-L.-P.H.,-in-the-House-of-Khonsu” (Konsu-temple); the five herds made for this house, which King UsermareMeriamon, L. P.H., the Great God, gave to their treasuries, storehouses and granaries as their yearly dues: Fine gold Gold of the mountain, of Coptos Gold of Kush Total, fine gold, and gold of the mountain Silver Total, gold and silver Copper Royal linen, mek-linen, fine southern linen, colored southern linen, various garments Yarn, deben Incense, honey, oil, various jars (‘cc) Pl. 12b Shedeh and wine, various jars(‘cc) Silver, being things of the impost of the people (rm-t) given for the divine offerings Barley [-], of the impost of the peasants (yhwty), 16-fold heket Vegetables, bundles Flax bales Bulls, bullocks of the bulls, heifers, calves, cows, cattle of[-] cattle of [-] of the herds of Egypt Bulls, bullocks of the nege-bulls, heifers, calves, cows, being impost of the lands of Syria (H’-rw)

217 61 290 569 10,964 11,546 26,320

deben deben deben deben deben deben deben

5 3 8½ 6½ 9 8

kidet kidet kidet kidet kidet kidet




3,722 3,795 1,047 25,405 3,606 309,950 24,650 64,000 847 19



Live geese of the exactions Cedar: tow-boats and ferry boats Acacia: tow-boats ‘canal’-boats, boats for transportation of cattle, warships, and kara-boats Total, cedar and accacia: boats Products of the Oasis in many lists for the divine offerings

744 11 71 82

* Source: J.H. Breasted, Ancient Records of Egypt, Part Four, London: Histories and Mysteries of Man Ltd., 1906/1988, pp. 127-128.


Table 3* The Pharaoh’s Gifts to Amun Pl. 13a Gold, silver, real lapis lazuli, real malachite, every real costly stone, copper, garments, jars, fowl, all the things which King Usermare-Meriamon, L.P.H., the Great God, gave as gifts of the King L.P.H., in order to provision the house of his august fathers (sic!), amon-Re, King of gods, Mut and Khonsu, from the year 1 to the year 31, making 31 years. Fine Ketem-gold; 42 ‘-‘ (dmd-t), making Fine gold in ‘raised work’ 22 finger rings, making Fine gold in inlay; 9 finger rings, making Fine gold in ‘raised work’ and inlay of every real, costly stone, a ‘ring’ of the column of Amon, making Fine gold in hammered work; a tablet, making Total, fine gold in ornaments Gold of two times, in ‘raised work’, and in inlay; 42 finger rings, making, Gold of two times; 2 vases Total, gold of two times White gold: 310 finger rings, making Pl. 13b White gold, 264 beads, making White gold in beaten work: 108 finger rings for the god, making White gold: 155 amulet cords, making Total, white gold

21 3 1

deben “ “

3 3½

Kidet Kidet

22 9 57

“ “ “

5 5½ 5

“ “ “

4 30 35 16

“ “ “ “

5½ 5 ½ 3½

“ “ “ “



19 6

“ “

8 2

“ “


Total, fine gold of two times and white gold Silver: a vase (with) the rim of gold, in ‘raised work’, making Silver: a seive for the vase, making Silver: a sifting-vessel for the vase, making Silver: 4 vases, making Silver: 31 large panniers with lids, making Silver: 31 Caskets with lids, making Silver: 6 measuring-vases (crk), making Silver: in hammered work, a tablet (cwl), making Silver in hammered work, 2 tablets (cnw), making Silver in scraps



112 12 27 57 105 74 30 19 287 100

“ “ “ “ “ “ “ “ “ “

5 5 7 4½ 4 4 3 3½ ½

“ “ “ “ “ “ “ “ “

Total, silver in vessels and scraps


1,010 14 822

“ “ “

61/4 ½

“ “

Pl. 14a Total gold and silver in vessels and scraps Real lapis lazuli: 2 blocks, making Bronze,c in hammered work: 4 tablets (cnw), making Myrrh: deben Myrrh: heket Myrrh: hin Myrrh wood: logs Myrrh fruit in measures (ypt)


51,140 3 20 15 100

Royal linen: garments (dw) “ “ upper garments (dw) “ “ hamen-garments (dw) “ “ mantles “ “ wrapping of Horus __d “ “ garments “ “ garments (ydg’) “ “ tunics “ “ garments for the august ‘statue’ of Amon PL 14b Total, royal linen, various garments Mek-linen: a robe Mek-linen, a mantle “ “ in a ‘cover’: a garment for the august ‘statue of Amon

37 94 55 11 2 1 690 489 4 1,383 1 1 1

Total, mek-linen: various garments Fine southern linen: garments (dw) “ “ “ __ garments “ “ “ upper garments (dw) “ “ “ garments (ydg’) “ “ “ tunics “ “ “ kilts

3 2 4 5 31 29 4

Total, fine southern linen, various garments


Colored linen: mantles “ “ tunics

876 6,779

Total, colored linen, various garments


Total, royal linen, mek-linen, fine southern linen, southern linen, coloured linen, various garments


Pl. 15a White incense: (mn) jars White incense (mn) jarsd Honey: (mn) jars Oil of Egypt: (mn) jars Oil of Syria (H’-rw): (m-s’-hy) jars Oil of Syria (H’-rw): (mn) jars White fat: (mn) jars Goose fat: (mn) jars Butter: (mn) jars

2,159 12 1,065 2,743 53 1,757 911 385 20

Total, filled jars


Shedeh: colored (mn) jars Shedeh: (k’bw) jars Wine: (mn) jars

1,377 1,111 20,078

Total, shedeh and wine jars (mn I k’bw)


Hirset (hrst) stone: sacred eye amulets Lapis lazuli: scared eye amulets

185 217


Pl. 15b Red jasper: scarabs Malachite scarabs Bronze and Minu (mynw) stone: scarabs Lapis lazuli: scarabs Various costly stones: sacred eye amulets Various costly stones: seals as pendants Rock crystal: seals Rock crystal: beads Rock crystal cut: hin-jars Wrought wood: seals Alabaster: a block Cedar bp’-ny-ny Cedar tpt Neybu (N’y-bw) wood: 3 logs, making (deben) Cassia wood: 1 log, making (deben) Reeds: bundles

62 224 224 62 165 62 1,550 155,000 155 31 1 6 1 610 800 17

Pl.16a Cinnamon: measures (msty) Cinnamon: bundles Grapes: measures (msty) Rosemary (nkp’ty): measures (msty) Yufiti (Yw-fy-ty) –plant: measures (msty) Dom-palm fruit of Mehay (M-h’-yw): measures (msty) Fruit: heket Grapes: crates Grapes: bunches Pomegranates: crates B’-k’-y’ plant, in measures (yp’t) Various cattle Live geese Live turpu (Tw-r-pw) geese Live water-fowl

246 82 52 125 101 26 46 1,809 1,869 375 1,668 297 2,940 5,200 126,300

Pl. 16b Fat geese from the flocks Natron: bricks Salt: bricks Palm-fiber: ropes Palm-fiber: loads Palm-fiber: ‘-‘ Palm-fiber: cords Sebkhet (sbh’t) plants Flax (ps’t) bekhen (bhn) Ideninu (Ydnynyw) Hezet (hd’t) plant: measures (msty) Pure ‘-‘, deben

20 44,000 44,000 180 50 77 2 60 1,150 60 50 750

* Source: J.H. Breasted, Ancient Records of Egypt, Part Four, London: Histroies and Mysteries of Man Ltd., 1906/1988, pp. 128-133.


Table 4* Offerings Founded by Ramses III “Books of the Nile-god,” which King Usermare-Meriamon L.P.H., the Great God, founded 48 years, making 31 years; Books of the Nile-God”, making: Fine bread of the divine offerings: various loaves (by’t) Fine bread of the divine offerings: person (pr-sn) loaves, white loaves, and seshu (ssw) loaves Cakes: various measures (yp t) Kunek (kwnk) bread: loaves (wdnw-nt) Beer: various jars Making Clean grain: 16 fold heket Bulls Bullocks of the bulls

470,000 879,224 106,910 46,568 49,432 61,172½ 291 291

Pl. 38a Calves Cows Total •

51 2,564 2,923 Source: J.H. Breasted, Ancient Records of Egypt, Part Four, London: Histories and Mysteries of Man Ltd., 1906/1988, p. 157.


Figure (1)* Types of Lists in Papyrus Harris I (*) Source: translated from P. Grandet, Le Papyrus Harris I, Vol. I, (1994), p. 64.

Goods offerings made by Ramesses III to institutions created by him LISTS OF PAPYRUS HARRIS I

Average production

Goods consumption



Regular Annual Allocations

Allocation for unexpected circumstances



General Offerings (Supply) LIST C

Specific offerings (Cult) LISTS D-F


Other goods




View more...


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