A Greedy Ancient Egyptian Bureaucrat who Loved Fat

Fat, as we have seen in past blogs, was and continues to be an important ingredient in African food.  For most people the daily diet is vegetable and the addition of oil or fat of some kind is key.

Some past blogs on oil and fat:

Here in Burundi, palm oil is used.  In West Africa, Shea Butter and Palm oil are used, and in many regions of Africa the fat of wildlife as well as of slaughtered livestock is rendered to make it pure and is stored for future use.

When I order a goat brochette in the village cabaret, invariably I receive a brochette in which several pieces of the meat are pure fat, unless I ask to have only meat – and no fat.

Now below we can see in a letter written during the New Kingdom of Ancient Egypt that fat was also very important in Ancient Egypt.  Since daily diets were, as in Sub-Saharan Africa, primarily vegetarian (except for nobility), it makes sense that fat was also an integral part of their diet.

Notes on the following letter:

An Ostracon is an inscription written or drawn on a piece of pottery or on a stone.  This was a common way to write letters (papyrus paper being expensive), to practice writing or drawing, or just to ‘doodle.’   Ostraca were almost always written in hieratic, which was a shorthand of hieroglyphics.

I cannot access a photo of the ostracon in this blog, and so for the sake of example, the following two pictures show first, the ostracon of a portion of a hymn to the Nile flood, and second, the same text in hieroglyphic..

Hymn to the Nile Flood, New Kingdom.Digitale Egyptologie

Hymn to the Nile Flood, New Kingdom.Digitale Egyptologie

jThe person to whom the following letter is written, was apparently a senior overseer (gardian) of the  Necropolis of the Valley of the Kings on the west bank of the Nile, across from Luxor.  It is clear that his superior is ferious with him!

Ostracon Gardiner 5

To the guardian Khay.

To the point:

As soon as my letter reaches you, you will start paying off and you will buy that which is connected with (the goddess) Mri.s-gr.t [1], namely, you will not select for buying just any old bull and you will not select for buying just any small cattle, and just any old dog, and just any old pig, and just any head of cattle.

You are one who creates criminal plots with his own mouth (or: whith his own utterance).

As for the mnt measurement of fat, is it authorized? You have consumed a great deal of fat, your ability for consuming fat is most unique.

I am (a) powerful controller of the (interior). Therefore, if you start wrangling again, I will get involved in your investigation and I shall throw you out of your (office).

Anyhow, what are you capable of doing, here, in this holy village, O man of (greed) ? I am determined to encounter you even if it means going to your village.

[1] Mri.s-gr.t: Meretseger was a local deity, guardian of the necropolis in the Valley of the Kings.

Sarah Israelit-Groll A sense-equivalence translation of ostracon Gardiner 5 from Studies in Egyptology, Jerusalem 1990

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About dianabuja

With a group of BaTwa (pygmy) women potters, with whom we've worked to enhance production and sales of their wonderful pots - fantastic for cooking and serving. To see the 2 blogs on this work enter 'batwa pots' into the search engine located just above this picture. Blog entries throughout this site are about Africa, as well as about the Middle East and life in general - reflecting over 35 years of work and research in Africa and the Middle East – Come and join me!
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2 Responses to A Greedy Ancient Egyptian Bureaucrat who Loved Fat

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