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Man beating a slave while another begs for mercy

Egyptian slavery: an Egyptian man beating a slave while another begs for mercy

Where did Egyptian slaves come from?

Just like in other parts of Africa, some people in Ancient Egypt were slaves. Some of them came originally from Egypt. Many poor families sold children into slavery. Judges also sentenced criminals to slavery. (There were no prisons yet.)

History of slavery
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Other people were sold from other countries into slavery in Egypt. Some were prisoners of war. A lot of people from Meroe and Kush (modern Sudan) were slaves in Egypt. A lot of enslaved people also came from Libya.

Meroe and Kush
Berbers in North Africa

Slaves with dark skin, probably from south of Egypt

Egyptian slavery: Slaves with dark skin, probably from south of Egypt

Jewish slaves in Egypt

The most famous story about Egyptian slaves is the one in the Bible about how the Jews were slaves in Egypt. The Bible puts that about 1400-1200 BC. The Egyptians had just conquered Israel at this time. So probably many Jews were enslaved because of that.

The Jews in Egypt
Story of Moses

Then when the Egyptian New Kingdom collapsed, Israel became an independent country again. Then the Egyptians stopped being able to enslave the Jews.

What did enslaved people do?

Most slaves in Egypt probably worked in the fields, like everyone else. But many were house cleaners, nannies, wet nurses, or cooks. They took care of sick people. Others were skilled dancers, musicians, accountants, and scribes, as Joseph was in the Bible.

Egyptian farming
What is a wet nurse?
Egyptian musicians
Egyptian scribes

Learn by doing: African trade project
More about Egyptian farming

Bibliography and further reading about Egyptian slaves:

Everyday Life in Ancient Egypt, by Lionel Casson (revised edition 2001). Not especially easy, but pretty entertaining reading, and Casson knows what he’s talking about.

Private Life in New Kingdom Egypt, by Lynn Meskell (2002). A little more specialized and harder to read.

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