Highlights: Turin Strike Papyrus

The first documented labour strike in history (Papyrus Cat. 1880)

The political and economic difficulties during the Ramesside Period resulted in the suspension of rations to the workmen of Deir el-Medina, which triggered a lengthy conflict between the villagers and the government authorities

The so-called “Strike Papyrus”

The so-called “Strike Papyrus” (Cat. 1880) is a hieratic (a cursive form of the hieroglyphic writing) administrative papyrus reporting the news of a strike that took place during the reign of Ramses III (1187-1157 BC), near the village of Deir el-Medina. The report on the papyrus was written by Amunnakht, scribe of the tomb.

The political and economic difficulties during this time resulted in the suspension of rations to the workmen, which triggered a lengthy conflict between the villagers and the government authorities.
The workmen first broke off their work in November and spent several days in the necropolis of Thebes, and later in the temple of Thutmose III and in that of Ramses II, while requesting the authorities to deliver to them the grain rations that had not been paid to them that month. The final strike reported in this papyrus dates to January of the following year.

“Year 29, second month of the Inundation, day 10. Today the work team passed the control post shouting “we are hungry!” It is 18 days this month that (the men) go and sit at the back of the funerary temple of Tuthmosis III”.

First payments

The authorities paid the due amount of grain to the workmen, but several days later they strike again, this time seeking refuge in the temple of Seti I. The authorities order the return of the workmen to the village, but they refuse, saying that they want to complain about their poor working conditions directly with the Pharaoh.

 “We are here because of the hunger and thirst. We are not accustomed to not having unguents, fish, and greens. Write to the pharaoh our perfect lord, take note of our words, and write to the vizier, our superior, because we are in need of our provisions”.

The text explained in images

But what is the village of Deir el-Medina?

Deir el-Medina was a village, built around 1500 BC, in a small valley on the edge of the desert, not far from the Valley of Kings and the Valley of the Queens in West Thebes. It was inhabited by a large group of workers with their families. They were the members of a very special workforce supervised directly by the vizier, the holder of the highest office in the ancient Egyptian state, and they had one crucial assignment: the construction and decoration of royal tombs.

And who was the Scribe of the Tomb?

The scribe of the tomb was a very important man. He was in charge of all the work carried out in the Valley of the Kings, where the tombs of the pharaohs were built. He recorded all activities in the village and at the worksite on papyrus rolls which we call the "Necropolis Journal".

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