Perception of Warriors

 

Stela of Soldier Qedes (Richards, 23)

If one served as a soldier in Ancient Egypt they were received with a fair amount of respect and honor, but it was far from the most prestigious thing they would do over the course of their life. The stela from the tomb of Qedes exemplifies this notion very clearly. The first sentence makes known his past as a warrior and lets us know of his great skill as “foremost of his whole troop,” but that is the only mention of his time in combat. The rest of the inscription praises his wealth in lands and livestock, but never again his skills and strength.

There were very few differences between the tombs of average citizens and those of soldiers. Qedes had a very successful life after his time in service and therefore had enough wealth to afford an elaborate burial with a large, carved epitaph. The lower class soldiers had practically no differences in their graves from civilians. Stelae like these are some of the rare artifacts that actually inform archeologists that an Egyptian grave contains a warrior.

Though soldiers were not necessarily respected more than those who never served, a man’s prowess in combat and his skill with weapons were clearly traits that were respected to some extent; there is evidence as far back as the Old Kingdom. A chief requirement of a stylish pharaoh’s’ tomb was the depiction of the smiting scene: a picture or carving of him punishing, most likely killing, one of his subjects with a weapon of some sort. Though this doesn’t not really count as a depiction of a battle, it does inspire the notion that a certain respect should be awarded to the man that can wield a weapon and use it to communicate their power.

Once the Middle Kingdom rolled around, daily life scenes came into play and grew rapidly in popularity. These paintings of everyday activities illuminated numerous things to archaeologists about the everyday goings on of the Egyptian civilization; including a tradition of competition in feats of strength, usually wrestling. One of the most impressive collections of these pictures is located in the tomb of Baquet III (Tomb 15) at Beni Hassan. On the wall there is a gigantic mural made up of rows and rows of smaller paintings that depict different wrestling moves and positions. A society so entertained by wrestling must have honored the strength of the participants to some extent.

 

Defending one’s city-state or nation was possibly the most respected vocation in Ancient Greece, and dying in battle was the most honorable way to go. Many Greek soldiers are buried with epitaphs that are very similar to that of Tettichos; they falsely appear to be begging for pity on the deceased, when really they are seeking to command respect. Whoever commissioned the carving would have known that the majority of passers by weren’t going to “pity” Tettichos; they were going to praise him for sacrificing his life for the state and at some level envy him for dying the death of a hero.

Ancient Greece’s admiration for their warriors is highlighted by the fact that a large portion of the population that prayed to the epic heroes along with the Olympian gods. We’ve all heard stories of great war-heroes of the past, but few have thought to pray to George Washington for strength. The prestige of a great warrior was such that the Ancient Greeks believed the legendary fighters of whom stories were told for hundreds of years must have been semi-divine. The shrines to Agamemnon and Odysseus at Mycenae and Ithaca, respectively, provide some of the best proof of hero worship. Both of these sites have a multitude of carvings and offerings to the heroes. Additionally, it appears that these shrines were in use for hundreds of years, all the way through the Hellenistic period.

Just like in Egypt it would have been difficult to differentiate between the funeral of a warrior and one of a non-warrior; everyone wanted to be cremated, and they wanted lots of animal sacrifices. The big difference between a soldier’s grave in Ancient Greece and Ancient Egypt was that in Greece you made sure everyone knew that you were a soldier.

 

Though both Egyptian and Greek burials were heavily influenced by their beliefs in the afterlife, it is impossible to deny that the living kin of the deceased had some of their own interests in mind as well. When Qedes’ and Tettichos’ inscriptions are compared side by side, some clear conclusions can be drawn about each society’s idea of what credentials were best to have on one’s family resume.

When someone looked at what was written about Qedes they would immediately know that his living relatives were rather wealthy in land and livestock. From this it can be concluded that a family in Egypt was judged based almost solely on their wealth, not on what they currently did or even how they originally acquired that wealth. In the case of Tettichos, an onlooker would know only that he died in battle, because few things could give a family more clout than being related to a war hero. Even though many families had members who died in battle, it was an impressive enough action to boost the perception of the living relatives anyway.

 

 

Antonaccio, Carla Maria. An Archaeology of Ancestors: Tomb Cult and Hero Cult in Early Greece. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 1995. Print.

Carroll, Maureen, and Jane Rempel. Living through the Dead: Burial and Commemoration in the Classical World. Oxford: Oxbow, 2011. Print.

Morris, Ian. Death-ritual and Social Structure in Classical Antiquity. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1992. Print.

Richards, Janet E. Society and Death in Ancient Egypt: Mortuary Landscapes of the Middle Kingdom. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2005. Print.