Sponsored by: Archaeological Institute of America
In ancient Egypt one of the king’s primary duties was to maintain order (maat) and destroy chaos (isfet) in the cosmos. Since the beginning of Egyptian history, images of foreigners were used as symbols for chaos. Therefore the imagery where Egyptian kings destroyed foreign enemies was popular for the duration of pharaonic history. The early 18th dynasty (1550-1372 BCE) was the height of international trade, diplomacy, and Egyptian imperial expansion. During this time new images of foreigners bearing tribute became popular in the tombs of the necropolis at Thebes, where the Egyptian elite were buried. These tribute-bearing foreigners carry luxury goods before the king, which serve as symbols underscoring the tomb owner’s wealth and access to exotic products. The tomb owner is thus considered a figure of prestige, as he is present in these scenes and is associated with the king and international affairs. Foreigners, who are inherently chaotic according to traditional Egyptian ideology, are represented in an orderly fashion in these scenes. This not only shows the ability of the Egyptian state to impose order on foreign lands, but these images of foreigners and the objects that they carry are symbols of the tomb owner’s ability to overcome the chaos of death and achieve a successful afterlife.