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Historical Egyptians Could Have Branded Enslaved Folks

Researchers consider that 3,000-year-old bronze irons utilized by historical Egyptians had been too small for cattle or horses, and should have been used for enslaved folks as an alternative.

The British MuseumA bronze branding iron from historical Egypt.

Historians have lengthy identified that historical Egyptians branded their cattle. However a brand new research means that they might have additionally used branding irons to mark enslaved folks.

The research, printed in The Journal of Egyptian Archeology, examined historical texts in addition to 10 branding irons manufactured from bronze. The researchers concluded that the branding irons, which date from between 1292 and 656 BCE, had been doubtless too small for use on livestock.

“They’re so small that it precludes them from getting used on cattle or horses,” Ella Karev, an Egyptologist on the College of Chicago and creator of the brand new research advised reside science. “I am not excluding the chance, however we have now no proof of small animals like goats being branded, and there may be a lot different proof of people being branded.”

Fashionable-day cattle manufacturers are a minimum of 4 inches lengthy, reside science experiences. However the manufacturers studied by Karev are a 3rd of that measurement. They might have been ineffective in branding calves as a result of because the animal grew larger, the scar would seem smaller and more durable to see.

What’s extra, Karev advised reside science that historical Egyptian texts embody references to “marking” enslaved folks. Although this has lengthy been thought to imply tattoos, Karev argues that it may truly imply branding.

The “terminology of the interval refers to branding, not tattooing, as beforehand advised,” Karev defined in her research. “Each branding and tattooing existed as types of physique mutilation, however these practices inhabited completely different spheres of social energy; branding marked one as property, whereas tattooing was spiritual and ornamental.”

Karev additionally made the argument that branding enslaved folks in historical Egypt would have merely made extra sense. Giving folks tattoos was time-consuming, whereas branding could possibly be achieved on a mass scale.

“Virtually talking, ‘hand-poking’ a tattoo [without a tattoo machine] takes numerous time and ability — and in the event you’re doing that on a big scale, it isn’t simply replicable,” Karev advised reside science. “It might make far more sense for this to be branding.”

She pointed to the Medinet Habu carving particularly, which depicts historical Egyptians “marking” prisoners of conflict. Although the carving — from round 1185 BCE — seems to point out prisoners being tattooed, Karev argues that it may truly present them being branded. Others have interpreted the instruments within the Egyptians’ arms as tattoo needles and bowls close by as containing pigment; Karev sees manufacturers being heated in a bra.

Medinet Habu Carving

Oriental Institute of the College of ChicagoResearchers have lengthy assumed that the Medinet Habu carving depicts historical Egyptians tattooing prisoners of conflict, however Karev argues that it truly exhibits the prisoners being branded.

The bronze manufacturers from historical Egypt additionally bear a resemblance to Nineteenth-century manufacturers utilized by European enslavers on African enslaved folks. “Human branding irons from the mid-and late Nineteenth century parallel the dimensions and form of the smaller branding irons mentioned right here,” Karev defined.

However that could be the place the similarity between the traditional Egyptian manufacturers and the Nineteenth-century manufacturers ends.

As Karev advised reside scienceslavery in historical Egypt was an advanced idea that bears little resemblance to Nineteenth-century slavery.

“The best way that we outline slavery, serfdom, indentured servitude, debt bondage — all of those are fashionable classifications and categorizations,” she defined. “The traditional Egyptians didn’t have these classifications, and so it’s as much as historians to determine what, in context, is definitely occurring.”

Moreover, enslaved folks in historical Egypt had been usually in a position to escape bondage. “[Ancient Egyptians] clearly had no concern with an ex-slave adopting a brand new identify, turning into absolutely Egyptian, marrying an Egyptian free individual, and transferring up the ranks,” Karev famous.

In that case, Karev defined {that a} model may be a “everlasting marker of an impermanent standing.” However it actually would have been a dehumanizing mark. In her research of it, Karev concluded:

“The identification of those marks as manufacturers emphasizes the dehumanization of those enslaved individuals and implies that their standing was on par with different property equivalent to cattle.”


After studying about how historical Egyptians might have branded enslaved folks, look by these fascinating information about life in historical Egypt. Or, see why so many Egyptian statues have damaged noses.

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