Regulating Labour through Foreign Punishment? Codification and Sanction at Work in New Kingdom Egypt
This paper investigates two New Kingdom Egyptian texts pertaining to labour regulation: the Karnak Decree of Horemheb and the Nauri Decree of Seti I. They focus on combating the unauthorized diverting of manpower and represent the oldest Egyptian texts (fourteenth–thirteenth century BCE) explicitly concerned with the legal dimension of managing the workforce. After a brief historical overview, the paper outlines each text’s key content and stylistic features. It shows that while some of these are likely native to Egypt, others may have been imported from Mesopotamia. More specifically, it appears that the sentence structure is native Egyptian, but the sanctions deployed are likely of foreign origin, aligning more closely to the contemporary punitive tradition of Mesopotamia. This is probably no coincidence, given the close contact between Egypt and the broader Near East at that time. This uptake of foreign ideas may have achieved more efficient labour regulation by enforcing stricter rules for non-compliance while simultaneously maintaining a veneer of Egyptian authenticity in line with official state ideology.