Famine and Festival in Ancient Egypt

Date: Wednesday, April 27, 2022
Time: 8:00 pm - 9:15 pm

Wednesday, April 27, 2022 at 8 pm Eastern via Zoom

Famine and Festival in Ancient Egypt

Ellen Morris


Two events in pharaonic and Greco-Roman Egypt radically transformed the status quo: revolution and mass mortality. When these two distinct events co-occurred, they often destabilized a rigid social hierarchy.

Such moments – at which underlings threatened to gain the upper hand or at least exhibited a marked reluctance to return to their former subservience – caused an immense degree of anxiety among Egypt’s elites. Extremely severe famines and the plagues that often engendered this destabilization occurred infrequently, but such were the upheavals and social transformations that happened in their wake that their memory had to be passed down through generations as a caution.

For people who knew only strong kings and times of plenty, it was necessary to “remember” hunger, suffering, and terror in order that they take warning signs seriously. Although written testimony and prophesy helped keep such memories alive, echoes of social upheavals that were invested into performance rites and animal fables recited during the New Year’s festival may have been among the most effective methods of transmitting intergenerational memories of collective trauma.

Ellen Morris, Associate Professor of Ancient Studies at Barnard College, Columbia University

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