Strikes, Tomb Robberies & Corruption in Ancient Egypt

Instructor: Bailey Cavender

Bailey teaches High School English, has taught history, and has a master's degree in Anthropology/Historical Archaeology.

Key to the culture of the Ancient Egyptians was the concept of ma'at, or a sense of harmony. Despite the focus on harmony and balance, however, the Ancient Egypt still had labor strikes, tomb robbers, and corruption.

Strikes, Tomb Robberies, and Corruption in Ancient Egypt

Ancient Egypt is known for many things, from the pyramids to the library of Alexandria. One idea that was key to the culture of the Ancient Egyptians, however, was the concept of ma'at , or a sense of harmony. This was when there was a sense of balance, universal, personal, and in the community, which helped keep the country functioning the way it was supposed to function. Despite the focus on harmony and balance, however, the Ancient Egypt still had labor strikes, tomb robbers, and corrupt officials.


In the year 1170 BCE, during the construction of the pyramids at Giza, one of the first recorded labor strikes in history occurred. This strike happened in the village of Deir el-Medina , originally called Set Maat . This was an ancient village where the artists who worked on the tombs in the Valley of the Kings , the resting place of most of the ancient Egypt pharaohs. These men were talented, and worked with payment and vacation time.

Around 1170 BCE, however, during the reign of Ramses III , there was a serious delay in the shipment of supplies. With a shortage of payment and food, these artists went on strike, refusing to continue work. They spent their strike sitting at Ramesses III 's temple, and then moved to the temple of an earlier pharaoh, Thutmose III. Between their While workers had complained about conditions before, the idea of striking was a new one. After getting over the shock, the authorities worked with the strikers to fix the issue. Despite that, there were still problems. For a variety of reasons, food and wages were delayed at other times in the village, leading to several other strikes. As a result of the chaos, some of the artists began to rob tombs and sell the goods to some corrupt officials.

Tomb Robberies

Robbing tombs, or uncovering someone's tomb and stealing the objects inside, has been a profitable job in Egypt for centuries. While still practiced today, tomb robbing is not a modern idea. Tomb robbing began to happen in Ancient Egypt during the Early Dynastic Period, which spans from 3150-2613 BCE). Since wealthy Egyptians were buried with much of their wealth, to take with them into the afterlife, there was plenty to steal. Surprisingly enough, the poorer Egyptians were not the only ones who occasionally robbed tombs for the wealth inside. Sometimes, the current Pharaoh, or king, would use objects in the tomb or the tombs themselves. As long as someone else had disturbed the site, it was not viewed as offensive to the gods.

To prevent the robbing of tombs, the Ancient Egyptians carved warnings and curses in the tombs. They also hid the burial chamber within the tomb and used various rubble to block up passages and chambers in the tombs. Sometimes, they were successful, and sometimes, they were not. This frequent robbery of the tombs of the pharaohs is a large part of the reason that the tomb of Tutankhamun , who lived from 1336-1327, is so famous. It was virtually untouched.

Even after the Pharaohs began to be buried in the Valley of the Kings , a burial ground for many Pharaohs, the tomb robberies continued. Around 1115 BCE, a gang of looters, lead by a quarryman named Amenpanefer , went on trial for robbing tombs in the city of Thebes. Likely, they were executed. Like some of the craftsmen during the Strike of 1170 BCE, there were many professionals who were involved in this practice. Having built the tombs, they knew how to get in without being too obvious, and also knew what was inside. In addition, many officials were corrupt and could be bribed to help a thief sell stolen grave goods.


The Ancient Egyptians treated grave robbers as terrible criminals, and as a result, the grave robbers relied on several things to prevent their own deaths. One of these things was looking for officials who could be bribed. Finding the corrupt officials and bribing them to keep silent became a fairly common practice. These officials also were often given some of the money from the sale of the objects.

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