Talking about Egyptian civilization is a task almost as arduous as breaking the myths that have been generated around it. The data supports it, as it extended for 3,500 years. It is a fact, for example, that the popular Cleopatra VII was closer to eating at a McDonalds than to see the construction of the Cheops pyramid. That is why it is so difficult to explain such apparently simple concepts as the way in which the Nile army was structured or how its soldiers were armed. The same goes for the Medjay, an ethnic group of Nubian mercenaries that, over the years, evolved to become the elite guard of the sovereign and in the policeman responsible for protecting places of decisive importance such as the tombs of dignitaries. Nothing to do with the way the feature film represents them "The Mummy".
Yes, there was a part of the Medjay who dedicated themselves to the protection of the pharaoh. And yes, they reached that status thanks to their good work with weapons. However, they were neither a group of secret agents in charge of squandering the palace spells, nor were they charged only with safeguarding the royal family. On the contrary, and during the time that recalls the feature film by Brendan Fraser (1290 BC), most of them were in charge of maintaining order in the cities and avoiding grave looting. In favor of the film it should be noted, yes, that those responsible were careful to select the years of the XVIII dynasty of Egypt to frame these combatants: those who had already ceased to be recruited mercenaries and had acquired some military importance.
The truth of the Medjay, as well as many other curiosities of the society of Ancient Egypt, they are back in fashion thanks to two books that have dared to approach a time as extensive as complex. The most novel, "24 hours in Ancient Egypt" (Edaf, 2019), has just come to light and recreates how it was day to day in the cities located along the Nile through the vision of different characters such as a dancer, a soldier or a embalmer of the time. In the second, "Brief history of everyday life in Ancient Egypt" (Nowtilus, 2018), the historian Clara Ramos It focuses on describing what that world was like. Its pages reveal from what the citizens ate and drank, to what the social structure or training of the soldiers was like.
Truths and lies
The origin of the Medjay must be sought in the Ancient empire, located between the years 2686 and 2181 a. C.). At that time they were a town that a good part of the authors define as elusive. A sort of subgroup within Nubian whose members came from the eastern desert (on earth Medja, in Sudan). His first mentions place them in the year 2400 a. C., when the Egyptians recorded their encounters with them and began to integrate them into their ranks as scouts or fighters equipped with light weaponry. They soon became, thus, a useful element for the pharaohs after their homeland was subdued.
However, the reality is that – as explained by the doctor in ancient history Miguel Parra in his multiple articles on the police in Egypt – not even the society at that time was clear about where they came from exactly. This is demonstrated by the one who, during the Ancient empire, the Egyptians claimed that they resided in the east of the Second Waterfall and, from the Middle Kingdom – between the years 2050 and 1750 a. C.-, they indicated that they were desert nomads.
What is clear is that the Medjay began to be part of the army. This is corroborated by Ramos in his work when referring to the organization of the military contingent of the time: «It should be noted that the Egyptian army was composed not only of natives, but also of medjay -inhabitants of the northern Sudan region-, Nubian Y Libyans, which swelled their ranks after being recruited or for having been made prisoners of war». His case, as he points out, was not strange. In fact, it was repeated an endless number of times with other civilizations such as those called Villages of the Sea, which were defeated by Ramses III at Nile Delta the year 1178 a. C.
However, as true as this is that it was not until many years later when the term Medjay acquired the sense of ethnicity itself. Until then it was located within the «nehsi" (the inhabitants of Nubia).
The entry of the Medjay into the Egyptian army (and recognition of their ethnicity) was recorded in the calls «Teachings of King Ammenemes to his son Sesostris» (framed in the Middle Kingdom): «I have given to the poor; I raised the orphan. I made him reach (well-being) both the one who did not have and the one he had (…). No one was hungry in my years; no one suffered thirst in them (…) I have subjected the Nubian and I have captured the Medjai. I had the Asians do the "march of the dogs" ». During this period, experts also relate this town to culture Pangrave (characteristic for making burials in the form of a pan).
One hundred years later (in the period of Amenemhat III, in the 19th century a. C.) there are writings that affirm that the Medjay performed escort work for the Egyptian explorers. Thus it is attested in the offices that sent this sovereign: «It is a communication to you, life, strength, health (way of referring to the pharaoh), regarding the two warriors and seventy people Medjay who had left to follow the trail in the fourth month of the season, day 4, returned to inform me the same day in the afternoon, bringing three men Medjay and four boys and girls, saying: "We found them south of the desert margin under the inscription of the summer season" ». At that time they also did patrol work on the southern border of Egypt and those of Delta.
The most widespread theory states that the Medjay moved to Egypt when they began to be integrated into the army and that, little by little, they adapted to the society of the pharaohs.
However, it was not until the arrival of New Empire (between 1550 BC and 1070 BC) when they became a militarized police force who assumed duties of great importance throughout the region. And all thanks to the fact that, as the old texts point out, they were experts in the task of ending the «Kings of foreign peoples». From then on they became responsible for the protection of vital sites for the sovereign as the towns of workers (for example, Say the Medina) or the graves of King's Valley.
It should be noted that, at least as regards the Valley of the Kings, they were not particularly careful. And is that, the tomb of Tutankhamun She was sacked up twice before she was buried. In the first one, the thieves took away from small jewels, to ointments, but they left terrified at the fear that generated them being seen there. However, upon making sure that surveillance was scarce, they returned to the grave. On this occasion they were captured at work and the Medjay sealed the place.
They were not, on the contrary (and according to Parra) responsible for monitoring the harem of the sovereign, for this a special body called Sasha (who were also entrusted with the task of protecting the doors of some temples). Over the years, and as they were integrated into Egyptian society, a select group from Medjay also received the order of protect the pharaoh As your personal guard.
In each city there was an officer in charge of the police forces Medjay That didn't have to be Nubian. And, that was another characteristic of this body: that, shortly after they began to integrate into Egyptian society, they adhered to their native ranks.
An example of an officer we have in Mahu, "Head of the Medjay of Akhenaten." In charge of maintaining order in the city of Amarna, in the reliefs of his grave it was written that he woke up in the morning (at dawn), received a report of the disturbances that happened during the night, went through the trouble spots on his car with his agents and, if the situation required it, He was hurrying to the place where riots were happening.
The Medjay records are turned off with the XX dynasty, when they disappeared. Since then, its history has remained a myth. However, with them reality surpasses fiction.
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