Ma'at. Story of Justice in ancient Egypt

Diploma Thesis, 2018

116 Pages


List of contents



List of continents

List of abbreviated Journals


Chapter 1 : Around Ma‛at

Meaning of Ma‛at

The Concept of Ma‛at

The Goddess Ma‛at


Royalty and achieving of Ma‛at

Presentation of Ma‛at

Chapter 2 : System of Justice

Administration of Justice

The vizier and his role in Judicial System

Ma‛at and Judges

Judicial courts

The Procedures of the lawsuit

Chapter 3 : The Ancient Egyptian Law

was there a law in ancient Egypt?

The sources of the law

Development of the Egyptian Law

The law of the Personal affairs

Crimes and Punishment

Chapter 4 : Justice between the deities

The concept of the scale

The Justice and the osirion myth

The tale of the two brothers

Hall of the double truths

The Story of the Blinding Truth

Chapter 5 : Literature of Ma‛at

The instructions of Ptah-hotep

The instructions of Meri-K3R3

The eloquent resident of the oasis

Text for appointing the vizier





To my best friend and model

Prof.Dr./ Engy yahia El-Kilany

Professor of Egyptology in Minia University

List of Abbreviated Journals

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten


Generally speaking, studies of ma‛at can be classified into two categories: those that discuss ma‛at within the context of ancient Egyptian civilization and those that extend the concept of ma‛at beyond ancient Egyptian civilization. The first category contains the majority of the literature and reflects the various textures of ma‛at as it existed in ancient Egyptian civilization. Here, we find discussions of ma‛at as the cosmic or divine order, as it appears in ancient Egyptian literature, as a goddess depicted on monuments, and as an idea of personal morality and social justice. The literature in the second category contains works that extend ma‛at beyond ancient Egypt. Some lean toward the application of ma‛at as a social and/or moral construct particularly relevant to the study of African culture both in antiquity and modern times. Others discuss ma‛at in relation to Greek thought and culture. So , I can classify my research to the first category and tried to declare the role of Ma‛at with its difficult and different shapes in the life and religion in ancient Egypt.

The research divided to five chapters, in addition to introduction and conclusion. The First chapter called “Around Ma‛at”, in which we discussed the name of Ma‛at , her concept, then I spoke about the goddess Ma‛at and her different Iconography . After that, I look over the ritual of Presentation of Ma‛at and its importance to the royalty in ancient Egypt.

The second chapter discussed the system of Ma‛at in ancient Egypt, beginning with the administration of justice, passing by the role of the vizier and judge in Caring and achieving of Justice in ancient Egypt and ended with the procedures of the Lawsuit.

The Third chapter discussed the ancient Egyptian law and if there was a written law in ancient Egypt or not, then the role of the law in observing the feminine rights in ancient Egypt. Moreover speaking about the most famous crimes in ancient Egypt and its punishments.

The Fourth chapter discusses the most famous Myths in ancient Egypt, that incited to achieving the Justice, and declared that the right is the winner sooner or later.

The fifth and last chapter displayed the literature of Ma‛at and handled the teachings and instructions , that incited to achieving of Ma‛at, directed to the Kings, viziers, Judges and also the ordinary people.

Despite a lot of studies had discussed Ma‛at and topic of Justice in ancient Egypt, but these studies handled only the religious side of Ma‛at and ignoring other sides of the concept of Ma‛at. Thus, this work came to complete the vision of Ma‛at in ancient Egyptian religion and life.

One of the most important points in this study is analyzing the most opinions around Ma‛at and trying to arrive the truth of Ma‛at .

The researcher depended on the works of the most Egyptologist , that interested to Ma‛at like Assman, Versteeg, Bleeker and others.

However, the largest problem faces the researcher during the research is the rarity of the refrences that discussed the Teachings and instructions, that specified to Ma‛at, but I tried to have the most available Texts from the researches and refrences, spoken about ma‛at .

It's natural to say that the ancient Egyptian arrived to the apex of his civilization in favor of Ma‛at , that made the king to be fair to preserve his throne, made the poor peasant standing in front of his lord to request his right from the owner of high rank, and made the Egyptians singing with the teachings & instructions.

Ma‛at learned the lord his justice, learned the servant his virtues and learned the civilization marched with system in the land of Kemet. Ma‛at was the real maker of the ancient Egyptian civilization.

Egyptian society was founded on the concept of ma‛at. Ma‛at regulated the seasons, the movement of the stars, and relations between man and the gods; it was a golden thread running through their ideas about the universe and their code of ethics; it formed the basis of their thinking and especially of the way they approached justice and law.

Ma‛at related to activities of human life and the cosmos in general. After its creation by the sun god Re, ma‛at ordered the universe. Since the pharaoh was a living god, ruling by divine right, he was the supreme judge and lawgiver. As Re’s representative on earth, he was responsible for the preservation of ma‛at and was the nexus between ma‛at and the law (hp).

Ma‛at had a religious, ethical, and moral connection, since it was the guiding principle for all aspects of life and represented the values that all people sought.

Finally, I researched about the truth of Ma‛at , but I founded Ma‛at the truth itself.

Mostafa Shaker

Mainz 31/01/2018

Chapter one: Around Ma‛at

Meaning of Ma‛at :

The word "Ma‛at " used in ancient Egypt to refer to "the right, Order, justice and truth ", After the old kingdom, the word of Ma‛at had enlarged and referred to all, which against morals, but after 3000 B.C., the officials in the country considered it the expression of the national acts that influenced in the general life of the country (Breasted 1959: 155).

Ma‛at essentially meant “the way things ought to be”. It referred to the natural order of the universe, and was a concept that is very difficult to translate accurately by one English word (Allen 2004: 115).

The base was used as an ideogram for M3‛t and for related words, such as the verb m3’, meaning “to direct”, and the adjective m3’, meaning “having the quality of ma‛at” (Allen 2004: 115).

The word of “Ma‛at ” also refers to the “present", so the presentation of Ma‛at that offered by the king to the embodied god refers to that the world of the humans with its connections and relations between its continents is systemic (Carliorda 2008 :97).

But the most obvious name is dedicated to Justice. Ma‛at was realized when justice was effected, and to be just meant to protect the weak from the strong and to accomplish equality (Assmann 1989: 60). The Egyptians used the word in a physical and moral sense and it came to mean “right, true, truth, real, genuine, upright, righteous, just, steadfast”, etc. (Budge 1969: 417) and all these conceptions were represented in Egyptian speech by the single word, ma‛at (Breasted 1934: 142).

Perhaps we could add the word “justification” to them, that Assmann (1989: 60) would prefer to translate ma‛at as “justification”, and to refer to those who lived in accordance with ma‛at on an individual political or social level as “justified”.

The Egyptian expression "MaЗ Khrw” that literally means" righteous of the sound" translated as "the justified". The part ”Ma3” was added to the deceased name to refer that he passed the exam of the divine court. May be this sound refers to the sound of the judge that saying judgment of justification. Other suggestion refers to the sound belonging to the deceased when requests from the court to justify him. In this case, the word "justified" means that he said the right (Assman1996: 97).

The expression of "MaЗ khrw" was special only to the kings, and from the old kingdom the Osirion doctrine supposed itself in the Hall of kingship, so the king unified himself with Osiris and put the name of Osir with the king to become "Osir–Tity", "Osir–Pepy", but in the end of the New Kingdom the right of justification transferred to anyone had the morals and good acts, so the kings of the Middle Kingdom used to add this character to the deceased name(Saad-Allah1989 :18).

The concept of Ma‛at :

The concept of ma‛at was extremely important for the ancient Egyptians. Gods and people, particularly the king, had to live according to ma‛at, that the ancient Egyptians confirmed that they understood the principle of ma‛at, and that they acknowledged the existence of the gods (Helck 1980: 1112-1113).

Ma‛at was seen as the most fundamental force of nature by the ancient Egyptians. Ma‛at is a concept that reminds us of what we refer to as “natural law” in Western philosophy (VerSteeg 2002: 3). It was initially the idea of order as the grundlage of the world. The goal was to keep the chaotic forces at bay, both in the world and within oneself. The legal system was based on this foundation (Helck 1980: 1110-1111).

Thus ma‛at was the most important of the divine attributes of the king , in this sense of truth, order or regularity, belonged to the world which the gods set up at creation (Wilson 1954: 2).

Ma‛at is an attribute, which imposes responsibilities upon the king, since it invokes conformance with principles of the universe, which come down from the creation, or it involves right-dealing among humans (Bleeker 1929: 81).

According to shupak(1992:15): Ma‛at is a central conception of the legal world of ancient Egypt, denoting order, honesty, and justice. It relates not simply to the activities of human life but to the cosmos in general. Ma‛at was the order of the universe ever since its creation by the god Re; and the Egyptian king, as Re’s representative on earth, was responsible for the preservation of ma‛at.

Versteeg (1994:82) thought that “The religious term "ma‛at” stood in the center of this legal system; the term encompasses not only the cosmic order but also the order of life in which boundaries human life revolves and which is based on origin and therefore thought to be of divine nature and also the area of law which is not separated from the order of life; the meaning of the term apparently touches the area of morals and ethics. This abstract term becomes a figure to fulfill the religious need to be addressable: it is personified and anthropomorpheously described as "Ma‛at ," Goddess of order, truth, and justice. The whole legal system was restricted by her. Therefore, everyone, even the King, is obligated to acknowledge and realize "Ma‛at" all the time; for state agencies "Ma‛at" was the guiding principle and goal whilst administration and judiciary must promote the enforcement of "Ma‛at". Consequently, "Ma‛at " appears to be the allegory of the ideal law for which all humans must strive; she comprehends the norms of just conduct”.

Martin (2008:951) thought that ” Ma‛at is a comprehensive construct that existed throughout ancient Egyptian civilization. In its cosmological sense, ma‛at is the principle of order that informs the creation of the universe. In its religious sense, ma‛at is a goddess or neter representing order or balance. Last, in its philosophical sense, ma‛at is a moral and ethical principle that all Egyptians were expected to embody in their daily actions toward family, community, nation, environment, and god.

Knapp(1988: 103) said that “Ma‛at was, however, more accurately characterized as a cosmic or divine force for harmony and stability, dating back to the beginnings of time”.

Frankfort(1948: 54) thought that The laws of nature, the laws of society and the divine commands all belonged to the one category of what was right.

Justice (Ma‛at) governed the lives of ancient Egyptians because they saw no difference between divine and human justice (Mancini 2004: 3).The state derived authority and stability from the concept of ma‛at. It prevented the oppression of the poor and needy, and so the poor and needy were liberated by ma‛at (Spangenberg 1991: 278).

The ancient Egyptian lived in the unshakable faith that ma‛at, the order instituted by the Sun-god in prehistoric times, was, despite periods of chaos, injustice and immorality, absolute and eternal(Bleeker 1967: 8).

The opposite of ma‛at was isft, wrong, incorrect, or antisocial behaviour, disorder, falsehood and injustice.

The aim of Ma‛at is always to overcome isfet, that which is evil, difficult, disharmonious, and troublesome. What we observe with the practice of ma‛at is the inevitability of good overcoming evil, of harmony replacing disharmony, and order taking the place of disorder. This was an optimistic view of reality where one believed that justice would always rise to the top and that truth would outlast untruth.(Asante 2011:52).

Ma‛at was therefore very important to the ancient Egyptians, both as a goddess personifying physical and moral laws, order and truth, and as an abstract concept.

The Goddess Ma‛at :

The goddess Ma‛at personified the concepts of truth, justice and cosmic order, in addition she is known to have excited at least from the old kingdom and is mentioned in the pyramid texts, where she is said to stand behind the sun god Re (Wilkinson2003:150).

In the middle kingdom, is described as nostrils of Re. It is not, however until Eighteenth dynasty that Ma‛at is given the epithet "daughter of Ra" (Hart2005:89).

The goddess was also associated with Osiris, who is said to be "Lord of Ma‛at" at an early date but the husband of Ma‛at was usually said to be the scribe god Thot, and as the daughter of Ra was also the sister of the Reigning king who was the son of Re (Wilkinson2003:89). So Ma‛at described as the symbol of the giving and eye of the king (Carliorda 2008 :72).

On the other hand, Re represents the universal system which upon the humans, that creates all the universal truths and principles which support the life on the earth, and Ma‛at was the base that built these principles upon it. (Carliorda 2008 :72).

Pharaohs see Ma‛at as their authority to govern and stress how their reigns upheld the laws of the universe which she embodies(Hart2005:89). Her role was multifaceted, that she embraced two major aspects, on one hand, Ma‛at represented the universal order or balance, including concepts such as truths and right, which was established at the time of creation, but in the other hand, Ma‛at represented the concept of judgment(Wilkinson2003:150). So, Ma‛at considers as a guardian of the scales)Wilson1999:203).

In the pyramid texts, the goddess appears in this role in dual form, as a two Ma‛ats judging the deceased king's right to the thrones of Geb, and in the later funerary literature appeared in the “Hall of the two truths", that the judgment of the deceased occurs (Wilkinson2003:150).

The moral concepts, Ma‛at represented as Primordial as Re and he was associated with her in order to explain her fairness, but in the coffin texts there was curious myth, brought the two together, that Ra was old and tired and asked Nun for advice, that asked the chief god to bring Ma‛at close to him and kiss her in order to gain renewed life and vitality. (Aromour2010:135).

Ma‛at occupies a unique place in the Egyptian pantheon; she is not so much a goddess as an abstract entity. She represents the equilibrium, which the universe has reached through the process of creation, enabling it to conform to its true nature. As such, she is moderator of all things, from justice to the integration of a dead man’s soul into the universal order at the time of the final judgment (Grimal: 1992: 47).


Ma‛at was almost always depicted in fully anthropomorphic form as a goddess wearing a tall feather([1] ) on her head(Wilkinson2003:151). (fig.1) The funerary papyri of the New Kingdom and later gave many representations as a goddess crucial to the deceased reaching Paradise (Hart2005:90). Sometimes depicted as a woman carrying the ankh and scepter, but no one knows for sure the origin of her association with the feather, but somehow ethereal qualities of the feather seem well suited to a goddess of her characteristics, and it has been suggested that the feather became her symbol because it's equally balanced along each side of the quill; suggesting the fine judgment required of a goddess who sat to judge truth in the trial of the dead (Allen 2004:115). In the Book of the Dead, Ma‛at and Thot stood beside Horus in Ra's solar boat. (Aromour2010:133).

In the vignettes from the funerary papyri and in other depictions Ma‛at is featured in the ceremony of weighing of the deceased's heart on the scales of judgment. Usually the heart is being weighed against the feather of Ma‛at or in some cases a small image in crouching Goddess, and the figure of Ma‛at sometimes surmounts the balance scale itself(Wilkinson2003:151).

From the sun-scenes, a depictions declared the figure of Ma‛at as a goddess - daughter of Re, standing on the front of the boat or encircled the front of the god as a snake, but the scenes disappeared resulting from appearing Ma‛at as a sign of the victory on the enemy who prevents the sun and its rising, depicting as a snake, trying to concert the sun-boat on a sand-beach, but Ma‛at conflicts him and achieves the victory, if that haven't occurred, not only the sun boat turned, but also the whole political system([2] ) will be converted (Assman1996:107,116).

In addition there are many depictions of Ma‛at from Abu Simbel of the Valley of the Kings, She founded in wall paintings and carvings, she may also be founded in the Egyptian museum in numerous forms and depictions (Aromour2010:133). (fig.2)

The British museum possesses a small golden Ma‛at on a gold chain that could be just such as an ensign of authority(Hart2005:90).

The concept of ma‛at infiltrated numerous aspects of art during all dynasties and periods. Ma‛at is particularly ubiquitous in tomb art of individuals in the upper class: officials, pharaohs, and other royals. Tomb art served numerous purposes within the funerary practice of ancient Egyptian society, and ma‛at is a motif that helps fulfill many of these purposes. Ma‛at is an important concept that helped create a pleasant living space for the deceased, evoke everyday life, and convey importance of the deceased to the gods. Not only is ma‛at essential in tomb art, but the goddess herself plays a pivotal role in the Book of the Dead(Schroeder 2015:1).

The concepts of order, balance, and truth were important ideas for Egyptians in life and death. To some groups, ma‛at also implied a form of “intrinsic rightness” or morality that was essential for the deceased to have in order to transition into the afterlife. Images of the goddess and other representations of her were ubiquitous in the tombs of nobles for multiple reasons. The purposes of ma‛at in tomb art can be classified in three categories including creation of a pleasant living space, evocation of everyday life, and depiction of importance to the gods(Schroeder 2015 :5).(fig.3)

Ma‛at’s image was constantly reproduced in tomb art to help reassure the dead that balance in the afterlife would be preserved. Illustrations of the goddess were found in entrances to the burial chambers as a welcoming image. The representation of Ma‛at with outstretched wings suggests a protective element, as if the goddess is intended to shield the deceased from anything that may prevent him/her from entering the afterlife. She represented regularity and normalcy in her depictions in tomb art. The goddess was associated with a “comforting certainty that the correct and harmonious order . . . [would] be preserved in the Beyond.” The purpose of including Ma‛at in these situations was to provide comfort to the deceased(Schroeder 2015:5).

Ancient Egyptian art is indicative of the importance of Ma‛at. The art is generally symmetrical, which is consistent with the description of ma‛at as balance. The proportions of each figure are consistent with each other, even though the sizes of the figures may be different due to hieratic scale. This may be due to the use of gridlines, a canonical measurement system that allowed artists to achieve uniformity among themselves and each other. This uniformity creates art that is orderly and consistent with the inherent principles of ma‛at(Schroeder 2015:4).

The ancient Egyptians considered Ma‛at is material, from it all world takes the life such as foodstuff to the dead and lives, also the deities and the humans(Carliorda 2008 :99).

A small temple of Ma‛at was built within the precincts of Montu temple at Karnak but such sanctuaries for the formal worship of the goddess are uncommon and Ma‛at is usually depicted in the temples of other deities, even the title "Priest of Ma‛at" is often regarded as an honorific which may have been given to those who served as magistrates or who dispensed judicial authority(Wilkinson2003:153).

Royalty and achieving of Ma‛at :

Good rule in the administration were forever imbued with ma‛at. It represented the values that all people sought and was the guiding principle of all aspects of life (VerSteeg 2002: 21). The external righteousness of ma‛at bespoke an ordered stability that in turn confirmed and consolidated the continuing rule of the king. Suffused with the benefits of ma‛at, the divine office of the king served as a basic unifying element for the ancient Egyptian state.

The relationship between ma‛at and the protection of the poor was pushed to the background. The state existed for the sake of god and the king was no longer the mediator who had to establish ma‛at; he too had to do god’s will. In other words, god now fulfilled the role of the king (Spangenberg 1991: 290).

Every Egyptian texts concurred that the pharaonic system is the main condition to success, not only to the human acts, but also to the divine act or the universal one, that the world hasn’t a system to organize itself by itself, so it hanged with high power preserving it to continue, and this power and control is the divine royalty that achieves in the sky to the sun-journey and on the land of the pharaoh(Assman1996:132).

The primary duty of the king was the upholding of the order of creation that had been established on the primeval mound at the time of the creation (Tobin 1987: 115).

The task of upholding ma‛at was entrusted to the king who, as son of the sun god, had the necessary power to do so. In his policy, he followed the example of the Sun-god who established ma‛at at the time of creation (Bleeker 1967: 7).

Isfet is the oppression, the disconnection and the violence or such as known "the law of the fishes", the larger eats the smaller, and this law must be opposites and usually must (rescue the weak from the strong), so the achieving of justice here is the role of Ma‛at by protesting the "law of fishes", in addition the practice of justice “Ma‛at ” supposed to find the pharaonic state with its judiciary, so we can read in the instructions of Meri-Kare’ the god made to them rulers and leaders to protect the weak from them (Assman1996:127).

The serpent Apop — the enemy of Re, appears as a peculiar personification of Isfet. Apop is constantly trying to penetrate into the world of order, while Re, together with the crew of his sun-barge, protects the universe from him. Creation for the ancient Egyptians was not a onetime historic event, it was repeated each time a new king ascended to the throne and a new temple was build; even daily, with every new sunrise. That is why the powers of chaos had to be constantly overwhelmed. As being external to the creation Apop is not given birth to and cannot be killed, only "driven away”.( Chobanov 2010:70).

The main role of the king was to put Ma‛at in place so that it could hold back isfet, disorder. As a way of embracing all human life, Ma‛at was reciprocity, justice, moderation, and the search for perfection. The king had to live according to Ma‛at . In fact, the prescription was “to speak Ma‛at , to do Ma‛at , and to be Ma‛at .” Without this constant quest for holding back chaos, the ancient people believed that the world would be overcome by the forces of evil.(Asante 2011:53,54).

The role of the king towards Ma‛at is achieving the justice may be as judge or giving his authority of judiciary to his judges that ruling according to his desire (Saad-Allah1989 :54).

Moreover, if doesn’t achieve Ma‛at , the sun won't rise in this bad life, the Nile won't flood, the crops won't grow, and the infants will leave their old parents(Prior&Teeter2010:164).

So, the justice and system to ancient Egypt come from the axe of the religious belief and its main centre, that the creator of the universe Re ordered to achieve the justice and hate the oppression.

It's said that the deities who established the royalty, put the king as the lord of law and the king acting according to this suggestion, but also he would inspirited from the divine K3 which would live by the king, who has the acknowledgement from his birth, so the divine K3 is the speaker from his mouth, in addition the king when acting with preserving Ma‛at , he would transfer to a god (Saad-Allah1989 :54).

On the other hand, Ma‛at which means the system had its influence in stability of many kings’ reign in the first dynasties which their rule supposed on the justice. So that some kings put their names or titles belonging to Ma‛at , such as Senefru of the fourth dynasty titled with "nb ma‛at" means lord of justice. (Saad-Allah1989 :26,29).

We can notice also Hatschepsut entitled (KЗ-ma‛at -Re) means "ma‛at is KЗ of re", Ramsses II titled with (weser-ma‛at - Re) means "strong of ma‛at is Re", Seti I titled with (mn ma‛at Re) means " the Resident of Ma‛at is Re", and Amenhotep III titled with (nb-ma‛at -Re) means "lord of Ma‛at is Re " (Assman1996 :126).

The examples of achieving the justice are uncountable, but the most executive one is the eloquent peasant story, when a peasant went to buy some products from the market accompanying his donkey and there was a high official desired to take the donkey of peasant. So, he made a trick when put a carpet in the way of the donkey beside his field, he ordered the peasant to make donkey preventing the carpet and the field, but the donkey didn’t, so, the high official took the donkey, and the peasant wrote letters to the king who ordered his vizier to achieve Ma‛at and reback the Right to his owner(Saad-Allah1989 :176-188).

All Egyptians had to conduct their lives in accordance with ma‛at, but the king had a dual responsibility: He had to live his own life according to the principles of ma‛at and he had to maintain ma‛at in society. This larger responsibility had many facets, but all these actions were seen as part of the king’s duty to his subjects and the gods. It was therefore the king’s responsibility to promulgate ma‛at and, through royal decrees and edicts, new laws were created, and existing legal stipulations were reformed, that like the biographies and graffiti of officials, the royal inscriptions mentioning historical events were written to demonstrate the pharaoh’s role in creating and preserving ma‛at. The historical reality was not as important to the ancient Egyptians as the fact that it demonstrated the king’s success in materializing order and harmony of ma‛at. (Allen 2004: 298-299)

A good example is Ramesses II’s account of the battle of Qadesh, which was portrayed as a great victory in Egyptian records, It led to a peace treaty between Egypt and the Hittites – one of the first such treaties in the recorded history (Allen 2004: 299).

This larger responsibility had many facets, but all of them were seen as part of the king’s duty to his subjects and the gods. In texts, this duty is summarized by the phrase “putting M3‛t in place of isfet” and, on temple walls, by images of the king presenting the symbol of ma‛at to the gods (Allen 2004: 117).

Kingship in Egypt represented the effective power of the order of ma‛at (Tobin 1987: 115). This concept is strongly represented in the Pyramid Texts:“Heaven is content, the earth is joyful, For, they have heard that Pepi has established ma‛at in the place of disorder” (Tobin 1987: 115).

Thus Egyptians expected the king to be the effective agent of order in the state; in fact, they believed he was the state by official doctrine (Tobin 1987: 116).

It was believed that only the king knew the requirements of the ma‛at principle and that his laws were identical to the will of the creator god, which was why the king could maintain law and order. These laws and ruling of the king reflected the world in harmony (Helck 1980: 1115). Morschauser said “It was expected of the king to uphold the justice in accordance with divine law” (Morschauser 1995: 102).

The primary duties of the king were divided to upkeep and maintenance of the temples and their staff, and proper exercise of the legislative, executive and judicial powers inherent to his office In addition to protect the citizens from both internal and external threats (Morschauser 1995:103, 104).

It was therefore the king’s responsibility to promulgate ma‛at and, through royal decrees and edicts, to create new laws and reform existing legal stipulations (Morschauser 1995: 103).

The king was the highest legal authority in ancient Egypt. The right to make legal decisions was however often delegated to a lower authority by the king. In the Tale of the Eloquent Peasant, for instance, this was the high steward (Shupak 1992: 5).

Assmann said The king travelled through his domain in his boat, as the instrument and symbol of rule, in order to enforce law and ma‛at (Assmann 1995: 50).

Ma‛at was not restricted to the king’s administrative duties solely, but was operative in the lives and conduct of the entire citizenry of Egypt (Morschauser1995:105).

The subjects of the king were obliged to be obedient to the king. Obedience included, paying taxes, laboring on behalf of the crown, conscientious execution of appointed office, etc. These duties, along with the benefits for acting so, formed the basis for a “social contract” between the king and his subjects (Morschauser 1995: 105).

However, ma‛at entailed more than just blind loyalty to the king, for officials were expected to act in accordance with standards that were not simply royal, but of divine origin (Morschauser 1995: 105).

Obligations to a transcendent principle of “justice” were specifically expressed in Egyptian texts as demands for personal tolerance, forbearance, and mercy towards the disadvantaged. These ethical requirements of ma‛at are cast in both negative and positive forms (Morschauser 1995: 105)

Titles such as “defender of the orphan”, “rescuer of the fearful”, and “husband to the widow” (Morschauser 1995: 107) point to the special role that the king and his deputies were to assume in protecting those how had been improperly deprived of legal recourse. Morschauser concluded that the assumption of such a role defined the contents of ma‛at as something other than simply the implementation of order by coercive means: Mercy, tolerance and rectitude in office, formed the ideal basis of the ancient Egyptian ethos (Morschauser 1995 : 107).

Despite the lack of primary legal documentation, officials and individuals of wealth and influence were instructed, in wisdom texts, to care for and exhibit preferential treatment to the disadvantaged (Morschauser 1995: 109).

Although law was applied by legal officials, legislation was solely a prerogative of the king. Horemhab says “he restored (smnh) the law of Egypt” and “gave the judges laws in their journals” (Shupak 1992: 9).

The king delegated his authority regarding the preservation of ma‛at to officials who actually performed the king’s duties in defending ma‛at. Of judges in the Edict of Horemhab it is said:

When I guide (ssm) them (the judges) to ma‛at…

The most significant scene that collects Ma‛at and the kingship, appears in the simplest form of Ma‛at was represented as an early hieroglyphic made up of intersecting straight lines which stood for the kings throne, suggesting that his decision rested on Ma‛at (Aromour2010:134).

At least one ruler of Eighteenth Dynasty crowned in the temple of Ma‛at , which once stood to the east of the fifth pylon at Karnak)Teeter1997:53).

Presentation of Ma‛at :

Although Ma‛at is an inexhaustible and indestructible force she depends on the deeds of the humans. Applying and observing her is a task which demands the collective effort of all people. Thus, people are not only a product of creation, but are also responsible to the Creator for their deeds. The Egyptian king is called upon to establish Ma‛at on Earth among the people. This is why among the most common images of sacrifice the king presents to the Creator the figure of Ma‛at (Chobanov 2010:71).

The scene of the presentation of ma‛at first appears as an iconographic device in the time of Thutmose III. The representation of the ritual could be regarded as a reflection of the king’s desire for a deliberate expression of his right to rule (Teeter 1997: 83) and to uphold the fundamental principles of world order (ma‛at). The ritual is symbolic of the king’s legitimacy (Teeter 1997: 1).

The cultic ritual of the raising([3] )of ma‛at symbolised, by the actions of the king, that everything in the world was in its proper order (Tobin 1987: 115).

The presentation of ma‛at was a sign of political and divine legitimacy, as the donor was the reigning king (Teeter 1997: 1).

The most important manifestation of the veneration of the goddess was the king's ritual presentation of a small figure of Ma‛at in the temple of the gods(Wilkinson2003:151). The name of Ma‛at itself means "the offering", so the king offered the god a present on the embodiment of Ma‛at means "everything runs with a system".(Carliorda 2008 :72).

The relationship of values of Ma‛at to the sense of royal legitimacy can be demonstrated by a variety of cords. In coffin text spell 1105, it is stated that

"I have nurtured Ma‛at , prepare a Ptah for me that I might receive the wrrt crown …. From her ". The first of attestation of the presentation of Ma‛at backed to the mid-eighteenth dynasty)Teeter1997:53).

In some compositions, the defeated enemy holds Ma‛at feather as a sign of submission could be related not only to the king's ability to rube the land correctly, but also to his ability to restore order and to maintain the primordial order of the land that existed at the beginning of time)Teeter1997::54).

The presentation of Ma‛at first appears as an iconographic device in time of Thutmose III. The earliest of the scenes appears in the festival Hall, which is dated after year twenty four when the cord for the temple was stretched, but there are no representations of Ma‛at that can be ascribed to the reign of Hatschepsut, although a textual reference can be cited from the base of a statue from Deir el-Bahri which portrays the queen offering jars.)Teeter1997:57).

In the New Kingdom, Ma‛at was offered especially to Amon, Re and Ptah, though she was also sometimes presented to her husband Thot and was in effect offered to all gods(Wilkinson2003:151).

The equivalence of the presentation of Ma‛at with all other offerings can be seen in the epithets of Ma‛at such as " food of the gods " and " clothing " and " breath ", as well as in other statements which affirm that the gods " live on Ma‛at ".(Wilkinson2003:151).

Ma‛at received more emphasis in the reign of Amenhotep III, not only through representations of the goddess and the presentation of her image, but also in the construction of the temple of Ma‛at in Karnak north.)Teeter1997:57).

Although representations of presentation of Ma‛at are not numerous in the time of Amenhotep III and before, text and reference to the ritual, or at least to the idea of offering Ma‛at , appear in private monuments from the time of Thutmose IV although the end of the dynasty)Teeter1997:57).

The relief record of the talatat at Karnak indicates that the presentation of Ma‛at was far more common in the early Amarna Period than in any other period of the Eighteenth dynasty.)Teeter1997:58,59).

The significant changes in the depiction of the presentation of Ma‛at occurred during the Ramesside period. The scene becomes a very common iconographic device, the prenomen of the king was associated with the ritual, and features of the motif were usurped for use in non-royal tombs. The presentation of the royal prenomen equated with Ma‛at appears first in the reign of Seti I and continuous to be employed through the reign of Sheshonq III)Teeter1997:59).

What appears to be non-royal offering Ma‛at , first appears in four tombs constructed in the reign of Ramsses II and thus is roughly contemporary with the appearance of the stela that show the king presenting Ma‛at on behalf of her deceased. Two of the four in Deir el-Madina and others in Gourna.)Teeter1997:61).

In the third intermediate period examples of the presentation of Ma‛at are attested for Osorkan III, Shebitku, Taharqa, Tanwetamni, and Aspetta)Teeter1997:62).

The overall iconography of the scenes of the presentation of Ma‛at serves to stress the link that Ma‛at formed between the gods and the donor; the goddess appeared between the participation, frozen in the midst of the moment of presentation. She faces the recipient as the donor does)Teeter1997:63).

The blue crown numerically dominates these scenes because of the crown's association with the legitimacy of the ruler. A principle that is associated with the presentation of Ma‛at , whereas the regional crowns (red or white) are rarely found because they didn’t adequately emphasize the significance of the ritual for all of Egypt)Teeter1997:64).

In some occurrences of the scene, the presentation of Ma‛at is further associated with the more significant ritual of kingship and legitimacy through the use of the hb-sign as a platform for the kneeling donor. The iconography of the goddess who is presented to the god is, with the exception of her association with the royal name. Her feather is the phonetic value of her name, and the Nh scepter symbolizes her domain. Her base, the nb, is found under a very limited number of objects, including crowns and in its variant Hb-form, under sed festival)Teeter1997:64).

The incorporation of Ma‛at name into virtually prenomens of the Twentieth dynasty coincides with the use of the presentation of Ma‛at as a standard motif in temple decoration)Teeter1997:65). (fig.4)

So, The king’s role was to mediate between the gods and the people. Kingship was indeed introduced by the Sun-god to establish ma‛at on earth and to expel injustice, oppression, and violence (isfet). This ritual considered one of the features of the ritual that is most commonly with Ma‛at , kings and other gods, that king presents the image of the goddess, who presents law and righteousness, to the gods.

In the other hand, he established a great system of Justice to maintain Maat and stayed the land under his control.

Chapter two System of justice

Administration of justice:

The courts were guided by the principles of ma‛at and, in fact, the vizier who was in control of the law courts held the title “priest of Ma‛at” (McDowell 1999: 166).

Breasted (1909: 242) remarked:

The social, agricultural and industrial world of the Nile Dwellers under the Empire was therefore not at the mercy of an arbitrary whim, on the part of either the king or court, but was governed by a large body of long respected law, embodying principles of justice and humanity.

Egypt didn’t know the independence of the judgment from the executive power. There are many rulers had judicial works beside their administrative powers. The king was the high president of the executive power, in the same time the reference of the justice. Instead of the king didn’t practice their judicial work, he ordered sometimes to form a special “kenbet” to condemnation the accused(Hanna2010:230).

The most ancient constitution of the courts of justice seems to have perished early under the Middle empire that "belonging to the town Nechent", and this is probably a mere title of the monarchs of Beni Hassan and Siut (Hanna2010:230).

In the 46 years of Ramsses II, we find members of the court consisted of:

- "Bekenchons, the first prophet of Amun.
- User-mont, the prophet of Amun.
- Ram, the prophet of Amun.
- The prophet Vennofre of the temple of Ma‛at.
- The prophet Amen–em–en of the temple of Chons.
- The (Holy Father) Amen–em–opet of the temple of Amun.
- Amenhotep, the priest and reader of Amun.
- Any, the priest and reader of Amun.
- The priest of the temple of Amun(Erman 1971: 140).


[1] Nobles were often buried with the ostrich feather fans to invoke goddess Ma‛at’s protection and for comfort in the afterlife(Schroeder 2015:2).

[2] From this view, we can notice the special connection between Maat and the royalty

[3] The raising of ma‛at is probably best interpreted in this sense, and not as symbolic assistance to the sun god to internalise the breath of life.

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Ma'at. Story of Justice in ancient Egypt
University of Heidelberg  (institut von Aegyptologie)
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Ancient Egypt, justice, Ma'at
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Mostafa Shaker (Author), 2018, Ma'at. Story of Justice in ancient Egypt, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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