Were the Great Pyramids REALLY built by slaves?

There seem to be 2 camps on this subject.

On the one hand, the belief is that the Pharaohs scoured the land and forced people into building the pyramids for no wages in horrible living conditions, to put it simply.

On the other, the people of Egypt were more than willing to build these great monuments, with actual wages and a certain amount of pride in their work.

My opinion, for what it’s worth, is that the Egyptian people willingly built these marvels of engineering to honor a man/men who they believed in their hearts was a living God. Recent archeological digs suggest that the workers lived and worked in relatively comfortable surroundings, and not under the foreman’s whip.

These people REVERED their Pharaoh. Could you really build such magnificent structures over such a long period of time with a group of people who were forced to do so? I really don’t think so. All you have to do is recall the other marvels of engineering of the last few hundred years to come to the conclusion that regular people can construct something of such beauty and scope as to defy the test of time. It’s like saying Stonehenge was built by slaves, or the pyramids of ancient Mexico.

Your thoughts?

They might have had decent working conditions but still been slaves. Our modern concept of a slave is of someone who’s constantly being whipped and abused and forced to do non-stop backbreaking labor in the hot sun with very little food, water, etc, but not all slaves lived this kind of life.

My understanding is that modern archeologists think the pyramids were built by willing laborers and not slaves.

The latest archaeology suggests that they were paid wages. This is obviously inconsistent with even the most generous definition of slavery.

Was just visiting the pyramids about a month ago. The tour guides we had indicated that it is believed they were paid to build them and many were “honored” (they used the word) to do so.

I agree. And recent digs suggest this.

I’m not sure if you’ve been or not, but if not… GO! They are so amazing that words cannot describe. I took so many pictures so I could remember it always. Of all the places I went on vacation this was the most truly awe inspiring.

A pic! http://sphotos.ak.fbcdn.net/hphotos-ak-ash2/hs340.ash2/62048_1636871001886_1240052951_1760378_1680160_n.jpg

Some people have suggested it was a form of taxation: instead of paying money, you gave the Pharoah several months working when the farming business didn’t need you.

From what I’ve read in KMT magazine (quarterly devoted to ancient Eqypt, or Kemet as they called it back in the day), scholars don’t believe in the massive slave labor workforce as old Hollywood movies have it (although slavery did exist). There is apparently ancient graffiti with work crews bragging how much better they are than others

I recall that. It was apparently a point of pride, and I’ve also heard it described as simply something to do for unemployed and incredibly bored farm laborers between growing seasons.

They were paid, they had rights, and according to one TV clip I saw, they even went on strike once because they weren’t been given enough makeup.

They don’t sound very slave like to me.

You know there’s a third camp on the subject, right?


But were they paid??? (And with what :eek:)

What exactly is the evidence there? It may be a modern interpretation to read “wages” where there is simply a record of workers being given, say, X measures of grain and Y jars of beer for a period of work. Clearly the needs of the workers had to be provided for one way or another during the project.

My feeling is that the god-king theocracy was such a psychologically dominant structure that not cooperating with its great endeavours would have been virtually unthinkable. Maybe people were “happy” to do it, maybe not, but it was what they did. Is it “slavery” if it never occurred to them that there could be a choice to comply or not?

The pyramid builders would be better compared to army conscripts, or to medieval peasants pulling corvee duty, than to slaves. When Americans hear “slavery” they think of our own uniquely awful form of chattel slavery, which was permanent and hereditary. Pyramid labor almost certainly wasn’t like that.

Um… no, it’s not. Forced labor is still slavery even if you’re getting paid.

Otherwise I’d say “look here, Maeglin, get in that mine and find me some gold”, and you’d say, “no”. Then I’d say “if you don’t, I will kill you” and you’d say “well, alright then”. Guess what? I’ve enslaved you, even if I give you twenty bucks afterwards.

Anyway… look here, Maeglin, get in that mine.

What you describe is a wage. The Egyptian economy at this point was not at all monetized, so any wage would have been in kind and not in coin. I get paid for what I do because my needs have to be provided for in exchange for the work I do.

As for evidence, there was a pretty fantastic find earlier this year at the Giza Necropolis.

Your gut feeling is wrong.

This is not actually true. The ancients knew quite a bit about slavery and early on they recognized that if you can force someone to work, you don’t have to pay him. So they didn’t.

Compulsive labor, like corvee duty or doing your time maintaining the irrigation works, was also not considered by the ancients (nor is today) to be slavery. For a pretty thorough discussion of the economic institution of slavery, I suggest you read Yoram Barzel’s Economic Theory of Property Rights. The discussion oif slavery is in just one chapter.

Don’t quite your day job to try to run a plantation.

You could also say, “look here, Maeglin, grow green chest hair.” You can say a lot of things, and none of then would salvage your reasoning.

The ancients also didn’t think it was weird to worship cats. I’m pretty sure the only relevant definition of slavery here is our own.

It could have been both. The people working on them may have used their slaves in the ‘grunt work’. We think of slaves in the pyramids as slaves of the state, but they may have been in personal service to the citizens who were working on the pyramids.

As far as I’m concerned, worshipping cats is no stranger than the zany crap we worship today.

For what it’s worth, ancient and modern definitions of slavery are really quite consistent with each other. The ancient case is challenged by the fact that we don’t have a lot of documentation and that the definitions got fuzzy when you take into account dependent and serf-like populations. Some times and places are of course better-documented than others.