Mrs. Tsenhor

Mrs. Tsenhor: A Female Entrepreneur in Ancient Egypt

Koenraad Donker van Heel
Copyright Date: 2014
Pages: 256
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt15m7f9p
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  • Book Info
    Mrs. Tsenhor
    Book Description:

    Tsenhor was born about 550 bce in the city of Thebes (Karnak). She died some sixty years later, having lived through the reigns of Amasis II, Psamtik III, Cambyses II, Darius I and perhaps even Psamtik IV. By carefully retracing the events of her life as they are recorded in papyri now kept in museums in London, Paris, Turin, and Vienna, the author creates the image of a proud and independent businesswoman who made her own decisions in life. If Tsenhor were alive today she would be wearing jeans, drive a pick-up, and enjoy a beer with the boys. She clearly was her own boss, and one assumes that this happened with the full support of her second husband Psenese, who fathered two of her children. She married him when she was in her mid-thirties. Like her father and husband, Tsenhor could be hired to bring offerings to the dead in the necropolis on the west bank of the Nile. For a fee of course, and that is how her family acquired high-quality farm land on more than one occasion. But Tsenhor also did other business on her own, such as buying a slave and co-financing the reconstruction of a house that she owned together with Psenese. She seems in many ways to have been a liberated woman, some 2,500 years before the concept was invented. Embedded in the history of the first Persian occupation of Egypt, and using many sources dealing with ordinary women from the Old Kingdom up to and including the Coptic era, this book aims to forever change the general view on women in ancient Egypt, which is far too often based on the lives of Nefertiti, Hatshepsut, and Cleopatra.

    eISBN: 978-1-61797-569-1
    Subjects: History, Business

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. List of Tables
    (pp. ix-x)
  5. The Tsenhor Papyri
    (pp. xi-xii)
  6. Preface
    (pp. xiii-xvi)
  7. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xvii-xx)
  8. [Map]
    (pp. xxi-xxii)
  9. Chronology
    (pp. xxiii-xxiv)
  10. 1 People
    (pp. 1-30)

    If Tsenhor were alive today, she would be wearing jeans, driving a pickup, and enjoying a beer with the boys. Instead she was born around 550 BCE in the city of Thebes (Karnak), in the deep south of Egypt. From the papers she left behind—now kept in the Bibliothèque Nationale (Paris), the British Museum, the Louvre, the Museo Egizio (Turin), and the Kunst historisches Museum (Vienna)—a picture emerges of a woman who had firm control over her own life. One assumes that this happened with the full support of her second husband, Psenese, who fathered two of her...

  11. 2 Earth and Water: Nesmin, 556 BCE
    (pp. 31-42)

    There is something strange about P. Louvre E 10935, the contract that made the Theban choachyte Nesmin son of Khausenwesir—whose daughter Tsenhor would be born a few years later—a true landowner overnight (although the family probably already had some land). The fields given to him, or rather paid to him, by a man called Psamtikmenekh son of Horwedja measured elevenaruras,or the size of about five and a half soccer fields. Tenarurascould be used to grow crops and the additionalaruraconsisted of paths and bushes. The most likely reason for this appears to be...

  12. 3 Love and Death: Psenese, Tsenhor, Ruru, and Peteamunhotep, 530–517 BCE
    (pp. 43-110)

    Somewhere between September 530 and September 526 BCE, the choachyte Rery son of Heryrem had a contract written for his younger brother Psenese. Within a few years the latter would become the second husband of ‘our’ Tsenhor. We do not know the exact year because the papyrus is badly damaged on the right, so that the date is lost (demotic is written from right to left). It could be any year between 41 and 44, which was the last regnal year of Amasis. P. Vienna KM 3853 is a rather large papyrus of 19.5 x 76.5 cm, thus underlining the...

  13. 4 Slave: Tsenhor, 517 BCE
    (pp. 111-130)

    In the winter of 517 BCE a man called Amasis son of Psamtik sold Psenpaqed, a young boy, to apastophorosof the temple of Amun in Karnak, a Mr. Tjauheser son of Neskhonsu and Neskhonsu. Both parties to the contract are only passersby in the Tsenhor papers. Tjauheser was to resell Psenpaqed to Tsenhor one month later. Already in Tsenhor’s days the ties between thepastophoroiand the Theban choachytes were much closer than people think. In P. BM EA 10120B (517 bce) that Psenese made for Ruru, he explicitly mentions his “commissionings as a choachyte andpastophoroson...

  14. 5 Bricks: Tsenhor, Psenese, and Nesamunhotep, 512–506 BCE
    (pp. 131-154)

    For almost a century P. Turin 2123 was only known from a number of obsolete publications by Eugène Revillout written between 1895 and 1912, the last appearing shortly before his death. The first modern publication was by Pieter Willem Pestman in his scientific edition of the Tsenhor papers in 1994.

    This easy-to-follow contract sheds revealing light on the kind of person Tsenhor may have been. She and Psenese were married for about five years and apparently she—now nearing forty, if our reconstruction is correct—had become a full business partner in some of the construction activities of her husband....

  15. 6 Cattle: Burekhef and Ituru, 507–487 BCE
    (pp. 155-172)

    P.Turin 2124 was made out by the cattle-keeper of the Domain of Montu Pawahamun son of Petemontu for Burekhef, the (half-) brother of Tsenhor. In this contract—a receipt—Pawahamun states that he is satisfied with the compensation for a cow that Burekhef leased the previous year, presumably to work some fields.

    Pawahamun’s father, the cattle-keeper of the Domain of Montu Petemontu, is well known from the archive of Djekhy & Son, where he is seen leasing land from one of the owners of the archive (P. Louvre E 7836) as well as from a priest called Wedjahor (P. Louvre...

  16. 7 Love and Death: Tsenhor, Psenese, Ituru, and Ruru, 498–494 BCE
    (pp. 173-194)

    When their daughter Ruru was born in 517 BCE, or perhaps a few years before, Tsenhor’s husband Psenese was quick to acknowledge her rights to his inheritance. This was done through P. BM EA 10120B, in which the scribe Teos—the father of the scribe Ip who wrote our P. Turin 2126—recorded Psenese’s oral statement in writing:

    “You are the sharing-partner of my children who have been born and who will be born to me in everything that I own and will acquire (. . .). To you (Ruru) belongs one share of it (Psenese’s inheritance) in accordance with...

  17. 8 Earth and Water: Tsenhor, Ruru, and Nesamunhotep, 497–491 BCE
    (pp. 195-206)

    By now Tsenhor was well into her fifties and most probably a widow. Psenese had made his last will in 498 bce (P. Turin 2126), and in 494 BCE Tsenhor wrapped up a deal started by her husband in 503 BCE (P. Louvre AF 9761), suggesting that he died in the meantime. Their daughter Ruru was now twenty years old, or slightly older, and she was working in the family business. Female choachytes concluded their own deals with clients, as Ruru did in P. Louvre E 3231A in the late summer of 497 BCE.

    In this same year Darius I...

  18. Notes
    (pp. 207-210)
  19. Indexes
    (pp. 211-230)