Patterns of power - The social networks of ancient Egyptian imperial expansion

Name of applicant

Rune Olsen


Postdoctoral Fellow


University of Cambridge


DKK 1,323,734



Type of grant

Reintegration Fellowships


There are several reasons why one state decides to invade another in armed conflict, but the reason for a state to continue its territorial expansion is usually economically motivated. This is exemplified by the ancient Egyptian state, which pursued an aggressive territorial expansion policy during the early New Kingdom (c. 1550-1400 BCE). This secured control of several neighbouring countries and changed the traditional kingdom of the pharaoh into an empire. Vast quantities of goods were seized as plunder and brought back to Egypt along with thousands of prisoners of war. These new resources were given to the royal institutions and temples along the Nile and were managed by a growing class of high officials and administrators, many of whom had participated directly in the military campaigns themselves. The project will identify the social networks of the officials that were key in the continued imperial expansion and their connections to institutions. This will also map the administrative route along which the resources from the conquered foreign territories flowed into Egypt.


Many of these officials built for themselves monumental and beautifully decorated rock-cut tombs by diverting some of the resources they had access to through their connection to institutions. The decoration of those tombs and documents relating to the construction of similar tombs have yielded an extraordinary amount of data pertaining to the proprietors’ social networks. This included many of the highest-ranking officials in Egypt, e.g., the Vizier (first minister) or the High Priest of Amun (prime Egyptian deity during the New Kingdom). The project represents the next step using monumental tombs as data points, further exploring the possibilities of this new approach to study ancient Egyptian society and daily life.


The tomb owners who played significant roles in the establishment of the Egyptian empire will be identified and their embeddedness in royal and temple administrations will be determined methodologically through Social Network Analysis. This will reveal the connections that existed between officials and institutions and, more importantly, the human connections between the various institutions when managing the imperial income.

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