According to Wikipedia, Egyptian pharoah Userkaf received tribute in the form of 70 foreign women.

Trade and military activities, Wikipedia

Userkaf launched a military expedition into Nubia,[27] while the Old Kingdom annals record that he received tribute from a region that is either the Eastern Desert or Canaan in the form of a workforce of one chieftain and 70 foreigners[102] (likely women),[93][

Texts from the Pyramid age

The source for this claim comes from page 69 of a book called "Texts from the Pyramid age", but absolutely no explanation is given regarding why 70 foreign women have been brought to Userkaf, beyond the fact that 70 foreign women have been brought to Userkaf.

Texts from the Pyramid age

Tribute which they brought to the Pyramid of Userkaf. 70 female foreigners

In other sources

The claim is repeated on the internet by several other sources, including Ancientegypt.org and Tour Egypt, but again, no explanation given.


Except for the arrival of 70 foreign women to Egypt and some cultic activity that shows his interest in the Delta, nothing much is known about Userkaf’s political activities.

Harem, slaves?

Can it be deduced from other accounts what purposes 70 foreign women would be expected to serve? Perhaps they are amongst the workforce working on Userkaf's pyramid along with the men? Perhaps they would have been brought as part of a Harem? What purposes would 70 foreign women brought to an Egyptian pharoah as tribute, serve?

  • 3
    If it is really about workflrce, e.g. textile production would be an area that involved female labour in ancient Mesopotamia. Probably relevant paywalled paper here: degruyter.com/document/doi/10.1515/9781614519089-004/pdf
    – Jan
    Nov 15, 2021 at 10:53
  • 2
    James C Scott claims (in Against the Grain) that having a large workforce was indeed one thing that early states were constantly striving for, so the idea that these 70 women were supposed to actually work does not sound unreasonable. Disclaimer: I am not familiar with ancient or Egyptian history at all.
    – Jan
    Nov 15, 2021 at 10:59
  • 3
    According to Hartwig Altenmüller, "Die 'Abgaben' aus dem 2. Jahr des Userkaf", In: Kessler, Dieter; Schulz, Regine (eds.): Gedenkschrift für Winfried Barta (Münchner Ägyptologische Untersuchungen 4). München 1995, pp. 37-48, it is a matter of interpretation whether these were 70 foreign women or simply 70 foreigners of unspecified gender. He favors the latter.
    – njuffa
    Nov 15, 2021 at 12:05
  • 4
    Presumably whatever pharaoh (or his lackies who made such decisions for him) wanted to do with them, which might be decided on a case-by-case basis. Just like his own subjects, really.
    – T.E.D.
    Nov 15, 2021 at 13:31

1 Answer 1


According to German Egyptologist Hartwig Altenmüller, it wasn't necessarily women. He also asserts that it may be about Asians.

70 women?

"Abgaben" aus dem 2. Jahr des Userkaf. München 1995, p.46 Altenmüller on the hieroglyph in question

Quick translation:

"The determiner shows a single "foreigner". It shows a man, crouching on the floor, in the long dress, hair, and beard style of the northern countries. A similar but rare hieroglyph is the determiner of the word "Asian" in the annals of Amenemhets II."

As to why these 70 foreigners were brought from Asia, Altenmüller has a general and a more concrete answer. The general one is the reason why anyone brings tributes:

The why "Abgaben" aus dem 2. Jahr des Userkaf. München 1995, p.46 Altenmüller on the reason for the tribute

Quick translation:

"The purpose of the tribute should be the same as all such tributes from the Old, Middle and New Kingdom. The listen gifts are meant to document the devotion of the tribute givers and to invoke favour from the recipient of the tribute."

Helpfully, Altenmüller goes into more detail shortly thereafter. He determines that the 303 "sack carriers" who are presenting the tributes (the 70 foreigners) do so because they themselves have been outcast once.

outcasts, probably "Abgaben" aus dem 2. Jahr des Userkaf. München 1995, p.47 Altenmüller on the nature of the people who brought the 70 foreigners

Quick translation:

"For both Userkaf and Amenemhet II., these tributes only make sense if there was some kind of distance that needed to be overcome or suppressed towards the ruler. This leads to the assumption that the tribute-giving Egyptian "sack carriers" had been in a foreign country and thus belonged to a group of outcasts, [same meaning as outcast] or emigrants."

So Altenmüller makes the assumption that 303 Egyptians had been some kind of exiled pariahs, and their tribute of 70 foreigners from the land they had been exiled to, was to appease the ruler and make them benevolent towards them and their former reputation.

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