The role of the chantress in ancient Egypt

The role of the chantress in ancient Egypt

Suzanne Lynne Ostine

PhD Thesis, Graduate Department of Near and Middle Eastern Civiliations University of Toronto (2001)


The specific nature of the title ‘s_m`yt’ or “chantress”, which occurred from the Middle Kingdom onward, is investigated through the use of a database cataloging 861 women who held the title. Sorting the data based on a variety of details has yielded patterns regarding their chronological and demographical distribution. The changes in the social status and numbers of women who bore the title indicate that the Egyptians perceived the role and status of the title differently through time. Information on the titles of the chantresses’ family members has allowed the author to make inferences concerning the social status of the women who held the title “chantress”. Middle Kingdom title-holders were of modest backgrounds and were quite rare. Eighteenth Dynasty women were of the highest ranking families. The number of women who held the title was also comparatively small. Nineteenth Dynasty women came from more modest backgrounds and were more numerous. Women of the Third Intermediate Period were nearly all from priestly families at Thebes and the large number indicates the strength of the cult of Amun.

The title occurs sporadically after the Third Intermediate Period, but is known through the Ptolemaic era. From the earliest occurrences of the title until the latest, it is clear that the title was closely associated with the state religious hierarchy. It has been shown that during the New Kingdom the ‘s_m`ywt’ participated in state religious rites including processions, daily temple rituals, and the ‘Sed’-festival ceremony. This association with the state religious apparatus also had political implications. The author has interpreted the fluctuating numbers of women who held the title, along with their historical context, to conclude that, at times, the title may have been used by the religious authorities as a tool to involve more families in the temple systems and the local or national power structures

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