Flourished Circa 1190-1075 b.c.e.
Scribe of the necropolis
Troubled Times . Around 1090 b.c.e., Egypt was still an international power, but it was beset by internal and external crises and the New Kingdom was about to collapse. Ironically, it is from precisely this period that scholars have some of the best economic and social documentation from ancient Egypt, including a large number of personal letters and economic texts that concern the activities of a scribe named Dhutmose. His main title was “Scribe of the Necropolis,” meaning that he was the business manager for the crew that was in charge of constructing the tomb of the reigning pharaoh. In the course of his job, he was responsible for dispatching boats and ships to collect grain taxes for the city of Thebes, and sometimes he personally went on these journeys. Men such as Dhutmose were also often called “controllers,” a catch-all title for anyone with the responsibility for overseeing an economic enterprise.
Early Accounting or Fraud? Dhutmose’s responsibilities included carefully accounting for grain that he had collected and dispersed. He arranged for the transportation of the grain and for the transportation that subordinate scribes needed. One well-documented case described the arrangements he made for his son, Butehamun, also a scribe. (The Egyptians had little or no problem with nepotism!) Most importantly, the scribe of the necropolis kept records of these transactions so that other scribes could audit all of these activities and make sure that grain or other valuable commodities were not being skimmed. Egyptian accounts are sometimes difficult to understand, and the records can sometimes seem haphazard. This problem led an eminent Egyptologist in the 1940s to conclude that Dhutmose had been skimming grain during one of his tax-collection voyages and had in fact tried to hide his embezzlements through extra-confusing accounting. A more careful analysis of the papyrus later proved that Dhutmose was innocent. There are other confirmed cases, however, of Egyptian scribes and boat captains embezzling their cargoes. But even in these cases—at least ones known about—Egyptian auditors were able to use the records at their disposal to discover who was responsible for the thefts and to calculate how much grain had been diverted. Thus, the Egyptian system of fiscal controls was quite effective for its time and allowed officials of the New Kingdom to maintain a highly sophisticated economic system that was largely based on Nile River transportation.
A. Gardiner, “Ramesside Texts Relating to the Taxation and Transport of Com” Journal of Egyptian Archaeology, 27 (1941): 19ff.
Steve Vinson, “In Defense of an Ancient Reputation,” Göttinger Miszellen, 146 (1995): 93ff.
Edward F. Wente, Late Ramesside Letters (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1967).