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MeatballDom t1_iwbc48n wrote

The tools of the trade Beyond the human physical evidence, both tattooing and branding are practices which require the use of specific implements. In the case of tattooing, identifying these tools has been fraught: anthropological research indicates that tattoos can be incised with nearly any pointy implement.37 Before the advent of the modern tattoo machine in the late nineteenth century, most tattoos were embedded in the skin through the ‘puncture method’: any sharp implement is used to break the skin, with pigment either applied to the tip of the sharp implement or inserted after the skin has been broken. This appears to be the method employed in Egypt,38 but the evidence for tattooing tools from Egypt are questionable at best. Several sharp tools have been variously identified as tattoo needles in scholarship, though only one tool fits Deter-Wolf’s ‘toolkit’ theory, i.e. that a tattoo needle can only be conclusively identified if it is part of a toolkit including other objects.39 The other objects potentially included in such a toolkit could include: pigments and ingredients to prepare tattoo ink, a mortar and pestle (or similar item) to grind the pigment and mix the ink, an ointment or oil to prepare the skin or to promote healing, tools with which to draw the design on the skin before incision, and perhaps ritualistic objects like incense or amulets.40 In 2003, Tassie attempted to outline criteria for the positive identification of tattoo needles in the archaeological record, stating that a find should meet at least one of the following: contain traces of blood or pigment, be attached to additional needles to create a ‘bundle’, and be found with female-oriented items.41 In theory, this is a logical framework. However, there are a number of issues: first, many of the possible tattoo needles are housed in museums and not discovered in situ, meaning that they would certainly have been cleaned; second, a ‘bundle’, if it indeed was used as Tassie suggests, would have likely been held together by organic materials now long gone;42 third and finally, though women are usually tattooed, there is no evidence that they were the ones doing the tattooing.43 A decade after Tassie’s article, Deter-Wolf updated the criteria by adding that it is also possible to identify tattoo needles through use-wear analysis to determine whether the implement’s wear pattern is similar to that of a known tattoo needle.44 However, this analysis would apply to organic tools only (e.g., sharpened bone awls) and not the metal implements found in Egypt and identified as tattooing needles. Thus far, three sharp implements have been identified as tattooing needles, all metal. The first are a set of seven bronze points, collectively UC 7790, three of which are tied together, excavated by Petrie in Gurob in 1880.45 Petrie originally described these needles as prick points for thorn removal, on the basis of their similarity to Graeco-Roman tools used for that purpose,46 but a later assessment suggested that these tools were not fine enough for thorn removal and instead should be classified as tattoo needles.47 Further examination—and some experimental archaeology involving actual tattooing—proved that although these needles can create a tattoo, the process is painstaking and unusual, since indigenous tattooing overwhelmingly used organic materials for tattooing, not metal.48 The second potential set of tattoo needles, also uncovered by Petrie,49 is a microlith set in a wooden handle dating to the First Dynasty. Bianchi dismissed this idea without too much explanation,50 though Tassie seems to think that it could have been used for tattooing. Either way, the evidence was inconclusive. No blood or pigment remained on the microlith to allow for testing. Finally, the most recent discovery of possible tattoo needles is a set of five metal awls, one eyed and one notched;51 it is most likely that these were actually a sewing kit, with the notched awl used for making netting.52 In all of these cases, the sharp implements are only tentatively identified as tattoo needles. Certainly, the tattooed mummified women mentioned earlier in this article were tattooed by a specialized set of instruments. However, the lack of positively identified tattoo needles warrants some consideration in a discussion of the practice. The identification of branding-irons is far easier, since they are predictable in their shape and can only be used for one purpose (in contrast with needles or any sharp implement). I have identified eight branding-irons, six from the Petrie Museum Collection and two from the British Museum. These irons have been correctly labelled as ‘branding-irons’ in museum collections, and the general assumption is that they are intended for use on cattle. However, their size indicates that they were most likely for another purpose: branding human beings. It is perhaps unsurprising that cattle were branded as a mark of ownership, and the unquestionable depiction of cattle branding in the tomb of Nebamun (fig. 1)53 has attracted little remark. In this scene, one attendant heats a square branding-iron upon a brazier on the floor while two attendants actively brand two trussed cattle on the right shoulder with identical branding-irons

Although the branding-irons in that scene are square, brands were varied in shape, representing a deity, place-name, or perhaps an owner. In the fragmentary P. Varzy,54 a description of cattle branding replicates the brand in large-scale:55 a rwḏ sign (T12) surrounding a ỉwn-column (O28), meant to represent ‘long may Heliopolis endure!’.56 Cattle sale documents of the Saite and Persian Periods record at least six distinct brands in nine different instances. Occasionally, the shape of the brand and its meaning are both included (e.g., nt ỉȝb n pȝ tḫn pȝ ỉȝb n ỉmn ‘who is branded with the obelisk, the brand of Amun’57), but more frequently either the shape alone is referenced (nt ỉȝb n pȝ bk ‘who is branded with the falcon’58) or the deity (nt ỉȝb n pȝ ỉȝb ỉst ‘who is branded with the brand of Isis’59). The shapes described in these documents are in line with the branding-irons currently housed in museum collections (table 1), which are in the form of animal representations of deities, or, in one instance, a cartouche. The majority of these branding-irons are from the Egyptian collection at University College London and were published by Petrie himself in 1917; he dated the collection of irons to the Nineteenth through the Twenty-Fifth Dynasties.60

Modern guidelines stipulate that a standard branding-iron for cattle branding should have characters at a minimum height of 10.6 cm, or else risk losing legibility once the calf ages.66 These brands (with the exception of UC 63717 and BM. EA 57321) are far too small for that purpose, averaging around 2 x 4 cm in height. There are three possibilities for this discrepancy: first, that these were intended for smaller animals such as goats, donkeys, or horses; second, that these were model tools replicated in miniature; or third, that their intended use was for human branding. Although horses are known to have been branded in the Graeco-Roman world,67 we have no evidence that this was the case in Egypt, nor is there any evidence of branding goats.68 However, there is some evidence that donkeys were branded.69 The absence of evidence of horse branding need not necessarily indicate that the practice did not exist, since donkeys were indeed branded. Nevertheless, the other options should also be explored. While model tools are a known practice, the corpus is surprisingly small70 and can be divided into the following categories: building tools, toilet implements (e.g. mirrors and razors), weaving tools, leatherworking tools, hunting tools (generally fish-hooks), and weapons (axes, arrowheads, daggers).71 In the Old Kingdom, these model tool hoards were part of a burial assemblage, but by the Middle Kingdom the practice was mostly limited to building tools as part of a foundation deposit.72 If this collection was indeed model branding-irons from the Late Period, it would be very unusual. No model brands (including the ones above) have been found in model tool assemblages, and none of the above tools come from a mortuary context. In light of the above conclusions, I suggest that these branding-irons were not intended for cattle, but rather for the practice of branding human beings as chattel. Further supporting this point is evidence from the more recent instance of human branding during the Transatlantic slave trade. Human branding-irons from the mid- and late-nineteenth century parallel the size and shape of the smaller branding-irons discussed here: a height of approximately 1 x 1 inches (2.54 x 2.54 cm) and a length of approximately 7 inches (17.78 cm).73 It is, however, still possible that the larger of these branding-irons (namely BM EA 57321, UC 63717, and ECM.1771-2010) were intended for use on horses or donkeys.

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MeatballDom t1_iwbc72g wrote

The Medinet Habu inscription As the only artistic depiction of human branding—or perhaps tattooing, as some contend—the inscription at Medinet Habu of the registration of prisoners74 (fig. 2) has attracted some attention.

In this scene, four officials on the left (only one is visible here) are oriented to the right, writing on papyrus rolls. Two officials in shorter kilts each restrain a prisoner by their right hand and stamp them upon the right shoulder. On the ground between the officials and the prisoners is a small brazier with straight lines coming out of it. Some scholars have suggested that this scene represents tattooing, not branding,75 others suggested branding,76 and yet others left the matter equivocal.77 Arguing against branding, authors have stated that the tools do not resemble artistic depictions of branding-irons,78 that the tools themselves are too heavy to have been held as they are,79 and that the object on the ground is a bowl of pigment rather than a brazier.80 The original artists of the line-drawing may have been overzealous in their reconstruction, adding details in the drawing that are simply not evident in the relief. It is true that in the line-drawing, the Medinet Habu tools do not resemble the tools in the cattle-branding scenes of the Theban tombs; the inscription seems to depict the officials writing with a stylus-like tool. The photograph of the inscription, taken at the same time (fig. 3), shows the true state of preservation; notably, that the tool itself and the hands of the officials are not preserved.

In the photograph, the hands of the officials and the tools they are holding are hardly visible. It is entirely possible that, rather than a stylus-like tool, the officials here are holding tools more reminiscent of those depicted in the Theban tomb scenes of cattle-branding. The state of preservation also addresses the second point—namely, that the tools are too heavy to be held as they are—since the hands of the officials are barely preserved. Even if the officials are holding their tools more like a stylus, it is important to recall the size of the human branding-irons81 discussed above: about the length of a pencil, and likely not too difficult to hold like a stylus.82 The object between the officials and the prisoners should be labelled as a brazier not only because of its context in what is very likely branding, but also due to its size. If the scene depicted was that of permanent or impermanent marking, the ink would probably be mixed in the same way that traditional scribal and painting ink was mixed: dried ink cakes would be hydrated as needed to produce small amounts of ink for the brush or pen.83 It would be extraordinarily expensive and wasteful to produce giant tubs of pigment, an idea implied by the suggestion that this object is intended to hold ink or paint.84 The shape of the object is very similar to that of both the hieroglyph for brazier (Q7) and the brazier depicted in the branding scene of Nebamun (fig. 4). The long, straight lines emanating from the brazier could be an alternative depiction of smoke, as seen in some depictions of braziers from Amarna,85 or perhaps the handles of branding-irons waiting to be used.

Textual evidence of branding Egyptian textual record Previous research has largely focused on the artistic depictions and physical evidence of the practice of body modification—perhaps because the textual evidence for tattooing is non-existent. There is no attested word for ‘tattoo’ nor even a word in the same semantic range (e.g., ‘mark’) with a determinative suggesting pricking, poking, or needles. In contrast, there is an Egyptian lexeme that refers to branding. The lexeme ȝb is written with the determinative for fire depicting a brazier (Q7) or metal ingot (N3486). The lexeme is used in four instances seemingly in the context of marking subservient individuals. In two of these texts, the subservient individuals being marked are named mryw/mrỉw, a Semitic loanword,91 usually translated as ‘groom’, since the word only appears in the context of the care of horses. This position has occasionally been interpreted as a ‘relatively high status’.92 However, in at least two contexts, the subservience of the mrỉw and their lowly status is emphasized. In P. Sallier I 7, 1, the mrỉw hold a position lower than a low-status farmer: pr pȝ rmṯ n mwt.f, ỉw.f m pd n ḥry.f … wnn pȝ s dỉw sw r ỉḥwty, pȝ nmḥw r mrỉw. ‘A man comes forth from his mother and runs to his master… the man hands himself over to a farmer, the nmḥw to a mrỉw’.93 In P. Koller 1, 1, the mrỉw is subservient (and perhaps even belong to) the stable master: ỉḫ dỉ.k ḥr.k r grg pȝ rksw n ḥtry nty ỉw.f r ḫʿrw ḥnʿ nȝ ḥrw-ỉḥ, m mỉtt nȝ mrỉw. ‘You should turn your attention to preparing the equipment of the teams that are going to Kharu, along with the stable-masters and their mrỉw’. In P. Anastasi, after the army is dismissed to the country, its followers94 (šmsw) are branded; this is very likely referencing the branding of prisoners of war, in line with the events unfolding in P. Harris: there, captives (women and children included) are branded with the name of pharaoh to mark them as ḥmw n mnš, galley labourers/slaves.

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MeatballDom t1_iwbc8ls wrote

In a literary context, the metaphor of branding is used as a mark of ownership of a man to his beloved: in the Chester Beatty love songs, one of the poems ends on the note that ‘she has branded (ȝbw.s) me with her seal (ḫtm)’, indicating that his heart belongs to her. Aramaic textual record The Aramaic texts, where this study was begun, offers more evidence and slightly more clarity. In all of the Aramaic examples, the individuals marked are always enslaved, whether bought, sold, or transferred. Since there are several words which could indicate the bodily marking, the following table also indicates the word used for the mark and the action of marking. Half of the texts (six out of twelve total) use šnt for both the mark itself and the action of marking; closely followed by sṭr for the action and šnt for the mark itself; two texts use just sṭr; and there are two texts that use unusual terminology (rwšm and ktb). The strange use of rwšm in SamPap.2 may be attributed to the fact that the text does not originate from Egypt and that it refers to the lack of a mark. The use of ktb in Lindenberger 18 is certainly unusual, but the text itself is odd, with two otherwise-unattested words.99 Considering the context as well as the placement of the mark, I suggest that this is also a brand and simply euphemistic phrasing. The placement of the brand on the right hand/arm in three of these texts not only suggests that this was the standard placement for a brand, but also mirrors two aforementioned instances of branding: the Medinet Habu inscription, which shows branding on the right arm/shoulder of the prisoners, and the Demotic cattle documents, of which three state that the cattle were branded on the right shoulder (ḥr pȝy.s / pȝy.f ḫpš wnm).100 The placement is further supported by the branding-irons themselves facing left, which means that the brand itself would face right—meaning that the brand faced outwards when placed on the right side of the body.101 The two remaining terms—sṭr and šnt —should be discussed individually, since one can be more easily traced through etymology (šnt) and the other is more of a conundrum (sṭr). Akkadian provides the most likely origin for šnt: the term parallels šindu/šendu/šimtu,102 a word defined as painted, marked, stamped, or branded.103 The use of šimtu parzilli to speak of a branding-iron in particular bears some similarity to the use of the metal ingot determinative for the Egyptian lexeme ȝb. In Babylonia, there seems to be little question that livestock and owned persons were branded.104 Legal texts and letters in Neo-Babylonian and Achaemenid Babylonian of the sixth and fifth centuries BC provide some evidence of the marking of slaves, all using similar terminology.105 The ‘mark of servitude’ (šindu amūti) is attested as a mark/brand to be placed upon slave women, and a letter orders that fugitives who have not been marked/branded should be put in fetters. Individuals donated to temples as širkūtu (oblates)106 were marked/branded (šimtu) with symbols reminiscent of those described in the Demotic cattle documents: a star for Eanna, a spade and stylus for Ezida.107 Slaves who were bought and sold are often described as having the names of their owners on their right hand or wrist—by the Seleucid Period, this practice was so common that the absence of a mark was worth mentioning.108 Despite the evidence of animal branding (and its association with šimtu and its cognates), some have suggested that the practice is tattooing due to the occasional use of šindu as ‘glue’ or ‘paint’.109 However, I think the most likely conclusion is that whatever practice was employed on animals was the same one used on enslaved persons, i.e. branding; Akkadian šimtu/šindu, describing this practice, can be readily enough compared with Aramaic šnt. On the other hand, the use of sṭr presents some difficulties in the Akkadian word from which sṭr ostensibly originates (šaṭāru).110 This word specifically refers to a text or inscription, not an image, leading some to suggest the two words (šimtu and šaṭāru) were intended for different purposes: šimtu111 and its cognates referred to marking with symbols, indicating ownership and inalienability, whereas šaṭāru referred to marking with text, indicating ownership and alienability.112 Herein lies the confusion: the conjunction of šnt (Akk. šimtu) and sṭr (Akk. šaṭāru) in the Aramaic texts represents a conjunction of two Akkadian words which tended to not be used together. Even when the two Akkadian words were used together, they seem to refer to different practices of bodily marking.113 The textual šaṭāru seems to be the practice used when a text needed to be legible (as in the case of a name) whereas a šimtu was pictographic.114 Although a distinction existed between šimtu and šaṭāru in the Akkadian texts, the conjunction in usage in the Egyptian texts suggests that in Egyptian Aramaic there was no longer a distinction between ‘textual’ or ‘non-textual’ marks, since šnt is used as a legible marker (cf. Saqqara 164a, TADB2.11, TADB3.6). This generalization in usage is unsurprising considering the semantic overlap of the two words, and lends some credence to the idea that the šnt and sṭr marks of Aramaic were both brands. Conclusions Subservient humans, in Egypt and elsewhere, were unquestionably marked, but at the outset of this paper the question remained regarding the nature of this marking. Although there is no direct evidence of human branding, the textual and archaeological evidence suggest that branding was the practice—and, alternatively, that tattooing was not. Tattooing in Egypt held special regard as a sexual, cultic, and particularly female practice. No tattoo design has yet been found to be repeated; each tattoo was a work of art, meant to be admired in an easily-visible location like the thigh or neck. Hand-poked tattoos, especially figural or textual, take a long time to apply and require skill to pierce the skin to the correct depth, replicate the design or text, and ensure minimal bleeding. In contrast, branding had a long history of marking cattle for ownership. The process is fast (three to five seconds), requires little skill, and a branding-iron could be used repeatedly. It is a short leap from branding cattle to branding chattel slaves, and it seems that, at least by the Late Period, this leap had occurred. The terminology used in the Aramaic contexts, though generalized from its Akkadian origins, does seem to parallel the practice in Babylon. The lack of physical evidence of branding, especially when contrasted with the existing physical evidence of tattooing, should not be considered a reason to forego branding as an existing practice in Egypt. Slaves and prisoners of war, the most likely bearers of brands, were the least likely to have been mummified at all, let alone well-enough to preserve the delicate uppermost layers of the skin. High-status women bearing elaborate tattoos, in contrast, are more likely to have been honoured with preservation. When Arsames wrote to his subordinate Nakhthor, ordering him to bring the new slaves into the yard and ‘mark (sṭr) them with my mark (šnt)’, previous scholarship has been inconclusive when translating the task, with Tuplin even stating, ‘what should we suppose Nakhthor was meant to have done?’115 In light of branding as a mark of ownership, the history of female cultic tattooing, the etymology of the Aramaic terms, and the archaeological evidence, it is far more likely that Nakhthor and his contemporaries did not tattoo these unfortunate individuals, but rather branded them to permanently mark them as property of Arsames, no better than any other property brought into his yard. Human branding remains a cruel and painful way to mark an individual and certainly provides further avenues for research in the field of Egyptian slavery. The evidence suggests that the brand-mark of this period was on the right arm or hand, always visible, marking a human being as property, forever. This is not only a remark on the status of slavery as a permanent condition, even when manumitted, but also a remark on the status of slavery itself: with a brand, an enslaved person carried a marker shared with other pieces of property like cattle.116

Acknowledgments This article is a version of a talk given at the ARCE 2021 Annual Meeting (winner of the Best Student Paper competition). I’d like to extend gratitude to the individuals present at the talk for their questions and comments and additionally to colleagues who provided valuable feedback. I am indebted to Seth Richardson for his insight into Akkadian terminology and characteristically detailed commentary on early drafts of this paper. Funding The author did not receive funding for this project.