The Privileges of Priesthood

Many scholars have observed that the emergence of complex societies also entailed social stratification.  One aspect of this stratification was the appearance of an elite class of priests.  These priests were often members of ruling families, or closely linked to them.  Given their proximity and access to power, one might expect such priests to have enjoyed certain worldly advantages.

A new study published in The Lancet confirms this.  The BBC reports that ancient Egyptian priests were “killed” (i.e., probably suffered heart attacks and strokes) because they regularly consumed rich ritual foods that were “offerings” for the gods:

The translations of inscriptions on the walls of Egyptian temples showed that priests would offer the gods meals of beef, goose, bread, fruit, vegetables, cake, wine and beer three times a day.  After the ritual offering, they would take home the food for themselves and their families.  Among 16 mummies whose hearts and arteries could be identified by CT scans, nine had evidence of hardened arteries.  “There was a marked incidence of blocked arteries among priests and their families,” said Professor David.

Foie gras and wine three times a day is tough duty, which probably required power naps between ritual offerings.

As you might have guessed, the lower classes were more health conscious: “The food offered to the gods [and consumed by the priests] was much richer than the more frugal, mainly vegetarian, diet that most Egyptians ate.”

The peasants only had vegetables?  Seems strange to me; I had always thought that agriculture along the Nile was primarily in the form of cereal crops.

Regardless one can hear the Egyptian priests, upon being informed that the peasants had only vegetables, proclaiming:  Let them eat cake!  Qu’ils mangent de la brioche.

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