The Power Struggle between Government Officials and Clergy in Ancient History

Fragment of an inscripted clay cone of Urukagina (or Uruinimgina), lugal (prince) of Lagash. The inscription reads: “He [Uruinimgina] dug (…) the canal to the town-of-NINA. At its beginning, he built the Eninnu-(E-ninnu or Temple-Ninnu); at its ending, he built the Esiraran”. / Photo by Marie-Lan Nguyen, Louvre Museum, Wikimedia Commons

When secular governors supported by the armies appeared in cities, the clergy members had been ruling, struggles began between these two social classes.

By Dr. Ercüment Yıldırım
Professor of Ancient History
Kahramanmaraş Sütçü İmam Üniversitesi


People, who shifted their lifestyles from hunter-gatherer societies to settled lives dominated by agricultural activities, first began to live in villages and then in cities. The concepts ‘to govern’ and ‘to be governed’ began to appear in time among the crowded population settled in cities. Clergy members became administrators in the Mesopotamian city-states where the urbanization first started. The clergy members having a hierarchy in their own merits, owing to the organized structure brought about by the religious belief in the first periods of humanity, formed a temple-centered administration system. When secular governors supported by the armies appeared in cities, the clergy members had been ruling, struggles began between these two social classes. In this paper, it will discuss the struggle between secular governors and clergy members who had taken over in the first Mesopotamian citystates, focusing on the Urukagina and Akhenaton samples.


According to recent research, the last glacial period ended 11.711 years ago.[1] As the world’s middle latitude climate zone had become appropriate for agricultural activities, the first agricultural societies of the world began to flourish around the world’s major rivers. The Nile in Egypt, the Tigris and Euphrates in Mesopotamia, the Indus River in Harappa and the Yellow River in China had all given life to civilization.[2] As the climate turned out to be suitable, people who had survived on hunting and gathering and created a culture suited to this lifestyle during the millennia until the last glacial period began to change lifestyles to engage in agriculture and livestock[3] In the transition to an agricultural society process, people broke with all their experience and habits they had on hunting, they began to invent new tools and shape their life considering the planting and harvest seasons for the crops they grow.[4]

Groups of people consisting of just a few families due to the facts that being in groups was an essentiality and the food provided was limited in hunting–gathering era started to establish dwellings, we might call ‘agricultural villages or towns’, in which a few hundred families can live together in crop farming and cultivation period called “Neolithic era”, thanks to a sense of security depending on being in groups and abundance of food resources.[5]

Neolithic farmers strived to meet their own needs all by themselves at the beginning of the Neolithic period; however, they organized as the population got crowded and witnessed the emergence of professions organized in various fields such as in pottery, stone and wood tools production and textile.[6] In the fourth millennium, Mesopotamian and Egyptian cities were settlements classified according to occupations and financial strength, and surrounded by walls all created with the support of the people in the city. These cities were places which could exchange raw materials required with neighboring cities in return for excessive product they produced and develop their own city culture different from the common culture of humanity. People who did coexist with others developed a sense of belonging to their city[7]

One of the most fundamental reasons for the formation of the city, namely the coexistence of people, to become mandatory is their need for irrigation canals. Despite the floods that occurred in the land of Egypt created a permanent irrigation system without human labor, irrigation canal construction work which required planning, collaboration and cooperation of all people in the city accelerated the formation of cities in Mesopotamia. Opening irrigation canals and keeping them open constantly was one of the most important things the city administrators had to do, and the necessity of joint efforts and collaboration brought about social communication and governance phenomenon[8]

Phenomena ‘to govern’ and ‘to be governed’ emerged in cities which began to create an advanced social organization. In the first periods, the religious figures, that we will here use the definition “clergymen” to indicate their classification, who were more prestigious and organized when compared to the rest of the community since they came together to serve gods commenced to govern cities as temple-based by making use of worldly powers such as land in their hands, slaves, donations, prophecy and the people’s trust.[9]

Development of the Phenomena ‘To Govern’ and ‘To Be Governed’

Ur, ancient Mesopotamian city-state (click image to enlarge)

In the middle of the 4th millennium, both Egyptian and Mesopotamian civilizations were identified as a city state. It was centuries before the unification of Lower and Upper Egypt, and the establishment of an Akkadian Empire in Mesopotamia. However, the cities, we may call “City States”, independent from each other began to develop in parallel in terms of both administration and religious organization.[10] When the documents in the archives of the city states in Mesopotamia regarding this period are examined, we learn that the administration was temple-based and the clergymen were dominant over the community. In addition, we infer that clergymen did not regard their responsibilities as a distinct part of their everyday lives, they acquired their tasks a special profession no matter what duty they were on and they worked full-time.[11] In order to ensure their livelihood and to meet the needs of the temple, clergy members used to cultivate the lands they owned either by means of temple or directly using the religious power of the temple by slaves and workers and store products they harvested. In addition, they used to undertake the responsibility to store products produced by the public and exchange among the inhabitants of the city. Except those, clergy members might have traded some goods they had such as pots, cereals, textile, and animal products, which all had a commercial value.[12] It was necessary for clergymen who governed the cities according to Gods’ or their own interests to do this by creating a perception as if people need the temple, not the temple needs people. Otherwise, the city dwellers could show disobedience towards the temple. An obligation for the clergymen to systematize activities regarding product storage, consignation and records of the decisions made, in order not to lose the people’s trust, has resulted in record keeping and contributed to the invention of writing.[13]

The most fundamental and complex question to be answered at this point is why a temple-based administrative organization which was in the leadership of the clergymen emerged instead of a government organization around the palace and the king in the early stages of the establishment of city states. First of all, there must be a human-centered social organization to explain and understand divinity. Owing to the fact that they led the social organization since the very early stages of urbanization to make the people confess their religious beliefs, clergy members imposed the idea that Gods should be served and led the communities according to Gods’ demands or their own necessities.[14]

Additionally, since the decisions made by clergy members were regarded as either the gods’ demands or something very vital for the community, their decisions in administration had become ‘unquestionable’ and been accepted. Community members obeyed and followed these
orders without any disobey. Apart from all these, gods cannot survive without being institutionalized. In other words, since the gods would be erased from people’s minds without clergy members who praised them, offered victims and built temples, clergy members were constrained to Gods and the temple in order to sustain their lives. To be able to continue this mutual relationship, the temples had to be institutionalized in terms of political, social and economic aspects. Because the struggle between the cities had not turned into an entire military conflict during this period yet, city administration could be continued depending on an oral tradition developed by clergy members.[15]

The Emergence of the Monarchy

Ruins of ancient Uruk

In Mesopotamia, the concept of ‘an administrator’ or ‘administration’ independent from the temple cannot be mentioned until the Early Dynastic Period (2900 BC). In the Uruk Period (BC 3500 – 3100), Uruk, the biggest representative of the Mesopotamian civilization, had also a temple-centered administration. The number of people increased in parallel with the abundance of food production in the Early Dynastic Period, and new cities were erected in a territory which can be considered very small and the present ones were developed as a result of this fact. This situation increased the value of lands that could be cultivated and triggered struggles between cities to control larger territories.[16] Although the city administrative system developed by clergy members was specialized to carry out tasks, which we may call “internal affairs”, such as sharing of the urban land, cultivation and harvest of those land, resolution of problems among people living in the city, trade with neighboring territories, storing the excessive products obtained, opening the water channels and keeping them open and collecting taxes required for the city and temple works, that system was not capable to make decisions instant enough to maintain military and political conflicts with another city and sustain itself by making use of imperia.

Under these circumstances, a monarchic system or rather a powerful king was needed. Thus, a new ruling class under the leadership of a single king, along with the temple administrators, began to be institutionalized in the Early Dynastic Period.[17] When compared to the clergy members who took strength from the temple of gods and had an obligation to base their decisions on the city’s religious beliefs, the kings could make decisions often independently of religious beliefs by claiming that they defended the interests of the city. Common deities were also worshipped in city states which were in constant war with each other in the Early Dynastic Period. For that reason, in disputes between different city communities which believed in the same deities, it seemed unconvincing and sounded unbelievable when clergy members asked people to fight against those who lived in other cities, in which the gods they represented were worshipped; however, for kings, it was not very important which gods/deities were worshipped in cities they fought against. It was enough to convince the people they ruled that they will ensure their happiness and welfare.[18]

Although clergy members had a hierarchical order inter se, more than one person could be on duty in the same positions or the same posts. In the same way, there were also disputes among themselves since it could not be mundanely determined which of the clergy members on duty in the same positions was superior. In addition, even if they wanted to choose one as the highest, one of the problems to be solved was how to elect ‘this person’ and ensure obedience of others.[19] However, since kings took over reign either through inheritance regarded as their natural right or the use of military force to eliminate their opponents, there was no one to be considered their counterpart. Because they did not accede after an election, the kings had no sense of gratitude to anyone as long as they were in power. This provided them with total independence while making and performing decisions.[20]

In addition to the advantages of clergy members’ and king’s reign together mentioned above, there emerged some administrative strategies which kings did, but clergy members could not. Among these was kings’ ability to offer their followers and supporters various mundane promises. While clergy members were expected to behave equally to every individual in the society because of their position by the community, kings could reward people who availed their own power as they wished and they were not expected to treat everyone equally and fairly. Additionally, as the destiny of the king was the destiny of the people living in the city and the more powerful the king was the better welfare the community could live in, the people agreed king’s hegemony unconditionally because they believed that could continue their lives more comfortably.[21] Although the kings of city-states in Mesopotamia in the Early Dynastic Period began to take the governing rule of the clergy members, the power of the temples and religious belief on people never disappeared and remained as an alternative power. Kings did not underestimate the power of the temple and its employees during their reign, and they tried to make use of this power by either assigning themselves as the highest administrator of the temple or God’s proxy on the earth.[22]

Despite the fact that it is possible to follow how the administrative mentality developed by referring to the documents in the state archives in Mesopotamia, it does not seem possible to understand how this development occurred in cities, called “Nom”, founded around the Nile River in Egypt. Yet, the first rulers who unified Upper and Lower Egypt to create a central government did not even concede being the highest religious figure or the position of caliphate of deities so they declared themselves gods directly. As the reasons why Kings of Egypt –who used the title “Pharaoh” afterwards– declared themselves gods, it can be thought that they strived to ward off the clergy members in Egypt to come against a ruler, a person like themselves, and intended that the people should not have regarded their rulers as normal
individuals as they were.[23]

Struggles for the Power Domain

Hammurabi Stele

When the city states began to have more complex social and economic organizations in the Early Dynastic Period, the temple-centered administrative approach was not sufficient enough to rule the people and it could not meet relations to other cities. Thereupon, kingship regime
which began to develop in the previous periods came to the forefront and appeared to be more decisive to make the decisions essential to maintain the lives of the people in the city. In the process of time, a struggle for power between the temple-centered religious administration comprised of many clergy administrators and benefited from the impressiveness gods had and the palace-centered kingship regime depending on the strength of a temporary or permanent military force constituted by soldiers under the command of the king.[24]

In Mesopotamian cities, it is observed that kings procured acceptance for their dominance to the clergy members and the community, although it is not very obvious and clear how both the temple and the king ruled at the same time and how they maintained that system. Given the early Sumerian laws, it is inferred that kings had placed themselves a central position that resolved social inequalities, acted modestly towards the neediest classes of the community such as widows and orphans, helped people and limited taxes collected by the temple. Even if it seems unclear about whether such behavior was based on humanitarian reasons or intended to reduce the power of the temple, and whether the kings wanted to ensure the support of the people to justify themselves as their rulers; we can infer that this preference eventually prevented people to question ‘What was the king for?’.[25]

Kings always agreed they were under the right command of the gods, just like any individual in the society. While making their decisions and finding solutions to the problems between people, they attributed source of their sovereignty directly to gods, not the people, and they did not hesitate to mention this in laws they legislated. Owing to the powerful belief in god or gods in Egyptian and Mesopotamian societies had in common, it does not seem possible to talk about ‘a secular king’ approach almost no time.[26]

Kings was never directly up against gods which were the largest source of power in the hands of clergy members. Instead, they regarded themselves as god’ agent and servant; thus, they both used the power of the temple and made the community have much more respect for themselves. Because of the fact that they regarded and introduced themselves as ‘the protector of the community’ against internal and external problems as their first objective, kings were required to listen to the complaints of their people about the temple and find solutions. High taxes collected the temple for worldly and religious affairs might be one of the prominent complaints. The way or ways kings, the protectors of the community, followed to resolve tax and payment questions without reducing the temple’s income or impoverishing people must have been regarded as an indicator about how a king they were. As looking after the community’s rights guaranteed and strengthened their power, kings were also required to fulfill the wishes of clergy members. Against kings in such a dilemma, clergy members exerted pressure for more power and wealth from time to time and even threatened kings’ administration.[27] Although there exist many examples in this regard in both Egypt and Mesopotamia, we strive to explain the developments occurred in the periods of Urukagina and Akhenaton by this research’s nature and limitations, and provide a live commentary on the subject.

Urukagina’s Reforms

Urukagina Liberty cone

Urukagina, alternately referred as “Uruinimgina” or “Irikagina”, was the king of the city-state Lagash ca. 2400 BC in Mesopotamia. He is known as ‘the first lawmaker and social reforms’ in recorded history by historians. Urukagina seized power after his predecessor Lugalanda, made decisions to restore the order in his city having social problems and made both clergy members and the community to obey these rules.[28] The presence of free economic approach and absence of a social security system conducted by the state in Mesopotamian cities had resulted in that the rich got richer while the poor get poorer. As far as Urukagina’s reformations indicate, the clergy members who were supposed to support social structure and help widows, orphans and poor which all constitute the ‘weakest groups’ in communities prioritized their own interests over those of the weakest and destitute. Clergy members who were already fulfilling religious obligations collected fees they set for funerals, feast celebrations, fortunetelling and consultancy on religious matters regardless of the person’s financial situation.[29]

If economic sharing in a community provides inequalities when it is compared with population
distribution; namely, if the majority of the city’s financial wealth is in the hands of a very small portion of society while the vast majority of the people in that society fight hunger to sustain their lives, although they make sacrifice for it, this will bring about a social explosion. However, clergy members in the Mesopotamian city states continued to live in a social order they established. Because they claimed to be using the economic power in their hands on behalf of the gods since they made people accept that any objection and obstruction against them meant objection to gods and deities, they used to accuse people of coming against the gods and ostracized them, if any individual resistance they faced. As compared with clergy members who believed they were accountable to gods, kings were also accountable to people they ruled; so they might have thought that they should not have remained indifferent to the current unjust situation. It is highly probable that these dynamics were on the basis of Urukagina’s reforms.[30]

Despite of the fact that Urukagina made his arrangements inscribed, the document was found to be broken. On the readable parts, Urukagina begins with a description of the community: “Since time immemorial, since the seed corn (first) sprouted forth, the head boatman had the boats in charge for his own benefit, the head shepherd had the asses in charge for his own benefit, the head shepherd had the sheep in charge for his own benefit; the head fisherman had the fishing places in charge for his own benefit. The incantation-priest measured out the
barley rent (to his own advantage)….”After telling that some people responsible for using facilities of the community used these resources for their own interests and they prospered,
Urukagina describes the status of clergy members: “The [temple] oxen of the gods plowed the gardens of the ensi; the gardens and the cucumber fields of the ensi were in the best fields of the gods; the asses and oxen of the priests were taken away (by the ensi). The barley rations [income] of the priests were administered by the men of the ensi…. In the garden of a humble person a priest could cut a tree or carry away its fruit. When a dead man was placed in the tomb, it was necessary to deliver in his name seven jars of beer and 420 loaves of bread. The uh-mush priest received one-half gur [about fourteen gallons] of barley, one garment, one turban, and one bed. ne priest’s assistant received one-fourth gur of barley…” Later in the text, after he describes and tells about workers begging for bread and income injustice in the city, it is said the former days were like that.[31]

Afterwards, Urukagina talks about how he was granted the lugal-ship of his city, what he did for his people and how he eradicated social inequality before his reign: “When the god Ningirsu, the warrior of the god Enlil, granted the lugal-ship of Lagash to Urukagina, picking him out of the entire population, he [Ningirsu] enjoined upon him (the restoration of) the divinely decreed way of life of former days. He removed the head boatman in charge of the boats. He removed the head shepherd in charge of the asses and sheep. He removed the head fisher- man from the fishing places. He removed the head of the storehouse from his responsibility of measuring out the barley ration to the incantation-priests….”Later on, he mentions what he did for the city of the[32]

Urukagina prevented people who were using the city resources for the sake of their own interests and cut the fees clergy members received from the public: “When a dead man was placed in the tomb, (only) three jars of beer and eighty loaves of bread were delivered in his name. The uh-mush priest received one bed and one turban. The priest’s assistant received one-eighth gur of barley….” In addition, he describes he relieved the people in the city of poverty and the oppression of the clergy members: “The youth was not required to work in the a-zar-la; the workingman was not forced to beg for his bread. The priest no longer invaded the garden of a humble person.” Except those, new laws he enacted to prevent clergy members to gain dominion over the people of the city are announced to all the public: “He (also) decreed: If a good ass is born to a client and his overseer says to him, “I will buy if from you,” then if be wishes to sell it he will say, “Pay me what pleases me”; but if he does not wish to sell, the overseer must not force him. If the house of a powerful man is next to the house of a client, and if the powerful man says to him, “I wish to buy it,” then if he wishes to sell he will say, “Pay me in silver as much as suits me,” or “Reimburse me with an equivalent amount of barley”; but if he does not wish to sell, the powerful man must not force him.” This arrangement might have weakened clergy members’ and other powerful individuals’ dominance on other people. Nonetheless, it is inevitable that people who used to drive benefits from the temple and deities strived to establish dominance over the people and the king by depending on the power of gods, in case they had any opportunity.[33]

Even if he attributes to Ningirsu, one of his gods, Urukagina glorified his ruler ship by attributing social welfare and development he realized to himself and vitiated the power of the clergy members; thus, it seems to have strengthened his administration: “He [Urukagina] freed the inhabitants of Lagash from usury, burdensome controls, hunger, theft, murder, and seizure (of their property and persons). He established freedom. The widow and orphan were no longer at the mercy of the powerful: it was for them that Urukagina made his covenant with Ningirsu.” Urukagina reforms or laws both saved the people of Lagash from the relentlessness of clergy members and other powerful people in the society and helped the kingdom, state administration, get stronger against the temple. This law indicates that gods were not only in the monopoly of the clergy members and the king could also make people obey his administration approach depending on the power of the gods.[34]

Akhenaton and His God

Akhenaten and famly under the sun god

Although he was given the name ‘Amenhotep'[35] at birth and the title ‘Nefer-kheperu-re;[36] later, the tenth pharaoh of the XVIIIth dynasty changed his name to ‘Akhenaton'[37] after adopting the Aton religion. Despite the facts that Akhenaton takes place at an important turning point in humanity’s faith development and asserts the idea of only one eternal and everlasting god which was neither begetteth nor begotten, we remain within the boundaries of our study and discuss about the struggle between him and clergy members who had a wide sovereignty over Egyptian society believing in various gods for millenniums, instead of focusing on his announcement of a monotheistic belief system and his religious policies.[38]

Although it is not clear and still remains a mystery why he gave up the religious understanding and creed system accepted by the Egyptian community for millenniums and started to believe in only one god in an unprecedented way, Akhenaton should have known that he would take clergy members which constituted the most active and best organized part of the social organization having a hierarchy in itself. As soon as Akhenaton began explaining his new god
and religion to people he ruled, clergy members might have thought that the gods they represented and therefore they would be discredited and fall into disfavor.[39]

Polytheistic religions could be regarded as religions of rituals, rather than a religion of belief. Often, requests from individuals in the community used to be conveyed to gods by clergy members in the temple. Similarly, bureaucracy related to some issues such as marriage, divorce, funerals and inheritance in the Ancient Egypt were in the hands of clergy members. Individuals in the community used to do many important works in their daily life by obtaining approval of the temple and were determined to make a donation or pay a fee for it. In this case, the temple seemed as an indispensable part of daily life for the community.[40]

Many continuous activities of not only people in the society but also the palace itself were managed by clergy members. Festivals, mummification procedures, funerals and wedding ceremonies were all held by the clergy members. This situation used to guarantee the maintenance of the mutual operation between the palace having military forces and the temple having social power. Kings had established a relationship based on a “mutual benefit” principle with the clergy members, who were always informed about what happened in the palace and directed the community. This relationship was committed on a regular basis until Akhenaton started his reign. However, the King who believed in only one god appeared to be the greatest threat and an enemy to be destroyed for the clergy members.[41]

One of the differences between the polytheistic religions and monotheistic religions is that it is absolutely required a religious functionary to be present to fulfill the faith rituals in polytheistic approaches. In monotheistic religions, people are regarded as individuals and so they can perform worship without clergy members. In polytheistic religions in the Ancient History, however, the practitioners of the faith are people who were loyal to the temple and asserted that they were appointed for that, rather than the individuals. Depending on the power of the gods they represented, these people were able to obtain wealth and prestige. This understanding lasted for thousands of years until Akhenaton. For the ‘joe public’, it was quite challenging to defy and disobey gods in the protection of clergy members since they would be ostracized from the community or insulted by people around. Even so, if someone, who himself is a God directly, begins to talk about only one God by abandoning his deity and the other gods, this is a situation that cannot be stayed indifferent.[42]

New understanding of religion declared by Akhenaton can be considered as a continuation of the “personal belief teachings” which found themselves support in the Egyptian society in earlier periods. While worshipping, people had begun to prefer calling directly to gods or deities who were the resource of the peace filled in their hearts, not the clergymen who presented themselves as “the chosen group”. Owing to the fact that this belief system emphasizing that people should show their belief through behaviors in their own lives, not the extent of their loyalty and commitment to the temple, as gods asks them to be good believers, would lessen the need for clergy members, it might have been faced with great opposition by clergy members. The clergy members who realized they would lose not only their prestige in the
community but also the privileges and influence they had on government officials might have responded this belief system by increasing their threats and pressure on.[43]

As soon as Akhenaton, together with his wife, Nefertiti, began to introduce and spread his new doctrine, the clergy members serving other gods believed in Egypt for centuries began to repaginate the king, their old god, directly or indirectly. Although Akhenaton held all military power as a pharaoh, social power was in the hands of clergy members. Since he could not realize a direct military intervention against his own people, Akhenaton left Thebes, the capital city, along with his devoted followers. He moved to “Akhetaten”, a city specifically planned for God Aton, though it is of debates whether he left Thebes due to a possible uprising against him or he wanted to be free of the oppression and influence of the clergy members. Akhenaton moved in the city along with his army, servants and followers of his new religion; however, servants of the gods in magnificent temples of the city of Thebes did not go with him.[44]

The life span of Akhenaton’s new religion was limited to his own reign. The main reasons for this situation are believed to be that Aton religion was only accepted by the upper strata of the society and it could not reach the masses under the influence of clergy members. Furthermore, the successors ascended the throne after Akhenaton either did not believe in Aton religion or tried to prevent a social resistance and returned to the old gods, by not revealing determination as Akhenaton did. For any reasons whatsoever, clergy members in Ancient Egypt maintained the power they had, their dignity in the community and their impact on the state administration.[45]


Ziggurat of ancient Ur

Since the early periods in the history, clergy members who claimed to be serving the god or god stried to provide themselves with a more comfortable life by using their power and requests as if they were gods’ requests. While the clergy members were organized over the temple and had a full control over the inhabitants in cities during the formation periods of the city states, they contended for a power struggle with the kings emerged in time. The conflict between kings and clergy members, who were trying to protect what they had in hand, has taken place throughout the history. People’s beliefs were at the center of their everyday life in Egyptian and Mesopotamian civilizations, which both have an important place among the ancient civilizations. People used to learn ‘how they should have lived’ from their gods; in other words, clergy members. So, they had to accept the demands of the temple without questioning.

When any individual in the society, from a worker in the lowest segment of society to the king at the highest level of administration, put up resistance against the temple’s requests, clergy members used to charge him/her with disobey against the gods and strengthen their indestructible social status as they guaranteed their incontestability regarding their decisions. The clergy members specialized in managing people by means of their beliefs had also succeeded in providing themselves with a comfortable life and a respectable status in the society, without any effort. However; the fact that clergy members used the religious beliefs of society for the sake of their own interests did not result in the lack of religious beliefs in community or a thought that religion is something unnecessary in no circumstances. It was thought that the fallaciousness was due to wrong persons.

The governors in Mesopotamia and the kings appeared after the unification of Lower and Upper countries in Egypt soon realized that the easiest way to rule a society was to make use of the power of the gods on account of their authorities. In Egypt and Mesopotamia, the easiest and effective management system, valid even today, was based on intimidating people to make them not to disobey authorities. This oppressive approach was realized on the most valid values in society, namely belief, and the administrators declared themselves ‘gods’ representatives’ or ‘gods in person’. Additionally, they claimed that when they were disobeyed, the gods would be disobeyed as well. Even though kings and the clergy members who succeeded in controlling gods and their most valuable capital, i. e. the temple, seemed to serve the same gods, they did not hesitate to struggle against each other for the sake of worldly interests.

Although this struggle in Ancient History, especially in the Middle East, has been active without any interruption up to now, we have tried to provide Urukagina and Akhenaton cases within the limitations of our study. When Urukagina came into power, clergy members had already created a great pressure on people and they used to wrench their goods from their followers and demand very high fees in religious affairs. Maintaining his authority depending on the support of the people he ruled, Urukagina made efforts to diminish the effectiveness of clergy members and to legitimize his power. Although not included in the resources we have today, it can be inferred that clergy members were not satisfied with his arrangements. Even though there was not an overt conflict, we can suppose that clergy members had no good intentions against Urukagina’s power and authority. Although resources regarding Urukagina’s reign do not provide direct information about the conflict between the clergy members and the government officials, the struggle between the members of the temple and Akhenaton is seen clearly.

As clergy members which could reach all segments of the Ancient Egyptian society by means of the hierarchical structure they were organized and had become an integral part of the society directed society according to their own needs, they were also active in important tasks such as ceremonies, celebrations and funerals in the palace where the highest representatives of the Egyptian religion met. Kings who held military power in their hands and clergy members who had social power were included in an order spontaneously occurred during millennia, and the kings avoided to do something which would undermine the interests of the clergy members.

Akhenaton was an exceptional case regarding this situation. Two classes mutually benefiting from the current situation before Akhenaton began to conflict and struggle as soon as the concept of ‘one god’ emerged. Even if this conflict did not turn into an uprising against Akhenaton who had the military power in his hands, clergy members who could not benefit from the government’s blessing hindered the society to confess his teachings. The winners of this power struggle limited to life of Akhenaton were the clergy members.

In conclusion, clergy members having social power and kings having military power in their hands had been in a struggle–sometimes active/obvious and sometimes latent–regarding the use of economic and political power in Egyptian and Mesopotamian societies in the ancient history. In this struggle, none of these two parties were able to win all the time. Although the winning parties changed depending on the conditions by the time, the public was the loser of this struggle because they had to share their economic wealth both with the king and clergy members.



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  14. BODLEY 2011, 238 – 239; SNELL 2005, 5 – 6.
  15. LEICK 2002, 54; HOLLAND 2009, 112 – 128; RISTVET 2014, 194 – 202; JOHNSTON 2004, 292 – 293.
  16. LLOYD 2010, 53 – 55; SELTZER 1989, 5 – 10; BODLEY 2011, 200 – 201.
  17. CABRERA 2010, 64 – 65; ADAMS 2005, 136 – 138; CRAWFORD 2013, 160 – 161; LIVERANI 2014, 97 – 106; GRIFFETH 1981, 7 – 28.
  18. FARMER 1977, 20 – 37; SNELL 2005, 7 – 12; FAGAN 2004, 369 – 373.
  19. BERTMAN 2003, 127 – 128; MCINTOSH 2005, 129 – 130; HINNELLS 2007, 192 – 195.
  20. DIAKONOFF 1991, 84 – 95; BODLEY 2011, 239 – 240; MAISELS 2001, 163 – 172.
  21. YOFFEE 2005, 100 – 103; SOMERVILL 2009, 24 – 28.
  22. MARCHESI / MARCHETTI 2011, 129 – 149; ADAMS 2005, 139 – 143; LIVERANI 2014, 107; MIEROOP 1999, 118 – 121.
  23. GARCÍA 2013, 1- 14; SILVERMAN 2003, 199 – 201; BRIER / HOBBS 2008, 72 – 77; SAUNERON 2000, 54 – 57.
  24. KAGAN 1966, 19 – 21; MULLER 1961, 54 – 58; MAYER / BUCKLEY 1969, 22 – 26.
  25. MAISELS 1993, 162 – 168; MANN 2012, 73 – 79; MAISELS 2001, 79 – 82.
  26. MIEROOP 1999, 33 – 34; JOPPKE 2015, 8 – 10; POTTS 2012, 544 – 545; KASER 2011, 99 – 100.
  27. MCINTOSH 2005, 173 – 174; SHORTLAND 2012, 37 – 39; LOCKARD 2010, 35 – 36; OLSEN 1994, 161 – 166.
  28. KRAMER 1971, 58 – 80; CRAWFORD 2013, 119 – 120; EHRLICH 2011, 70; VISICATO 2000, 6 – 7.
  29. LIVERANI 2014, 112 – 114; THOMSON 2011, 71 – 73; KING 2012, 182 – 187; KRAMER 1988, 104 – 105; STARR 1991, 44.
  30. BURG 2003, 9 – 10; KRAMER 1971, 81 – 84; FALKENSTEIN 1974, 7 – 11; KAGAN 1966, 16 – 18; GOFF 1963, 230 – 236.
  31. BAILKEY 1976, 18 – 19; LIVERANI 2014, 113/
  32. KRAMER 1971, 317 – 318; LANSING 1971, 117 – 119; MOSCATI 2001, 23 – 24.
  33. BAILKEY 1976, 19; SAMHABER 1964, 35 – 37.
  34. WALLBANK 1992, 11 – 12; BAUMANN 1969, 127 – 128.
  35. Amenhotep means “Amun is Satisfied” and sometimes given in its Greek form, Amenophis.
  36. Nefer-khepreru-re means “Beautiful are the Forms of Re”.
  37. Akhenaton means” Beneficial for Aton” or” Effective for Aten” and it is also spelled Khuenaten, Echnaton and Ikhnaton.
  38. HARI 1997, 7 – 11; ALDRED 1969, 94; LEPROHON 2013, 105; ARNOLD 1996, 4 – 5.
  39. FRANKFORT 2011, 17 – 26; HOFFMEIER 2015, 91 – 101; WHITE 1970, 171 – 173; RUIZ 2001, 182 – 183.
  40. TEETER 2011, 19 – 35; DAVID 2003, 79 – 81; LORTON 2000, 29 – 36; CHRISTENSEN 2007, 74 – 87.
  41. BAKER / BAKER 2001, 123 – 124; AFRICA 1969, 24 – 27; CASSON 2001, 83 – 94.
  42. MONTSERRAT 2003, 93 – 122; MCLAUGHLIN 2012, 34; RUIZ 2001, 153; ASSMANN 2014, 63- 69; MIEROOP 2010, 209 – 211.
  43. BAKER / BAKER 2001, 125 – 129; BUNSON 2012, 18 – 19; MURRAY 2013, 40..
  44. THOMAS 2003, 67 – 77; HORNUNG 2001, 61 – 67; CHRISTENSEN 2007, 50; WILKINSON 2013, 285 – 296.
  45. RUIZ 2001, 183 – 185; SILVERMAN / WEGNER 2006, 161 – 177; HOFFMEIER 2015, 118 – 131.


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Originally published by the Journal of Ancient History and Archaeology 4:3 (2017, 8-17), DOI:10.14795/j.v4i3.268, under the terms of a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International license.