Maat or Maʽat refers to the ancient Egyptian concepts of truth, balance, order, harmony, law, morality, and justice. In ancient Egyptian religion, Maat also spelt Mayet as the personification of truth, justice, and the cosmic order. The daughter of the sun god Re, she was associated with Thoth, the god of wisdom. Maat was also the goddess who personified the previously mentioned concepts and regulated the stars and seasons. Also, Maat handled the actions of mortals and the deities who had brought order from chaos at the creation moment. Her ideological opposite was Isfet (Egyptian jzft), which meant injustice, chaos, violence, or evil.
The judgment ceremony of the dead (called the “Judgment of Osiris,” named for Osiris, the god of the dead) focused upon the heart weighing of the deceased on a scale balanced by Maat(or her hieroglyph, the ostrich feather), as a test of conformity to proper values.
In its abstract sense, MMaatwas the divine order established at creation and reaffirmed at the accession of each new king of Egypt. In setting mMaat”order” in place of isfet’ ‘disorder,” the king played the role of the sun god, the god with the closest links to MMaat Maat stood at the head of the sun god’s bark as it travelled through the sky and the underworld. Although kingship and MMaatwere at times subjected to criticism and reformulation, the principles underlying these two institutions were fundamental to ancient Egyptian life. They thought and endured to the end of ancient Egyptian history.
Cuneiform texts indicate that the word m3ˤt was pronounced /múʔʕa/ during the New Kingdom of Egypt, having lost the feminine ending t. Vowel assimilation of U to e later produced the Coptic word ⲙⲉⲉ/ⲙⲉ “truth, justice”.
History Related to Goddess Maat
The earliest surviving records indicate that MMaatis, the norm for nature and society in this world and the next, were recorded during Egypt’s Old Kingdom, the earliest notable surviving examples being found in the Pyramid Texts of Unas (ca. 2375 BCE and 2345 BCE).
Later, when most goddesses were paired with a male aspect, her masculine counterpart was Thoth, as their attributes are similar. In other accounts, Thoth was paired off with Seshat, goddess of writing and measure, who is a lesser-known deity.
After her role in creating and continuously preventing the universe from returning to chaos, her primary role in ancient Egyptian religion dealt with The Weighing of the Heart in the Duat. Goddess’s feather was the measure that determined whether the souls (considered to reside in the heart) of the departed would reach the paradise of the afterlife successfully. In other versions, MMaatwas the feather as the personification of truth, justice, and harmony.
Pharaohs are often depicted with the emblems of MMaatto, emphasising their roles in upholding the laws and righteousness. From the Eighteenth Dynasty (1550 – 1295 BC), Maat was described as the daughter of Ra, indicating that pharaohs ruled through her authority.
Maat represents the ethical and moral principle that all Egyptian citizens were expected to follow throughout their daily lives. They were expected to act with honour and truth in matters that involved family, the community, the nation, the environment, and the god.
Maat as a principle was formed to meet the complex needs of the emergent Egyptian state that embraced diverse peoples with conflicting interests. The development of such rules sought to avert chaos, and it became the basis of Egyptian law. From an early period, the king would describe himself as the “Lord of Maat” who decreed the Maat he conceived in his heart with his mouth.
Significance of Maat
The significance of Maat developed to the point that it embraced all aspects of existence, including the fundamental equilibrium of the universe, the relationship between constituent parts, the cycle of the seasons, heavenly movements, religious observations and good faith, honesty, and truthfulness in social interactions.
The ancient Egyptians had a deep conviction of underlying holiness and unity within the universe. Cosmic harmony was achieved by correct public and ritual life. Any disturbance in cosmic balance could have consequences for the individual and the state. An impious King could bring about famine, and blasphemy could bring blindness to an individual. In opposition to the proper order expressed in the concept of Maat is the concept of Isfet: chaos, lies and violence.
Also, several other principles within ancient Egyptian law were essential, including an adherence to tradition as opposed to change, the importance of rhetorical skill and the significance of achieving impartiality and “righteous action”. In one Middle Kingdom (2062 to c.1664 BCE), the creator declares, “I made every man like his fellow”. Maat called the rich to help the less fortunate rather than exploit them, echoed in tomb declarations: “I have given bread to the hungry and clothed the naked” and “I was a husband to the widow and father to the orphan”.
To the Egyptian mind, Maat bound all things together in an indestructible unity: the universe, the natural world, the state, and the individual were all seen as parts of the more comprehensive order generated by Maat.
A passage in the Instruction of Ptahhotep presents Maat as follows:
- Maat is good, and its worth is lasting.
- It has not been disturbed since the day of its creator,
- whereas he who transgresses its ordinances is punished.
- It lies as a path in front of him, who knows nothing.
- Wrongdoing has never yet brought its venture to port.
- Evil may indeed gain wealth, but the strength of truth is that it lasts;
- a man can say: “It was the property of my father.
There is little surviving literature that describes the practice of ancient Egyptian law. From the Fifth Dynasty (c. 2510–2370 BCE) onwards, the Vizier responsible for justice was called the Priest of Maat, and in later periods, judges wore images of Maat. Maat was the spirit in which justice was applied rather than the detailed legalistic exposition of rules. Maat represented the standard and fundamental values that formed the backdrop for using justice that had to be carried out in the spirit of truth and fairness.
Later scholars and philosophers also would embody concepts from the Sebayt, native wisdom literature. These spiritual texts dealt with everyday social or professional situations and how each was best to be resolved or addressed in the spirit of Maat. It was timely advice, and highly case-based, so few specific and general rules could be derived.
During the Greek period in Egyptian history, Greek law existed alongside Egyptian law. The Egyptian law preserved women’s rights, who were allowed to act independently of men and own substantial personal property. In time, this influenced the more restrictive conventions of the Greeks and Romans. When the Romans took control of Egypt, the Roman legal system, which existed throughout the Roman Empire, was imposed on Egypt.
Scribes and scribal school
The ethical aspect of Maat gave rise to the social formation of groups of elite individuals called sesh, referring to intellectuals, scribes, or bureaucrats. Besides serving as the civil servant of the kingdom, the sesh had a central role in the society since the ethical and moral concepts of Maat were further formulated, promoted, and maintained by these individuals. Scribes, in particular, held prestigious positions in ancient Egyptian society as they were a primary means for the transmission of religious, political, and commercial information.
Although few were formally literate, writing was an essential part of citizens’ lives in Ancient Egypt, and scribes, for the large part, carried out literate functions for large masses of individuals. Since everyone was taxed, for example, their contributions were recorded by scribes. During periods of natural disasters additionally, scribes worked on distant assignments, which were often in the form of letters. These letters were written and read by writers for those not literate, enabling communication with superiors and families.
Writing and Reading Missions
Written texts were often read aloud in public by scribes, who also wrote most of the letters, regardless of the sender’s writing ability. Thus, scribes were involved in both writing and reading the notes. Since scribes read the letters aloud in public, they could not use the first person to present the king’s voice. Thus, the texts were introduced in the third person grammatical structure. However, much of ancient Egyptian writing was symbolic and operated on a much deeper level than narratives might suggest. Religious concerns and the oligarchical nature of Ancient Egyptian society created important distinctions between elite classes and everyone else. The political and ideological interests of the elite dominated and directed the majority of social and cultural life in Ancient Egypt. Rhetoric has also been acknowledged as playing a role in maintaining social hierarchies and prioritising harmony and social order.
Scribe’s role in the judicial system
Illiterate people had a priority to get scribes to their villages because this procedure allowed the government to limit excessive abuses by pointing out the importance of the complaints of the poor. Although the local government regulated this procedure, it helped the poor feel that their petitions were put before higher officials’ requests. Although the primary responsibility of scribes was to compose the work, transfer it or communicate, some scribes added additional commentary. The scribe’s role in the judicial system should also be considered. Ascribe or a foreman usually led local and insignificant crimes during the trial.
Thoth was the patron of scribes who is described as “who reveals Maat and reckons Maat; who loves Maat and gives Maat to the doer of Maat”. In texts such as the Instruction of Amenemope, the scribe is urged to follow the precepts of Maat in his private life as well as his work. According to Maat, the appeals to live are such that these instructional texts have been described as “Maat Literature”.