Egyptian laborers strike for pay, ~1170 BCE


To receive rations owed to them by the Egyptian government

Time period notes

29th year of the Reign of Ramses III, however the length of the campaign is unclear

Time period

1170 BCE, -1 to 1170 BCE, -1



Location Description

Jump to case narrative

Segment Length

Not Known


Unclear - Ammenakht was the scribe whose account describes the strike, and he initially asked for rations to be delivered in the second month, but his account does not seem to indicate that he participated in the strike action.


Not known

External allies

Local government was outwardly supportive, and the Vizier passed the message along to the Pharaoh.

Involvement of social elites

Local and regional government officials passed grievances up the hierarchy to more powerful government officials that could expedite the food delivery.


Egyptian Government

Nonviolent responses of opponent

Not Known

Campaigner violence

Not Known

Repressive Violence

Not Known


Economic Justice



Group characterization

Artisans for the Pharoah

Groups in 1st Segment

Striking Workers

Segment Length

Not Known

Success in achieving specific demands/goals

4 out of 6 points


1 out of 1 points


3 out of 3 points

Total points

8 out of 10 points

Notes on outcomes

growth to encompass the entire labor group at the necropolis

Database Narrative

The first labor strike in recorded history took place in the 12th Century, BCE, in Egypt. The strike was recorded on papyrus, discovered in Egypt, and though it is damaged and incomplete, it is the only record of the strike in existence. All records of this strike refer to dates with reference to the then-current Pharaoh, Ramses III. During the 29th year of his reign (roughly 1170 BCE), artisans tasked with building the necropolis (burial chambers) of King Ramses III repeatedly struck, apparently complaining of insufficient rations.

It is unclear exactly why the artisans were not receiving their normal rations, though there is evidence that the shortage of food was largely the result of corruption in the ruling class. The custom was a monthly ration of grain, but implicit in the document is the sense that the ration had frequently been delayed during Ramses III’s reign. In the 29th year, the grain did not arrive until the 23rd day of the month, when Ammenakht, an artisan (and probably the scribe that recorded the strike on papyrus), complained to the local government authorities. The rations during the fifth month were more than 4 weeks late, and the sixth month’s rations were delivered two weeks into the month.

In the seventh month of the 29th year of Ramses’ rule, the workers had had enough. One day, all the workers simply lay down their tools and marched out of the necropolis they were building. According to Ammenakht, their supervisors had no idea where they had gone - they had never seen anything like this before. They marched to their local government officials, and demanded that they be paid their food rations. Though the local elders agreed that they should be paid, they were unable to provide the rations. The next day, the workers marched towards the temple of Ramses II, and were able to speak with the Visier (Mayor), who was finally able to secure a ration payment for the workers (though it was not a full payment). Satisfied, the workers returned to their labor.

There is evidence that the success of this strike compelled workers to continue to use the tactic effectively throughout the reign of Ramses III. As the strikes continued regularly, local government officials began to increase the number of workers they hired to deliver food and supplies to the workers, so that it was obvious to the workers that they were being heard. It is clear that the tactic was so new to all the authority figures in ancient Egypt that they were completely unprepared to deal with it in any way other than to simply attempt to appease the workers. They were very successful in their campaign, one of the first of its kind.


Influenced other Egyptian protest strikes in the near future.


Edgerton, William. "The Strikes in Ramses III's Twenty-Ninth Year." Journal of Near Eastern Studies. 10.3 (1951): 137-145.

Romer, John. Ancient Lives: Daily Life in Egypt of the Pharaohs. Henry Holt and Co., 1990. 116-123.

Additional Notes

This campaign is difficult to record in the database because the information is so sparse, and because society was so different 3000 years ago. As such, there is very little information, particularly about participants and supporters.

Name of researcher, and date dd/mm/yyyy

Kelly Schoolmeester 22/03/2010