An Exploration of the term ‘inw’ from the Early Dynastic Period to the New Kingdom

By Barbara O’Neill. Published on Egyptological, Magazine Edition 8. 18th April 2013



The term inw has been described as ‘vexatious’ in its complexity, touching as it does on a range of intricate subjects outside the scope of this article. The following article does not claim to cover all aspects of inw. A reading list for those who wish to explore the subject in more detail, is provided at the end.

In his book ‘The Official Gift in Ancient Egypt’ (1996) Edward Bleiberg notes that there are thirty eight different interpretations for the term ‘inw’ in English, French and German.  As Bleiberg notes ‘The Egyptians could not have been as vague as the numerous translations suggest’ (Bleiberg, 1996, p.27).  Ostensibly, in its earliest form, inw is a transaction which expresses a socio-economic relationship between the Egyptian king and others, ‘kingship itself being an integral institution in the socio-economic scheme’ (Bleiberg, 1984, p. 156).

A closely associated term, ‘bAkw’ often appears in any list of inw exchanges, with bAkw understood by Bleiberg as a form of gift exchanged between a foreign country and the Egyptian state.  bAkw could also take the form of local commodities presented as offerings to a temple, whereas the inw exchange almost always involved the king in the transaction, as recipient or donor.  The social status of the individuals involved in inw exchanges appears significant in determining if a ‘gift’ can be categorized as ‘inw’ or ‘bAkw’.  In its earliest phases at least, it appears that the inw transaction was primarily a royal prerogative. (Bleiberg, 1996).

Bleiberg sees the redistributative model as providing the clearest picture of the Ancient Egyptian economy, with inw and bAkw component elements within a system in which goods were collected by the temple for eventual redistribution to the people. Rations were distributed from the temple to people on the basis of rank rather than need or ability to buy goods. All Egyptians were subject to this system except for the king (Bleiberg, 1984, p.156).   There was no vocabulary for the concepts of buying, selling or of money throughout most of Egypt’s history.  The Egyptians used words such as ‘give’ rdi or ‘acquire’ ini to describe the barter system which underpinned their economic system.  In the redistributative system most resources moved from the periphery to the centre; from peasant to palace or temple, with commodities then redistributed on the basis of class and social position. There was no coinage in Egypt before the Twenty Sixth Dynasty and ‘true’ money did not exist there before the Twenty Ninth Dynasty. Precious metals, including gold, silver and copper were used as a medium of exchange and as a standard of value well before this date.

Ancient records, related to the exchange of goods in barter transactions, make fascinating reading.  In a contract dated to Year 15 of Ramesses II, a nobleman named Erenofre offered textiles, bronze vessels, a pot of honey, ten shirts and ten pieces of copper in exchange for a slave girl valued at 4 deben or 1 kite of silver (for information on deben and kite values, see ‘Notes on Ancient Egyptian Measurements’ at the end of this article).  In another trade contract, an ox was exchanged for 2 pots of fat, 5 shirts, 1 dress and 1 hide, equivalent to 120 deben, the value of the ox.  In the barter system there was no way to achieve a profit through selling. Goods were acquired because a person or institution had a need for them. Egypt’s ancient ‘economy’ was not a separate institution but entwined with social obligation (Bleiberg, 1996).

The Wörterbuch (Wörterbuch der ägyptischen Sprache, a multi-volumed dictionary initiated in 1897 which documents how ancient Egyptian words were used) offers four basic renderings of the word inw as ‘offering’, ‘tribute’, ‘gift’ and ‘product’. inw has also been associated with the idea of trade.  Andrew Gordon (1983) rejects the translation of inw as ‘goods’ adhering to the view of inw as tribute, offerings, revenues or gifts according to the context in which the term is used.  Further, Gordon understands inw as possessing ‘an intrinsically high value for the giver and the receiver’ (1983, pp.387-388).

Though a word can be used in different contexts, inw does not correspond neatly to any one modern concept of commodity exchange. Although current historians still struggle with what Antony Spalinger refers to as the ‘vexacious’ question behind the precise meaning of the term inw,  Bleiberg believes that ‘distinctions made by the Egyptians in different rubrics to describe economic transactions are meaningful and consistent’ (Spalinger 1993, Bleiberg,1996).


Inw in Early Egypt and the Old Kingdom

Inw transactions are recognisable in the archaeological and textual records as early as the First Dynasty. Items marked as Inw are attested from Dynasty 1 when the word inw written as the bulti-fish (in) and the nw-pots appears on products redistributed to members of the royal family, to bureaucrats who directly served the king and to ‘even lower’ officials ( Bleiberg, 1996, p.28).  Queens Her-Neith and Meret-Neith both received inw from King Den of the First Dynasty. Ten ivory labels, originally believed to have been attached to containers, along with seals and ink inscriptions inscribed on to jars were found in mastabas at Naqada, Abydos and Saqqara inscribed as inw.

The donors of inw are not always named on examples dated to the First Dynasty from royal tombs.  Nor, in the case of labels or seals recovered from non royal contexts, are individuals, provinces or countries named.  Only the king’s name appears in the earliest examples of inw with minimal information on whether the inw went to, or originated from the royal court.  It appears that inw transactions were well established by the commencement of Dynastic Egypt which suggests that the practice may have started significantly earlier in the Predynastic Period. The practice of tightly controlled redistribution of inw commodities may have been one of many ancient customs that survived into and continued to develop throughout the Dynastic era (Bleiberg, 1996, p.35).

By the Second Dynasty, inw is attested from jar labels and on seals associated with the names of foreign countries, along with the titles of Egyptian nobles who dealt with these transactions on behalf of the king. The term inw, now written with the nw-jar combined with walking legs iw,  appears on seal impressions from the Abydos tomb of King Peribsen.  Another phrase incorporating this word appears on Peribsen’s seals.  On these items the phrase  inw St.t  was initially mistranslated by Egyptologists, including William Ward (1961), as an epithet describing Peribsen as ‘conqueror of Asia’.  This initial rendering of inw St.t is now understood by Ward, in his later exploration of the phrase,  as ‘a fanciful treatment’ of the term, now translated as ‘that which is brought’ (Ward, 1991).  inw St.t is no longer seen as having anything to do with foreign conquests, but rather as the record of an agricultural quota sent as inw to Peribsen.  This inw St.t was tribute sent to the king from an Egyptian town; probably from Sehel at the First Cataract (Ward, 1991).

From the 3rd Dynasty inw is distributed by the king to his family, high officials and to elite nobles.  inw of this type often originate from offerings redistributed via the royal mortuary temple.  These inw contributions indicate a particular relationship between the living (or deceased) king and a favoured few (Bleiberg, 1996, p.53).

inw was also sent to and received from foreign sources, with the practice growing in frequency throughout the Old Kingdom era.  Donald Redford (1986) interprets this form of Old Kingdom inw as ‘tribute’, not specifically gained through conquest but rather representing the ‘benevolence’ of a region, person or state; here inw is a tribute of respect rather than war-booty.  However, Redford believes that inw, in this era, should also be understood as an ‘enforced gift’.

The products of Palestine were highly valued in this period and were acquired in four ways:

  • by trade;
  • by coercion;
  • through the reciprocal exchange of presents, or
  • as ‘enforced gifts’.

Preferring the term ‘benevolence’ for inw, Redford notes that distinctions between these acquisitions are ‘blurred’ (1986, p.140).  It was more practical, and no doubt cheaper, to rely on the Palestinians to voluntarily bring their natural resources as tribute or ‘benevolences’ to Egypt as ‘gifts’. Establishing a fear of Egypt’s Horus (the king) in foreign lands guaranteed a flow of inw from Palestine and from other vassal states in the form of ‘spontaneous tribute’ (Redford, 1986, p.141).

Foreigners were probably expected to produce inw on special occasions.  In support of this, Redford cites an Old Kingdom event known as ‘pA hrw n mst pA inw’ or ‘the day of bringing the benevolence’, as evidence of such a ‘spontaneous’ process.  It is assumed that vassal states received advance notice of when an instance of  pA hrw n mst pA inw was ‘expected’ (Redford, 1986).

Jar labels marked as inw from the Step Pyramid complex specifically mention the sed festival of Djoser. Although connection between inw and the sed festival cannot be firmly established, the only examples of jar labels inscribed with the inw rubric from the New Kingdom, have been dated to the various sed festivals of Amenhotep III (Bleiberg, 1996, p.42).

In the Old Kingdom inw can also be understood as free-will gifts from foreign rulers who were not under Egypt’s sphere of influence.  It is believed that such gifts were usually reciprocated.  Luxury, inw-inscribed prestige items from Egypt have been found at Ebla on the Ionian coast and at Ai, in ancient Canaan.  Elsewhere, prestige goods exchanged between Egypt and the Kingdom of Kush may have permitted Kushite Kings to enhance their own status as receivers of Egyptian largesse.  Items sent as inw to Kushite rulers have been recovered from both residential and funerary archaeological settings (Burstein, 2001).  In early Dynastic and Old Kingdom Egypt, trade between Egypt and Kush was organised primarily as a royal monopoly in which Kushite kings provided exotic goods to their Egyptian counterparts. By way of ‘return’, texts referring to inw received from the Egyptian king are often referred to as ‘the breath of life’. This apparently ephemeral reward most likely took the form of prestige items which the Kushite ruler distributed to his elite supporters; his status in the inw transaction, securely enhanced (Burstein, 2001).

inw was both received and bestowed throughout the Old Kingdom, usually presented by the Egyptian monarch to other powerful potentates, or received by him in reciprocal exchange. inw Items found at Byblos bear the seals of pharaohs from Khasekhemwy in the Second Dynasty right through to to Pepy II in the Sixth Dynasty with ‘with few gaps’ indicating that most, if not all of Egypt’s Old Kingdom rulers routinely presented inw to foreign kings (Redford, 1986, p.141).  inw, in these instances, often took the form of bequests to significant cults within foreign territories.  inw appears to have been governed by social relations rather than by economic considerations (Bleiberg, 1996).

Despite his count of multiple words for the term inw in modern languages,  Bleiberg sees consistency, at least in its early configuration, in the concept of inw as a transaction which almost always involved the Egyptian king as either the donor or receiver of inw commodities. The earliest exception to this, so far as records show, occurs during the First Intermediate Period. Inw, for the most part,  expressed a socio-economic relationship between the king and others during the early phases of Egyptian history.  During the First Intermediate era however, with normal functioning of the central government greatly lessened. Provincial rulers, or nomarchs, are known to have received and donated inw with provincial rulers attested as both donors and receivers of inw.  This situation may have lasted into the early Middle Kingdom (Bleiberg, 1996).


Inw in the Middle Kingdom

In the early Middle Kingdom instances of inw continue to be received by the king from local and foreign regions and from significant rulers and individuals. On the stele of Tjetji, dated to the early Middle Kingdom, inw is listed as commodities sourced from Upper and Lower Egypt and, in the same inscription, goods from Punt are described as inw sent to Intef II or III:

‘the inw of this entire land was brought to his majesty, lord of Upper and Lower Egypt, because of the fear of him throughout the land. That which was brought to The Majesty of my lord by the hand of the chieftains who rule over the Red Land because of the fear of him throughout the foreign countries’.  (Stele of Tjetji, 11th Dynasty).


This and other Middle Kingdom examples indicate a reemergence of the Old Kingdom view of inw as a royal prerogative.  However, despite this concept of inw as the prerogative of the king, inscriptions from 12th Dynasty nomarchal tombs at Beni Hasan attest to instances where provincial rulers claim the right to offer inw to deceased family members.  At around the same period, the nomarch Khnumhotep II refers to prestige offerings as the ‘inw received from the palace’.  It is possible that this and similar scenes reflect Khnumhotep’s participation in royal ceremony with inw continuing to reflect the older interpretation of inw as exclusively the prerogative of kingship (Bleiberg, 1996, pp.71-73).

Paul Smithers in his examination of inw in ‘A Tax-Assessor’s Journal of the Middle Kingdom’ (1941) examines a document written during the reign of Senwosret III ca. 1878–1840 BC, originating from ‘The office of the Land of the Northern District’.  The document records inw collected by an ‘overseer of land’ named Redynyptch; an official responsible for collections of inw from a particular area. Administrators, at this time, charged with the collection of inw were required to keep records of how they had spent their time while on official business. Accompanying Redynyptch were two minor officials named as the ‘stretcher of the cord’ and the ‘holder of the cord’. These titles suggest that part of the official’s duties involved the measuring of cornfields for taxation.  This is one of the few instances where inw may be referred to as a form of tax, although most scholars refute that inw involved taxation in any form.  Whether the example in this papyrus implied a regular tax collected by Redynyptch or was an irregular tribute involving the assessment of certain fields and of the crops produced there, remains unclear.

As noted at the beginning of this article, it is impossible to explore inw without frequently encountering the related term bAkw.   bAkw does not, at any time appear to involve a royal donor or recipient.  In the Middle Kingdom sources, however, bAkw also indicated ‘tribute’, though more frequently, bAkw appears as a form of tax.  These terms occur in close association in texts dealing with international relations or in accounting records related to the Egyptian king and his subjects.

One possible distinction between bAkw and inw is in the ultimate destination of the goods involved; bAkw commodities received in Middle Kingdom accounts appear to become part of the redistribution system.  inw commodities appear to be destined exclusively for the king’s privy purse, or are redistributed to elite individuals honoured as recipients of His Majesty’s inw (Janssen 1993, Bleiberg, 1996).  Conceptually, inw might be regarded as free gifts, irregularly delivered or received and warranting a ‘countergift’, even if, as in the Kushite example above,  this return of inw was described immaterially as ‘the breath of life’.  BAkw does not appear to have warranted reciprocity or compensation (Janssen, 1993).

However, Janssen points out frequent anomalies in the distinctions between bAkw and inw in Middle Kingdom accounts.  bAkw is often listed as commodities destined for temples, from where the goods were then redistributed.  If one distinction between the terms indicates that inw was not intended to become part of the movement of commodities redistributed from temple storerooms, it is apparent in some Middle Kingdom records that the king himself frequently presented inw to temples where presumably these goods may indeed have become part of the wider redistribution system. This poses an interesting conundrum as to how consistently ancient scribes recorded received temple goods as either inw or bAkw; while also posing the question of whether inw did or did not become part of the general redistributive system at this time.

The idea of inw as an exchange between the king and his sociopolitical inferiors, was revived by the Theban kings of the Middle Kingdom.  However, the murky issue of distinctions is not particularly clarified by Hoffmeier (2001) who suggests that bAkw and inw may be regionally specific with the term bAkw used to denote tribute from Egypt’s contiguous or vassal states including Kush, (Upper Nubia), Wawat, (Lower Nubia) and areas of ancient Lebanon.  These lands fell under Egyptian centralised control in the Middle Kingdom, whereas inw is more often applied to commodities supplied by rulers of powerful, independent states, including Hatti, Mittani and Babylonia.

Another feature of inw during the Middle Kingdom phase is outlined in the royal annals of Amenemhet II of the 12th Dynasty where the king is described as gathering inw from nature, suggesting a ritualistic function of the term.  King Amenemhet is said to have ‘caught’ inw consisting of twelve nets of fish and many hundreds of water birds in his ritual role as ‘Fisher and Fowler of the Two Ladies’. This is an obscure title, a rare epithet which perhaps functioned as a means of emphasising a ruler’s physical prowess (Bleiberg, 1996, p.58).  Related accounts list the actual numbers of fish and fowl caught on this occasion, suggesting that the ritual produced inw commodities, perhaps destined for use at the royal residence.  Could this inw have been subject to limited redistribution? There must have been a certain cachet in being the recipient of game or fish captured by the king of Egypt. Or, might this inw have functioned as ritual offerings; a symbolic rendering of gifts to the gods produced from the control of chaos by the king?

inw is presented to the deceased king via his mortuary temple and presented to the living king in his palace.  Entries in the Illahun archives indicate that items received at the mortuary temple of Senwosret II were considered possessions of the dead king and are itemised as ‘inw.f.’ or ‘his inw’.  Later archives from the mortuary temple of Senwosret III list deliveries of inw from the temple to the royal palace. This list includes cattle, various forms of bread and architectural elements including stone columns.  In a related account the entire inw received that day includes items as diverse as pigeons, incense and white bread presented to the deceased king via his mortuary temple by the vizier Ankhu.

Although the evidence suggests that inw was not usually subject to ‘normal’ temple redistribution in the Old and Middle Kingdoms, being the exclusive property of the king; in the case of the inw of a deceased ruler, Bleiberg suggests the complex structure of the term may have meant that ‘disbursement was no longer governed by the same restrictions found in regard to inw under the control of a living individual’ (Bleiberg, 1996, p.82).  Whether these distinctions existed remains unclear, although the fact that inw was supplied or received irregularly; involved the king as donor or recipient and was not ‘at any period’ offered as payment of taxes during Egypt’s Middle Kingdom, does seem conclusive (Spalinger, 1996, p.362, Bleiberg 1996).

Inw in the New Kingdom

In any exploration of the existing literature on New Kingdom inw (or perhaps in all instances of the term’s occurrence) a consideration of both the context and the ideology of the instances in which inw transactions occur, is vital.  Mario Liverani (2002) focuses on the example of Hatshepsut’s trade mission to Punt, scenes of which appear within the second columned hall of her mortuary temple at Deir el Bahri. Hatshepsut’s intent was to supply her temple with incense and particularly myrrh, a gum-resin used heavily in religious ritual.  Extracted from a small, thorny shrub, Commiphora Myrrha, the supply of myrrh involved a long, complex journey; the plant was not native to Egypt.  Hatshepsut is believed to have established a direct route to Punt, Egypt’s primary source of myrrh, through the Red Sea, bypassing countless middle-men.

There were huge ideological advantages to Hatshepsut’s expedition. In related imagery in scenes from her mortuary temple inw commodities are shown as gifts exchanged between the Egyptians and the nobility of Punt.  Hatshepsut’s representatives present foodstuffs, cloth, necklaces and some weapons to a man identified as the ruler of Punt.  In return, the Egyptians receive a range of highly desired exotic items, including the myrrh trees.  There was no common medium of exchange operating here.  Each partner in this particular inw exchange placed a very different value on his own products.  The ruler of Punt was making an extraordinary profit from a naturally abundant commodity in exchange for prestige Egyptian items which would have bolstered his official and personal status.  Indeed each partner in this exchange received increased personal prestige, even if the circumstances in a socio-economic context are on very different scales of magnitude (Liverani, 1990, p.167).

Intriguingly, related inscriptions refer to Hatshepsut’s gifts to the king of Punt as exclusively foodstuffs, ‘every good thing from the court … bread, beer, wine, meat and fruit’ although temple scenes show other valuable items presented in this exchange, including Egyptian cloth, jewellry and weapons.  Significantly, the elite courtiers of Punt are portrayed obsequiously as they deliver their gifts with heads bowed. They are described as moving towards Hatshepsut’s representatives as the latter stand still, observing the approaching courtiers who bear the inw of Punt.  In the Egyptian artistic canon, motion on one side and passive observation on the other act as subtle but important signals of superiority.  While the goods from Punt are described as inw for Hatshepsut, the goods given in reciprocation are labelled as inw ‘for Hathor, mistress of Punt’ making an Egyptian goddess the chief recipient of Hatshepsut’s largesse: ‘by this means, gifts brought by Hatshepsut’s representatives have not really left the Egyptian orbit: they are offered to an Egyptian goddess who is in control, even of these faraway lands’ (Liverani, 1990, p.168).

In the annals of Hatshepsut’s successor, Thutmosis III, inw from Asia is listed separately from harvest accounts and from accounts related to war booty.  Commodities demanded from and supplied by Egypt’s southern provinces Kush and Wawat (Upper and Lower Nubia respectively) are listed as bAkw; inw never appears in this context (Spalinger, 1996).  Tribute received by the king from the great powers of Western Asia (independent, powerful states including Hatti and Assyria) with which Egypt maintained commercial trade relationships instigated through political means, are listed in the royal accounts as inw.  It appears that in countries where Egypt had complete control, the expected annual contribution is always referred to as bAkw in the New Kingdom era. This supports the view that inw took the form (usually) of irregular offerings of tribute, benevolence, or simply put, gifts to the Egyptian king (Spalinger, 1996).  However, Spalinger disagrees with Bleiberg’s view that received inw was only destined for the privy purse of the king, while bAkw commodities were intended for the redistributive system, citing insufficient evidence.  ‘It is unlikely that there was a system of such ‘rational’ bookkeeping in which the king’s personal income was separate from the state or his people’ (Spalinger, 1996, p.365, Bleiberg, 1996).

In the New Kingdom phase, and perhaps earlier, bAkw contributions appear to have been obligatory; a source of regular income with the term used particularly for goods received from foreign countries proximate to the Nile Valley and under Egypt’s direct control.  Inw, at this time, appears as tribute received on an irregular basis from independent states; some of which were led by their own powerful kings including Hatti, Cyprus, Babylon and Mitanni. This is not a universally held definition in understanding the concept of inw in the New Kingdom.

Jac Janssen (1991) suggests that we deal with inw as presents or gifts, preferring a literal translation of the term without elaboration as to the king’s role, if any, in the presentation or receipt of inw; ‘the Egyptians did not use such words as inw in a well circumscribed, technical sense, with sharply defined meanings. They always kept in mind their original value, in this case ‘that what is brought’, without any implication of why or under what conditions the goods were brought.’ (Janssen, 1991, p. 84).

In the Twentieth Dynasty, instances of inw occur in the document known as Papyrus BM 10401, recording the inw collected from priests and temples between Elephantine and Esna by an official entitled the aA-n-St or Chief Taxing Master. Here, the inw includes fans, date flour, fruits, palm leaves, red stone, beans, woven mats, a dappled cow and gold. Whether any of these items were intended for Pharaoh or his court is unknown.  In this Ramesside period, there appears to be an implication that the inw was something exacted, or that inw was made up from goods physically removed or collected by the aA-n-St. These goods may have come from temple storerooms. Men described as priests are listed as administrators in the inw collection process. As for the reasons why the items were being removed from the temples at Elephantine, Kom Ombo, Edfu, Hierakopolis, el Kab and Esna in BM 10401, Janssen explains ‘the state could freely dispose of wealth deposited in their storerooms’ although where the goods went to is frustratingly, unrecorded (Janssen, 1991, p.81, p.93).  By this late 20th Dynasty date, the king resided in the North and it is therefore likely that the inw was destined for the Temple of Amun at Karnak, then under the direct control of the Priests of Amun.  In the case of the inw recorded in Papyrus BM 10401, Janssen does not see this as a form of tax, but rather as delivery of items taken from Upper Egyptian sanctuaries for use there, or for redistribution at Karnak Temple.

By the New Kingdom bAkw can be understood as commodities centered on work and the products of work so that harvest goods, cereals, wine, oil, incense, gold, ivory and ebony and wood from Lebanon all count as bAkwbAkw could also include cattle, other live animals and slaves.  The connotations for inw appear to be considerably wider, although many of the items classified as bAkw are also found in inw lists including precious metals, precious stone, slaves, live animals and some agricultural and pastoral commodities.  In the accounts of Thutmosis III,  a foreign princess sent for diplomatic marriage and named as ‘the daughter of the Prince of Retenu’ is listed at the top of an inw account dating from Thutmosis’ Year 40. It is probably that other foreign brides were sent to Egyptian kings as inw.

The following circumstances may differentiate between bAkw and inw:

  • regularity of supply more often occurs in commodities considered as bAkw;
  • the supply of goods labelled inw is usually infrequent;
  • inw is often specially commissioned, sent or received;
  • the source of the supply of either bAkw or inw is significant with bAkw often sent by and received within state institutions;
  • the ultimate destination may differ, with bAkw commodities entering the redistribution system, while inw goods are usually distributed via the king’s privy-purse, at his behest and usually only issued to elite individuals;
  • inw usually involves the Egyptian king, or another powerful individual, as donor or recipient; and
  • the supply of bAkw is stipulated and subject to redistribution whereas inw is not usually stipulated or widely redistributed

Clearly any attempt to fit either term into a modern translation such as ‘gift’ or ‘tribute’ is, as Antony Spalinger notes, ‘vexacious’. The specific aspect of inw which once distinguished it from bAkw, its irregularity of presentation, has apparently broadened during the course of the New Kingdom as inw commodities are sometimes presented to the king on an apparently regular, pre-determined basis. The nuances between the terms bAkw and inw are less clear. It appears that both terms can be described as conceptually fuzzy by the end of the New Kingdom, at least from an etic perspective. To reiterate Bleiberg’s point ‘The Egyptians could not have been as vague … (t)hey must have seen an underlying unity in transactions called inw’ (1996, p.27).

An example of this conceptual change occurs specifically in the depiction of an inw event first attested from the Old Kingdom.  The event known as ‘pA hrw n mst pA inw’ or ‘the day of bringing the benevolence’ was considered as an irregularly celebrated, ‘special’ occasion during the Old Kingdom.  During the New Kingdom however, images of this event are portrayed in a range of Eighteenth Dynasty tombs including those of Nebamun, Huy, Senenmut and in the tomb of Rekhmire.  These men were all high ranking officials, working under the auspices of a range of New Kingdom monarchs. In all instances, the deceased tomb owner claims that he had the honour of being present as the inw from local and foreign dignitaries were presented to the king.  It appears that by the New Kingdom ‘the day of bringing the benevolence’ may have evolved into an annual calendared event (Redford 1967, Bleiberg, 1996).

The following range of inw presentations indicate events throughout the New Kingdom, some of which may have been infrequent ‘special events’ with others believed to have occurred regularly, perhaps annually:

‘All the foreign countries being gathered together bearing their inw for the Good God of the first occasion, Aakhperkare, living forever’. Context: royal Inscription at Tombos, Reign of Thutmosis I.

‘Viewing the inw of the Delta consisting of inw and everything without limit’. Context: tomb of Yamunedjeh, Reign of Thutmosis III.

‘Then this enemy and the Princes who were with him caused that their children be brought forth with them bearing great amounts of inw consisting of gold and silver’.  Context: annals of Thutmosis III, Karnak Temple.

‘Viewing the inw of the treasury by the Overseer of Works and Child of the Harim, Pahekamun, justified’. Context: tomb of Pahekamen, 18th Dynasty. The deceased observes the delivery, weighing and recording of gold rings.

‘Receiving the inw that was brought to the powers of His Majesty consisting of annual revenues by the Chiefs of Retenu caused to go upstream by boat to Egypt by the Overseer of the Door of the Northern Foreign Country and Royal Scribe, Djeheuty’.  Context: an inscription on a statue of Djeheuty, Reign of Thutmosis III

‘Receiving the inw of the Chief of Punt by the Royal Messenger’. Context: caption in the Punt Reliefs in the mortuary temple of Hatshepsut.

‘Receiving the inw of Kush’. Context: caption in the tomb of Senenmut, Reign of Hatshepsut. 

‘Controlling the long-horned cattle and the ht-aA geese without limit and great amounts of the best inw’. Context: tomb biography of Duaherneheh, Reign of Hatshepsut.

‘The Princes of Mitanni come to him with their inw on their backs in order to request the peace of His Majesty and that his sweet breath of life be sent’.  Context: inscription dated to Amenhotep II, Karnak Temple.

‘Every land and every country bears its inw.  They conduct (it) to the Strong Bull, Horus Who-Appears-in-Truth, Nebmaatre’. Context: architrave inscription dated to Amenhotep III, Luxor Temple.

‘Presenting the inw of all foreign lands and the produce of the chiefs of every land by the king….’. Context: scene from Medinet Habu, Temple of Ramesses II.

‘Presenting inw by the Good God to his father Amun-Re … consisting of silver, gold, lapis lazuli, turquoise … and all precious stones’. Context: inscription at the Ramesses II Temple at Abu Simbel.



Edward Bleiberg, who has perhaps spent more time than most wrestling with how inw can be best understood, has written ‘The greatest problem for a modern observer of an ancient economic transaction is the assumption that it can be equated with some transaction familiar from modern life.’ (1984, p.155).   It is perhaps no longer surprising that thirty eight different words in at least three modern languages have been used to interpret inw, considering the undoubted complexities of the term and how its meaning seems to have evolved over time.

It appears that instances of inw in inscriptions or accounts should always be viewed in context, considered alongside the ideological principles of location, recipient, donor and intended readership;  ‘The word cannot be taken at face value but rather as part of a complex vocabulary of political, strategic and socioeconomic language through which Egypt communicated with domestic and foreign territories close to and far from her boundaries’ (Spalinger, 1996, p.368).


Bibliography and Further Reading Suggestions

Bleiberg, E., 1984, ‘The King’s Privy Purse During the New Kingdom: An Examination of INW’ Journal of the American Research Center in Egypt, Vol. 21 pp. 155-167.

Bleiberg, E., 1996, ‘The Official Gift in Ancient Egypt’, University of Oklahoma Press.

Burstein, S., 2001, ‘State Formation in Ancient Northeast Africa and the Indian Ocean Trade’

Gordon, A., 1983, ‘The Context and Meaning of the Egyptian word inw from the Proto-Dynastic Period to the end of the New Kingdom’, Ph.D Thesis, University of California, Berkeley.

Haring, B.J.J., 1997, ‘Divine Households, Administrative and Economic Aspects of the New Kingdom Royal Memorial Temples in Western Thebes’, Nederlands Instituut, Leiden.

Hoffmeier, J., 2001, ‘Aspects of Egyptian Foreign Policy in the 18th Dynasty in Western Asia and Nubia’, Penn State University.