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The Med Jai

Who were the Med Jai?

The Med Jai were documented as being a particular tribe of Nubians, the “Med Jai- Nubians” and existed in the Sudanese deserts of Nubia, “Holding off the land of the Med Jai” (Wilson 1951) at the 2nd cataract. They were most likely different to their southern Nubian counterparts and during the Middle Kingdom (Mid.K) it has been found that the Egyptians traded gold with these Med Jai desert people. During Old Kingdom times (Old K) Weni, 5th Dynasty GodKing, was said to have paid a tribute and visited chieftains of the MedJa-Nubians, Yam-Nubians and Wawae-Nubians. (Gardiner 1961) says: “Men of Medja and Wawae were among followers of a prince of the Hermopolitan nome; from this it would seem that Nubian contingents were in the service of the Herackopoliton confederation.” This lead to the belief that the Med Jai were a form of “police” during later Dynasty’s as evidence has been found that reveal the Med Jai to have “policed” during Mid K to the 2nd Cataract. They were found to have used “sniffer” dogs to track down criminals and just generally upheld the law. Evidence has also been found that reveals the Med Jai to being used as scouts during wars and also as shock troops above their policing duties as they formed as warriors of cunning and stamina serving as scouts and delighting in hand-to-hand combat and slaughter of the enemy as well as being guards to temples palaces and cemeteries. And from the second intermediate period onwards the Med Jai were employed not only as scouts but also as light infantrymen. “The use of these Sudanese trackers and warriors, the Med Jai, marked the beginning of the dependence of the Egyptians on foreign aid” (Wilson 1951).

> The Pan Grave People

It is thought that the Med Jai may be part of the mysterious “Pan Grave Culture” as so little is known of the Eastern desert and so it is generally accepted that they were buried in Pan Graves that are found all over the southern part of Egypt. The evidence from these pan graves gives a small insight into these mysterious peoples as the bodies were clad in leather garments and wore shell plaques jewellery and were buried in a circular grave pits with the right sides facing west. These graves are then covered in a mound with a ring of stones or mud bricks to keep it intact and some of the deceased were buried with axes, daggers, some gold and valuable jewellery. Some graves sported skulls and horns of gazelles, oxen and sheep that are sometimes painted, eg at Mostaggedda in Upper E depicts a chieftain with weapons and his name written in hieroglyphs. Many of these Pan Graves are found at Egyptian fortresses at El-Kab (Upper E), Quban, Serra East and various forts and garrisons that were manned by Med Jai mercenaries.

Another important component of this Pan grave Culture is the pottery, which was very distinctive in make and design. One type was the black-topped vessels with thickened lips separating the red portion of the vessel by an incised line and the other main type was the rough brown ware vessels that were undecorated or incised with patterns of oblique lines.

It is most likely that this unique culture was swallowed up by Egypt and the Med Jai become Lower Nubia as part of the New K Egyptian force and became completely Egyptianised by the end of the Hyksos period – though maybe there is an Ardeth Bay out there – we can hope as who else would save the world? You?

> Med Jai in History

Old Kingdom Egypt

During Old K times the Med Jai traded with the Egyptians and some of the bowmen were recruited as mercenaries. During Snufru’s reign (Medium, Bent and Red Pyramids) the main power came from Nubia as “the desert peoples, the Med Jai and later Blemmyes, provided core of the troops that policed Egypt itself” (Grimal 1992). And an important vizier, Weni, recruited the Wawat, Irtje and Med Jai Nubains to help in the army against the Asiatics. And two inscriptions at the 1st cataract detail Merenre visiting the chiefs of the Wawat, Med jai and the Irtje as diplomacy which indicates tat they wanted good relations with these people. And it has been described that “ frontier held by Egyptian soldiers, reinforced by Sudanese trackers, the Med Jai” (Wilson 1951) during the 6th Dynasty as well as a document pertaining that 2 male and 3 female Med Jai visited the Egyptians during this time.

1st Intermediate Period

After Pepi II’s reign anarchy collapsed the central government so various factions recruited Nubains including the Med Jai during the civil wars and in reward some of these men achieved high positions in Egyptian society, which lead to the increasing integration of the Med Jai in Egyptian society. On the tomb of Assiut there is reference to the Med Jai presence as the Nubian contingents help out the Herakleopolitain coalition.

Middle Kingdom

Amenemhet I (founder of the 12thDyntasty) as an inscription that says he waged war against the Med Jai of the Eastern desert but the Med Jai home was left unfortified which indicate the Egyptians little interest in keeping an eye on their previous allies and the war was most likely only to persuade Med Jai troops not to side with any of the pharaoh’s enemies, though the ruler of Kush was seen as an enemy and maybe Amenemhet was trying to stop the rebellion before it started. Though a fort called “Repressing the Medjay” guarded a shoreline against attacks from Eastern Desert farmers and mining operation had military presence to ward off the Med Jai.

2nd Intermediate Period

Another time of unrest called upon the Med Jai to help expel the Hyksos invaders, by scouting and fighting in the war effort, the Egyptians yet again called upon the Med Jai for help. As Kamose used “troops of Medja-Nubains aloft upon our cabins to spy out the Setyu and to destroy their places” (Gardiner 1961). “Kamose marched his Med Jai troops north to Nefrusy…he defeated the army of Teti, son of Pepi” (Grimal 1992). This rebuilt the strained relations between the Med Jai and the Egyptians.

New Kingdom

After the Med Jai helped expel the Hyksos, they yet again had their place in Egyptian society and developed into the police troops mentioned before. They settled into the Nile Valley, a hierarchy was formed and they started to become to fames “police” – Akhedent (armed guard) was formed as 6 police have been documented as running alongside the pharaoh’s chariot. As with Tutmosis the 3rd they served as the main occupation forces for various garrisons and fortresses and the position of DEDU was formed. DEDU was a high political post that was the chief of the Med Jai troops that had allied themselves with Kamose and Ahmose during the expulsion of the Hyksos.

During Amenhotep III’s reign the med Jai were used as warriors of war and were possibility used against one another during civil uprising and late in the 18th Dynasty a man named Hekanefer was documented as the Prince of Miam which was possibly a Med Jai, indicating the extensive use of the Med Jai in Egyptian society. Another scene depicts Humay ‘Med Jai of his Majesty’ with a gazelle in 1 hand and a bow and arrow in another on the relief.

During the Armarna period Med Jai are depicted running alongside the royal chariot and Mahu, ‘General of Army of the Lord of Two Lands; - kept the peace in the city and a small vignette in his tomb depicts Arkenarten giving him gold and another scene of him being Arkenarten and Nefertiti’s bodyguard.

An inscription in Deir-el-Medina depicts the Med Jai protecting royal tombs and Med Jai with administrative power. Though one corrupt Med Jai chief abused his power and was punished by hard labour. By about this point most of the Med Jai had been assimilated into the Egyptian society as vessels and as military support.

Throughout Egyptian history Med Jai had some presence or an other whether it be serving the Egyptians, trading with them, being assimilated or just plain being oppressed, the Med Jai area small, but integral part of Egyptian culture.

> Med Jai in The Mummy

Okay from what was learnt above the Med jai in the Mummy weren’t historically accurate, but so what? If you wanted historically accurate go to Egypt and study the inscriptions, see the monuments, investigate the people. But if you want some fun and entertainment watch the Mummy movies. Sure Ardeth and co are desert people, and their were pharaoh’s body guard and they DID catch the criminals (in the end anyway), it doesn’t mean that is what the REALLY were like. But how could you make such a kewl character like Ardeth out of the Pan Grave people? It wouldn’t work, so enjoy Ardeth for what he is, the fictional Prince of Maim, and leave the details to the archaeologists. :P

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