Monday, February 4, 2013

Ten Ancient Mistakes VI

As a business mistake, this one is ranked

#6 Dreadful Customer Service and Support

An interesting twist on this is the village of Deir el-Medina at the end of the New Kingdom. The village of Deir el-Medina is unusual in a number of ways. It may be the only site in the ancient world, where we have not only the houses where the people worked, the tombs where they were buried, the construction site where they worked, but also a vast quantity of documentation on their daily lives, and, in some cases, their archive of books. Deir el-Medina was a village of workers engaged in top secret work for the government: creating the magnificent tombs for the pharaohs in the Valley of the Kings. Very few people were allowed to know the location of the tombs, not even all the workers were.

The workers at Deir el-Medina seem to have been largely isolated from contact with outsiders. They were entirely dependent on the government for their livelihood. The government would bring them their food and rations, which, truth be told, seem to have been considerably better than the average Egyptian; they were comfortably middle class. (But because they worked in the funerary industry, their own burials were significantly better than they would have been on their earnings alone.) The citizens of Deir el-Medina were both the employees and customers of the government.

At the end of the New Kingdom, the government, which seemed to be in trouble, began to be inconsistent in providing the people of Deir el-Medina with wages, which came in the form of food. As a result, the workers went on strike. At a later date, the protested by abandoning the place altogether, dumping their then worthless documentation in a well to prove invaluable for a later generation (if we only knew to what use we should put it!).