|Cobra Details on Tutankhamun's Gold Throne|
Money was not used in Egypt until the Ptolemaic period, so gold was not used in coins. One of the reasons it was so highly prized was that it was associated with the dazzling light of the sun and the solar deity Ra. It was believed that the very skin of the gods was golden and that their bones were composed of silver. Because it is a precious metal that does not tarnish and is fairly indestructible it was also associated with eternal life. The pharaoh was viewed as divine, the human link between the earth and the numinous, so gold was used for royal coffins and funerary equipment to help preserve the king’s mortal remains for eternity.
It was in international trade that gold became important, and Egypt became famous for the amount of the prized precious metal that it sent to all corners of its far flung empire. It was not only used for trade, it was also an important diplomatic tool as pharaohs would send quantities of gold and gilded treasures to their allies and vassal monarchs in order to keep them happy and fighting to maintain Egypt’s borders.
So used were these vassal kings to having a continuous flow of gold being sent out to them that they would write and complain if there was any disruption in supply. In the late eighteenth dynasty King Tushratta of Mitanni wrote to Queen Tiye to moan that her husband Amenophis III was only sending gilded statues not the solid gold ones he had apparently promised:
Gold was also given as rewards to courtiers and military leaders. Reliefs at Amarna show the royal couple Akhenaten and Nefertiti handing out golden collars and arm rings to their faithful followers and large flies fashioned from gold were handed out for valour on the battlefield, much as we give out medals today. Interestingly these military awards were sometimes even presented to women, as Queen Aahhotep I, the mother of Pharaoh Ahmose I, was buried with three such flies in her tomb.
|Ay receiving rewards of gold from Akhenaten & Nefertiti|
All of the mines in Ancient Egypt were state monopolies and were worked predominantly by prisoners and slaves. According to the writings of the historian Diodorus Siculus in his Bibliotheca historica written around 60 BCE these unfortunate souls were treated very badly; being made to work in appalling conditions, with little food or water and being beaten if they weren’t thought to be working hard enough.
|Funerary Mask of Psusennes I|
This was repeated a few times until only gleaming, yellow metal particles remained. They then rubbed these precious particles between their hands for a length of time, before they finally ran small sponges over it to clear out any remaining dirt.