The culture of ancient Egypt to be strictly divided into a hierarchy with the king at the top and then his vizier, the members the his court, priests and also scribes, regional governors (eventually dubbed "nomarchs"), the generals the the military (after the duration of the new Kingdom, c. 1570- c. 1069 BCE), artists and craftspeople, government overseers the worksites (supervisors), the peasant farmers, and slaves.

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Social mobility was not encouraged, nor to be it observed for many of Egypt"s history, as it was assumed that the gods had actually decreed the most perfect society order which was in maintaining with the main value the the culture, ma"at (harmony and also balance). Ma"at was the universal legislation which permitted the human being to duty as it should and also the social pecking order of old Egypt was assumed to reflect this principle.

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The people believed the god had given them whatever they needed, and set them in the most perfect land on earth, and also had then put the king end them as an intermediary between the mortal and also divine realms. The primary responsibility that the ruler was to store ma"at and, when this to be accomplished, all the other obligations of his office would autumn naturally right into place.


Egyptian Workers
Horus3 (CC BY-SA)

An Egyptian monarch might not personal oversee every aspect of the society, however, and so the place of the vizier was created as far ago as the early Dynastic duration (c. 3150- c. 2613 BCE). The vizier (a kind of prime minister) delegated duties to various other members that the court, sending messages v scribes, and additionally oversaw the military and also the to work of regional governors, public works projects, and also tax collections among his many other duties.

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At the bottom rung the this power structure were the servants (people who can not pay your debts, criminals, or those bring away in wars) and, just above them, the peasant farmers who consisted of 80% the the populace and noted the resources which allowed the world to survive and flourish for over 3,000 years.

The climb of the god & the Cities

The world formed themselves right into tribes for protection against dangers & among their most crucial defenses was a belief in the protective strength of their personal gods.

As far as us know, human being habitation in the Sahara Desert region dates earlier to c. 8000 BCE and these people migrated towards the Nile river Valley to clear up in the lush region known together the Fayum (also Faiyum). A farming community was established in this area as early as c. 5200 BCE and also pottery has additionally been uncovered in the same region dating come 5500 BCE. It have to be provided that these dates relate only to developed agrarian communities, not to the initial human habitation the the Fayum an ar which days to c. 7200 BCE.

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The Fayum in c. 5000 BCE to be a lush sky in which the civilization would have actually enjoyed reasonably comfortable lives with abundant water and also natural resources. At some suggest around 4000 BCE, however, a drought seems to have readjusted these ideal living conditions. The waters dried up and also the wildlife moved on to find a an ext suitable environment.

The people who had established themselves in the region migrated toward the Nile river Valley and also left the Fayum basin reasonably deserted. These world then created the communities which thrived into the beforehand Egyptian cities follow me the Nile River. This migration falls within the era known as the Predynastic period in Egypt (c. 6000- c. 3150 BCE) before the facility of a monarchy.

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Nile Delta
Jacques Descloitres (NASA) (CC BY-NC-SA)

At this time, it is believed the civilization formed themselves into tribes because that protection against the environment, wild animals, and also other tribes and one of your most necessary defenses versus all these threats was a belief in the protective strength of their personal gods. Egyptologist and also historian Margaret Bunson comments on this:

The Egyptians lived with pressures that castle did no understand. Storms, earthquakes, floods, and dry durations all seemed inexplicable, however the people realized acutely that natural pressures had an impact on person affairs. The spirits of nature were for this reason deemed powerful in view of the damages they can inflict on humans. (98).

In the same method that people recognized the capacity of these forces to injure, however, they also believed the same could protect and also heal. This early belief in supernatural pressures was express in three forms:

Animism - the belief that inanimate objects, plants, animals, and the planet have souls and are imbued with the divine spark;Fetishism - the belief that an item has consciousness and also supernatural powers;Totemism - the id that people or clans have a spiritual partnership with a particular plant, animal, or symbol.

In the Predynastic Period, animism was the primary expertise of the universe, together it was v early human being in most cultures. Bunson writes, "Through animism humankind sought to describe natural forces and the location of human beings in the sample of life ~ above earth" (98). In time, animism caused the advance of fetishism with the development of symbols (such as the djed or ankh) i beg your pardon both stood for a higher concept and also had the own inherent powers.

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Fetishism then branched into totemism v the development of specific spiritual forces which watched over and guided an individual, a tribe, or community. When totemism came to be the embraced understanding of how the people worked, these pressures were anthropomorphized (given person characteristics) and also these ended up being the gods and goddesses of ancient Egypt.

These deities provided the foundation for the society for the following 3,000 years. The gods had created the world, every the civilization in it, and also established whatever on the principle of harmony and balance. Ma"at was established at the production of the world, empowered by heka (magic), and so harmony was valued in Egyptian culture as the defining concept of a stable and productive life.

The reduced classes listed the way for those above them to live comfortable lives & the the aristocracy took care of those under lock by offering jobs & distributing food.

If one were living in balance, follow to the will of the gods, one would reap a complete life and, just as importantly, would contribute to the joy and success of one"s community and, through extension, the country. Anyone benefited from learning their ar in the universe and what was meant from them and it to be this understanding which offered rise come the social framework of the civilization.

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The social Classes

As with many if no all people from the beginning of tape-recorded history, the reduced classes detailed the means for those above them to live comfortable lives, yet in Egypt, the nobility took care of those under lock by offering jobs and also distributing food. Since the king stood for the gods, and the gods had developed the world, the king officially owned all the land. In maintaining with ma"at, however, he can not simply take native the civilization whatever the pleased however received goods and also services v taxation. Taxes were levied and built up through the workplaces of the vizier and, once stored, these products were climate redistributed back to the people.

The jobs of the upper class are well known. The king rule by delegating obligation to his vizier who then determined the finest people beneath him for the necessary tasks. Bureaucrats, architects, engineers, and also artists lugged out domestic structure projects and also the implementation of policies, and also the army leaders took care of defense. The priests served the gods, no the people, and cared because that the temple and also the gods" statues if doctors, dentists, astrologers, and also exorcists dealt directly with clients and their demands through their an abilities in magic and application of medicines.

One needed to occupational if one wanted to eat, however there was no shortage of tasks at any time in Egypt"s history, and also all labor was taken into consideration noble and also respectable. Therefore, this redistribution was not a “handout” or charity yet fair incomes for one"s labor. Egypt to be a cashless society until the resulting the Persians in 525 BCE and also so trade was carried out through the barter system based upon a monetary unit well-known as the deben.


Sennedjem in the Afterlife
Jeff Dahl (Public Domain)

There was no actual deben coin yet a deben represented the universally embraced monetary unit used to set the value of a product. If a woven mat price one deben and a quart the beer cost the same, the mat might be traded relatively for the beer. Employees were routinely paid in beer for a day"s labor as beer was thought about healthier come drink than the waters that Egypt and was much more nutritious however people were likewise paid in bread, clothing, and also other goods for your work.

The details the the people"s jobs are known from medical reports ~ above the therapy of injuries, letters, and also documents composed on assorted professions, literary functions (such together The Satire the the Trades), tomb inscriptions, and also artistic representations. This proof presents a an extensive view of day-to-day work in old Egypt, exactly how the work were done, and sometimes how people felt around their work. The Egyptians it seems to be ~ to have felt pride in their work-related no matter their occupation. Everyone had actually something to add to the community, and also no an abilities were taken into consideration non-essential. The potter who produced cups and bowls was as essential to the ar as the scribe, and the amulet-maker as vital as the doctor.

Part of make a living, regardless of one"s distinct skills, was taking part in the king"s monumental building projects. Although the is commonly thought that the an excellent monuments and also temples that Egypt were accomplished through servant labor - especially that the Hebrew servants - there is for sure no proof to assistance this claim. The pyramids and also other monuments were built by Egyptian laborers who either donated your time together community organization or to be paid for their labor.

From the top of the hierarchy to the bottom, everyone taken their place and also what was compelled of them for their very own success and also that the the kingdom. Throughout most the Egypt"s history this framework was adhered to and also the culture prospered. Even throughout those periods known as “intermediate periods” – in i beg your pardon the main government to be weak or even separated – the hierarchy of the culture was recognized as unchangeable because it was so evident that that worked and also produced results. Towards the end of the brand-new Kingdom, however, the system began to malfunction as those in ~ the top started neglecting those in ~ the bottom and also members the the lower classes lost confidence in their king.


Deterioration the the Hierarchy

The king"s major duty was to uphold ma"at and maintain the balance in between the people and their gods. In law so, he essential to make sure that every one of those listed below him were well cared for, the the boundaries were secure, and that rites and also rituals to be performed follow to the accepted tradition. Every one of these considerations listed for the good of the people and the land as the king"s mandate supposed that everyone had a job and knew their ar in the hierarchy of society. This hierarchy, however, began to break down toward the end of the regime of Ramesses III (1186-1155 BCE) when the administration which assisted maintain the floundered due to lack of resources.

Ramesses III is considered the last good pharaoh that the brand-new Kingdom. He safeguarded Egypt"s borders, navigated the skepticism of an altering relations with international powers, and also had the temples and also monuments the the country revitalized and refurbished. He wanted to be remembered in the same way that Ramesses II (1279-1213 BCE) had been - together a an excellent king and also father to his human being – and also early in his regime he flourished at this.

Egypt under Ramesses III, however, was no the supreme strength it had actually been under Ramesses II and also the nation Ramesses III rule over had actually suffered a lose in standing with attendant diminishing resources from tribute and also trade. These problems were brought about by the price of mounting a defense against the intrusion by the Sea individuals in 1178 BCE as well as well as the prices of maintaining the districts of the Egyptian Empire.

The to win of the tomb employees signaled the beginning of the finish of the belief system which supported the Egyptian hierarchy.

Still, for over twenty years Ramesses III had done his best for the people and, together he approached his 30th year, to plan were set in motion for a grand jubilee festival to respect him. The trouble was that, uneven in the past, there simply were not the resources easily accessible to mount such sophisticated festival. In stimulate to provide Ramesses III through his celebration, the demands of someone else additional down the power structure would need to be sacrificed; this “someone else” turned out to be the highly-paid tomb employees at Deir el-Medina exterior of Thebes.

These workers were among the most respected and also well-compensated artist in Egypt. Lock built and decorated the burial places of the kings and other nobility and, because these were thought about the eternal residences of the deceased, those who functioned on castle were organized in high esteem. In 1159 BCE, three years before Ramesses III"s festival, the monthly incomes of these workers arrived virtually a month late. The scribe Amennakht, who likewise seems to have served together a sort of shop steward, negotiated with regional officials because that the circulation of corn come the workers however this was only a temporary systems to a major problem: the fail of one Egyptian monarch to preserve balance in the land.

Instead of looking right into what had actually caused the trouble with distribution of the worker"s wages, and trying to avoid it native happening again, officials ongoing on together though nothing was wrong in preparation for the grand festival. The payment come the workers at Deir el-Medina to be again late and then again until, as Egyptologist Toby Wilkinson writes, “the mechanism of paying the necropolis workers broke down altogether, prompting the earliest tape-recorded strikes in history.” (335). The workers had waited for 18 days past their payday and also refused to wait any type of longer. Castle lay down their tools and marched ~ above Thebes to need what they to be owed.


The officials in ~ Thebes had actually no idea just how to attend to this crisis since nothing favor it had ever happened before. The was simply impossible, in their experience, for workers to refuse to do their tasks – much less mobilize and march on your superiors. After ~ a variety of insufficient remedies to be attempted (such as trying come placate the employees by offer them pastries), the government discovered the means to salary them and the to win ended. The trouble had not been resolved, however, and also payment to the tomb employees would be so late again in the coming years.

The win of the tomb employees is far-ranging because that signaled the beginning of the end of the belief system which supported the Egyptian hierarchy. The tomb employees were right in your protest: the king had actually failed lock and, in so doing, had failed to keep ma"at. That was not the job of these employees to recognize and uphold ma"at for the king – fairly the reverse – and also once balance was lost at the optimal of the hierarchy, belief was shed by those who comprised the far an ext substantial base.

This is not to claim that Egyptian society fell apart complying with the dig worker"s to win of 1159 BCE. The power structure would proceed in that traditional form throughout the 3rd Intermediate period (c. 1069-525 BCE) and also on till Rome annexed Egypt in 30 BCE. Also though the society structure stayed the same, however, the knowledge of ma"at and also the id in the supremacy and also divine nature the the king had readjusted and never totally regained its former strength in later on periods.

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This loss of faith influenced the cohesion that the culture and added to the further break down of the bureaucracy and the preeminence of law based upon ma"at. Tomb robbing became an ext commonplace, together was corruption amongst police, priests, and also government officials. Once the Persians come in 525 BCE they discovered a very different Egypt 보다 the an excellent power the the work of empire; when the foundational worth of ma"at had been breached, every that had been built on it became unstable.