Social Structures of Ancient Egypt
The pyramid has been used as a visual metaphor to describe the social
structures of ancient Egypt. The position of an individual in the social
pyramid was determined by birth circumstances such as class, gender
and race, and the relationship among social groups were determined by
Ancient Egypt was ruled by a very small rich upper class who enjoyed power and wealth while the large masses of Egyptian workers and peasants struggled to subsist. The ruling class depended on a social system of administrators who organized the work force, managed resources and taxed the surplus production. For their services, these government officials received favors and could rise to the highest ranks in the administration.
Not unlike other ancient or modern societies, the only possible ways for people of so called low birth to move upwards in the social structures of ancient Egypt were skill, literacy and a military career. Peasants could have their sons learn a trade apprenticed by priests or by artisans. Boys who learned reading, writing and arithmetics could become scribes and work in the government. Besides this basic knowledge they could learn a profession, such as architecture, medicine and engineering and greatly improve their social status.
Both the military and the priesthood are sometimes considered separate classes in the social structures of ancient Egypt, but their members came from all strata of society.
No doubt the upper despised the lower classes as inferiors, and many instances of abuse were committed, but peasants and farmers were not slaves. They had property rights and servants could inherit their masters possessions when these died childless. Other members of the working class, i.e. artisans, were their own masters. They owned property and land, and could freely buy and sell their products in the market.
Since many archaeological excavations are focused on the royal life, a misconception about the existence of large population settlements (cities and towns) in Ancient Egypt have pervaded.
Written records exists about the daily activities of the working class, and household and working utensils have been found, catalogued and studied. Sir William Flinders Petrie, the father of Egyptian archaeology, is credited for his enormous contributions to the discovery of these common objects, which sheds light on life and the social structures of ancient Egypt.
A recent discovery of an administrative building and granaries in the present town of Edfu provides physical evidence of a work place and the importance of commerce as an intricate part of daily Egyptian life. The Tell Edfu site includes a public town center that was used for collecting taxes, conducting business, recording accounting, and writing documents. Grain was used as a form of currency in Ancient Egypt and, judging by the size of the silos, the town must have been quite prosperous.
Towns in Ancient Egypt were made of mud brick, much less permanent than stone. Modern Egyptians live exactly on the same place of their ancestors, on towns located on the banks of the Nile. This makes it more difficult for archaeologists to excavate ancient Egyptian towns, like the one in Edfu. Many are no longer existent, since soil from the Nile was used in later constructions and farming activities. Tel Edfu demonstrates the existence of ancient Egyptian urban culture and the importance of local nobles to the pharaoh's exercise of power.
Category: Ancient Egypt