The Political Economy of Ancient Egypt

Awareness of the structure of society, its place in the cosmos, and what threatened it; was a concept that was highly developed in Ancient Egypt. The life of the ancient Egyptians was dependent on the Nile. Since most of the country is desert and rainfall is scarce–agriculture was only possible in a narrow strip of land on both sides of the Nile.

Ancient Egyptians made a distinction between the Black Land, which was named after the silt deep black mud deposited by the inundations; and the Red Land, which was the fearful and deadly desert. Even the Nile, on which the ancient ones depended, could be highly erratic. The river could overflow one year and fall too low the next. Both scenarios resulted in famine.

Like many other parts of the globe, Egypt has been populated for tens of thousands of years by tiny and isolated clans or tribes. During the 4th millennium, small settlements sprung up along the Nile Valley. In the second half of that millennium, chiefdoms and small states had begun to form.

With time, however, warfare between these proto-kingdoms resulted. Political security was now a threat. It was around that time that existence was perceived in terms of conflict–be it real or imagined.

Egypt went through many periods of political turmoil. While Egypt was exposed to less political turmoil than other Middle Eastern states, ancient Egypt underwent many periods where the state was neither secure nor stable.

Great prosperity of the civilisation was followed by weak rule, civil war and economic collapse. When peace and prosperity was restored, it led to the kingdom being split into two kingdoms. During the New Kingdom period, Egypt became the centre of an empire that extended from Nubia to Asia Minor.

Slowly, it seems, and surely, the New Kingdom came to a slow and irremediable decline. During this period, Egypt was conquered by the Persians and then by Alexander the Great. It was absorbed into the Roman Empire around 30 BCE.

The price of prosperity was war.

The Egyptian world view was affected and altered by these very many turns of the wheel of fortune. No matter how strong the Egyptian state became, it was never secure. Despite the state’s role in creating order; that very order was always at risk.

It seems it was this very understanding that allowed the ancient Egyptians to prosper economically.


5 thoughts on “The Political Economy of Ancient Egypt

      1. I run two blogs and have written two books. My speciality is bringing together both Eastern and Western ancient history. I think we’re all part of the same world tree. I see you’re interested in Ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia. Would love to share!


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