The Centralisation of The Ancient Egyptian Economy

Ancient sources were never written to be records for later ages. Our chief source of information regarding the Ancient Egyptian economy are texts that relate specifically to business and administration. These documents were used primarily to communicate information to relevant persons.

It is evident that the successful exploitation of the River Nile was dependent on political, social and economic collaboration. It was beyond the capacity of an individual or even a small group of people. The task at hand was enormously labour-intensive and required that many hands work in concert at the right time and in the right way.

Many factors had to come together to set up this system. Once it came into existence, the system was able to sustain the needs of a large population that no longer possessed any other alternative to procure food. People now had a vested and vital interest in maintaining the system that housed and fed them.

For the system to work, however, people would have to submit to the discipline, structure and hierarchy that such a system required.

Even from the very onset, Ancient Egyptian society was characterised by hierarchy and centralisation. At the very top was the Pharaoh and his court, the state minister, as well as regional and local ministers. Each one of them was ranked and organised in relation to his superiors and inferiors. The priests and priestesses, too, were hierarchically organised; and even local tribes of fishermen had a chief. The hierarchy functioned on a particular principle: each according to his status.

The higher one’s status, the greater was one’s justifiable claim to the rewards. Personal relationships of patronage and dependence were very important. Loyalty, subordination and commitment to prevailing values were virtues advocated by ancient textbooks.

The social and political order was further consolidated by way of religious doctrines that attributed the order of the world to the gods. The king was declared divine and his activities were deemed to be essential to the continuation of Ma’at upon which an ordered life depended.

When it comes to Egypt, the insistence on the maintenance of order, implied anxiety instead of security. The collapse of societal structures were not unknown to Ancient Egyptians. At the end of the day, however, they preferred structure to chaos.


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