The Social Structure

Soldiers protected the kingdom from military threats.

High government officials like thevizier(the pharaohs right hand man), the chief treasurer and the army general

Farmerswerethe most importantpart of the society because they raised the food that fed ancient Egypt. Pharaoh, or the nobles they worked for, provided them with food and clothing. This was an exchange for their cultivation of royal or noble land. Farmers lived in small, mud-brick houses and could rent land in exchange for a percentage of the crops from nobles or the Pharaoh.

Government officials helped ensure that the country ran well.

Scribes, part of the third level of the pyramid, were some of the only people in Egypt who couldread and write. Theykept the recordsof the country including the amount of food produced and gifts presented to the gods. Scribes also kept records of the number of soldiers in the army and the number of workers on construction sites. They also wrote the copies of theBook of the Deadand biographies found in ancient Egyptian tombs.

The Pharaoh was agod on earthand theultimate authorityin Egypt. It was his/her duty to make the law and maintain order in the Kingdom. The people expected the pharaoh to keep the gods happy so the Nile would flood and there would be a good harvest. S/he had to maintain the army to defend the country from outside threats and internal difficulties. The people looked to the pharaoh to ensure their well-being and when s/he did not live up to this expectation s/he had less power. The Pharaoh owned all the land in Egypt but he could gift land to other people as gifts or to award them.

Priests and nobles (who serve as lesser government officials)

Scribes recorded the events of the kingdom.

The vizier was the pharaohs second-in-command and sometimes served asHigh PriestofAmun-Ra. He oversaw the political administration and all official documents had to have his seal on them. The vizier managed the taxation system and monitored the supply of food. He listened to problems between nobles and settled them. The vizier also ran the pharaohs household and ensured the royal familys safety.

Priests oversaw the temples and the rituals and ceremonies to honor the gods.

At the bottom of ancient Egypts social structure were the slaves. Egypt did not have slave markets. Most of the time, the ancient Egyptians acquired slaves asprisoners-of-war. Slaves worked in the homes of the nobles, in the royal palace and in the temples. They also mined and quarried stone and precious materials. None of the records found to date say that slave labor builtthe pyramids of Giza, despitemythsclaiming they did.

Farmers grew the food that supported the entire kingdom.

The middle class consisted ofcraftsmen, merchants and other skilled workerssuch asdoctors. Merchants sold the goods made by craftsmen and doctors treated injuries. Craftsmen or artisans included carpenters, jewelers, metalworkers, painters, potters, sculptors, stone carvers and weavers. Women could work in some of the crafts, such as weaving. Craftsmen often worked in workshops with other artisans of the same type.

Often, people from a single level would live in the same area of a city. The levels of the pyramid could shift and individual tiers were more powerful at different times.

Nobles were the only group, beside the royal family, who could hold a government office. Theyruled the nomes(regions of Egypt), made local laws and maintained order. Nobles also owned farm land which the peasant class worked for them.

The people held the pharaoh responsible for their well-being.

© Maurizio Zanetti – Statue ofThutmose III

The middle class made craft items for the other classes and sold them.

Government officials consisted ofmembers of the royal family, nobles and priests. The royal family made up the original members of the government, the highest position of which was the vizier. Over time, the royal family left government positions, leaving the nobles to fill them. At first, the pharaoh appointed all government positions but soon they became hereditary.

The Social Structure of Ancient Egypt

Soldiers and scribes (who write down important events and calculate taxes)

© Charlie Phillips – Seated Scribe statuette

The Pharaoh was the ultimate authority in Egypt.

© Captmondo – Papyrus from the Book of the Dead, depicting the High Priest Pinedjem II making an offering toOsiris

The Middle Class: Craftsmen and Merchants

Peasants were thefarmers, servants and constructions workers. The government employed construction workers who built royal buildings like pyramids and palaces. Servants worked in the homes of the higher levels of society cleaning, making food, and completing other tasks.

© Maia C – Relief of an Ancient Egyptian peasants

Slaves were prisoners-of-war who worked in houses, mines or quarries.

The social structure of ancient Egypt can be sorted into a social pyramid. At the top of the social pyramid was the pharaoh with the government officials, nobles and priests below him/her. The third tier consisted of the scribes and soldiers with the middle class in the fourth level. Peasants were the fifth tier of society with slaves making up the lowest social class.

© Maia C – Relief of an Ancient Egypt nobleman

SoldiersprotectedEgypt from outside attacks and ended social uprisings. At times, they also oversaw the lowest classes when they built the pyramids. Second sons would often join the army because they gained wealth. They could get booty from battles and the pharaoh might reward them with land for their service.

© Tim Dawson – Relief depicting soldiers atMedinet Habu

Priests served the gods needs and, at times, the power of the High Priest of Amun-Ra rivaled pharaohs. Pharaoh appointed the priests during early periods but later the posts became hereditary. They spent their timeconducting rituals and ceremonies, in pharaohs name, in temples to keep the gods happy. Priests were a part ofancient Egypts daily lifeand they oversaw the running of the temple community.

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