Ancient Egyptian Government

Government and religion were closely connected in Ancient Egypt.

The head of the government, the pharaoh, was the “divine representative of the gods,” which meant that the pharaoh was a human the gods chose as their special servant.

The government kept order in Ancient Egypt by building temples and using religion as the basis for their laws.

The reason Ancient Egypt was so stable compared to other cultures of the time was because there was a strong belief in the “social hierarchy.”

The social hierarchy was a system where everybody in society had a specific role to play, and there was no rising above the part of the hierarchy you were born into.

At the top of the hierarchy was the pharaoh. As the absolute ruler of Egypt, the pharaoh had total power.

Nobody could tell the pharaoh what to do, and it was a very serious crime to do so, but the job was very demanding.

The pharaoh had to oversee the passing of laws, judge criminals, and hear the complaints of the public to make sure their people were happy.

Many pharaohs died young from the stress of their work. Some of the most famous pharaohs of Egypt were the boy king, Tutankhamun, and the pharaoh queen Cleopatra.

After the pharaoh, the next most powerful in the hierarchy were the viziers.

Every pharaoh had at least one vizier (though some had two) and the vizier was the second most powerful person in Egypt.

He aided the pharaoh in their duties, and with the creation and enforcement of laws. Under them were the high priests, the most important religious figures after the pharaoh himself.

Under the high priests were the royal overseers (or government leaders) who made sure that the 42 governors of Egypt (smaller rulers chosen by the pharaoh) carried out the pharaoh’s orders.

The 42 governors of Egypt were called “Nomarks”. Nomarks ruled over an area of land, called a “nome”, that was sort of like a state or province.

Nomarks were appointed by the Pharaoh on very rare occasions, and most people became nomarks because the title was passed down from father to son.

At the bottom of the hierarchy were the scribes (some of the few people in Ancient Egypt who could write!) artists, farmers and other physical workers. 

There is very little evidence for what the government was like in Ancient Egypt, but what we do have proves that Egypt was a “united kingdom” under one leader; which, as we’ve already discussed, was the pharaoh.

The first pharaohs set up their government and installed a “barter system” in Egypt to serve as their economy.

The barter system is an economic system where, instead of using money, people exchanged goods/items with one another to pay for things.

For example, to pay for a loaf of bread, you might swap a small portion of meat or a valuable gemstone for it. People paid their taxes the same way because money wasn’t used.

As most people in Ancient Egypt were farmers, most people paid their taxes in the form of crops or livestock, but the richer people would pay with jewellery or precious stones.

The government of Ancient Egypt used the peoples’ taxes to keep peace in the land, and also to build facilities like temples and public bathing pools.

Taxes were collected by the government based on the size of the “nome” they came from. The larger nomes had to pay a greater overall amount of tax, while the smaller ones paid less.

This was done to ensure that no single nome was hit the worst by taxation. Though the peasants of Ancient Egypt were still very poor, and not treated well by the government, the nomarks made sure that the people always had enough food and property to live and work.

Facts about the Ancient Egyptian government:

  • Ancient Egyptian society and government was based on a “social hierarchy.”
  • At the top of the social hierarchy was the pharaoh, a human who was chosen by the gods to rule.
  • After the pharaoh came the vizier, the pharaoh’s most important assistant.
  • After the vizier came the high priests, and after them, the royal overseers.
  • The royal overseers made sure that the 42 “nomarks” (governors) of Egypt were doing their job.
  • The nomarks ran the “nomes” or states of Ancient Egypt.
  • Ancient Egypt was based on a “barter system” of economy, which meant that people traded goods instead of money when they wanted to pay for things.
  • Taxes were collected the same way. Farmers paid their taxes with crops or livestock.

QUESTIONS:

  • Who was at the top of the Ancient Egyptian hierarchy?
    – Pharaoh.
  • What was the pharaoh’s special advisor called?
    – The vizier.
  • What were the governors who controlled the Egyptian “nomes” (or states) called?
    – The nomarks.
  • What did the Ancient Egyptian government use the taxes they collected for?
    – To keep peace, and for building public facilities.
  • What was the barter system?
    – People would trade goods instead of money when they wanted to buy things.