Egyptian civilization: Social Structure, Economic Structure, Governance, Book Keeping and Recording System
(Social Structure, Economic Structure, Governance, Book Keeping and Recording System)
A B M Abdullah ID-16010
Department of Accounting & Information Systems,
University of Dhaka
Ancient Egyptian civilization thrived along the Nile River in northwestern Africa for more than 3000
years. It was the longest-lived civilization of the ancient world. This civilization coalesced around 3150
BC with the political unification of Upper and Lower Egypt under the first pharaoh. Geographically, the
term ancient Egypt indicates the territory where the ancient Egyptians lived in the valley and delta of the
Nile. Culturally, it refers to the ways ancient Egyptians spoke, worshiped, understood the nature of the
physical world, organized their government and related to non Egyptians. The main purpose of this paper
is to highlight the social, economic, governance and book keeping/recording systems of Egyptian
Social Structure of Egyptian Civilization
The social structure of the Egyptian Civilization had different classes. Every class had its own status,
roles and positions. The classes in the Egyptian society at that time were:
Pharaohs: The pharaohs were the emperors in the Egyptian civilization. They had the superior authority
over the country and people. They were in the top position of the society.
Government officials, nobles and priests: The pharaohs used to employ different government officials to
perform administrative activities. Only the powerful nobles could become the government officials.
Priests used to perform the religious activities in the society. The government officials, nobles and priests
were in the second position of the social setting.
Soldiers: The soldiers used to fight against the foreign enemies and domestic rebels as per the decision
and order of the pharaohs. They were in the third position in the society.
Scribes: They had the exceptional qualities in the society. They could read and write. They were
employed to help the government officials in their works. The most important work of the scribes was to
keep government records. They had a very good position in the society because of their rare expertise. At
the same time their work had much value to the government.
Merchants: There were some people who used to produce goods and services in the society. People used
to buy goods and services from them. They were the merchants, for example- the craftsperson, artisans
and physicians etc. People in the society took many useful goods and services from the merchants.
Farmers: In that civilization farmers also existed. They used to cultivate the lands, grow crops and raise
the animals and so many productive works. They used to pay taxes to the government on their production.
Sometimes the tax liabilities were very high and the farmers had to pay as much as 60% of their
Slaves and servants: At the lowest position of the society there were slaves and servants. Mainly the
people captured in wars and prisoners were made the slaves and servants in the society. They had to work
as per the requirement of the pharaohs and the nobles. Again some people of the society were forced to
work for the government.
In the society, the social classes were maintained very strictly. People could not move from one class to
another easily. But such movement was not impossible. Some farmers saved assets. They sent their
children to the priests, artisans and physicians to learn reading, writing, trading and crafting. In this case,
those farmer parents used to pay the priests, artisans and physicians from their savings. Those children
used to become the scribes, physicians or artisans after growing up. Thus similar types of social
movements were possible.
Economic Structure in the Egyptian Civilization
The portion of the economy of the Egyptian civilization was under the control of the government. But the
people sometimes used to enjoy a little freedom in making economic decisions, for example-government
usually did not tell the farmers what to grow and how to grow. Farmers used to grow as per what their
predecessors had done. The government used to assess the production of the farmers, collect taxes on the
production, stored and redistributed the collections. Storage and redistribution were locally done. After
paying taxes the households used to store residual quantity of production for future use or for barter in the
They did not use any coinage system at the very beginning of the civilization but in the late periods they
used a money-barter system. In that money-barter system a standard sacks of grain and Deben (a weight
of 91 gram copper or silver) were used as the medium of exchange. Workers used to get their payment in
grain. A worker used to earn almost 5-7 sacks in a month. Prices were fixed for all the goods, for example
cloth cost 5 copper deben and cow cost 140 deben. The fixed prices were to be maintained all around the
In the ancient Egyptian civilization, the main source of resources was agriculture. The lands were very
fertile. Farmers grew many crops, grains, vegetables, fruits etc. Farmers also reared pigs, goats, cows,
fowl and many other animals. Fishes from the Nile River were also caught. After deducting taxes, a part
of these products were sold in the market. The methods of cultivation were not efficient and the ways of
breeding livestock were unplanned.
Manufacturing activities were also performed in the Egyptian civilization. Those manufacturing activities
were shared by men and women. Generally, men used to produce or collect the materials and women used
to process those materials. For example, men used to grow flax and women used to spin it into thread and
wove the linen. Women cleaned and dried fishes caught by men. Carpentries, bakeries and breweries were
also seen in the towns. These were run and financially supported by rich nobles.
In the Egyptian civilization, there were some materials which were mined, for example- copper, bronze,
iron, gems etc. But those materials were very expensive and under the possession of a few wealthy
people. General people of the civilization used tools made from woods and stones. In manufacturing and
mining activities, mainly human labor was used. An animal was used to plough lands, carry goods and to
perform other heavy works.
Different types of natural energies were used by the people of that civilization. Wind energy, heat of the
sun and fire were very useful to people. Wind energy was used in sailing ships and boats. Fire was used to
cook and bake foods, smelt and cast metals, make glasses, burn pottery and to make bricks. The heat of
the sun was used to dry foods and fishes and to make mud bricks.
Government revenue mainly came from the taxation and taxes were mainly levied on grains. Ancient
Egypt was one of the most heavily taxed nations in the world. Labor of the slaves was also a source of
government revenue. Sometimes successful military ventures provided the government with much wealth
Government used much of the revenues to stabilize the society. Grains kept in the stores could be
distributed in times of famine. Artisans were paid from the government treasury for constructing public
buildings. The poor people were fed from the offerings at the temples. A large portion of government
income was given to the military because during the times of unrests, government needed military help.
The government officials were also beneficiaries of royal munificence.
The farmers living in the village areas were the poorest segment of the population. They hardly travelled
far from their living area. As a result, their knowledge about their country was very low. They came into
contact with scribes and overseers who also had limited knowledge. In such a situation, it was very hard
for that poorest segment to improve their financial condition.
Governance in Egyptian civilization
In the early Egyptian civilization, the government activities were directed by a single man called the
pharaoh. That man was the all in all in the country. He had the supreme authority over the country and
people. People believed that the pharaoh was more than a man. People also believed that the pharaoh was
a god. These types of beliefs of the people gave the pharaoh an absolute control over the affairs of the
The government activities of that civilization were mainly controlled by the clergy. The pharaoh had
some advisors and ministers. Most of them were priests. Only they were thought to be capable and worthy
of performing the god-king’s orders. In fact priests at that time had special status over the common people
in the country.
There was a bureaucratic administration under the pharaoh. He had some high government officials, for
example- the vizier (prime minister), the chief treasurer, the tax collector, the minister of public works
and the army commander. These officials were directly accountable to the pharaoh. Among these high
officials the vizier or the prime minister acted as the representative of the pharaoh.
There were regional administrations also. The whole country was divided into 42 regional administration
called nomes, each controlled by a nomarch who was directly accountable to the vizier. Generally the
pharaoh appointed the nomarchs. The temples were very important in administrative activities. They were
used for prayers and at the same time they were also used for collecting, storing and redistributing grain
and goods. The redistribution works were done by the administrative overseers.
Taxes were generally paid in goods and labor. People were drafted into the army and forced to work for a
certain period to pay the corvee (labor tax). The slaves and mercenaries were used in the army. But the
slaves were not used to build any sacred monuments, such as the Pyramids. The workers received proper
Egyptian burials but the slaves did not. The majority of the Egyptian people were farmers who worked on
the lands around the Nile River. These people had to accept and obey all the decisions and orders of their
government in accordance with their religion.
Book keeping and recording system in ancient Egyptian civilization
The regional areas or nomes in ancient Egyptian civilization had storehouses and these storehouses were
the main centers of record keeping. These storehouses were also the treasuries and contained different
types of wealth. In each storehouse there was treasurer who acted as the in charge. He was required to
furnish a report each to the vizier (prime minister) regarding the position of the treasury. The vizier in
turn was required to report monthly to the pharaoh the status of the treasury.
The book keepers who kept records in the storehouses kept meticulous records which were checked by an
elaborate internal verification system. There was one type of scribes who recorded the quantity of the
goods brought into the storehouse. There was another type of scribes who recorded the outward
movement of goods from the storehouse. There was also a third set of scribes who worked like the
auditors. This third type of scribes checked the goods remaining in the storehouse with the other records.
The book keepers in the storehouse required to be very honest and accurate because irregularities
disclosed by royal audits were punishable by fine, mutilation or death. The book keeping system was very
important in the ancient Egyptian civilization but it was limited to list making only. The main objective of
book keeping system was to ensure that the government was not being cheated by the transactions that
were carried on.
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