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Ancient Egyptian Class System

Instructor: Kevin Newton

Kevin has edited encyclopedias, taught middle and high school history, and has a master's degree in Islamic law.

The Ancient Egyptians are one of the most revered ancient cultures around. However, their social order was just as steep as their pyramids. In this lesson, we'll take a look at the Ancient Egyptian class system.

Class in Ancient Egypt

For the Ancient Egyptians, class mattered. In fact, their society was shaped like the pyramids that dotted the banks of the Nile. At the very top, closest to the sun, was someone who was to be worshipped like a god. At the bottom was a large mass beaten by the heat and shiftless sands of the desert. However, in between there was still significant stratification. In this lesson, we'll learn about the multiple layers of Egyptian social classes.

The Pharaoh

Few titles in ancient history invoke as much prestige as Pharaoh, the Egyptian king. In addition to ruling one of the richest lands in the ancient world, he was also quite literally worshipped as an incarnation of the god Horus. However god-like he may have been, the Pharaoh still had plenty of responsibilities. To accomplish those, and have any chance of remaining on the throne, he had to call on the assistance of a large body of nobility.

Nobles

Like many ancient noble classes, Egyptian nobility tended towards one of two approaches. On one hand was the military leadership. Egypt was still a river valley, and that meant that it was easy to attack by a determined foe. In fact, Egypt was conquered on multiple occasions throughout its history, but considering that Egyptian history lasted for thousands of years, this was a testament to the ability of these commanders.

On the other hand were the priests, who were quite possibly more important than the commanders. Egypt was, save for the Nile, a desert. The prosperity of Egypt depended on the ability of the Pharaoh, through his priestly advisors, to predict the floods that reinvigorated the soil. In return for providing the Pharaoh with this ability, the priests were made one of the highest social classes, with plenty of lower-class individuals waiting to serve them.

Merchants and Scribes

While not nobility, merchants played a vital role in maintaining Egypt's power. After all, Egypt was largely an agricultural society, so the luxury goods and money had to come from somewhere! Egyptian merchants were well respected in society, even if they weren't considered nobility, and traveled as far as modern Turkey and Kenya on trading missions.

One group that straddled the divide between nobility and non-nobility were the scribes. Egypt is so well known to us mainly because of the writing left by these scribes, who mastered hundreds of symbols to write in Hieroglyphs. Even for the most lowly scribe, their life was still much more comfortable than those who came under them.

Farmers and Slaves

The overwhelming majority of Egypt's population was farmers. Remember, this was a society that relied on the Nile to provide its wealth, and someone had to be there to collect. However, being an Egyptian farmer wasn't such a bad thing. Farming was only intensive a few months out of the year. The rest of the time, you'd be assigned to a work unit to build everything from the Pyramids to grand temples.

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