Egypt is a country in North America, on the Mediterranean Sea, and is the home to the oldest civilizations on Earth, ancient Egypt. The ancient Egyptian civilization dates back from 6000-3,100 BCE which is the Pre-Dynastic Period to the end of the Ptolemaic Dynasty (323-30 BCE).
This civilization ran on a social structure to keep things in order. Through these years ancient Egyptian architecture began to increase. The architecture today hold a fascination that continues to grow as archeologists study the architecture that may expose many secrets of ancient Egypt. Apart from the architecture, Egyptian buildings were decorated with paintings, carved stone images, hieroglyphics, and three-dimensional statues.
The ancient Egyptians believed that the gods made the social order which was keeping the value of the culture, ma’at (harmony and balance) together. Ma’at was the universal law which allowed the world to function as it should and the social hierarchy of ancient Egypt was believed to reflect this. The social structure was shaped like a pyramid and had eight classes total (the pharaoh, vizier and priests, the army, scribes, merchants, artisans, farmers, and slaves and peasants). The classes near the top of the pyramid had fewer people and high status.
But, the people near the bottom had a bigger population also low status. Each class above the other class was wealthier than the other. The wealthiest and powerfullest of all the class was the pharaoh who was at the top of the pyramid. The pharaoh was the god on Earth who ruled Egypt holding the titles: ‘Lord of the Two Lands’ and ‘High Priest of Every Temple’. As ‘Lord of the Two Lands’ the pharaohwas the ruler of Upper and Lower Egypt. S/he owned all of the land of Egypt since the pharaoh represented the gods and the gods are believed to have created the land. S/he could also gift the land to other people as a gift or reward.
As ‘High Priest of Every Temple’ the pharaoh represented the gods on Earth. S/he participated in the religious ceremonies and rituals that included making prayers and offerings to the gods, only priests, priestesses, the pharaoh’s wife/husband, and other members of the royal family were allowed to be in the temples during that time. The different types of offerings included food, drinks, clothing, flowers, incense and perfumes. The pharaoh also built temples to honor the gods. The Egyptians believed the gods had given them everything they needed, perfect, secured land with fertile soil and all the people needed was a king above them that is an intermediate between the mortal and divine.
The people looked up to the pharaoh to ensure their well-being and expected the ruler to keep the gods happy therefore the Nile River would flood for a good harvest. When s/he did not live up to the expectations s/he had less power. Many of the ruler’s duties were civic and religious. The pharaoh was also the head of the state, the head of the government, head of the nation, head of the army, and the supreme religious leader.
As head of the army, s/he had the power to ensure order in the land and protect the people from any foreigners/invaders. Successful army strategies and campaigns would increase the land and therefore wealth of Egypt extending the ancient Egyptian Empire. For example, many pharaohs went to war when their land was threatened or when they wanted to control foreign lands. If the pharaoh won the battle, the conquered people would have had to recognize the Egyptian pharaoh as their ruler and they would have to work hard in order to get their freedom back in return. As head of the state and government of Egypt, s/he was responsible for increasing the wealth of the country by collecting taxes from people and regulating trade.
S/he was also responsible for beginning trading expeditions in different countries and making alliances with them to fight againstcommon enemies. The pharaoh had an army and a huge number of ministers and government officials to help him/her run Egypt. One of the most important and powerful position of these helpers after the pharaoh and his wife/her husband was the vizier. The vizier was the pharaoh’s right man and most likely chosen from among the ruler’s relatives or at least a trusted court advisor or scribe. S/he had to be honest, abide the laws of the country, judge fairly and impartially, and value reason above emotion. The vizier had to be literate, and had to receive training as a scribe, but also the skills of an accountant, architect, lawyer, judge, historian, farmer, and priest.
S/he also appointed and supervised many of the government officials. S/he was part of the government officials (which was the name of the second class) with the pharaoh, the pharaoh’s relatives, and priests. However, trusted servants from the royal court sometimes rose to this class. The vizier was traditionally the head of the government administers and head of the court officials. However, as his/her power grew the vizier could also become the chief priest. Young members of the royal family often served under the vizier to receive training in the government affairs. As head of the government administers, all government documents such as tax records, finances, judicial appointments, the military, the architecture, interior, religion, and any agriculture data (which were all government agencies) have to have the seal of the vizier in order to be considered authentic.
Taxes in ancient Egypt were levied and collected through the office of the vizier; these goods were once stored then, redistributed back to the people –like today. The vizier was also the pharaoh’s architect and was in charge for anything the pharaoh wanted constructed. For example, a famous vizier named Imhotep was the vizier and architect of Pharaoh Djoser. Imhotep was actually the first architect in ancient Egyptian history who is responsible for constructing the first Step Pyramid. As head of court officials, s/he helped the judges with their hardest cases. There was a lower court and high court.
A group of elders from each town in Egypt were in charge of the lowercourt. The judge in the high court was the vizier. If you did not like the decision of the lower court, you could come before the vizier on a first come, first serve basis, and present the case again in high court. Even though the vizier tried to be fair, it was not smart to come before the vizier unless your case was serious and you had evidence to show that the lower court was an error because the vizier’s decision was final. You could have ended up in more trouble than you were already in by demanding to have your case heard in high court. Through the ages of ancient Egypt, the vizier was responsible for all government agencies, controlling civil order, controlling the food supply and distribution, taxation, and recording rainfall and water levels of the Nile River. The vizier used nilometers to record rainfall and water levels. Nilometers were gauges which were set up to measure water levels.
Levels above average indicated a chance of floods but, water below the average level indicated a chance of famine which would mean less food supply. In most civilizations, the lower class would have to provide the upper class with comfortable lives, but in Egypt, the vizier took care of those under them by providing those jobs and distributing food. In the period of the New Kingdom (1570-1069 BCE) there were two viziers that served the pharaoh, one for Upper and one for Lower Egypt.
Each vizier was equal in power and responsibility. However, the vizier of Upper Egypt enjoyed more wealth and power since where the vizier worked, was one of the richest cities in the country and among the most powerful. The ancient Egyptians believed that the gods had prevailed over the forces of chaos, through the creation of the world and relied on humanity to help maintain it. One of the classes that helped this were the priests and priestesses. Priests often pasted down their positions from father to son/daughter. Women were allowed to become priestesses. They had the same rights as men priests.
Their main duty was overseeing temples that were related to music and dancing. Each priest/ess had different duties. The High Priest/ess advised the pharaoh and oversaw all religious ceremonies. Templepriest/ess were in charge of the temples scattered throughout Egypt, day and night. They actually played an important role in ancient Egyptian religion.
Every temple was home to one or more god/dess. A temple’s god was believed to live in a statue. The statue was placed in a holy room called sanctuary. Only a priest/ess who had purified (cleansed) himself could enter the room. There were many steps the priest/ess had to follow in order to be purified. S/he had to avoid certain foods, such as fish, that were associated with the lower classes. S/he also had to cleanse her/himself by bathing himself in the holy water pools, three to four times a day.
S/he also had to shave off her/his body hair and wear clothes made of linen cloth, because animal material like leather and wool were considered unclean. Priests were often seen bald to ensure cleanness. Priest(s)/esses also played a role in burial practices. Special priest(s)/esses worked as embalmers. Embalmers treated and wrapped bodies whose soul is now in the afterlife, the process took many steps and days. The Egyptians used this method called embalming to preserve bodies from decaying. Embalmers needed to know the correct rituals and prayers to be performed at various stages, also a detailed knowledge of human anatomy.
First, the embalmers removed the body’s organs, such as the brain, lungs, and liver after the body washed with Natron dissolved in water. They used hooks up your nostrils and into your brain to remove the organ since the Egyptians though the brain was useless and thought the only reason was to produce snot and was a waste of space. Embalmers stirred the brain until it was liquid like then, tilted the head forwards to get the fluid out and hooked extra pieces out. The only organ that was left in the body was the heart. The heart was believed to judge a dead person’s soul in the afterlife. The organs are then separately put in canopic jars to preserve them.
Next, the body is soaked in Natron for forty days to absorb all the body’s liquid. After forty days in Natron, the body is removed and rubbed with oils. The body is then stuffed with sawdust and rags. Then, they wrapped it in hundreds of yards of linen. The embalmers decorated thewrapped body, or mummy, with pieces of jewelry and protective charms. Often, they placed a mask over the head.
Finally, they often spread a black, gooey gum over the body and wrap it a final time. The mummy is then ready for burial. The mummy is placed inside a wooden box and then inside a large stone coffin called a sarcophagus, since they needed room to bury other items along with the coffin that will help them with the transition to the afterlife. These included food and drink, furniture, statues, jewelry, gold, clothes, games, and mirrors. Not all Egyptians could afford such complicated burials. But even poor Egyptians wrapped their dead in cloth and buried them with loaves of bread and other items they thought would be needed in the afterlife. Other priest(s)/esses also handled more common concerns and requests such as giving advice and performing healings. The army was also a class in the social pyramid.
During the Old Kingdom (2613-2181 BCE), if the Pharaoh needed men to fight, he would call up the farmers to defend the country. Even though Egypt was protected by natural barriers, they still needed an army to protect Egypt from foreigners/invaders. For example, the Hyksos people located near northern Egypt conquered Lower Egypt using chariots and advanced weapons. From that moment, the Egyptians knew they needed an army. Young boys at the age of five were signed up, but eventually didn’t get to fight till the age of twenty. The Egyptians learned how to make powerful chariots and gathered a strong army with archers and charioteers. They eventually took Lower Egypt back from the Hyksos.
They each were trained on a different weapon. If they were proficient with the bow, they would become an archer. The most important out of all the Egyptian weapons they used was the bow and arrow. The Egyptians used a composite bow that they learned from the Hyksos and were trained to shoot them six hundred feet killing enemies from a long distance. They were also trained to use chariots. Chariots were wheeled carriages pulled by two fast warhorses and rode by two soldiers. One soldier would drive the chariot and control the horses while the other men foughtusing a bow and arrow or spear. While fighting against their enemies, they did have armor on to protect themselves but very little since the climate of Egypt was high.
Their main form of defense was a shield. When the Egyptians did wear armor, it was the form of harden leather straps. Fighting wasn’t the only task the Egyptians were hired for. The army worked in the fields during planting and harvesting season and as laborers who had to construct many architecture buildings such as temples, palaces, and even pyramid. Even though, the soldiers were not payed well, the pharaoh spoiled them by giving each soldier awards like there own land. Although this class cannot read and write, another class called the scribes could. Scribes were people in ancient Egypt (usually men) who could read and write, besides the pharaoh and vizier.
Although, experts believe that most scribes were men, there is evidence that some female doctors had been trained as a scribe so that they could read medical texts. Scribes learned how to communicate by using hieroglyphics which was the ancient Egyptian writing. Most students at the age of five started studied in the temples, but their formal scribal education started at the age of nine years old in scribe school. Scribe school was open to anyone in the social structure who could afford the fee. At scribe school they learned reading and writing, history, math- using a decimal system based on the ten fingers, geometry, astronomy, music, geography, science, religion, and medicine.
To become an actual scribe, they had to have twelve years of training at scribe school. There were over 700 different hieroglyphs. Unlike our writing, hieroglyphs were action ‘pictures’ that could mean one word, many words or an entire idea. Student scribes would write on sheets of old pieces of pottery or flakes of limestone with reed brushes dipped in ink since papyrus took a long time to form and was very expensive.
There were two different colors of ink, red and black, red ink was only used in magical spells and titles, while the black ink was used just to write hieroglyphs. The Egyptians made ink by grinding brightly colored minerals into powder, then mixing the powder with liquidso it is easier to apply. Whenever scribes started their work they would sprinkle a drop of water from their water bowl to their papyrus paper in honor of Imhotep. Once a student became a scribe, they would have to carry around a wooden palette, reed pens and brushes, and as well a roll of papyrus. The roles of a scribe include: tax collectors, law administrators, writing letters and legal documents such as marriage contracts, recording harvests, food supply and distribution, documenting rainfall and water levels of the Nile, controlling the food supply and distribution, conducting census of the population, and overseeing the construction of buildings including planning, surveying and supervising. In order to get the scribes’ material they had to buy them from the merchants. Merchants were ancient Egyptian traders. Trade was done by bartering, a reasonable method when exchanging goods with others.
Farmers and fisherman could also double as a merchant and sell their fish and other produce at the local market. Merchants often traded with common people in Egypt or with other traders from a civilization at the mouth of the Nile. The ancient Egyptians who bought goods from merchants traded goods through their shops and in the public marketplaces. Merchants spent most of their time in the sun and were required to wear human hair wigs, and protective makeup. Egyptian ships would sail up and down the Nile River, bringing goods to various ports. Once goods were unloaded, goods were hauled to various merchants by camel, cart, and on foot.
These goods included native products like gold, papyrus made into paper or rope, linen cloth, grain, and jewelry for products they did not have such as cedar, ebony wood, ebony, copper, iron, ivory, and lapis lazuli (a lovely blue gem stone.) Grain harvest often exceeded the amount needed for the Egyptian citizens and could be traded to nearby countries that cannot grow enough grains. Merchants who exchanged good with the royalty made a good living, as well as certain foreign items that were traded were treasured in temples.
This trading system created a large amount of wealth, especially in foreign trade. Artisans also helpedthe merchants by making jewelry for them to trade. Artisans are highly skilled workers who created artwork and objects in ancient Egypt.
Even though artisans were highly skilled and created beautiful objects, they got little respect. Some types of artisans are: carpenters, jewelers, leather workers, metalworkers, painters, potters, sculptors, wig makers, gold workers, and weavers. Painters were in charge of painting scenes of the ancient Egyptian’s everyday life on the walls of almost every building in Egypt.
Most artisans were men, but some women wove fabric, beaded clothing, and made perfume. The most skilled artisans were the stone carvers. They produced the statues, engravings, and reliefs found in Egyptian temples, tombs, and monuments. Stone carvers helped fill the tomb with artworks to honor and preserve the dead. The artworks on the tombs included statues of the deceased, detailed wall engravings, and stone coffins. Stone carving was a very skilled and time consuming work. Carvers often used hard rock, such as granite or dolerite, another type of hard rock, to pound out an initial shape. Then, they used quartz sand to smooth and polish the object.
Painters often added color to the finished product. It was a tough job, since if you made a mistake, you couldn’t repair it. The pharaoh could call upon hundreds of artisans at a time to work on royal projects. Artisans created the fine artwork that often covered temples, royal tombs, and other monuments. They worked in large groups to complete engravings, paintings, and hieroglyphics. This class helped decorate Egypt with their beliefs in a colorful, beautiful way. One other class helps Egypt by providing them food.
This class is called the farmers. The Egyptian farmers grew crops such as wheat, barley, vegetables, figs, melons, pomegranates and vines. They also grew flax which was made into linen. The most important crop grown was grain. Grain was used to make bread, porridge, and beer. Grain would be the first crop they would grow after inundation (flooding season).
Egyptian farmers would the divide the year up into three seasons, based on the cycles of the Nile River: Akhet (June-September), Peret (October-February), andShemu (March-May). Akhet was the flooding season; no farming was done at this time since the fields were flooded. Instead the farmers worked for the pharaoh, building pyramids or temples and some of the time was spent mending their tools and looking after their animals. Peret was the growing season. In October the floodwaters have withdraw, leaving behind a layer of rich, black soil. The fertile soil was then ploughed and seeded. Shemu was the harvesting season.
The fully grown crops had to be cut down (harvested) and removed before the Nile flooded again. It was also time to repair canals for the next flood. After grain was harvested, they grew vegetables such as onions, leeks, cabbages, beans, cucumbers and lettuce.
Farmers planted fruit trees and vines along paths, to give shade as well as fruit. Once the floods have withdrawn and the fields dried, the plants would wither and die. The mud that the Nile left behind needed lots of watering in the hot sun. The ancient Egyptians tried to trap as much flood water as possible, so they did not have to constantly get water from the river.
They built mud-brick reservoirs to trap and hold the water. They also had a network of irrigation canals that filled with water during the flood and were refilled from the reservoirs. Animals were also very important to ancient Egyptian farmers. Animals helped them with jobs like trampling in the seeds, pulling the plough, eating unwanted grain or wheat and providing the Egyptians with food and drink. They kept animals such as cattle, goats, pigs, ducks, cows, and geese. At the bottom of the pyramid with the least status were the peasants and slaves. Slaves were captured enemies or criminals. But there were not that many slaves in ancient Egypt, since the Egyptians were respectful and peaceful with each other.
Peasants took up 80% of the Egyptians population. Peasants worked as servants in the homes of wealthy nobles and as laborers. As servants, they worked in the homes of the upper class cleaning, making food, and completing other tasks.
As laborers, they often worked on large building projects for the