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Nobles in Ancient Egypt

Nobles in Egyptian society were related to the pharaoh, priests, scribes, doctors, lawyers, or important military personnel. Many of the nobles were overseers of the lands worked by peasants. Taxes from these lands were paid to the government in the form of crops or cattle. These crops in turn were used to pay skilled workers and peasants for their labour on governmental projects.

Egyptian Social Structure

Egyptian society was structured like a pyramid. At the top were the gods, such as RA, Osiris, and Isis. Egyptians believed that the gods controlled the universe. Therefore, it was important to keep them happy. They could make the Nile overflow, cause famine, or even bring death.

In the social pyramid of ancient Egypt the pharaoh and those associated with divinity were at the top, and servants and slaves made up the bottom.

The Egyptians also elevated some human beings to gods. Their leaders, called PHARAOHS, were believed to be gods in human form. They had absolute power over their subjects. After pharaohs died, huge stone PYRAMIDS were built as their tombs. Pharaohs were buried in chambers within the pyramids.

Because the people of Egypt believed that their pharaohs were gods, they entrusted their rulers with many responsibilities. Protection was at the top of the list. The pharaoh directed the army in case of a foreign threat or an internal conflict. All laws were enacted at the discretion of the pharaoh. Each farmer paid taxes in the form of grain, which were stored in the pharaoh's warehouses. This grain was used to feed the people in the event of a famine.

The Chain of Command

No single person could manage all these duties without assistance. The pharaoh appointed a chief minister called a VIZIER as a supervisor. The vizier ensured that taxes were collected. Working with the vizier were SCRIBES who kept government records. These high-level employees had mastered a rare skill in ancient Egypt they could read and write.

Ancient Egyptian royalty, nobility, and clergy enjoyed lives of wealth and comfort while farmers and slaves struggled to subsist.








Noble Aims

Right below the pharaoh in status were powerful nobles and priests. Only nobles could hold government posts; in these positions they profited from tributes paid to the pharaoh. Priests were responsible for pleasing the gods. Nobles enjoyed great status and also grew wealthy from donations to the gods. All Egyptians from pharaohs to farmers gave gifts to the gods.

Religion was a central theme in ancient Egyptian culture and each town had its own deity. Initially, these deities were animals; later, they took on human appearances and behaviours. Seated here is Thoth, the god of learning and wisdom, carrying a sceptre symbolizing magical power.








Soldier On

SOLDIERS fought in wars or quelled domestic uprisings. During long periods of peace, soldiers also supervised the peasants, farmers, and slaves who were involved in building such structures as pyramids and palaces.

SKILLED WORKERS such as physicians and craftsperson's made up the middle class. CRAFTSPERSON'S made and sold jewellery, pottery, papyrus products, tools, and other useful things.

Naturally, there were people needed to buy goods from artisans and traders. These were the MERCHANTS and storekeepers who sold these goods to the public.

The Bottom of the Heap

At the bottom of the social structure were SLAVES and farmers. Slavery became the fate of those captured as prisoners of war. In addition to being forced to work on building projects, slaves toiled at the discretion of the pharaoh or nobles.

Farmers tended the fields, raised animals, kept canals and reservoirs in good order, worked in the stone quarries, and built the royal monuments. Farmers paid taxes that could be as much as 60 percent of their yearly harvest that's a lot of hay!

SOCIAL MOBILITY was not impossible. A small number of peasants and farmers moved up the economic ladder. Families saved money to send their sons to village schools to learn trades. These schools were run by priests or by artisans. Boys who learned to read and write could become scribes, then go on to gain employment in the government. It was possible for a boy born on a farm to work his way up into the higher ranks of the government. Bureaucracy proved lucrative

The Life of The Rich

Winer, Bart. Life in the Ancient World, Random House Inc. NY, NY 1961 pp 44-45
World Book Encyclopaedia, Volume 6, Field Enterprises - Educational Corporation, USA 1972, P. 73.

Beyond the market or bazaar, in a separate part of town, rose the high walls that screened the houses of the rich. These homes, with mud-brick walls, wooden pillars, and palm-trunk rafters, were usually built around a courtyard. The windows were high, the doors small, to keep out sun and let in air. Mats that could be rolled up like shades covered the windows. There were rugs on the floor and bright carpets on the walls. Pillars were built in the shape of trees, with the column painted reddish brown and the leafy top or capitol, bright green. Like the sky, the ceiling was blue. Included were workrooms and servants' quarters and the homes sometimes had as many as seventy rooms.

The rich man in his house slept on a wood-frame bed made of interlaced cords. with folded sheets fir a mattress and with a wooden headrest. Under his bed was a chamber pot.

The wealthy Egyptian loved to give a good "beer house", as he called a dinner party. In early times, men squatted at mealtime on rugs and cushions. Servants placed a small stand before every two persons and served the food in bowls and the beer in jugs. In later times, there were tables and chairs, even chairs that could be folded up and put away in the chests and baskets that served as cupboards. A good host decorated everything with flowers - the table, the beer jugs, and the guests. Servants placed cones of perfumed ointment on the heads of the guests. These looked like large ice cream cones and, like ice cream, melted. They dripped over wigs and clothes, staining everything yellow, but they added a delightful scent to the air. In the tomb painting shown to the above right, fashionable ladies receive a dish of refreshments from a slave girl at a party. Note the "cones" of perfume on their wigs. Musicians played during the meal. The guests were served many courses and several beers and wines and the party was considered a great success if most of the guests ended up drunk or sick.

Wealthy Egyptians built beautiful. spacious homes of brick and wood. They draped brightly colored hangings over latticed windows. Luxurious furnishings, such as rugs, ebony chests, and vessels of copper and gold decorated the homes. Gardens and orchards surrounded almost all the houses.

They ate beef, veal, antelope and gazelle meat, fruits, honeyed sweetmeats, and several kinds of bread and cakes. In the tomb painting seen to the left, workers tread grapes for a noble's estate. Egyptian wines were labelled with date, vineyard and variety to benefit the tax assessors, not connoisseurs.

Persons who could afford them wore wide, round collars of jewels or beads, They decorated their wrists and upper arms with beautiful rings and gay bracelets. Both for beauty and protection from the heat, wealthy Egyptians wore long. heavy black wigs of sheep's wool or human hair. Sometimes they wore striped or embroidered headdresses to signify the wearer's social standing.








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