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Daily Life as an Ancient Egyptian

By Bruno Kos

A look at the daily life of ancient Egyptians will reveal a very centralized society. The stratification of society in Egypt in those times bears similarities with other cultures. As in other olden civilizations, religion played a major role in the daily life of ancient Egyptians.

The Pharaoh and His Vizier

Wikimedia Commons / by en:Papyrus of Ani Their many temples would be the central focus of daily life of ancient Egyptians. Egypt during the time of the pharaohs had temples in nomes, or administrative regions. These were built not only as places of worship but also as a storage facility for the nation’s wealth and treasures. Included in the temples were granaries where farmers were required to deposit a certain portion of their harvests as payment for the land that they tilled.

All the temples and nomes were administered by the pharaoh through his vizier. Hence, while the pharaoh was attending to courtly duties and other functions as a military commander, it was the vizier who oversaw the day-to-day administration of the treasury at the temples. The vizier was also in charge of coordinating land surveys, archives, the legal system and construction projects.

Working Under a Centralized Economy

Directly under the vizier were the various monarchs that served as the provincial governors in the nomes. There were as many as 42 nomes during ancient times in Egypt. The powers that these regional rulers exercised were considerable as they directly supervised the collection and safe-keeping of wealth in ancient Egypt. Under the monarch would be the overseers who carried out daily duties such as receiving farmers’ grain payments and redistribution of grains and other goods.

Under such a centralized set-up, skilled workers or artisans who rendered services to the state could be trooping to the temples to collect their payments from the overseers. As today, the remuneration varied upon a worker’s status. For instance, 200 kilos of grain a month would be earned by a simple laborer, while a foreman would get 250 kilos come payday at the temple.

Ancient Egyptian Social Strata at Work

Such a stratified setup was even more pronounced in the status of individuals in ancient Egyptian society. The great majority of the population then were the farmers who turned over most of their produce to the state or a noble landowner. On a given day, the farmers could be called from the fields to render service on construction projects.

Above the farmers in social standing were the craftsmen and artists who were also directly controlled by the state. Shops and establishments were attached to the temples. And like the ordinary workers, the artisans directly collected their wages from the nome state treasury.

The upper strata in ancient Egyptian society consisted of state officials and scribes. They were distinctive in a daily encounter during those times for the white kilt that they wore to symbolize their rank and stature.

The daily life of ancient Egyptians was also propelled by contributions of those below the noble class—the engineers, temple priests, and physicians who trained especially in their particular expertise. There were slaves in ancient Egypt but there is much debate on the significance of their societal role.

In the construction of the pyramids, for instance, it has been strongly alleged that these structures were built for the most part by Egyptian workers and not by slaves. This theory was based on archaeological findings of Egyptian communities specifically built around the pyramids at the time that the structures were being erected.