Ancient Egypt’s jobs were highly specialized and required skilled workers, prompting the Egyptians to establish the world’s first schools in order to train them.
We will shed light on the fascinating world of Ancient Egypt and discover how a highly trained workforce was able to construct monuments on a massive scale and forever change the face of Egypt.
This article will uncover some of Egypt’s hidden mysteries and show you how the Ancient Egyptians lived and worked.
Farmers: The Backbone of the Economy
In Ancient Egypt, farmers were by far the most numerous – and most impoverished – social class. Farmers sustained Egypt’s agricultural economy and produced food. They worked the land and paid taxes to the pharaoh. Furthermore, the tax was levied on the part of the produce, merchandise, or property. Additionally, most farmers paid their taxes in grain.
The absence of a monetary economy meant the amount of tax paid had to be determined every year. This process was often arbitrary, and the farmers were subjected to abuses of corrupt officials who made their lives more difficult. As we can see, farmers did not perform any specialized jobs in Ancient Egypt but were essential for the economy. Without farmers, there would have been no Egypt.
The Difficult Lives of the Workers
While farmers worked the land, scribes kept records, and officials collected taxes, somebody had to produce goods and perform various jobs.
Some of these included:
- Reed Cutters
- Arrow makers
The Satire of the Trades
A famous literary work from the Middle Kingdom period (2040 – 1742 BCE) describes the hardships of the daily lives of workers in great detail. For example, carpenters and weavers were described as ‘wretched,’ whereas fishermen said they were: “more miserable than any other profession.”
This literary work gives us a valuable insight into the lives of Ancient Egyptian workers and the hardships they suffered to survive. Also, it tells us that scribes were in a privileged position compared to ordinary workers.
Which Ancient Egyptian Jobs Were in Highest Demand?
During the Old Kingdom, builders and artisans were required to work on the pharaoh’s ambitious construction projects. Tens of thousands of workers labored day and night for several decades on constructing the Great Pyramid of Pharaoh Khufu.
Such an ambitious project could not have been completed without thousands of skilled workers such as stonemasons and carpenters. Job specialization in Ancient Egypt also included skilled artisans who decorated the interior of pyramids, royal tombs, and other monuments such as obelisks.
– Artists in the Service of the Pharaoh
Artists were highly valued throughout Egyptian history, making the pharaoh employ them as sculptors and painters to decorate the tombs and palaces. Hundreds of artisans worked on inscriptions and reliefs that cover the walls of the tombs in the Valley of the Kings, many of which have been well-preserved and stand today as monumental examples of the artistic heights of Ancient Egypt.
– The Importance of Artisans
Skilled artisans were among the most valued workers in Ancient Egypt. They not only participated in great royal projects but also produced items needed in daily life. Those among them who worked as beer brewers, bakers, or barbers came from a modest background. On the other hand, goldsmiths, jewel, and coffin makers were highly prized and often connected to the upper classes whose employ they often worked.
Ancient Egyptian occupations were as varied and numerous as the professions we have today. Few or no careers seem to have been considered as lowly or inferior to others. Ancient Egyptians were hardworking people who valued community and sacrifice.
Who Were the Scribes and What Did They Do?
In short, scribes wrote things down. Except for priests, scribes were the only ones in Ancient Egypt who knew how to read and write. As the majority of Egypt’s population remained illiterate, scribes had to keep records of tax obligations, legal proceedings and compose historical chronicles. Due to their importance, scribes enjoyed great respect.
Lastly, they served in the role of teachers and, as such, had one of the most critical jobs in Ancient Egypt.
Scribes as Teachers
Education in Ancient Egypt was either general or highly specialized. Younger children were taught how to read and write and receive basic instruction in mathematics and medicine. It was not uncommon for scribes to teach in specialized schools dedicated to a particular field of study. Education in Ancient Egypt was by no means universal.
Among the few children who would receive education were the sons of priests, scribes, and nobles. Occupations would more often than not be passed down from father to son. It is often thought Ancient Egypt had a fixed social structure.
While this is true to a large extent, it was possible for lower-class Egyptians to improve their social mobility by becoming scribes. To do so, they had to learn the daunting hieroglyphic script.
Who Collected Taxes?
During the Old Kingdom, the pharaoh personally surveyed the land to assess what was due to him. This practice became known as the ‘Cattle Count.’ It was established in early dynastic times (c. 3100 – 3050 BCE) and continued until the First Intermediate Period.
Tax Collectors and the Development of a Bureaucracy
By the time the New Kingdom era began (c. 1550 BCE), the practice of the Cattle Count had fallen out of use. For the first time, taxes were collected by officials charged with that duty. They had to respond to the nomarchs, officials who served as local governors, and the pharaoh. Taxation in Egypt represented a complex system.
Although all taxes belonged to the pharaoh, the monarch had to rely on a bureaucracy to collect them. Over time, the task of governing the country had become even more complex, and an elaborate bureaucracy arose to aid the pharaoh in the ruling.
Priests: Interpreters of Divine Will or Pharaoh’s rivals?
From the earliest times, pharaohs had to rely on help and support from the upper classes in the realm’s administration. The difficult task of governing a territory stretching; the Nile Delta in the north to the First Cataract in the south mostly fell onto the shoulders of nobles and priests.
– Priests as the Pillars of the State
Egypt’s powerful priestly caste was responsible for the worship of many Ancient Egyptian deities through the careful observance of daily rituals in temples across the country.
Nominally, the pharaoh was the supreme priest and the representative of gods on earth, especially during the Old and Middle Kingdom periods when the ruler was worshipped as a semi-divine figure. Priests owned land and received generous donations from the pharaoh, as well as rich and poor Egyptians alike.
Temple holdings were exempt from tax, which resulted in priesthoods obtaining spectacular wealth that rivaled the pharaoh. The growing power of the priesthood inevitably brought it into conflict with the monarch. New Kingdom pharaohs often sought to curb the power of the priests of Amun, with limited success. Among the most powerful were the priesthoods of Amun in Thebes, Ptah in Memphis, and Hathor in Dendera.
– Priests and Their Occupations
Significantly, priests held many important positions. Most priests received a good education that enabled them to fulfill various roles. Other than performing rituals at temples, priests focused on studying astronomy, which had religious and practical applications. Priests could also be engineers, architects, and doctors. After the New Kingdom period, priests served as the guardians of the royal treasury.
Life in Ancient Egypt cannot be imagined without the priests. Even though the priesthood of Amun eventually rose to prominence and eclipsed the power of the pharaohs, priests and their knowledge and expertise helped cement Egypt’s status as one of the greatest civilizations in history.
– Education at the Temples
Scribes were not the only ones who taught in schools. One of the many roles of priests was to provide children with religious education and teach them morality.
What Was the Role of the Nobility?
Nobles fulfilled several essential roles, namely that of local governors (nomarchs), overseers of lands worked by peasants, as well as doctors and lawyers. Their most important job, however, was to serve the pharaoh as military commanders.
They were responsible for maintaining law and order in the provinces, overseeing tax collection, and leading Egypt’s armies during times of war. Unlike Medieval Europe or Japan, Ancient Egypt’s nobility did not represent the most powerful social class. Egyptian nobility had to depend on the monarch for their power and wealth.
Pharaoh: Supreme Ruler and High Priest
Standing alone at the very top of the social pyramid was the pharaoh, Egypt’s sole ruler who owned all the land and had direct contact with the divine. The pharaoh appointed nomarchs, waged war, performed the all-important rituals and ceremonies that ensured the annual flooding of the Nile without which Egypt would descend into famine and chaos.
The weakening of Egypt’s power and internal turmoil often appeared to be in direct correlation with the deterioration of central authority. Thanks to the pharaoh’s existence as a unifying figure, Ancient Egypt survived and flourished for thousands of years.
We have seen how Egyptian jobs in ancient times, education, and job specializations helped build a stable society capable of monumental feats of construction that forever changed the world.
Here is what made Ancient Egypt great:
- A stable, well-ordered society where everybody knew their place
- The ability to coordinate labor and use it to build on a massive scale
- The knowledge that was passed down through generations by the scribe and priestly castes
- Intelligent organization of labor
- Pharaohs who kept the land united
Ancient Egypt’s iconic architecture, art, and culture continue to inspire us today. Monuments that have withstood the test of time stand as the silent witness of the glory of this great civilization, and that’s primarily thanks to ancient Egypt’s education system.