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Ancient Egypt

People of ancient Egypt

Peasants farming the landPeasants farming the land In ancient Egypt, social rank was extremely important. A person’s position in society was closely linked to the work he did, from the pharaoh himself down to the common peasant. The vast majority of the population formed the lowest tier of Egyptian society: the peasants who worked in the fields. They did not own the land they farmed. Instead of paying taxes, they gave their labour to work on construction projects, such as digging irrigation channels, or building pyramids.

Townspeople of ancient EgyptTownspeople of ancient Egypt
The pharaoh and his vizier sit in judgement.The pharaoh and his vizier sit in judgement.

Levels of society

Ancient Egyptian society was arranged in various levels—quite similar to the shape of a pyramid (below). The pharaoh was, of course, at the pinnacle of Egyptian society: he was supreme being, supreme priest and supreme military commander (1).

Beneath him was his vizier. His job, which he carried out with the help of other ministers, was to supervise building projects, including irrigation works, collect taxes and administer justice.

Levels of ancient Egyptian societyLevels of ancient Egyptian society Besides the vizier, the other highest-ranking Egyptians were high priests and priestesses and army generals (2). Government officials, scribes (people who could write—a tiny proportion of the population), architects, engineers, doctors, soldiers and other members of the priesthood formed the next rank down (3). Below them were craftworkers, artists, dancers, musicians, and professional mourners (4). Below them, the very lowest tier, were the peasants—by far the largest group (5).

All the Egyptian people, whatever social ranking, were viewed as equal under the law. Even the lowliest peasant could appeal to the Vizier if he felt he was the victim of an injustice. Everyone had the right to defend themselves from accusations before a court.

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