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The ancient kingdom. Creation of a united and strong state in Ancient Egypt

The era of the Ancient Kingdom (early XXVIII-mid XXIII centuries BC) is more than five hundred years of Egyptian history, the reign of the III, IV, V and VI Manethonic dynasties, an era that is genetically related to the Early Kingdom, but represents a qualitatively new stage in the development of Egypt.

Economic situation of the state

The new phenomena were determined primarily by the final, solid unification of the country, its consolidation into one political and economic whole. This becomes especially clear when we consider that there were no significant changes in the tools of production compared to the Early Kingdom. The changes were apparently mostly quantitative. Only a sharp increase in the production of copper tools could lead, for example, to great changes in the construction business — the beginning of the hitherto unprecedented construction of soft limestone. It is known that the blocks of this stone were cut with copper saws, which were made from ingots that were subjected to special forging for strength. From the tombs of the Ancient Kingdom, a large number of different copper tools and their small models have come down to us, but a variety of stone tools, wooden hoes, sickles with flint teeth, and a primitive wooden plow were still widely used. Copper tools were of great value at this time.

The complete unification of Egypt and the more purposeful organization of production within the united country greatly contributed to the general rise of all branches of the Egyptian economy.

Industrial relations-the basis of the economy of Ancient Egypt

The monuments of the Ancient Kingdom for the first time allow us to highlight some important aspects of the industrial relations of Egyptian society. Numerous documents show the existence of the royal economy and especially the farms of private individuals-nobles who held high positions at the court, in the administrative apparatus, both in the center and in the local areas-in the nomes.

Numerous painted reliefs completely cover the inner walls of the funeral tombs of the nobles and are provided with brief explanatory inscriptions. They make it possible to imagine the life of a large household — the” own house ” (per jet) of a nobleman. These sepulchral images were closely connected with the Egyptian cult, which reflected the Egyptians ‘ ideas of the other world as an eternal copy of the earthly real life, and were, in fact, a detailed visual description of this life, so they have a very direct relationship to the real economy of the nobleman.

The tomb reliefs tell us about the nobleman himself and his immediate surroundings. Usually he is shown as the head of a large family, which includes his wife and children, siblings, sometimes mother and father, relatives, household members. There are also numerous personal servants, musicians, singers and singers, dancers, kravchie, hairdressers, fan-bearers, bodyguards. It is interesting that the younger members of the family, along with the domestic servants, serve the owner of the estate or participate in the management of his household.

Nobleman’s household

A large noble household consisted of the main estate and numerous possessions (courtyards and villages) located in different parts of the country, both in Upper and Lower Egypt. An extensive staff of various kinds of employees-scribes, overseers, accountants, document keepers, managers, headed by a “housekeeper” who carried out the general management of the entire economic life of “his own house” – organized and controlled the work of farmers and shepherds, fishermen and poultry farmers, gardeners and gardeners, bakers and brewers, coppersmiths and jewelers, potters and stonemasons, weavers and sandalers, carpenters, carpenters, shipbuilders, artists and sculptors — all those who are so vividly represented on the tomb reliefs at their daily work in the field and in the pasture, in the craft workshop and in the house of the nobleman himself. A large noble farm of the Ancient Kingdom provided its owner with almost everything he needed in everyday life.

A characteristic form of labor organization in field farming during the Ancient Kingdom was the work teams that worked during sowing and harvesting. As far as can be judged from the scenes of agricultural work and the inscriptions to them, the seed grain was delivered to the farmers from the granary of the noble farm, the draft cattle (usually two long-horned cows) were brought from the noble herd, the harvested crop, brought to the farm by donkeys, belonged to the noble and after processing on the threshing floor,

Working groups also worked in the transportation of heavy loads, loading ships (the main means of transport in Egypt) and in many other jobs, and they could be transferred to one or another job as needed.

The handicraft production of the noble economy was concentrated in the general craft workshops — the “chamber of masters”, in which artisans of various specialties worked. Only men worked here. Women worked in separate weaving workshops. The farm had a special food division, engaged in the production of various products. In all handicraft works, there was a fractional division of labor, several people often worked on the same product at different stages of its manufacture. And in the craft workshop, all the means of production belonged to the owner of all the farms. The products made by the craftsmen were delivered to the grandees ‘ warehouses. This was also the case in other branches of the economy. Consequently, all types of workers involved in the noble economy were deprived of ownership of the tools and means of production.

Judging by the relief tomb images, the employees of the noble economy received food from the noble warehouses and industries — from vegetable gardens, pastures, fishing grounds, from granaries, food departments (grain, fish, bread, vegetables, beer). We see how farmers are given clothes — a short apron-and special oil for anointing, because, working under a cloudless Egyptian sky in the hot sun, the almost naked farmer was forced to lubricate the body with some fat composition. Whether the employee had any additional means of subsistence in addition to the master’s allowance, we do not know.

But the same tomb reliefs occasionally depict a market for small exchange, the participants of which were, apparently, also the workers of the noble economy. There was a brisk trade: grain, bread, vegetables, fish were exchanged for fish hooks, shoes, mirrors, beads, and other handicrafts. The measure of value was grain or linen. The existence of such a market can be explained by the existence of a certain surplus of food products among a part of the workers, as well as, probably, the existence of a fixed system in handicraft production. The rate of production was probably close to the full productive capacity of the worker, but after completing his lesson, he could probably make additional products that were already considered to belong to him personally and could be exchanged in the market. If this was indeed the case, then the employees of the noble household could have a certain personal movable property and dispose of it at their own discretion.

Differences from the royal and temple farms

The royal and temple farms of the Ancient Kingdom, from which much more scanty information has come down to us, seem to have been organized on the same principle. Now our ideas about the organization of the temple economy are becoming more definite thanks to the sensational discovery by the Czechoslovak expedition of the archive of the pripyramid temple of Neffir-kara in Lbu-Sira. We have almost no information about the medium and small farms of this era.

Taking into account the undoubtedly great role of noble farms in the economy of the country of the era of the Ancient Kingdom, it is necessary to identify their connection with the royal (state) economy. It is known that in Egyptian monuments, the” own house “of the nobleman acts as something” external “in relation to the” internal”, state (royal) economy. The composition of the” own house ” of the nobleman included land and property inherited from his parents. The owners of such a legacy were mostly the eldest sons of the deceased head of the family. That is why, in particular, the younger brothers of the nobleman were forced to serve in his house, to feed at the expense of his farm. The nobleman could dispose of the property received under the will from other persons, as well as inherited by him “for a fee”, i.e. purchased.

It seems that the nobleman had the right to dispose of the inherited, bequeathed, purchased property and land at his own discretion, as his full property, his property “in truth” (it was from this property that the nobleman probably allocated land and funds to ensure his funeral cult, which provided for the maintenance of a large staff of funeral priests at his tomb). Along with the property “in truth”, the nobleman had the property “in service”, which he, apparently, could not completely dispose of, since it did not belong to him personally, but to his position and could be selected together with the position, so the nobleman clearly distinguished his property “in truth” and “in office”. At the same time, the monuments show that the well-being of the nobleman depended primarily on his official property, and outside of the official career, we can not imagine a nobleman of the Ancient Kingdom. It should be borne in mind that the positions in Egypt, as a rule, were hereditary, passed from father to son, but at the same time such a transfer of office was always approved by the king. Thus, the personal and official in the” own house ” of the nobleman is closely intertwined. It is no accident that the Egyptian concept of “property” (jet) itself is broader than ours — it can serve both to denote complete property (in our understanding of it), and to denote only possession, use (for service).

Naturally, the numerous staff of production organizers in the royal, temple and noble farms — various officials, scribes, accountants and supervisors — differed in their position in society from the persons who directly worked in these farms. Many of them held certain government positions and themselves had at their disposal the land and the people who worked it. This category of persons should also include the small and medium-sized staff of temples, numerous priests associated with the funeral cult (high priestly positions were concentrated in the hands of the highest court and local provincial administration). The same group of people who made up the middle stratum of Egyptian society could include sculptors, architects, painters, doctors, talented rich artisans of royal, temple and noble farms. From the second half of the Ancient Kingdom, numerous burials, sometimes very rich, have come down to us, belonging to representatives of these middle strata of the population.

Dependent population

The term for a slave (bak, plural baku) has been known since the Early Kingdom. The few documents of the Ancient Kingdom indicate that slaves could be bought and sold (for example, a document from the VI dynasty has been preserved, mentioning the purchase of slaves), therefore, in Egypt during the Ancient Kingdom there was a slave market. Among the slaves were foreigners, but mostly they were of Egyptian origin. However, the mechanism of enslavement of tribesmen in the conditions of the Ancient Kingdom is difficult to restore now.

The predominance of huge, more or less closed economic complexes, in which everything necessary was produced, from tools of production to consumer products, naturally hindered the development of commodity-money relations in the country, so the possibility of the appearance of debt slavery, known from the somewhat later ancient societies of the Near East, is almost excluded. It is possible that most of the domestic slaves of the Egyptians were descendants of those inhabitants of the Nile Valley who were captured and enslaved by their neighbors during the period of fragmentation and wars between the Nomes, and then between the two early Egyptian states. But, of course, there were some other ways of enslaving the tribesmen. Thus, the high officials of the second half of the Ancient Kingdom, flaunting their virtue, boast in their autobiographical inscriptions that they did not enslave a single Egyptian in their entire lives. Consequently, the very possibility of enslaving the tribesmen-the inhabitants of the Nile Valley — was not excluded and took place, but, obviously, enslaving them was considered reprehensible, and perhaps forbidden by the royal power. It is not for nothing that indirect information about the enslavement of the Egyptians goes back mainly to the end of the Ancient Kingdom, when there was already a sharp decline in the central government.

There is no doubt that the royal, temple, and noble farms were predominant in the economic structure of the Ancient Kingdom. However, were these large farms the only form of organization of production in the country, or could there be a small but autonomous community-private sector of the economy outside of them? It is difficult to answer this question based on the Egyptian sources of that era, since all of them are related only to the royal and noble farms. Only on the basis of a few indirect data can we assume that such a sector probably existed. So, for example, a nobleman who lived at the end of the third dynasty buys land from a collective of certain nisu-tiu (“royal”), who, therefore, had some individual or collective rights to the land and could dispose of it at their own discretion. Perhaps the existence of small individual farms is evidenced by the inscriptions of the nobles of the end of the Ancient Kingdom, who, according to them, helped some, apparently small, producers with seed grain and draft cattle during the plowing period. It is difficult to assume that such assistance could be carried out within the framework of the royal and noble farms, based, as we have seen, on completely different principles. Finally, did not the small proprietors who were ruined, becoming dependent on the owners of large noble farms, turn into slave farmers? Were they not the source of the replenishment of such a large category of funeral priests who provided the funeral cult of the nobles? It is also possible that among the participants in the exchange market, known to us from the tomb images, there were not only workers involved in large noble farms, but also small individual producers. However, all this is just speculation. The material is too insignificant and contradictory to draw any firm, unambiguous conclusions.

The social structure of the Ancient Kingdom

At the head of the established Egyptian state was a king, often called Pharaoh in literature — a term that came from the Greek language, but goes back to the ancient Egyptian allegorical name of the king of the New Kingdom era — per-‘o, which meant “Big House” (i.e., palace) — the very name of the king was considered sacred, and it was forbidden to say it in vain.

Pharaoh Mikerin with two goddesses

Pharaoh Mikerin (4th dynasty) with two goddesses-Hathor on the left, Bat on the right — the patroness of the 7th nome of Upper Egypt.

The Egyptian king had unlimited economic, political, and high priestly power. All significant activities in the country and beyond were carried out in the name of the Pharaoh — large irrigation and construction works, mining of fossils and stone in the surrounding deserts, wars and trade expeditions, large religious and dynastic festivals. The king was worshipped as a god and was, according to Egyptian ideas, equal to the gods in everything and even surpassed them in power. So, during the heyday of the Ancient Kingdom, the tombs of the kings-the pyramids-eclipsed the temples of the gods with their splendor, at that time still very insignificant, so much so that almost nothing has survived from the latter to this day. The long, epithet-laden titulature of the Egyptian king contained five names, including personal and throne names. Until the end of Egyptian history, the Pharaoh acted as the king of Upper and Lower Egypt, which was recorded in his titulature as a memory of the once independent kingdoms of the North and South. A relic of the times of the two pre-dynastic kingdoms was also the duplicated system of some state departments of the country.

The most important assistant to the king was the supreme dignitary-chati (often called the vizier in literature), who carried out the general management of the economic life of the country and the main judicial chamber on behalf of the king. At various times, chati could hold some other major positions, in particular the position of head of the metropolitan administration. It is known, however, that for almost the entire history of Egypt, he was not trusted with the leadership of the military department, which was headed by another major dignitary — the chief of the army.

Once independent nomes, becoming part of a single state, turned into its local administrative and economic districts, and during the highest heyday of the Ancient Kingdom, under the IV dynasty, the complete subordination of the nomes to the central government is noted: the king could at will move the nomarchs (rulers of the nomes) from one nome to another, from Upper Egypt to Lower Egypt, and vice versa, there was a strict control of the center over all the actions of the local administration. In the period of the third and fourth dynasties, the highest metropolitan nobility consisted of a narrow circle of people who were related by blood to the king. The most important persons in the state — the chati, the military leaders, the heads of various departments and works, the high priests of the most important Egyptian temples-were close or more distant relatives of the royal house, the ruling dynasty. Centralized management was carried out with the help of a huge, extensive and specialized bureaucratic apparatus.

The only type of permanent Egyptian army that began to take shape during the Early Kingdom was the infantry. The warriors were armed with bows, arrows, and short swords. Often during the campaigns, the soldiers were transferred to the battle site from their permanent locations on cargo river vessels. The borders of Egypt in the North and South were protected by a chain of defensive fortresses, which housed military garrisons. It is interesting that the police functions in Egypt since ancient times were carried out by natives of the early conquered by the Egyptians of Northern Nubia-the Majai.

Building pyramids

Egypt is often figuratively called the “Land of the Pyramids”. In the immediate vicinity of Cairo and to the south of it are scattered these grandiose burial structures of the kings of the Ancient Kingdom, mute witnesses of the hitherto unseen power of the Egyptian rulers, designed to forever glorify the names of the Pharaohs buried in the underground chambers of these peculiar tombstones. The first, still stepped, 60-meter pyramid was erected near the modern town of Saqqara, south of Cairo, for the Pharaoh of the III dynasty, the founder of the Ancient Kingdom of Jeser, by a talented architect, doctor and chati, the famous Imkhetep, later deified. The first and only surviving of the seven wonders of the ancient world — the great pyramid of the second king of the IV dynasty of Cheops (Khufu) — 146-meter high, built of 2 million 300 thousand perfectly fitted huge blocks of stone, stands unshakably in the suburbs of Cairo, Giza. Here are the pyramids of his successors — the youngest son named Khafren (Khafra), which is only three meters lower than the pyramid of his father, and significantly inferior to them is the 66-meter pyramid of another pharaoh of the same dynasty, whose name was Mikerin (Menkaura). Each king of the Ancient Kingdom began to build a tomb for himself immediately after his accession to the throne, and it was sometimes built over several decades. Herodotus, who traveled to Egypt in the V century BC, left us a vivid, but not quite accurate description of the construction of the pyramid of Cheops, as it has been preserved in the memory of distant descendants.

Cheops, according to Herodotus, plunged the country into the abyss of disasters, forcing all the Egyptians to work for him. Some dragged huge blocks of stone from the quarries in the eastern desert to the Nile, others loaded them on ships and brought them to the left bank of the Nile, others dragged them to the foot of the Libyan plateau to the construction site. A hundred thousand people worked there day after day, replacing each other every three months. For ten years they built only the road, along which they dragged the stones, and the burial vault, and for twenty years the pyramid itself was built over them.

In fact, the building material for the construction of the pyramid was local limestone, extracted right there, at its foot, and from the opposite bank only high-quality white limestone was brought to cover the interior of the pyramid and its external faces. The pyramid itself was built by a limited number of working groups, consisting of permanent, qualified, specially trained workers. Special work crews also worked in the neighboring quarries. There is no doubt, however, that the construction of the pyramids involved a large amount of unskilled auxiliary labor, but this occurred mainly during the floods of the Nile, when agricultural work is impossible, and therefore did not harm the economy. Next to the pyramids of the IV dynasty, a 20-meter-high Large Sphinx stands carved in the rock — its time-disfigured face is believed to bear a portrait resemblance to King Chephren, during whose time the sphinx was apparently sculpted. And nearby, near the pyramids, is a large city of the dead-the burials of the nobles of the heyday of the Ancient Kingdom. The kings of the subsequent, V and VI dynasties also built pyramids, though less grandiose ones. The pyramids of the V dynasty are located in the area of Abu Sir and Saqqara. Near the last village there are also pyramids of kings of the VI dynasty. The Saqqara necropolis of the nobles is the most extensive and important in the Ancient Kingdom.

Military campaigns and foreign relations

The time of the Ancient Kingdom left us not so much the inscriptions of the kings, but the autobiographical inscriptions of the nobles and nomarchs, telling about military campaigns, trading expeditions, mining outside of Egypt.

The founder of the IV dynasty, King Snefru, made a great campaign in Ethiopia, killing 7 thousand Nubians and taking 200 thousand cattle, after a campaign in Libya, he brought 1,100 captured Libyans and new herds to Egypt. In Sinai, the kings of the Fifth dynasty of Sahura and Unis fought with the Asian tribes. They also undertook campaigns in Libya. In the memorial temple of Sahur, for example, ships are depicted bringing captive Asians and Libyans to Egypt. From him, the first information about the journey of the Egyptians to the distant mysterious Punt, which was probably on the territory of modern Somalia, has reached us. At that time, the channel between the eastern arm of the Nile and the Red Sea had not yet been dug, so the journey had to begin in the city of Koptos in Upper Egypt, from where the Egyptians reached the coast on foot along the bed of the dried-up Wadi Hammamat River, and then went to Punt by ship, bringing from there incense, myrrh, frankincense, and gold.

Military campaigns were also organized by the kings of the VI dynasty. Piopi I, the second king of the VI dynasty, fought with the Asian tribes already outside the Sinai Peninsula, and the Egyptian troops moved both by land and by sea. Piopi I’s son, Merenra, went to Ethiopia. “Economic” expeditions were also organized, the main purpose of which was the extraction of minerals and other raw materials (especially for the manufacture of luxury goods).

Numerous inscriptions left on the site of their activities by officials who were sent by the tsar to the mines and quarries, tell about the organization of these “peaceful” campaigns, about the struggle with the steppe cattle breeders on the way, about the victories over them, about the development of minerals. The Egyptians still mined copper in the mountains of Sinai, and turquoise was also mined there. The stone was everywhere, but rare rocks of it were sometimes delivered from afar. Lapis lazuli, for example, came to Egypt from the territory of modern Afghanistan through a multi-stage exchange. Numerous expeditions were sent to the eastern shore of the Mediterranean Sea for the cedar of Lebanon. Black wood, ivory, lion and leopard skins were brought from Nubia, but there is no information about Nubian gold, the placers of which were later intensively developed by the Egyptians. During the Ancient Kingdom, the Egyptians mined gold in the desert east of the Nile Valley, and brought it along the Red Sea from the country of Punt.

Internal situation of the State

The internal situation of the state of the Ancient Kingdom period, despite its indisputable power, was, however, not serene. For some reason, the time of the reign of the third dynasty is shrouded in deep darkness — only its ancestor Jeser is well known to us. The unfinished pyramid and the broken statues of the son of Cheops, Djedefr, may be evidence of the internecine struggle between the two brothers, which ended in the victory of Chephren. Hidden from us, apparently, is the dramatic end of the powerful fourth dynasty and the arrival in its place of the Fifth Dynasty in the person of its founder Userkaf. The ascension to the throne of this dynasty led to serious ideological changes associated with the beginning of the national worship of the sun god Ra — the main god of the Heliopolitan nome, from which the V dynasty may have originated. Now, in the titulature, the king is not only identified with the god Horus, the traditional patron of the early dynastic Egyptian kings, but also acts as the son of the god Ra. The five first kings of the new dynasty build solar temples in honor of the god Ra with a huge obelisk inside a fenced courtyard. Under the V dynasty, there were also major internal political shifts, the external expression of which was the appearance among the highest officials of the state of people from the nobility, not related to the king by family relations (which was so typical under the previous dynasty).

Finally, the entire second half of the Ancient Kingdom is a time of invisible, but long and persistent struggle of the strengthened nomadic administration against the excessive dominance of the central government, for its political and economic autonomy. There is no direct written evidence of this struggle, and perhaps there was not, but much can be understood if you look at at least the burials of the Upper Egyptian nomarchs (heads of nome administrations) of the VI dynasty. Hereditary necropolises of the nomarchs of that time are found throughout Upper Egypt. And we see that the tombs of the nomarchs are becoming more and more luxurious from generation to generation, especially the tombs of the nomarchs of the richest regions, and the tombs of the kings — the pyramids — are no longer comparable to the majestic structures of the powerful pharaohs of the fourth dynasty.

Gradually, the Nomes undermine the power of the central government, and the tsarist administration eventually has to make more and more concessions to their rulers. There is a redistribution of the material and human resources of the country in favor of the nomes, to the detriment of the center. The economic power of the Memphis kings is being undermined, and their political influence is being weakened. Soon after the death of King Piopi II of the VI dynasty, who reigned in Egypt for almost 100 years, Memphis ‘ power over Egypt becomes nominal. The VII-VIII dynasties still maintain the traditions of the Ancient Kingdom, but the era of former greatness has passed irrevocably. Around 2400 BC, the country splits into many independent nomes. The era of the Ancient Kingdom is coming to an end.

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