History Extra explains… Who was in charge in Ancient Egypt?

As part of our 'History Extra explains' series, leading historians answer the burning questions you were too afraid to ask...

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Who was in charge in Ancient Egypt?

The Egyptian king, or pharaoh, was a unique individual. He was the one mortal able to communicate effectively with the gods who protected Egypt from chaos.

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His most important duty was to ensure that Egypt functioned correctly, as this would make the gods content. The king was therefore technically the head of the army, the civil service and the priesthood. However, it would have been impossible for one man to perform all these duties alone. The king therefore appointed deputies – generals, bureaucrats and high priests – to work on his behalf.

These men were drawn from the educated elite, and were often members of the royal family. They, in turn, appointed educated men to work beneath them.

The king was, however, a remote god-like being. Most Egyptians were peasants living in small agricultural communities. The local governor or landowner would probably have been the most important and influential person in their lives.
 

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Dr Joyce Tyldesley is a senior lecturer in the Faculty of Life Sciences at the University of Manchester, where she writes and teaches a number of Egyptology courses.

For more burning historical Q&As on the Tudors, ancient Rome, the First World War and ancient Egypt, click here.