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Egypt: The Viziers of Ancient Egypt


The Viziers of Ancient Egypt

Jimmy Dunn writing as Mark Andrews

The Egyptian title of tjaty is equivalent to a vizier and can be attested to since ancient Egypt's 2nd Dynasty (2890-2686 BC)


The Egyptian title of tjaty is equivalent to a vizier and can be attested to since ancient Egypt's 2nd Dynasty (2890-2686 BC) from inscribed stone vessels found beneath the Step Pyramid at Saqqara. However, Egyptologist believe that the title may have been present from the beginning of the Pharaonic period and in fact there is some evidence that a vizier was depicted on the Narmer palette. It was a very important position, administratively just under the king himself (chief minister). After the Kings of Egypt, we are probably most familiar with various viziers in ancient Egypt than any other group of people. Probably the most famous vizier known to most people is Imhotep, who was the vizier of Djoser during the 3rd Dynasty. He was latter deified by the people of ancient Egypt. In Egyptian art, viziers are usually depicted wearing a long robe which came up to the armpits. The garment, usually of pure white material, symbolized his impartiality.

Not until the 4th Dynasty (2613-2494 BC) would they gain their full range of powers. During the 4th Dynasty, viziers were exclusively the sons of kings, but from the 5th Dynasty (2494-2345 BC) this was no longer true (for the most part). Their importance in the 5th Dynasty may be attested by the tomb of Ptahshepses, a vizier who's mastaba tomb is the finest of any at Abusir.

Around the 12th Dynasty, the power of both the King and his vizier were strengthened at the expense of the governors of Egypt's various nomes (provinces). However, at times, particularly during some of the intermediate periods where the kings rule was weak, it was the viziers who often held the fabric of Egypt's administration system together. Viziers often held their office during the reign of more than one king, particularly within a single dynasty. In fact, viziers could even be elevated to king. Amenemhat I Sephetepibra (1985-1955 BC) was the first ruler of the 12th Dynasty, but we believe he was earlier attested to as the vizier of Mentuhotep IV. Another example is Ay, who succeeded Tutankhamun, but was a vizier during the reign of Akhenaten. After the Second Intermediate Period (1650-1550 BC), viziers such as Ramose and Rekhmira continued to play a significant role in the government of Egypt, because of the strength the title gained during the that intermediate period. After the Second Intermediate Period, the title also seems to have become hereditary, passing from father to son.

From the 18th dynasty onward, the office was split between a northern and southern vizier. This had happened twice before, during the reigns of Pepy II (2278-2184 BC) and Senusret I (1965-1920 BC). However, perhaps resulting from the polarization of the two dynasties ruling Egypt during the Second Intermediate Period from Thebes and the Delta, the dual offices of northern and southern viziers became a permanent fixture. While the two viziers seem to have held equal power, we usually know more about the southern viziers then their northern counterparts. This is basically because we have more archaeological records from the south than the north.

By Egypt's late period, the position of vizier seems to have lost some of its importance, though perhaps not its prestige. We hear very little about viziers during this period, yet some of the finest monuments of the Late Period belonged to holders of the office.

A vizier by the name of Rekhmire who worked under Tuthmosis III recorded invaluable information about the vizier's position on his tomb walls. These inscriptions record the details of a vizier's installation and duties, as well as providing clues to the vizier's importance as a key office in Egypt's administration system. The vizier often held other titles, such as the "Chief of all the King's Works" or "Royal Chancellor of Lower Egypt". Mereruka (about 2350 BC), for example, held the titles Vizier, Chief Justice and Inspector of the Prophets and Tenants of the Pyramid of Teti.

Theoretically, the power structure in ancient Egypt below the king might be separated into three groups, consisting of military leaders, the priesthood, and administrators. The vizier was the head of the administrators, but at various times, and particularly at Thebes, the vizier might also be the chief priest. Viziers heard all domestic territorial disputes, maintained a cattle and herd census, controlled the reservoirs and the food supply, supervised industries and conservation programs, and were required to repair all dikes. The bi-annual census of the population came under their purview, as did the records of rainfall and the varying levels of the Nile during its inundation. All government documents used in ancient Egypt had to have the seal of the vizier in order to be considered authentic and binding. Tax records, storehouse receipts, crop assessments and other necessary agricultural statistics were kept in the offices of the viziers. In addition, young members of the royal family often served under the vizier. In this capacity, they received training in government affairs.

It is probable that throughout Egyptian history, the viziers were some of the king's most trusted allies. The vizier was usually in constant contact with the king, consulting him on many important matters. Family members, particularly those who might hold a claim to kingship, could often not be trusted. But viziers, even though at times did elevate themselves to kingship, were probably most often selected not only for their skills, but because the king could trust them to carry out his will without the fear they might overthrow his rule.

Some of the viziers we know of include:

Dynasty

Pharaoh

Vizier

3

Djoser

Imhotep

Huni

Kagemni

4

Snefru

Khufu

Hemiunu

Ankh-khaf

Khafre

Menkhaf

5

Nyuserre

Ptahshepses

Isesi

Ptah-hotep

6

Teti

Mereruka

Pepi II

Djau

11

Mentuhotep IV

Amenemhat

12

Amenemhat I

Iyotefoker

18

Hatshepsut

Senmut

Thutmose III

Rekhmire

Amenhotep III

Aper-el

Ptahmose

Ramose

Akhenaten

Ramose

20

Ramesses IX

Khaemwaset

Ramesses XI

Herihor

26

Psamtik I

Sisobek

33

Cleopatra VII

Yuya Amenhotep

WbnRaMPt Horemheb

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Last Updated: June 19th, 2011

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