Egypt: Government, Kingship and Law in Ancient Egypt

About Ancient Egypt

In theory the king was the only landholder, the only priest, the only judge and the only warrior, in ancient Egypt. In practice, he surrounded himself with ministers and officials who worked under the supervision of the vizier. Kings shown on palettes and maceheads, and on tomb paintings and reliefs, are always depicted attended by servants and courtiers.


Ancient Egyptian Regalia by Marie Parsons


During the Early Dynastic period, the king of ancient Egypt already had much of the trappings of royal regalia familiar from later times, including the double crowns of Upper and Lower Egypt and various scepters. The crowns, scepters and other elements offered and represented power and protection. They also set the king apart from everyone else and conveyed his authority, both secular and religious. The Cartouche in Ancient Egypt by Jimmy Dunn Several of the titles of the king of Egypt were surrounded by the cartouche symbol, an expansion of the ancient shen solar symbol. Crook and Flail of Ancient Egypt by Jimmy Dunn The crook and flail are one of ancient Egypt's most prominent symbols of Osiris, a few other gods and of the ruling King.


Happy 4th of July (Or, How the Modern Egyptians Achieved Independence) by Jimmy Dunn

What Cambyses began in 525 BC, Gamal Nasser put an end to in 1952. Today is July 4th, Independence Day in the U.S., when Americans celebrate their freedom from British colonial rule. Egypt has many things in common with America, and one of these is that they too had to finally win their independence from the British.


Law and Administration in Ancient Egypt by the Egyptian Government


Find out all about Egypt's ancient and not so ancient systems of law and administration.


Law and the Legal System in Ancient Egypt Jimmy Dunn writing as Mark Andrews


Essentially, we believe that Egyptian law was based on a common sense view of right and wrong, following the codes based on the concept of Ma'at. Ma'at represented truth, order, balance and justice in the universe. This concept allowed that everyone, with the exception of slaves, should be viewed as equals under the law, regardless of wealth or social position. However, when punishment was carried out, often the entire family of the guilty suffered as well. For example, when individuals were sentenced to exile, their children were automatically outlawed along with them. If a relative deserted from military service, or defaulted on the labor demands of the state, the entire family might be imprisoned.


The Nomes (Proviences) of Ancient Egypt by Jimmy Dunn

The term nome is actually of Greek origin (nomos) used to refer to the forty two traditional provinces of ancient Egypt. The ancient Egyptian term for these governmental divisions was sepat. Today, Egypt refers to its provinces as governates. These provincial capitals were also religious and economic centers serving the surrounding countryside, where the vast majority of Egyptians lived in small villages. Many had more than local importance, with the state investing in their development, above all by building temples. Some had strategic importance as fortresses defending a frontier or as staging points for invasions of foreign countries.


Royal Titles for Kings of Egypt by Marie Parsons


The idea that the King of Egypt was connected to the Egyptian deities goes back beyond the Middle Kingdom, right to the beginnings of the kingship and of the royal titulary, to the early days of Dynastic Egypt (and perhaps earlier still). Before going further, it should be pointed out that "pharaoh", the most popular "title" of the Egyptian King, is not Egyptian at all. That is to say, the Egyptians did not call their King "Pharaoh" until very late in their history, and then only as non-Egyptians took up the word. "Pharaoh" is a Hebrew pronunciation of the Egyptian word, per-aa, meaning Great House, and was first used as a label for the king himself around 1450 BCE. But the title-word for the King was nisu, as can be seen for example in the Offering Formula, or hetep di nisu.


The Sed-festival Renewal of the kings Rule and Health by Jimmy Dunn

One of the most important festivals related to kingship was the heb sed Festival, also frequently referred to as the royal jubilee or simply the Sed-festival. This significant celebration was a ritual during which the king's right to rule and his royal powers were renewed. There are many representations of this festival, which normally depicts the king running alongside the Apis bull in order to prove his fitness to rule. A very ancient jackal-like god, who may have been an independent deity or, alternatively, related in some way to the jackal god Wepwawet, was closely related to kingship ideology, and the ancient Sed-festival. Sed was also associated with Ma'at in certain ways and may have been viewed as a champion of justice similar to Ma'at herself.


The Viziers of Ancient Egypt by 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) 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.


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Last Updated: June 12th, 2011