Ancient Egyptian Heirarchy and Society

Obi O'Brien February 2022

From the time that it started to form, until it’s eventual demise multiple thousands of years later, the Ancient Egyptian civilization was one of the greatest and most accomplished in history. You could even argue that they were more powerful than the roman civilization – after all, they were around for much longer and brought a handful of useful technologies into our world. Paper and toothpaste, to name a couple well-known ones. Even the Greeks looked up to the Egyptians – many Greek buildings have been found inscribed with Egyptian-esque artwork, as if they were honoring their neighbor’s culture and society.

But such an honorable society did did not come by itself. It began with one of the most essential components of society: order.

Credit: Factum Foundation

The Egyptian Heirarchy

The ancient Egyptian civilization was composed of a set of distinct rankings, which most people fell into quite neatly. It can be split into two main sections: the officials and the commoners. The officials worked or collaborated with the government itself in some way or another, while the commoners made a living by other means, usually through trade between each other. From these sections came the more specific rankings. In order from most powerful to least powerful, they consisted of:


  1. Pharoahs
  2. Priests
  3. Nobles
  4. Soldiers
  5. Scribes


  1. Merchants
  2. Artisans
  3. Farmers
  4. Slaves

Credit: Egyptian Museum of Berlin under CC BY-NC-SA


Pharaohs were at the very top of the social hierarchy and were responsible for all major decisions. Even more important, they oversaw all religious ceremonies and practices – Pharaohs themselves were regarded as demigods, half human and half divine being.


Priests were second in charge for religious activities. Their main objective was to earn the satisfaction and respect of the gods, through daily rituals, usually within specifically allocated temples. Alongside that, they were also a major part in preparing the deceased for mummification. Egyptian priests almost always had shaved heads and white clothes.


The job of an Egyptian soldier is pretty self-explanatory. They fought in battles and defended the empire. They trained in a variety of weapons – from swords to bows – and the best were narrowed down based on their skills. When not directly on duty, they also worked on laborious tasks such as the construction of structures and the harvest of crops.

Credit: The Watt Institution under CC Attribution

Credit: Wikimedia Commons under CC BY


Scribes were the only people who knew how to read or write in ancient Egypt. Many years of learning were required to earn the skill – and for that reason, it became a dedicated role in the empire. Doctors would also have to learn to become a scribe in order to read medical texts, adding on another few years of study. Papyrus, the predecessor to paper, was the medium of choice for writing on; with a ‘pen’ - which was actually a brush - dipped in ink used to produce markings.


Merchants were like the veins of Egypt, supporting the economy as a bridge between buyer and seller. They transported assorted goods around the empire itself and its surroundings; from pottery, to wheat, to gold, to fabric. Without them, ancient Egypt may not have been as successful as we know it was.


Artisans were amazing craftsmen and artists. They produced all of the beautiful stone sculptures and wall murals that we admire today - all the fine, detailed work inside the many architectural wonders of Egypt were done by them. Sculpting and wall art were not the only things they did, though; an ancient Egyptian artisan could have been anything from a scribe, to a carpenter, to a carver. It's less of a specific job title, and more of a collective group of professions.


Probably the most common people in Egypt were farmers. They were just regular commoners; cultivating, sowing, maintaining and harvesting crops year round – either to sell at markets or feed themselves and their families. Egyptian crops were very similar to what we see today – barley, wheat, beans, lentils, cabbage and so on.


Slaves did much of the dirty work in the ancient world. They attended to pharaohs and important people, and were considered a sign of great power. living conditions weren't the best, and obviously, you would not want to be a slave in Egypt – or anywhere for that matter. However, in comparison to slavery in other civilizations, it wasn’t that bad; they were still allowed to do many of the things a normal person could (including owning property), apart from the fact that they were forced into labour.

What environmental and situational factors contributed to the rise of the ancient Egyptian empire?

You might think that Africa would be an unlikely place for a large, powerful civilization to develop – after all, most of it is dry, grassy Savannah or sandy desert stretching for thousands of kilometres. But Egypt is an interesting place.

The Egyptian empire was birthed and supported by the life-giving Nile river. That’s the reason it existed – one of the longest rivers in the world, it stretches from all the way down in Uganda and up through Egypt, until it reaches the Mediterranean sea in the uppermost parts of the territory; spanning over 6,600 kilometres, it passes through multiple other countries along the way.

The Nile provided, and still does provide precious water for drinking and irrigating crops. Around its banks is where you see most of the Ancient Egyptian wonders and relics – and even today, the majority of major Egyptian cities are situated around it. Even over thousands of years, the Nile has persisted, bringing life and civilization with it.


The Ancient Egyptians were amazing people. They built structures that are remarkable even today; they had art, maths and science. They had social structure. They were so advanced that you could even go as far as to say that if they had an industrial revolution, they could have ended up at a technological level like we are at right now – thousands of years ago.


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