What is the Egyptian Social Pyramid? — Pharoahs to Slaves

What is the Egyptian Social Pyramid? — Pharoahs to Slaves

By Margaux | Updated Feb. 21, 2024

Ancient Egypt was an extremely hierarchical society, with the pharaohs on top and the farmers and slaves at the bottom. It stayed this way pretty much throughout the Old, Middle, and New Kingdom periods in ancient Egyptian history.

While there are some cases in which the divisions between the different classes were a little fuzzy in ancient Egypt, in general there were fixed and clearly delineated categories in a way that you'd also find in the medieval feudal system found historically in Europe.

The Top of the Social Pyramid — The Pharaoh

A Pharaoh MummyA Pharaoh Mummy

At the very top of the Egyptian social pyramid, you would find the pharaoh, as expected! The pharaoh was seen as "god on earth" during ancient Egyptian times, and was thus the most powerful person in the country.

Responsibilities of the pharaoh in ancient Egypt included making laws, and making sure Egypt wasn't attacked by any of its surrounding neighbors, but also keeping the gods happy so that the Nile continued to keep flooding and the harvest was fruitful year in year out. In a way, the pharaoh was an intermediary between the deities and the people. The pharaoh also collected taxes since he owned all of the land across Egypt, but of course he had people to help him do that.

The Vizier

Right underneath the pharaoh there was the vizier, as the pharaoh's main advisor, during the Old, Middle, and New Kingdom periods. In some cases, he was referred to as the high priest, and in ancient Egyptian as the tjati or tjaty. The vizier was the most powerful person in ancient Egypt after the pharaoh, and the position was often inherited from father to son.

Viziers oversaw day-to-day operations of the government, and also held the important tasks of having to approve all official documents, and settling disputes between nobles should there be any. Many officials reported to the vizier, such as tax collectors. Another really important task that they managed was that of ensuring there was enough food in ancient Egypt, so they managed the granaries and storage of surplus products.

Their biggest influence on what you can see in Egypt today was that the vizier also managed the building of the royal pyramids and many other big architectural projects.

Priests and Nobles

Egyptian Social Pyramid: PriestsA priest carrying an incense burner over a mummy

Right underneath the pharaoh and the vizier, there were the priests and nobles. Priests' main roles were to keep the gods happy. They spent their days performing rituals and ceremonies to the gods of their temples, for example clothing, feeding, and putting to bed the sculptures of the deities.

At the same level of importance within the Egyptian social pyramid were the nobles, who were in charge of their own separate regions over which they ruled, and many were overseers of land worked by farmers. Nobles were often related to the pharaoh, or priests, or the doctors or other important military personnel and enjoyed many benefits in ancient Egypt. You'll see some beautiful tombs built throughout Egypt for nobles, demonstrating their relative importance in ancient Egyptian society.

Scribes, Merchants, and Soldiers

Egypt papyrusEgypt papyrus

Next on ancient Egypt's social pyramid were the scribes, the merchants, and the soldiers. These were the people who kept the books, protected the borders, and traded goods with other countries. They were important and positions were often inherited throughout families, with fathers teaching their kids how to do certain trades. Scribes were probably the archaeologists' favorite social class, as a lot of what we know about ancient Egypt today is a direct result of the records that they kept!

Soldiers were also especially important in ancient Egypt, and most second sons of families joined the army to protect Egypt. Within each army there was another military hierarchy, of course, with the army branching out as the infantry, the chariotry, and the navy. Generals working within these corps were usually closely related to the pharaoh.

Craftsmen and Artists

Craftsmen and artists were respected in ancient Egypt, too, and come next on Egypt's social pyramid. Craftsmen and artists included roles such as leatherworkers, painters, weavers, jewelry makers, and sculptors, often working together in workshops.

Throughout the remains of ancient Egypt that we see today, we can see that ancient Egyptians really valued art, and without artists we wouldn't know as much as we do know about ancient Egypt today, as there wouldn't have been the beautiful wall inscriptions in temples and tombs telling the stories of the people.

The Bottom of the Social Pyramid — Farmers and Slaves

At the bottom, the farmers worked the land and were given housing, clothes, and food in return for their labor. Some farmers rented land, and paid their rent in a portion of their crop. Crops that were usually grown at the time include wheat, barley, vegetables, figs, melons, and pomegranates. Growing seasons were all aligned with the cycle of the Nile floodplain water levels and flooding, which is where most Egyptian farmers grew their crops. Another important crop was flax, which was used to make linen at the time.

Living conditions for farmers in ancient Egypt were not great, as you can imagine. They lived in houses made of mud bricks, with windows that were high up to help heat escape during the warmer months. The floors were made of packed dirt, and meals were cooked in a small oven in which dried cow dung patties were burned. Their animals that helped with the harvest lived in close proximity.

Slaves were at the very bottom of the ancient Egyptian social pyramid. Mostly they were captured in war (from Nubia or Libya, for example), and worked in the households of the pharaoh and nobles, but also often did manual labor in mines and temples. As needs changed with time, the role of slavery in ancient Egyptian society changed too. In the New Kingdom period, for example, slaves were also made to join the army in order to build a larger and stronger army to maintain Egypt's borders. To keep numbers up, slaves were bought at the Mediterranean slave markets of the time.

How You'll See the Social Pyramid at Egyptian Archaeological Sites

You'll notice the importance of the social pyramid in many instances throughout your visit to Egypt. At the royal tombs, for example, it'll be really clear that those who were higher up in the Egyptian social pyramid were buried in more elaborate ways, and that it was only really the pharaohs and their direct families that were buried in incredible pyramids.

You'll also be able to see evidence of the Egyptian social pyramid throughout murals and decorations at tombs and in temples. Having a tour guide during your time in Egypt will help ensure that you understand the different decorations and depictions, and they'll be able to help you understand who is who in the different decorative pieces. The priests and nobles, for example, are often shown throughout these beautiful depictions of daily life in ancient Egypt. Check some popular Egypt tours for inspiration.

Why Travel with Global Highlights (98.8% positive customer reviews among 10,000+)

  • Unique experiences tailored to your interests: Enjoy a premium trip that goes beyond the typical tourist attractions.
  • Hassle-free travel and peace of mind: Every aspect of your trip will be carefully planned and organized by your 1:1 travel consultant.
  • Experienced and knowledgeable guides: Your guides will be local and love to work for travelers' smiles.
Popular tours
Make the most of your time
Choose the best time to visit

Get Inspired with Some Popular Itineraries

9-Day Essential Egypt Tour with Nile Cruise 10-Day Private Egypt Active Family Expedition Tour 12-Day Egypt Luxury Tour with Abu Simbel 12-Day Journey Through Egypt and Jordan's Ancient Lands 2-Week Egypt and Jordan Family Adventure Tour 15-Day Egypt and Kenya Highlights Tour 15-Day Morocco and Egypt Highlights Tour 16-Day Grand Egypt Tour with White Desert

More Travel Ideas and Inspiration

How to Plan a 7-Day Egypt Itinerary 2024/2025: Top 6 Options Top 6 Egypt Itineraries for 8 Days (2024/2025) How to Plan a 10-Day Egypt Itinerary (Best 4 in 2024/2025) Top 4 Egypt Itineraries for 12-Day Trips (2023/2024) Planning a 2-Week Egypt Itinerary 2024/2025: Best 5 Options 2-Week Jordan and Israel Itineraries for First-Timers How to Plan a 3-Week Egypt Itinerary (2024/2025) How to Plan a Trip to Egypt 2024/2025 & Itinerary Ideas
We are here to help you...
start planning your tailor-made trip with 1-1 help from our travel advisors.
Create Your Trip

Sign up to Our Newsletter

Be the first to receive exciting updates, exclusive promotions, and valuable travel tips from our team of experts.

Where Can We Take You Today?

China Tours