Authored by: Kathlyn M. Cooney

The Egyptian World

Print publication date:  September  2007
Online publication date:  May  2013

Print ISBN: 9780415427265
eBook ISBN: 9780203820933
Adobe ISBN: 9781136753770


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The concept of labour cannot be extracted from the larger economic systems of which it was a part, so, accordingly, methods of workforce organization can actually tell us a great deal about the Egyptian economy. Labour organization for ancient Egyptian state institutions suggests the existence of a massive redistributive system that some scholars believe allowed only limited private-sector trade, either because the state did not allow market activities, or because society was too primitive and constricted to understand market activities (Janssen 1975b; Gutgesell 1989; Eichler 1992; Bleiberg 1996). On the other hand, evidence for labour organization in a private-sector context suggests a mixed economy including both market-driven systems as well as state redistribution and taxation (Kemp 1989b; Eyre 1998, 1999; Warburton 2003). Labour organization in ancient Egypt was nuanced, as was the economic system of which labour was a part. State redistribution economies and private-sector market economies need not be mutually exclusive. The state and private-sector systems co-existed, each depending on the other to distribute goods and services using different methods and conduits. In the simplest terms, state institutions relied on the taxation of goods and corvée labour, so that they could then redistribute these resources into centrally controlled state work projects. The private sector, based on privately owned lands throughout Egypt, produced the main bulk of taxable resources – in the form of both consumables and people. Labour organization in ancient Egypt was not monolithic, but flexible.

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