Did the Pharaoh Govern Foreign Trade in Ancient Egypt?

In ancient Egypt, the Pharaoh made all decisions regarding trade.
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The exchange of commodities, ideas and culture has always been a part of the human narrative. In ancient Egypt, trade flourished as it was the most sophisticated society in the Mediterranean and North Africa, with a demand for foreign goods and the ability to produce commodities for exchange. The pharaoh exclusively governed all foreign trade, holding all decision-making rights regarding who else could engage in trade and with whom.

1 Royal Trade Monopoly

Foreign trade with ancient Egypt was not like the free trade of modern society, as it was predominantly a royal liberty. The right to trade for profit was granted by the pharaoh to select individuals and organizations, such as the powerful temples. Because of Egypt’s dominance and power in the region, most neighboring countries had no choice but to trade with Egypt. The pharaoh's diplomats around the Mediterranean were also made responsible for importing goods into Egypt such as oil, copper, wood, wine and opium, while Egypt’s main exports were grain, precious metals and natron (a salt).

Rachel Alexander is a cultural and political area specialist of South Asia and the Middle East. She received the State Department’s Critical Language Scholarship in 2011, and again in 2012, to live in northern India and study advanced Hindi. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in international studies from Loyola University of Chicago.