How Taxes Were Collected in Ancient Egypt

How Taxes Were Collected in Ancient Egypt

Ancient Egyptians believed their their rulers were gods and trusted them with their health, wealth and safety. These rulers, called pharaohs, were tasked with protecting the people from foreign threats and internal conflicts as well as from drought and famine. To fund grain warehouses, building projects and local armies, the pharaoh collected taxes from the citizenry. Though historians credit its collapse to these burdensome levies, ancient Egyptian society flourished in much the same way for over 3,000 years. In the fifth century B.C., Greek historian Herodotus claimed it provided a better standard of living, based on overall health of the people, than most other civilizations he had seen.

1 Taxes Levied

Egyptians did not have coined money, so their taxes were levied on harvests and property. Heavy taxes were levied at least once a year and included payment in grain and various kinds of labor. Taxes were calculated for cattle, grain and other goods -- with additional fees for merchants.

2 Payment of Taxes

The people of ancient Egypt paid taxes in the form of labor or grain that was stored by the pharaoh in large warehouses. In some years, a farmer could be charged up to 60 percent of his yearly harvest. The pharaoh relied on taxed grain as a source of supplementation during years of drought and bad harvest. Manual labor was also a tax requirement that supported the Egyptian army as well as large harvest and building projects throughout the year.

3 Tax Collection

Documentation dating back the the first dynasty in Egypt, between 3000 and 2800 B.C., shows evidence that pharaohs appeared before the people to collect taxes. The royal tours, called the "Following of Horus" made clear that tax revenues were due to the pharaoh as the head of the state. Unable to handle the process themselves, pharaohs also appointed ministers called viziers who acted as tax supervisors. The vizier kept records of taxes collected and ensured that needs for labor and grains were met.

4 Use of Taxes

A large portion of the taxes imposed were used to stabilize society against less productive years or years of bad harvest. Taxed grain was stored for distribution back to citizen in times of hardship. Public workers were fed from grain stores and artisans constructing public buildings were paid by the treasury. Even temple offerings were used to benefit and feed the poorer classes. Taxed labor was used to harvest crops, staff armies and build temples and monuments.

Based in the Pacific Northwest and educated at the University of Washington, Rosanne Tomyn has been writing historical, cultural and political articles since 2005. Tomyn was awarded the International Labor Communicators Award for Best Profile and Best Labor History Story in 2011.