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Removing preconceptions

Before you consider sources from Ancient Egypt on accountancy and the economy, consider preconceptions and prejudices you may have. Here are five examples, with counter-arguments:

1. Are you expecting ancient sources to answer your questions directly?

Remember that we do not know the basic operation of land ownership – you may read in books on Ancient Egypt that the king owned all the land, but this is modern speculation, not a principle established by the sources. The sources are finite and specific: it helps to know their number, context and limitations.

2. Are you assuming a specific economic structure or framework?

Remember that Ancient Egypt belongs in time and place outside the bounds of pre-industrial non-stratified societies as well as of industrial and post-industrial capitalist or socialist societies.

3. Do you assume economic rationality as the driving force underpinning actions?

Consider the variety of ‘rational’ and ‘non-rational’ motives in human action, and the impact of these.

4. Do you assume societies without coins to operate by barter?

Ancient Egypt was a nation state with urban centres and international trade routes. Its economy did not involve coinage, but nor did it operate on a flat level of interpersonal relations. Its commodity valuations do not fit with the Western perception of village barter, but rather involve ‘monies’ of account as common denominators converting objects into some form of economic equivalents.

5. Do you assume lower complexity for human beings working with different institutions from those in operation today?
Human society of whatever scale involves complexities of individual and social relationships, and economic relations are a part of that: there is no ‘simple’ society, or individual – we are all complex.


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