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Administration in Ancient Egypt: Old Kingdom (about 2686-2181 BC)

The centre of the administration in this period was the palace, with the king and the people around him. The principal aim of the administration was to organise the food supply for the king's palace and to maintain the king's cult in the architectural setting of pyramids, sun temple and local temples.


Sources for the administration in the Old Kingdom:

The most important source for administration is the corpus of titles of officials (mainly in tombs and on seals). However, it is often not known whether officials mention titles relating to special honours or titles relating to there work. In many cases the meaning of a title is obscure ('guardian of Nekhen' or 'great one of the five at the house of Thoth').Another important source for understanding administration is papyri (the Abusir papyri). Administrative papyri of the Old Kingdom are not very plentiful, and therefore this source only gives information on certain areas.


Structures and titles

It is difficult to identify fixed structures of administration at the royal court in the Old Kingdom. Officials seem to have been given titles and responsibilities whenever they were needed. From the 4th Dynasty the highest office held the title TAti, conventionally translated in Egyptology as vizier. He organized work forces (for pyramid buildings), and other palace officials answered to the vizier. Other key institutions are the treasury and the granary. Offices around the king and the cult of the king were very important in the Old Kingdom. The royal hairdresser and the royal nail cutter might be as important as officials in the administration of institutions.

some important institutions of the Old Kingdom

further reading:

Müller-Wollermann 1988 (important article explaining the system of Old Kingdom administration)


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