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Farmers in ancient Egypt

Farmers and people involved in food production must have been the largest part of the population, possibly around 90 %. Little is known about these people from written sources (see Satire of Trades for a negative view from the literate elite in the Middle Kingdom). Their work is often shown in tomb decorations (see: food production).

Burials of people who were most likely farmers have been found at many sites. Most of the burials of the Badari and Naqada Period probably belong to farmers. The same seems to hold true for many tombs of other periods excavated at provincial cemeteries, such as Tarkhan, Sedment, Gurob or Badari.

The objects found in these tombs show a wide variety, demonstrating that these people were not a faceless exploited mass of people. However, while farmers seems to have had the possibility to collect some kind of small wealth, there is nothing really know about their social status. In particular their land rights are not known: did they own their land, or rent it, and if the latter, from whom? What does land ownership, and the social perception of it, mean for 'real life'?

1. Were farmers individuals with free possibility to move and travel everywhere?

The answer to this question is not known, though the written sources indicate that the most likely answer was no. In a papyrus of the Middle Kingdom are listed farmers who run away from their families and who were caught. Farmers and most likely also the working population had to stay at special places (Hayes 1955).

2. Did farmers pay taxes?

There is no certain evidence for taxation in ancient Egypt. Farmers might have had to give a certain amount of their products to an institution, but it is also possible that institutions or even the king collected products from the farmers when needed and not regularly. It is not known how much all farmers were already registered and were part of the state organisation. It is possible that a high number lived in the territory of the Egyptian state, but with little or no contact to the central administration.



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