The construction of the pyramids was only possible thanks to the unique economic system in ancient Egypt. Between 2700 and 2160 BC, the earth was able to generate huge amounts of energy, and the pyramids were an essential part of its economy.
The monarch gave work to tens of thousands of men on whom their family members depended. Historians speak of the economy of the Old Empire as a unique combination of Keynesianism – that is, central intervention in the economy – and decentralization. The individual administrative units mainly operated independently. But the critical prerequisite was tax collection.
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“Central taxation contributed to an increase in labor and production. This created the wealth needed to build the pyramids,” summed Egyptologist David Warburton.
Tombs, not cities
Contemporary historians generally reject Herodot’s former theory that the pyramids built hundreds of thousands of slaves. The British Egyptologist John Romer refuted it.
In his 2008 Great Pyramid, he substantiated his claims, for example, by the fact that the creation of a hundred thousand labor force in Egypt at that time, with a population of about 1.6 million people, would cause an economic disaster. There is no one to work in the fields. According to him, Khufu’s pyramid was built by 21,000 workers for 20 years.
Moreover, archaeological findings from modern times show that the pyramids were built by workers who received regular wages for their work. Paying and providing shelter to this workforce was not a cheap matter.
“Most Egyptian sources went to the construction of temples and tombs, especially the royal ones,” said Egyptian scientist Rosalie David in her publication The Builders of the Pyramids of Ancient Egypt.
Thus, Egypt was different from other ancient empires; for example, in Mesopotamia, resources were mainly spent on building cities. In Egypt, on the other hand, urbanization did not take hold during the Old Kingdom.
According to Christopher Eyre, Professor of Archeology at Liverpool University, small farm villages were formed by the gradual colonization of the banks of the Nile without the intervention of central power.
However, this structure became a problem for the monarch at a time when he needed to collect taxes from the population. “It is unlikely that the royal collector will be sufficiently informed about the provincial structure, wealth, and needs only from occasional visits,” writes archaeologist Leslie Anne Warden in the book Pottery and Economy in the Egyptian Old Empire.
In the Old Kingdom, taxes represented the dominant income of the state coffers. The country was divided into administrative units, the so-called nomy, headed by administrators. The sovereign transferred responsibility for collecting taxes to them, and if they were unable to fulfill their duty, they faced physical punishments.
“To calculate income, and hence the amount of tax for the government, the monarch conducted regular censuses,” said historian Andreas Winkler of Oxford University. Instead of taxing the individual, Pharaoh determined the tax on the basis of an estimate of the goods and raw materials available.
Administrators were responsible for the quality
The fee to the state treasury was paid in various forms, accumulated in state warehouses where the monarch distributed it as needed back to the nomas, or used it for his construction projects.
“In many ways, redistribution is the dominant element of the Old Kingdom’s economy. The newer models show high social and economic complexity and provide an interesting insight into a vital economic system with many levels of control and interaction,” Warden writes.
The network of state warehouses, production centers, and agricultural centers contributed to the interconnection of the economy. “Agricultural products have been available to both local governments and the royal administration,” describes the nominee system of Egyptologist Juan Carlos Moreno García.
The functioning of each area was essential for the empire. Their administrators had to do high-quality administrative work, for which they were rewarded in the case of fulfilling their duties.
The building of the pyramids also depended on them. The Pharaoh could have asked them to pay a tax in the form of labor for his tomb. According to Winkler, the administrators were also responsible for ensuring that their workers had enough food, clothes, and a roof over their heads.