Scribes and Bureaucrats

Scribes and Bureaucrats

Few skills were more important in Egypt than the ability to read and write. No illiterate could hold high office. Knowledge of reading, writing and arithmetic made the scribe a person of importance, one who watched while others sweated in the sun. Scribes gave the orders which others obeyed. Most young men of the scribal class would become bureaucrats, working for the central government. Many positions seem to have been hereditary, so the sons of Metjetjy would have inherited some of his positions.

In the Age of the Pyramids, speaking and listening were also very important skills, even for the most important scribe or magistrate. Ptahhotep's advice on this matter is still worth considering:

Concentrate on excellence,
Your silence is better than chatter. 
Speak when you know you have a solution.

Unfortunately, we do not know what percentage of the population could read, nor if girls and women often learned to read and write.

In the Old Kingdom, many women of the upper classes have their own tombs, a sign of considerable wealth and, perhaps more importantly, control of their income. In those tombs women hold a number of titles which are not found in the Middle or New Kingdoms. For example, in the Fifth Dynasty, a woman named Peseshet has a title which seems to mean "Chief of all the Female Doctors". Unfortunately, we do not have the tombs of the women over whom this lady was chief; such a title does indicate her social status. The highest office in the land, that of Vizier, was held by a woman named Nebet during the Sixth Dynasty, under King Pepy I.

 

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