Sunday, November 10, 2013

Ancient Egyptian "Bean Counters"

Fig. 1 - model of a grain silo with the accountants sitting at the entrance
     Like all economies, the Egyptian economy needed "bean counters" to make sure that "money" got to where it belonged. For most of Egyptian history, grain was the most common "money" in use.

     Crops in the field were measured by "accountants" who figured the taxes a farmer owed. If the farmer did not, or could not, pay the taxes, he might be given a beating in his field by the tax collectors. The tombs of New Kingdom nobles show these types of scenes fairly commonly.

     Once the grain was harvested, it would be brought to a grain silo for storage. In the tomb of Meket-Re (late Dynasty 11) there is a wooden model that shows how grain was processed by the silo.

Fig. 2 - emptying sacks go grain into the silo
     The grain would be brought to the silo in sacks. Accountants at the entrance way would record the number of sacks being brought in (see the lower part of figure 1). Next, the grain would be carried into the silo proper, where the silo employees would carry the sacks up a flight of stairs and empty the sacks into the storage area (see figure 2).

     At some point in the future, the grain would be removed. Possibly it might be used as part of a business transaction, or it might be used to make bread in the home of a wealthy landowner to whom the silo belonged. Rest assured that when it was removed, the bean counters would know how much was removed and whom it was removed by.

All photos copyright (c) 2013 by John Freed

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