Education in Ancient Egypt

Ancient Egypt is perhaps one of the oldest if not the oldest civilization on the planet. With a rich history dating several thousand years Egypt also had a reputation for education as well. This post will discuss education in Egypt with a focus on training by caste.

Background

Egypt was famous for their wisdom and architectural work. In terms of architecture, we are probably all familiar with the pyramids that are still standing after several thousand years. In terms of wisdom, Egypt was so highly regarded in the past that the Greeks sent several future philosophers and leaders to Egypt to study. Among those who went include Plato perhaps the greatest philosopher of all time, Lycurgus, the founder of Sparta, and Solon, the famous Athenian Statesman.

Egypt also had a strong caste system similar to India’s. There were essentially three classes. At the top were the priests, second, was the military, and the lowest classes was everybody else. The lowest class was also sub-divided into three subclasses of farmers/boatmen, then mechanics and tradesman, and lastly the herdsman, fishermen, and laborers. A person was born into their class and it was almost impossible to move from one to the other.

The priestly class was also exempt from taxes and owned as much as 1/3 of the land in Egypt. Their skills and training also commanded high salaries. Egypt was essentially a priests’ country in terms of status and privileges.

What They Study

The education an Egyptian received was heavily influenced by the caste they came from. The priest received the most extensive training. They studied philosophy, natural history, medicine, math, history, law, etc. With this training, a person from the priestly caste could be a physician, historian, surveyor, customs inspector, judge, counselor, etc.

Everyone else received a basic education depending on their occupation. Merchants learned how to read, write, and perform simple math. Tradesman only learned their trade from their parents.

The writing was also divided along class lines. THere were two types of writing systems. The Demotic style was for the masses while the Hieratic style was for the priestly class. The main difference between these two styles is the proportion of hieroglyphics used.

Two subjects commonly ignored in Egyptian education was gymnastics and music. Gymnastics was considered dangerous due to the risk of bodily harm. Music was considered to have an effminate influence on a man if studied to excess.

Conclusion

Ancient Egyptian was unique in terms of the dominance of the priestly class. The priest was allowed to study extensively while everyone else did not seem to enjoy the same access to education. This allowed the priest to wield tremendous informal power within Egypt and to quietly work behind the scenes to achieve goals

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