Rediscover Ancient Egypt
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The Egyptian Market Economy



The principles and practices of modern-day “free market economy”, “capital economy”, etc, were found in Ancient Egypt, without the need for a “flashy name”—as in our times. The whole society was aware of the inter-dependence of all groups within the society. An active exchange of goods and services took place between the different individuals and groups, either directly or via intermediate brokers and traders who were also able to expand activities between various communities. Moreover, the excellent and productive farming of the Egyptians both allowed and benefited the development of numerous cities. These centers attracted industries, such as textiles, ceramics, glass, metals, wood, and leather, the manufacturers of linen, dyers, tanners, carpenters, cabinet-makers, handicraft, leather-cutters, etc. These industrial centers were very active.

Goods and services were exchanged at various locations. Public marketplaces provided the means to exchange and buy goods. There were weekly/seasonal marketplaces that were held locally and/or regionally to purchase non-local products.

Exports and imports were traded at wholesale prices, at points of entry to the populated Nile Valley. An example is the island of Elephantine, where the Ancient Egyptians exchanged the produce of their own country, and the goods that they had obtained from communities further to the south. [Other examples are shown under Land Transportation and Major Egyptian Coastal Harbors, in our book, The Ancient Egyptian Culture Revealed.]

A few years ago, a Nobel Prize was awarded to a U.S. economist who endorsed a “cashless society” as the most effective mode of business transactions. It is ironic that in Ancient Egypt, goods and services were being exchanged on the same cashless premise—by barter—trading goods and services without exchanging money. Barter (cashless exchange) requires that a medium object of an agreeable value be used as a measuring device of the exchanged goods/services. This medium can be anything acceptable to the parties of the transaction. Thus, the buyer and seller reckon the present market value of their goods against a third commodity of common use. In international trade nowadays, the medium commodity is gold, U.S. dollars, etc. No exchange of gold or dollars takes place between the parties, except maybe a small amount to adjust some slight difference between the values of the exchanged goods.

Several Ancient Egyptian contracts have been recoverd that show the terms and details of barter agreements between parties involved in exchanging goods and services. A good example are the contracts of Hepd’efae, that were recovered from Asyut, dating to the Middle Kingdom [2040–1783 BCE]. These contracts show that it was possible to carry on complicated commercial transactions with these conditions of payment. [Details in Erman’s Life in Ancient Egypt, pgs. 494-8].

For those business transactions that could not be achieved with barter, the Ancient Egyptians utilized coins. In Ancient Egypt, coins were used on a limited basis, mostly to pay off foreign mercenaries—who could send the money to their home country or take it to their home country with them—where it could then be exchanged for goods and services.

The Ancient Egyptian terms used for monies were also used for weights. Likewise, in present-day Britain, the term pound means both a unit of weight as well as a unit of currency. We also find the Hebrew word for money is shekel/sheqel, which is a slight soundshift of the Egyptian (and Arabic) word of theqel—meaning weight/money.

Coins in Ancient Egypt were made in the form of rings of gold, silver and copper, with specific weights, which were certified by specialists. The word for seal/stamp and ring is the same, in the Egyptian language. All weights were measured and certified. Gold coins are found on the paintings from tombs during the reign of Twt Homosis III [1490–1436 BCE]. Documents were recovered from the times of Amenhotep II [1436–1413 BCE], showing that values of different articles were expressed in terms of pieces of metal—gold, silver, and copper, of fixed weight and value—which were used as means of exchange. Similar examples were recovered from the Ramesside times.


Moustafa Gadalla



For more information about the Ancient Egyptian business transactions, exports, imports, etc, refer to:
The Ancient Egyptian Culture Revealed, by Moustafa Gadalla The Ancient Egyptian Culture Revealed
by Moustafa Gadalla
320 pages, 5.5" x 8.5"
List Price: $19.95 USD (paperback)
$13.95 USD (eBook)




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