Friday, September 21, 2012

Literacy in Ancient Egypt

Most people in ancient Egypt did not know how to read and write. Since the majority of Egyptians were peasant farmers, they would not have needed to learn to read, and the complexities of the written language would have made it more difficult to learn than most alphabetic writing systems.
Although some members of the royal family and high status individuals, as well as officials, priests, and army officers were literate, scribes were needed for operations of the state at all levels.Egyptian scribes were professionals trained in special schools in royal administrative departments and temples. Some scribes probably learned through apprenticeship, such as is known from the New Kingdom workmen’s village of Deir el-Medina. Model letters recorded by school boys, on limestone ostraca and plaster-covered wooden boards,have been found which give us information about what was taught in these schools or to apprentices in jobs. A well-known Middle Egyptian text attributed to the scribe Khetyextols the virtues of being a scribe, who will always have employment.

He boasts that scribes do not have to wear rough garments like common laborers, and they can take baths. Scribes give orders and others have to obey them.Scribes were needed for the bureaucratic functions of all branches of the government and administration, including issuing the rations for government personnel and workers who depended on state resources for their livelihood.
Tax collection and operations of the treasury needed to be recorded, as did organizing and supplying the personnel for expeditions outside of Egypt - for mining and quarrying, trade, and warfare. Scribes were also used for large-scale state work projects such as pyramid building. Probably the most visible evidence of writing in ancient Egypt are the hieroglyphic texts found on the walls of temples and tombs, both royal and private.

These were the work of artisans who worked with scribes and/or literate artisans. Religious and mortuary texts were written and read by scribally trained priests, and scribes were needed for the construction and operation of temples. Legal proceedings, both local and national,were recorded by scribes. Wealthy private individuals needed scribes to administer their estates and to record documents such as wills and business transactions.
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