Chapter 16 : The Market Economy

16.1 The 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 interdependence 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 from the development of numerous cities. These centers attracted industries such as textiles, ceramics, glass, metals, wood, 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 for exchanging and buying goods. There were weekly/seasonal marketplaces that were held locally and/or regionally to purchase non-local products.

The Ancient Egyptian tombs at Saqqara show us the scenes of daily life in a market of the time of the Old Kingdom. A fish dealer is busy cleaning a great sheath fish while negotiating the price with his customer. The latter carries her objects for barter in a box while negotiating the price with the salesman. Nearby, another tradesman is offering ointments for sale. Another is selling some objects that look like white cakes. Brisk business is being carried on around the greengrocer. There is another dealer squatting before his basket of red and blue ornaments, bargaining with a potential buyer. During the New Kingdom era (such as in the tomb of the oft-named Cha’emhet, the superintendent of the granaries under Amenhotep III), there is a picture of marketing shown in the same style. It shows great ships that have brought provisions, disembarking in the harbor of Luxor (Thebes). The sailors are busy discharging the freight, while other sailors and travelers purchase various products from local traders.

The home trade in Egypt flourished, as did commerce with foreign countries, which was carried on with brisk activity.

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 the previous chapter.]

16.2 Business Transactions

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 recovered 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, which 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 are 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 that the Hebrew word for money is shekel/sheqel, which is a slight sound-shift 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 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.

The concept of weighing was an important and common theme for the Ancient (and Baladi) Egyptian that extends to every aspect of life. Scales are found everywhere, from buying vegetables to representations of musical harmony, poetry forms, and the scale of justice that was depicted in the Judgment Day scene. Likewise, in our present time, the English word scale is used for weighing goods as well as in music (the musical scale).

Depictions in Ancient Egyptian tombs show public weighers and notaries ascertaining the exact weight of everything they were called upon to measure in the public street or market, where they temporarily erected their scales. They were employed as governmental officials with the strictest regard to justice, without favoring either the buyer or seller.

Rings of gold and silver from tombs at Ta-Apet (Thebes)

Official certification of weights in the marketplace.

A scribe or notary is shown marking down the amount of the weight, whatever the commodity might be; and this document, being given or shown to the parties, completely sanctioned the bargain and served as an official certification of the transaction.

The same custom is still retained by the Baladi Egyptians in the scales of the public kabbaneh who measure and certify the accuracy of the weights, which are returned in writing upon the application of the parties.

16.3 Egyptian Exports (Goods and Services)

The eminence of Egypt in the ancient world made it the source of expertise in all aspects of life, as discussed throughout this book. Additionally, Egyptian agricultural and manufactured goods of all kinds were sought worldwide. The quality of all types of Egyptian goods and products – most notably glass, textiles, luxury goods and papyrus – found ready markets in the east and the west; and the latter, at least, continued to do so for centuries after the Arab invasion of Egypt in 639 CE.

Bottles of various kinds (glass, porcelain, alabaster, and other materials) -many containing numerous colors – were frequently exported from Egypt to other countries. The Greeks, the Etruscans, and the Romans received them as articles of luxury which were prized as ornaments for the table because of their remarkable quality. When Egypt became a Roman province, part of the tribute annually paid to the Roman conquerors consisted of Egyptian made glass vases. It is careless and wrong to consider items possessed by the Romans (as a result of “spoils of war” and tribute) to be “Roman made”!!

Egyptian glassware, in particular, was of the finest quality, as noted by Strabo. Glass bottles of various colors were eagerly bought from Egypt, and exported into other countries; and the manufacture, as well as the patterns, of many of those found in Greece, Etruria, and Rome show that they were of Egyptian work.

Other high-quality exports included stained glass of various hues, artificial emeralds, amethysts, and other precious stones.

The exported Ancient Egyptian vases were very numerous and varied in shape, size, and materials (hard stone, alabaster, glass, ivory, bone, porcelain, bronze, brass, silver, gold, glazed pottery, or common earthenware). They had beautiful shapes, ornamental designs, and the material was of superior quality. The design patterns of their vases and painted pottery had different styles: floral decoration, figurative, harmonically geometric, or combinations of two or all three types, as shown below.

Gold vases of the time of Tuthomosis III. Ta- Apet (Thebes).

Vase decorated with two heads. Ta- Apet (Thebes).

Gold and silver cups were often beautifully engraved and studded with precious stones. Among these we can identify are the green emerald, the purple amethyst, and other gems. When an animal’s head adorned their handles, the eyes were frequently composed of these gems; except when enamel or some colored composition was employed as a substitute. Many of their ornamental vases, as well as those in ordinary use, were very elegantly shaped. They bear a strong resemblance to the productions of the best epochs of ancient Greece, both in their shape and in the fancy devices upon them. Some might even suppose they were borrowed from Greek patterns. But they were purely Egyptian, and had been universally adopted in the Nile Valley long before they were known in Greece—a fact invariably acknowledged by those who are acquainted with the remote age of Egyptian monuments and the paintings that represent them.

16.4 Egyptian Imports

In return for Egyptian exports of high quality goods and services, Ancient Egyptians imported items and materials not available in Egypt. The needs of a civilized society (such as the Ancient Egyptians) are not fully satisfied with the produce of its homeland.

The Nile provided access deep into Africa. Aswan was a major trading point for African trade. The cast of the scene from the temple of Ramses II at Beit el-Wali in Kush clearly shows what items the Egyptians were accustomed to importing from interior Africa. They brought leopards, leopard-skins, giraffes, monkeys, selected cattle, antelopes, gazelles, lions, ebony, ivory, ostrich feathers and eggs, etc.

Other African products that Egypt imported included wood, gum, incense, carnelian (a stone prized both as jewelry and for arrowheads), haematite (red ochre), amazon stone, perfumes, oils, and dogs. [For more information regarding trading routes and goods, see Exiled Egyptians: The Heart of Africa, by M. Gadalla.]

The Mediterranean Sea gave the Ancient Egyptians access to countries in the eastern Mediterranean Basin, Europe, and even northern Europe and the Americas.

Timber suitable for large-scale carpentry and for boat building was imported from Phoenicia (Lebanon).

Ancient Egyptians consumed large amounts of mineral ore, which was unavailable in the eastern Mediterranean region and was only available in Iberia. Copper, silver, tin, etc. were imported from Iberia (Spain and Portugal) and/or Britain.

An Ancient Egyptian papyrus from the Middle Kingdom (identified as a St. Petersburg papyrus) shows that, for a long time, the Egyptian people traveled the open waters of the high seas to obtain raw material and mineral ores. Portions of the papyrus read:

I was traveling to the mines of faraway places, and I had put to sea in a ship which was 150 cubits [258 ft./79 m] long and 40 cubits [69 ft./21 m] broad, and was manned by 150 of the choicest Egyptian sailors, who knew both the sky and the earth, . . .
. . . when we were on the sea there arose a gale, and the waves became 8 cubits [14 ft./4.2 m] high. . .

The Red Sea gave access to Africa and the Far East. Egypt had reached the shores of western Africa (such as Punt), the Arabian Sea, the Indian Ocean and India. The principal imports from Arabia and India were spices and various oriental productions. A number of precious stones, lapis lazuli, and other items brought from those countries are frequently discovered in the tombs of Luxor (Thebes).

Among the many bottles found in the tombs of Luxor (and other places) were a considerable number of Chinese-manufactured bottles bearing inscriptions in Chinese script.

Chinese bottles found in the
Egyptian tombs.

It is also worth noting that the older statues of Buddha bear a striking resemblance to those of Amon’s.

Since they had the knowledge and vessels to travel that distance, why do some dismiss the possibility that they went further?!

16.5 The Rise and Fall of International Commerce

Egypt was the economical engine of the ancient world, in addition to its immense influence on all aspects of life throughout the world, as referred to in this and other books by Moustafa Gadalla.

There were thriving trade activities throughout the ancient world. The Ancient Egyptians were responsible for the establishment of trading routes and centers throughout the world.

Archaeological evidence shows us that many thriving cities/communities around the world have vanished. This evidence indicates that the disappearance of such thriving centers was caused by the loss of economical significance. There is a direct correlation between the rise and fall of events in Egypt and the corresponding rise and fall of such “vanished” economical centers throughout the world. These trading centers and ancient prosperous regions—which some call “lost civilizations”—were vacated or shut down when Ancient Egypt fell prey to foreign invaders.

Classical writers such as Plutarch, Herodotus, and Diodorus told how Ancient Egypt had peaceful colonies throughout the world. Diodorus of Sicily, in Book I, [29, 5], states:

In general, the Egyptians say that their ancestors sent forth numerous colonies to many parts of the inhabited world, by reason of the pre-eminence of their former kings and their excessive population;

The following are three examples of areas that lost their economical significance due to the demise of Ancient Egypt:

1. Diodorus, Book I, [28, 1-4], tells of an Egyptian colony at present-day Moab:

. . . that the nation of the Colchi in Pontus and that of the Jews, which lies between Arabia and Syria, were founded as colonies by certain emigrants from their country [Egypt]; and this is the reason why it is a long established institution among these two peoples [Arabs and Jews] to circumcise their male children, the custom having been brought over from Egypt.

Recovered archaeological evidence from the above-mentioned region shows that this was a major trading center established and protected by the Ancient Egyptians. The famed Ancient Egyptian “Road of Horus” connected Egypt to Moab and beyond. The Ancient Egyptian influence extended to all aspects of life, there. When this prosperous center (as well as Egypt itself) was attacked by the Assyrians, Persians, and then the nomadic Arabs, it ceased to exist and turned into a “ghost” center.

The people of this Ancient Egyptian colony (Moabi) spoke and wrote the Egyptian language. Scripts found in the Moabi region look exactly like the Ancient Egyptian demotic style of writing.

The Moabi region was also the source of the Arabic, Hebrew, and Aramaic/Syriac dialects which were offshoots of the Ancient Egypt language. Ibn Hazm (d. 1064), the medieval Arabic scholar of Córdoba, Spain, recognized that Aramaic/Syriac, Hebrew, and Arabic were kindred dialects derived from the Mudar, the dialect in which the Koran had been disclosed. The name Mudar is an abbreviated form of the Ancient Egyptian term Medu-Neter, meaning ‘the words/language of angels/gods’. It is no accident that Moslems say that Arabic is the “language of angels”. [For more information, read The Ancient Egyptian Universal Writing Modes by Moustafa Gadalla.]

2. Present-day Yemen and the United Arab Emirates held a strategic location at the entrance of the Red Sea to the Indian Ocean. Archaeological evidence shows abandoned temples containing ancient scripts that are identical to Egyptian shrines and script. It was from this region that the Ancient Egyptians imported a large quantity of incense and myrrh, which were necessary for all religious services. When the Ancient Egyptian temples were closed by foreign invaders, Yemen and their neighboring communities lost their main source of export, and thus the thriving communities became “ghost towns”. [For more information, read The Ancient Egyptian Universal Writing Modes by Moustafa Gadalla.]

3. The Iberian Peninsula was the main source of several mineral ores for Ancient Egypt. The Portuguese coast was dotted with thriving ports to serve the heavy traffic along the “Tin Route”, named after the tin mines in Galicia, Ireland, and Britain, which were extensively mined to transport this material to the most populous and richest country in the ancient world—Egypt. All these thriving communities vanished and turned into “ghost towns” when Egypt became the victim of foreign invasion.

We will next show how the rise and fall of events in Ancient Egypt correlated directly to events in the Iberian Peninsula.

Archaeological findings indicate that in southern Spain and central Portugal, the prelude to metallurgy seems to have emerged quite suddenly, before the end of the 4th millennium BCE. The evidence shows that certain so-called Early Bronze Age sites in the Iberian Peninsula are actually colonies established by people coming from the eastern Mediterranean. The Copper Age settlements such as Los Millares, Vila Nova de Sao Pedro, and Zambujal are known to have been constructed around 2700 BCE, 2,000 years before the arrival of Phoenician traders. These settlements have been described as solitary, heavily-defended settlements situated in a culturally foreign environment for the purpose of mining, similar to Ancient Egyptian mining sites.

The fluctuations in the rate of mining activities and sizes of settlements correlate exactly with events and usage of ore materials in Ancient Egypt. Such parallels can be drawn between the metallurgical production in Ancient Egypt [as noted in an earlier chapter] and the following archaeological evidence during the same periods in the Iberian Peninsula.

  • Copper was in use in Egypt in pre-dynastic times (c. 6,000 years ago), and the early settlements of prehistoric Iberia were located in those regions in which copper and silver were either available or accessible: the provinces of Almeria, Granada and Murcia in the southeast, and the areas of Huelva, Algarve, Baixo Alentejo and Estremadura in the southwest.
  • The walled and bastioned forts, as well as the mining activities and the abundance of metal objects of Almeria and the Lower Tagus, dropped sharply around 2200 BCE, which coincided with the collapse of the Old Kingdom in Ancient Egypt. As a consequence, the Iberian Millaran culture met a similar fate.
  • The low frequency of tin-bronzes and their variation in composition during the Iberian Argaric Period has been attributed to the occurrence of tin in small pockets in one area—La Union, near Cartagena, in southern Murcia. Likewise, there was a limited production of tin-bronze in the pre-dynastic and early dynastic eras of Ancient Egypt.
  • Further mining of copper and tin resources in northwest Iberia began in earnest at the end of the 2nd millennium BCE. Judging by the number of known necropoles of the early Bronze Age in the southwest, it can be concluded that there was a considerable increase in the population by the second half of the 2nd millennium BCE, which coincides with the very active Egyptian economy during the Middle Kingdom Era (2040–1783 BCE).
  • At the end of the Iberian Argaric culture, and after the initial phase of the Later Bronze Age, there is a marked break in metal types and frequencies. In Almeria and Granada, there is a dramatic fall in the number of metal objects. This corresponds to the turmoil in Egypt during and after Akhenaton’s rule [1367–1361 BCE].

A large group of people who still live in those same archaeological sites of these mentioned Iberian locations look, act, and declare themselves to be descendants of the Land of the Pharaohs. It is these people that connect Egypt and Hispania—archeologically, historically, ethnologically, linguistically, etc. [For more information, read Egyptian Romany: The Essence of Hispania by Moustafa Gadalla.]


The Ancient Egyptian Culture Revealed Copyright © 2016 by Moustafa Gadalla. All Rights Reserved.