What was the economy during the New Kingdom period of Egypt like?

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mrkirschner eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The economy of the New Kingdom period of Egypt can best be described as an agricultural command economy.  The economic system was very similar to the feudal system of the Middle Ages.  The primary difference between was instead of manor lords, the pharaoh and his administrators ruled over vast tracts of land and collected a large share of the surplus through taxation.  The religious officials also had a great deal of power and owned a vast amount of farmland. Despite the power and wealth of the temples, the pharaoh and his bureaucracy ultimately made economic decisions affecting the resources, products, and trade networks of Egypt.

Within Egypt, grain or other agricultural goods were the means for exchange in a barter-like system. Trade with outsiders could be executed with material goods, gold or other precious metals.  Gold became a more common currency during the New Kingdom period. Trade with outsiders was only common when it was managed by the bureaucracy of the pharaoh.  Private trade enterprises were very rare.

Expansion of the economy through trade and conquest was a major theme. By increasing its territory and population through conquest, the government could collect tributes and taxes from these lands.  Resources and slave laborers could also be extracted.  Trade networks helped to diversify the economy and bring more wealth.

With over 90% of the population working in the fields, agricultural products were a major source of production and wealth.  Barley, wheat, and other grains were common commodities.  Fishing was a major industry as well. Mining was more common with the expansion of the borders to the south during this period.  Manufacturing of products including linen, beer, and war goods also flourished during the New Kingdom period.  Public works projects like the construction of temples, government buildings, and monument tombs was very profitable as well.

The major beneficiaries of this economic system are obvious.  The pharaoh and his noble bureaucracy benefited the greatest and made the overwhelming majority of the decisions. The temple class also benefited in a large way and it is estimated the priests owned around one third of the land in Egypt.