Social Hierarchies in Ancient Civilizations

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According to Karl Marx, “The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles.”(Marx 1). This is also true for ancient civilizations. Ancient Egypt, China, and India all had social classes that their people adhered to. In contemporary society we have nearly eliminated such classes. There is no longer any need to have set classes in place. Contrary to ancient times, people are now able to move freely from one class to another based off of their actions and abilities. The hierarchy in these three ancient civilizations told the people what power and wealth they could attain throughout their lives there. The top of the hierarchy usually had the most power and wealth, and they always had the most influence. Hierarchies in ancient civilizations such as Egypt, China, and India were the key to the allotment of power, wealth, and influence the people had, and it was all a product of chance.

Between ancient Egypt, China, and India, Egypts hierarchy is the most different of the three. The main difference was the role of the Pharaoh. Like China and India, the top of the hierarchy was the main ruler. Unlike China and India however, the Pharaoh was viewed by his people as a god in the form of a human. The Pharaoh had absolute power in ancient egypt. Below him was an appointed right hand man known as the Vizier. The Vizier then appointed government officials to assist with day to day operations. These government officials, as well as priests, made up the power level below the Pharaoh. Next came the soldiers, who fought wars, and defended Egypt from invasion. During times of peace, they would watch over the lower classes such as the farmers, merchants, and slaves, who came next on the social hierarchy. The farmers and merchants/craftsman made up the middle class. This was the majority of the people in ancient Egypt. At the bottom of the hierarchy were the slaves. The slaves were usually prisoners of war who were forced to build structures and waited at the hands of the nobility. Rising in the hierarchy was very difficult, but not  impossible. Some families were able to acquire enough money to send their children to trade schools ran by artisans and priests. If they learned to read and write they could one day become a government employee as a scribe. The hierarchy in ancient Egypt was the most fluid of the three previously mentioned.

Another ancient civilization, China, also had a very distinct class system. Like all social class systems, the ruler reigned at the top. The ruler in China was known as the Emperor. The emperor had absolute power. Unlike in ancient Egypt however, the Emperor delegated some of his power to reputable soldiers and the nobility. He would place them in charge of smaller portions of China known as counties. Below the Emperor and the people he placed in power were the soldiers and the officials. The soldiers were very respected because they were the defenders of the land. The officials also held a very high status in ancient China. They were very well educated, and had to pass very rigorous tests to get to where they were. The two most senior officials were advisors to the Emperor. Unlike in Egypt, the farmers were actually above the merchants and artisans in China. Even though they were not educated or respected warriors, they were still considered very important in society. They grew the food that the people of China lived by, and were given some respect. Artisans made more money than farmers, but less than the merchants. However, because of their skills in areas such as metal making and weaponry, they still garnered some respect. Some of the most wealthiest people in ancient China were merchants. Some merchants were very wealthy and lived in luxury. They did not have much respect from the rest of the people because they did not see them as working for the good of the whole society. Much like today’s wealthy businessmen, merchants were seen as greedy and only working for themselves.

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