There was a large class of nobles, who were mostly great landed proprietors living on their estates, and having under them a vast body of dependents, servants, labourers, artizans, etc.

There was also a large official class, partly employed at the court, partly holding government posts throughout the country, which regarded itself as highly dignified, and looked down on "the people." Commands in the army seem to have been among the prizes which from time to time fell to the lot of such persons.

Further, there was a literary class, which was highly respectable, and which viewed with contempt those who were engaged in trade or handicrafts.

Below these three classes, and removed from them a long way, was the mass of the population—"the multitude", as the Egyptians called them. These persons were engaged in manual labour of different kinds. The greater number were employed on the farms of the nobles, in the cultivation of the soil or in the rearing of cattle. A portion were boatmen, fishermen, or fowlers. Others pursued the various known handicrafts. They were weavers, workers in metal, stone-cutters, masons, potters, carpenters, upholsterers, tailors, shoe-makers, glass-blowers, boat-builders, wig-makers, and embalmers. There were also among them painters and sculptors. But all these employments "stank" in the nostrils of the upper classes, and were regarded as unworthy of any one who wished to be thought respectable.

That's not to say that there was no way to jump from one class to another, however.

The "public-schools" of Egypt were open to all comers, and the son of the artizan sat on the same bench with the son of the noble, enjoyed the same education, and had an equal opportunity of distinguishing himself. If he showed sufficient promise, he was recommended to adopt the literary life; and the literary life was the sure passport to State employment.

State employment once entered upon, merit secured advancement; and thus there was, in fact, no obstacle to prevent the son of a labouring man from rising to the very highest positions in the administration of the empire. Successful ministers were usually rewarded by large grants of land from the royal domain; and it follows that a clever youth of the labouring class might, by good conduct and ability, make his way even into the ranks of the landed aristocracy.

On the other hand, practically, the condition of the labouring class was, generally speaking, a hard and sad one. The kings were entitled to employ as many of their subjects as they pleased in forced labours, and monarchs often sacrificed to their inordinate vanity the lives and happiness of thousands. Private employers of labour were frequently cruel and exacting; their overseers used the stick, and it was not easy for those who suffered to obtain any redress. Moreover, taxation was heavy, and inability to satisfy the collector subjected the defaulter to the bastinado. Those who have studied the antiquities of Egypt with most care, tell us that there was not much to choose between the condition of the ancient labourers and that of the unhappy fellahin of the present day.