Skip to main content

Full text of "The Legacy Of Egypt"

See other formats

292                          Egypt
—formed the 'royal land' proper, and was rack-rented in small
farms to the peasants, the 'royal cultivators'. The Crown con-
trolled every stage in the agricultural year. Not only did it
regulate, as every Egyptian government must, the water supply:
it determined what the crop should be, loaned the seed, and,
after collecting its rent, usually in kind, claimed its share of the
second crop of animal fodder. The system is incredible in its
complexity, but thanks to the labours of an .army of scribes it
worked: bales of papyri testify to the precise information which
was available to the government on every tiny plot of land—its
legal status, its dimensions, its position, the name of its holder,
the rent due from it, the state of its irrigation, the nature of
the crop sown on it.
The basic theory of the royal ownership of the soil, which
justified this system of exploitation, appears to have been preva-
lent in Pharaonic Egypt. But whether it was or not, the
Ptolemies probably derived their claim from Greek ideas. In
the eyes of the Greeks an oriental king was the owner of his
kingdom; his subjects were his slaves, and all that they possessed
was in the ultimate analysis his property. By the Greek laws of
war the persons and property of the vanquished passed to the
victor and his heirs. Ptolemy therefore as the heir of Alexander,
the conqueror of Darius, was the owner of Egypt. Royal owner-
ship of the soil was thus a theory common to all the oriental
Hellenistic kingdoms. But nowhere but in Egypt could the
theory be exploited. Elsewhere the kings might expropriate
some of the old landowners in favour of their own followers,
but they had not the statistical data or the administrative
machinery necessary for organizing the cultivation of the land
themselves. They had to content themselves with charging the
owners, now officially their tenants, with a customary rent,
which was in effect the old taxes under a new name. Royal
ownership therefore meant little in practice, and even the theory
was gradually abandoned, except in a few limited areas. In