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Bureaucracy is not a modern invention; it was conceived by the Egyptians over 5,000 years ago. The creation of a bureaucracy in the Old Kingdom was a key factor in the inception of the Egyptian civilization. The king was the supreme head of state. Next to him, the most powerful officer in the hierarchy was the vizier, the executive head of the bureaucracy. The position of vizier was filled by a prince or a person of exceptional ability. His title is translated as "superintendent of all works of the king".

Vizier officiating at Tut's funeral; 
CMC PCD 2001-286-044

As the supreme judge of the state, the vizier ruled on all petitions and grievances brought to the court. All royal commands passed through his hands before being transmitted to the scribes in his office. They in turn dispatched orders to the heads of distant towns and villages, and dictated the rules and regulations related to the collection of taxes.

The king was surrounded by the court, friends and favoured people who attained higher administrative positions. The tendency was to fill these positions on the basis of heredity. One of the most ardent wishes of these administrators was to climb the bureaucratic ladder through promotions and to hand their offices to their children.

Priest holding papyrus plant; 
CMC PCD 2001-287-023 Priests; 
CMC PCD 2001-280-011

Many concepts in modern bureaucracies can be traced to the Egyptians. The hierarchical structure and code of ethics of the Egyptian bureaucracy are echoed in modern governments. Ancient Egyptian bureaucrats, who aspired to higher positions, were counselled to obey their superiors and keep silence in all circumstances, in other words, not to contradict or challenge the wisdom of those in charge. They were expected to have tact and good manners, be faithful in delivering messages, and display humility that verged on subservience. It is perhaps for these reasons that Egyptian officials were called civil servants, a designation that governments have adopted down through the ages.

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