Ancient Egypt for Kids
Paying for Goods
Goods, both imported and created by craftsmen at home, were purchased in four main ways - using grain banks, a barter system, metal weights, and bread and beer.
The Grain Banks: The grain banks worked like this: First you deposited grain into one of the huge state grain warehouses. Then, when you wanted to purchase something, you pulled some of your grain out of the grain bank. Of course there was a fee for this, paid in grain. The "fees" collected (in grain) were used to "pay" state workers, such as the men who worked and lived in the pyramid cities, building pyramids. Basically, food moved around as payment for services and goods, which is one reason no one went hungry in ancient Egypt.
The Barter System: You could barter with your neighbor if you wished. But there was a more complex barter system in place in ancient Egypt that worked like this: On certain days, and in some major cities everyday, people gathered in public marketplaces. They showed their wares and traded for other goods. Some markets were seasonal. Some ran year around.
Metal Weights: The Egyptians started using coins around 500 BCE. But prior to that, they used a system of metal weights. Metal was not exchanged. It was just used to measure value. A deben, for example, was composed of about 3 ounces of metal, typically silver or copper. A deben had a set value. The weight of the goods were weighted and compared to the weight and value of a deben. That's how goods were priced. Easy? Not really, but it was a system in place for many years in ancient Egypt.
Bread and Beer: Both bread and beer were used to pay some workers. This form of payment was not only for the lower classes. Everyone in ancient Egypt loved beer and bread. They were staple foods and popular forms of payment.