Egypt's economy depended on collecting and redistributing grain, manufactured goods, and raw materials. Storage, therefore, played an integral role in the smooth functioning of the major institutions of state and temple. Palace, temples, and individuals all maintained “granaries” (s̆nwt) for food. Palaces and temples also established treasuries, each called the “House of Silver,” that were intended to stockpile valuables. Workshops within a palace or temple were called the “House of the Plow”; there workers manufactured and stored finished goods including pottery, wooden furniture or even bread. The bureaucracies of the granary, treasury, and workshop were interconnected, although their relationships and the relative power of each of the bureaucracies shifted in response to the king's need to maintain control over Egypt's resources.

The Archaic Period and Old Kingdom.

In the earliest periods, granaries are attested from archaeological examples, such as those excavated at Merimda-Beni Salama during the Badarian culture (c.5000 BCE), while treasuries are known from seals of officials who worked there as early as the first dynasty (c.3050–2825 BCE). Workshops located in the “House of the Plow” are represented on tomb walls by the fifth dynasty (c.2513–2374 BCE), though various kinds of industrial sites, such as those for manufacturing pottery and flint tools have been associated with earlier prehistoric periods. It is unclear when the “House of the Plow” was established to maintain them.

Models of granaries were found in tombs of the first two dynasties. They were shaped like cones on a round base or were domed with an opening for filling and emptying. The models resemble real granaries found throughout Egyptian history. Actual granaries were sometimes associated with tombs during this time, and they exhibit the same design as models, incorporating mud-brick vaulting coated with clay. Relief sculpture of granaries in tombs of the third and fourth dynasties show them filled with grain and fruit. By the sixth dynasty, granaries were represented alongside storage for manufactured goods. The proximity of food and manufactured items in those reliefs suggests a connection between granaries and the “House of the Plow” in this period.

The granary, however, had it's own bureaucracy in the Old Kingdom, headed by an overseer; scribes, inspectors, and chiefs were also assigned to work in the granary. Pehernefer was both “Overseer of the Treasury” and “Overseer of All the Granaries of the King.” This double appointment might indicate that both bureaucracies were sometimes controlled by the same individual; some scholars, however, believe that Pehernefer held these titles sequentially rather than simultaneously.


Storage. A depiction of five granaries at Thebes, surrounded by a brick wall. Three of the granaries have already been filled.

In the first and second dynasties, the treasury was directly connected to the palace as a subdivision of the “Council Chamber of Provisions.” By the fourth dynasty, the treasury had become important enough that the council chamber was subordinate to it. The treasury controlled the collection, storage, and disbursement of taxes, income from the royal domains, goods manufactured and stored in the workshops, and raw materials from expeditions to Sinai. The granary and workshop were probably the actual sites of storage for the treasury.

Throughout Pharoanic Egypt, the “House of the Plow,” or the workshop, was a place for food preparation, manufacturing of finished goods, and also storage of its creations. The “Overseer of the Workshop” was responsible for delivering the offerings to the temples from storage facilities and for the reversion of offerings to the priests. These workshops were attached both to the palace and to temples, though they were always founded and controlled by the king, even when used to meet cultic needs. By the reign of Pepy II (2300–2206 BCE), some workshops existed independently of other institutions. These workshops owned land attached to newly built towns.

The Middle Kingdom.

From the Middle Kingdom, little evidence exists for a separate department of government that ran the granary. Though the titles “Overseer of the Granary,” “Dragoman (Keeper) of the Granary,” “Overseer of the Archive of the Granary,” “Scribe of the Granary,” and “Doorkeeper of the Granary” are all attested, the title “Overseer of the Granary” is much rarer than in the Old Kingdom. The functions of the department were possibly handled in this period by the vizier or the treasury department. In Papyrus Boulaq 18, dating to the thirteenth dynasty, there is no mention of a separate palace granary, though that document deals extensively with provisioning the palace. The sources of grain for the palace mentioned in the document are “Upper Egypt, the Treasury, and the Bureau of What the People Give.”

The New Kingdom.

Information on the granary, treasury, and workshops expands for the New Kingdom. From that period, detailed information for both royal and temple institutions is widely available.

Thutmose III (r. 1504–1452 BCE) centralized the administration of the granary under the direction of Yamunedjekh, “Overseer of the Granary of Upper and Lower Egypt”—the granaries were actually situated throughout the country. Papyrus Petersburg 1116A mentions granaries that provided provisions for the king, the “God's Wife of Amun” (referring to the Queen), and the Treasury, which controlled royal domains, fields of the pharaoh, and it's own fields. Each of these granaries controlled a large number of silos found throughout the country. The later Ramessid kings continued the practice of centralizing control of the granaries, though they moved the overseer's office from Thebes to Memphis and later, perhaps, to Tanis. In this period, scholars denote separate parts of the granary, since during the twentieth dynasty, a distinction was made between grain stored in the “magazine” and in the “corridor,” yet the basic design of the granary remained unchanged; the meaning of this distinction is not understood.

In contrast to central control of the granary from Thebes, kings of the eighteenth dynasty maintained separate treasuries for Upper and for Lower Egypt. Both the overseers of the treasury were, however, located in Thebes in the eighteenth dynasty and reported to the vizier. The treasury's importance grew ever greater in this period because it was responsible for administrating products entering Egypt from both Syria and Nubia. The treasury also provisioned the workers in the Theban necropolis with both food and materials.

Reliefs at Medinet Habu supply an idea of the contents of an ideal treasury: room 10 held furniture and jars of ointment; room 11 held chests filled with precious metals, stones, and libation vases; room 12 held ritual staffs and various raw materials; and room 13 held libation vases, necklaces, statues, chests, and raw materials. Although the organizational principle is not clear, this depiction surely represented the ideal treasury of a temple.

The workshops of the New Kingdom are best known from documents and reliefs of the mortuary temples of kings. In Medinet Habu, for example, the workshop was clearly responsible for supplying offerings for daily rituals and for festivals. The workshop was divided into rooms, each of which was named for a specific kind of bread, beer or, sweet that was supplied to the cult. The rooms were sites both of production and storage. The rooms identified at Medinet Habu as “store rooms” would hold four times the 12,562 sacks (965,767 liters) needed for the ritual calendar at that temple. Thus, it seems likely that the rooms were also used for other functions, such as manufacture; this idea is confirmed by reliefs that show both storage and manufacturing in the same location.

The personnel of the workshop were either slaves or serfs. During the eighteenth dynasty, they were directed by the “Overseer of the Workshop,” as can be observed in paintings in the tomb of Rekhmire at Qurna. By Ramessid times, the overseer's title had become honorary and the actual direction of this department was performed by a “Superior of the Workshop.”

The hierarchy among granary, treasury, and workshop shifted from period to period and perhaps even from reign to reign. Papyrus Petersburg 1116A for example, speaks of a “workshop of the harem,” which works for the granary of the treasury. Often, as here, the terms for “granary” or “workshop” are used without clear reference to its governing institution; but in such contexts the ancient reader would have known the bureaucratic structure. The assumption that the reader was aware of an understood meaning makes it difficult for modern scholars to ascertain many details of the bureaucracy of storage. Yet the fact of constant changes in those bureaucracies points to the central place that storage held in the Egyptian economy: no one person or bureaucracy was allowed to take complete control of the storage system in pharaonic Egypt, thus insuring that no real power base could be established that might threaten the royal house.



  • Andrassy, Petra. “Das pr-šnʿ in Alten Reich.” Studien zur Altägyptischen Kultur 20 (1993), 17–35. Addresses the changes that occurred in the structure of the workshop during the reign of Pepy II.
  • Haring, B. J. J. Divine Households: Administrative and Economic Aspects of the New Kingdom Royal Memorial Temples in Western Thebes. Leiden, 1997. Contains the best up-to-date discussion of storage in granaries, workshops, and treasuries at mortuary temples during the New Kingdom.
  • Helck, Wolfgang. Zur Verwaltung des Mittleren und Neuen Reichs. Leiden, 1958. The classic study of the bureaucracy during the Middle and New Kingdoms.
  • Polz, Daniel. “Die šnʿ-Vorsteher des Neuen Reiches.” Zeitschrift für Ägyptische Sprache 117 (1990), 43–60. Traces the changes in the title of the “Overseer of the Workshop” during the New Kingdom.
  • Schmitz, B. “Schatzhaus.” In Lexikon der Ägyptologie, 5: 536–543. Wiesbaden, 1983. A good summary of the history of the treasury.
  • Schmitz, B. “Scheune, Scheunenvorsteher.” In Lexikon der Ägyptologie, 5: 591–598. Wiesbaden, 1983. A good summary of the history of the granary.

Edward Bleiberg