During the Predynastic Period, Egypt was mostly small scattered communities and nomads. Gradually, these communities merged or were conquered by each other. Then, as they grew they joined together for both protection and for irrigation projects. Before long, these communities or tribes merged together to form administrative districts called nomes. Each nome was governed by a nomarch or governor. It was the responsibility of the nomarch to maintain a food reserve in case of famine or natural disaster.
Kingships developed when the most powerful nomarchs emerged as a leader. The king carried the title of Horus or “royal hawk god.” Egyptians believed that kings were gods earthly embodiment and that they were the direct result of a union between the chief state god and the ruling king’s principal queen or “Great Royal Wife.” It was common for kings to marry their sister so that the royal blood was its purest.
The king was supported by a large group of deputies who ran the temples, the military, and the administration. Directly below the king was the prime minister or vizier. He was in charge of the state archives, the Egyptian chief architect, as well as head of the judiciary branch of government. Under him were the officials who controlled treasuries, granaries, agriculture, the army, health, foreign relations, and public works. Egyptians who held offices were either employed by a temple or the state. Directly below the government officials were the artisans and craftsmen. Peasants made up the lowest class and they provided the manpower that powered Egypt.
There was no formal written code of law in ancient Egypt. Cases were largely decided on precedent (prior decisions). The courts treated men and women equally. Punishment could be severe, and was intended to deter further problems. Their were two types of courts, the High Court which was where the most serious cases were tried. Cases in this court were overseen by the vizier. The local courts were called kenbet and they largely dealt with cases that did not involve capital punishment. Sometimes suspects would be beaten in the courtroom until they confessed.
Minor offenses could be punished with 100 lashes and forced labor. This was usually in a mine. The Egyptians cut off the ear or nose of the prisoners who escaped and were caught. The death penalty meant a variety of things. Sometimes it meant being fed to the crocodiles. Those who did not want to endured a slow and horrible death were allowed to commit suicide. Occasionally, an entire family would be punished for the offenses of a single family member.
The king owned most of the land. The royal lands were administered by an overlord who was appointed by the king. Soldiers who served in the military were given land as a reward for their service. Also, the king gave his administrators land in hopes of securing their loyalty. Taxes were collected in the form of livestock, gold, silver, semi-precious stones, fruit, and grain. How much the Egyptians owed was assessed annually. If the Nile River didn't rise and water the grain, then the amount owed would be reduced.