The Invention of Management; Many of the Great Early Civilisations Had Sophisticated Management Systems. One Even Had a Textbook

By Witzel, Morgen | European Business Forum, Winter 2006 | Go to article overview

The Invention of Management; Many of the Great Early Civilisations Had Sophisticated Management Systems. One Even Had a Textbook


Witzel, Morgen, European Business Forum


The modern world is often under the impression it invented management. But nothing could be further from the truth. Every one of the great civilisations of the past-in China, India, the Middle East and Peru-had sophisticated systems of administration to handle the affairs of government, the religious establishment, trade and commerce.

One of the world's oldest, Egypt, had one of the most developed managerial systems of all. There is evidence of a highly organised government as early as 3000 BC, at the beginning of the First Dynasty. For example, we know the names and positions of officials reporting to the Pharaoh, who was the supreme civil, military and religious figure in Egyptian society.

The Great Pyramid of Giza was built in the 26th century BC by a society that did not have a money-based economy, but did have an administrative hierarchy with 17 different grades of official. The colossal task of building the pyramids almost certainly helped to refine and strengthen the Egyptian administrative system.

From the 19th to the 16th centuries BC, Egypt was in turmoil. Different regions fought and argued over succession to the Pharaonic throne. Many of these petty states were over run by a group of Asian warrior tribes known as the Hyksos. It was not until about 1540 BC that the powerful pharaoh Ahmose unified Egypt, later driving the Hyksos into Palestine. Ahmose founded the Eighteenth Dynasty, the first dynasty of the New Kingdom, which saw Egypt rise to the height of its power and prosperity during the next five hundred years.

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One of the first tasks undertaken by Ahmose was to reform and restore the old Egyptian system of central administration. This involved drawing up what is today known as The Duties of the Vizier - often seen as the world's first management text. Though possibly written several centuries earlier during the Middle Kingdom and only updated by Ahmose's officials, most scholars believe Duties of the Vizier originated during the early 16th century BC. Several copies were found in the tombs of royal officials of the early Eighteenth Dynasty making this the most likely date.

The book was probably requested not by Ahmose himself but by his mother, Queen Ahhotep. She was very prominent in the country's government, often acting for Ahmose when he was on campaign against the Hyksos. It is interesting to note that the world's first management textbook was written, if not by a woman, then certainly at the order of one.

Four copies of Duties of the Vizier survive, all of which were discovered during excavations of New Kingdom tombs in the early 19th century AD. Frenchman Philippe Virey was the first to undertake a translation in 1889. But, failing to understand the nature of Egyptian writing, he managed to render the entire text backwards. Thankfully, there have been more successful efforts since, notably Van den Boorn (1998).

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The t3ty

Duties of the Vizier sets out the duties of the most important royal official in New Kingdom Egypt, the t3ty - a term usually translated, for lack of anything better, as "vizier". The book, written on papyrus, is divided into 19 short sections, each defining some aspect of the vizier's managerial role. These include:

1 Duties relating to the management of the pharaoh's household, the "pr-nsw"; the treasury; and court functions.

2 General administration of the kingdom. Duties include agriculture, mines, trade, com- merce and other forms of economic activity. An important set of duties concerns the dykes and irrigation system connected to the Nile, which was essential for Egypt's food supply.

3 More general duties, usually powers delegated to the vizier by the Pharaoh. The most important are military command and the building and maintenance of tombs and monuments.

Though it is "the world's first job specification", Duties of the Vizier tells us more than its title suggests. …

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