is well known today that the king, in the past, was the absolute
ruler of his country; nobody could call him to account for his ways,
nor could anybody disobey or disagree with him. Yet, the king was
only one man; even he could not do everything by himself, let alone
rule the vast country just by himself. Besides, the king was many
a time, inept; he had been born into the position, not fought for
it, so he did not know what would make his country tick. Thus, the
credit for the florishing of the empire, should go not only to the
king, but also to a group of extremely important people--his advisors
It is interesting to note the differences of officials during the
Mesoamerican period. The highest authority during the Mayan civilization,
besides the king, was the ahau (lord or noble). Heads of state were
designated by the k'ul ahau (supreme ruler). He was one of the rulers
of the four provinces, and within his own government, he was supreme;
he was chosen from the descendants of the four royal families. A
lower-ranking official would be that of the rulers of towns and
villages, the difference being that these were not descended from
royal blood. The king's personal advisors was the Council, that
consisted of priests and lords. The king himself relied heavily
on the high priest (another heriditary position) for advice. As
for the lords in the council, these were in actual fact, military
commanders, who were in charge of their own respective districts.
Unlike other officials, they received no salary.
The Egyptians officials were handpicked by the pharaoh. These were
men who were top ranked in their own occupations in medicine, priesthood
or engineering. Being a scribe was the starting point for all three
occupations. Their duties included recording harvests to keeping
accounts. Those who did well were promoted to become priests, doctors
or engineers. The typical advisors for the pharaoh included the
high priests and noblemen, with the advisor closest to the pharaoh
known to be the vizier.
The Chinese basically had two kinds of officials, the scholar ('wen')
and the general ('wu'). Officially, these positions were not heriditary;
the king had to approve the appointing of these people. However,
the route to becoming an official usually started off with a close
relative or family member making a recommendation for the person
in question to take up a particular post to the Emperor. Thus, although
posts were not heriditary, cronyism did not hinder either.
An interesting point of the Chinese civilization is their recognition
of the importance of education for their people. The Chinese believed
that education could make a person cultured, refined, and thus,
learned. A man who was highly educated in China, was respected,
regardless of his birth. This was because education was usually
only available to the rich and influential, and the peasant was
too poor to afford his meals for his children, let alone engage
tutors. However, all was not lost to the commoner for there was
a route for him to gain an official post--through the imperial examinations.
These exams, which started in the Han dynasty, continued through
most of the dynasties. If a man could get past his village exams,
then his provincial exams, and finally, the final exam held at the
capital and emerge as the most brilliant, he became known as the
Imperial Scholar, and would be automatically given an official post.
Such a road was long, hard and tedious, and there were many who
tried but failed. This, again, became another reason why the Chinese
respected the the scholar so much. Producing an Imperial Scholar
in one's village, town or province, was often a great source of
honour to its inhabitants.
So, after reading about the various kinds of officials in the ancient
times, has your perception of how an official actually was improved?
Compared to modern day society, how much has the role of the official
changed? Do you think the official we have today are like the officials
that we had in the past? What are their similarities, and what are
The Egyptian priest, whose duty is to offer food and drink to the
soul of the pharaoh each day.
An Egyptian Scribe