The Pharaoh and the Agriculture Minister

 “The Pharaoh and the Agriculture Minister:” I started this piece shortly after “The Fall of Troy” was published, in Rogue Magazine, Spring 1963. It was lightly based on a big story at the time wherein an important Texas politician was buying up storage silos so he could overcharge farmers, and the government, for storing surplus crops. Then Cleopatra’s asp worked his way into the story, as did Joseph and his many colored coat, the Biblical Seven Year Famine, and the Hittites: All together at last. None of it is historically accurate, but it sounds good. Naturally, I had to keep coming back to a favorite subject: Bureaucracies.




Stock Photo: Ramses II (1279-1213 B.C.)

Correspondence: The Pharaoh and the Agriculture Minister

            The following correspondence was found during the 1970’s by a Cairo Museum and Smithsonian Society archaeology and excavating team. The correspondence was on a papyrus roll, in a sealed earthen wine jar, hidden in the wall of an as yet unidentified Egyptian tomb When translated, the scroll was found to be an exchange between the Pharaoh Ramses II (aka “Ramses the Great”) and an unidentified Agriculture Minister, whom authorities suspect may have been Merneptah, who later succeeded “Ramses the Great” as Pharaoh. The time seems to be in the later years of Ramses rule.

The issues discussed, and the positions taken, are a testament to the eternal and unchanging nature of our governing bureaucracies.


From:  Office of the Pharaoh

To:      Minister of Agriculture

It has come to our exalted attention, through the efforts of the visiting Hebrew shepherd soothsayer called Joseph, that a seven year pestilence and/or famine will shortly descend upon our Mother Egypt.

We hereby direct and command that you make adequate provision for the sustenance and well being of your exalted Pharaoh, and his divine family, as well as for the sustenance of your exalted Pharaoh’s people, insofar as this second priority does not conflict with the first, during this period of national emergency.


To:      Office of the Pharaoh

From:  Minister of Agriculture

The unworthy one is flattered by the gods to receive a personal directive from his exalted and beloved Pharaoh.

However, the unworthy one would remind His Magnificence that two-thirds of the arable farmland is in the Pharaoh’s personal soil bank, while most of the remaining land will not be of value until the Sacred Nile overflows its banks in five more years of our exalted Pharaoh’s glorious reign. Precisely what does your Magnificence suggest the unworthy one do?


From: Office of the Pharaoh

To:      Minister of Agriculture

If the exalted Pharaoh felt it was his duty to formulate detailed plans for the Minister of Agriculture, the Pharaoh would not have need of a Minister of Agriculture. The soil currently in the Pharaoh’s soil bank was placed there to maintain the prices of figs and dates which, the Minister hopefully knows, are staples of Mother Egypt’s economy.

The Pharaoh hereby directs and commands that the Minister make hasty preparations for the successful cultivation of the remaining farmland.


To:      Office of the Pharaoh

From:  Minister of Agriculture

Again, the unworthy one’s ancestors rejoice with him that he has received another personal directive from his beloved Pharaoh.

The Bounteous One is, as usual, correct in all particulars. Figs and dates are indeed a staple of Mother Egypt’s economy, and the Exalted One acted wisely when He protected their prices. The unworthy one is certain that the Egyptian people feel blessed by the gods that Pharaoh would take upon His Glorious Self the burden of owning all such commercial vineyards, and who would sell these commodities to His people at such reasonable prices, when all facts are considered. Also, the Illustrious One is correct in directing His unworthy minister to cultivate the arid land available, for the Exalted One, no doubt, intends to command His brothers, the rain gods, to flood the Sacred Nile, which is about the only way the unworthy ones sees of salvaging anything from the desert sand of which His Magnificence speaks.

The unworthy one will now retire and wait for this latest miracle and tribute to his Pharaoh’s majesty and status among the gods.


From:  Office of the Pharaoh

To:      Minister of Agriculture

The word “retire” has caused the Pharaoh to reflect upon his future plans for the Minister of Agriculture. However, for now, the Pharaoh is reasonably certain that the minister meant “retire,” as in retire to one’s duty, as opposed to “retire,” as in retire to join one’s rejoicing ancestors.

The Pharaoh does not consider it appropriate to trouble His brothers, the rain gods, with a trivial management problem which could be handled by a competent minister of agriculture, such as is currently being interviewed by this office. This latter candidate mentioned in passing that a simple trench-type irrigation system would be of inestimable value in drenching dry soil and rendering it arable.

The Pharaoh awaits the first positive progress report from the current minister of agriculture.


To:      Office of the Pharaoh

From: Minister of Agriculture

The unworthy one has read between the lines of his Exalted Pharaoh’s latest missive and senses the anguish of the Magnificent One as he considers His exalted future, and the future of His people, where possible.

The suggestion of a trench-type irrigation system was considered early on by the unworthy one. However, the approach is challenging, application-wise, as the land to be irrigated is some twenty rods higher than the Sacred Nile; the unworthy one has encountered his share of difficulties in encouraging the water to run uphill.

The Abacus Division of the Pharaoh’s Data Processing Division has processed this problem into the Sphinx and has been advised that only a personal directive from the Exalted One’s brother gods can make water run uphill.

Interim positive action, however, has been undertaken. The unworthy one has sent thousands of slaves wading into Mother Nile, and directed them to splash water on the shores. This project has enjoyed some success and the unworthy one is proud, yet humble, to report that in certain places at least three feet of river bank is moist enough for the cultivation of certain crops that grow well under arid conditions.

In addition to this, runners have been sent into the field bearing skins and baskets of water which they splash about in certain defined areas. This approach too is having its share of rewards, even considering the 85% water loss due to spillage and evaporation.

Should the Pharaoh be talking with his brother gods soon, He might point out that a flood would be greatly appreciated.


From:  Office of the Pharaoh

To:      Minister of Agriculture

Truly, the minister’s suggestions and accomplishments are worth of a report to Pharaoh. Continue the bank splashing and runners with leaky baskets. Within a short time, the banks should be moist enough for excavating the final resting places of all involved in the project.

Fortunately for Mother Egypt, a Hittite General, Corps of Engineers, is in Karnac visiting Pharaoh’s sister, the Royal Princess. He has consented to sail down to your area and advise us of a workable solution to what has been mismanaged into a major national crisis.


To:      Office of the Pharaoh

From:  Minister of Agriculture

By this time word has reached Pharaoh’s exalted presence of the unfortunate incident regarding the overturned barge. The Exalted One was very wise to have his family instructed in the noble art of water treading, but it is a pity about the handsome Hittite officer and his heavy, cumbersome armor. He certainly would have made shore otherwise. My staff advises me, however, that he went down for the final time praising our Exalted Pharaoh’s glorious reign.

As the Illustrious One has heard, the unworthy one was not in personal attendance that day for, in accordance with long standing custom, the day was spent in prayer and fasting at the Sphinx for the well being and continued reign of our Glorious Pharaoh, as the unworthy one’s staff will testify to a man.

Undoubtedly, the Pharaoh’s noble sister, the Royal Princess, will find happiness, perhaps with some Egyptian Noble, at some later date. Under separate cover, the unworthy one is forwarding the princess the gift of a pet to help fill her lonely hours; a pet which so well symbolizes the stoic determination and fierce courage of our Mother Egypt under the inspirational leadership of our Glorious Pharaoh.


From:  Office of the Pharaoh

To:      Minister of Agriculture

This directive would have come sooner had not Pharaoh been fully involved in avoiding a major land war with the Hittite Empire.

After much reflection, and dialogue with brother gods, the Pharaoh has decided to allow cultivation of all arable land in the Pharaoh’s personal soil bank. However, since this land is in the trust of the gods, it must not be defiled by passing into mortal hands. Therefore, the land remains in the Pharaoh’s ownership and all goods produced will be stored away in silos against the day when our Mother Egypt will require a healthy and capable Pharaoh, and Nobility, to provide leadership in such times of stress and crisis.

The Princess sends along her thanks for your unusual gift. No one at court had ever seen, or heard of, a trained asp.


To: Office of the Pharaoh

From: Minister of Agriculture

Once again the Pharaoh proves his gifted and inspirational leadership with His latest decree. What a solace it will be to the hungry multitudes when they realize they are being considered by their Beloved Leader when He sips down to sup.

The first crop has already been planted. Has Exalted Pharaoh considered the availability of the storage silos mentioned? There is no time to build new ones. If the unworthy one may, he respectfully suggests His Magnificence look into the matter of the silos.


From: Office of the Pharaoh

To:      Minister of Agriculture

The minister’s latest missive caused Pharaoh some minor puzzlement. Mother Egypt has countless storage silos spread throughout the land. Then, the Pharaoh checked and learned that all such storage facilities, and silos, had been purchase by an unidentified minister, possibly with Hittite, and other outsider, financial backing. Agents further report that some of these silos appear to be poisoned, others not, and only the purchasing party knows which is which.

Does the minister of Agriculture have any further knowledge of these proceedings?


To:      Office of the Pharaoh

From: Minister of Agriculture

Perhaps. The unworthy one has long realized how difficult it must be for one Pharaoh, a brother of the gods even, to control the entire domain of our beloved Mother Egypt. This, on top of grieving for his beloved Sister-Princess whose unfortunate demise is still unexplained as she slept under guard, alone, with only her trained asp for company.

The unworthy one senses the need for Pharaoh to spend more time with His brother gods and leaving the actual burden of administration to a capable and trusted prime minister, such as is currently advising his Beloved Pharaoh in this missive. A man like myself, unworthy as he might be, who has no other aspiration than to serve His Magnificence, and Mother Egypt, in this endeavor.

This is meant only as food for thought. Food and Thought; Alas: Both perishable commodities.


From:  Office of the Pharaoh

To:      Office of the Prime Minister

cc:       All Nobility

All Ministries

Public Readings

Hittite Empire (Executive List)

Your Beloved and Exalted Pharaoh is pleased to welcome a new member to the family of the gods. A proven and trustworthy leader whose sole interest is to serve Pharaoh without thought of personal status, power, wealth, or political gain; a man who will speak for the Pharaoh and act for the Pharaoh in all matters, sacred and profane.

We welcome you to our exalted bosom: Prime Minister Merneptah.










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