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In ancient Egypt, the king was considered a living god and the protector of the people through his contact with the gods. It was the king's job to maintain ma'at in the world-a perfect state of balance that meant all was well. Egypt's history is broken into dynasties: times when a single family rules the nation. When there is no direct heir and a new king comes from a different family, there is a dynasty shift. For example, Horemheb, last king of the 18th Dynasty, had no son, so he adopted a young man: Ramses I, first king of the 19th Dynasty.

The price people paid for having a king to take care of ma'at was paid in taxes. Taxes were taken out of crops or other products people produced. One of the ways that we know how long a king ruled Egypt is by counting the number of "cattle counts" during his reign. Every year, tax collectors counted all of a farmer's cows and decided how much he had to pay in taxes. Tax evasion existed, even in ancient Egypt, and was considered a form of treason. The culprit was sent to prison and/or given a good beating.

The king ruled from the political capital of Memphis, in Lower Egypt, but spent a great deal of time in the Upper Egyptian city of Thebes, which was the religious capital. The king could not rule alone and had a large government to support him. He had advisors, regional lords and localized rulers, town mayors and village councils.