Money Talks

By John Lanchester – Every detail of Egyptian life was shaped by the flood. Even the tax system was based on the level of the water, which dictated how successful farmers would be in the subsequent season. Priests performed complicated rituals to divine the nature of that year’s flood and the resulting harvest.

But the priests were cheating, because they had something else, too: Nilometers. These were devices that consisted of large, permanent measuring stations, with lines and markers to predict the level of the annual flood, situated in temples to which only priests and rulers were granted access.

The world is full of priesthoods. On the one hand, there are the calculations that the pros make in private; on the other, elaborate ritual and language, designed to bamboozle and mystify and intimidate. To the outsider, the realm of finance looks a lot like the old Nile game. more>

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