Recent developments in Pharaonic social and economic history help provide a more balanced interpretation of ancient Egypt. Landscape research shows the succession of several micro-regions in the Nile Valley. The conditions prevailing in some of these regions show that cattle rearing played a crucial economic role, while mobile populations from Egypt and abroad could lead lifestyles alternative to cereal cultivation. Trade also appears as a largely underestimated activity, where markets, private merchants and agricultural “entrepreneurs” fuelled exchanges not only within Egyptian borders but also abroad. Their role was crucial in the transformation of agrarian produce into wealth while their activities were in many ways autonomous from any institution, including temples or the crown itself. Not surprisingly, the social structure appears less rigidly organized than previously thought. Elites and peasantry, for instance, actually encompassed very distinct social groups whose goals and interests were not always coincident. While the former included not only officials and high dignitaries but also local potentates and chiefs of villages, the latter encompassed a variety of conditions, from poor rural workers and forced labourers to wealthy cultivators and rich peasants. The local power of such sub-elites enabled them to head extensive patronage networks. Their cooperation with the royal administration was crucial for the stability of the monarchy, even if their appearance in official sources is rather elusive. Politics, the negotiation between factions and groups for power, between the core of the kingdom and the provinces, were common practice, quite far in fact from the supposedly autocratic power of pharaohs.