Daily Life In Ancient Egypt
The daily life in ancient Egypt was actually much different than the vision that commonly comes to mind. Relics found in archaeological digs as well as paintings and drawings on pyramid and tomb walls depict images of life in ancient Egypt that was, in some regards, not that much different than life in Egypt today.
Family was important in ancient Egypt, and family life began early for the ancient Egyptians. Men and women both tended to marry young, and most marriages were polygamous with the husband having several wives.
The husband usually had a senior or chief wife who was considered higher than the other ones. Although divorce existed in ancient Egypt, it was rare because of the Egyptians' commitment to the sanctity of the family unit.
Children were also an important part of the family unit. They were considered to be a blessing from the gods, especially in noble and royal families. For instance, paintings of Queen Nefertiti and King Akhenaten show a loving and close bond between the parents and their six daughters.
© Jean-Pierre Dalbéra - Relief of Akhenaten and his family
Peasant life in ancient Egypt was not always enjoyable. Most peasants made their living off the land through agricultural means. Grain, particularly wheat, was a staple crop of life in ancient Egypt. As a result of few grazing lands and the expense of meat, most peasants subsisted off a diet of ground wheat foods, subsidized with meager vegetables.
The Egyptians were one of the first people to introduce the use of the ox-drawn plow; however the work of plowing, planting and harvesting would have still been very difficult. Taxes were also imposed on the crops, which would have also made it difficult for most peasant families to move beyond their poor means.
Modern views on slave life in ancient Egypt are largely contradictory. Many scholars theorize that slaves in ancient Egypt actually performed more in the role of servant than actual slave; others have contended that those who were less fortunate in ancient Egyptian society were forced to work in humiliating and degrading positions.
A long held theory indicates that the great pyramids of ancient Egypt were built upon slave labor, although this theory has been open to much conjecture.
Role of Women
Statuette of Ahmose-Nefertari
Contrary to popular belief, women were not treated as second-class citizens in ancient Egypt. In fact, there were oftentimes treated as equals to men. They were allowed to own their own property, testify in court and even conduct business dealings just like men could. More than once did a woman rule Egypt as the pharaoh as well.
Still, even though women were treated better than other women in other parts of the world at that time, they were still seen as the primary caretakers of the home and children. Their primary responsibilities were still to overseeing the duties of the home, such as raising the children and preparing meals for the family.
Role of Men
Men, on the other hand, worked the fields to earn their family a living and raise them crops to eat. Even though women were considered equal to men in many ways, the man was still considered to be the head of the household, and women were expected to obey their fathers and husbands.
Although there is much talk of slave life in ancient Egypt, many scholars theorize that the role of men slaves in Egypt was much more like that of servants than slaves. Some men became craftsmen by learning a trade from their fathers or artisans.
Click here to learn more about The Social Structure of Ancient Egypt
Wheat was a staple food. Most peasants survived off a combination of wheat and vegetables. Because there were few grazing lands, meat was more expensive and difficult to come by.
© Andrej Blagojević - Preserved grains
Beer was the primary drink in ancient Egypt, and it was brewed from barley, much like it is today. Although there was also wine in ancient Egypt, it was primarily found at the tables of the wealthy noblemen. With bread being the most common and important food in ancient Egypt, it was seasoned and flavored with honey, fruit, sesame seeds and herbs.
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© Beth - Farming in Egypt
The primary form of shelter in ancient Egypt was houses made of adobe, which are simply bricks made of sun-dried mud. The windows and doors of adobes were covered with mats to keep flies and other insects out, and the homes were filled with decorations much like we decorate our homes today.
Although noblemen usually had larger homes that were divided into three areas, the reception area, hall and private quarters, peasants lived in town homes that were usually two or three stories tall.
The first floor of the town homes were usually reserved for business and reception purposes, whereas the top two floors served as private housing for the residents. Since there was no indoor plumbing back then, sewage had to be disposed of in rivers, pits and sometimes even in the streets.
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The ancient Egyptians believed in the gods and goddesses of Egyptian mythology. Their religion was polytheistic, but towns and villages would often claim a particular god as the one they worshiped most. The religion was filled with rituals, rites and other special practices and ceremonies, and many temples were built in honor of specific gods and goddesses.
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Dan Lundberg - Reliefs of gods on the Pylon at the Temple of Isis
The Ancient Egyptian culture consisted of much entertainment. According to paintings and drawings found, Egyptians engaged in everything from fishing to river boating on the river Nile. There are depictions of them hunting crocodiles and hippopotamuses, swimming and playing boat games. Other sports included athletics and early versions of team sports we know today, such as rowing or hockey.
© mararie - Model Boats
The wealthier sect of Egyptians entertained by throwing extravagant parties complete with much food and beverage, much like we still do today when we throw parties. Music was an important part of ancient Egyptian culture as well, and festivals were common too.
Children had toys carved in the shapes of animals, balls and horses on wheels, and there were even board games like Senet and Hounds & Jackals.
The Nile River was extremely important to the ancient Egyptian's way of life. Not only was the river the primary source for drinking water, but it also had the ability to produce the extremely fertile soil that the Egyptians needed for survival.
© Héctor de Pereda - The temples at Abu Simbel, on the riverbanks of the Nile
Most of Egypt is dry desert land, and the annual floods that the river provided allowed the waters to flow onto the banks so that crops could have the water that they needed to grow. Consequently, many cities and villages sprang up around the river Nile.
Additionally, the Nile is where the Egyptians obtained the papyrus reeds that they used for making paper and building materials.
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Men and women, different types of clothing
The ancient Egyptians wore clothes made from linen, a light and cool material, in pieces draped over or wrapped around the body. Other items were sandals made of leather or plant fibers, and headdresses - often associated with gods and pharaohs.
Cleanliness was actually very important to the ancient Egyptians. They had cleansing rituals daily in the river or bathed at home in water basins filled with water from the river. They didn't use soap, though. Instead, they washed with a cleansing cream that was made from oil, lime and perfume.
Additionally, men, women and children of all classes all wore makeup. Kohl around the eyes was the most popular type of makeup, and it was worn for more than cosmetic purposes: it actually helped protect the ancient Egyptians' skin from damage from the sun.
Almost all ancient Egyptians wore jewelry. They wore amulets and rings for both fashion purposes as well as religious ones. Pierced ears, amulets, bracelets and necklaces were common among peasants while the wealthier folk wore jeweled or beaded collars and pendants as well as jewelry made from gold, silver and electrum.
Daily Life in Ancient Egypt Facts
- The main form of travel in ancient Egypt was by boat.
- The main source of protein was fish when it was caught.
- Adobe houses built from mud were cool on the inside and had flat roofs so that in the summer time people could sleep on the tops of them.
- Houses were built around courtyards, and all the cooking was done outside in the courtyard.
- Little children in ancient Egypt oftentimes didn't wear clothes, but often wore jewelry around their necks.