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This page does not contain storyline information, but information for which to base your storyline upon if you so decide to. A helpful guide on how to create a character in this setting is attempted within this page as well, but is not required to be followed in order to play an Ancient Egyptian role play in Gotham and Beyond. This page is run and maintained by Pandora the Wise, and any advice provided on creating a character is not expected to be used; all players are encouraged to develop their own storylines, and feel free to use information from this page as needed in storyline.
All information contained on this page was compiled using sources on the internet. No copyright infringement is intended, but any information collected for use of wiki which is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike License, is collected with the intention of sharing information and NOT claiming ownership. Credit is given for the various sites used in the creation of this page.
Introduction to Storyline
Thank you for joining us in Ancient Egypt, which is arguably the most mysterious and magical time and place Earth has had. Here you will find information on Egypt, that has been found from various other resources on the web. Please note that if you are browsing here from a search engine; this site is for entertainment purposes only. This site is intended as a resource for role players playing in Ancient Egypt, in Gotham and Beyond's role play room on WBS.
All information contained on this site about Ancient Egypt is accurate according to current belief’s of how accurate our knowledge is of the people, and the world around them in Ancient Egypt. Which is to say that all information contained here is subjective, because we cannot gleam enough as it is, to gain a firm understanding of Egypt and her people in Ancient times. But what we do gleam as a society today, we make assumptions on, and try to decipher the information gleamed as carefully as possible to gain better understanding, and knowledge.
The loss of The Royal Library of Alexandria is the number one greatest loss for the world in understanding Egypt, and her people. As well as the loss of gaining the wisdom and understanding the Ancient Egyptians seemed to have over our current knowledge today in various fields such as science. As a result, all information on this site is to be used for entertainment purposes only, and is not set up or maintained by a Egyptologist; so some of our “facts” may be wrong, or off.
Egypt was a beautiful land, her people were diverse, and her numbers were high. Egypt experienced many highs, and many lows; some recorded from time. Other highs and lows we can only imagine, and dream of. Some ruler’s believed themselves to be Gods, others simply reverently worshiped their Gods and Goddesses.
But one thing holds true, the Gods must have smiled upon the Ancient Egyptians for centuries. For as many sorrows as the people had, they had stories of the glory and the awe of Egypt herself.
Playing within this setting is obviously open within Gotham & Beyond on WBS. All information contained here about Ancient Egypt is accurate according to current belief’s of how accurate our knowledge is of the people, and the world around them in Egypt.
However, a more focused role play is exclusively maintained by Pandora and Labratio. At this time, play is my invitation only. If you would like to see about being invited to play, please see Labratio or Pandora.
Creating a character
STILL UNDER CONSTRUCTION- Check back soon.
First thing you need to do to create a good character, is to come up with a good Name.
Ancient Egyptians names were important from the earliest times through the end of ancient Egyptian history, frequently offering clues to their personality, the period in which they lived and particularly, the gods that they most worshipped. But it was not only the kings who placed great store in names. All Egyptian’s names were carefully chosen, apparently for commoners and royalty alike, though one major difference is that the names of common Egyptians were not preserved in cartouches, as were those of royalty. The most simple names in ancient Egypt were nouns or adjectives, such as Neferet, meaning “beautiful woman”. Others took the form of statements such as Rahotep, meaning “Ra is satisfied”, or Khasekhemwy, meaning “the two powers appear”.
Many ancient Egyptian names contained the name of a god. At times, the god may be assumed, so we have names that contain the phrase “god is gracious”, or “whom god loves”, but here the term god undoubtedly refers not to an abstract deity but rather to a specific, assumed deity which might be a local god, or the god to whom the parents prayed. Much of the time, the god was named.
Common words or phrases were often used in names. These included ankh (life), mery (beloved), hotep (peace), nefer (beautiful) and khenemet (one who is joined with)
Many names could be used by both males and females, and in these instances, an identifier, such as a hieroglyphic man or woman, was appended to the name in order to make it masculine or feminine. However, “et” on the end of a name, or sometimes in the middle of it, appears to have been a feminine identifier, and “pa-sheri” (masculine) or “ta-sherit” (feminine) was somewhat similar to the equivalent of “Junior” today. We also find Si, meaning son, or Sit, meaning daughter.
Ancient Egyptians believed in keeping honored names alive within the family. Hence, it was necessary for identification to sometimes provide a “ren nefer”, or beautiful name. Hence, the first name would be the formal name and the second name would be the known by name.
It should also be noted that Egyptian probably used nicknames not unlike we do today, either to shorten longer names or to describe a characteristic of the individual.
Reference: Ancient Egyptian Names
So to summarize, a family name (such as our last name) is the first name, and the second and further names usually describe a characteristic.
The following information is factual, and is not related to any information developed/created in role play. For information developed/created in role play, check the Development & stories section. This information can be used for references in role play.
All or part of the information on this page was copied from this source. The sources the resource site lists for its own resources can be found by clicking on the link provided. No disrespect, or intellectual infringement is meant in gleaming information from this site (We make NO claim to having written all of the information on this page), if you are the original writer of this information and wish to have it removed; please email Pandora
The Gods & Goddesses
There are many Gods and Goddesses that the Ancient Egyptians believed in, our list is probably not likely a complete list. However, we have tried to compile as much information as possible to be complete. For more Gods and Goddesses of ancient Egypt, you might want to run a google search.
Due to the high volume of information on Ancient Egypt, Gods and Goddesses have been separately categorized.
About Ancient Egypt
This is what Wikipedia has to say about Ancient Egypt:
Ancient Egypt was a civilization in Northeastern Africa concentrated along the middle to lower reaches of the Nile River, reaching its greatest extent in the second millennium BC, during the New Kingdom. It stretched from the Nile Delta in the north as far south as Jebel Barkal at the Fourth Cataract of the Nile, in modern-day Sudan. Extensions to the geographic range of ancient Egyptian civilization included, at different times, areas of the southern Levant, the Eastern Desert and the Red Sea coastline, the Sinai Peninsula, and the oases of the Western desert.
The civilization of ancient Egypt developed over more than three and a half millennia. It began with the political unification of the major Nile Valley cultures under one ruler, the first pharaoh, around 3150 BC, and led to a series of golden ages known as Kingdoms, separated by periods of relative instability known as Intermediate Periods. After the end of the last golden age, the New Kingdom, the civilization of ancient Egypt entered a period of slow, steady decline, when Egypt was conquered by a succession of foreign adversaries. The power of the pharaohs officially ended in 31 BC, when the early Roman Empire conquered Egypt and made it a province of the Empire.
The civilization of ancient Egypt was based on balanced control of natural and human resources under the leadership of the pharaoh, religious leaders, and court administrators, characterized by controlled irrigation of the fertile Nile Valley; the mineral exploitation of the valley and surrounding desert regions; the early development of an independent writing system and literature; the organization of collective construction and agricultural projects; trade with surrounding regions in east and central Africa and the eastern Mediterranean; and finally, military ventures that defeated foreign enemies and asserted Egyptian domination throughout the region. Motivating and organising these activities was a bureaucracy of elite scribes, religious leaders, and administrators under the control of the quasi-divine pharaoh (becoming divine upon death), who ensured the cooperation and unity of the Egyptian people by means of an elaborate system of religious beliefs.
The Nile has been the lifeline of Egypt since nomadic hunter-gatherers began living in the region during the Pleistocene, some 1.8 million years ago. The lifestyles of early humans were highly dependent on climate, and by the late Paleolithic the arid climate of northern Africa had become increasingly hot and dry, forcing the population to concentrate along the Nile valley. The fertile floodplain of the Nile gave humans the opportunity to develop a settled agricultural economy and a more developed, centralized society that became a cornerstone in the history of human civilization.
By about 5500 BC, small tribes living in the Nile valley had developed into a series of unique cultures demonstrating firm control of agriculture and animal husbandry. These cultures are identifiable by their unique pottery and personal items, such as combs, bracelets, and beads. The largest of these early cultures in upper Egypt, the Badari culture, is known for its high quality ceramics, stone tools, and its use of copper. Badari burials are simple pit graves and show signs of social stratification; evidence that the culture was coming under the control of more powerful leaders. In southern Egypt, a culture with Badari features began to expand along the Nile by about 4000 BC, and is known as the Naqada culture. Over a period of about 1000 years, the Naqada culture developed from a few small farming communities into a powerful civilization whose leaders were in complete control of the people and resources of the Nile valley. Establishing a power center at Hierakonpolis, and later at Abydos, Naqada leaders expanded their control of Egypt northwards along the Nile and engaged in trade with Nubia, the oases of the western desert, and the cultures of the eastern Mediterranean. The Naqada culture manufactured a diverse array of material goods including painted pottery, high quality derocative stone vases, cosmetic palettes, and jewelrey made of gold, lapis, and ivory, reflecting the increased power and wealth of the elite. They also developed a ceramic glaze known as faience, which was used to decorate cups, amulets, and figurines well into the Roman Period. During the last phase of the predynastic, the Naqada culture began using written symbols which would eventually evolve into a full system of hieroglyphs for writing the ancient Egyptian language.
Early dynastic period
Although the transition to a fully unified Egyptian state under the rule of the pharaoh happened gradually, ancient Egyptians writing many centuries later chose to begin their official history with a king named “Meni” (or Menes in Greek), who they believed had united the two kingdoms of Upper and Lower Egypt. The long line of pharaohs to follow would be grouped into 30 dynasties by an Egyptian priest named Manetho, writing in the third century BC. This system is still used today. Scholars have suggested the mythical Menes is the pharaoh Narmer based on an interpretation of the Narmer Palette, a ceremonial cosmetic palette depicting this ruler wearing pharaonic regalia. During the early dynastic period, beginning about 3150 BC, the first pharaohs solidified their control over lower Egypt by establishing a capital at Memphis. From this new city, they could control trade routes to the levant and the labor and agricultural produce of the fertile delta region. The increasing power and wealth of the pharaohs during the early dynastic period is reflected in their elaborate mastaba tombs and mortuary cult structures at Abydos which were used to celebrate the deified pharaoh after his death. The strong institution of kingship these pharaohs developed served to legitimize the state control over the land, labor, and resources which allowed the civilization of ancient Egypt to flourish.
The pharaohs of the Old Kingdom made stunning advances in architecture, art, and technology, fueled by the increased agricultural productivity made possible by a well developed central administration. Under the direction of the vizier, state officials coordinated irrigation projects to improve crop yield, collected taxes, drafted peasants to work on construction projects, and established a justice system to maintain peace and order. With the surplus resources made available by a productive and stable economy, the state was able to sponsor the building of colossal monuments and royal workshops producing exceptional works of art. The pyramids built by Djoser, Khufu, and their descendants stand as eternal symbols of the power of the pharaohs. With the increasing importance of the central administration, a new class of educated scribes and officials arose who were granted estates by the pharaoh in payment for their services. Pharaohs also made land grants to their mortuary cults and local temples to ensure these institutions would have the necessary resources to worship the pharaoh after his death. By the end of the Old Kingdom, five centuries of these practices had slowly eroded the economic power of the pharaoh, who could no longer afford to support a large centralized administration. As the power of the pharaoh diminished, regional governers called nomarchs began to challenge the supremacy of the pharaoh which ultimately undermined the unity of the country. Coupled with severe droughts between 2200 and 2150 BC, the country entered a 140 year period of famine and strife known as the First Intermediate Period.
First Intermediate Period
After Egypt’s central government collapsed at the end of the Old Kingdom, the administration could no longer support or stabilize the country’s economy. Regional governors could not rely on the king for help in times of crisis, and the ensuing food shortages and political disputes escalated into famines and small scale civil wars. Yet despite difficult problems, local leaders owing no tribute to the pharaoh used their newfound independence to establish a thriving culture in the provinces. Once in control of their own resources, the provinces became economically richer; a fact demonstrated by larger and better burials among all social classes. In bursts of creativity, provincial artisans adopted and adapted cultural motifs which had been a strict royal monopoly during the Old Kingdom, and scribes developed literary styles which express the optimism and originality of the period. Free from their loyalties to the pharaoh, local rulers began competing with each other for territorial control and political power. By 2160 BC, rulers in Hierakonpolis controlled Lower Egypt while a rival clan based in Thebes, under the name Intef, took control of Upper Egypt. As the Intefs grew in power and expanded their control northward, a clash between the two rival dynasties was inevitable. Around 2055 BC the Theban forces under Nebhepetre Mentuhotep II finally defeated the Herakleopolitan rulers; reuniting the Two Lands and inaugurating a period of economic and cultural renaissance known as the Middle Kingdom.
Following Old Kingdom traditions, the pharaohs of the Middle Kingdom restored the country’s prosperity and stability which stimulated the resurgence of art, literature, and monumental building projects. Mentuhotep II and his 11th Dynasty successors ruled from Thebes, but when the vizier Amenemhet I assumed kingship around 1985 BC, beginning the 12th Dynasty, the new pharaoh shifted the nation’s capital to a city in the Faiyum named Itjtawy. From Itjtawy, the pharaohs of the 12th Dynasty undertook a far-sighted land reclamation and irrigation scheme to increase agricultural output in the region. The military reconquered territory in Nubia to allow quarrying and gold mining, and laborers built a defensive structure in the Eastern Delta called the “Walls-of-the-Ruler” to defend against foreign attack. With military and political security and vast agricultural and mineral wealth, the nation’s population, arts, and religion flourished. In contrast to elitist Old Kingdom attitudes towards the gods, the Middle Kingdom experienced an increase in expressions of personal piety and a so-called democritization of the afterlife, in which all people possessed a soul and could be welcomed into the company of the gods after death. Middle Kingdom literature featured sophisticated themes and characters written in a confident, eloquent style, and the relief and portrait sculpture of the period captures subtle, individual details that reach new heights of technical perfection. The last great ruler of the Middle Kingdom, Amenemhat III, engaged in especially active mining and building campaigns; to supply the necessary labor, he allowed Asiatic settlers into the delta region. These ambitious building and mining activities, combined with poor Nile floods later in his reign, strained the economy. During the later 13th and 14th dynasties Egypt slowly declined into the Second Intermediate Period, in which some of the Asiatic settlers of Amenemhat III would grasp power over Egypt as the Hyksos.
Second Intermediate Period and the Hyksos
The Second Intermediate Period marks a period when Ancient Egypt once again fell into disarray between the end of the Middle Kingdom, and the start of the New Kingdom. This period is best known as the time the Hyksos made their appearance in Egypt, the reigns of its kings comprising the Fifteenth and Sixteenth Dynasties. The Thirteenth Dynasty proved unable to hold onto the long land of Egypt, and a provincial ruling family located in the marshes of the western Delta at Xois broke away from the central authority to form the Fourteenth Dynasty. The splintering of the land accelerated after the reign of the Thirteenth Dynasty king Neferhotep I. The Hyksos first appear during the reign the Thirteenth Dynasty pharaoh Sobekhotep IV, and by 1720 BC took control of the town of Avaris. The outlines of the traditional account of the “invasion” of the land by the Hyksos is preserved in the Aegyptiaca of Manetho, who records that during this time the Hyksos overran Egypt, led by Salitis, the founder of the Fifteenth Dynasty. In the last decades, however, the idea of a simple migration, with little or no violence involved, has gained some support. Under this theory, the Egyptian rulers of 13th Dynasty were unable to stop these new migrants from travelling to Egypt from Asia because they were weak kings who were struggling to cope with various domestic problems including possibly famine. The Hyksos princes and chieftains ruled in the eastern Delta with their local Egyptian vassals. The Hyksos Fifteenth Dynasty rulers established their capital and seat of government at Memphis and their summer residence at Avaris. The Hyksos kingdom was centered in the eastern Nile Delta and Middle Egypt and was limited in size, never extending south into Upper Egypt, which was under control by Theban-based rulers. Hyksos relations with the south seem to have been mainly of a commercial nature, although Theban princes appear to have recognized the Hyksos rulers and may possibly have provided them with tribute for a period. Around the time Memphis fell to the Hyksos, the native Egyptian ruling house in Thebes declared its independence from the vassal dynasty in Itj-tawy and set itself up as the Seventeenth Dynasty. This dynasty was to prove the salvation of Egypt and would eventually lead the war of liberation that drove the Hyksos back into Asia. The two last kings of this dynasty were Tao II the Brave and Kamose. Ahmose I completed the conquest and expulsion of the Hyksos from the delta region, restored Theban rule over the whole of Egypt and successfully reasserted Egyptian power in its formerly subject territories of Nubia and Canaan. His reign marks this beginning of the Eighteenth Dynasty and the New Kingdom period.
Egypt was reunited again, and as a result of the foreign rule of the Hyksos during the Second Intermediate Period, the New Kingdom saw Egypt create a buffer between the Levant and Egypt, and attain its greatest territorial extent. It expanded far south into Nubia and held wide territories in the Near East. Egyptian armies fought Hittite armies for control of modern-day Syria.
This became a time of great wealth and power for Egypt. Some of the most important and best-known Pharaohs ruled at this time. Hatshepsut, unusual because she was a female pharaoh and thereby a rare occurrence in Egyptian history—was an ambitious and competent leader—extending Egyptian trade south into present-day Somalia and north into the Mediterranean. Her architecture achieved the highest development by Egypt and was unparalleled in the entire Mediterranean area for a thousand years. She ruled for twenty years through a combination of deft political skill and the selection of highly-skilled administrators. Her co-regent and eventual successor, Thutmose III (”the Napoleon of Egypt”), expanded Egypt’s army and wielded it with great success. Late in his reign he ordered her name hacked out from many of her monuments and inserted his own. Amenhotep III built extensively at the temple complexes of Thebes and he further userped many accomplishments of Hatshepsut.
One of the best-known eighteenth Dynasty pharaohs is Amenhotep IV, who changed his name to Akhenaten in honor of the Aten and whose exclusive worship of the Aten is often interpreted as history’s first instance of monotheism. He moved the capital to a new city he built and called it, Akhetaten (modern Armana). Akhenaten’s religious fervor is cited as the reason why this period was subsequently written out of Egyptian history. A political and religious revolutionary, Akhenaten introduced Atenism by the fourth year of his reign, raising the previously obscure god Aten (sometimes spelled Aton) to the position of supreme deity, suppressing the worship of other deities, and attacking the power of the entrenched Amen-Ra priestly establishment.
A new culture of art was introduced during this time that was more naturalistic and realistic. It was a departure from the stereotypical style that had predominated in Egyptian art for the previous 1700 years. Depictions of Akhenaten show exaggerated physical features. Styles of art that flourished during this short period are markedly different from other Egyptian art, bearing a variety of affectations, from elongated heads to protruding stomachs, exaggerated features, and as a contrast, the beauty of his queen Nefertiti.
The period following Akhenaten’s death is confused and poorly attested, but worship of the old gods was revived and the reign of Tutankhamun marks the certain re-emergence of the old traditions. He was a young child when he ascended to the throne, and undoubtedly it was his advisers who made decisions for him. His given name was Tutankhaten, but with the resurgence of Amun, he was re-named Tutankhamun.
Tutankhamun died while he was still a teenager and was succeeded by Ay, who probably married Tutankhamun’s widow to make his claim to the throne. When Ay died a few years later, Tutankhamun’s former General Horemheb became ruler, and a new period of positive rule began. He set about securing internal stability and re-establishing the prestige that the country had before the reign of Akhenaten. When Horemheb died without an heir, he named his General Paramessu as his successor. Paramessu took the throne name Ramesses, and is considered the founder of the Nineteenth Dynasty. Ramesses I only reigned for a couple of years and was succeeded by his son Seti I. Seti I carried on the work of Horemheb in restoring power, control, and respect to Egypt. He also was responsible for creating the best known part of the temple complex at Abydos, his own mortuary temple.
Arguably, Ancient Egypt’s power as a nation-state peaked during the reign of Ramesses II (”the Great”) of the nineteenth dynasty. He reigned for 67 years from the age of 18. He carried on his immediate predecessor’s work and created many more splendid temples, such as that of Abu Simbel on the Nubian border. He sought to recover territories in the Levant that had been held by eighteenth dynasty Egypt. His campaigns of reconquest culminated in the Battle of Kadesh, where he led Egyptian armies against those of the Hittite king Muwatalli II, but was caught in history’s first recorded military ambush. Ramesses II was famed for the huge number of children he sired by his numerous wives and concubines. The tomb he built for his sons, many of whom he outlived, in the Valley of the Kings has proven to be the largest funerary complex in Egypt. His immediate successors continued the military campaigns, although an increasingly troubled court complicated matters. Ramesses II was succeeded by his son, Merneptah, and then by Merenptah’s son, Seti II. Seti II’s throne seems to have been disputed by his half-brother, Amenmesse, who temporarily may have ruled from Thebes. The power of dynasty slowly receded and failed, leading to the reign of the last “great” pharaoh from the New Kingdom, Ramesses III, the son of Setnakhte who reigned three decades after the time of Ramesses II. In Year 8 of his reign, the Sea Peoples, invaded Egypt by land and sea. Ramesses III defeated them in two great land and sea battles. He claimed that he incorporated them as subject peoples and settled them in Southern Canaan, although there is evidence that they forced their way into Canaan. Their presence in Canaan may have contributed to the formation of new states in this region, such as Philistia, after the collapse of the Egyptian Empire. He was also compelled to fight invading Libyan tribesmen in two major campaigns in Egypt’s Western Delta in his Year 6 and Year 11 respectively.
The heavy cost of these battles slowly exhausted Egypt’s treasury and contributed to the gradual decline of the Egyptian empire in Asia. The severity of these difficulties is stressed by the fact that the first known labor strike in recorded history occurred during Year 29 of Ramesses III’s reign, when the food rations for the Egypt’s favoured and elite royal tomb-builders and artisans in the village of Deir el Medina could not be provisioned.
Following Ramesses III’s death there was endless bickering among his heirs. Three of his sons would go on to assume power as Ramesses IV, Ramesses VI, and Ramesses VIII respectively. However, at this time Egypt also was increasingly beset by a series of droughts, below-normal flooding levels of the Nile, famine, civil unrest, and official corruption. The power of the last pharaoh of this dynasty, Ramesses XI, grew so weak that in the south the High Priests of Amun at Thebes became the effective defacto rulers of Upper Egypt, while Smendes controlled Lower Egypt even before Ramesses XI’s death, this was a period of turmoil known as Whm Mswt. Smendes eventually would found the twenty-first dynasty at Tanis.
Third Intermediate Period
After the death of Ramesses XI, his successor Smendes ruled from the city of Tanis in the north, while the High Priests of Amun at Thebes had effective rule of the south of the country, whilst still nominally recognizing Smendes as king. In fact, this division was less significant than it seems, since both priests and pharaohs came from the same family. Piankh, assumed control of Upper Egypt, ruling from Thebes, with the northern limit of his control ending at Al-Hibah. They were replaced without any apparent struggle by the Libyan kings of the twenty-second dynasty. Shoshenq I, the first king of the new dynasty, briefly re-unified the country, putting control of the Amun clergy under that of his own son. The scant and patchy nature of the written records from this period suggests that it was an unsettled time, leading eventually to a separate group of pharaohs who established their control over Upper Egypt (comprising the twenty-third dynasty) which ran concurrently with the latter part of the twenty-second dynasty. Under king Piye, the Nubian founder of twenty-fifth dynasty, the Nubians pushed north in an effort to crush his Libyan opponents ruling in the Delta. He managed to attain power as far as Memphis. His opponent Tefnakhte ultimately submitted to him, but he was allowed to remain in power in Lower Egypt and founded the short-lived twenty-fourth dynasty at Sais. Piye was succeeded first by his brother, Shabaka, and then by his two sons Shebitku and Taharqa. The international prestige of Egypt declined considerably by this time. The country’s international allies had fallen under the Assyrian sphere of influence and, from about 700 BC the question became when, not if, there would be war between the two states. Taharqa’s reign and that of his successor, Tanutamun, were filled with constant conflict with the Assyrians against whom there were numerous victories. Ultimately Thebes was occupied and Memphis sacked.
From 664 BC Egypt was ruled by client kings established by the Assyrians, establishing the Twenty-Sixth Dynasty. Psamtik I was the first to be recognized as the king of the whole of Egypt, and he brought increased stability to the country during a 54-year reign from the new capital of Sais. Four successive Saite kings continued guiding Egypt successfully and peacefully from 610-526 BC. By the end of this period a new power was growing in the Near East: Persia. The pharaoh Psamtik III had to face the might of Persia at Pelusium; he was defeated and briefly escaped to Memphis, but ultimately was captured and then executed at Susa, capital of the Persian king Cambyses, who assumed the formal title of Pharaoh, starting a period of Persion domination. Memphis and the Delta region became the target of many attacks from the Assyrians, until Psammetichus I managed to reunite Middle and Lower Egypt under his rule forming the Twenty-sixth dynasty. The last pharaoh of the Twenty-Sixth dynasty, Psammetichus III, was defeated by Cambyses II of Persia in the battle of Pelusium in the eastern Nile delta in 525 BC, Egypt was then joined with Cyprus and Phoenicia in the sixth satrapy of the Achaemenid Empire. Thus began the first period of Persian rule over Egypt (also known as the Twenty-Seventh dynasty of Egypt), which ended around 402 BC. The Thirtieth Dynasty was established in 380 BC and lasted until 343 BC. This was the last native house to rule Egypt. The brief restoration of Persian rule is sometimes known as the Thirty-First Dynasty, which lasted for a brief period (343–332 BC). In 332 BC Mazaces handed over the country to Alexander the Great without a fight. The Achaemenid empire had ended, and for a while Egypt was a satrapy in Alexander’s empire. Later the Ptolemies and then the Romans successively ruled the Nile valley.
In 332 BC Alexander III of Macedon conquered Egypt with little resistance from the Persians. He was welcomed by the Egyptians as a deliverer. He visited Memphis, and went on pilgrimage to the oracle of Amun at the Oasis of Siwa. The oracle declared him to be the son of Amun. He conciliated the Egyptians by the respect which he showed for their religion, but he appointed Greeks to virtually all the senior posts in the country, and founded a new Greek city, Alexandria, to be the new capital. The wealth of Egypt could now be harnessed for Alexander’s conquest of the rest of the Persian Empire. Early in 331 BC he was ready to depart, and led his forces away to Phoenicia. He left Cleomenes as the ruling nomarch to control Egypt in his absence. Alexander never returned to Egypt. Following Alexander’s death in Babylon in 323 BC, a succession crisis erupted among his generals. Initially, Perdiccas ruled the empire as regent for Alexander’s half-brother Arrhidaeus, who became Philip III of Macedon, and then as regent for both Philip III and Alexander’s infant son Alexander IV of Macedon, who had not been born at the time of his father’s death. Perdiccas appointed Ptolemy, one of Alexander’s closest companions, to be satrap of Egypt. Ptolemy ruled Egypt from 323 BC, nominally in the name of the joint kings Philip III and Alexander IV. However, as Alexander the Great’s empire disintegrated, Ptolemy soon established himself as ruler in his own right. Ptolemy successfully defended Egypt against an invasion by Perdiccas in 321 BC, and consolidated his position in Egypt and the surrounding areas during the Wars of the Diadochi (322 BC-301 BC). In 305 BC, Ptolemy took the title of King. As Ptolemy I Soter (”Saviour”), he founded the Ptolemaic dynasty that was to rule Egypt for nearly 300 years. The later Ptolemies took on Egyptian traditions by marrying their siblings, had themselves portrayed on public monuments in Egyptian style and dress, and participated in Egyptian religious life. Hellenistic culture thrived in Egypt well after the Muslim conquest. The Ptolemies had to fight native rebellions and were involved in foreign and civil wars that led to the decline of the kingdom and its annexation by Rome.
After the defeat of Marc Antony and Ptolemaic Queen Cleopatra VII in the Battle of Actium in 30 BC by Octavian (the future Emperor Augustus), Egypt became a province of the Roman Empire, encompassing most of modern-day Egypt except for the Sinai Peninsula, bordered by the provinces of Cyrenaica to the west and Arabia, Egypt would come to serve as a major producer of grain for the empire. The reign of Constantine also saw the founding of Constantinople as a new capital for the Roman Empire, and in the course of the fourth century the Empire was divided in two, with Egypt finding itself in the Eastern Empire with its capital at Constantinople. This meant that within a few years Latin, never well established in Egypt, disappeared, and Greek reasserted itself as the language of government. During the fifth and sixth centuries the Eastern Roman Empire gradually became the Byzantine Empire, a Christian, Greek-speaking state that had little in common with the old empire of Rome, which disappeared in the face of the barbarian invasions in the fifth century. Another consequence of the triumph of Christianity was the final oppression and demise of the pagan culture: with the disappearance of the Egyptian priests and priestesses who officiated at the temples, no-one could read the hieroglyphics of Pharaonic Egypt, and its temples were converted to churches or abandoned to the desert. The Eastern Empire became increasingly “oriental” in style as its links with the old Græco-Roman world faded. The Greek system of local government by citizens had now entirely disappeared. Offices, with new Byzantine names, were almost hereditary in the wealthy land-owning families. Alexandria, the second city of the empire, continued to be a centre of religious controversy and violence. Cyril, the patriarch of Alexandria, convinced the city’s governor to expel the Jews from the city in 415 with the aid of the mob, in response to the Jews’ nighttime massacre of many Christians. The murder of the philosopher Hypatia marked the final end of classical Hellenic culture in Egypt. Another schism in the Church produced a prolonged civil war and alienated Egypt from the Empire.
Egypt had been occupied just a decade before the conquest by the Persian Empire under Khosrau II (616 to 629 AD). An army of 4,000 Arabs led by Amr Ibn Al-Aas was sent by the Caliph Umar, successor to Muhammad, to spread Islamic rule to the west. These Arabs crossed into Egypt from Palestine in December 639, and advanced rapidly into the Nile Delta. The Imperial garrisons retreated into the walled towns, where they successfully held out for a year or more (although the Arabs were victorious at the Battle of Heliopolis in July 640. But the Arabs sent for reinforcements, In April 641 they captured Alexandria. The Thebaid seems to have surrendered with scarcely any opposition. Most of the Egyptian Christians welcomed their new rulers: the accession of a new regime meant for them the end of the persecutions by the Byzantine state church. The Byzantines assembled a fleet with the aim of recapturing Egypt, and won back Alexandria in 645, but the Muslims retook the city in 646, completing the conquest
Government and economy
Due to the high volume of information on Ancient Egypt, Rulers have been separately categorized.
Administration and taxation
For administrative purposes, ancient Egypt was divided into districts, referred to by Egyptologists by the Greek term, nomes; they were called sepat in ancient Egyptian. The division into nomes can be traced back to the Predynastic Period (before 3100 BC), when the nomes originally existed as autonomous city-states. The nomes remained in place for more than three millennia, with the area of the individual nomes and their order of numbering remaining remarkably stable. Under the system that prevailed for most of pharaonic Egypt’s history, the country was divided into forty-two nomes: twenty comprising Lower Egypt, whilst Upper Egypt was divided into twenty-two. Each nome was governed by a nomarch (Greek for “ruler of the nome”,) a provincial governor who held regional authority. The position of the nomarch was at times hereditary, at times appointed by the pharaoh.
The ancient Egyptian government imposed a number of different taxes upon its people. As there was no known form of currency until the latter half of the first millennium BC, taxes were paid for “in kind” (with produce or work). The vizier (ancient Egyptian: tjaty) controlled the taxation system through the departments of state. The departments had to report daily on the amount of stock available and how much was expected in the future. Taxes were paid for depending on a person’s craft or duty. Landowners paid their taxes in grain and other produce grown on their property. Artisans paid their taxes with goods they produced. Hunters and fishermen paid their taxes with produce from the river, marshes, and desert. One person from every household was required to pay a corvée or labor tax by doing public work for a few weeks every year, such as digging canals, mining, or serving in the temples. However, the rich could hire poorer people to fulfill their labor taxes. Legal system The head of the legal system in ancient Egypt was officially the pharaoh, who was responsible for proclaiming laws, delivering justice, and maintaining law and order, a concept the ancient Egyptians referred to as Ma’at. Though no legal codes from ancient Egypt have survived, the many court documents which have survived show that Egyptian law was based on a common sense view of right and wrong that emphasized reaching agreements and resolution of conflict rather than strict adherence to a complicated set of statues. The ancient Egyptians viewed men and women, and people from all social classes except slaves, as essentially equal under the law, and even the lowliest peasant was entitled to petition the vizier and his court for redress. Both men and women had the right to own and sell property, make contracts, marry and divorce, receive inheritance, and pursue legal disputes in court. Married couples could own property jointly and protect themselves from divorce by agreeing to marriage contracts, which stipulated the financial obligations of the husband to his wife and children should the marriage end. Local councils of elders, known as Kenbet by the New Kingdom, were responsible for making rulings in court cases involing small claims and minor disputes, though the kenbet’s ability to enforce its rulings was limited. Local Kenbets deferred serious or complicated cases involving murder, major land transactions, and tomb robbery to the Great Kenbet, over which the vizier or pharaoh presided. Plaintiffs and defendants were expected to represent themselves in legal matters, and were required to swear an oath to an Egyptian deity that they had told the truth. In cases of tomb robbery or assassination plots, the state took on both the role of prosecutor and judge, and could torture the accused with beatings to obtain a confession and the names of any co-conspirators. Whether the charges were trivial or serious, court scribes documented the complaint, testimony, and verdict of the case for future reference. Punishment for minor crimes involved either imposition of fines, beatings, facial mutilation, or exile, depending on the severity of the offense. Serious crimes such as murder and tomb robbery were punished by death, which could be carried out by decapitation, drowning, or by impaling the criminal on a stake. Punishment could also be extended to the criminal’s family. From at least the New Kingdom, some legal cases, disputes, and even military or agricultural decisions were resolved by consultation with a divine oracle. The oracle, usually a statue in the image of the deity, could be asked a yes or no question to which the oracle could respond by a movement through the hidden actions of a priest.
Egypt has a favorable combination of geographical features which contributed to the success of the ancient Egyptian culture, the most important of which was the rich fertile soil provided by annual inundations of the Nile river. This resulted in the ability of the ancient Egyptians to grow an abundance of food, which freed up the population to devote more time and resources for cultural, technological, and artistic pursuits. Land management was crucial in ancient Egypt, because taxes were assessed based on the amount of land a person owned. Farming in Egypt was dependent upon the cycle of the Nile River. The Egyptians distinguished between three seasons in their written records, which they called Akhet (flooding), Peret (planting), and Shemu (harvesting). The flooding season lasted from June to September, after which a layer of mineral-rich silt was deposited on the banks, being perfect for growing crops. The growing season occurred between October and February, after the flood waters had receded. Farmers plowed and planted seeds in the fields, which were irrigated with dikes and canals. Egypt receives little rainfall, so farmers relied on the Nile to water their crops. The harvesting season followed in March, April, and May. Farmers would harvest the crops by cutting them down with sickles. The crops would then be threshed by beating them with a flail, in order to separate the straw from the grain. Then the crops would be winnowed to remove the chaff. The grain was then ground on a stone to make flour, brewed to make beer, or stored for later use. The ancient Egyptians cultivated wheat, emmer, barley, and several other cereal grains, which they used to make their two main food staples, bread and beer. Flax plants were grown, uprooted before they started flowering, and the fibres of their stems extracted. These fibres were split along their length, spun into thread which was used to weave sheets of linen to make into clothing. Papyrus growing on the banks of the Nile River was used to make paper. Vegetables and fruits were grown in garden plots close to their habitations on higher ground and had to be watered by hand.
Egypt is a land rich in building and decorative stone, copper and lead ores, gold, and semiprecious stones, which the ancient Egyptians used to build monuments, sculpt statues, make tools, and fashion jewelry. They left no stone unturned in their search for gold, as no deposits of gold have since been found in Egypt that they overlooked. Embalmers used salts from the Wadi Natrun for mummification, which also provided the gypsum needed to make plaster. The ore bearing rock formations in Egypt are found in distant, inhospitable Wadis in the eastern desert and the Sinai and required large state controlled expeditions to obtain the gold, copper ores, and decorative stones found there. The Wadi Hammamat was a notable source of granite, greywacke, and gold. Whenever possible, prisoners and slaves were forced into mining service, but Egyptian peasants might also be conscripted for this unpleasant labor. Flint was the first mineral collected and used to make tools, and flint handaxes are the earliest evidence of habitation in the Nile vally. Nodules of the material were carefully flaked to make blades and arrowheads of moderate hardness and durability even after copper was adopted for this purpose. The Egyptians worked deposits of the lead ore galena at Gebel Rosas to make net sinkers, plumb bobs, and small figurines. Copper was the most important metal for toolmaking in ancient Egypt, and was smelted in furnaces from malachite ore mined in the Sinai. Workers collected gold by washing the nuggets out of sediments in alluvial deposits, or by the more labor intensive process of grinding and washing gold-bearing quartzite. Iron deposits found in upper Egypt were utilized in the Late Period. High quality building stones are abundant in Egypt; the ancient Egyptians quarried limestone all along the Nile vally, granite from Aswan, and basalt and sandstone from the wadis of the eastern desert. Deposits of decorative stones such as porphyry, greywacke, alabaster, and carnelian dot the eastern desert and were collected even before the First Dynasty. In the Ptolemaic and Roman Periods, miners worked deposits of emeralds in Wadi Sikait and amethyst in Wadi el-Hudi.
The ancient Egyptians engaged in trade with their foreign neighbors to obtain rare, exotic goods not found in Egypt. In the predynastic, they established trade with Nubia to obtain gold and incense. They also established trade with Palestine, as evidenced by Palestinian type oil jugs found in burials of the First Dynasty pharaohs. By the Second Dynasty the ancient Egyptians had established trade with Byblos, a critical source of quality timber not found in Egypt. In the Fifth Dynasty, trade was established with the Land of Punt, which provided gold, aromatic resins, ebony, ivory, and wild animals such as monkeys and baboons. Egypt relied on trade with Anatolia for supplies of tin, a component of bronze which was not mined by the ancient Egyptians, and supplementary supplies of copper. The ancient Egyptians prized the blue stone lapis lazuli, which had to be imported from far-away Afghanistan. Egypt’s Mediterranean trade partners also included ancient Greece and Crete, which provided, among other goods, supplies of olive oil. Hatshepsut is known to have imported live trees for transplantation into her gardens. In exchange for its luxury imports and raw materials, Egypt mainly exported gold and papyrus, in addition to some finished goods including glass objects. The first glass beads are thought to have been manufactured in Egypt.
The ancient Egyptian military was responsible for maintaining Egypt’s domination in the ancient near-east. The military protected mining expeditions to the Sinai in the Old Kingdom and fought civil wars during the First and Second Intermediate Periods. The military was responsible for maintaining forts along important trade routes, for example at the city of Buhen on the way to Nubia. Forts also were constructed to serve as military bases, such as the fortress at Sile, which was a base of operations for expeditions to the Levant. In the New Kingdom, a series of pharaohs used the standing Egyptian army to attack and conquer Kush and territory in the levant. Typical military equipment included round-topped shields made of animal skin stretched over a wooden frame, bows and arrows, and spears. In the New Kingdom, the military began using chariots which were introduced by Hyksos invaders in the Second Intermediate Period. Weapons and armor continued to improve after the adoption of bronze. Shields were now made from solid wood with a bronze buckle, spears were tipped with a bronze point, and a type of scimitar made of bronze, the Khopesh, was adopted from Asian soldiers. The Egyptian pharaoh usually is depicted in art and literature leading at the head of the Army, and there is certain evidence that at least a few pharaohs are known to have, such as Seqenenre Tao II and his sons. Soldiers were recruited from the general population, but during and especially after the New Kingdom, mercenaries from Nubia, Kush, and Libya were hired to fight for Egypt under the command of their own officers.
Achievements and unsolved problems
The achievements of ancient Egypt are well known, and the civilization achieved a very high standard of productivity and sophistication. Hydraulic cement was first invented by the Egyptians. The earliest evidence (circa 1600 BC) of traditional empiricism is credited to Egypt, as evidenced by the Edwin Smith and Ebers papyri. The roots of the scientific method may be traced back to the ancient Egyptians. The Egyptians created their own alphabet (however, it is debated as to whether they were the first to do this because of the margin of error on carbon dated tests), the decimal system. Glass making was highly developed in ancient Egypt, as is evident from the glass beads, jars, figures, and ornaments discovered in the tombs. Recent archeology has uncovered the remains of an ancient Egyptian glass factory.
Ancient Egyptian physicians were well renowned in the ancient near-East for their healing skills, and medical papyri show that they relied on thorough patient examinations and treatments based on a combination of natural product derived remedies, prayers, and protective amulets. Wounds were treated by bandaging with raw meat, honey was used to prevent infection, and opium was used to relieve pain. Garlic and onions were used regularly to promote good health and were thought to relieve asthma symptoms. Ancient Egyptian surgeons stitched wounds, set broken bones, and amputated diseased limbs, but recognized that some injuries were so serious that the only advice they could offer was to “Moor [the patient] at his mooring stakes, until the period of his injury passes by…” in other words, until the patient died.
Texts such as the Rhind Mathematical Papyrus show that the ancient Egyptians could perform addition, subtraction, multiplication, division, and calculation of the surface areas of rectangles, triangles, circles and even spheres. Although the ancient Egyptians were not familiar with the concept of pi, they were able to approximate the areas of circles by subtracting 1/9th of the circle’s diameter and squaring the remainder. They could also calculate the volumes of boxes and pyramids, and were comfortable using fractions. The golden ratio seems to be reflected in many constructions, such as the Egyptian pyramids, however, some scholars assert that this may be the consequence of combining the use of knotted ropes with an intuitive sense of proportion and harmony.
Open problems and scientific inquiry
Ancient Egypt is a fertile field for scientific inquiry, scholarly study, religious inspiration, and open speculation. Speculation and inquiry include the degree of sophistication of ancient Egyptian technology, and several open problems exist concerning real and alleged ancient Egyptian achievements. Certain artifacts and records do not correspond with conventional technological development systems. It is not known why there seems to be no neat progression to an Egyptian Iron Age as in other developing cultures nor why the historical record shows the Egyptians possibly taking a long time to begin using iron. A study of the rest of Africa could point to the reasons: Sub-Saharan Africa confined their use of the metal to agricultural purposes for many centuries. The ancient Egyptians had a much easier form of agriculture with the annual Nile floods and fertile sediment delivery and strong metal tools to till soil were unnecessary. It should be stressed that while steel is derived from iron, it is by no means an intuitive leap. Small percentages of impurities can ruin a batch of molten iron, preventing it from becoming steel. Copper alloys are much more robust metallurgically and naturally plentiful in their environment. Several naturally occurring proportions of zinc, arsenic, tin, phosphorus will combine with copper and improve the properties of bronze. Bronze is stronger than iron, and does not rust, so to prefer bronze in this context is entirely rational. Given iron’s greater abundance, it is likely that the Iron Age began when demand for ‘any metal’ outstripped supply of the ‘quality metal’ - bronze. The exact date the Egyptians started producing glass is debated. There is some question whether the Egyptians were capable of long distance navigation in their boats and when they became knowledgeable sailors. Beekeeping is known to have been particularly well developed in Egypt, as accounts are given by several Roman writers — Virgil, Gaius Julius Hyginus, Varro, and Columella. It is unknown whether Egyptian beekeeping developed independently or as an import from Southern Asia. The Dromedary, domesticated first in Arabia, was introduced into Egypt during the 500s B.C., shortly before the Classical period of Greece began and although often thought as associated with Egypt by modern readers, camels evolved in the Western Hemisphere.
Ancient Egyptian constitutes an independent part of the Afro-Asiatic language phylum. Its closest relatives are the Berber, Semitic, and Beja groups of languages. Written records of the Egyptian language have been dated from about 3200 BC, making it one of the oldest, and longest documented languages. Scholars group the Egyptian language into six major chronological divisions:
Archaic Egyptian (before 3000 BC)
Consists of inscriptions from the late Predynastic and Early Dynastic periods. The earliest known evidence of Egyptian hieroglyphic writing appears on Naqada II pottery vessels.
Old Egyptian (3000–2000 BC)
The language of the Old Kingdom and First Intermediate Period. The Pyramid Texts are the largest body of literature written in this phase of the language. Tomb walls of elite Egyptians from this period also bear autobiographical writings representing Old Egyptian. One of its distinguishing characteristics is the tripling of ideograms, phonograms, and determinatives to indicate the plural. Overall, it does not differ significantly from the next stage.
Middle Egyptian (2000–1300 BC)
Often dubbed Classical Egyptian, this stage is known from a variety of textual evidence in hieroglyphic and hieratic scripts dated from about the Middle Kingdom. It includes funerary texts inscribed on sarcophagi such as the Coffin Texts; wisdom texts instructing people on how to lead a life that exemplified the ancient Egyptian philosophical worldview (see the Ipuwer papyrus); tales detailing the adventures of a certain individual, for example the Story of Sinuhe; medical and scientific texts such as the Edwin Smith Papyrus and the Ebers papyrus; and poetic texts praising a deity or a pharaoh, such as the Hymn to the Nile. The Egyptian vernacular had already begun to change from the written language as evidenced by some Middle Kingdom hieratic texts, but classical Middle Egyptian continued to be written in formal contexts well into the Late Dynastic period (sometimes referred to as Late Middle Egyptian).
Late Egyptian (1300–700 BC)
Records of this stage appear in the second part of the New Kingdom. It contains a rich body of religious and secular literature, comprising such famous examples as the Story of Wenamun and the Instructions of Ani. It was also the language of Ramesside administration. Late Egyptian is not totally distinct from Middle Egyptian, as many “classicisms” appear in historical and literary documents of this phase. However, the difference between Middle and Late Egyptian is greater than that between Middle and Old Egyptian. It is also a better representative than Middle Egyptian of the spoken language in the New Kingdom and beyond. Hieroglyphic orthography saw an enormous expansion of its graphemic inventory between the Late Dynastic and Ptolemaic periods.
Demotic Egyptian (700 BC–300 AD)
Coptic (300–1700 AD)
For many years, the earliest known hieroglyphic inscription was the Narmer Palette, found during excavations at Hierakonpolis (modern Kawm al-Ahmar) in the 1890s, which has been dated to c.3150 BC. However, recent archaeological findings reveal that symbols on Gerzean pottery, c. 3250 BC, resemble the traditional hieroglyph forms. Also in 1998 a German archaeological team under Günter Dreyer excavating at Abydos (modern Umm el-Qa’ab) uncovered tomb U-j, which belonged to a Predynastic ruler, and they recovered three hundred clay labels inscribed with proto-hieroglyphs dating to the Naqada IIIA period, circa 3300 BC. Egyptologists refer to Egyptian writing as hieroglyphs, today standing as the world’s earliest known writing system, with the mesopotamian cuneiform as a close second. The hieroglyphic script was partly syllabic, partly ideographic. Hieratic is a cursive form of Egyptian hieroglyphs and was first used during the First Dynasty (c. 2925 BC – c. 2775 BC). The term Demotic, in the context of Egypt, came to refer to both the script and the language that followed the Late Ancient Egyptian stage, i.e. from the Twenty-fifth dynasty of Egypt until its marginalization by Greek Koine in the early centuries AD. After the conquest of Amr ibn al-A’as in the 700s AD, the Coptic language survived as a spoken language into the Middle Ages. Today, it continues to be the liturgical language of a Christian minority. Beginning from around 2700 BC, Egyptians used pictograms to represent vocal sounds — ignoring vowels and representing only consonant vocalizations (see Hieroglyph: Script). By 2000 BC, 26 pictograms were being used mainly to represent twenty-four (known) vocal sounds, but hundreds of other signs also were being employed. The world’s oldest known alphabet (c. 1800 BC) is only an abjad system and was derived from these uniliteral signs as well as other Egyptian hieroglyphs. The hieroglyphic script finally fell out of use around the 300 AD. Attempts to decipher it in the West began after the fifteenth century, though earlier attempts by Muslim scholars are attested (see Hieroglyphica).
Writing first appears associated with kingship, labels and tags for items found in royal tombs. This developed by the Old Kingdom into the tomb autobiography, such as those of Harkhuf and Weni. The genre known as Instructions evolved to provide teachings and guidance from famous nobles, the Ipuwer papyrus, a poem of lamentations describing natural disasters and social upheaval, is an extreme example of an instruction, although from an uncertain date. During the First Intermediate Period and the Middle Kingdom, the prose style of literature evolved, with the Story of Sinuhe perhaps being the classic of Egyptian Literature. Also written at this time (although the surviving copies date from the end of the Second Intermediate Period), the Westcar Papyrus is a set of stories told to Khufu by his sons relating the marvels performed by priests. Towards the end of the New Kingdom, the Story of Wenamun tells the story of a noble who is robbed on his way to buy cedar from Lebanon, and his struggle to return to Egypt, and shows the end of the united Egypt, and the start of the Third Intermediate Period, a period of turmoil known as wehem mesut.
The Royal Library of Alexandria
The Royal Library of Alexandria in Alexandria, Egypt, was once the largest library in the world. And is generally regarded as the greatest loss to the world, in terms of knowledge, and insight in to the Ancient world.
It is generally thought to have been founded at the beginning of the 3rd century BC, during the reign of Ptolemy II of Egypt. The Library was likely created after his father had built what would become the first part of the Library complex, the temple of the Muses — the Museion. The Greek (unpronouncable) was the home of music or poetry, a philosophical school and library such as Plato’s school of philosophy, also a gallery of sacred texts. The modern English word museum is derived from this. It has been reasonably established that the Library, or parts of the collection, were destroyed by fire on a number of occasions (library fires were common and replacement of handwritten manuscripts was extremely difficult, expensive and time-consuming). To this day the details of the destruction (or destructions) remain a lively source of controversy. According to the earliest source of information, the pseudepigraphic Letter of Aristeas, the Library was initially organized by Demetrius of Phaleron. Demetrius was a student of Aristotle. Initially the Library was closely linked to a “museum,” or research center, that seems to have focused primarily on editing texts. Libraries were important for textual research in the ancient world, since the same text often existed in several different versions of varying quality and veracity. The editors at the Library of Alexandria are especially well known for their work on Homeric texts. The more famous editors generally also held the title of head librarian, and included, among others; Zenodotus of Ephesus (late 3rd Century BC) Aristophanes of Byzantium (early 2nd Century BC) Aristarchus of Samothrace (early-mid 2nd Century BC), often considered the most prominent Homeric scholar of antiquity. Didymus Chalcenterus (first century BC), Grammarian. The geographical diversity of the scholars suggests that the Library was in fact a major center for research and learning. In 2004, a Polish-Egyptian team found what they believe to be a part of the Library while excavating in the Bruchion region. The archaeologists unearthed thirteen “lecture halls”, each with a central podium. Zahi Hawass, the president of Egypt’s Supreme Council of Antiquities, said that all together, the rooms uncovered so far could have seated 5000 students; the picture thus presented is most certainly of a fairly massive research institution, especially for that time. The Library likely encompassed several buildings, with the main book depositories either directly attached to or located close to the oldest building, the Museum, and a daughter library in the younger Serapeum, which was also a temple dedicated to the god Serapis. It is not always clear in the sources whether a phrase refers to a particular building, or to the institution as a whole. This has served to add to the confusion about when and by whom the Library was “destroyed.” By the early 2nd century BC, Eumenes II of Mysia had founded a competing library and research center in Pergamum.
A story concerns how its collection grew so large: by decree of Ptolemy III of Egypt, all visitors to the city were required to surrender all books, scrolls as well as any form of written media in any language in their possession which, according to Galen, were listed under the heading “books of the ships”; these writings were then swiftly copied by official scribes. Sometimes the copies were so precise that the originals were put into the Library, and the copies were delivered to the unsuspecting previous owners. This process also helped to create a reservoir of books in the relatively new city. The Ptolemies also purchased additional materials from throughout the Mediterranean area, including from Rhodes and Athens. According to Galen Ptolemy III requested from the Athenians to borrow the original scripts of Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides; the Athenians demanded the enormous amount of 15 talents as guarantee; the Athenians were happy to receive the fee and Ptolemy was happy to pay, but keep the original scripts for the library. The Library’s collection was already famous in the ancient world, and became even more storied in later years. It is impossible, however, to determine how large the collection was in any era. The collection was made of papyrus scrolls. Later, parchment codices (predominant as a writing material after 300) may have been substituted for papyrus. A single piece of writing might occupy several scrolls, and this division into self-contained “books” was a major aspect of editorial work. King Ptolemy II Philadelphus (309–246 BC) is said to have set 500,000 scrolls as an objective. Mark Antony was supposed to have given Cleopatra over 200,000 scrolls for the Library as a wedding gift. These scrolls were taken from the great Library of Pergamum, impoverishing its collection. Carl Sagan, in his series Cosmos, states that the Library contained nearly one million scrolls, though other experts have estimated a smaller number. No index of the Library survives, and it is not possible to know with certainty how large and how diverse the collection was. It is likely, for example, that even if the Library had hundreds of thousands of scrolls (and thus, perhaps, tens of thousands of individual works), many of these were duplicate copies or alternate versions of the same texts.
Destruction of the Library
Ancient and modern sources identify four possible occasions for the destruction of the Library:
Caesar’s conquest 48 BC The attack of Aurelian in the 3rd century; The decree of Theophilus in 391; The Muslim conquest in 642 or thereafter. Each of these has been viewed with suspicion by scholars as an effort to place the blame on particular actors. Moreover, each of these events is historically problematic. In the first case, there is clear evidence that the Library was not in fact destroyed at that time. The third episode is attested by no ancient authors, and was more or less “deduced” by Edward Gibbon from a single vague sentence written by Paul Orosius that did not refer to the Serapeum at all. The fourth episode was not documented by any contemporary source, although some maintain that the final destruction of the Library took place at this time.
Caesar’s conquest 48 BC Plutarch’s Lives, written at the end of the first or beginning of the second century, describes a battle in which Caesar was forced to burn his own ships, which in turn set fire to the docks and then the Library, destroying it. This would have occurred in 48 BC, during the fighting between Caesar and Ptolemy XIII; Ammianus Marcellinus may be an independent witness to this fact (see below). But 25 years later, Strabo saw the Library and worked in it; however, Plutarch also explains this. During Marcus Antonius’ rule of the eastern part of the Empire (40-30 BC), he plundered the second largest library in the world (that at Pergamon) and presented the collection as a gift to Cleopatra as a replacement for the loss of the original Museum library.
Attack of Aurelian, 3rd century The Library seems to have been maintained and continued in existence until its contents were largely lost during the taking of the city by the Emperor Aurelian (270–275), who was suppressing a revolt by Queen Zenobia of Palmyra. The smaller library located at the Serapeum survived, but part of its contents may have been taken to Constantinople to adorn the new capital in the course of the 4th century. However, Ammianus Marcellinus, writing around 378 AD seems to speak of the library in the Serapeum temple as a thing of the past, and he states that many of the Serapeum library’s volumes were burnt when Caesar sacked Alexandria. As he says in Book 22.16.12-13: “Besides this there are many lofty temples, and especially one to Serapis, which, although no words can adequately describe it, we may yet say, from its splendid halls supported by pillars, and its beautiful statues and other embellishments, is so superbly decorated, that next to the Capitol, of which the ever-venerable Rome boasts, the whole world has nothing worthier of admiration. In it were libraries of inestimable value; and the concurrent testimony of ancient records affirm that 70,000 volumes, which had been collected by the anxious care of the Ptolemies, were burnt in the Alexandrian war when the city was sacked in the time of Caesar the Dictator.”
Decree of Theophilus in 391 In 391, Emperor Theodosius I ordered the destruction of all pagan temples, and Patriarch Theophilus of Alexandria complied with this request. Socrates Scholasticus provides the following account of the destruction of the temples in Alexandria in the fifth book of his Historia Ecclesiastica, written around 440: “At the solicitation of Theophilus, Bishop of Alexandria, the Emperor issued an order at this time for the demolition of the heathen temples in that city; commanding also that it should be put in execution under the direction of Theophilus. Seizing this opportunity, Theophilus exerted himself to the utmost to expose the pagan mysteries to contempt. And to begin with, he caused the Mithreum to be cleaned out, and exhibited to public view the tokens of its bloody mysteries. Then he destroyed the Serapeum, and the bloody rites of the Mithreum he publicly caricatured; the Serapeum also he showed full of extravagant superstitions, and he had the phalli of Priapus carried through the midst of the forum. Thus this disturbance having been terminated, the governor of Alexandria, and the commander-in-chief of the troops in Egypt, assisted Theophilus in demolishing the heathen temples.” The Serapeum once housed part of the Library, but it is not known how many, if any, books were contained in it at the time of destruction. Notably, the passage by Socrates Scholasticus, unlike that of Ammianus Marcellinus, makes no clear reference to a library or library contents being destroyed, only to religious objects being destroyed. The pagan author Eunapius of Sardis witnessed the demolition, and though he detested Christians, and was a scholar, his account of the Serapeum’s destruction makes no mention of any library. In short, there is simply no evidence whatsoever to support the contention that Christians destroyed the Library. Paulus Orosius admitted in the sixth book of his History against the pagans: “Today there exist in temples book chests which we ourselves have seen, and, when these temples were plundered, these, we are told, were emptied by our own men in our time, which, indeed, is a true statement.” But Orosius is not here discussing the Serapeum, nor is it clear who “our own men” are (the phrase may mean no more than “men of our time,” since we know from contemporary sources that pagans also occasionally plundered temples). As for the Museum, Mostafa El-Abbadi writes in Life and Fate of the ancient Library of Alexandria (Paris 1992): “The Mouseion, being at the same time a ’shrine of the Muses’, enjoyed a degree of sanctity as long as other pagan temples remained unmolested. Synesius of Cyrene, who studied under Hypatia at the end of the fourth century, saw the Mouseion and described the images of the philosophers in it. We have no later reference to its existence in the fifth century. As Theon, the distinguished mathematician and father of Hypatia, herself a renowned scholar, was the last recorded scholar-member (c. 380), it is likely that the Mouseion did not long survive the promulgation of Theodosius’ decree in 391 to destroy all pagan temples in the City.” John Julius Norwich’s “Byzantium: The Early Centuries” places the destruction of the library’s collection during the anti-Arian riots in Alexandria that transpired after the imperial decree of 391 (p314).
Muslim conquest in 642 Several historians told varying accounts of a Muslim army led by Amr ibn al ‘Aas sacking the city in 645, and that the commander asked the caliph Umar what to do with the library, and received the response “…if what is written in them agrees with the Koran, they are not required; if it disagrees, they are not desired. Destroy them therefore.”, and thus burned the books to heat bathwater for the soldiers. However the legend has been dismissed by some as a later invention of Christian crusaders eager to justify the “barbarism” of Muslim armies. While the first Western account of the supposed event was in Edward Pococke’s 1663 century translation of History of the Dynasties, it was dismissed as a hoax or propaganda as early as 1713 by Fr. Eusèbe Renaudot, and other later scholars agreed, including Alfred J. Butler, Victor Chauvin, Paul Casanova and Eugenio Griffini. Recently, in 1990, Bernard Lewis argued that the original account is not true, but that it survived over time because it was a useful myth for the later Muslim leader, Saladin, who also found it necessary to destroy a library. Lewis proposes that the story of the caliph Umar’s support of a library’s destruction may have made Saladin’s actions seem more acceptable to his people.
Conclusion Although the actual circumstances and timing of the physical destruction of the Library remain uncertain, it is clear that by the 8th century, the Library was no longer a significant institution and had ceased to function in any important capacity. Alexandria was not a resource for the Islamic people. Moreover, if the collection had survived to the early 700s, it would very likely have been incorporated into the library of the Al-Azhar mosque (and later university) in Cairo. This collection has come down to the present intact, but does not include Alexandrine texts.
The architecture of ancient Egypt includes some of the most famous structures in the world, such as the Great Pyramids of Giza, Abu Simbel, and the temples at Thebes. All major building projects were organized and funded by the state, whose purpose was not only to provide functional religious, military, and funerary structures but to reinforce the power and reputation of the pharaoh and ensure his legacy for all time. The ancient Egyptians were skilled builders with expert knowledge of basic surveying and construction techniques. Using simple but effective measuring ropes, plum bobs, and sighting instruments, architects could build large stone structures with accuracy and precision. Most buildings in ancient Egypt, even the pharaoh’s palace, were constructed from perishable materials such as mud bricks and wood, and do not survive. Important structures such as temples and tombs were intended to last forever and were instead constructed of stone. The first large scale stone building in the world, the mortuary complex of Djoser, was built in the Third Dynasty as a stone imitation of the mud-brick and wooden structures used in daily life. The architectural elements used in Djoser’s mortuary complex, including post and lintel construction with huge stone roof blocks supported by external walls and closely spaced columns, would be copied many times in Egyptian history. Decorative styles introduced in the Old Kingdom, such as the lotus and papyrus motifs, are a recurring theme in ancient Egyptian architecture. The earliest tomb architecture in ancient Egypt was the mastaba, a flat-roofed rectangular structure of mudbrick or stone built over an underground burial chamber. The mastaba was the most popular tomb among the nobility in the Old Kingdom, and the first pyramid, the step pyramid of Djoser, is actually a series of stone mastabas stacked on top of each other. The step pyramid was itself the inspiration for the first true pyramids. Pharaohs built pyramids in the Old Kingdom and later in the Middle Kingdom, but later rulers abandoned them in favor of less conspicuous rock-cut tombs. New Kingdom pharaohs built their rock-cut tombs in the Valley of the Kings. By the Third Intermediate Period, the pharaohs had completely abandoned building grand tomb architecture. The earliest preserved ancient Egyptian temples, from the Old Kingdom, consist of single enclosed halls with columns supporting the roof slabs. The mortuary temples connected to the pyramids at Giza are examples of this early type. During the Fifth Dynasty, pharaohs developed the sun temple, the focus of which is a squat pyramid-shaped obelisk known as a ben-ben stone. The ben-ben stone and other temple structures are surrounded with an outer wall and connected to the Nile by a causeway terminating in a valley temple. In the New Kingdom, architects added the pylon, the open courtyard, and the enclosed hypostyle hall to the front of the temple’s sanctuary. Because the common people were not allowed past the entry pylon, the deity residing in the inner sanctuary was distanced from the outside world. This type of cult temple was the standard used until the Ptolemaic and Roman Periods.
The ancient Egyptians produced art that was made for functional purposes rather than as a form of pure creative expression. Artists adhered to artistic forms that were developed during the Old Kingdom for more than 3500 years, following a strict set of principles that resisted foreign influence and internal change. Their artistic canon, characterized by the flat projection of figures with no effort to indicate spatial depth, combined with simple lines, shapes, and flat areas of color, created a sense of order and balance within a composition. Because of the rigid rules that governed its highly stylized and symbolic appearance, ancient Egyptian art served its political and religious purposes with precision and clarity. Pharaohs used reliefs carved on stelae, temple walls, and obelisks to record victories in battle, royal decrees, and religious scenes. These art forms glorify the pharaoh, record that ruler’s version of historical events, and establish the relationship between the Egyptians and their deities. Common citizens had access to pieces of funerary art, such as shabti statues and books of the dead, which they believed would protect them in the afterlife. The ancient Egyptians made little distinction between images and text, which were intimately interwoven on tomb and temple walls, coffins, stelae, and even statues. This mentality is evident even in the earliest examples of Egyptian art, such as the Narmer Palette, where the characters themselves may be read as hieroglyphs.
The Egyptian religion, embodied in Egyptian mythology, is a succession of beliefs and a changing Egyptian pantheon reflecting the beliefs held by the people of Egypt, as early as predynastic times and all the way until the coming of Christianity and Islam in the Græco-Roman and Arab eras. These were conducted by Egyptian priestesses, priests, or magicians, but the use of magic and spells is questioned. The oldest oracle of record was in Egypt at Per-Wadjet, and has been suggested as having been the source of the oracular tradition that spread into other early religious traditions, such as Crete and Greece. Every animal portrayed and worshiped in ancient Egyptian art, writing, and religion is indigenous to Africa, all the way from the predynastic until the Graeco-Roman eras, over 3000 years. An ancient deity represented as a lioness is seated on a throne that is flanked by the two other oldest among the earliest triad of deities, the Egyptian cobra and the white vulture. These three animals were consistently represented as the protectors and the patrons of both Upper and Lower Egypt. The supplicant, Hariesis, represents Horus, the son of Hathor, the similarly ancient cow deity who is considered another aspect of their primal Earth mother as sun goddess. The inner reaches of the temples were sacred places where only priestesses and priests were allowed. On special occasions ordinary people were allowed into the temple courtyards. The religious nature of ancient Egyptian civilization influenced its contribution to the arts of the ancient world. Many of the great works of ancient Egypt depict deities and pharaohs, who were also considered divine after death. Ancient Egyptian art in general is characterized by the idea of order.
The concept of marriage in Egypt is not an easy topic. Certainly Egyptians seem to have taken mates in what most often appears to be lifelong monogamous relationships. After the Third Intermediate period we begin to find ancient "marriage contracts" that incorporate the phrase shep en shemet (price for "marrying" a woman) and mostly set out property rights without elaborating on the act of marriage itself. More abundant are divorce records that also deal mostly with property settlements.
When examining ancient reliefs and statues, it is easy to assume that the ancient Egyptians marriage was similar to today's institution, but beyond these visual clues, there is little in the way of documentation to substantiate this. Little written evidence of either true marriage ceremonies or marriages as a concept has been found. Usually there was a grand party associated with the joining of two people, but we believe it was simply a social affair and had no real religious or legal bearing.
The Wedded State was to ancient Egyptian minds the ideal part of the divine order. Monogamy is documented even from predynastic times. A young man who had hitherto led a bachelor life and sometimes had a high time of it, but had now attained a certain social standing, would go to the house of his chosen's father to ask for her hand.
Traditionally, the term hemet has been translated as "wife", but is probably more accurately "female partner". The legal and social implications of the word are not clear. Interestingly, the word hi is the male counterpart to hemet but seems to have been rarely used. However, this is probably due to funerary text most frequently being related to men, and so the female partner is referred to and defined by her husband.
Hebswt is another word that seems to apply to a female partner, but traditionally it has been translated as "concubine". However, this meaning is less clear because in some New Kingdom text both hemet and hebswt are used at the same time to apparently refer to the same female. It has been suggested that the term hebswt might more accurately describe a second or third wife after the first one died or was divorced.
It wasn’t necessary, but most marriages had a contract drawn up between the parties. The poorer classes probably did not do this because they probably had few possessions to consider and also the cost of a scribe would have been prohibitive.
Marriage settlements were drawn up between a woman’s father and her prospective husband, although many times the woman herself was part of the contract. The sole purpose of the contract was to establish the rights of both parties to maintenance and possessions during the marriage and after divorce if it should occur, very similar to today’s prenuptial agreements. What is really fascinating is the equality women held with men in their rights to own, manage and receive property.
If the marriage ended in divorce, the rights of the wife were equally protected. Generally, she was entitled to support from her husband, especially if she was rejected by him through no fault of her own. The amount might equal one third of the settlement or even more. If the bride ended up committing adultery (which was extremely frowned upon for both men and women), she still had certain rights to maintenance from her former husband. Monogamy, except for some of the higher classes and royalty, seemed to be the rule for most ancient Egyptian couples.
Here’s a standard marriage contract that was found among the numerous records left by the ancient Egyptians. It contained:
- The date (the year of the reign of the ruling monarch)
- The contractors (future husband and wife)
- The names of both sets of parents
- Husband’s profession (wife’s rarely mentioned)
- The scribe who drew up the contract
- The names of the witnesses
Then the details of the settlement followed. Here is the beginning of a marriage contract from 219 BC: "The Blemmyann, born in Egypt, son of Horpais, whose mother is Wenis, has said to the woman Tais, daughter of the Khahor, whose mother is Tairerdjeret: I have made you a married woman. As your woman’s portion, I give you two pieces of silver…If I dismiss you as wife and dislike you and prefer another woman to you as wife, I will give you two pieces of silver in addition to the two pieces of silver mentioned above… and I will give you one third of each and everything that will accrue to you and me."
The finished document was given to a third party for safekeeping or kept among the records of the local temple.
One of the expectations of the ancient Egyptian marriage was the bringing forth of children. Sometimes there would be a trial marriage for a year to see if pregnancy would occur. This was all stipulated in the marriage contract.
In some parts of ancient Egyptian society, men were permitted to have concubines. Naturally, it worked out better for the husband if his bride approved. But concubines did not have the same protective status as wives. And adultery, even in households where there were concubines, was strongly discouraged.
The day of the marriage was really quite simple. The bride merely moved her belongings into the home of her husband. He might be living alone or with his parents. A common term used to indicate marriage was grgp, meaning to set up a common household.
The bride probably wore a long dress or tunic made of linen, which may have been covered from head to toe with bead-net. If she owned any gold, silver or lapis, she probably adorned herself with those, too. Unless, of course, she just dressed "down" for moving day.
Even though there was no official ceremony known to us, knowing how much the ancient Egyptians loved music, dance and food, there was bound to be family celebrations in honor of the uniting couple.
Of course, our modern, romantic concept of marriage is a relationship based on love between partners who consent to share their lives together. But up until the 26th dynasty, relatively late in Egyptian history, the bride herself seems to have little choice in the marriage. In fact, during this time frame most marriage contracts are actually between the girl's father and future husband. The girl's father and even her mother had much more say in the matter then the bride. After the 26th dynasty, the bride appears to have had more say in her future husband, and we find phrases in marriage contracts that indicate a more defined relationship.
Entering into a marriage was described as 'making a wife' or 'taking a wife', but in accordance with the prevailing patriarchal system it seems that the girl's father had the main say. Nor were the views of her mother to be ignored, as an eager girl's words reveal in a love-song: 'Little does he know how I long to embrace him, and for him to send word to my mother.' If the girl had no father, an uncle would step in.
The ratio of love-matches to arranged marriages is not clear from the evidence. We have a biographical inscription of the Ptolemaic Period where a woman says: 'My father gave me in marriage' to so-and-so.
In the absence of any preexisting agreement it seems that the girl's consent to a marriage was unimportant until the 26th dynasty, when brides also began to have a say. It is then that we find marriage contracts using not only the formula 'I have made you into a wife', but also, putting the woman's side, 'You have made me into a wife.' Whether there was a period of engagement before marriage we cannot tell.
The ancient Egyptian concept of adultery consisted of a married person having sex with someone other than that person's spouse. It was just as "wrong" for a man to commit adultery as for a woman. The Egyptian system was family centered, and the terminology for marriage and divorce was the same for both sexes; adultery was defined in family terms and condemned for both men and women, and sex by unmarried individuals seems not to have been a major concern.
However, if a bride ended up committing adultery, she still had certain rights to maintenance from her former husband. Monogamy, except for some of the higher classes and royalty, seemed to be the rule for most ancient Egyptian couples.
Among common people, polygamy may very well have existed as it obviously did in the royal class, but if so it was rare. We known from excavations such as Deir El Medina that the housing of common people conformed more to monogamy rather then polygamy.
Yet from the 13th Dynasty (1795-1650 BC) on polygamy was common among kings and some of the ruling elite. While one principal wife (hemet nesw weret) was chosen, others were probably taken by the king in order to assure a royal heir, or cement relationships with foreign countries or even powerful regional leaders. Kings might have as many as several hundred wives, and in some periods other high officials took more then one wife.
This raises the question of how many wives an Egyptian was allowed to have. In theory there was no limit, but in practice it would have depended on the man's means. Most Egyptians were content to have only one wife. Marriage was an expensive matter for the man, and the whole contract system provided such far-reaching safeguards for the material rights of wives and children that most men could only afford one wife at a time.
Incest and Marriage
The royal family did have incestuous marriages. The royal blood ran through the females, not the males. To become Pharaoh, a man had to marry a royal princess.
The tradition of brother/sister or father/daughter marriages was mostly confined to the royalty of Egypt, at least until the Greek period. In tales from Egyptian mythology, gods marriage between brothers and sisters and fathers and daughters were common from the earliest periods, and so Egyptian kings may have felt that it was a royal prerogative to do likewise. However, there are also theories that brother/sister marriages may also have strengthened the king's claim to rule. It was not uncommon among common people to marry relatives. Marriage between cousins, or uncles and nieces were fairly common in Egypt prior to the Greek period. Interestingly, after the Greek arrival, one study found that 24 percent of marriages among common people were brother/sister relationships.
Marriages between kin were familiar among the common folk. Step-brothers and sisters married, as did uncles and nieces quite frequently, and cousins still more so. Marriages between cousins are indeed a regular occurrence in Egypt, and particularly in Nubia, to this day. Between very close blood-relations, however, it was wholly exceptional among ordinary people. Jaroslav Cerny investigated 490 marriages from the First Intermediate Period up to the 18th dynasty and found only two cases where the partners were brother and sister. After the time of Tuthmosis III it is hard to prove the occurrence of close-kin marriages since it was now becoming normal to call a wife or girlfriend 'sister'. One sibling marriage is attested by the stele of Ptah, the 22nd-dynasty high priest of Memphis. Here both parents had the same family lineage. But the father was a commander of Libyan mercenaries and may have been deliberately adopting the customs of the Egyptian court.
In the royal family it had been almost mandatory since time immemorial for marriages to be solemnized between the closest kin, the notional prototype evidently being the mythological sibling-spouses Osiris and Isis, who had come into this world to raise humans from savagery, teach them the elements of civilization and proclaim the wisdom and omnipotence of the gods. As the king saw himself as a god-incarnate he hoped to pass on his exclusive divine status to his successor. Accordingly he had no hesitation in taking as wife his sister or-step-sister (as did Seqenenre Tao II, Ahmose I, Amenophis I, Tuthmosis I, Tuthmosis IV, Ramesses II, Merenptah and Siptah), his daughter (Amenophis II, Akhenaten and Ramesses II who went so far as to marry three of his daughters) or even his aunt (Sethos II). Ptolemy II and his successors all married one of their sisters. These last were kings of Greek blood, but they took care to adhere strictly to old Egyptian practice in their marriage policy as in everything else. Interestingly enough, investigation of the many kin-marriages in the 18th, 19th and Ptolemaic dynasties by Marc Armand Ruffer has revealed no evidence of degeneration resulting from persistent inbreeding.
Examination of 161 marriages among commoners in the Ptolemaic Period, 24 per cent of which were between siblings, shows the power of example even in those days. It was evidently Hellenistic influence that weakened the barrier between exclusively royal practice and that of the people. During the reign of the Roman emperor Commodus it was reported that as many as two-thirds of marriages in the city of Arsinoe (formerly Crocodilopolis, capital of the Faiyum) were between very close kin.
Marriages were most often between people of the same social class, but their seems to have been little regard given to race or even nationality. It was not unusual for a northern Egyptian to marry a Nubian, or someone even from another country.
There were however exceptions, such as Naunakhte in the 20th dynasty who married first a scribe and then an artisan, or King Amenophis II who fell for the commoner Teye and made her his principal wife.
No obstacles seem to have been put in the way of marriage between people of different racial background. An Egyptian could marry a Syrian or Nubian girl, and an Egyptian woman could become a foreigner's wife. The kings themselves might take princesses from abroad as secondary wives. Ramesses II, for example, wed the Hittite princess Maathornefrerure and granted her the same title of 'Great King's Wife' as he did to his principal wife Nefertari. From the Late Period on, Egyptians were regularly intermarrying with Greek colonists in some of the Delta towns, just as in the Roman Period they did with Latins, especially in the Faiyum.
Marriage of a free man to a slave, by contrast, was regarded as mere concubinage and enjoyed no legal protection; any ensuing children remained slaves. To contract a proper marriage, a slave-woman had first to buy her freedom or to be adopted. A man was free to adopt any children he had by a slave.
Marriage contracts do not generally tell the age of the parties, but we know from other documents that marriage almost always occurred after sexual adulthood. The average age for girls to enter puberty was 12 to 13, and around 14 for boys. Indeed boys, who had to achieve some work abilities in order to support a wife and future children, were usually 15 or over before contemplating marriage. It would follow that attainment of sexual maturity was a precondition of marriage. At an even later time the Instruction of Ankhshoshenq advised boys precisely: 'Marry at 20, so that you can have a son while you are still young.
Probably, then, a man could marry as soon as he was physically mature and had reached a point in his chosen career that ensured his ability to provide for his wife and for the children they could expect. Ptahhotep, whom we have so often quoted, writes: 'If you have already made yourself a name, then start a family.'
It was a different matter for brides, who did not need to wait till they attained social status and could not afford to see their youthful attractions waning. From the Roman period we find documentation of brides being as young as 8, though most scholars believe that is an exception and that a more common age for brides was 12 or older. In royal marriages, particularly between brothers and sisters, the parties seemed to be often much younger. We know, for example, that Tutankhamun probably married his sister when he was about nine years old.
And the label of one late mummy states, in a demotic hand, that the body was of a married girl who had died at the age of 11. Others have argued that such cases were either exceptional or were scribes' errors. Erich Luddeckens, an outstanding student of Egyptian marriage contracts, found from analysis of Ptolemaic contracts that most of the brides were aged 12 or 13. Reconstruction of the biographies of the Amarna princesses has produced the same figure, and the Ptolemaic Period woman mentioned above as having been 'given in marriage' by her father was 14 when this occurred.
We know of cases on the other hand where very 'mature' men took wives many years younger. It was not all together uncommon for older men who had usually lost their wife to either death or divorce to marry very young "women". The scribe Qenherkhepeshef of Deir el-Medina, for example, married the 12-year-old girl Nanakht when he was 54. Again, having established the age of Queen Mutnodjmet when she died we can deduce that she was between 25 and 30 when the 50 year old General Horemheb chose to marry her. This was of course a classic marriage of convenience, enabling Horemheb to join the ruling family of the 18th dynasty and secure the throne.
Particularly during the early periods of ancient Egypt, the future husband made a payment to the bride's father, usually amounting to about the cost of a slave. Later, this practice was abandoned and later the practice was reversed where often the father of the bride had to compensate the future husband for her upkeep. However, if divorce occurred, the husband was obligated to continue some support to his ex-wife, usually amounting to about one third of his earnings.
All of this said, there are many indications that husbands and wives in ancient Egypt were often happy and in love. There are many touching portraits and statues of families including spouses and their children that reveal marital delight and warmth within the family.
Many marriages were arranged with parental consent needed, as they have been in all societies, especially among the upper classes. But the abundance of love poetry between young people suggests that many couples did fall in love and choose each other as mates. Women played an important role in arranging a marriage. A suitor sometimes used a female go-between to approach the girl’s mother, not her father.
Interestingly, one of the most affectionate titles one could call their love was "brother" or "sister" in ancient Egypt. This had nothing to do with sibling relations, but led many archaeologists and scholars to wrongly assume that most ancient Egyptians married their siblings. Actually, this usually occurred only among royalty, and was not a common occurrence otherwise. So we find part of a love poem written by a young ancient Egyptian woman which tells us that, "My brother torments my heart with his voice, he makes sickness take hold of me; he is neighbor to my mother’s house, and I cannot get to him!"
Museums are filled with statues and paintings showing husbands and wives with their arms around each other’s waists, holding hands or offering each other flowers or food. Love and affection were indeed a part of the Egyptian marriage, and our Egyptian bride could expect to be loved and respected by her husband.
Divorce could be brought about by either party. It was a private matter and the government took no interest in it.
The most common reasons for a husband to divorce his wife included the inability to bear children, especially a son; the desire to marry someone else, or that she simply stopped pleasing him. A woman could divorce her husband for mental or physical cruelty or adultery. In some cases, if the woman chose to divorce, she forfeited her right to communal property.
Once divorced, both men and women could remarry as soon as they wished. From the archives we have found, it seems that they readily did so. It’s also apparent that our ancient bride, with the ease of marriage and divorce and the financial protection she generally received, had a better time of it than some brides in modern times.
Sexuality in ancient Egypt was open, untainted by guilt. Sex was an important part of life - from birth to death and rebirth. Singles and married couples made love. The gods themselves were earthy enough to copulate. The Egyptians even believed in sex in the afterlife. Sex was not taboo; Even the Egyptian religion was filled with tales of adultery, incest, homosexuality and masturbation, with hints of necrophilia.
The ancient Egyptian concept of adultery consisted of a married person having sex with someone other than that person's spouse. It was just as "wrong" for a man to commit adultery as for a woman. The Egyptian system was family centered, and the terminology for marriage and divorce was the same for both sexes; adultery was defined in family terms and condemned for both men and women, and sex by unmarried individuals seems not to have been a major concern.
However, if a bride ended up committing adultery, she still had certain rights to maintenance from her former husband. Monogamy, except for some of the higher classes and royalty, seemed to be the rule for most ancient Egyptian couples.
Prostitutes & Itinerant Performers
The Egyptian sacred 'prostitute' (who was probably a highly regarded as a member of Egyptian society because of her association with different gods or goddesses (such as Bes and Hathor), rather than the street walker that the modern mind imagines) advertised herself through her clothing and make up. Some of these women wore blue faience beaded fish-net dresses. They painted their lips red, and tattooed themselves on the breasts or thighs and even went around totally nude. There is no evidence that these women were paid for these fertility-related acts, so some believe that word 'prostitute' is probably an incorrect term for these women.
Other theories could be that the young virgin girls joined itinerant performing groups - dancers, singers and the like - and during their time with these groups they experienced their first sexual encounters. If a girl became pregnant, she would probably leave the troupe to head home to her family with proof of her fertility. (Motherhood was venerated, giving a woman a much higher status in society, so pregnancy was something to be proud of in ancient Egypt.)
These travelling groups of women were strongly linked with midwifery and childbirth-related deities. The goddesses Isis, Nephthys, Meskhenet and Heqet disguised themselves as itinerant performers, travelling with the god Khnum as their porter. Carrying the sistrum and menat instruments - instruments with sexual overtones - they showed it to Rawoser, the expectant father. Knowing that his wife, Raddjedet, was having a very difficult labour, he told these women - the disguised goddesses - about his wife's troubles, and at their offer of help, he let them in to see her. These women do not seem to be pay-for-sex prostitutes, instead they seem to be a link with the divine, a helper of expectant mothers and singers, dancers and musicians.
This is not to say that there were no pay-for-sex prostitutes in ancient Egypt, it it just that there is little evidence of this found. Considering Egypt's very different image of sexuality, the modern concept of both sexuality and prostitution do not fit this ancient society. Women operated under a totally different cultural imperative than women today, thus ancient Egyptian sexuality must be looked at without modern prejudices. It seems that these female performers, these 'prostitutes', were treated with courtesy and respect, and there seemed to be a well established link between these traveling performers and fertility, childbirth, religion and magic.
Concubinage is the state of a woman or youth in an ongoing, matrimonial relationship with a man of higher social status. In some parts of ancient Egyptian society, men were permitted to have concubines. Naturally, it worked out better for the husband if his bride approved. But concubines did not have the same protective status as wives. And adultery, even in households where there were concubines, was strongly discouraged. Typically, the man has an official wife and, in addition, one or more concubines. Concubines have limited rights of support from the man, and their offspring are publicly acknowledged as the man's children, albeit of lower status than children born by the official wife or wives.
Studying homosexuality in ancient Egypt is a difficult task. Not a single legal text has survived from ancient Egypt; and no sure evidence points to cult prostitution taking root there (until the late Roman period).
There is a story of Set and Horus that indicates Set's homosexual tendencies. More information on Egyptian homosexuality can be found at Homosexuality in Ancient Egypt; Homosexuality and the Bible, Supplement; By Bruce L. Gerig
Starting a Family
Children were considered a blessing in ancient Egypt. Sons and daughters took care of their parents in their old age. They were often called "the staff of old age," that is, one upon whom the elderly parents could depend upon for support and care. The scribe Ani instructed that children repay the devotion of Egyptian mothers: "Repay your mother for all her care. Give her as much bread as she needs, and carry her as she carried you, for you were a heavy burden to her. When you were finally born, she still carried you on her neck and for three years she suckled you and kept you clean." It was also expected that the older son or child carry on the funerary provisioning of the parents after their death.
Children had value in ancient Egypt. The Greeks, who were accustomed to leaving infants exposed to the elements, were stunned to observe that every baby born to Egyptian families were cared for and raised. This care was not easy. Many children died to infection and disease. There was a high rate of infant mortality, one death out of two or three births, but the number of children born to a family on average were four to six, some even having ten to fifteen.
The Kahun, Berlin and Carlsberg papyri contain an extraordinary series of tests for fertility, pregnancy and to determine the sex of the unborn child. These tests cover a wide range of procedures, including the induction of vomiting and examination of the eyes. Perhaps the most famous test says: to see if a woman will or will not bear a child. Emmer and barley, the lady should moisten with her urine every day, like dates and like sand in two bags. If they all grow, she will bear a child. If the barley grows it will be a male, if the emmer grows it will be a female, if neither grow she will not bear a child.
This technique was tested in the late 20th century, and it showed no growth of either seed when watered with male or non-pregnant female urine. With forty specimens from pregnant women, there was growth of one or both species in more than 50% of the cases. While this seemed a good indicator of pregnancy, no growth failed to exclude pregnancy in 30% of the cases. When only one species germinated, the prediction of gender was correct in seven cases, and incorrect in sixteen cases.
Other pregnancy tests involve examination of the blood vessels over the breasts, and making mixtures to be drunk. In the former, the woman lies down, and her breasts, both arms and shoulders, are smeared with new oil. Early in the morning she is to be examined, and if her blood vessels look fresh and good, none being collapsed, that is, sunken, bearing children will occur. If the vessels are green and dark, she will bear children late. If a woman was given milk from one who had already borne a male child, and the milk was mixed with melon puree, if it made the woman sick, she was pregnant.
As there were ways of determining if a woman could bear children, so too were there ways believed to prevent pregnancy. Contraception was known, one suggested mixture involving acacia, carob, dates, all to be ground with honey and placed in the woman’s vagina.
Giving birth could also be a difficult and often dangerous process. In the tomb of King Horemheb at Saqqara were the fragmented remains of his queen Mutnodjmet, who was between the ages of 40 and 45 when she died. Among those remains were found the tiny bones of a fully developed fetus. Perhaps the queen had died in childbirth, as her pubic bones bore signs of previous difficult deliveries.
One spell to assist the birth-process went like this: "Come down, placenta, come down! I am Horus who conjures in order that she who is giving birth becomes better than she was, as if she was already delivered…Look, Hathor will lay her hand on her with an amulet of health! I am Horus who saves her!" This was to be repeated four times over a dwarf of clay, a Bes-amulet, placed on the brow of the woman in labor.
Ancient Egyptians estimated the time of gestation from 271 to 294 days, compared from the modern count of 282 days from the onset of the last cycle. The Egyptians believed that the uterus opened into the abdominal cavity, but also, that the alimentary canal coming from the mouth also connected with the uterus and the abdominal cavity. They believed that the monthly cycle ceased during pregnancy because the blood was being diverted to create and sustain the embryo.
The medical papyri say nothing about the normal conduct of labor, and only representations of the magical birth of kings exist, as in the Westcar Papyrus. "Isis placed herself in front of [the woman], Nephthys behind her, and Heqet hastened the birth….The child rushed forth into [Isis’s] arms, his bones strong…then they washed him and his umbilical cord was cut. He was placed in cloth on a couch of brick."
Delivery took place in special surroundings, on the cool roof of the house, or in an arbor or confinement pavilion, a structure of papyrus-stalk columns decorated with vines. A mattress, headrest, mat and cushion and a stool were arranged in the area. At delivery, only female helpers were present, not physicians. The peasant women called two women either from their households or neighbors, and wealthier classes would have servants and nurses present. There are no known words in ancient Egyptian for midwife, obstetrician, or gynecologist.
Women delivered their babies kneeling, or sitting on their heels, or on a delivery seat. This was indicated even shown in the birth hieroglyphic. Often, hot water was placed under the seat, so that the vapors would ease delivery. Delivery sayings were repeated, such as one that asked Amun to "make the heart of the deliverer strong, and keep alive the one that is coming."
As in all areas of daily life, the gods of Egypt were connected to the birth process. The creator-god Khnum gave health to the newborn after birth. Women would place two small statues for the gods Bes and Taweret. The dwarf-god Bes was supposed to vanquish any evil things hovering around the mother and baby. The chief deity of women in pregnancy, childbirth, and breastfeeding, was the pregnant hippopotamus-goddess Taweret, often carrying a magic knife or the knot of Isis. To seek divine help in the birthing process, women often placed a magic ivory crescent-shaped wand, decorated with carvings of deities, snakes, lions, and crocodiles, on the stomach of the woman giving birth. About 150 of these wands have been found, all dating from the Middle Kingdom and Second Intermediate Period.
A squatting woman giving birth, assisted by two goddesses (Hathor and Taweret), from the Temple of Hathor at Dendera
The god Thoth was also often called upon for help, and the goddess Hathor, guardian of women and domestic bliss, was believed to be present at every birth. Severe labor pains might be soothed by the god Amun, gently blowing in as a cool northern breeze.
The Ebers Papyrus contains a remedy for contracting the uterus, but it is not clear as to whether this was to hasten birth, expel the placenta, or to return the uterus to pre-pregnancy size. The remedy went like this: mix the kheper-wer plant (identity now unknown), honey, water of carob, milk, strain and place in the vagina.
If the perineum had an injury during birth, the Kahun Papyrus contained this remedy: prepare new oil to be soaked into her vagina.
The Egyptians were always anxious to now the future, and in order to ascertain the destiny of new-born children they relied upon the seven Hathors, who hovered over a child’s cradle and announced his destiny. Representations of these seven forms of the goddess appear in the tomb of Queen Nefertari and in various versions of the Book of Coming Forth by Day.
If a sickly baby was thought likely to die, its chances were assessed by the strength of its cries and its facial expression. A child that cries "Hii" will live, but one that cries "Mbi" will die. If the child made a sound like the creaking of the pine trees, or turned his face downward, he would die. Where there was still doubt, the infant was for three days put on a diet of milk containing a ground fragment of its placenta. If it did not vomit, it would survive.
The parents would lose no time in giving their child a name. Some Egyptians had very short names such as Ti or Abi, others had a complete phrase, such as Djedptahioufankh, meaning "Ptah says he will live." Names may have pointed to physical qualities, such as Pakamen, the blind one, or to occupations, such as Pakapu, the birdcatcher.
Most parents liked to place their children under the sponsorship of some deity, and so there were children named Hori and others named Seti, and others named Ameni, that is, dedicated to Horus, to Set, and to Amun, respectively. The historian Manetho was under the protection of the Theban deity Montu. The name Mutemwia means "Mut is in her bark," perhaps signifying that on the day of this girl’s birth, there was a procession of the goddess Mut, and the mother wanted to keep that special occasion by naming her daughter after the goddess.
Names could signify the god’s pleasure, perhaps explaining why there were so many Amenhoteps, Khnumhoteps and Ptahhoteps, or, signify that the god was in front of or the father of the child, as in the name Amenemhat. Those with a name Siamun were children of the god Amun. Senwosret’s name meant that he was a son of the early Theban goddess Wosret, thought to be the precursor of Mut as the consort of Amun.
After the child was named, the parents had to register it with the authorities. A princess Ahori, wife of one Nenoferkaptah, declared, "I gave birth to this baby that you see, who was named Merab and whose name was entered into the registers of the House of Life." Births, marriages and deaths may have been recorded for inheritance and taxation purposes. When witnesses were called in legal proceedings, their names, those of their parents, and their occupation, were all noted.
A baby stayed with its mother, carried in a sling around her neck. The mother, or a nurse, would nurse the baby for three years. Bottles, or at least the clay equivalents of bottles, have also been found.
The most common infant malady was infection of the alimentary canal. An example of a spell designed to ward off infection went like this: "Come on out, visitor from the darkness, who crawls along with your nose and face on the back of your head, not knowing why you are here! Have you come to kiss this child? I forbid you to do so! Have you come to do it harm? I forbid this! I have made ready for its protection a potion from the poisonous afat herb, from garlic which is bad for you, from honey which is sweet for the living but bitter for the dead."
Some children’s mummies have been found to have a high incidence of stalled growth, possibly from malnutrition or infection. The young weaver called Nakht had signs of such arrested growth in his shin bones. Skin troubles like eczema, anemia, and tonsil infections, were also frequent. But rickets was virtually unknown in Egyptian children.
Amulets were often tied to each part of a child’s body to protect it, with a different deity associated with a different body part. The crown of the head was the crown of Ra, the eyes the eyes of the Lord of the Universe, the ears are those of the Two Cobras, the arms those of the Falcon, etc. Protective spells were also written on small papyrus rolls, rolled up and bound in a pendant around the child’s neck.
As children grew, they apparently had carefree periods in their lives. There have been many toys and games found in excavations, and paintings showing children playing together. The children wrestled, raced, played tug of war, used small doll-like figures of animals, boats, balls, and danced, just like children do today. They had birds or dogs for pets. Very young children often went naked, or with girdles around their waists. Their hair was worn in a braided plait, with the end rolled up in a curl, the familiar "sidelock" of youth.
From about age five, the children began to help their families. Boys and girls of farmer families ran errands, fed animals, sowed seed, harvested and gleaned, fetched food for the workers, even finished pottery in the workshops. Older girls would begin to help in the kitchen, baking bread, and all children were responsible for caring for their younger siblings.
Children of wealthier families were taught how to manage their properties and estates, and boys may have been brought to scribal school. Boys were often brought in as apprentices to learn the duties of a bureaucrat or even of priesthood. Children of course learned by copying their parents and other adults. Children played military war games, and learned the ritual gestures of mourning, by watching their parents.
Later on, upper-class boys would go to scribal school and learn how to serve in the temple. In the New Kingdom and later, girls served in the temples as musicians and dancers. There may have been female scribes, though not much evidence for that exists. But girls did learn about their legal rights in property and business. It was clear that women understood about inheritance and property.
As boys and girls reached their teens, marriage was often considered as the next step in their lives. Boys would have been circumcised sometime after they reached the age of ten, and girls were often considered marriageable by thirteen. Once a young man and woman married, the cycle of life would begin again.
The ancient Egyptians maintained an elaborate set of burial customs that they believed were necessary to ensure their immortality after death. These customs involved preservation of the body by mummification, performance of burial ceremonies, and interment with grave goods for the deceased to use in the afterlife. Before the Old Kingdom, bodies buried in desert pits were naturally preserved by desiccation. This was the best scenario available for the poor throughout the history of ancient Egypt, who could not afford the elaborate burial preparations available to the elite. When the Egyptians started to bury their dead in stone tombs, natural mummification from the desert did not occur. This necessitated artificial mummification which, for the wealthy in the Old and Middle Kingdoms, meant removing the internal organs, wrapping the body in linen, coating with plaster or resin, and sometimes painting or sculpting facial details. The body was buried in a rectangular stone sarcophagus or wooden coffin. From the Fourth Dynasty, the intestines, lungs, liver and stomach were preserved separately and stored in canopic jars; symbolically protected by likenesses of the Four sons of Horus. By the New Kingdom, the art of mummification was perfected; the best technique took 70 days and involved removing the internal organs, removing the brain through the nose, and desiccating the body in a mixture of salts called natron. The body was then wrapped in linen with protective amulets inserted between layers, and placed in a decorated anthropoid coffin. By the Late Period, mummies were placed in painted cartonnage mummy cases. In the Ptolemaic and Roman periods, preservation technique declined and emphasis was placed on the outer appearance of the mummy, decorated with elaborate rhomboidal patterns formed by the wrapping bandages. All burials regardless of social status included grave goods such as food and personal items such as jewelry. Wealthy members of society expected larger quantities of luxury items and furniture. From the New Kingdom, books of the dead were popular items of funerary literature which contained spells and instructions for protection in the afterlife. New Kingdom Egyptians also expected to be buried with shabti statues, which they believed would perform manual labor for them in the afterlife. Whether they were buried in mastabas, pyramids, or rock-cut tombs, every Egyptian burial would have been accompanied by rituals in which the deceased was magically re-animated. This procedure involved touching the mouth and eyes of the deceased with ceremonial instruments to restore the power of speech, movement, and sight. After burial, living relatives were expected to occasionally bring food to the tomb and recite prayers on behalf of the deceased.
Egyptians took a lot of care over their appearance, they took great pride in keeping themselves and their clothes spotlessly clean.
Egyptians bathed frequently, some several times a day. Unguents and oils were applied to the skin by both sexes. One popular mixture was made of plant extracts mixed with the fat of a cat, crocodile and hippo.
Heavy perspiration led them to take care of their skin and hair not merely by washing, but by a quite elaborate cosmetic routine. The pioneers in dress and hygiene alike were understandably the women, who learned to enhance the natural beauty of their dark-haired, dark-eyed Mediterranean kind and the charm of their graceful movements by the tasteful lines of their costume, striking coiffure, relative cleanliness and the use of alluring perfumes.
Women did not dress without washing (rich people had a tiled area for washing). After washing, they rubbed themselves with scented oil then they placed a large rectangle of linen over their heads, gathered the loose corners up and tied them in a knot below the chest. The usual toiletry articles were tweezers, razor and comb.
Like Egyptian women today, their forebears colored their nails, palms, soles and sometimes hair also with a paste containing the yellowish-red pigment of henna leaves. Tattooing was also used to enhance feminine charms. The patterns on some predynastic and archaic statues are usually regarded as the earliest examples.
Even in ancient Egypt a gorgeous complexion did not last for ever. To treat wrinkles (and freckles) oil of fenugreek was recommended, a plant freely available because of its use as animal fodder.
It might seem from all this that the Egyptians had achieved high standards of bodily care and hygiene all those thousands of years ago. Alas, this did not apply to the common folk, especially the very poor.
The sun and heat required the Egyptians to pay considerable attention to their skin and their appearance for reasons of good health as much as vanity.
Egyptian beauties used to darken their brows, eyelids and lashes with the aid of little splints or miniature spoons made of stone, metal, wood or bone, usually tracing lines from the outer corners of the eyes and eyebrows toward the front of the earlobes, where they met.
Eye makeup was regularly used to provide protection from the glare of the sun and from disease bearing insects. Eyes were rimmed, eyebrows were painted and lashes were darkened with a black powder called kohl. Red ocher was applied to the lips and cheeks for the same reason women use makeup today. They colored their eye lids with blue or green eye shadow made from powdered minerals.
Henna dye was also used to color their lips, hair and nails.
It was the fashion at parties for men and women to wear a perfumed cone on the tops of their heads that slowly melted making their heads smell nice. The cone was usually made of ox tallow and myrrh and as time passed melted and released a pleasant scent. Men and women socialized together. When it came time to eat they sat as couples at small tables piled high with food. The guests would be wearing robes with vertical pleats, or simular. A servant girl might be wearing a thin belt on her hips, a brightly decorated collar and very little else; she does, however, have the scented cone on her head.
Hair was a special problem. It was hot, hard to keep clean and easily infested with lice. Many solved the problem by shaving their heads and wearing a wig. The wig could be raised on small pads to allow a flow of air between the scalp and the hair and, of course, they never turned grey or bald. Women who kept their hair were told they could enhance its natural color by rubbing in a mixture of oil and the boiled blood of a black cat or bull.
Mostly Ancient Egyptians wore wigs. So, the most important of all the fashion accessories was the wig. Shiny, black hair, perhaps because of its association with youth and vitality, was associated with eroticism, and artificial hair was a simple way to maintain what nature neglected. Wigs served a more practical function, however. Natural hair that was thick enough to protect the wearer from the direct rays of the sun on a bright summer day or keep the heat in on a cold winter night, was much too hot to wear indoors, and a luxuriant hair-do was a breeding ground for lice. The compromise was simple: Egyptians who could afford it cut their hair short and then wore a wig. Unlike many toupee wearers of today, the Egyptians were quite proud of their wigs and made no attempt to pretend they were natural. Paintings and sculpture frequently show an area of natural hair between the forehead and the wig. While the most expensive wigs were made with real, human hair, the design and structure were such that it would be almost impossible to confuse a wig with the real thing. Egyptians were proud of their wigs and would have been distressed at the thought that someone might think they were not wearing one---or even worse, could not afford one.
Palm fiber was used to make a skull cap to fit the subject’s head. Human hair, alone or mixed with plant fiber and wool, was twisted, curled, or pleated into slender braids and attached to the cap with beeswax or resin. Various dyes were used to produce the desired black. The basic structure remained the same throughout Egyptian history, but many variations were possible, and the style varied over time with the age, gender, and social class of the wearer.
Old Kingdom women wore wigs with two or three lairs of very tight braids across the top of the head and down both sides and the back. There may or may not have been a part in the middle. Several additional layers were added underneath to make the sides so much fuller.
In addition to having or not having a part in the middle, Old Kingdom wigs varied in length. Simpler style stopped anywhere between the top of the shoulders and just below the ears, a fuller version of what today might be called a bob. There were two very popular styles with hair going down to the breasts. The tripartite wig, as the name suggested, was divided into three parts. Two extended behind the ears and down the sides of the face and the front of the body as far as the breasts. A third part went down the back as far as the shoulder blades. The enveloping wig was similar in size, but covered the ears and circled from one side, around the back, to the other side in one piece rather than three. The length of the braids varied to allow them to fall freely to the breasts at the front, to the shoulders at the sides, and down the back to the shoulder blades.
Women showed more originality in their hair-styles. In their case too the basic preference was for a smooth, close coiffure; only occasionally do we find a natural wave or long ringlets. This applied to all classes insofar as they dispensed with wigs. However, even in Old Kingdom statues and reliefs we find, mainly on noblewomen (but from the 5th dynasty on their maids too) wigs that were usually of moderate length, the hair running from a central parting over the ears down to the chin or to shoulder level.
From prehistoric times the climate of the country had forced people to wear light, airy clothes. At times they did not wear any clothes at all.
Textile manufacture and dressmaking were indeed the only areas of the economy that remained predominantly in female hands. These were activities pursued in every household, and women were also for a long time paramount in the spinning and weaving shops incorporated in aristocratic houses.
Most of the clothing in Ancient Egypt was made of linen; a few items were made from wool. Cotton was not introduced until the Coptic (Christian) period. Linen is spun from the stem of the flax plant. Flax is a plant having small leaves, blue flowers and stems about two feet tall. Flax was pulled out of the ground, not cut. This backbreaking work was done mostly by male workers. Different grades were produced depending on the desired end product. The finest thread was produced from the youngest plant. Half-ripe flax stems made the best thread. If the stems were too ripe, they were used for mats and rope. Flax stems were soaked for several days, and then the fibers were twisted into strong thread, and then weaving was done on a loom. White linen needed constant washing. It was washed in the river or canal, rinsed, then pounded on a stone, and, bleached in the sun. Linen clothes that had been pleated needed to be re-pleated every time they were washed.
The dressmaking tools were knives (or scissors) and needles. In predynastic times the knives were made of dressed stone and the needles of bone; in the Old Kingdom both were made of copper, gradually replaced by bronze from the Middle Kingdom on. The eyes of needles, remarkably, were not bored but scratched out with a hard pointed instrument, probably of stone. Thread was made by twisting flax yarn.
Spinning, weaving, and the sewing of clothes was an important activity at all levels of society. Royal harem ladies were involved in it as a commercial enterprise, and peasant and workers' wives produced clothing for their families and bartered the surplus. Various plant dyes were sometimes applied before weaving to produce red, yellow or blue thread, but most was left in its natural color. After the weaving was done, linen could be sun bleached to produce an attractive white cloth that was very popular with the well to do.
Rich Men or women wore long see-through robes that were pleated. Better-off people wore wide clothes of white cloth.
In the New Kingdom many men and women adopted a robe which could be draped in various ways. Two rectangular pieces of cloth, each about four feet by five feet and sewn together along along the narrow end, leaving a space for the neck. The basic outfit was easy to make and could be worn by a man or a woman depending on what was done next. Once the dress was on her, a woman would lift the two bottom corners, bring them around to the front and knot them under the breasts. The robe was often worn with vertical pleats.
On some predynastic palettes men are shown naked except for a belt round the loins from which hung either a strip of cloth forming a penis sheath, or else a kilt with a thick fringe made of some plant material.
These were probably worn not out of modesty but simply to protect the organs from the elements. Even in historical times unmarried men still walked around in this garb.
The well-known palette of King Narmer, who created a unified Egypt, is the earliest depiction of a king wearing the short kilt with its two ends crossed over and tucked in at the hips under a belt that is tied into a bow at the front. This was to become standard male wear for thousands of years. It was at first very short and remained so among the common people, but in higher circles it gradually lengthened to halfway down the calves and in the Middle Kingdom dropped to the ankles. The upper edge sometimes stood out. The kilt was occasionally supplemented by a Strip of linen draped loosely over the shoulder, which in course of time acquired first short, and then long, sleeves. Diaphanous cloaks with short, wide sleeves made of special fine linen imported from Syria, became fashionable in the New Kingdom.
Men wore a wrap-round skirt that was tied at the waist with a belt. Sometimes the material was wrapped around the legs as well. The length of the skirt varied depending on the fashion of the time - in the time of the Old Kingdom they were short while in the Middle Kingdom they were calf length. During the New Kingdom period it was fashionable to wear a pleated garment.
Rich Egyptian men were able to afford the best quality linen which was very fine and almost see-through. Rich Egyptian men also wore as much jewelery as they could afford and decorated their clothes. They also wore headdresses for special occasions.
Aristocrats of the Old Kingdom wore along with the kilt sundry ornaments such as necklaces and breast-pendants of wood or metal, and sometimes also an official badge of office - the vizier, for example, spurted a picture of the goddess Maat. Even in this period the kings sometimes had their kilts starched and pleated.
In the New Kingdom dignitaries of the highest ranks, such as the vizier Rekhmire, the overseer of the physicians Nebamun and the royal herald Intef, sometimes wore a distinctive costume not unlike women's dress - a tunic fitting under the arms, held up by a narrow ribbon round the neck, and reaching to the ankles.
Other aristocrats under the New Kingdom and later affected either a pleated kilt or an unpleated one with a folded apron over it, and a pleated shirt as well. Both the sleeved tunic and the shirt grew gradually longer, the tunic wider, looser and more comfortable. A further garment was also added now - a short, wide sleeveless cloak with free-hanging edges.
Great attention was paid at this time to colored ornaments and broad inlaid belts. It was naturally the ceremonial costume of the kings that had the most elaborate cut; it was also covered with small symbolic motifs.
Some Egyptian women wore full length straight dresses with one or two shoulder straps. During the New Kingdom period it became fashionable for dresses to be pleated or draped. The dresses worn by rich Egyptian women were made from fine transparent linen. Like the men, rich Egyptian women decorated their clothes and wore jewelery and headdresses.
Unlike the modern western world, women's clothing in Ancient Egypt tended to be more conservative than that of men. Throughout the Old, Middle and New Kingdom, the most frequently used costume for women was the simple sheath dress. A rectangular piece of cloth was folded once and sewn down the edge to make a tube. The dress would extend from a few inches above the ankles to either just above or just below the breasts. Two shoulder straps held the dress up. Some people believe the evidence should be accepted at face value and assert that the dress was worn with the breasts exposed. Others argue that the narrow strap was an artistic convention only and that in real life the shoulder straps were wide enough to cover the breasts. All of the figurines and the few surviving dresses support the latter view. It should be noted that the Ancient Egyptians would certainly not have regarded a bare breast as immodest. A popular variant of this dress had a short sleeved top with a gathered neck opening to replace the straps.
The shawl, or sari, was very popular among upper class women in the New Kingdom. It consisted of a piece of cloth approximately 4 feet wide by 13 or 14 feet long. One corner was tied to a cord around her waist on the left side. Pass the material lengthwise around the back, gather up some pleats and tuck them into the cord at the front, and pass the remainder around the back and front again, passing it under the left armpit, around the back again, over the right shoulder and toss what remains back over the left shoulder, bringing it around and tie it to the end originally caught in the belt. The shawl was often made of pleated material. Common accessories, as illustrated at left, included a pleated cape and a long colored sash that was knotted around the waist and allowed to hang almost to the floor at the front.
Women's dress was less austere than men's and even in pre-dynastic times, though evidence is scanty, probably covered almost the whole body. Presumably women, unlike men, spent most of their time indoors or under the shade in garden or courtyard; even village women only came out onto the fields at harvest-time or to lend a hand with other short-term tasks. Less exposed than the men to intense sunlight, their complexions remained much lighter; tomb paintings depict them in tones ranging from ochre to yellowish.
By the Old and Middle Kingdoms a long, white, smooth and fitting tunic held up with wide shoulder straps had become standard feminine garb. The upper edge came over, or just below, the bust while the bottom normally reached to the ankles.
It allowed ample freedom of movement and, since the arms were unencumbered, women could dance in it or even execute simple gymnastic figures.
A more convenient costume for dancers, however, was a brief apron usually secured by narrow bands across the bust. Servant girls, too, went about their work as a rule clad only in a skirt or apron.
On cool mornings and evenings women of the wealthier sort covered themselves in a long-sleeved gown that hung in folds.
For festive occasions upper-class women would wear nets of red, blue or green cylindrical faience beads across the middle third of their tunics. These restricted movement and made it difficult to sit down. But even in those days, dressing fashionably was important enough to warrant putting up with a little discomfort. Poorer women had to be content with a string of beads round the waist, or a ribbon with colored stripes to imitate it. One idiosyncratic choice was a tunic painted with a pattern of colored feathers.
In the course of the New Kingdom feminine fashion became ever more varied and sophisticated. This has been put down to influences from areas of the Near East occupied by Egypt at that time. White remained the most popular color, only occasionally varied with pastel shades, but dresses were now made of two pieces or more.
The outer garments were sometimes smooth, sometimes pleated, made from the finest linen with short sleeves and either pinned together over the bust or tied in decorative folds. They were sheer enough to show off feminine curves, but in fact most ladies still wore the traditional tunic underneath. This was also in many cases diaphanous and skin-tight.
It was modestly trimmed with colored braid, ribbons, edging and other embellishments, while metal decorations, embroidery or painted details were added in the Late Period.
The neckline was either deep and wide, or narrow, converging down to the waist. Some dresses covered only one shoulder, the other shoulder and breast remaining bare, except when concealed behind a light veil or the edge of wrap or cloak.
The shoulder-wrap or hip-length cloak ended in a fringe tied into little knots. Feminine clothing was becoming subtler and unquestionably sexy during this period, while dancing-girls, singers and musicians, like the young waitresses who served at banquets, walked around with no more to cover them than a string of beads round the buttocks and across the pubis, or perhaps a scanty kerchief for modesty.
Ancient Egyptian children did not wear clothes until they were about six years old when they would wear the same clothes as men and women.
Priests washed several times a day and they had to remove all body hair to be pure enough to approach the god. They could not wear leather sandals or wool clothing (considered unclean). They wore a leopard robe when serving the god Amun. The sem priests, and aristocrats entrusted with priestly functions, carried slung over their shoulders a leopard skin, dressed but not sewn, including all four legs and the tall. In many cults they wore no wig.
Workers wore loincloths made of animal hide and linen. They also wore simple tunic dresses. Most of the slaves worked naked.
For working in the fields villagers wore a simple apron, made as a plain triangle of material with a wedge-shaped opening in front and the point hanging down behind over the rump. Boatmen, fishermen and papyrus and reed gatherers wore nothing at all. Villagers only donned the kilt when they were bringing their produce to the granaries or to town, or visiting relatives or temples.
They are usually portrayed with kilts, again, when they were bringing funerary offerings. In the course of the Middle Kingdom the kilt became the universal garment in the countryside as elsewhere. During the New Kingdom standard man's dress included a sort of shirt or tunic, very loose-fitting and less easy to see in a picture, but attested by finds and texts.
People usually went barefoot and carried their sandals, wearing them only when needed. When they did wear footwear, they wore sandals for special occasions or if their feet were likely to get hurt. The sandals worn by the poor were made of woven papyrus or palm, while those worn by the rich were made of leather.
It would be hard to enumerate all the fashionable accessories that adorned the clothes not only of women, but of men, especially in affluent circles.
Whether you were rich or poor you wore jewelry. Jewelery often show their level of wealth, and they also wore jewelry because they believed it made them more attractive to the Gods. They wore rings, ear-rings, bracelets, decorated buttons, necklaces, neck collars and pendants. Only the very rich could afford jewelery made of gold and precious stones. Ordinary people made jewelery from colored pottery beads
Queen Hetepheres, mother of Cheops, was accompanied to her grave by silver and ivory bracelets decorated with butterflies of carnelian, turquoise and lapis lazuli. Simpler folk had to rest content with ceramic of faience beads in white, red and aquamarine.
Leisure and games
The ancient Egyptians enjoyed a variety of leisure activities, including games and music. The game of senet, a kind of board game with pieces moving according to random chance, was particularly popular from the very earliest times. Another similar game was mehen, which had a circular gaming board. Juggling and ball games were popular with children, and wrestling is documented in a tomb at Beni Hasan. The wealthy members of ancient Egyptian society enjoyed hunting and boating as well.
Music and dance were popular entertainments for those who could afford them in ancient Egypt; musicians played flutes and a type of harp. The sistrum, a musical instrument that was especially important in religious ceremonies, was a rattle and there were several other devices used as rattles. Only those hired to dance and play music did so, as it was scandelous for anyone else to do such things.
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History of Sex: Ancient Egypt
Ancient Egyptian Sexuality
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