in Ancient Egypt
in Ancient Egypt
the ancient world, Egypt stood out as a land where women
were treated differently.
...but for the Egyptians themselves, in most of their
manners and customs, it was exactly the reverse to the
common practices of mankind. For example, the women attend
the markets and trade, while the men sit at home and weave
at the loom... The women likewise carry burdens upon their
shoulders while the men carry them upon their heads...
Sons need not support their parents unless they chose,
but daughters must, whether they chose to or not.
Egypt, women were much more free than their counterparts
in other lands... though they were not equal with men,
both men and women in Egypt accepted that everyone had
their roles in ma'at (the natural order of the universe)...
and that the roles of men and women were different.
Women in Egyptian Art
the formal paintings on tombs, the Egyptian stereotype
of a woman was that of wife and mother, the husband
being the head of the household. She worked indoors
(mostly), out of the Egyptian sun, so her skin was
lighter than that of her male counterparts. (When
she died, she was painted green, as were the men,
being the colour of rebirth).
were seen to be slim and beautiful, even though a fat
stomach in men equated with wealth and power (the rich
could afford to eat more than the poor!) Noble women did
not work in these paintings, but women are seen to be
dancers, musicians, acrobats, prostitutes, maids, kitchen
staff, field workers and much, much more.
unlike painting, usually only showed noble or influential
people. When women were in a sculpture, they were usually
part of a husband-and-wife or family group, with the wife
physically supporting her husband with an arm around his
shoulder. In the sculptures of a pharaoh and his wife,
she was normally on a smaller scale, indicating the pharaoh's
godly aspect - the wife being only human. (Normal sculptures
had the husband and wife in proportion to each other).
Women only sculptures are very rare.
Women in Writing
Egyptian letters, though, show the more human side of Egypt.
There were love letters, poetry, private law cases and personal
letters between friends and family members. Ostraca (pottery
chips) were used as note pads by the Egyptians, showing their
thoughts and messages to themselves. Not surprisingly, ancient
Egyptian relationships were about the same as today - they
loved and hated, they held hands to show affection and love,
they had romantic moments and bitter fights, they gossiped
and chatted, just as we do today. (Note, though, that the
Egyptians were big on double entendres and were not prudish,
as we westerners tend to be today. 'Unseemly' things have
been left out or ignored, at times, in translation. For example,
the sun god Ra masturbated, and his semen turned into his
children, Shu and Tefnut!) But one must remember that the
writings were written by men, as women were illiterate, so
many topics that would have only been of interest to women
are absent from Egyptian writings.
an interesting side note, one ancient poem showed that, just
as today, women had to put up with men perving at them:
makes all men turn their necks
to look at her.
One looks at her passing by,
this one, the unique one.
writings, though, tell us the sort of problems Egyptian women
faced. Ailments, symptoms and suggestions for cures for women
were all recorded by the ancient Egyptian doctors. The modern
study of the mummies also show these problems, and more general
things about her. She was relatively short with dark hair
and eyes, and light brown skin. She lived to approximately
forty years, if she survived past childhood and pregnancy.
Life was hard on both women and men. Most advice, though,
was a mixture of ancient medicine and magic spells - scientific
knowledge combined with superstition! It was believed that
every medical problem (not caused by an accident) was the
result of demons or parasitic worms. The way they dealt with
that was to alleviate the symptoms, and use spells to get
rid of the cause. It's not surprising that the life expectancy
of the ancient Egyptian was pretty low!