25
Feb

Em Hotep Digest vol. 02 no. 07: Daily Life in Ancient Egypt

   Posted by: Keith Payne   

Categories: Em Hotep Digest

00 - 207 - tabWhat was daily life like in ancient Egypt?  That was the question we pondered with this week’s Em Hotep Digest.  How did Egyptian families get along?  What was town and home life like?   What did they eat and drink? How did they attire themselves?  What did they do for entertainment?  All these issues are considered within.

 

 

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Contributors: Claudia Ali, Géraldine Ashby, Merja Attia, Yvonne Buskens, Ia Georgia, Heidi Kontkanen, Joan Lansberry, Mark Lauria, Luxor Times, Vicky Metafora, Richie O’Neill, Keith Payne, Keith Schengili-Roberts, François Tonic, and all of the many people who contributed to the various conversations in the Em Hotep BBS Facebook group.

Would you like to be a part of the Em Hotep group?  Doing so is easy.  Just follow this link to the Em Hotep BBS group on Facebook and request to be added.  An admin will add you as soon as we notice you have requested to join.  Read the About section at the Facebook group site to get an idea of our few rules, and then join in.  It’s that easy.

 

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Family Life

 

The Family Unit

From Handbook to Life in Ancient Egypt, by Rosalie David

“The Egyptian family was a small, independent unit consisting of father, mother, and children, although it was sometimes extended to include unmarried or widowed female relatives.  The financial position of women and children was protected by law, and even after marriage women retained ownership of their own property.  If a woman’s husband divorced her, she kept her own property and he had to pay her compensation.  Bigamy and polygamy were rare among commoners, and consanguineous marriages outside the royal family were infrequent before the Greco-Roman Period” (p. 359).

The whole family pitched in to keep the household running smoothly. Wooden models from the tomb of Djehutynakht, late Eleventh Dynasty, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (Photo by Keith Payne)

The whole family pitched in to keep the household running smoothly. Wooden models from the tomb of Djehutynakht, late Eleventh Dynasty, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (Photo by Keith Payne)

 

Children and Coming of Age

From Red Land, Black Land: Daily Life in Ancient Egypt by Barbara Mertz

“Until relatively recent times, and in most cultures, children entered into adulthood at an age which may seem scandalously young to us.  They didn’t have time to waste.  Life was short and hazardous.  In pharaonic Egypt the average lifespan was thirty to forty years…

Egyptian household, from Champollion’s Monuments de l'Égypte et de la Nubie

Egyptian household, from Champollion’s Monuments de l’Égypte et de la Nubie

“Even before formal achievement of maturity, children started working—girls in the house, helping their mothers with household chores and the care of younger children, boys learning the tricks of their fathers’ trades.  The fact is, we don’t know much about the lives of the peasants, all of whom were illiterate and few of whom could afford tombs or other lasting monuments.  When we talk about careers or professions we are talking about the small percentage of people who did leave such records—skilled workmen, members of the professional class, and the nobility.  However, even those records are scantier than we would like” (p. 50).

 

Love and Marriage

From Red Land, Black Land: Daily Life in Ancient Egypt by Barbara Mertz

“Setting up a household was a proper adult activity.  A man needed to beget sons to carry out his funeral ceremonies and see that his spirit was provided with food and drink.  This is the formal reasoning, but it would be absurd to suppose that it was the only reason why the ancient Egyptians got married.  We don’t know how often marriages were arranged by parents, but there was no seclusion of the female, and in some cases at lease a boy and a girl married because they had fallen in love.

Pseudo-group statue of Penmeru—both of the male figures are Penmeru, shown with his wife and children, Boston Museum of Fine Arts 12.1484 (Photo by Keith Payne)

Pseudo-group statue of Penmeru—both of the male figures are Penmeru, shown with his wife and children, Boston Museum of Fine Arts 12.1484 (Photo by Keith Payne)

“Egyptian love poetry dates from a relatively late period, but we need not conclude that the state of mind it describes so eloquently only occurred after, let us say, 1200 BC.  It is a state of mind which we find quite familiar, expressed in figures of speech which sound ridiculous only to those who have never experienced the emotion in question themselves.

“It was up to the boy to make his feelings known first; the girl remains modest and shy until he does so:

I met Mehi driving in his chariot, with his companions.

I don’t know how to get out of his way!

Shall I pass casually by him?

The river is the same as the road [to me].

I don’t know where to put my feet! (pp. 50-1)

Seated pair statue of Bau and Baru, Boston Museum of Fine Arts 06.1885 (Photo by Keith Payne)

Seated pair statue of Bau and Baru, Boston Museum of Fine Arts 06.1885 (Photo by Keith Payne)

 

Divorce and Death

From The Spirit of Ancient Egypt by Ana Ruiz

“Divorce was not common among the ancient Egyptians, but in the event, the ex-wife was entitled to keep what had been hers when she entered the marriage as well as a third of the couple’s joint property and possessions acquired while married. Custody of the children went to the mother (or mut). The divorce itself was a simple and private matter, consisting of a statement to annul the contract and union, given before witnesses. Once this was accomplished, both partners were free to remarry.

“If the wife had been unfaithful, she was not entitled to receive support; indeed, she was often sentenced to the painful and disfiguring punishment of losing her nose. Interestingly, affection was expressed by rubbing noses together, and the hieroglyph for the concept of joy, pleasure and a kiss, was a profiled nose. Since infidelity on the part of the wife would raise questions about the paternity of a child, women were liable to more severe punishment than men.

“In the event of the husband’s death, the wife was entitled to two- thirds of their communal property. The remainder was divided among the children, followed by the husband’s siblings. Prior to his death, a man might adopt his wife as a daughter (or sit) in order for her to inherit a larger share — not only as a spouse but as an heir, as well” (pp. 23-4)

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Letter from an Angry Father to an Ingrate Son

From Reflections of Osiris: Lives from Ancient Egypt, by John Ray

“Now, what do you mean by having Sihathor [the second son, who acted as a go-between] coming to me with old, dried-out, northern barley from Memphis, instead of giving me ten sacks of good, new barley? Fine – you’re happy, eating good new barley while I’m going without.  Isn’t that so?  Your ship has come in for you, when in fact you do nothing but evil. If you had sent me the old barley simply to keep the new barley intact, what could I have said, [except] ‘Well done!’?  But since you won’t assign me a single bushel from the new barley, I won’t assign one to you – for the rest of eternity” (pp. 34-5)

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A Mother Who Disinherited Her Ungrateful Children

From Lives of the Ancient Egyptians by Toby Wilkinson

“Naunakht was a woman of modest means.  She held no particular rank, describing herself simply as a ‘free woman’, although she may occasionally have served as a songstress of Amun in the temple at Karnak.  Her first husband was a scribe named Qenhirkhepeshef.  He had been involved in work on the royal tombs, and was probably therefore a man of means.  It may thus have been a marriage motivated by financial considerations rather than a love-match.  Certainly, it seems to have produced no offspring.  Naunakht’s second marriage, to a servant in the Place of Truth named Khaemnun, was altogether more fruitful.  They had eight children, four boys and four girls.

“To be blessed with many children was the ancient Egyptian ideal, for in a society without social security, the next generation offered the only means of being looked after in old age.  But some of Naunakht’s offspring did not exactly live up to their mother’s, or society’s, expectations.  The unvarnished details are all contained in Naunakht’s will, declared before a court and recorded in writing…and she did not mince her words:

“’I brought up these eight servants of yours…but see, I am grown old, and see, they are not looking after me in my turn…Whoever of them has aided me, to him I will give of my property; he who has not given to me, to him I will not give of my property…they shall not participate in the division of my one-third’” (pp. 269-70).

 

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Town and Home Life

 

Everybody Needs a Job—What it Took to Make a Sustainable Township

From Early Dynastic Egypt by Toby Wilkinson

“In addition to an unusually large area of fertile floodplain (Fairservis 1971–2:10), the Hierakonpolis region offered other ecological advantages which made it particularly attractive for early settlement. In Predynastic times, the wide expanse of what is now low desert would have been less arid savannah, capable of supporting game as well as providing pasturage for livestock. The combination of arable and grazing land was clearly advantageous, and ‘the existence of a now defunct Nile channel close to the edge of the desert may have attracted settlers to an array of closely spaced ecozones’ (R.Friedman 1994:388–9; cf. Hoffman et al. 1986:178). The presence of abundant fuel, desert clays and suitable locations for kilns favored the development of large-scale pottery production (Hoffman 1984:237), an industry which reached industrial proportions as early as the Naqada I period. Hierakonpolis seems also to have developed as an important entrepôt for prestige goods imported from Nubia and the African hinterland, especially elephant ivory, ebony and gold (cf. Bard 1987:90–1).

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“During the period of state formation, Hierakonpolis was a center of production and distribution for Egyptian goods found in Lower Nubian A-Group graves, including the pottery known as ‘Lateware’ or ‘Hard orange ware’ (Takamiya 1994; B.Adams 1995:21). Finally, the site of Hierakonpolis lies opposite the head of a major wadi system, the Wadi Abbad, which gave access to the mineral resources of the eastern desert, including gold-bearing rocks which were probably exploited in Predynastic times. This factor may have been a key one for the early importance of Hierakonpolis (Trigger, in Trigger et al. 1983:39; R.Friedman 1994:389). Hierakonpolis thus had the agricultural base to support a substantial population, and the concentration of resources to produce a regular surplus. This in turn enabled craft specialization. Ready access to raw materials and favorable sites for pottery manufacture provided further support for local industry; access to markets and a strategic location astride an important trade route encouraged economic activity” (pp. 300-01).

 

Deir el-Medina

From Red Land, Black Land: Daily Life in Ancient Egypt by Barbara Mertz

“The town was probably founded in the early Eighteenth Dynasty when the first royal tomb was begun in the Valley [of the Kings], and it was inhabited for roughly 400 years.  A wall surrounded the site, and a single gate led into the main street, which was straight and only four or five feet wide.  The houses, built of mudbrick and limestone chips, faced directly on the street.  Most of them were small, having on the average only four rooms.   The room facing the street had no windows, except for small gratings high up near the roof.  Behind was an all purpose room in which the family slept, dined, worked, and entertained; columns supported the ceiling, which was higher than that of the neighboring rooms and which thus allowed light to penetrate through clerestory-style windows.  There was usually a raised platform in this room, to serve as a couch and/or bed platform—or a birth box?  Behind the main room were two smaller chambers.  One was the kitchen and the other a storeroom or extra bedroom.  Most of the houses had basements, for storage, reached by stairs from the main room.  Other stairs led up to the roof, which was flat and served as extra living space.  There wasn’t much privacy to be had in these smallish houses, for family units might include grandma, auntie, and other undefined relatives in addition to parents and children”  (pp. 95-6).

The ruins of Deir el-Medina (Photo by Steve Cameron, Creative Commons)

The ruins of Deir el-Medina (Photo by Steve Cameron, Creative Commons)

 

Furniture

From Handbook to Life in Ancient Egypt, by Rosalie David

“Furniture has survived from the tombs—placed there to provide the owner with his comforts in the next life—and, much more rarely, from domestic contexts such as the town of Kahun.  Individual pieces were functional and sometimes elegant; quality varied according to the status of the family.  Pieces included beds, chests (for storing clothes, jewelry, and dishes), small tables, and stools.  Rushes and palm leaves were used for the manufacture of mats, baskets, and parts of furniture (beds and chair seats), but wood was most often employed for furniture construction.

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“Chairs and couches were particularly fine.  Those used by the upper classes were often made of ebony and ivory and incorporated feet carved to represent the paws of a lion.  The earliest type of seat was a wooden stool, used with a cushion; the design remained popular down into the New Kingdom, although some changes were introduced in Dynasty 5.  These seats had high sides and a back but they were obviously uncomfortable, and in the Middle Kingdom the back was altered and the sides were lowered.  Other styles were introduced in the New Kingdom, and thick cushions were used with them in place of the leather seat found in earlier periods.  Chairs were often used with footstools.  Variations on the simple seat included folding stools (rather like camp stools) and low seats for older people.  In some cases the furniture itself survives, but more frequently the evidence of the tomb murals provides the only detailed information” (p. 361)

 

Water—Drinking and Sanitation

From The Spirit of Ancient Egypt by Ana Ruiz

“Women would walk to the Nile, in groups, to fetch the water needed for drinking, washing and cooking. Female servants (baket) made frequent trips, transporting heavy jars balanced on their heads.

“The streets of ancient Egypt lacked a proper drainage system. Canals were used to draw away waste. The disposal of refuse was always a major concern. Household garbage was heaped into a dump outside the town and burned, or leveled, and houses would later be built on the site. Sewage was disposed of in the river as well as in the alleys.

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“Most people, particularly in the poorer class, bathed in the river; some were able to bathe at home in a water basin. Inside the homes of the wealthy, lavatories and bathing rooms were usually located beside the bedroom. The bathing facilities consisted of a small square room with a water basin and a slab of limestone, where the owner would sit while the servant poured water over him. The wastewater drained through an outlet, like a pipe, and emptied into the earth” (pp. 33-4).

 

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b Daily life from the tomb of Menna, Hunterian Museum D.1925.42/1 (Géraldine Ashby, contrib.)

b Daily life from the tomb of Menna, Hunterian Museum D.1925.42/1 (Géraldine Ashby, contrib.)

 

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Food and Drink

 

Tables Manners and Preparation

From Handbook to Life in Ancient Egypt, by Rosalie David

“Food and drink were prepared to nourish both the living and the dead.  In the Old Kingdom people squatted at low tables or stands to eat the food piled on the table, while their drinking bowls stood under the table or on another stand.  In the New Kingdom these traditions continued for the poor, but wealthy people now sat on high chairs and were waited on by their servants.  They ate with their fingers, and afterward water was poured over their hands from a ewer into a basin kept on a stand in the dining room.

Sampling the stew, from the tomb of Ankhtifi at el Moalla, Tenth Dynasty (Photo by Heidi Kontkanen)

Sampling the stew, from the tomb of Ankhtifi at el Moalla, Tenth Dynasty (Photo by Heidi Kontkanen)

“Very little is known of how the food was prepared or cooked, as no Egyptian cookery book has yet been discovered.  The contents of the tomb of Kha, a senior workman at Deir el-Medina, were found intact and are now housed in the Turin Museum, Italy.  Food placed in his tomb included shredded vegetables, bunches of garlic and onions, bowls of dates, raisins, and persea fruits, and spices including juniper berries and cumin seeds.

“Spit roasting over live embers was the usual method of cooking a goose or fish.  They also had stone hearths or metal braziers on which smaller pots were placed; larger pots were propped on two supports over the open fire, and in the late New Kingdom cooks used great metal cooking pots, presumably to prepare dishes where the vegetables, fish, herbs, spices, and occasionally fragments of meat and fowl were mixed together and braised slowly” (pp. 364-6)

 

The Ancient Egyptian Diet

From An Introduction to the Archaeology of Ancient Egypt by Kathryn A. Bard

“Bread and beer were the main staples of the ancient Egyptian diet. They were made from the two major cereals cultivated in Dynastic Egypt, emmer wheat (Triticum dicoccum) and six-row barley (Hordeum vulgare subsp. Hexastichum). Tomb scenes of baking and brewing are known, as are three-dimensional models of these activities (see Figure 3.1). At Giza 4th-Dynasty bakeries have been excavated, and real bread has been preserved in some Predynastic and later burials. Bread was made from flour ground on grinding stones and mixed with water that was then kneaded and left to rise. The dough could be shaped in a flat loaf or baked in ceramic molds. Potsherds from bread molds are often found in the remains of ancient settlements.

Woman grinding grain, mid to late Fifth Dynasty, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston G 2415 (Photo by Keith Payne)

Woman grinding grain, mid to late Fifth Dynasty, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston G 2415 (Photo by Keith Payne)

“Although domesticated cattle, sheep, goats, and pigs were raised in pharaonic Egypt, the major source of animal protein for most people was fish, including Nile perch, catfish, and mullets. Beef was used as offerings in temples, and would have been consumed by priests and persons of high status. Geese were domesticated, providing both meat and eggs. The chicken, which originated in southeast Asia, is not well attested in Egypt until Persian times.

Perhaps not the most pleasant of tasks, force-feeding a tethered cow, from Amarna. Brooklyn Museum 60.197.4 (Photo by Joan Lansberry)

Perhaps not the most pleasant of tasks, force-feeding a tethered cow, from Amarna. Brooklyn Museum 60.197.4 (Photo by Joan Lansberry)

“Wild cattle, addax, antelope, hartebeest, gazelle, ibex, Barbary sheep, and oryx were found in the desert, as were ostriches. (Other desert fauna included lions and hyenas, which were not hunted for food.) In pharaonic times many of these desert fauna were hunted for sport by royalty and nobles; hunting dogs similar to the greyhound were used for this.

In addition to domestic cultivation, wild animals were hunted for food until human expansion drove them away (Photo by Heidi Kontkanen)

In addition to domestic cultivation, wild animals were hunted for food until human expansion drove them away (Photo by Heidi Kontkanen)

“A number of vegetables were consumed by the ancient Egyptians, including onions, lettuce, radishes, and garlic, and types of cucumber, leek, and squash/gourd. The tubers of river plants, including papyrus, were also eaten, as were lotus seeds. Legumes such as chickpeas, peas, fava beans, and lentils provided protein as well.

Grain harvest in the tomb of Men(e)na, Scribe of the Fields of the Lord of the Two Lands, Eighteenth Dynasty, Sheikh Abd el-Qurna, tomb TT69 (Photo by Claudia Ali)

Grain harvest in the tomb of Men(e)na, Scribe of the Fields of the Lord of the Two Lands, Eighteenth Dynasty, Sheikh Abd el-Qurna, tomb TT69 (Photo by Claudia Ali)

“Dates from the date palm were the most plentiful fruit in ancient Egypt, but only after hand pollination was practiced. It is not known when this tree first arrived in Egypt, where it was not indigenous, unlike the dom palm, which has a bifurcated trunk and produces a large brown fruit. Figs (both the common fig and sycamore fig), persea, melon, watermelon, and wild Zizyphus berries were also consumed. Pomegranate and carob trees became more common in the New Kingdom. Grapes were grown not only to eat but also to make wine. Large jars of wine were provided for King Tutankhamen in his tomb and there are numerous tomb scenes of wine production” (pp. 58-60).

One man sows seeds while the other plows the field, from the Book of the Dead of Neferini, Ptolemaic Period, Neues Museum (Photo by Heidi Kontkanen)

One man sows seeds while the other plows the field, from the Book of the Dead of Neferini, Ptolemaic Period, Neues Museum (Photo by Heidi Kontkanen)

 

Beer

From The Thames and Hudson Dictionary of Ancient Egypt by Toby Wilkinson

“One of the staples of the Egyptian diet, beer was thick and nutritious but had a low alcohol content.  The basic ingredients were water and partly baked bread.  Sieved together, the resulting mixture was left to ferment; sugar from dates or honey could be added to accelerate the fermentation process.  The finished product was enhanced with various flavorings, including dates, honey and herbs.  The earliest evidence for beer production comes from the Predynastic town at Hierakonpolis.  Throughout Egyptian history, beer was produced by individual households, but also on an industrial scale for those employed on government building projects” (p. 40).

A funerary model of a bakery and brewery dating from the Eleventh Dynasty (Photo by Keith Schengili-Roberts)

A funerary model of a bakery and brewery dating from the Eleventh Dynasty (Photo by Keith Schengili-Roberts)

 

Something Sweet

From The Spirit of Ancient Egypt by Ana Ruiz

“The floral gardens of the wealthy attracted bees, which provided honey. Honey was used to sweeten food, drinks and desserts. It also served as a symbol of resurrection, as honey represented the tears shed by the god Ra, from which man was born. A similar myth holds honey to be symbolic of Ra’s tears as he wept over the glorious creation of mankind. Fruit juice and dates were the sweeteners used by the poorer classes. The date palm flourished throughout the region, producing plentiful fruit.

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“Preferred wines were sweetened and spiced with honey or juice from dates or pomegranates. These wines were sipped from bronze or glass goblets. The three basic kinds of wines were produced, from either grape, date or palm juice. Red wines seem to have been most popular during the Old Kingdom; however, whites became the wine of choice from the Middle Kingdom onward. The Egyptians were also the first to mix red and white wines to form a rosé wine; and during the New Kingdom, several types of wines were being mixed together” (pp. 38-9; 41).

 

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Work in a sculptors’ shop (photo by Richie O’Neill)

Work in a sculptors’ shop (photo by Richie O’Neill)

 

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Personal Appearance and Attire

 

Hair

From Handbook to Life in Ancient Egypt, by Rosalie David

“The Egyptians were very concerned with their personal appearance, and their hair proved no exception.  Evidence of hair care and hairstyles is provided y wigs, inscriptions, tomb scenes, and statuary.  As part of their routine to ensure cleanliness, many men and women used copper or bronze razors to shave their heads.  The upper and middle classes wore wigs when they went outdoors to provide protection against the sun, and also when they attended social functions.  Some were made entirely of real hair and others had hair mixed with vegetable fibers.  Sometimes, they were worn even if the owner retained his own hair.  According to the medical papyri, there were prescriptions to prevent baldness and to remedy grayness, but these were ineffectual.  One ointment made of juniper berries was recommended as an antidote to graying hair, and chopped lettuce, placed on a bald patch, was suggested as a cure for hair loss.  To augment the natural hair on mummies, false plaits were woven into the real tresses.  The dead were also equipped with wigs that were stored in boxes and kept in the tombs for use in the next world.

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“During the Old Kingdom men and women wore simple, short hairstyles, but there were many variations, and by the New Kingdom both sexes had longer hair, and flowers and ribbons were used as accessories.  Priests, however, were required to remove all bodily hair in order to be ritually “pure” when they came into contact with the god’s statue and his possessions.  Children’s heads were also shaved, although the “sidelock of youth” (one strand left at the side of the head) was worn until the age of puberty” (p. 366).

 

Cosmetics

From The Thames and Hudson Dictionary of Ancient Egypt by Toby Wilkinson

“Use of makeup, especially around the eyes, was a characteristic feature of ancient Egyptian culture from Predynastic times.  Kohl (eye-paint) was applied to protect the eyes, as well as for aesthetic reasons.  It was usually made from galena, giving a silvery-black color; during the Old Kingdom, green eye-paint was also used, made from malachite.  Egyptian women painted their lips and cheeks, using rouge made from red ochre.  Henna was applied as a dye for hair, finger-nails and toenails, perhaps also the nipples.  Creams and unguents to condition the skin were popular, and were made from various plant extracts” (p. 57).

A basket and cosmetic articles, Metropolitan Museum 36.3.189 (Yvonne Buskens, contrib)

A basket and cosmetic articles, Metropolitan Museum 36.3.189 (Yvonne Buskens, contrib.)

 

Clothing

From Red Land, Black Land: Daily Life in Ancient Egypt by Barbara Mertz

“There are many variations in the standard costume, some of them depending on the occupation of the wearer.  Field-workers, men and women alike, wore only a loincloth or short kilt.  The graceful acrobats and dainty little serving girls who waited on guests at parties were adorned only with narrow girdles and strings of beads.  Men’s working costumes varied even more; some could almost be called uniforms.  The vizier affected a straight, unpleated robe which fell from below the armpits to the ankles; it was held up by narrow tapes around the neck.  Sailors, and perhaps sportsmen, seem to have preferred an odd nether garment made of leather cut into an openwork, web-like pattern, with a solid patch left on the seat.  Priests wore various ornaments to indicate rank; the most picturesque uniform was that of the Sem-priest, a leopard skin arranged so that the snarling head lay on his breast.

Formal occasions required the finest wigs and attire, but ancient Egyptians were usually aware of their appearance (Photo by Richie O’Neill)

Formal occasions required the finest wigs and attire, but ancient Egyptians were usually aware of their appearance (Photo by Richie O’Neill)

“Although most people went barefoot, they did wear sandals when they got dressed up.  Even the poorer classes could afford papyrus sandals, but of course they didn’t last long; leather was more practical.  The gold and silver shoes, of which a few examples have been found, were probably only for funerary use.  They certainly would have been hideously uncomfortable in the hot climate of Egypt—but then, people were notoriously willing to suffer in order to be beautiful” (pp. 79-80).

The so-called Fuller’s Ball from Kahun, a leather object used to smooth and clean linen, Manchester Museum 27.5.2012 (Photo by Merja Attia)

The so-called Fuller’s Ball from Kahun, a leather object used to smooth and clean linen, Manchester Museum 27.5.2012 (Photo by Merja Attia)

 

Jewelry

From The Spirit of Ancient Egypt by Ana Ruiz

“Jewelry was extremely popular throughout ancient Egypt and was worn by men, women and children of all classes. It served as personal adornment, and was used in funerary work, adding color to the plain, white linen garb and indicating rank. It was also worn for magical purposes in the form of protective symbolic amulets.

Necklace of fly beads, gold and carnelian, New Kingdom, Museum of Fine Arts Boston 1980.167

Necklace of fly beads, gold and carnelian, New Kingdom, Museum of Fine Arts Boston 1980.167

“Precious stones such as diamonds and rubies were unknown to the Egyptians. Lapis lazuli was one of the most popular and venerated stones, as its deep blue hue and gold speckles was considered to represent the starry sky. Amethyst, onyx, garnet and carnelian were frequently imported and were most highly prized.

“The lower classes wore jewelry fashioned out of copper and faience— a substitute for lapis lazuli. Even the poorest of the peasants had something — they wore jewelry fashioned out of blue glass or even strands of wildflowers.

String of faience beads with carnelian and assorted stones, possibly Saite Period, Museum of Fine Arts Boston 12.1316

String of faience beads with carnelian and assorted stones, possibly Saite Period, Museum of Fine Arts Boston 12.1316

“The wealthy often wore wide bracelets, anklets, armlets, necklaces and collar inlaid with semi-precious stones. Thirteen wide bracelets were placed on the forearms of King Tutankhamen, seven on his right arm and six on his left. Fabulous bracelets, such as those belonging to Ramses II, were crafted with movable pins and hinges enabling the wearer to slip them on or off the wrist with ease”  (pp. 47-8).

 

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Bone and ivory combs from Naqada graves, Ashmolean Museum AN 1895.933-5, 937, 941-3 (Photo by Heidi Kontkanen)

Bone and ivory combs from Naqada graves, Ashmolean Museum AN 1895.933-5, 937, 941-3 (Photo by Heidi Kontkanen)

 

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Entertainment

 

Toys

From Handbook to Life in Ancient Egypt, by Rosalie David

“There is some difficulty in distinguishing true toys and games (intended to amuse and entertain their owners) from “dolls” or other figurines used for magical or religious purposes.  Enough examples survive, however, to show that both children and adults played with and enjoyed a wide variety of toys and games.  Young children played with dolls in cradles; animal toys, including crocodiles with movable jaws; puppets, including dancing dwarfs; rattles and tops; and miniature weapons.

A toy crocodile with a mouth that could snap shut, from Thebes, Neues Museum AM6817 (Photo by Heidi Kontkanen)

A toy crocodile with a mouth that could snap shut, from Thebes, Neues Museum AM6817 (Photo by Heidi Kontkanen)

“many toys were discovered at the town of Kahun.  Thee ranged from simple clay figurines (human, hippopotamus, crocodile, ape) that children probably modeled from Nile mud to sophisticated wooden dolls that were painted and had movable limbs.  They were found in a room in one of the houses, together with a pile of hair pellets for insertion into holes in the dolls’ heads.  The excavator identified this as the workshop of a toymaker who was producing dolls on a small commercial scale” (pp. 369-70).

 

Games

From The Thames and Hudson Dictionary of Ancient Egypt by Toby Wilkinson

“The ancient Egyptians enjoyed a wide variety of board games and athletic pursuits.  Prominent in the first category was senet (‘passing’).  This was for two players, using a board of 30 squares, arranged in three rows of ten.  Players had equal numbers of pieces, usually seven, which they moved according to the throw of a stick or knuckle bone.  The game became a standard part of funerary equipment, as it was regarded as a metaphor for the struggle to achieve a blessed afterlife.  A second popular board game was men (‘endurance’) which is attested from the First Dynasty.  It was probably a race game, and was played on a long narrow board which was employed as the hieroglyph for ‘endure’.  Another early game, which disappeared after the First Intermediate Period, was mehen (‘serpent’), played on a round board in the shape of a coiled snake.  Like senet, it seems to have had significance in a funerary context.  A board game for two players, with twenty squares, was introduced from the Levant but its rules are not known

Senet game box and pieces, from the Louvre (Photo by Keith Payne)

Senet game box and pieces, from the Louvre (Photo by Keith Payne)

“Sporting activities mentioned in texts or depicted in art include acrobatics, archery, stick fighting, boxing, swimming and running.  The Middle Kingdom tombs at Beni Hassan contain many detailed illustrations of sports such as mock combat, juggling, jousting from rafts, and dozen of different wrestling positions” (p. 88).

 

Humor

From Red Land, Black Land: Daily Life in Ancient Egypt by Barbara Mertz

“The question of humor in Egyptian stories is not so easy; it is always hard to tell what may strike someone else as funny.  The Egyptians’ sense of humor shows up in other media, particularly in painting and relief.  There are several late drawings, particularly on papyri and ostraca, which are obviously meant to be satirical; they show animals busily engaged in a number of human activities.  A mouse lady, seated at a dressing table, is being attended by a number of cat servants, while a cat nurse carries a mouse baby; a mouse king, mounted in a chariot, attacks a fortress manned by cats; a lion plays a board game with a gazelle.  One devastating little model from Tell el Amarna shows a group of monkeys driving a chariot; the charioteer monkey has, upon close examination, a terrible resemblance to the king, Akhenaten, who is often seen in his own chariot.  Other touches are less satirical and broader—a very fat woman and her very small donkey.  We can be reasonably sure that these satirical pictures appealed to the Egyptian’s sense of humor.  As for the stories, there is only one which was almost certainly regarded as a comic tale—“The Contendings of Horus and Set”…It is a broad, bawdy story which pays scant respect to the immortal gods, and much of its humor is of a visual nature.  The divine assembly of gods brawls and bickers like a group of spoiled children, Isis bustles about playing tricks on her enemies, and Astarte gets the supreme god Re out of a fit of the sulks by exposing herself to him.  These touches are not especially subtle, and they are certainly meant to be funny” (p. 114).

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Eat, Drink, and Be Merry

From The Spirit of Ancient Egypt by Ana Ruiz

“Egyptians were highly sociable and knew how to enjoy their leisure time, a welcome break from the drudgeries of everyday life… Ladies were offered wine from a small vase, poured into lovely drinking cups, while the men drank from goblets or larger vessels.

“Music and dance were an integral part in ancient Egyptian banquets.  As the elaborate dinner was being prepared, a band of hired musicians entertained the visitors, while female acrobats and dancers kept the guests amused. The orchestras consisted of both men and women; or a single dancer might be accompanied by three or four female singers.  Depictions of female figures in dancing poses have been found that date back to Predynastic times. In the tomb of Nebamen at Uast dated to the 18th Dynasty, two young dancing clapping girls are illustrated performing at a banquet. Back-up singers stood or sat directly behind the dancer. The beat was marked by rhythmic hand-clapping, much as in the flamenco music of Spain where it is considered an art in itself.  Dancers, customarily, were trained female servants, slave girls, ladies from the harem, or professional dancers hired for special occasions.  During the 4th Dynasty, some dancers were presented with gold necklaces as payment.

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“Music and dance were enjoyed by all social classes as an integral part of festivals, celebrations and ceremonies. Chanting was done during temple rituals and funeral ceremonies. Love songs were popular and were passed down through the generations. And the Egyptians sang songs when working in the fields as well as during banquets, celebrations and festivals. Ihy, a son of Het-Heru, was the ancient Egyptian god of music and dancing. He is usually depicted as a young child playing the sistrum or sacred rattle. Het-Heru and Bast were goddesses of music, dance and joy. Unfortunately, no musical notations nor written records of musical pieces have been discovered”  (pp. 59-60).

 

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It is hot in front of the oven! Funerary chapel of Hetepherakhet, Fifth Dynasty, Saqqara, RMO Leiden (Photo by Yvonne Buskens)

It is hot in front of the oven! Funerary chapel of Hetepherakhet, Fifth Dynasty, Saqqara, RMO Leiden (Photo by Yvonne Buskens)

 

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Links and Online Reads

 

Yvonne Buskens shared a link to i-Medjat no. 10, an online Egyptological journal edited by the Unité de Recherche-Action Guadeloupe (UNIRAG) and available for free in electronic form.

Yvonne also shared this link to an online edition of Gold and Gold Mining in Ancient Egypt and Nubia by Rosemarie Klemm and Dietrich Klemm.

Also from Yvonne, we have this article on stone extraction with pickaxes in ancient Egypt, certainly a part of the daily toil for some… Read the article from Per Storemyr Archaeology & Conservation.

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Mark Lauria shared a link to an article on ancient Egyptian food from the Cairo Kitchen.

Ia Georgia shared this link to an article on ancient Egyptian society and family life from the University of Chicago Fathom Archive.

Richie O’Neill shared this link to the Ancient Egypt and Archaeology (UK) website’s section on Deir el-Medina.

Richie also shared this link to the Turin Papyrus with its lurid accounts of life in the Twentieth Dynasty!

 

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Agricultural scene from the funerary chapel of Hetepherakhet, Fifth Dynasty, Saqqara, RMO Leiden (Photo by Yvonne Buskens)

Agricultural scene from the funerary chapel of Hetepherakhet, Fifth Dynasty, Saqqara, RMO Leiden (Photo by Yvonne Buskens)

 

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In the News and On the Blogs

 

Luxor Times: “Minister of Antiquities approves moving 5 objects of King Tut Ankh Amon’s collection to the Grand Egyptian Museum” (Luxor Times)

Luxor Times: “The reconstruction of Amenhotep III statues at Kom El Hetan to begin” (Luxor Times)

Joan Lansberry: “Mourning Men in Relief” (Joan Lansberry)

Egypt Tourism Board: “Mobilization of the Dahshour World Heritage Site for Community Development” (Vicky Metafora)

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The Independent: “The Discovery of Tutankhamun’s Tomb and the Legacy of Howard Carter” (Yvonne Buskens)

University of Chicago: “Demotic Dictionary Unveils Culture of Ancient Egypt” (Ia Gerogia)

Pharaon Magazine: “The Association for the Protection of the Ramesseum publishes Memnonia vol. 22” (François Tonic)

Harvard Magazine: “A Different Take on Tut” (Mark Lauria)

Saqqara.nl:  “The tombs of Maya, Horemheb, Tia, Meryneith, Ptahemwia and Pay & Raia are officially open to the public” (Yvonne Buskens)

 

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shemsutag

Copyright by Keith Payne, 2013.  All rights reserved.

All photography by Claudia Ali, Merja Attia, Yvonne Buskens, Heidi Kontkanen, Joan Lansberry, Richie O’Neill, and Keith Payne as indicated by watermark are copyrighted by their respective creators who retain and reserve all rights.  All other copyrighted photography is used in accordance with the Fair Use provisions of copyright law.  All remaining photography and images are either shared via Creative Commons or are in the public domain.

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