Egypt’s pharaohs have left a powerful legacy of stone architecture, monumental inscriptions and religious art, allowing us to reconstruct their achievements with a good degree of certainty. However what was day by day life like for the ordinary Egyptian?
Imagine the population of historical Egypt arranged in a social pyramid: the pyramid base is supported by slaves, servants and the serfs; and tenant farmers work the estates owned by the king, the elite and the temples.
Subsequent come the skilled and semi-skilled artisans; the soldiers, sailors and people employed on the nice state projects (the building sites, tombs and temples). Above them are the educated professional classes, including scribes, accountants and doctors. Finally come the nobility; the elite who control much of Egypt’s wealth.
The royal household stay unique and aloof at the top of the pyramid, while the king, or pharaoh – the only mortal who is deemed able to speak effectively with the state gods – is superior to everyone.
Egypt had the highest delivery rate within the historic world. And but, things have been removed from perfect. Illnesses and accidents couldn’t be avoided, and there was no welfare programme to protect the unfortunate. The family provided the only reliable help mechanism and was subsequently an institution of immense significance, with marriage a practical quite than a romantic bond, designed to create a viable financial unit.
Everyone, even the gods and goddesses, married. An single man was seen as incomplete, and schoolboys have been advised to wed early and father as many children as possible. Destined to comply with in their parents’ footsteps, boys were trained in the trades and professions by their fathers and uncles, while girls stayed at home to be taught from their mothers. In their early teens girls would marry and the cycle would start again.
Husbands and wives had complementary however differing roles within the marriage. While the husband worked outside the house, earning the rations that may feed his family, the wife or ‘mistress of the house’ ran the household, providing meals, drink, clothing and cleaning providers as needed.
To reflect this traditional allocation of duties, the Egyptian artists depicted ladies as pale skinned ‘indoor’ people, while men appeared as darker skinned ‘outside’ workers.
Childcare, cooking and cleaning were considered vital, but they have little impact on the archaeological or written record. Consequently we know less about Egypt’s women than we do about its men. One thing we do know, however, is that ladies had the identical legal rights as men of equal social status. This allowed them to own their own property and to live alone without the intervention of a male guardian.
Most married girls spent much of their lives either pregnant or breast-feeding. With little medical advice available, amulets and charms bearing the figures of the pregnant hippopotamus goddess Taweret and the dwarf demi-god Bes had been used to protect both the mom and her unborn child.
The mother prepared for delivery by removing her clothing and loosening her hair. In a rich household she could have retreated to a specially constructed birthing hut; this was a privilege available to few. The mom squatted on birthing bricks for the delivery, and a midwife used a pointy obsidian or flint knife to cut the umbilical cord. If something went improper, there was very little the midwife could do to help.
Moms breastfed their babies for as much as three years.
The Egyptians built their towns and cities from mud-brick, reserving stone for his or her temples and tombs. Building with this materials was each cheap and fast, however sadly, over time, almost all the mudbrick houses and palaces have crumbled and dissolved.
Fortuitously, the workmen’s village of Deir el-Medina – house of the royal tomb-builders – has survived relatively intact. Right here the terraced houses have been lengthy, narrow and dark, with a wooden front door opening directly onto the primary street. Each house included two living or public rooms, a storeroom or bedroom, and a kitchen equipped with a mud-brick oven. The roof over the kitchen was made from matting that will enable smoke and cooking smells to escape. Stairs gave access to the rest of the roof, which could be used as an additional living space.
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