Done by: Fionna, Shanel & Nicole
Have you ever wondered what it was like back then during the Ancient Egyptian times? Our blog post will explore the daily lives of the Ancient Egyptians in 2600 - 2160 B.C. We will be focusing on two different aspects – mainly family life and fashion. The reason for this is to familiarise ourselves with the lives of the Ancient Egyptians. Personally, before having studied about them, we had thought of them to have led mundane lives and were curious about how the lives of Ancient Egyptians differed from ours. The significance of our post is to outline the similarities and differences in the lives of Ancient Egyptians and others. Our lives today are similar as the Ancient Egyptians in terms of gender roles as well as the way we go about our daily lives; importance of family and daily lives. On the other hand, Ancient Egyptians class statuses were determined according to their clothing but in our lives today, our clothing does not determine our wealth. Instead, people pass judgments on people based on the brand of clothes they wear and the accessories they use to carry themselves.
The role of a nuclear family was of great importance in ancient Egypt. Family life began early; both men and women married at a young age. Men married at a later age than women as they had to become established and have the means to support a family. Polygamy was common – a husband had several wives, where he would have a chief wife who was considered to be of higher status and had more say as compared to the other wives. While polygamy was common, it was recorded that couples were affectionate towards one another. Their affection is reflected by New Kingdom love poems, “Your hand is in my hand, my body trembles with joy, my heart is exalted because we walk together”.
While divorce existed, it was uncommon as the Egyptians were committed to their families and the idea of a family unit was sacred. As part of the family, children also played a crucial role. Particularly in royal families, they were considered to be a blessing from the gods. Figure 1 below shows Akhenaten with his famous wife Nefertiti and their three children. The painting depicts the family interacting directly with one another, instead of through a wet nurse. It emphasizes on the fact that the role of a pharaoh is secondary to the role of a father.
It is also important to note that while women were expected to raise children and take care of household duties, women had equal standing as men. Women had legal rights to participate in business deals, entitled to own lands and were expected to represent themselves in court cases. It is evidential in the case of Queen Hatshepsut, the only woman who declared herself pharaoh; an Egyptian wife and mother who was highly respected in this ancient society (Splendors of Ancient Egypt Educational Guide).
While importance of family remains in today’s world, there has been a redefinition of marriage; same sex marriages, interracial marriages etc. In terms of gender roles in today’s society, women are still expected to be caretakers of children and take charge of the household. Women have equal standing as men in terms of education and employment opportunities.
In Ancient Egypt, fashion determined the wealth and status of the person. The quality of the clothing, the luxurious jewellery, headdresses and makeup that both men and women use.
The ancient Egyptians highly regarded cleanliness and personal appearance. Cleanliness was apparently next to godliness in ancient Egyptian times. The ancient Egyptians were always careful to have their garments freshly washed and laundered. It was important for them to be appropriately groomed, or they’d be regarded as inferior. Clothing types also determined the class status of the ancient Egyptians; thus they varied between the royalties, the wealthy, middle class and slaves/servants. Most of the clothing are made up of loincloth which is made of linen to keep them cool in the humid desert climate. The quality of linen also determines the status of the person where the higher quality ones are usually more exquisite and the linen would be so fine that you could almost see through it. Such finely woven linen was called byssus and was mainly for royalty; coarse cloth, on the other hand, was mainly worn by peasants.
People were buried in pyramids with the best quality linen so that they could have a good afterlife. For example, “Tutankhamen's tomb yielded many pieces of clothing... some of them with fine linen linings”. Pepi I, a king during the Sixth dynasty of Egypt, had a vision that his ka would
“...be taken to heaven… to the noble ones of god… to those the god loves, who lean on their Dam-sceptres, the guardians of Upper Egypt, who clothe themselves with linen, who live on figs, who drink the wine, who anoint themselves with the best oil…”
Pyramid Texts, Old Kingdom
Working class men wore loincloths or short kilts, wealthy men wore knee-length shirts, loincloth and adorned themselves with jewellery while working class women wore full length wraparound gowns and close fitting sheaths. Elite women reinforced their appearance with higher quality linen, makeup and jewellery. At parties, servants and slave girls wore little more than skimpy panties and jewellery.
Animal skins were also made into clothing; they were mostly worn by priests and pharaohs as they were regarded as first servants of god. Leopard skins were especially favoured. Additionally, kings and queens would wear ceremonial clothing decorated by feathers.
Earrings were unknown to the Egyptians until they learned about it during the Second Intermediate Period (period when Ancient Egypt fell into disarray for a second time) on the Hyksos. Both men and women were attracted to earrings instantly and wore them from then on. It was also discovered that earrings were carved from shell, bone and red jasper. Jewellery were not only for decorative purposes but also served amuletic and status purposes; Military symbols which were strung on bead strands and heavy gold circle chains were awards for special service to the country and hippopotamus charms were worn by pregnant women as a protection from this goddess of childbirth (Brier & Hobbs, 2008). While the rich wore jeweled or beaded necklaces and pendants made of silver or gold, the poorer people wore jewelry made of copper (Splendors of Ancient Egypt Educational Guide).
Ancient Egyptian makeup look is pretty similar to our modern day makeup where they use eyeliners, eyeshadows, blusher, lipstick and powder. However, both men and women wore makeup on their eyes and lips. Their eyes were rimmed, eyebrows were painted, lashes were darkened and liner was drawn with a black powder called kohl. Kohl is a fine black or dark grey powder. Better quality kohl was made by grinding galena (lead sulphide) or stibnite (antimony sulphide) which are ingredients that are poisonous but it could also made from carbon black or iron oxide which is non- poisonous. The Egyptians line their eyes to help protect it from the sunlight as it is said that it would reflect the sun away from their eyes. The red powder called ochre was used for the same reason as a blusher and lipstick. Ever wondered why women in ancient Egyptian paintings have a cone on top of their heads? The cones are are cosmetic cones used as perfumes where women would wear a cone made of scented oil on their heads that would slowly melt, making their them smell nice at parties or gatherings.
Canadian Museum of History (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.historymuseum.ca/cmc/exhibitions/civil/egypt/egcl06e.shtml
St. Petersburg Times. (1999). Retrieved from http://www2.sptimes.com/Egypt/EgyptCredit.4.2.html