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Thursday, April 23, 2009

WOMEN IN ANCIENT EGYPT

If you were a woman travelling back in time, ancient Egypt would be the best place to land.
Pharaohs ruled from approximately 3000 BC to 300 BC and they made Egypt a rich and powerful nation, admired throughout the ancient world. They built great temples for their gods and elaborate tombs for themselves.

The mark of a pharaoh was an oval shape containing hieroglyphs, called cartouches. Two of them make up a pharaoh's name and, as well as the Rosetta Stone, it is these cartouches that helped Egyptologists decipher the ancient Egyptian language.

The ancient Egyptians believed that their pharaohs were god-kings. They had to dress, eat and even wash in a special way, and every day they went to the temple to offer food to their ancestors. People thought the god-kings were all-powerful and controlled the flowing and flooding of the River Nile and the growth of crops, as well as the country's success in foreign trade.

It was great to be a woman during the rule of the pharaohs. Pharaohs' wives were also revered as gods and shared their husbands' wealth. The queens were important, but few women ever ruled the country. It could happen only for a short time at the end of a dynasty when there were no men to take over.

Hatshepsut was the only strong woman ruler. When her husband died, she ruled for her stepson because he was only five years old. She held power for about 20 years. But Hatshepsut was referred to as "His Majesty" despite being a woman. She was depicted as a man, without breasts and wearing the dress of a ruling pharaoh, complete with false beard. The queen was so hated by her grandson, that when she died, he ordered her name erased from her monuments and all her statues destroyed.

Nefertiti is depicted in the famous bust wearing a crown and necklace rich with jewels. She was the wife of Akhenaten and helped him establish a new city at Amarna on the east bank of the River Nile in Middle Egypt.

Nefertiti is often confused with Nefertari, the favorite wife of Ramesses the Great, around 1275 BC. Nefertari was known for her beauty and charm and her tomb in the Valley of Queens is the most beautifully painted of all the royal tombs, a sign of her husband’s devotion.

Cleopatra, 51-30 BC, was the seventh queen to bear that name. Cleopatra was not born Egyptian but was the last pharaoh of a dynasty in the Greco-Roman period. She was the only pharaoh who had to learn the Egyptian language.

In general, women had a good life in ancient Egypt. They could own property, but they did not take part in government business. Even in temple ritual, priestesses played some part, but the high priests were always men.

Women who were not of the wealthy class dealt with everyday living and usually were farmers or worked for others. Lower class women were servants.

Common women's work included tasks such as: Twice a day, women fetched water and filled huge clay vessels that stood in the courtyard or by the doorway of every house; women did most of the weaving, spinning linen thread from flax fibers; as farmers, women never handled tools with blades. They winnowed the grain, separating the stalks and seeds, and ground the grain for baking; women helped to make wine and beer, and they pressed oil from nuts and plants.; women did not wash dirty laundry. Men handled the laundry because it was washed in the Nile and there was a constant threat from crocodiles along the river banks; sometimes women were hired as mourners to lead funeral processions. These women were paid to wail loudly and cover their heads with dust. Behind them walked officials and the family group.

Ancient Egyptians usually married within their own social group. Girls became brides when they were about 12, and boys married at about age 14.

People dressed in light linen clothing made from flax. Weavers used young plants to produce fine, almost sheer fabric for the wealthy, but most people wore garments of coarser texture. The cloth was nearly always white. Pleats, held in place with stiffening starch, were the main form of decoration, but sometimes a pattern of loose threads was woven into the cloth. Slaves or servants had dresses of patterned fabric. Women wore simple, angle-length sheath dresses with a shawl or cloak for cooler weather.

Women both rich and poor owned jewelry and used make-up, especially eye paint. The favorite eye shadows were green powdered malachite and black crushed lead ore for kohl. Kohl eyeliner was used to help protect the eyes against infection. Women loved perfume and rubbed scented oils into their skin to protect it against the harsh desert winds. Face creams, eye paints and body oils were kept in decorative glass and pottery bottles and jars. They paid great attention to their hair. Some colored their tresses with henna. Others cut their hair short.

The wealthy wore elaborate wigs made from human hair at ceremonial occasions and banquets.

People believed that amulets protected them from harm and warded off accidents and sickness. They wore them as personal jewelry and were buried with them for use in the afterlife.

It is fascinating to explore the world of women in ancient Egypt. Five thousand years ago and now one fact remains true: behind every great man stands an even greater woman.

If you were a woman travelling back in time, ancient Egypt would be the best place to land.
Pharaohs ruled from approximately 3000 BC to 300 BC and they made Egypt a rich and powerful nation, admired throughout the ancient world. They built great temples for their gods and elaborate tombs for themselves.

The mark of a pharaoh was an oval shape containing hieroglyphs, called cartouches. Two of them make up a pharaoh's name and, as well as the Rosetta Stone, it is these cartouches that helped Egyptologists decipher the ancient Egyptian language.

The ancient Egyptians believed that their pharaohs were god-kings. They had to dress, eat and even wash in a special way, and every day they went to the temple to offer food to their ancestors. People thought the god-kings were all-powerful and controlled the flowing and flooding of the River Nile and the growth of crops, as well as the country's success in foreign trade.

It was great to be a woman during the rule of the pharaohs. Pharaohs' wives were also revered as gods and shared their husbands' wealth. The queens were important, but few women ever ruled the country. It could happen only for a short time at the end of a dynasty when there were no men to take over.

Hatshepsut was the only strong woman ruler. When her husband died, she ruled for her stepson because he was only five years old. She held power for about 20 years. But Hatshepsut was referred to as "His Majesty" despite being a woman. She was depicted as a man, without breasts and wearing the dress of a ruling pharaoh, complete with false beard. The queen was so hated by her grandson, that when she died, he ordered her name erased from her monuments and all her statues destroyed.

Nefertiti is depicted in the famous bust wearing a crown and necklace rich with jewels. She was the wife of Akhenaten and helped him establish a new city at Amarna on the east bank of the River Nile in Middle Egypt.

Nefertiti is often confused with Nefertari, the favorite wife of Ramesses the Great, around 1275 BC. Nefertari was known for her beauty and charm and her tomb in the Valley of Queens is the most beautifully painted of all the royal tombs, a sign of her husband’s devotion.

Cleopatra, 51-30 BC, was the seventh queen to bear that name. Cleopatra was not born Egyptian but was the last pharaoh of a dynasty in the Greco-Roman period. She was the only pharaoh who had to learn the Egyptian language.

In general, women had a good life in ancient Egypt. They could own property, but they did not take part in government business. Even in temple ritual, priestesses played some part, but the high priests were always men.

Women who were not of the wealthy class dealt with everyday living and usually were farmers or worked for others. Lower class women were servants.

Common women's work included tasks such as: Twice a day, women fetched water and filled huge clay vessels that stood in the courtyard or by the doorway of every house; women did most of the weaving, spinning linen thread from flax fibers; as farmers, women never handled tools with blades. They winnowed the grain, separating the stalks and seeds, and ground the grain for baking; women helped to make wine and beer, and they pressed oil from nuts and plants.; women did not wash dirty laundry. Men handled the laundry because it was washed in the Nile and there was a constant threat from crocodiles along the river banks; sometimes women were hired as mourners to lead funeral processions. These women were paid to wail loudly and cover their heads with dust. Behind them walked officials and the family group.

Ancient Egyptians usually married within their own social group. Girls became brides when they were about 12, and boys married at about age 14.

People dressed in light linen clothing made from flax. Weavers used young plants to produce fine, almost sheer fabric for the wealthy, but most people wore garments of coarser texture. The cloth was nearly always white. Pleats, held in place with stiffening starch, were the main form of decoration, but sometimes a pattern of loose threads was woven into the cloth. Slaves or servants had dresses of patterned fabric. Women wore simple, angle-length sheath dresses with a shawl or cloak for cooler weather.

Women both rich and poor owned jewelry and used make-up, especially eye paint. The favorite eye shadows were green powdered malachite and black crushed lead ore for kohl. Kohl eyeliner was used to help protect the eyes against infection. Women loved perfume and rubbed scented oils into their skin to protect it against the harsh desert winds. Face creams, eye paints and body oils were kept in decorative glass and pottery bottles and jars. They paid great attention to their hair. Some colored their tresses with henna. Others cut their hair short.

The wealthy wore elaborate wigs made from human hair at ceremonial occasions and banquets.

People believed that amulets protected them from harm and warded off accidents and sickness. They wore them as personal jewelry and were buried with them for use in the afterlife.

It is fascinating to explore the world of women in ancient Egypt. Five thousand years ago and now one fact remains true: behind every great man stands an even greater woman.

3 comments:

Amy said...

Interesting stuff! So many times and places in history when it was a BAD, bad thing to be a woman.

Caroline Clemmons said...

Good blog, but with my luck I'd have been one of the slaves scrubbing the kitchen or toilets. Wait, that's what I do now. Oh, yeah, I also get to write.

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