What Was The Role Of Women In Ancient Egyptian Society – Women played traditional and prominent roles in ancient Egyptian society, power structures and religion. We know much about their lives as men from art, archeology and literature.
Women in ancient Egypt played an important role in many aspects of daily life and religion. They had equal rights with men in property and court cases, but the common woman focused on the traditional role of wife and mother. Women at the highest levels of society can reach the same level as men, sometimes run the country and play a prominent role in religious ceremonies. In this article, I will review the role that women played in the ancient Egyptian civilization.
What Was The Role Of Women In Ancient Egyptian Society
During most of Egypt’s history, men ruled the country. But under certain circumstances, women ruled as kings, especially when there was no suitable male to take the throne.
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The most famous of these Egyptian rulers was Hatshepsut. She ruled Egypt when her husband Tuthmosis II died and her stepson Tuthmosis III was too young to take the throne. He built a memorial temple known as Deir el-Bahari and sometimes had himself depicted in a statue with a royal beard.
Of course, everyone is familiar with Cleopatra VII, who was Greek. Popular media portray her as a beautiful woman who seduced both Julius Caesar and Mark Antony before killing herself with an asp bite. However, portraits and coins bearing his likeness reveal that he was in fact a domestic. His likability and political skill were probably the secrets of his success.
The most important role of the common woman in ancient Egypt was the wife. A man was expected to marry at the age of 20 but it is not clear how old his bride is. Weddings were celebrated with a whole week of celebrations.
The royals often took their sisters or daughters as wives and sometimes had multiple wives. Rameses II had 8 wives and other concubines who bore him more than 150 children. The average Egyptian had only one wife. Adultery was considered a serious crime punishable by death for a man at least. Sometimes marriages ended in divorce and remarriage was possible after divorce or the death of a spouse. Sometimes the first marriage contract contained a prenuptial agreement about the terms of a possible future divorce.
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Motherhood was the ultimate goal of many ancient Egyptian women. When children did not appear, they participated in magic, religious rituals, or drank medicinal potions to overcome infertility. Those who gave birth successfully had to deal with high infant mortality rates and the risk of dying in childbirth.
An ancient Egyptian wisdom text urged its students to take care of their mother because she had done the same when the student was young. The text describes the role of traditional motherhood. It said:
When you were born…he took care of you. His chest was in your mouth for three years. When you grew up, your excrement was disgusting, so he took you to school and learned to write. He continued to take care of you every day with bread and beer in the house.
Generally, women were depicted in Egyptian art with yellow skin and men with red. This probably shows that women spend more time indoors out of the sun and have lighter skin. The responsibilities of motherhood probably prevented many women from doing more work.
Women Who Changed The History Of Ancient Egypt
However, there is evidence that some women worked outside the home. The women in the cemetery are shown in the public square trading goods next to the men. Farmers’ wives would help them harvest.
Women are also working in fields that we traditionally consider feminine. Old Kingdom illustrations show women grinding grain to make flour. Pregnant women would call midwives to deliver their babies while crouching on the bricks. Women also served as professional assistants at funerals, pouring dust on their heads and crying.
Women played an important role in religious rituals, especially that of the goddess Hathor. They served as singers, dancers and musicians to please the gods.
The most prominent role of the priestess was the Goddess of Amun. The reigning kings were said to be the son of the god Amun and the royal women of the 18th Dynasty often had this title. It was first used before being revived in the 25th and 26th Dynasties when the daughters of the Nubian kings who ruled Egypt carried this title. These Nubian women lived in Thebes and handled the day-to-day administration of the country on behalf of their father.
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Goddesses played an important role in Egyptian religion. Their role usually represented that of women in society. Often, the gods were organized into triads or families. Among the most famous of these were Osiris and his wife Isis and son Horus. Another well-known triad is Amun with his wife Mut and son Khonsu. Temple buildings such as those at Karnak often had temples dedicated to all three members of the trinity.
Other goddesses, while part of the trinity are well known in their own right. These included the cow-headed goddess Hathor, who was visited by pilgrims seeking to conceive or find a suitable mate. Another female goddess was the bloodthirsty, lioness-headed Sekhmet. She was the goddess of war and pestilence and Amenhotep III erected hundreds of statues of her in his temple at Thebes. The goddess Isis, symbolically seen as the mother of the ruling king, was often depicted nursing her son Horus.
By Nicole B. HansenPhD & MA in Egyptology, BA EgyptologyNicole B. Hansen received her PhD and MA in Egyptology from the University of Chicago and her BA in Egyptology from UC Berkeley. He worked for the Giza Plateau Mapping Project at the Giza Pyramids and the Theban Mapping Project office in Cairo. He has taught courses in Egyptian art, language and culture at the University of Chicago, the American University in Cairo and the Mideast. She has a special interest in the continuity of ancient Egyptian culture to the present day, animals, medicine, magic and culinary history and lives in the village of Luxor far from the archaeological sites. Michael Scott looks at how the crisis period in the fourth century BC was a dynamic moment of change for women in the Greek world.
Detail from a Terracotta lekythos, showing two women spinning wool into yarn and two women working on a vertical loom, c.550–530 BC. The Metropolitan Museum of Art.
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The surviving sources of ancient Greece are remarkably written by men writing to men. The visible evidence that remains – temples, buildings and war memorials – all speak of a human world. Extant works of art feature women in a variety of ways, but rarely provide insight into any other kind of world than one in which women were controlled, contained and often exploited. Even the democracy of ancient Athens, today’s respected state, denied women the vote. The place of women in ancient Greece was summed up very well by the historian Thucydides writing in the fifth century BC when he said: ‘The great glory [of women] is that they are not talked about very much among men, whether it is praise or blame.
However in the last 50 years or so there has been a change. Encouraged by the rapid natural change in women’s roles in modern society, historians have taken a fresh look at women in ancient Greece. The result has been a change in the depth and nature of our understanding of them. A range of female influences and knowledge has gradually become apparent: from the power of female goddesses to the social and religious power of priestesses, from the female model of Homer to the anti-heroines of myth and drama, from the women who were the power behind the throne to those who wore the crown themselves, from the forced prostitution of women to the pamphlets women’s sex and literary genius poetry.
In one lifetime, between the fall of Athens in 404 BC and the rise of Alexander the Great in 330 BC, the Greek world was turned upside down. What does the story of this cruel dawn reveal about the role of women in ancient Greece? The revolution that took place was spurred in part by the disastrous results of the Peloponnesian War, a 30-year conflict that had brought democratic Athens to its knees. Because of the resulting increase in poverty, Greek women began to work outside the home. The orator Demosthenes, writing in the mid-fourth century, lamented that they were now working as nurses, wool workers and grape harvesters because of the poverty of the city. This economic campaign was accompanied by great political upheavals, a further breakdown of the distinction between the public and private worlds and new ways of talking about religion. In different parts of ancient Greece women were seen for different reasons. In Athens they appeared as a major forum in the comic debates of sexual and political equality and in the courts of law on matters of citizenship. In Sparta, women appeared as
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