For most people, the words ‘Ancient Egypt’ bring the pyramids, ancient pharaohs, and the all-powerful Cleopatra to mind. While those are true and did exist in that period of time, Ancient Egypt was more than just the pharaohs and the pyramids.
Ancient Egypt was a civilization of northeastern Africa, concentrated along the lower parts of the Nile River in what is now the country of Egypt and it is one of six civilizations in history to arise independently. Ancient Egypt stood as one of the world’s most advanced civilizations for nearly 3,000 years and created a culture so rich that it has shaped its own field of study.
Read this 8 facts about ancient Egypt you probably didn’t know.
While Cleopatra is one of the figures most commonly associated with Ancient Egypt, she was not Egyptian. Even though she was born in Alexandria, she was actually part of a long line of Greek Macedonians who originally descended from Ptolemy I, one of Alexander the Great’s lieutenants. Cleopatra was famous for being one of the first members of the Ptolemaic dynasty to actually speak the Egyptian language.
Many women, including Cleopatra, had a wide range of freedoms and rights, which contrasts from the rights women have today. While women in Ancient Egypt were still viewed as property and socially inferior to men, Egyptian women were granted a great deal of legal and financial independence. They could serve on juries, make wills, buy and sell property, and even enter into legal contracts, just like men could. The few Egyptian women who worked outside the home received the same pay as men who worked the same job. Unlike the women of Greece, who were basically owned in every way by their husbands, women had the absolute right to divorce and remarry without an issue. Women in Ancient Egypt were given many more freedoms than women in today’s society.
Many of people have seen Egyptian artwork that depicted pharaohs as slim, strong, and powerful while, in reality, many pharaohs were overweight and a tad chubby. The Egyptian diet of beer, wine, honey, and bread was high in sugar and probably did a number on royal waistlines. Examinations of mummies have showed that several pharaohs did experience obesity and even suffered from diabetes. A specific example of this is Queen Hatshepsut, who lived in the 15th century B.C. While artwork about her depicts her as slim and lithe, historians actually believe she was quite overweight and balding.
Contrary to popular belief, the great pyramids were not built by depressed slaves. Yes, the life of a pyramid builder certainly wasn’t easy, as skeletons of workers have shown, but evidence suggests that paid laborers were actually behind the construction of these massive tombs. The idea that slaves were forced to build the pyramids at the crack of a whip surfaced in the fifth century B.C. by a Greek historian, but has since been proved a myth. In fact, many modern historians have found weathered graffiti markings on the sides of the tombs, showing that the laborers building the tombs took great pride in their work and assigned names to their building crews.
Along with Cleopatra and the pyramids, people often associate the Egyptians with cats. Many Egyptians were fond of cats and treated them like royalty, but they also favored lions, dogs, hawks, and baboons. These animals were sometimes kept as pets and held special places in the Egyptian home. Others were trained as helpers. For example, Egyptian police officers were assisted by dogs and even trained monkeys on patrol. Many were mummified and buried with their owners after they died, proving to be lifelong partners, friends, and protectors.
Also, most people believe that workers obeyed everything their pharaoh said. Even though they did regard their pharaoh with the highest respect, workers were not afraid to protest for better working conditions. One of the most famous examples arose during the reign of the pharaoh Ramses III. When laborers did not receive their usual payment of grain, they organized one of the first ever recorded strikes, which took the form of a sit-in. The workers simply stopped working and sat down, refusing to work until their protests were heard and met.
While men wearing makeup is frowned upon in today’s society, many Egyptian men wore makeup, along with women. Both men and women believed that wearing copious amounts of makeup would give them the protection of the gods Ra and Horus, two gods they particularly worshipped. Many of the cosmetics used were made by grinding ores like malachite into a chalky substance that was applied liberally around the eyes. Women used henna to color their hands and fingernails, and they stained their cheeks with red paint. Both sexes often wore perfume made from oil and certain spices. Wearing makeup was believed to have magical healing powers, and later, historians found out at they weren’t wrong: research shows that the lead-based cosmetics many Egyptians wore helped stave off eye infections.
One of the most famous pharaohs, King Tut, had a mysterious death, one that has left historians clueless. Little is known about the young pharaoh, but some historians that his death may have occurred from a hunt gone wrong. King Tut was embalmed without a heart or chest wall, which suggests that he may have suffered a drastic injury before eventually dying. Many Egyptologists believe that one of the causes for his wound might have been a bite from a hippopotamus. Past evidence indicates that many Egyptians hunted the beasts for sport and many statues of the animal were found in King Tut’s tomb. Some statues even depicted the young pharaoh throwing a harpoon. If King Tut was actually fond of hunting the hippopotamus for sport, his death might have come from a game gone wrong.
Ancient Egypt was one of the largest and most advanced civilizations in history, giving us many forms of architecture, methods of mathematics, and inspiration for artwork. The civilization has been studied for decades, and will most likely continue to be studied, as new things are being discovered every day.