Life by the Nile

What was life like in Egypt 3,000 years ago?

Most people in ancient Egypt were employed by the state, which also often provided them with housing. Wages were paid in the form of food, clothing and other necessities. Surplus rations could be swapped for household items and luxuries.  In one typical transaction a New Kingdom workman bartered two goats, one pig and two planks of sycamore wood for a decorated coffin.


    The father headed the family in Ancient Egypt. Upon his death, his oldest son became the head.
    But women, unlike most ancient civilizations, had almost as many rights as men. They could own and inherit property, buy and sell goods, and make a will. A wife could obtain a divorce.
    Kings commonly had several wives at the same time.  In many cases, a kings' chief wife was a member of the royal family, such as his sister or half sister.
    Children played with dolls, tops, and stuffed leather balls. They had board games with moves determined by the throw of dice. They also had several kinds of pets, including cats, dogs, monkeys, baboons, and birds.

    Only a small percentage of boys and girls went to school in ancient Egypt, and most of them came from upper-class families. These students attended schools for scribes.
    Scribes made written records for government offices, temples, and other institutions. They also read and wrote letters for the large numbers of Egyptians who could not read and write.
    The king's palace, government departments, and temples operated the scribal schools. All the schools prepared the students to become scribes or follow other careers. The main subjects were reading, literature, geography, mathematics, and writing. The students learned writing by copying literature, letters, and business accounts.
    They used papyrus, the world's first paper like material, and wrote with brushes made of reeds whose ends were softened and shaped. The Egyptians made ink by mixing water and soot, a black powder formed in the burning of wood or other substances.
    Some boys learned a trade, but the majority became farmers. many parents placed their sons with master craftsman, who taught carpentry, pottery making, or other skills. Boys who wanted to become doctors probably went to work with a doctor after finishing their basic schooling.
    Most girls were trained for the roles of wife and mother. Their mothers taught them cooking, sewing, and other skills.
    Ancient Egypt had many libraries. A famous library in Alexandria had over 4000,000 papyrus scrolls, which dealt with astronomy, geography, and many other subjects. Alexandria also had an outstanding museum.

    Bread, beer, vegetables and a little fresh or dried fish was the diet of the poor. Better-off Egyptians enjoyed dates, pomegranates and figs. They ate meat, especially beef and goose, and drank date or grape wine.
    Decayed teeth of some mummies suggest an over-indulgence in cakes sweetened with honey and fruit.  The Egyptians generally dressed in white linen garments. Women wore robes or tight dresses with shoulder straps. Men wore skirts or robes.
    Rich Egyptians wore wigs, partly for protection against the sun. Wealthy Egyptians also wore leather sandals. The common people usually went barefoot. Young children rarely wore any clothes.

The ancient Egyptians liked to use cosmetics and wear jewelry. Women wore red lip powder, dyed their hair, and painted their fingernails. They outlined their eyes and colored their eyebrows with gray, black and green paint. Men also outlined their eyes and often wore as much makeup as women. Both sexes used perfume and wore necklaces, rings, and bracelets. Combs, mirrors, and razors were common grooming aids. Adult hairstyles could be very elaborate, and important people owned wigs on a range of lengths and styles.
    Houses were made from mud brick. The homes of ordinary people were small and built close together. Livestock such as goats and geese might be kept in the middle of towns. Cats, dogs and monkeys were popular pets. Cooking was done in domed clay ovens in kitchen-yards. The flat roofs were used as storage and work space.
    Many rich Egyptians had houses with as many as 70 rooms. Some of these homes were country estates with orchards, pools, and large gardens. Egyptian houses had small windows placed high in the walls to help keep out the sun. The people spread wet mats on the floors to help cool the air inside their houses. On hot nights, they often slept on the roof, where it was cooler.