B wives and Mothers pg 38



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B) Wives and Mothers – pg 38

Couples are shown with the woman’s arm around her husband or each partner embracing the other. Husbands are normally shown in front of their wives this is the position of importance. Marriages were regarded as the normal process in a person’s life. It was uncommon for a person to go unmarried. Most marriages (excluding the royal family) appear to be monogamous. It appears no civil or religious ceremony took place to start marriage a couple just started living together as man and wife. Divorce was an acceptable end to a marriage. If a man asked a woman to marry him, she could say no. A woman in ancient Egypt could not be forced into marriage. Once married, a woman's first duty was to be a good wife and mother. Children were very important to the ancient Egyptians.

A girl became universally acknowledged as a wife after she physically left the protection of her father's house and entered her new home. The new husband in no way became the new wife's legal guardian. The wife kept her independence, and still kept control her own assets.

Ancient Egyptian letters, though, show the more human side of Egypt. There were love letters, poetry, private law cases and personal letters between friends and family members.

This is an extract from a 3000 year old papyrus

She is one girl, there is no one like her.
She is more beautiful than any other.
Look, she is like a star goddess arising
at the beginning of a happy new year;
brilliantly white, bright skinned;
with beautiful eyes for looking,
with sweet lips for speaking;
she has not one phrase too many.
With a long neck and white breast,
her hair of genuine lapis lazuli;
her arm more brilliant than gold;
her fingers like lotus flowers,
with heavy buttocks and girt waist.
Her thighs offer her beauty,
with a brisk step she treads on ground.
She has captured my heart in her embrace.
She makes all men turn their necks
to look at her.
One looks at her passing by,
this one, the unique one.


  1. Wealthy women – pg 38

There were no legal restrictions on the economic activity of women in Ancient Egypt. Women could and did own property, buy and sell, borrow and lend, sue and be sued, make a will and inherit property. Egyptian women were equal in the court system. They could act as a witness, plaintiffs or a defendant. Women were accountable for crimes they committed and would have to answer for them in court and if found guilty suffer the same punishment as the men.

There were many ways in which a "Mistress of the House" could supplement her income.  Some had small vegetable gardens.  Many made clothing.  One document shows an enterprising woman purchasing a slave for 400 deben.  She paid half in clothing and borrowed the rest from her neighbours.  It is likely the woman expected to be able to repay the loan by renting out the slave.  Indeed, we have a receipt showing that one woman received several garments, a bull and sixteen goats as payment for 27 days work by her slave.  Those who could not raise the money on their own sometimes joined with neighbours to buy a slave. 

The fact that a woman could manage her own financial affairs did not necessarily mean that she could live without male support.  Outside of domestic service there were few opportunities for a woman to earn a wage.  If she inherited a three to five acre plot of land (a fairly typical holding among the independent peasantry) she would need a husband or son to do the physical work.  What it did mean was that in case of marital breakup or old age she might have some savings that could be used to finance her care.

C) Poor Women pg 38

The high class, though, seemed to love showing off their clothing and the latest fashions, but always the outfits appeared with jewellery including necklaces, rings, anklets, bracelets. Even the poor wore jewellery (though not of gold or precious gems), but this was not only decorative, but usually a good-luck symbol or protective amulet.

The most important of all the fashion accessories was the wig. Shiny, black hair, perhaps because of its association with youth and vitality, and artificial hair was a simple way to maintain what nature neglected. Wigs served a more practical function, however. Natural hair that was thick enough to protect the wearer from the direct rays of the sun on a bright summer day or keep the heat in on a cold winter night, was much too hot to wear indoors. The compromise was simple: Egyptians who could afford it cut their hair short and then wore a wig. The Egyptians were quite proud of their wigs and made no attempt to pretend they were natural. Paintings and sculpture frequently show an area of natural hair between the forehead and the wig. While the most expensive wigs were made with real, human hair, the design and structure were such that it would be almost impossible to confuse a wig with the real thing. Egyptians were proud of their wigs and would have been distressed at the thought that someone might think they were not wearing one---or even worse, could not afford one.

Women were banned from government post where writing was needed so most were believe to be illiterate. Differences in legal rights were based upon social class, not on gender, so poorer women were in a worse off situation than rich women. But this also meant poor men were worse off than rich women.

D) Famous Women – pg 38-39

During her reign as queen, Egypt went about many radical religious changes. Hundreds of years of culture and worship had been exchanged for a new radical concept. The old gods had been disregarded, temples shut down, and priests forced to change their ways. Many historians believe this transition could have been hostile and was not adopted so easily by the citizens or priests.
Her reign with Akhenaten was unlike the traditional ways Egypt had seen. She was more than just a typical queen and helped to promote Akhenaten’s views. Her reign was only 12 years, but she was perhaps one of the most powerful queens to ever rule.

As queen, she took on powerful roles and showed herself in ways only Egyptian kings did. For example, she was often shown with the crown of a pharaoh or was depicted in scenes of battle smiting her enemies. Akhenaten valued her so much, that he also allowed her to practice that art of priesthood and she too was allowed to make offerings to Aten.



Cleopatra was the last pharaoh before Egypt was taken under Roman control. According to Egyptian law, Cleopatra was forced to have a consort (husband), who was either a brother or a son, no matter what age, throughout her reign. She was married to her younger brother Ptolemy XIII when he was twelve; however she soon dropped his name from any official documents regardless of the Ptolemaic insistence that the male presence be first among co-rulers. She also had her own portrait and name on coins of that time, ignoring her brother's.


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