Ancient Egyptian Houses – Layout and Function
Most ancient Egyptian houses were made of mud-brick mixed with straw. In fact, until today many Egyptian homes outside of the main cities are made of this combination. It’s cheap, reusable and convenient. People can expand or destroy them with ease, and they have a cooling effect for the hot and humid Egyptian weather.
The average household had over 15 people, and this crowding may have been a main factor in the spreading of diseases in ancient Egypt.
Most ancient Egyptians died young, mid-thirties being the average life expectancy at the time. Harsh working conditions and crowded homes speeding the deterioration of health.
Working Class Homes
The houses of the common people were very simple and plain, and consisted of about 4 areas.
Each area had its function(s):
- The Front Room, which acted as an entrance to the house from the street and where guests could wait.
- The Living Room, where they had a shrine for their household god/goddess and where they conducted their daily religious rituals.
- The All-purpose Living/Eating/Sleeping Room with a staircase that would lead up to the roof of the house.
- A Roofless Kitchen, where the women of the house would make meals from scratch, with a staircase that would lead to an underground cellar where they would store food and beer. Sometimes, this kitchen was located on the roof.
The floors were made of packed earth and the houses had no foundations. Walls and forms were fortified, with wood and stone depending on the house.
Ancient Egyptian houses didn’t have proper drainage or sewage. They would use a small area with stone slabs for flooring and walls, to put a “toilet”. The toilet consisted of some kind of limestone sitting apparatus or stool that had a bowl underneath.
The bowl would then be emptied outside somewhere, which of course created unhygienic conditions in the town.
Side Note: It is said that one of the greatest life extension inventions was the proper sewage system, because even till the Middle Ages, life expectancy hadn’t increased much including in Europe. With the introduction of sewers and drainage, and the increase in hygiene, life expectancy shot up considerably.
Roofs were also made of sun-dried mud and straw, but because of the intensity of the heat of the sun, they became rock hard and were not in too much danger during the infrequent rainfall. Still, ancient Egyptian houses probably had some precautions taken to ensure the rainwater slid off and didn’t collect on the roof – just as temples had.
Because of the hot and humid climate, windows were usually small and kept covered, in order to keep out pesky flied and the heat. People sometimes slept and cooked on the roof.
Elite Ancient Egyptian Houses
The rich and powerful of ancient Egypt had houses that were more like palaces – large, beautiful and well-managed by a team of servants.
Some of these houses were made with the same material, sun-dried mud bricks, but with more quality and design.
They had harems (which were more like women’s private quarters rather than what we usually ascribe to the word), stables, cattle pens, workshops, storage areas, servants’ quarters, an entire chapel rather than a shrine, and….
…an entrance hall, a main hall, toilets, bedrooms (some with built-in showers), offices and lodges…
Another difference lay in the décor of course. The quality of the furniture, the flooring, the embellishments on walls, etc…
There was a common thread however – first of all even in the elite homes there were still so many people that it was crowded even with all the space. Wood was very rare and so furniture was sparse.
Amazingly enough, you can still see some ancient Egyptian villages relatively intact. Even though most were made of mud-brick, some ancient Egyptian houses still survive till now and that’s how we know so much about them.
Some of these villages were made of temporary homes for workers to live while they worked on the project at hand, then they would go back to their original homes during days off or when the work is complete.
The main villages were Amarna and Deir El Medina.
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