Ancient Egyptian Women
Ancient Egyptian women had a lot of rights that other women of the ancient world did not. In fact, compared to some women of the modern world, they are considered quite lucky.
And unlike their Greek and Roman counterparts, ancient Egyptian women were legally considered the equals of men and maintained this status even while living alongside the Greeks during the Ptolemaic period.
Of course their lives, compared to today’s standards, were much more difficult.
Egyptian girls married young (age 10) and spent the majority of their days in housekeeping, child bearing, nursing, and child rearing. And outside of the law, they were not as autonomous as men.
Ancient Egyptian society was divided by social status and roles. And gender roles were no exception. The main role of ancient Egyptian women was that of bearing children and sustaining the household. But that doesn’t mean that they were restricted to just that. They were able to work and often did.
An ancient Egyptian household could have over 15 people in it, and so house work was quite the task. And if it was a farming family, the women usually had to help out with working the field and take over completely if the men were called away on other errands or work.
This is actually still the case for some women in Egypt these days.
Even though the man of the house reigned supreme, his wife usually was the main household administrator. She was given the title of “Mistress of the house.”
She either had to carry out most of the household chores herself, or had to supervise the servants who did. These chores included:
- Making sure everyone had clothes to wear.
- Preparing meals from scratch, including grinding the grains to make bread.
- Insuring the house was clean and in order.
- Making sure the laundry was sent out.
- Stocking the underground cellars.
Of course, caring for the children was a big chore as well. But in some privileged households, there were servants who helped even with that.
The Working Girl
If she chose (and had enough time after all the above), an Egyptian woman could work in order to earn some income. Some women produced goods, such as textiles and perfumes, at home and then sold them in the market. More often, the women that were able to work were from wealthy families which could afford servants to take care of the household chores and child rearing.
Here are some of the options available for ancient Egyptian women:
Singing, dancing and playing music. Bands and groups hired for ancient Egyptian entertainment were usually segregated and used for religious ceremonies, celebrations and rituals. This was one of the more common career choices available to the average woman.
Midwives were women and usually from the pregnant woman’s family circle. They assisted in the birth and also in the performance of the necessary rituals to protect the woman and child during the birthing process. Wet-nurses were sometimes used to feed babies.
The priesthood had special roles for priestesses of different ranks, some of which were quite highly regarded, such as those who hold the title God’s Wife of Amun.
Female servants helped with household chores such as cooking and cleaning were employed by those who could afford them, though some were also from the slave class.
There’s also been some evidence of prostitution back in those days (it really is the oldest profession).
We’ll get into each profession in more detail soon on the Jobs & Commerce section of the website – so stay tuned!
Rights & Freedoms of Ancient Egyptian Women
It did not matter whether she was married, divorced or widowed; an Egyptian woman’s legal property belonged to her from birth till death.
She could own her property and manage it how she sees fit.
She could rent her land.
She could give her assets away to whom she pleased; inheritance was passed from mother to daughter.
She could sell her assets.
She could divide her assets in her will in whatever way she wanted, she was not obliged to give anything to her husband or children.
She could give loans and earn interest on them (even to her own husband)!
And as a widow she was entitled to inherit a third of her husband’s assets, while keeping all her original assets too.
Ancient Egyptian women had other rights that were quite empowering:
- They could come and go as they please without being chaperoned.
- They could file law suits.
- They could act as witnesses to legalities.
- There were given privacy during “sensitive” times such as menstruation and childbirth.
- They were considered equals in contracts.
- They could marry out of love (although there were arranged marriages too).
Royal Ancient Egyptian women however, had a completely different reality.
Royal women such as mothers, daughters, sisters, wives and consorts of the king were used as political pawns. They did not have much choice in what they did or who they married. In fact, many of them were married to their own fathers, brothers and sons in order to keep the power in the family.
However some royal females rose to great power and some even became pharaohs.
That is how much more power ancient Egyptian women had compared to women of other cultures at the time!
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