When thinking of the women of ancient Egypt, what comes to mind? You might envision slim, bronzed ladies with mysterious black rimmed eyes, and exotic beauties bedecked in gold and jewels with ornately braided hair. You may think of the elegant beauty of Nefertiti’s bust or picture Elizabeth Taylor as the iconic Cleopatra.
Many young girls and women alike may dream of what it was like to be an Egyptian princess or queen, but when you look past the glamour of ancient Egyptian royalty you may find being an ordinary woman in ancient Egypt preferable to life on the throne.
Life as Royalty
Although Egyptian women, such as Hatshepsut, have become powerful pharaohs and accomplished many amazing things in ancient Egypt, the majority of women through the dynasties, especially those of the Old Kingdom, were expected to be seen and not heard.
The pharaoh’s wife’s role was to accompany and support him in all things, but not to necessarily involve herself. Her main job as ‘The Great Wife’ was to ornament the king’s arm and provide him with heirs. Her future was uncertain until she secured her position by bearing healthy children. With childbirth very risky and infant mortality a common tragedy in ancient Egypt, her rank could be easily taken and given to another of the king’s more fertile wives.
Bad enough to have to endure an arranged marriage, another common practice among the ancient royal families was incest. So as not to dilute the royal blood and to prevent any other families from taking over the throne, a royal princess may have been required to marry her brother, her father, or even her grandfather, as well as other more distant family members.
Life as a Common Citizen
In contrast, the lives of ordinary women in ancient Egypt were much like the lives modern women today. Ordinary ancient Egyptian women had a lot of responsibility, but also had a measure of autonomy.
As the mistress of her household, an ancient Egyptian woman was in charge of making sure everyone was fed and clothed. Though most common households had at least a few live-in servants, there was no supermarket or mall to buy food and clothing. Food was prepared from scratch and clothes had to be made by hand.
But though the life of an ordinary Egyptian woman was a lot of hard work, along with the extra responsibility she enjoyed freedom and privileges that some women do not even have in the modern world.
The women of ancient Egypt were allowed to go alone where they pleased. They had the rights to money and property and could bequeath their wealth to whomever they chose. Most could marry for love and live a free life with their husband and children. They could also be involved in business and banking.
So though we hate to shatter the romantic illusions of what it was like being an enigmatic, powerful ancient Egyptian queen, it is also interesting to find that such an ancient civilization had a very modern outlook on equal rights for the common woman–rights that women in some cultures are still fighting for to this day.
So Which Life Would You Choose?
…the life of an Egyptian queen or that of a common independent woman?
Please leave your thoughts in the comments section below
Would you like to take a visit back in time to Ancient Egypt and witness Nefertiti and Hatshepsut as women?