Ancient History/Egypt/Culture

From Wikibooks, open books for an open world
Jump to navigation Jump to search

Mummification[edit | edit source]

Egyptians had the tradition of mummifying bodies. Mummifying is a method to preserve a dead body to avoid its decomposition.

How they did it[edit | edit source]

First, they washed the body. Then, priests extracted the brain through the nose with a type of hook. They also extracted the internal organs, which were preserved in canopic vases.

Secondly, the body was left for 40 days in a salt called natron, which dried the body. Afterwards, the body was treated with "mum" a type of dark and sticky substance made of resins and perfumes, and wrapped with linen bandages soaked up in an ointment. Between the bandage, they hide precious lucky charms. On the face of the mummy priests placed a mask with showed the person features. Then the mummy was placed in the sarcophagus.

Beliefs about Mummies[edit | edit source]

Egyptians believed that if they preserved the dead body, its soul would find a place in it, and would survive for all eternity. That's why they put food and important belongings of the person beside the sarcophagus, plus a little statue called "ushabti" which represented the slaves of the dead man or woman.

What happened to mummies after the Egyptian civilization[edit | edit source]

Unfortunately, lots of tombs were robbed by thieves and lots of egyptian treasures were lost. One of the most interesting tombs is the one of Tutankhamun (pharaoh of the XVIII dynasty, who died at only 19 years old), discovered by the archaeologists Carnarvon and Carter in 1922.

Religion and beliefs[edit | edit source]

Egyptians were a polytheistic civilization. This means they believed in many gods. Such as ra, so pic, the crocodile god, and others.

Why they constructed the pyramids[edit | edit source]

Pyramids were places were pharaohs and their wifes were buried. They believed in after life so, they thought pyramids could help pharaohs to reach the heaven better because their soul could climb them. Pharaohs were considered as sons of the gods and they had power over everything. But actually it is not so becauze Islam point of view one good deeds is important for going to Heaven.

Egyptian food[edit | edit source]

Egyptians had a great variety of food and rules for it. Not everyone could eat what they wanted.

Bread and beer[edit | edit source]

Bread and beer were the essential food in an Egyptian diet. Both are made in a similar ways, using wheat or barley as a start. To grind these cereals was a hard daily work done by women with a stone mill. The bread was eaten with every meal and it was done at home until the time of the New Kingdom, when bakeries started to be common in the villages. The loaves were made of shapes and sizes, and those that were produced for rituals usually got into molds to shape. The bread was an important food of many scenes of offerings in tombs, which were usually placed ​​in a row on a table. The beer was drank by everyone.

Meat and fish[edit | edit source]

Splendid banquets of the rich Egyptians had meat washed by wine. Ordinary people had no such luck, and the meat did not appear in their daily diet. The ox was a popular dish, and there is evidence of this in the town of Kahu. Also it was found that pork was eaten occasionally, by the remains found in the village of workers from El Amarna. The meat could be roasted, baked or stewed, and was a luxury that most Egyptians were allowed only during the holidays or special occasions. What they ate often was dried fish, an important source of nutrients in the villagers diet, and it was rejected by the rich who considered unclean. Perch, catfish, carp and mullet were very consumed. Once captured, the fish was cleaned, cut, and cooked dried, boiled or roasted. The Egyptians used nets and spears to catch fish, and were the first people to fish for pleasure.

Fruits, vegetables and daily products[edit | edit source]

Beans, onions, garlic, celery, lettuce and cucumbers are among the most consumed vegetables by the ancient Egyptians. The grapes used to make wine, but also were consumed by the rich ones. The gardens were very popular, and often cultivated fruit trees and other crops. Some fruits such as dates, figs, grapes, pomegranates, and almonds occasionally, were available to the general population. All fruits were eaten either fresh or dried (to preserve them for longer). They raised ducks to get eggs in addition to their meat, and from the New Kingdom to the end, also chickens. Cattle were used as well for meat and milk which produced cheese.

Cooking[edit | edit source]

The kitchen was usually in a corner of the outdoor courtyard or flat roof, and used to be open, with just a roof of branches covering. Food was cooked in clay ovens and also on fire. Used as fuel was wood, and sometimes coal, although it was very rarely. The amounts of coal mentioned in the Harris papyrus or in the diary of Medinet Habu are very small. And it was used to carry in baskets or sacks. To light the fire, they used a special type of wood imported from the south. It was very precious. Food was baked, boiled, stewed, fried, grilled, or roasted. But there isn't much more known about its preparation. They used salt (Hmat), oil, onions and garlic to add flavour to foods. They drank beer or, more rarely, wine but they used to soaked their meat and fish in it. They used honey as a sweetener, a syrup made ​​of fermented grape juice, and fruits like raisins, dates, figs and carob. The root of the chuba, a plant that grows on the banks of the Delta, was also a sweet and pleasant.

Cookware[edit | edit source]

What is known as kitchen equipment comes from the objects found in tombs. For preparation of food, storage jars, bowls, squid, pans, ladles, strainers and whisks were used. Kitchen tables, on which they cut of meat and fish had three or four legs, but many times they cooked in plates on the floor. Most of the villagers used dishes made of clay, while the wealthy used dishes made ​​of bronze, silver and gold. The food was eaten with the hands and they cleaned their hands in small bowls of water at the end of the banquet.

Equality in Ancient Egypt[edit | edit source]

Althought the pharaoh was the absolute ruler, men and women were treated equaly. They were equal in society and worked the same in the eyes of law. The woman was the one who ruled the house and all the chores.

Animals in Ancient Egypt[edit | edit source]

Egyptians loved animals. They believed some animals were like gods and they were holy. For example, cats were very important (especially white cats beacause they thought they were the messengers between heaven and Earth). Crocodiles or birds like ibis falcons. You can see also this love in gods because they believed in a human body and an animal head.

Marriage[edit | edit source]

Preparations[edit | edit source]

For the ancient Egyptians marriage didn't need to be formalized by a ceremony, but was the fact of living together and raising a family. The couple had many opportunities to get to know before to engagement. Sometimes they could choose each other, but sometimes it was the father who decided. Tradition said that the parents of the husband had to visit the home of the bride to get the acceptance of family and reach an agreement that centred on two main points: a sum of money, called Mahr, paid to the bride for help to prepare the furniture, and a valuable present of a jewellery that the man gave his bride as a token of their engagement and in compensation for her lost virginity, and it was very appreciated. This couldn't happen in the case of a second marriage, but in this cases something else was offered.

The ring was given before or after the wedding. The ring had a circular shape, symbol of eternity. The first ones were simple.

Women played a very important part to make a marriage. Usually a woman had to make first approach to the mother of the bridegroom, not the father, but after, she decided.

A typical marriage contract contained the date, the year of the reign of the ruling monarch, the future husbands and the names of both parents, the profession of the man, while the woman was rarely mentioned, the scribe who drafted the contract and the names of the witnesses. Once completed, the document was delivered to a third person for safekeeping, or it was kept among the records of the local temple.

When the house where the new married couple resided was finally ready to receive them, the two families fixed date for the wedding party. On the appointed day the bride moved her belongings to her new home. They used to wear a coat of pink or blue cotton, the color of eternity, during the engagement party, which was done the night before. Women in the environment came to visit her boyfriend at home and adorned with henna tattoos and body painting. The men, meanwhile, visited the boyfriend and spent the night singing and dancing in his company, and finally they all dressed.

The wedding day the bride wore a long gown, more luxurious than the previous night, with gold embroidery, while the man wore a short, usually blue also. Only the upper class married white.

He signed the marriage contract and a priest put it in the temple, in front of the couple and most of his family and friends. But they didn't do any type of ceremony because it was not based in religion. It was enough to start living together to be considered married.

In the evening the party taked place with music, dancing, food and drink. Garlic and thyme were always in the ceremony because it was thought that it kept away evil spirits. To confuse, the bridesmaids wore similar clothes to the bride.

The wife was taken to the house of the husband, in a procession with music and singing. Grain was thrown in her path, symbol of fertility. There was a banquet at which they prepared lots of kinds of meat, and the guests entertained all night. In the morning, the mother of the bride and her sisters visited her and offered her food and gifts, which she repaid with sweets and fruits.

The bride used to be about 14 or 15, and the groom between 17 and 20, unless he was divorced or widowed, but there were frequent marriages with much age difference, except among the royal and dynastic reasons.

By marrying, she kept his name, but adding the words "wife of X". He maintained independence, and could have his own business.

Types of marriage[edit | edit source]

Polygamy was permitted, but most Egyptians were happy to have only one wife, since marriage was expensive. Normally it was between persons of the same class, but neither race nor nationality appear to have been an obstacle. It was not unusual for a northern Egyptian marry a Nubian.


In Egypt, generally the marriages were monogamous. According to Gender In History, "Parents set up marriages, they linked two individuals, but also two families" (27). The first marriage did not yield children, the more money you had allowed you to have more wives. Of course divorce was possible, but it was extremely difficult. Woman was allowed to control their own property, and were even allowed to appear in court. The husbands did NOT control all the property , surprisingly. Luckily, woman was most independent in Egypt.

Children[edit | edit source]

The children were considered a blessing in ancient Egypt. Because when they grew up they cared for their parents when they were elderly. When they had no children, parents prayed to the gods luck and letters were left at the tombs of their relatives, asking them to use their influence with the gods. Magic was another resource to try to have offspring. If parents couldn't have children, there was the adoption.

If the marriage ended in divorce, the wife's rights were protected. Generally, she received an amount for support.

Either both spouses could ask for divorce. The most common reasons why a man asked to divorce was the inability to have children, the desire to marry another woman or simply that they didn't like their wife. A woman could divorce because physical or mental cruelty by her husband, or adultery.To live apart was considered enough to be divorced. Then they could remarry as soon as they wished.

Beauty and cosmetics[edit | edit source]

In Egypt, cosmetics were no luxury, but something for everyone. The only difference was in the quality of the products. Both men and women followed the latest trends in hair and makeup. They thought makeup had magical and curative effects. Cosmetics helped to protect the skin from the burning sun of Egypt, and another curious advantage is repelled flies. In fact they were given such importance that even the workers were admitted as a salary supplement.

The base used to be the oil extracted from the fruit of Balanites aegyptiaca and Moringa or mixed with substances that were used as pigment. They had white makeup, black made ​​from coal, lead, galena or pyrolusite, malachite green base crushed red as applied to lips and cheeks and blue extracted from lapis lazuli. With henna (henna) nails stained yellow or orange. The color of the nails, indicated the social status: nobility were dark, and lower classes were painted in bright colors.

Kohl was applied to the eyes with a toothpick. This was also a good way to keep dust and sand away and to prevent it to enter into the eyes. They painted both the lower and upper eyelid, extending to a line, and eyebrows were painted black. Most people use makeup personally, but those who could afford professional resorted to both for cosmetics and manicure or pedicure. Egyptian men and women worried very much about their appearance. They watched their weight a lot, they ate more fruit and vegetables and less meat than it is today. Women and man were all very thin. Most persons maked up themselves but some persons could afford to be painted by some professional.

Afterdeath beauty[edit | edit source]

Even after death they took care of the look. When you appeared before the gods, you had to dress up with certain clothes and makeup had to make a good impression: in the chapter 125 of the Book of the Dead, it was necessary to be cleaned, wearing white sandals, painted eyes and anointed with the best oil of myrrh. Because of its importance, cosmetics were offerings left in tombs.

Beauty secrets[edit | edit source]

As beauty secrets they used sometimes curious preparations, such as crocodile excrements in mud baths, the belief was that it reaffirmed and toned up the skin. They also used milk and honey because it was considered leaving the skin smooth and slender. To protect themselves from the sun, they rubbed their skin with hydrate oils and chewed roots of a plant called amni majus. To protect themselves from wrinkles, they rubbed olive oil, sesame seeds and almonds mixed with other substances. Egyptian women used oil made from moringa to prevent stretch marks after pregnancy.

Egyptian perfumes were famous throughout the Mediterranean. They were mainly made by plants and roots, but some of them were very complex to make. Some man said the one he bought, kept its smell for eight years.

Hair beauty[edit | edit source]

To prevent lices, they shaved the head. They used wigs, sometimes made with human hair, but usually made from mixed horsehair, palm leaves, straw, sheep's wool or vegetable fibers. They wore extensions and braids, and the more elaborate the better wig. The ones of woman were longer and more complex because it was supposed to be more sensual. It was common for the wigs to appear stained and flavored. The colors could be blond, green or gold, but the favorites were the black and indigo.

The hairstyles were often quite elaborated, and required many hairpins. They could also adorn their hair with combs and jewelry. Nobles wore sometimes a headdress made of rare minerals and gems.

Tattoos[edit | edit source]

Tattoos were common in dancers, servants and women who did prostitution. They were made of privet.

Games in Ancient Egypt[edit | edit source]

Puzzles[edit | edit source]

A puzzle is an image divided in small pieces which you have to match to obtain the initial image. In Ancient Egypt, the pieces were made of wood or with animal bones.

Toys of wood[edit | edit source]

Lots of toys were made of wood, with wheels and ropes to pull them: crocodiles, cats, rowing boats...

The goat game[edit | edit source]

They had a game called the goat game. It was very similar to the jump of obstacles. A route was decided and they put obstacles like rocks or logs they had to skip.

Colors in Ancient Egypt[edit | edit source]

Color Symbolism in Ancient Egypt[edit | edit source]

The colors used by Egyptians to decorate their tombs, their hieroglyphic, papyrus and more, had a special symbolism for them, like almost everything they did. The principal colors they used were: red, blue, yellow, green, white and black.

The obtaining of color[edit | edit source]

Colors used by Egyptians were obtained from different mineral substances.

  • Red: The natural oxidation of iron was the basis for the Reds, this also includes the colors red meat and ocher.
  • Blue: The pigment, commonly known as "blue Egyptian", was obtained by mixing copper oxide and iron with silica and calcium. It was a color that could darken because it change easily.
  • Yellow: The source of yellow was natural ocher or rust. In late New Kingdom was also used orpiment ( arsenic trisulfide), which was needed to be imported.
  • Green: The pigment was obtained in a way similar to the blue, or from malachite powder. The main source was copper.
  • White: White was made from chalk and gypsum (calcium sulfate) that were in Egypt.
  • Black: Black was made from different forms of charcoal, burnt bones of animals or soot.

This were the six primary colors but they could also used gray, pink, brown or orange. Colors could be clarified with white chalk or to be darkened with black coal.

The symbolism of colors[edit | edit source]

Red: Meant desert, blood and chaos.

Blue: Meant water, youth or if it was dark blue, their hair.

Yellow: Meant the color of gold and because of that the gods body.

Green: Meant plants and regeneration.

White: Meant the color of silver and bones.

Black: Meant the fertilized land because of mud, the reborn of nature.

Sports in Ancient Egypt[edit | edit source]

Sports in general[edit | edit source]

Sport in Ancient Egypt occupied an important entertaiment in young people, being reflected in numerous testimonies: decorations in tombs, vases, etc.. Although some activities (especially martial arts) were reserved for the aristocracy, it seems that people of all classes participated in many sports. There was no competition which had the importance of the Olympics, but there were competitions in some sports.

We can relate some of their sports with some modern ones, although they don't have much in common:

  • Athletics: they made races. In the race you had to go and then come back again. They were usually about 100 kilometres long and it was made between Menphis and the oasis of The Fayum during the XXV dynasty (VVI B.C.). Runners took more or less 8 hours to complete the race.
  • Boxing: some pictures found in tombs, show six boxers in position to fight.
  • Chariot races: chariot races were also one of their sports.
  • Jump with the stick: this sport consisted in fighting with a stick, and it was very popular in ancient Egypt. Have been numerous representations of this activity and several of these sticks were found in the tomb of Tutankhamun.
  • Wrestling: it was one of the greatest sports in Ancient Egypt, there has been lots of representations of wrestling in tombs, walls, etc.
  • Water sports: water sports were also practised in the Nile.
  • Archery: was one of the best sports anyone could practise. Archers received copper ingots.

Some pharaos became very famous because their good skills in sports. If a pharao was good at some sport, he would get lots of importance and a divine power.

The favorite sport of pharaohs and nobles was definitely hunting wild animals such as lions, crocodiles, hippos, bulls, etc.

But there is a ceremony in which the king had to prove its vitality and if he was ready to rull over he's people, and was the Heb Sed festival. It was an act of regeneration held in the thirtieth year of his reign, in which the king had to run a certain distance without any company to get again forces and the vote of the people ir he wanted to continue ruling Egypt.

Many of the sports played today, and was practiced by the ancient Egyptians.

Inscriptions on many monuments indicate that they practiced wrestling, weightlifting, long jump, swimming, rowing, archery, fishing, athletics ...

Kings and princes attended to watch teams and to encourage them. They established their rules, the player uniforms and the neutral referee. Both the winner and the loser received a necklace as a prize, the winner a collar of his superiority and the second for his sportsmanship.

Modern sports in ancient times[edit | edit source]

  • Hockey: the stick was a palm branch, bended as a kind of bat. The ball was fibers of papyrus compressed and covered with two pieces of leather in a semicircle. The balls were dyed several colors. This sport seems to be known by the name of hoksha.
  • Handball: the ball was made of leather and stuffed with hay or vegetable fiber or papyrus plants. They only used each ball for a single match.
  • Weightlifting: the weight object came from a heavy sandbag. They had to lift it and hold it up for a while.
  • Long jump: two players sat face to face with their legs extended, and their feet and hands touching each other, then a third player had to jump that barrier without touching the man's who did as barrier. This game is still practiced in some rural areas and is called "goose step".
  • Javelin: was thrown up very fast and it had to be spinning, the furthest throw won. The javelin was a stick with a twisted end.
  • Equestrian: horse races were held without chairs.
  • Fencing: they used wooden canes around a meter long. The swordsman used protection for the forehead, forearm and fingers. When they didn't wear protection, they had a cane in each hand. These battles could be classified as ceremonial in the presence of Pharaoh, as religious rituals or with no religious significance.
  • Swimming: the competitions were held on the Nile, because it was the only place where they could perform it. The palaces of nobles had swimming pools in which princes learned the sport.
  • Fishing: was one of the sports practiced by kings, princes and commoners. They had many types of rods and hooks.

Medicine and health in Ancient Egypt[edit | edit source]

Medicine has its roots in Ancient Egypt, and not in Greece as it is thought. Egyptian medicine was really appreciated since the beginning of the civilization.

Imhotep, Prime Minister of Pharaoh Djoser of the Third Dynasty (2664 BC), was also a high priest and marvelous physician. His fame was so great that it was said he not only cured the sick, but revived them. A thousand years after his death, he was deified.

The oldest Egyptian with a medical degree is Hesy-Re of the Third Dynasty (2620 BC), specialized in dental problems. For titles and hierarchies, we deduce that Egyptian doctors were a class, which the state supervised, and gave to the public all their knowledge and the quality of their science. Maybe they would have been paid to care for the sick free. They were assisted by nurses, masseurs and people that were specialized on putting bandages. They had medical schools. In presents days we know about Egyptian history thanks to archaeological sites. In them we can find images of common sick persons at that time like lame people, hunchbacks, obese problems, achondroplasia, small people, paralytics, elephantiasis, etc.

In the present study of mummies, we can find the illnesses they had and the cures they did to people. We can see that some pharaohs like Ramses the Great had arteriosclerosis and maybe he died because of that. His son Mernemptah had one aorta really injured by adenomatous.

Medical writings and knowledge[edit | edit source]

There are some writings that show us how they worked. The oldest texts we have are the ones from Kahum A and B. They are incomplete. The first one has 34 sections in which they talk about gynecological diseases, methods to control fertility and how they predicted the sex of the babies. The second one has contents about veterinary.

The Ebers Papyrus (from the German Egyptologist Georg Ebers), is a roll of more than 20 meters long, and was a kind of a Medical Encyclopedia for students who studied medicine at that time. It talked about different subjects in medicine.

It contains 870 cases of general medicine: internal diseases, eyes, skin and extremities, and some magical spells...

In the Papyrus Rammesseum discovered in 1896, the fragment talks about gynecological aspects and discusses arthritis. The Carlsberg Papyrus No. 8 refers to eye diseases and obstetrics. The Papyrus Chester-Beatty VI, now in the British Museum, contains information about colorectal surgery. The Turin Papyrus, speaks of snakebites and eye diseases.

Many important people said in the past that in Egypt there wasn't a doctor which wasn't specialized in something. There wasn't any man who did medicine in general, some cured the eyes, others the teeth, others the stomach...

They discovered the relation between our beats and the heart and the double closed circulatory system.

They described over twenty digestive diseases (Ebers Papyrus). And they say why people had that disease, how it worked and what they had to do to get well again. They also treated the nervous system and knew the connection muscles and brain. Physicians knew almost all the organs in the human body and its functions.

Orthopaedic surgery was very developed because of construction. They had to know all the posible injuries men could have and their treatments. They knew what they had wrong and what to do so they could recover soon.

They has specific tools to work and they performed surgery, unlike other countries of that time, and did delicate and successful operations, as it has been proven in many mummies. When physicians had to operate a really important person in which life and health was very important, they first practiced in miserable and poor people until they had enough skill. The most important patients were anaesthetised.

The doctor and the patient in Ancient Egypt[edit | edit source]

To the eyes of the people, the doctor was the master of making people good again, it was thought they could cure everything, even broken hearts of young ones.

Doctors went to the patients house. They immediately did a collection of information, questioning the patient about their pain and their symptoms.He closely watched the skin, eyes, sweat, respiration, etc.. They also did some special massages and movements such as turning the neck or limbs, or made palpation. Like that he made his diagnosis to the ill person and told them the treatment and its precise instructions. Depending on the symptoms, the prognosis was: minor, middle or serious. The doctor had to finish saying:

  1. I can't treat this disease.
  2. I want to fight suffering and might cure you.
  3. Your illness and problem escapes my knowledge and experience.

Then, after he made the prescription (in which if he wasn't sure it was death or life) and gave orders to the patient, the sick person said: "I am the one who God wants to keep alive ...".

If there was a disease which was unknown or they couldn't treat, they left to cure by themselves and help as they could, and to the poorer ones, they threw them to the desert although it was against law.

The big enthusiasm they had about observing everything, made interesting experiences. The learnt from mistakes and correct answers, and learnt the properties and good things of many drugs. They knew the benefits of resting, the treat so the patient had a fast recovery, and the importance of hygiene to prevent diseases. Herodotus says: "For this reason, the Egyptians, very attentive to their health, cause each month for three consecutive days, evacuations through emetics and enemas, believing that human diseases are caused by food. Thanks to this care and climate, the Egyptians happened to be, after the Libyans, the healthiest of all men. "

The Papyrus of London, from the time of Tutankhamun, contains pharmaceutical prescriptions, plus spells for mothers and children.

Medical assistance (operations) was done by three important persons: the doctor, a priest from the SEKHMET (lioness goddess, responsible for illnesses and epidemics, and the one who had the gift to make the sick people recover), and a magician. Doctors made sure that their prescription could adjust to its patient and the season. A medicine could cure in the first month of the year, but could be not effective at the third. It was assumed that some were effective on certain days only.

The Egyptian calendar[edit | edit source]

The calendar system of ancient Egyptians is considered one of the most accurate of antiquity. It consisted of two calendars: the official one and the religious. The official one consisted of 365 days, and the second in 365.25 days so that one day was added at the end of the fourth year. Every day it was divided into 24 hours.

Interesting curiosities about ancient egyptians[edit | edit source]

  • In ancient Egypt, the days were divided into different groups: good, threatening and bad depending on what happened during the time when the gods lived on earth. On bad days people could not swim, sail, travel or eat fish, basically they couldn't do anything related to water. They also couldn't kill a goat, or an ox or a duck. Other days men and women couldn't have relationships under penalty of infection. Other times, it was better not hear happy songs or even to pronounce the name of the god Seth, which had a bad reputation and was considered the God of Evil.
  • The first known written advertisement dates from 3000 BC. It was found in the ruins of the city of Thebes, and its content it's a man which is offering a reward of one piece of gold to whom who captures and returns to his owner a slave which escaped called Shem.
  • To know if a future baby was a boy or girl, the ancient Egyptians made the woman to urinate in a lot of wheat and another of barley. If wheat grew faster than barley, the result would be a boy, and if it was the other way around it would be a girl.
  • Some Egyptian papyrus found by two archaeologists, revealed the existence of over 700 different medications.
  • To treat night blindness and other eye diseases, the ancient Egyptians used liver oil. Today it is known that the active principle which improved vision of Egyptians, was the vitamin A which the liver contained.
  • Cleopatra big fan and lover of flora and fauna, had her "private zoo" in the gardens of her royal palace. She had more than 100 animal species and 1200 birds (600 pairs of different species).
  • The musicians who played the harp, in ancient Egypt were exclusively men who were all blind.