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Life in Ancient Egypt

By Will Durant's Volume 1 of "The Story of Civilization"

Agriculture, Industry, Government, Morals, Manners, Letters, Literature, Science, Art, Philosophy, Religion

This page is your window on the Life in Ancient Egypt. The links below will take you to a wealth of knowledge and information on every aspect of Ancient Egypt's life.

Agriculture, Industry, Government, Morals, Manners, Letters, Literature, Science, Art, Philosophy and Religion; are all covered here

Life in Ancient Egypt

Agriculture - Life in Ancient Egypt

Behind these kings and queens were pawns; behind these temples, palices and pyramids were the workers of the cities and the peasants of the fields of Ancient Egypt Agriculture.

Industry - Life in Ancient Egypt

Diodorus Siculus (56 B.C.) describes ancient Egypt miners following with lamp and pick the veins of gold in the earth, children carrying up the heavy ore, stone mortars pounding it to bits, old men and women washing the dirt away.

In its earliest dynasties Egyptian were great Manufacturers, they learned the art of fusing copper with tin to make bronze: first, bronze weapons swords, helmets and shields; then bronze tools wheels, rollers, levers, pulleys, windlasses, wedges, lathes, screws, drills that bored the toughest diorite stone, saws that cut the massive slabs of the sarcophagi.

The workers were mostly freemen, partly slaves. In general every trade was a caste, as in modern India, and sons were expected to follow and take over the occupations of their fathers.

They were superior to anything known to the Greeks, Romans, or to Europe before the Industrial Revolution; only our time has excelled it, "and we may be mistaken."

Transport, Postal, Commerce and Finance
There was a regular transport and postal service in Ancient Egypt; an ancient papyrus says, "Write to me by the letter-carrier." Communication, however, was difficult; roads were few and bad, except for the military highway through Gaza to the Euphrates; and the serpentine form of the Nile, which was the main highroad of Egypt, doubled the distance from town to town.

Government - Life in Ancient Egypt

Civil and criminal legislation were highly developed, and already in the Fifth Dynasty the law of private property and bequest was intricate and precise. Every visitor to the Louvre has seen the statue of the Egyptian government scribe, squatting on his haunches, almost completely nude, dressed with a pen behind the ear as reserve for the one he holds in his hand.

Religion - Life in Ancient Egypt

For beneath and above everything in Egypt was religion. We find it there in every stage and from totemism to theology; we see its in-fluence in literature, in government, in art, in everything except morality.

Philosophy - Life in Ancient Egypt

Historians of philosophy have been wont to begin their story with the Greeks. The Hindus, who believe that they invented philosophy, and the Chinese, who believe that they perfected it, smile at our provincialism. It may be that we are all mistaken!

Life in Ancient Egypt

Morals - Life in Ancient Egypt

Royal Incest
The government of the Pharaohs resembled that of Napoleon, even to the incest. Very often the king married his own sister occasionally his own daughter to preserve the purity of the royal blood. It is difficult to say whether it weakened the stock.

The Position of Women
"No people, ancient or modern, said Max Miiller, "has given women so high a legal status as did the inhabitants of the Nile Valley."

The Matriarchate
Not only was woman full mistress in the house, but all estates descended in the female line; "even in late times," says Petrie, "the husband made over all his property and future earnings to his wife in his marriage settlement.

Sexual Morality
Modesty, as distinct from fidelity, was not prominent among the Egyptians; they spoke of sexual affairs with a directness alien to our late sexual morality.

Art - Life in Ancient Egypt

The Art
The greatest element in this civilization was its art. Here, almost at the threshold of history, we find an art powerful and mature, superior to that of any modern nation, and equaled only by that of Greece.

At first the luxury of isolation and peace, and then, under Thutmose III and Rameses II, the spoils of oppression and war, gave to Egypt the opportunity and the means for massive architecture, masculine statuary, and a hundred minor arts that so early touched perfection.

Egyptian Manners

If we try to visualize the Egyptian character we find it difficult to distinguish between the ethics of the literature and the actual practices of life.

The accident that we know them chiefly from the remains in their tombs or the inscriptions on their temples has misled us into exaggerating their solemnity. We perceive from some of their sculptures and reliefs, and from their burlesque stories of the gods, that they had a jolly turn for humor.

These sculptures also suggest the ancient Egyptians frequently engage in a game of cards for betting and gambling. These card games evolved and gave birth to various card games like poker.

These card games have overcame the test of time because it is still enjoyed by many people in the 21st century. Playing cards have become tools for recreation and pleasure. In addition to this, playing cards continue to captivate the sense of enjoyment of many individuals. These cards are here to stay.

From the painting and the statuary we picture the appearanceas of the Ancient Egyptians as a physically vigorous people.

According to their means they repaired the handiwork of nature with subtle ancient Egypt cosmetics art. Faces were rouged, lips were painted, nails were colored, hair and limbs were oiled; even in the sculptures the Egyptian women have painted eyes.

Ancient Egypt clothing ran through every gradation from primitive nudity to the gorgeous dress of Empire days. Children of both sexes went about, till their teens, naked except for ear-rings and necklaces; the girls, however, showed a beseeming modesty by wearing a string of beads around the middle.

Both sexes loved ornament, and covered neck, breast, arms, wrists and ankles with jewelry. As the nation fattened on the tribute of Asia and the commerce of the Mediterranean world, jewelry ceased to be restricted to the aristocracy, and became a passion with all classes.

Egyptian Science

At the very outset of recorded Egyptian history we find mathematics highly developed; the design and construction of the Pyramids involved a precision of measurement impossible without considerable mathematical lore.

Of Egyptian physics and chemistry we know nothing, and almost as little of Egyptian astronomy. The stargazers of the temples seem to have conceived the earth as a rectangular box, with mountains at the corners upholding the sky.

Despite the opportunities offered by embalming, the Egyptians made relatively poor progress in the study of the human body, Anatomy and physiology .

Like almost everything else in the cultural life of ancient Egypt, it began with the priests, and dripped with evidences of its magical origins. Among the people amulets were more popular than pills as preventive or curative of disease; disease was to them a possession by devils, and was to be treated with incantations.

Letters - Life in Ancient Egypt

The priests imparted rudimentary instruction to the children of the well-to-do in schools attached to the temples, as in the Roman Catholic parishes of our age. One high-priest, who was what we should term Minister or Secretary of Education, calls himself "Chief of the Royal Stable of Instruction.

In the higher grades the student was allowed to use paper. One of the main items of Egyptian trade, and one of the permanent gifts to the world is Ancient Egypt writing on paper.

Ancient Egypt Literature

Most of the literature that survives from ancient Egypt is written in hieratic script. Little of it remains, and we are forced to estimate it from the fragments that do it only the blind justice of chance; perhaps time destroyed the Shakespeares of Egypt, and preserved only the poets laureate.

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