The Position of Women

In the Life of Ancient Egypt

Women in the life of Ancient Egypt

Section targeting 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 position of Women in the Life of Ancient Egypt

The monuments picture women eating and drinking in public, going about their affairs in the streets unattended and unharmed, and freely engaging in industry and trade.

Greek travelers, accustomed to confine their Xanthippes narrowly, were amazed at this liberty; they jibed at the henpecked husbands of Egypt.

Diodorus Siculus, perhaps with a twinkle in his eye, reported that along the Nile obedience of the husband to the wife was required in the marriage bond, a stipulation not necessary in America.

Women held and bequeathed property in their own names; one of the most ancient documents in history is the Third Dynasty will in which the lady Nebsent transmits her lands to her children.

Hatshepsut and Cleopatra rose to be queens, and ruled and ruined like kings.

Sometimes a cynical note is heard in the literature.

One ancient moralist warns his readers:

    "Beware of a woman from abroad, who is not known in her city. Look not upon her when she comes, and know her not. She is like the vortex of deep waters, whose whirling is unfathomable. The woman whose husband is far away, she writes to thee every day. If there is no witness with her she arises and spreads her net. Oh, deadly crime if one hearkens"

But the more characteristically Egyptian tone sounds in Ptah-hotep's instructions to his son:

    "If thou art successful, and hast furnished thy house, and lovest the wife of thy bosom, then fill her stomach and clothe her back. . . . Make glad her heart during the time thou hast her, for she is a field profitable to its owner. ... If thou oppose her it will mean thy"

And the Boulak Papyrus admonishes the child with touching wisdom:

    "Thou shalt never forget thy mother. . . . For she carried thee long beneath her breast as a heavy burden; and after thy months were accomplished she bore thee.

    Three long years she carried thee upon her shoulder, and gave thee her breast to thy mouth. She nurtured thee, and took no offense from thy uncleanliness. And when thou didst enter school, and wast instructed in the writings, daily she stood by the master with bread and beer from the house"

"We shall do well to equal this civilisation"

You may also be interested in...

From Women Return to Life in Ancient Egypt

Return to Home Page