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EGYPTIAN SOCIETY AND DAILY LIFE ADORNING THE BODY Egyptians wore light and simple clothing. This was because of the hot and dry climate that Egypt was located in. The clothing was usually made form a soft fabric called linen. Linen was made from a plant called flax. Most clothing was plain white, but wealthy people could afford to add dyes to their clothes. Some common colors were gold, yellow and red. Men and women, both rich and poor wore forms of jewelry. It served decorative, religious, and magical purposes. Some were worn as amulets, or charms, believed to help the wearer in the afterlife. Gold, semi-precious stone, and even colored glass were common. Egyptians also paid great attention to their hair. Women would place scented wax disks in their hair that would melt in the hot Egyptian climate. As the wax melted, the scents were released, just like a perfume, and it would help keep the women fresh smelling. Oils were often used to soften skin, and keep it from cracking in the blazing Egyptian sun. BURIAL PRACTICES The Egyptians believed strongly in the afterlife. This is the belief that when a person died, their soul, or KA would still be able to enjoy the everyday things in life, but in heaven. In order for the KA to survive though, it had to have a “home” for it to return to during the day. The KA would only come out at night in the afterlife. Egyptians considered this process of preserving a dead body to be very sacred. They tried to keep the body from decaying, because if the KA could not recognize its body, it did not have a resting place during the day. Mummification, also called embalming, involved several steps. Anubis was the god that watched over the mummification process and made sure that the body was well preserved. First, priests would remove all of the body’s internal organs, and place them in four canopic jars. Then the brain was removed, some believed by hooking it and pulling it out through the nose! The body was then covered in a salt called natron, which helped dry the body out. The body was dried out for a total of 40 days, and then the salt was taken off the body. Next, the dried body was washed in oils and perfumes. Finally, the body was wrapped in fine linen fabric, sometimes several hundred yards. The mummified body was then placed into a coffin, or sarcophagus, where it was laid to rest. Bodies were always buried on the Western side of the Nile River, because that is where the sun sets, and the KA could then come out at night. Because of the expensive cost of embalming a body, only the pharaohs and very rich could pay for the cost of mummification. CRAFTS AND TRADE The ancient Egyptians were well known for their trading products. Linen and grain were items that were commonly exported out of the empire. Gold was probably the most valuable trade item in ancient Egypt. Natron, dates, cattle, and pottery were also exported. The Egyptians also imported many things. Gold, jewels, and slaves were highly sought imports. Mesopotamia was a favorite trading partner during the reign of ancient Egypt. Craftwork in Egypt was also very popular. Pottery, furniture and jewelry were some of the items every Egyptian wanted. Craftwork was possible because Egyptian farmers produced a surplus of food during the harvest season. This allowed other to specialize in jobs other than farming. This specialization is the sign of a highly developed civilization. Almost 15 - 20% of the population of Egypt had specialized jobs. Some of the more common specialized jobs were: Craft workers, stonemasons, traders, priests, scribes, and soldiers. SOCIAL CLASSES Many different social classes made up Egyptian society, which was in the shape of a pyramid. At the top of this pyramid, was the pharaoh. Priests, members of the royal family, and nobles filled out the other top levels of the pyramid. Scribes, soldiers, traders, and craft workers made up the middle of the pyramid. And finally, farmers and slaves were at the bottom levels of the pyramid. People were rarely allowed to marry someone outside of their social class. The pyramid shape of the social classes also explained the population of each class. The farther down the pyramid you go, the more people made up that social class. This means that at the top, there is only one pharaoh. But at the bottom, there were thousands of farmers. About 90% of all Egyptians were farmers. The higher up you went, the more power you had. The farther down the pyramid you go, you lose power, but the overall size or population will grow. Cities were scattered all over the Egyptian empire. But most were located right along the river’s banks. This allowed for easy access to irrigation canals, and the floodplains. Egyptians also settled along the banks of the Nile because travel was easier and faster by boat. WARFARE Egypt had a full time standing army to protect its borders from any enemies. This means that men had a year-round job as a soldier and could train to become better than their enemies. The military was very important to the Egyptians, and the pharaoh would often lead his army into battle. But if the pharaoh needed extra soldiers, he would take one out of every ten men who worked in the temples to add to his army. Soldiers used a variety of weapons in battle. Foot soldiers used javelins (spears), shields, daggers, and swords. Some soldiers fought in horse pulled chariots. These men used bows and arrows to shoot at the enemy. Two soldiers rode in each chariot, one to steer, and the other to shoot. To show the pharaoh’s greatness, he was often shown doing both driving and shooting at once!! In peacetime, soldiers worked on a variety of jobs for the pharaoh. They might dig irrigation canals, carry stone for pyramids, or help to construct one of the many temples for the pharaoh. They also served as a “police force” in all of the cities and towns along the Nile. The pharaoh wanted to keep his soldiers busy so they could not plan a revolution against the phaaoh. WRITING AND EDUCATION As in ancient Mesopotamia, scribes were people in Egypt who could read and write. They were also the empires official record keepers, recording data on trade and taxes. Only a very few number of people in Egypt knew how to read and write. Only about 2-3% of the population were scribes. A lot of times, scribes worked directly for the pharaoh, since sometimes even he could not read and write. Scribes would go to a scribal school to learn how to read and write. The Egyptian’s official language was hieroglyphics, which is similar to cuneiform. Each symbol stood for an object. But some symbols also stood for individual letters, similar to our modern alphabet. Only boys were allowed to be scribes in Egypt, very few girls were scribes. Scribes were also paid very well for their services. School was difficult, but when the students graduated, they went to work for experienced scribes, to refine their skills. Scribes wrote on papyrus, a type of paper made from papyrus reeds smashed together and then allowed to dry. Clay tablets and stone were also used as a more permanent way of recording things. But papyrus allowed for more information to be carried around from place to place because it was so light in weight. Our modern day word “paper” comes from the form of the Egyptian word “papyrus”, their paper. MEDICINE Egyptians practiced forms of medicine for hundreds of years. Doctors went to special schools to study symptoms and treatments for a variety of illnesses. Doctors even had a very clear understanding of the human body. The famous Egyptian Imhotep was a doctor and architect for Djoser! Egyptian doctors would use both a combination of magical spells and regular medicine to heal people. Doctors treated injuries and wounds every day, but historians do not believe they performed major surgeries. MUSIC AND DANCE Songs and dancing were very popular in ancient Egypt, and were performed on many occasions. Musicians and dancers were hired by wealthy people to perform at great feasts at their homes. Musicians played a variety of instruments. Stringed instruments included the harp, lyre (a type of guitar), and lute. Flutes and oboes were wind instruments. Percussion instruments included drums, tambourines, and rattles. Musicians did note read musical notes, they performed all of their songs from memory! RELIGIOUS BELIEFS Just like the people of Sumer and Babylonia, Egyptians worshipped many gods and goddesses. This belief was called polytheism. They believed that gods created their world, and controlled everything in their lives. They believed their Ka (spirit) could also “hang out” with Gods in the heavens like; Ra, Anubis, Osiris, Isis, Horus, Thoth, Hathor, and Bast. Because of these beliefs, priests made offerings to the gods daily. Individual people also made offerings to specific gods. For example, a scribe would leave offerings for Thoth, god of the scribes. Egyptian citizens made offerings to the gods as well, to ensure their gods were happy. Only the priests were allowed to enter the temples to leave large offerings to the gods. DOMESTIC LIFE The Egyptians had a very strong sense of family. People married within their own social classes, but often as early as 12 or 13 years old! In most cases, the bride and groom’s parents arranged marriages in advance. People in different social classes hardly ever married. Many young adults did not get to pick their new spouse, and some had never even met them before they were to be married! Women in ancient Egypt still did not have equal rights as men, however, women had more rights than those in Mesopotamia. Women were equal to men in the eyes of the law. But her social status was determined by the social status of her husband. Women could rent out properties, and could even take men to court. Rich wives did little or no housework, servants did the chores for them. However, poor wives had to do all of the cooking, cleaning and raising of the children while the husband worked. Sometimes, women even worked in the fields alongside their husbands! FOOD AND DRINK More than 90% of Egyptians were farmers. Their entire life was centered on the yearly flooding of the Nile River and the silt it deposits. They even used the “nilometer” a set of measuring steps along the banks of the Nile River. When the river flooded they could measure the floodwaters and determine if they would have a successful flood and harvest. But this did not mean that all they ate was wheat. Many different crops were grown and eaten in Egypt. The two most important crops were wheat and barley. Barley was used to produce the world’s first kind of beer. Vegetables such as cucumbers, lettuce, onions, radishes, chickpeas, and beans were common. For meat, Egyptians raised cattle, and hunted geese, ducks, and other birds. Cows also provided milk, which was also turned into cheese. Some kinds of fish were eaten from the Nile. Pork was considered forbidden to eat, but most Egyptians ate it anyway. Egyptians also traded for wine to drink, but only the wealthy could afford it. The Egyptians also invented the world’s first beer, but this was expansive as well. Fruit juices and water also were common drinks for the Egyptians. HOUSING Most Egyptians live in modest and small mud brick homes. Bricks were made form the clay found along the Nile’s banks, where it was shaped into bricks and allowed to bake in the hot Egyptian sun. Wealthier people had much larger homes, but they were also made of mud brick. Some wealthy people could apply plaster to the walls though and decorate the walls with paintings. Windows all faced north, to allow for the cooling winds to blow into the home. Many Egyptians slept on the roof of the house because it was cooler there at night. Temples, tombs, and monuments, however, were made from stone. Even though this was much more expensive, stone proved to be stronger and would last much longer. In fact, many Egyptian monuments we see still today are standing because they were constructed of stone. The great pyramids at Giza, Rameses II tomb at Abu Simble, and obelisks around Egypt are some examples of their stone structures that have stood the test of time and lasted thousands of years.
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