History's Women: Misc. Articles: Woman Before the Christian Era - Egypt - Hood Papyrus

Hood Papyrus

In Egypt, that other early settled part of the earth, this same form of idolatry of the solar system originally prevailed, but with some important modifications. There also, as in old Chaldea, the king was the chief pontiff, and in addition to the several classes of priests, the Hood Papyrus takes up half of the second page with the titles of temple servants and artisans, men and women, such as butchers, cooks, pastry cooks, confectioners, cellarers, water carriers, milk carriers, florists, weavers, shoemakers, etc., all waxing fat on the superstition of the times.

In Egypt, also, the priests solicited and had (according to the monuments and inscriptions) vast gifts of houses, fields, vineyards, orchards, fish ponds, slaves, silver, gold, copper, etc., large legacies being left to them by the worshipers to institute prayers and sacrifices in behalf of the dead.

While not so keen tradesmen as their Chaldean brethren, like them the Egyptian priesthood through their chief, the king, claimed the “sacred metals” and made it in their temples, fixing the ratios as pleased them, and these also became rich and powerful and able to dictate terms even to the king on the throne; many even becoming king.

Here also, even down the the time of the Caesars, were to be found those Pallacides, of whose remarkable tombs Strabo and Diodorus speak. These were the sacred harlots, being girls belonging to the families of nobles at Thebes who were consecrated to a life of immorality in the service of the god Ammon.

And as the gods, among whom was the much worshiped and praised Osiris, and married their sisters, so it was the constant custom in Egypt, through all its history, for brothers to marry sisters (in Egyptian love songs the words brother and sister mean our modern lover and mistress). Indeed, some of their kings, as Psammetichus I. and Rameses II. (the Pharaoh of the Israelite oppression), following the example of their illustrious gods, married their own daughters. The Achaemidian kings did the same and the Artaxerxes, king of Persia, also married two of his own daughters.

History's Women: Misc. Articles: Woman Before the Christian Era - From Eden to Christ - Egypt - Polygamous Wives

Polygamous Wives

Later discoveries have shown that Diodorus was mistaken in thinking that women were supreme in Egypt, the custom that he refers to of the husband visiting at the separate homes of his polygamous wives and being, while there, treated as a guest, having given him that idea. It is now known that the position of woman in ancient Egypt was almost identical with that prevailing in Chaldea. If the wife was by birth the sister of her husband, or was of the same rank or caste, she had more of independence granted her.

Husband and Wife

But the will of the husband was supreme. The rich and nobles had several wives, who dwelt apart, each in her own house, where the wife received the visits of her lord, and ground the corn, cooked, wove, and made clothing and perfumes, kept the fire alive, and nursed and taught her children, just as her sisters did in the Euphrates valley.

The chief or noble had also, besides wives, concubines, who were either slaves born in his households, bought with money of the poorer classes, or captives of war. These were his chattels, and at his disposal, being often sold, even though they had borne him children.

All his children were legitimate in the law of Egypt, but not all of the same rank; those of the sister or wife of his own rank having preference over those of the concubine, unless the latter had brought him a firstborn son.

The homes of the common people were identical with those of the fellah of today, viz., low huts of wattle, daubed with puddled clay, or else of sun-dried brick, of one room, a door being the only opening.

Those of the middle class were large enough at times to even require a roof supported by trunks or limbs of a tree for columns.

The furniture was of the same type as that noted in Chaldea, a few pieces of earthenware, stools, and chairs.

In the Middle and Later Empire times of the palaces of the barons and kings rivaled in luxury those of Babylon.

The dress of women was then the loincloth and mantle, the poorer going barefoot, others wearing coarse leather or plaited straw or split reed, or wooden sandals and having their necks, breasts, arms, wrists, and ankles covered with rows of necklaces and bracelets, and their hair towering aloft and requiring the headrest at night for its support. Later they adorned themselves with all those trappings enumerated by the prophet Isaiah in his third chapter, as characteristic of women of Jerusalem in this day.

The artisan class formed guilds, the son pursuing the occupation of the father from generation to generation.

Of public schools there were none. Education was of the priest, save as the parents might teach what they knew. Reading, writing, and elementary arithmetic were common to a large class or classes known as scribes. The above amount of education, though imperfect, being the door to government employment, was generally sought for, and some of the scribes, though of slave parentage, are recorded as having risen Joseph-like, to be vice-regent over half of Egypt; the country being divided into many petty districts, each with its hosts of tax-gatherers and small officials, gave opportunity for the ambitious.


Reference: Woman: Her Position, Influence and Achievement Throughout the Civilized World. Designed and Arranged by William C. King. Published in 1900 by The King-Richardson Co. Copyright 1903 The King-Richardson Co.