Women of Ancient Egypt

By: Alexandra Kinias

For thousands of years, the warm golden rays of the sun shined over the glorious Egyptian civilization that flourished on the banks of the river Nile. The Egyptians excelled in medicine, astronomy, architecture, agriculture and sciences, but what made their civilization phenomenal was that women were respected and cherished. Ancient Egyptian women enjoyed more rights and better status than their peers in the neighboring lands, and as insane as it sounds, they enjoyed more rights than their contemporary daughters. Indeed the society had its flows, but there was never gender discrimination, but rather a social class one. It might not be a coincidence that the ancient Egyptian civilization thrived because of its women’s status; after all no society had sustained prosperity without giving its women their rights and freedom.

It was not uncommon for sailors who glided down the crystal blue waters of the Nile with their boats to see the Egyptian women working in the fields, washing clothes, bathing or just strolling with their friends at sunsets after a long working day, adorned with their accessories and enjoying the summer breeze. Women had no restrictions on their freedoms. But it was not only the social aspect of their lives that women enjoyed. Whatever existed between  heavens and earth was equally distributed and enjoyed by both men and women of ancient Egypt.

The ancient Egyptians left enough evidence in the form of court documents and legal correspondence to show that men and women within each social class stood as equals in the eyes of the law. Women could own and sell property and slaves, borrow money, sign contracts, initiate divorce, appear in court as a witness, serve on juries, testify in trials, inherit equal shares from their deceased parents as their male siblings, and disinherit their ungrateful children.

Egyptians cherished their women and their families. That was a source of their happiness. However, women were free from the dominance of their fathers and brothers before marriage and their husbands’ after. They were not forced into a marriage.  Once married, women maintained their independence.  The husband’s role was never to become her legal guardian as women kept their financial independence. The husband had the authority to manage his wife’s assets, if she agreed, but it was known that it belonged to her. If the marriage failed, a woman had the freedom to divorce and terminate the marriage at her will. When the divorce was finalized, her property returned back to her and she collected her share of the community property, or what is known today as a divorce settlement. Once divorced, a woman had the freedom to return to her father’s house or to live by herself if she chose to.  Being divorced was not a stigma and it was not uncommon for a divorced woman to remarry. Premarital sex was accepted, but once married, couples were expected to be faithful to each other. And other than the kings who had several wives, polygamy was not allowed.

Ancient Egyptian women were active and held prominent roles and important jobs. Lady Nebet was appointed as Vizier – the right hand ‘man’ of the pharaoh.  Throughout Egyptian history,  Queen Merytneith, Nitocris, Sobeknofru, Hatchepsut, Twosret ruled as Pharaohs. The circumstances of their ruling were uncommon, but none-the-less, no documents ever emerged that these queens were opposed by their subjects because of their gender. Queen Nefirtiti who never ruled was  an influential wife and supporter of her husband King Akhenaton. It was not unusual for a wife to represent her husband if he was away and take charge of his business until he returned. Women of high social standard with no jobs were encouraged to take religious positions in the temples as priestess for certain god or goddess.

Like most ancient societies, illiteracy rate was high in ancient Egypt, but there was evidence that those who had a chance learned how to read and write and that included women. After all the ancient Egyptians had the goddess Seshat as the ‘female scribe’ and was not the only goddess. Out of the major thirty deities the ancient Egyptians worshiped, twelve were goddesses.

Seven thousand years later,  women in Egypt are facing a lot of challenges.  Today  they are still struggling with  issues that were granted to their ancient mothers . The skies above are very gloomy and cluttered with clouds. The minds are becoming very foggy with confusion,  but I have no doubt that the sun would shine again on the women of Egypt. They just have to work hard for it.

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13 Comments

Filed under Women in Ancient Egypt

13 responses to “Women of Ancient Egypt

  1. Reem

    i did not know that those women : Queen Merytneith, Nitocris, Sobeknofru, Twosret ruled as Pharaohs. Live and learn everyday. Good piece.

  2. sequentious

    Thank you for such a nicely written and informative article, I enjoyed reading it very much.

  3. sabine

    Excellent and fair article. Yes, we are struggling and try to win back our status in our society. Things will change but not on the spot.

    • Thanks Sabine for taking the time to read the article and respond to it. I do hope that women really fight hard for change. I am optimistic that they will rise and demand their stolen rights from men.

  4. Yosry Bekhiet

    Great article again, even though you seemed optimistic, I don’t think we will see what happend 7000 years ago in the next 100 years, may be!!
    They made the religion as it is the obsticle for women’s freedom, I think the religion came to free the people, men and women

    • Yes, it is an optimistic view, but I guess if we lost hope there will be nothing left to live for. Sometimes there are bumps on the road, but I sure hope that one day women will achieve the rights they deserve.

  5. I have always thought of the ancient Egyptian society as the greatest there ever was (and likely ever will be). I’m sure that if I lived then and was reading about now, I might have a very different view.

  6. Pingback: Cleopatra: The Last Pharaoh of Egypt |

  7. Excellent document on the Great Egyptian Civilization which enlightenned the world with wisdom, promoting justice and harmony. Thank you.

  8. Steffen

    It is so sad that most of the population of Egypt was wiped out by the islamic hordes pouring out of the lands of what today we call Saudi Arabia.Lotsa those folks were running for their lives to the south.The most enlightened civilization ever.Their fate was suffered by the original roman brittons ,also wiped out by the germanic masses out of Scandinavia and Saxony with the fall of Rome.Sex was stainfree, basically before the christianity,islam and judaism took over.

  9. Pingback: Women of Egypt: Victories and Defeats in the Last 100 Years – Part One | Alexandra Kinias

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