The Role of Women in Ancient Egyptian Society

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It is difficult to fully understand the role of women in ancient Egyptian society because the understandings of the society and government are still incomplete. There are also two other major problems, those being that there is very little source material on women, and the material that has been found was biased by the ideas and minds of previous Egyptologists. The only source material that has survived from great kingdoms of Egypt is material that has been either found in tombs on the walls and sarcophaguses, or carved on major government and religious document. None of the writings on papyrus and other delicate materials survived. This material, which has survived, is the writings of the Egyptian literate male elite. In their writings the also did not show any emotions or feelings, this was not the style of the Egyptian people, writings were purely a record keeping device. Because of these limitations, “It is essential to avoid the temptation to extrapolate from the particular to the general, a process which can only too easily introduce error.”

Upper class men, who had been schooled in their craft, did all the writings. As a result, there is very little material that deal with the lower peasant class. They were all illiterate and unable to record their tales. When studying women in Ancient Egypt, the great majority of the available texts discuss the lives of the upper class, which composed only a small percentage of the Egyptian population.

In Pharonic Egypt, women were the legal equals of men. They were not denied any rights in accordance of the law because of their gender. Women, like men, could own property, coming into it either through inheritance, as a payment for goods or services, or through purchase. Women could buy houses and goods, and with them, they were allowed to do as they chose. Being landholders and people of property afforded ancient Egyptian women a reasonable amount of social freedom. They could travel about freely in towns without veiled faces. In their own homes, women could move about as they pleased, they were not forced to remain in one section of the house or forbidden from other common areas as they were in other societies of the time.

Women could initiate legal proceedings, and they were responsible for their own actions. They could be the executors of wills and even sign their own marriage contrac...

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... Egyptian women were looked at differently than men; their role was that of the nurturer and the caregiver, the bearer of a family’s future. They were just as important to the society as the men. Ancient Egypt was a very complex world, and just as complex was the role that women played in its society. They were not free, but they also were not enslaved. They were vital, but only in terms of their husbands and their children. Egypt offered women a far more free life than the rest of the ancient world. In the end, women played a secondary role to men putting their desires for achievement aside so their husband could be king.

Bibliography:

Fischer, Henry George. Egyptian Women of the Old Kingdom and the Heracleopolitan Period. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, New York. 1989

Hawass, Zahi. Silent Images: Women of Pharonic Egypt. Cultural Development Fund, Cairo, Egypt. 1995.

Robbins, Gay. Women in Ancient Egypt. St. Martins Press, New York, New York. 1991.

Tyldesley, Joyce. Daughters of Isis, Women of Ancient Egypt. Penguin Books, London, England 1995

Watterson, Barbara. Women in Ancient Egypt. Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts. 1993

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