Life in Ancient Egypt

Daily Life

StatuesTo understand the everyday life of ancient Egyptians, archaeologists draw on many sources. The most valuable sources include tomb paintings, reliefs, and the objects included in tombs that the Egyptians used in their daily life. Artifacts from the few towns that have been excavated and hundreds of documents written by the ancient Egyptians shed additional light on their life. Much of the day-to-day running of their households, however, remains obscure.

The nuclear family was the fundamental social unit of ancient Egypt. The father was responsible for the economic well-being of the family, and the mother supervised the household and cared for the upbringing of the children. Although Egyptian children had toys and are occasionally depicted at play, much of their time was spent preparing for adulthood. For example, peasant children accompanied their parents into the fields; the male offspring of craftsmen often served as apprentices to their fathers. Privileged children sometimes received formal education to become scribes or army officers.

The few furnishings in the ancient Egyptian home were simple in design. The most common piece of furniture was a low stool, used by all Egyptians including the pharaoh. These stools were made from wood, had leather or woven rush seats, and had three or four legs. Most kitchens were equipped with a cylindrical, baked clay stove for cooking. Food was stored in wheel-made pottery. The basic cooking equipment was a two-handled pottery saucepan.

The ancient Egyptians embellished their usually plain clothing with elaborate costume jewelry. Both men and women wore jewelry such as earrings, bracelets, anklets, rings, and beaded necklaces. They incorporated into their jewelry many minerals including amethyst, garnet, jasper, onyx, turquoise, and lapis lazuli as well as copper, gold, and shells. Because the Egyptians were very superstitious, frequently their jewelry contained good luck charms called amulets.

Cosmetics were not only an important part of Egyptian dress but also a matter of personal hygiene and health. Many items related to cosmetics have been found in tombs and are illustrated in tomb paintings. Oils and creams were of vital importance against the hot Egyptian sun and dry winds. Eye paint, both green and black, is probably the most characteristic of the Egyptian cosmetics. The green pigment, malachite, was made from copper. The black paint, called kohl, was made from lead or soot. Kohl was usually kept in a small pot that had a flat bottom, wide rim, tiny mouth, and a flat, disk-shaped lid.

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