The Status of Egyptian Women
There was no seclusion of women at any time among the ancient Egyptians. The figure of the wife on the early monuments constantly accompanies that of her husband. She is his associate in all his occupations. Her subordination is indicated by her representation being on an unduly smaller scale, and by her ordinary position, which is behind the figure of her "lord and master." In statuary, however, she appears seated with him on the same seat or chair. There is no appearance of her having been either a drudge or a plaything. She was regarded as man's true "helpmate," shared his thoughts, ruled his family, and during their early years had the charge of his children. Women were entombed with as much care, and almost with as much pomp, as men. The right of women to ascend the throne is said to have been asserted by one of the kings who preceded Sneferu; and from time to time women actually exercised in Egypt the royal authority.
Egyptian Women - Marriage
The Ancient Egyptians had no formal marriage ceremony as such. marriage was seen as a sacred institution. A man and a woman set up home together and the Ancient Egyptian expression for marriage was 'founding a house'. Setting up a home together and together with legal agreements regarding maintenance and possessions constituted a marriage. An Egyptian woman would marry at the age of 14 whereas the age for a man was about 20. Marriages were usually between men and women of the same social standing. Marriages within the family were also common especially between cousins. Incestuous marriages only occurred within the royal family and involved the Pharaoh who was believed to be a god. The property rights of Ancient Egyptian women were highly favourable compared to other civilizations and women remained the owner of whatever she brought into the household. It must be said, however, that the natural state of Egyptian women was as wife and mother and an unattached woman was treated with some suspicion.
Egyptian Women - Polygamy
Polygamy was legal for the Ancient Egyptians. Polygamy is the practice of marriage to more than one spouse simultaneously. Although polygamy was legal it was generally only practised by the wealthy - the prospect of paying maintenance to several women must have reduced the practise. Pharaohs practised polygamy which helped to seal alliances, establish their dynasties and resolve questions of succession. In instances were polygamy was practised one of the women would be named as the main wife and enjoyed a special and higher status compared to any other wives.
Egyptian Women - Divorce
Divorce was allowed in the Ancient Egyptian society and a divorce was obtained by one partner renouncing the other with or without the consent of the other person. If either partner did not get on with the other it was sufficient grounds for a divorce. Wanting to marry another person was also seen as a perfectly good reason for a divorce. A man could choose another woman as a wife in order to improve his social standing in the Ancient Egyptian society. Adultery was another reason for divorce but even if the woman was the guilty party she would retain certain rights of maintenance from her previous husband and of course her property was still her own. In the event of a divorce a woman would receive one third of the assets which were acquired during the period of the marriage.
Egyptian Women - Women's Rights
The Ancient Egyptians believed in the concept of women's rights. The terms of marriage and divorce were not unfavorable to women and they also had additional rights. Egyptian women were allowed to farm land, sell land and produce produce which they could sell. A woman was equal to a man under law and if she broke the law she was answerable to the consequences.
Egyptian Women - Men were the most powerful - Jobs for the Men
Although Egyptian women were equal according to the law the men were still seen as the masters in many other respects. The most accepted role of a woman in Ancient Egyptian society was that of a wife and a mother. Most of the Pharaohs were male and female Pharaohs often wore the false beard as a symbol of royal power as only kings should be Pharaohs. Women were excluded from roles such as court officials and although some women were educated this was far more common for men. Even as young girls women were expected to serve men. Many jobs were based on the strength and stamina of men so women undertook less physical tasks. Women were not allowed to carry any blades so any jobs requiring the use of such a tool was banned to women. Even the job of washing clothes was deemed as a job for a man as it was possible that a crocodile could attack someone undertaking this occupation.
Egyptian Women - The Role of a Mother
The most important role for Egyptian women was that of a mother. Producing children was the main reason why Egyptians married. Delivery of children usually took place on a special shaded pavilion and women were tended by their close female relations. Their was a high mortality rate and women who became mothers then took on the responsibility of raising their children as safely as possible.
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