written by: Atlanta Page
• edited by: Noreen Gunnell
• updated: 1/21/2013
You may be surprised to hear that in ancient Egypt, although women did not dominate society, they did have it pretty good. They had access to education and held interesting jobs. They even had legal rights. Read to learn more...
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Ancient Egyptian Society
In Egypt, everyone understood that each person had his or her role--men,women and children. Women were seen as wives and mothers, taking care of the household while the men were the head of the house.
Education & Career
We also know that women in Egyptian society enjoyed high social and professional status like men. All professions were open to educated women and men, including the clergy, administration, business, and medicine, among other fields. They were not regarded as higher than a man but if their situation was right, they were allowed to have careers. They were still expected to take care of the house and kids, however. That part sounds a bit like our modern age!
Money & Power
Family inheritance was passed down through the women in Egypt. Often the brothers would marry a sister in order to inherit the family wealth. Egyptian women had a lifestyle that was coveted by other societies. There was more equality, always keeping in mind ma'at (the natural order of the universe), which dictated how an Egyptian lived. Everyone knew their place.
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Traditional Women's Roles
For women in Ancient Egypt, careers depended on their wealth status. If a woman was from the middle to lower class, she was confined to traditional women's work. Women in the upper class are recorded as holding offices on occasion and may have held jobs. This was more prevalent during the Old Kingdom, about three thousand years B.C.
Exceptions to Tradition:
A non-royal woman named Nebet during the Sixth Dynasty during the Old Kingdom was entitled, "Vizier, Judge and Magistrate." She was the wife of the nomarch of Coptos and grandmother of King Pepi I.
One Egyptian woman was entitled "Second Prophet (i.e. High Priest) of Amun" at the temple of Karnak, which was a male office. It is thought this was probably an honorary title.
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Women Won Awards
Women in Egypt were allowed to be national heroines. One such example was Queen Ahhotep of the early Eighteenth Dynasty. She received the military's highest awards three times for saving Egypt during the wars of liberation against the Hyksos. She had rallied the Egyptian troops and had crushed a rebellion in Upper Egypt at a critical time of Egyptian history.
The Fifth Dynasty records written medical instructions. There appears to have been a body of women doctors in ancient Egypt during the Old Kingdom. An Egyptian woman named Lady Peseshet was recorded as their director. One of her recorded titles was, imyt-rhm(wt)-ka, that is "woman director of the soul-priestesses." This title meant that she was also a caretaker, performing funeral cults for private persons.
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Legal Rights of Women
Egyptian women had full control over their wealth and property. A woman in Egypt was entitled to one-third of the marital property. The other two-thirds went to the children. They were also allowed to draw up a living will. These women were also allowed to sue.
The Egyptian woman also was allowed full rights in the courts with regard to adopting children, divorce and more.
They had many rights and did in fact use their power to accomplish whatever they needed to. They are known to have drawn up contracts including marriage and divorce settlements, engagements of wet-nurses, purchases of property, and even arrangements for self-enslavement.
Women in Egypt were allowed to have positions if their class allowed it. They usually did what their mothers and grandmothers did. Ancient Egyptian women seemed to have a good balance between family life and career. They knew their place in ma'at, but were allowed to fulfill many of their hopes and dreams.
Though most women found themselves fulfilling traditional roles as wives and mothers, women were not oppressed, and they were able to pursue other opportunities if available. Compared to many ancient cultures, Egypt was an excellent place to be for a woman.