Women’s Roles

In comparison to a lot of other ancient societies (like the Ancient Romans or Ancient Greeks) women were treated much more equally in Ancient Egypt.

However, Ancient Egypt was still a male-dominated society, and men had much more power than women.

Men and women had different jobs in Ancient Egypt.

Women worked mostly in the home, as mothers to their children, and were responsible for most of the cooking, cleaning and sewing.

Men worked outside the home, usually as farmers, builders, or soldiers, but occasionally as government members if they were born into a high position.

Ancient Egyptian society was built in this way because they believed strongly in the concept of “balance,” which they called “Ma’at.” For “Ma’at” to be achieved in Egyptian society, they believed they needed to have one gender working in the home (women) and the other working outside it (men.)

However, women could take on some powerful roles in society.

For example, women could become priests in Ancient Egypt. This was usually done for temples dedicated to “feminine deities,” or female gods.

Female priests were just as important as male priests, and enjoyed all the benefits of the position, like the special rights it afforded them for property and land ownership.

There was also a particular role in the social hierarchy which only a woman could fill: the role of “God’s Wife.”

There were many “God’s Wives” in Ancient Egypt over the years, but there was only ever one at a time.

The “God’s Wives” were special because they were on the same level of the hierarchy as the High Priest, and were regarded as very holy.

“God’s Wives” assisted with religious ceremonies and worship, and aided the High Priest in his duties to the pharaoh.

Men and women had the same legal rights in Ancient Egypt.

A person’s rights were determined by their station of birth, not their gender, so a noblewoman had the same rights as a nobleman.

For example, Egyptian women could have their own businesses, own and sell property, and serve as witnesses in court cases.

They were also allowed to leave their marriage if they were unhappy with it, by divorcing and remarrying. The way marriages were arranged in Ancient Egypt was also different to other countries at the time.

Women were allowed to choose their own partners, and there was no stigma attached to divorce or remarriage. Women were legally entitled to own and manage one third of their husband’s property after marriage, and they kept it after divorce.

Though women were legally permitted to act as pharaoh, it was very rare for a woman to be born into the role.

Usually, it was the wives of dead pharaohs who became rulers. When the pharaoh did not have a wife, it was his children who took on the role.

This was how Cleopatra came to rule Ancient Egypt. When her father died, she was the eldest child in her family, and ascended to the role of pharaoh because there was nobody else to take his place.

Pregnancy was very important to the Ancient Egyptians. The fertility of a woman (how easily a woman could have a child) was a mark of how successful she was.

After becoming pregnant, women gained the respect of their neighbours, approval from their husbands, and jealousy from those who could not conceive a child of their own.

Women were cared for greatly during pregnancy. Their stomachs were covered in healing oils nearly every day, and their husbands would spend a lot of money to ensure they were comfortable during childbirth.

Multiple midwives would be called when a woman was giving birth, whose job it was to oversee the safe birth of a child.

Midwives and mothers held a special place in society, and the act of childbirth was seen as a very sacred thing.

When giving birth, the pregnant woman would be surrounded by statues of the four main Egyptian goddesses; Tefnut, Aset, Nebet Hut, and Nut, the goddess of the sky.

Facts about the role of women in Ancient Egypt:

  • Women had the same legal rights as men.
  • While men usually worked outside the home, women usually worked inside it, as mothers and homemakers.
  • The special religious role of “God’s Wife” could only be filled by a woman.
  • Women could become priests in Ancient Egypt, though this was usually only done for the worship of goddesses.
  • Pregnancy was a sacred thing in Ancient Egypt, and pregnant women were treated much better than other women.
  • Women could be pharaohs (rulers) in Ancient Egypt, though they usually only got the position when it was handed down to them.

Questions:

  • What job did women usually work as in Ancient Egypt?
    – Homemakers/wives/cleaners/cooks.
  • What happened when a woman got divorced in Ancient Egypt?
    – She kept one third of her husband’s property, and was allowed to remarry.
  • How did Cleopatra become Pharaoh of Egypt?
    – When her father died, the title was passed down to her.
  • What was the name of the woman who worked with the High Priest in important religious ceremonies?
    – The woman who worked with the High Priest was called “God’s Wife.”