According to the conventional Egyptian chronology, the civilization of Ancient Egypt was established around 3100 BC following the unification of Egypt, possibly under King Narmer.
The entire history of civilization is divided into three kingdoms; the Old Kingdom, the Middle Kingdom, and the New Kingdom. From the ancient Egyptian calendar to the first labor strike in history, below are 17 interesting facts about ancient Egypt.
17. Ancient Egyptians, both male and female, wore makeup. Like most things they used, cosmetics also had a spiritual significance, and they also believed that makeup has magical healing properties.
16. The practice of female contraceptives is not new. The ancient medical journals, such as Ebers Papyrus and Kahun Gynaecological Papyrus, dated as early as 1850 BC, have mentions of several birth control techniques. Among them was the use of acacia gum, which have spermicide (contraceptive substance) qualities.
15. Ancient Egyptians enjoyed board games more than anything. Games such as “Dogs and Jackals” and “Mehen” were played. The most popular, however, was “Senet” (also known as chance). They appear to be widely popular, even among Egyptian rulers.
Queen Nefertari, one of the royal wives of Ramesses II, can be seen playing Senet in various paintings. King Tutankhamen even had game boards buried in his tomb.
Queen Nefertari playing Senet | Image Courtesy: Nina de Garis Davies
14. The Egyptian hieroglyphs (writing system) feature close to one thousand distinct characters, including alphabets, syllabics, and logographs. The first breakthrough in the decipherment of the hieroglyphic system came in 1799 with the discovery of Rosetta Stone during Napoleon Bonaparte’s invasion of Egypt.
Then in the 19th century, scholars such as Silvestre de Sacy and Thomas Young made keen observations of the stone. It was Jean-François Champollion, however, who completed the translation.
13. Ancient Egyptians worshiped more than 2,000 deities. They represented natural forces. Each had different responsibilities and were appeased through various offerings so that these forces would work in their natural order.
12. Egyptian culture and beliefs had a vast influence on their afterlife beliefs. They believed that by preserving one’s body after death (through mummification) would allow its soul to live forever.
11. As of now, more than 130 pyramids have been discovered in Egypt. Almost all pyramids were built as tombs (resting place) for Egyptian pharaohs and their families. The pyramid of Djoser at Saqqara built sometime in 2630–2610 BC is the oldest of all known Egyptian pyramids. It was built for Pharaoh Djoser of the Third Dynasty.
Pyramid of Djoser at Saqqara, Egypt
10. The Great Pyramid of Giza or the Pyramid of Khufu, is perhaps the most popular of all Egyptian pyramids. It is one of the three pyramids in the Giza pyramid complex and is 146 meters tall.
9. Do you know the ancient Egyptian calendar consisted of a 365-day year? There were three seasons, each of which were divided into 120 days or four months. A month consisted of three ten-day periods called decans.
8. The World’s Oldest Dress Was Found Here
Tarkhan Dress | Image Courtesy: Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology, UCL
The Tarkhan Dress, named after the Tarkhan cemetery in Cairo, Egypt from where it was discovered during an excavation in 1913, is the world’s oldest piece of clothing.
According to the most recent radiocarbon dating analysis, the Tarkhan Dress is more than 5000 years old. It is currently in display in London’s Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology (University of London).
7. The Average Life Expectancy of Ancient Egyptians Was Less Than 40 Years
According to Herodotus, “Egypt was the gift of the Nile”. Indeed, Nile played a major role in the establishment of ancient Egypt, supporting it both economically and politically. However, it also created a few problems.
Because ancient Egyptians lived closer to the river, they were largely exposed to mosquito-borne diseases such as malaria as well as other parasitic infections. On the other hand, a large number of outsized mummies of the wealthy class indicate overindulgence and sugar-rich diet. Injuries and excessive physical stress was a major health concern among labors and farmers.
All things put together resulted in the low life expectancy of the ancient Egyptians. The likelihood of the survival of most citizens above 40 years was extremely low. King Tutankhamun, who died when he was just 18 or 19 years of age, is suspected of having been suffering from multiple diseases before his death.
6. They Were Excellent Ship Builders
Based on multiple pieces of evidence, ancient Egyptians appear to have excelled in complicated shipbuilding techniques. First discovered in 1991, a group of archaeologists excavated 14 planked boats near the ancient city of Abydos in Egypt. They were later named Abydos boats and are the oldest planked ships in the world.
Careful examination of these artifacts revealed indigenous techniques that allowed ancient Egyptians to built large boats measuring approximately 22 meters in length and 2-3 meters in width. Perhaps the most remarkable of that technique is Mortise and tenon joint. It connects two separate planks by inserting a tenon into an opposite mortise.
5. Cleopatra VII Was Not An Egyptian
Depiction of Cleopatra by Alexandre Cabanel
Cleopatra, perhaps the most famous of all ancient Egyptian figures (after King Tut, of course), was not originally an Egyptian. Although she was born in Egypt (Alexandria), Cleopatra was a descendant of a Macedonian general named Ptolemy I Soter, who served in Alexander the Great’s army.
The Ptolemaic Dynasty ruled Egypt from 323 B.C to 30 B.C, starting from Ptolemy I Soter and ending with the Cleopatra VII. She was the first of Ptolemaic rulers to speak native Egyptian language.
4. The Oldest Known Peace Treaty Was Established By Them
Between the 13th and 15th century B.C, the Egyptian empire rivaled the Hittite Empire to gain control of the Near East comprised of Turkey and Syria. The conflict reached its height under the rule of pharaoh Ramesses II, who led the Egyptian armies to the Battle of Kadesh.
The battle turned out to be devastating for both sides as there was no clear victor. After reaching an impasse and no recourse insight, both powers entered into a peace treaty.
The Egyptian-Hittite treaty, also known as Treaty of Kadesh, entails that not only would both empires not invade each other lands but aid each other in case of a foreign invasion.
3. Ancient Egyptians Domesticated Various Animals
Ancient Egypt was one of the first civilizations to domesticate animals. They believed that plants, animals, and humans are part of a single whole. Thus a balanced relationship between all three is essential to maintain the cosmic equilibrium.
Animals played an important role in Egyptian society, providing both sustenance and a source of spirituality. While cats and dogs were a common sight in Egyptian households, sheep, pigs, goats, and pigeons were also domesticated.
Other animals such as horses, camels, and even elephants were introduced in different periods of civilization.
2. Egyptian Physicians Often Specialized in a Particular Field of Medicine
The ancient Egyptian knowledge of medicine was way ahead of its time. The successful translation of ancient medical documents such as Edwin Smith Papyrus, the Ebers Papyrus, and the Hearst Papyrus revealed that Egyptians were not only aware of tumors but were well versed in their removal techniques. Mentions of the diagnosis, prognosis, and treatment of various other illnesses are also there.
World’s oldest surgical document Edwin Smith Papyrus
The ancient Egyptian doctors, in some cases, focused their practice on treating just one part or section of the body. The ancient Greek historian Herodotus has made a detailed account of ancient Egyptian medicine. He noted that Egyptian physicians often specialized in one particular field, i.e., treating one part of the body.
Although somewhat less prominent than other specialties, dentistry was an important field of medicine practiced in ancient Egypt. The dental condition of all recovered Egyptian remains is extremely poor. Djedmaatesankh, a female musician from Luxor, died at the age of 35 (maximum) due to dental abscess. Other known cases of death due to orthodontic problems exist.
1. The Earliest Known Organized Labor Strike in History
Ramesses III, often considered as the last great pharaoh of the New Kingdom, ascended to the throne in 1186 BC. His regime witnessed one of the worst socio-economic crisis of its time caused by relentless wars against various foreign invaders.
Although his forces defended Egyptian borders against the marauders, the war efforts took a toll on the empire’s resources and manpower. Things got out of control in 1159 BC., when tomb-builders at the Set-Ma’at (now known as Deir el-Medina) went on repeated strikes after not receiving their monthly wages on time.