Ancient Egypt Facts You Might Not Know


Ancient Egypt facts you might not know. Discover fascinating facts about the Gift of the Nile, ranging from the first recorded peace pact to ancient board games.

Cleopatra was not Egyptian

Cleopatra VII, along with King Tut, is possibly the most famous character associated with ancient Egypt. Cleopatra was descended from Ptolemy I, one of Alexander the Great’s most trusted lieutenants, and while she was born in Alexandria, she was truly part of a long family of Greek Macedonians. From 323 to 30 B.C., the Ptolemaic Dynasty controlled Egypt, and most of its rulers retained a predominantly Greek culture and sensibility. Cleopatra was well-known for being one of the first members of the Ptolemaic dynasty to speak Egyptian.

The ancient Egyptians forged one of the earliest peace treaties on record

The Egyptians fought the Hittite Empire for control of territories in modern-day Syria for nearly two centuries. The war resulted in bloody battles such as the Battle of Kadesh in 1274 B.C., but by the time of Pharaoh Ramses II, neither side had emerged victorious. Ramses II and the Hittite King Hattusili III forged a notable peace pact in 1259 B.C. when both the Egyptians and the Hittites received threats from other people.

This agreement put a stop to the battle and stated that in the case of a third-party attack, the two kingdoms would aid each other. The Egyptian-Hittite Treaty is currently considered one of the earliest surviving peace treaties, with a copy displayed over the entrance to the United Nations Security Council Chamber in New York.

Ancient Egyptians loved board games

Egyptians would often unwind after a long day of work along the Nile River by playing board games. Several games were played, including Mehen and Dogs and Jackals, but Senet, a chance game, was arguably the most popular. This ancient game was played on a longboard with 30 squares and dates back to 3500 B.C.

Each player had their own set of pieces that were moved about the board based on dice rolls or throwing sticks. Historians are still debating Senet’s exact rules, but the game’s popularity is undeniable. Queen Nefertiti is depicted playing Senet in paintings, and pharaohs like Tutankhamen had game boards buried with them in their tombs.

Egyptian women enjoyed a broad range of rights and liberties

Egyptian women had a considerable measure of legal and financial independence, despite being socially and publicly seen as inferior to men. They had the legal authority to buy and sell land, serve on juries, make wills, and even enter into legal contracts. Egyptian women rarely worked outside the home, but those who did were frequently paid equally to males for doing the same jobs. Egyptian women, unlike the women of ancient Greece, who were practically owned by their husbands, enjoyed the right to divorce and remarry. An ancient prenuptial agreement was even negotiated by Egyptian spouses.

These contracts stated all of the property and wealth brought into the marriage by the lady and ensured that she would be rewarded for it in the event of a divorce.

Egypt’s workers have a history of organizing labor strikes

Egyptian employees were not hesitant to agitate for improved working conditions, even though they viewed the pharaoh as a kind of living deity. The most famous case occurred during the reign of the New Kingdom pharaoh Ramses III in the 12th century B.C. When laborers working on the royal necropolis at Deir el-Medina did not receive their normal payment of grain, they staged one of history’s first recorded strikes.

The workers staged a sit-in protest, entering local funeral temples and refusing to leave until their complaints were addressed. The risk paid off, and the workmen received their long-overdue food.

Egyptian pharaohs were often overweight

Pharaohs are frequently depicted as trim and statuesque in Egyptian art, yet this was most likely not the case. The Egyptian diet, which consisted primarily of beer, wine, bread, and honey, was heavy in sugar, and studies suggest that it may have contributed to royal obesity. Mummy examinations have revealed that many Egyptian monarchs were sick, overweight, and even had diabetes. The legendary Queen Hatshepsut, who lived in the 15th century B.C., is a good example. Her tomb portrays her as slim and athletic, while historians say she was obese and balding.

Slaves did not construct the pyramids

The life of a pyramid builder was undoubtedly difficult—worker corpses frequently exhibit indications of arthritis and other ailments—but evidence suggests that the gigantic pyramids were constructed by paid laborers rather than slaves. These ancient construction workers were a mix of trained artisans and hired hands, and some of them seemed to take great delight in their job.

The idea that slaves built the pyramids at the crack of a whip was first conjured up by the Greek historian Herodotus in the 5th century B.C., but most historians now dismiss it as a myth. Graffiti found near the monuments suggests they often assigned humorous names to their crews, like the Drunkards of Menkaure or the Friends of Khufu. While the ancient Egyptians were not opposed to maintaining slaves, it appears that they mostly used them as field hands and domestic servants.


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