Women in Pharaonic Egypt Lecture notes detailing goddesses, royalty and women of less elevated status in Pharaonic Egypt.

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16 Oct 2011
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Women in Pharaonic Egypt
January-13-11
1:01 PM
Written Sources
Difficulties peculiar to Egypt
o Huge time span of Egyptian history. Mostly ruled by non-Egyptian dynasties, things mostly
different at the elite level
o Must have been some change, but Egyptian culture is usually traditional. Not a lot of rapid
social or political change
o Extreme hierarchy, more extreme than Mesopotamia. Pharaoh is at the top and is a god,
followed by priest class, scribes and the rest of the people were peasants.
o Know most about the people in power with influence.
o Literacy is restricted to upper classes (seen in most societies - not particularly Egyptian)
o Conventionalism: apparent in artistic output (literary and visual). Art is generally the same
across centuries. Limits how much you can read into art when it’s conventional, less on
individual, more on the perfect or ideal.
Sources
o Art and artefacts; material culture.
o Inscriptions; can be read
o Papyri (literature, letters, contracts etc). Lasts in dry climate of Egypt, so many papyri
documents have been found. Major source for knowing things about ordinary people
Goddesses and Royalty
January-13-11
1:12 PM
Compared to Mesopotamia, there is a number of royal important women in Egypt
Goddesses
Polytheistic society (common in antiquity)
Slightly unusual in theriomorphism: combine human and animal shapes in the deities. Not seen in
many other religions
Layering of divine identities
o Deities take on different aspects, borrow characteristic from each other including physical
characteristics. Certain characteristic are not isolated to one deity.
o History goes on so long that gods morph and change over time
o Political history of Egypt; different regions of Egypt separate and unite, their gods separate
and unite as well.
Isis
o By later stage of Egyptian history and into the roman empire, Isis is a very important goddess
and becomes a Mediterranean goddess
o Sister-wife of Osiris and mother of Horus
o Sometimes has cow horns associated with Hathor
o Sort of the Egyptian version of Innana; most closely associated with death and resurrection,
fertility
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