Women in Pharaonic Egypt
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.
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
Compared to Mesopotamia, there is a number of royal important women in Egypt
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.
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 o Osiris gets into battle with god of death, Set, and is killed and dismembered (similar to
Dionysus). Isis mourns her husband and journeys through Egypt to collect pieces of body.
Osiris is partially resurrected and impregnates Isis with Horace
o Pharaoh is the living embodiment of Horace, and a dead Pharaoh is the embodiment of
Osiris. Linked to political power of the Pharaoh
Isis = means "throne"
o Often represented as a bird, hieroglyph associated with Isis is the throne. Is the passive seat
of political power
o Most female deities have some aspect of fertility associated with them
o Also goddess of fertility and childbirth
o Usually represented with cow horns and a sun disc
o Generally goddess of music, fun, sexuality, inebriation. Stands for things that humans find
o Ambivalence is expresses through paradox of helpful and murderous gods. Often seen with
female deities. Suggested that there are psychological reasons for portraying women and
nurturing but also deadly and savage.
Very high status, common in hierarchical societies. Royals and nobles are elevated, the women are
elevated as well.
Royal women seem to be assimilated to divine status, not as automatically as the Pharaoh
(Pharaoh is Horace). Depends on circumstance, personality
Certain amount of economic independence. Queen's had their own estates and officials in their
service. Is not adjunct to the king, they have their own position in court.
o In order to become Pharaoh, you had to marry the daughter of the previous Pharaoh. Power
received as Pharaoh comes through marrying the daughter.
Doesn't seem to hold: pattern of inheritance of the throne changes and is inconsistent that a
pattern really cannot be traced
o Theory based on observance of occasional situation
o Belief that Pharaoh always married their sister. Difficult to tell where power comes from:
being the son of the Pharaoh or marrying the daughter (the sister).
o In reality, it is not as common as thought
o Something that happens at the level of royalty, however we really don't know.
Marriage was polygamous for the Pharaoh (not for the women, ever)
o Hierarchy among wives
Ramesses II claimed to have as many as 100 children, highly likely. Know he had 8 great royal
wives in his reign and many lesser wives
Women are defined by relationship to king ("King's Mother", "Great Royal Wife" etc)
Debunks heiress theory
o Status of women is as they are related to the Pharaoh and all p