Top 25: Little known and shocking details about the life of the ancient Egyptians
When you hear about ancient Egypt, what’s the first thing that comes to your mind? The pyramids, right? Maybe the pharaohs, too? But there was so much more to the history of this great culture! It was one of the most successful and advanced civilizations in human history. Perhaps there are curious facts waiting for you on this list that you’ve never heard of.
25. Photo: Archeologo
The ancient Egyptians were very tolerant and respectful of genetic diseases and acquired disorders. For example, a few thousand years ago, dwarfism was quite common and if today people with this disorder are often ridiculed, in the past they were respected and valued. Amenemope, the pharaoh of the 21st dynasty, even wrote an entire charter stating that it was the moral duty of every Egyptian to care for the sick, the old, and people with certain deformities.
24. Photo: pixabay
Pharaohs wore artificial metal beards to look like the god Osiris, who, according to legend, judged all who entered the afterlife.
Ancient Egyptian women used crocodile feces as contraceptives. This unusual method of birth control was discovered in chronicles dating back to 1850 BC. Crocodile feces is indeed slightly alkaline in its properties, just like modern spermicides. It turns out that the original method of contraception by Egyptian women could still sometimes work.
22. Photo: pixabay
There is plenty of evidence that the ancient Egyptians were true mathematical geniuses and skilled astronomers. For example, it has been found that the legendary pyramids of Giza perfectly repeat the stars in the belt of the constellation Orion.
21. Photo: pixabay
Ancient Egypt was full of oddities. For example, some pharaohs watered their servants with honey so that flies and other insects would stick to them and not disturb the rich and high-ranking inhabitants of the palace.
20. Photo: Keith Schengili-Roberts
The ancient Egyptians loved to spend their free time playing board games. The most popular games were Mehen and Mancala. But the favorite game in this culture was considered “Senet,” one of the oldest board games in the world. The earliest mention of this logic game dates back to 3100 BC.
19. Photo: wikimedia commons
Hygiene and appearance were very important to the ancient Egyptians. Men shaved their entire bodies and liked to use perfume with a floral scent. Naturally, it was the pharaohs who used the most exquisite and fragrant perfumes.
18. Photo: Michael Gwyther-Jones / flickr
The Nile River was central to Egyptian civilization because it was their main source of water. Its streams were believed to have flowed from the primordial waters of the Nun ocean, passed through the land of the dead, the heavens and at the very end of their journey made their way to Egypt.
17. Photo: Ekem / English language Wikipedia
Cleopatra’s Needle is an ancient Egyptian obelisk transported to New York from Alexandria back in 1881. The monument experienced more adversity during its short stay in America than during the entire 3,000 years in Egypt. The main cause of the obelisk’s dilapidation was acid rain and the polluted environment of the metropolis.
16. Photo: wikimedia commons
Women in ancient Egypt were equal members of society in all spheres except for occupation. They could marry and divorce at will, work almost anything (within certain limits), manage their property, buy and sell, travel freely, and so on. This was very rare for those times, for in other nations women were more often classed as property or livestock.
15. Photo: wikimedia commons
The famous ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs look very attractive and mysterious, but it was not easy to write them, and the process took a very long time. That is why hieroglyphics was used only for the most important texts (such as decorative inscriptions in the tombs of pharaohs). More common and accessible was considered hieratic writing, a simplified form of hieroglyphs.
14. Photo: Nina / Norwegian bokmål language Wikipedia
One of the most legendary man-made structures in the world, the great pyramids of Giza were made of about 2.5 million concrete blocks, each weighing an average of about 2.6 tons. The total weight of these pyramids is over 6.3 million tons!
13. Photo: Bedoyere / English Wikipedia
One of the most famous, long reigning and prolific Egyptian pharaohs, Ramses the Second sat on the throne for 60 years and was the proud father of more than 100 children. He died at the age of about 90, which is simply an admirable achievement for those years.
12. Photo: Anonymous
The word “Pharaoh” translates to “great house.” When it was first used, it referred to the royal palace, not just as a reference to the ruler himself.
11. Photo: CaptMondo
One of the most common myths about ancient Egypt is the tradition of burying alive the entire family, servants and untold wealth along with the body of the deceased Pharaoh. Such sacrifices were practiced several times throughout the history of this great civilization, but it was certainly not a mandatory or frequent ritual.
10. Photo: ddenisen (D. Denisenkov)
In ancient Egypt both men and women used cosmetics, but they mostly served not for decorative purposes, but to protect against sunburn and against wind and sand.
9. Photo: Keith Schengili-Roberts
When the ancient Egyptians mummified the body of the deceased, all the internal organs except the heart were removed. The Egyptians believed that the heart was the source of human wisdom, emotions, memory, soul, and personality itself, and that all these must be preserved for the afterlife of the deceased.
8. Photo: Alchemica
The ancient Egyptians were the first to use a 365-day calendar, corresponding to the solar year (the period of time from one day of the summer solstice to the next, the complete cycle of the change of seasons). In addition, they knew the timing of the Nile flood. The earliest version of the Egyptian calendar dates back to 3000 B.C.
7. Photo: Institute for the Study of the Ancient World
The Egyptian pyramids are not only one of the oldest sites of the Seven Wonders of the World, but also the only item on this list that has survived to this day. An Arab proverb perfectly illustrates the imperishable quality of these ancient structures: “Everything in the world fears time, but time fears the pyramids.
6. Photo: Anonymous.
According to the ancient Egyptians, cats were the most sacred animals. When a cat died, each member of the grieving family shaved their eyebrows as a sign of mourning for the deceased pet. Dead cats were often mummified and buried in special cat cemeteries.
5. Photo: wikimedia commons
The wives of the pharaohs were very powerful and respected, but few women managed to become the unified rulers of Egypt. The most famous and powerful ancient Egyptian queens were Nefertiti, Nitokris, Nefrusebek and, of course, Cleopatra (Nefertiti, Hatshepsut, Neithikret, Sobekneferu, Cleopatra).
4. Photo: Walters Art Museum
Cleopatra, by the way, was the most famous Egyptian queen, and she was known as “a woman of exceptional and dazzling beauty. But recent studies based on busts in her honor and images on coins have shown that Cleopatra was quite average-looking. Moreover, she may have had a hooked nose and a manlike face.
3. Photo: Daniel Mayer
There is a well-known myth that it was Napoleon’s soldiers’ fault that the famous Sphinx himself had a piece of his nose chopped off. However, sketches of Egyptian sites made decades before the French visit to Egypt testify in favor of Napoleon’s army’s non-involvement. It still remains unknown exactly how and by whose fault a piece of the legendary Sphinx statue of Giza chipped off.
2. Photo: wikimedia commons
Ancient Egyptian texts, as well as modern studies of mummies, indicate that the inhabitants of ancient Egypt suffered from a dreadful parasite known today as the Guinea worm or rishta. When this worm reaches sufficient maturity, it leaves the body of its victim directly through the skin. The parasite grows up to 1 meter in length, and the process of its exodus from the body of the host is always extremely painful for the infected person. Cases of lesions of these helminthes are still found today in the tropics and subtropics of Africa and Asia.
1. Photo: zh.wikipedia.org
Many believe that King Tutankhamun’s tomb was first uncovered when the famous British archaeologist Howard Carter discovered it in 1922. Tutankhamun was not the most prominent ruler of ancient Egypt, but incredible treasures were found in his tomb. However, as it turned out, the tomb of the king was first disturbed not at all by scientists. The pyramid was opened and looted several times in the history of its existence until 1922.
Going to Egypt: five thousand years of the country’s history in its tourist attractions
It seems that in pandemic times, you can find some good things to do. For example, go to Egypt and see the world’s sights without the crowds.
Egypt in 2021 is one of the few open countries where you can buy a direct ticket and experience a completely different culture at once. This time should be perceived as a unique opportunity to visit world-famous historical sites, which in any other year are crowded with tourists, almost alone. Being one-on-one with the pyramids, walking through huge temple complexes, exploring in solitude the ancient tombs of the pharaohs, haggling with vendors and fighting off beggars are only a small fraction of what you can experience on a trip to historic Egypt.
In this article, Stanislav Zolotarev traces five thousand years of the country’s history by describing its tourist attractions. Beginning with a little chronology, he will describe itineraries that allow you to immerse yourself in different eras of ancient Egypt. This will help you make a suitable itinerary with the time available. To visit all the places listed in the article, according to Stanislav’s calculations, will take eight days, not including travel between cities. If you still have questions after the text, follow Stanislav on Instagram @staszolo, everything will be answered!
Chronology of historical events in the article
Ancient kingdom, Memphis (modern Giza)
- 4000 B.C. – foundation of El-Fayoum, the oldest city in Egypt.
- 3000 B.C. – unification of settlements and founding of the ancient kingdom of Giza.
- 2640 BC – Pharaoh Djoser built the world’s first step pyramid designed by architect Imhotep.
- 2540 BC – Pharaoh Cheops built the largest (to this day) pyramid for himself.
Middle Kingdom, Thebes (modern Luxor)
- XX-XVIII centuries BC – construction of Karnak and Luxor temple complexes.
- XIV-XI centuries BC – burials of pharaohs in the tombs in the Valley of Kings (Luxor).
- 1490-1468 B.C. – the reign of Hatshepsut, the most powerful female pharaoh.
- 1325 BC – death of Tutankhamun. His tomb with treasures will be found in 1922.
- 1290-1224 BC – the reign of Ramses II, the most powerful pharaoh.
Cushite kingdom (modern Aswan)
- 728-681 BC – Nubia (modern Sudan and Ethiopia) conquered Egypt, rule of the Nubian dynasty.
Egypt travel plan
Giza (3 days).
- El Fayoum, Wadi El Ryan, and the “wrong” pyramid.
- The Great Pyramids of Giza, the Great Sphinx, and the pyramid of Djoser.
- Cairo Egyptian Museum.
Luxor (2 days).
- West Bank: Valley of the Kings, the temples of Hatshepsut and Medinet Abu.
- East Bank: the Karnak and Luxor temple complexes.
Aswan (3 days).
- Nubian Museum, Elephantine, St. Simeon Monastery, and Botanical Gardens.
- The islands of Philae and Calabsha.
- Abu Simbel.
If you come to Cairo, it is best to find a hotel in Giza. Firstly, you can look at the pyramids from the window or the roof of the hotel, and secondly, it is closer and easier to get to the main sights, avoiding Cairo traffic jams, which on their scale could easily compete with the Moscow ones.
El Fayoum, Wadi El Ryan and the “wrong” pyramid (one day)
About five thousand years ago Egypt was not yet Egypt: the locals scattered fertile land along the Nile and called their young country by the color of the soil – Ta-Kemet (“Black Land”), and everything around it – the Red Land, that is, the desert. The name Egypt was not introduced by the Greeks until more than two thousand years later.
El Fayoum is the oldest city in Egypt and one of the oldest in the world founded four thousand years BC. Not far from the city is the oasis of El-Fayoum. On its territory was a city that the Greeks called Crocodilopolis because the locals worshipped the crocodile god.
The sacred crocodile lived in the temple, was fed and respected, and was replaced with a new one when he died. The dead reptile was mummified. Archaeologists later found several thousand such mummies of crocodiles, some of which are on display in the Cairo Museum.
Now the city is not of particular interest, but not far from it is a national park Wadi El Ryan with two lakes and the only waterfall in the Sahara.
Wadi El Ryan is the gateway to the desert, because ṣaḥrā means “desert” in Arabic. It starts here and runs westward across the continent. People go to Wadi El Ryan to see the endless sands of the Sahara, go boating on the lake, and try sandboarding on the sand dunes. The place is popular with Cairo residents, but I haven’t seen any foreign tourists here. It takes about three hours to drive from the capital to the park, stopping halfway to explore the pyramid in Medum (also known as the “wrong” pyramid) and the oasis around it. In shape, it is the most unusual pyramid in Egypt because it looks like something between a pyramid, a tower, and an obelisk. Why this happened is unknown: either it was not completed in time, or it was partially destroyed in antiquity and came down to us in this form.
The Great Pyramids of Giza, the Great Sphinx, the Pyramid of Djoser (one day).
The distance between Cairo and Giza is about the same as between Moscow and Lyubertsy. They are two different cities, but, in fact, one, the big one, flows smoothly and imperceptibly into the other, small one. It is more convenient to see both the pyramids and Cairo on a trip. In this article, I will tell the story in historical order, so I will tell about the pyramids, and the turn of Cairo in the history of the country will come only after a few thousand years.
Numerous settlements along the Nile united first into two kingdoms: Upper and Lower Egypt. Lower Egypt on the map is at the top, near modern Cairo, and Upper Egypt, on the contrary, to the south, near Luxor. As a result of the war they were united, and the resulting state was ruled by the pharaoh (“palace owner” in Greek, that is, monarch) in Lower Egypt.
Pharaohs were always buried with great honor, mummified and placed in a sarcophagus inside a tomb. The tomb contained many jewels and household items that the Egyptians believed would be useful to the deceased in the afterlife.
The pyramid of Djoser is a typical pharaonic tomb. It is the first built pyramid, and also the oldest surviving large stone structure in the world. It was designed around 2650 BC by the architect Imhotep, who was for a long time regarded in Egypt as the greatest of all wise men and demigods. Prior to that, tombs were built in the form of a rectangle (mastaba), and the first triangular pyramid had an additional meaning: the steps of its walls symbolized the stairs by which the late pharaoh was supposed to ascend to heaven. The pyramid of Djoser is far from the Great Pyramids of Giza complex, in order to see it, you have to go to Saqqara (about an hour south of Cairo).