Ancient Egyptian cuisine

An early Ramesside Period mural painting from Deir el-Medina tomb
depicts an Egyptian couple harvesting crops.

The cuisine of ancient Egypt covers a span of over three thousand years, but still retained many consistent traits until well into Greco-Roman times. The staples of both poor and wealthy Egyptians were bread and beer, often accompanied by green-shooted onions, other vegetables, and to a lesser extent meat, game and fish.

Depictions of banquets can be found in paintings from both the Old Kingdom and New Kingdom. They usually started sometime in the afternoon. Men and women were separated unless they were married. Seating varied according to social status, with those of the highest status sitting on chairs, those slightly lower sat on stools and those lowest in rank sat on the raw floor. Before the food was served, basins were provided along with aromatics and cones of scented fat were lit to spread pleasant smells or to repel insects, depending on the type.

Lily flowers and flower collars were handed out and professional dancers (primarily women) entertained, accompanied by musicians playing harps, lutes, drums, tambourines, and clappers. There were usually considerable amounts of alcohol and abundant quantities of foods; there were whole roast oxen, ducks, geese, pigeons, and at times fish. The dishes frequently consisted of stews served with great amounts of bread, fresh vegetables and fruit. For sweets there were cakes baked with dates and sweetened with honey. The goddess Hathor was often invoked during feasts.

Food could be prepared by stewing, baking, boiling, grilling, frying, or roasting.
Spices and herbs were added for flavor, though the former were expensive imports and therefore confined to the tables of the wealthy. Food such as meats was mostly preserved by salting, and dates and raisins could be dried for long-term storage. The staples bread and beer were usually prepared in the same locations, as the yeast used for bread was also used for brewing. The two were prepared either in special bakeries or, more often, at home, and any surplus would be sold.
Honey was the primary sweetener, but was rather expensive. There was honey collected from the wild, and honey from domesticated bees kept in pottery hives. A cheaper alternative would have been dates or carob. There was even a hieroglyph (nedjem/bener) depicting a carob pod that bore the primary meaning of “sweet; pleasant.”

Carob Pod

Oils would be made from lettuce or radish seed, safflower, ben, balanites and sesame. Animal fat was employed for cooking and jars used for storing it have been found in many settlements.

A depiction of the royal bakery from an engraving in the tomb of Ramesses III in the Valley of the Kings. There are many types of loaves, including ones that are shaped like animals. 20th dynasty.


Egyptian bread was made almost exclusively from emmer wheat, which was more difficult to turn into flour than most other varieties of wheat. The chaff does not come off through threshing, but comes in spikelets that needed to be removed by moistening and pounding with a pestle to avoid crushing the grains inside. It was then dried in the sun, winnowed and sieved and finally milled on a saddle quern, which functioned by moving the grindstone back and forth, rather than with a rotating motion.
The baking techniques varied over time. In the Old Kingdom, heavy pottery molds were filled with dough and then set in the embers to bake. During the Middle Kingdom tall cones were used on square hearths. In the New Kingdom a new type of a large open-topped clay oven, cylindrical in shape, was used, which was encased in thick mud bricks and mortar.

Dough was then slapped on the heated inner wall and peeled off when done, similar to how a tandoor oven is used for flatbreads. Tombs from the New Kingdom show images of bread in many different shapes and sizes. Loaves shaped like human figures, fish, various animals and fans, all of varying dough texture. Flavorings used for bread included coriander seeds and dates, but it is not known if this was ever used by the poor.

Other than emmer, barley was grown to make bread and also used for making beer, and so were lily seeds and roots, and tiger nut. The grit from the quern stones used to grind the flour mixed in with bread was a major source of tooth decay due to the wear it produced on the enamel. For those who could afford there was also fine dessert bread and cakes baked from high-grade flour.


“Egyptian beer”
Stela depicting a Syrian mercenary drinking beer. Egyptian New Kingdom, 18th Dynasty, Amenhotep IV. Neues Museum, Berlin.

In Egypt beer was a primary source of nutrition, and consumed daily. Beer was such an important part of the Egyptian diet that it was even used as currency.[5]Like most modern African beers, but unlike European beer, it was very cloudy with plenty of solids and highly nutritious, quite reminiscent of gruel. It was an important source of protein, minerals and vitamins and was so valuable that beer jars were often used as a measurement of value and were used in medicine. Little is known about specific types of beer, but there is mention of, for example, sweet beer but without any specific details mentioned.
Globular-based vessels with a narrow neck that were used to store fermented beer[6] from pre-dynastic times have been found at Hierakonpolis and Abydoswith emmer wheat residue that shows signs of gentle heating from below. Though not conclusive evidence of early beer brewing it is an indication that this might have been what they were used for. Archeological evidence shows that beer was made by first baking “beer bread”, a type of well-leavened, lightly baked bread that did not kill the yeasts, which was then crumbled over a sieve, washed with water in a vat and then left to ferment. This “beer bread” closely resembles the bouza that is still consumed in Egypt today. There are claims of dates or malts having been used, but the evidence is not concrete.
Microscopy of beer residue points to a different method of brewing where bread was not used as an ingredient. One batch of grain was sprouted, which produced enzymes. The next batch was cooked in water, dispersing the starch and then the two batches were mixed. The enzymes began to consume the starch to produce sugar. The resulting mixture was then sieved to remove chaff, and yeast (and probably lactic acid) was then added to begin a fermentation process that produced alcohol. This method of brewing is still used in parts of non-industrialized Africa. Most beers were made of barley and only a few of emmer wheat, but so far no evidence of flavoring has been found.
Fruit and vegetables
Vegetables were eaten as a complement to the ubiquitous beer and bread; the most common were long-shooted green scallions and garlic but both also had medical uses. There was also lettuce, celery (eaten raw or used to flavor stews), certain types of cucumberand, perhaps, some types of Old World gourds and even melons. By Greco-Roman times there were turnips, but it is not certain if they were available before that period. Various tubers of sedges, including papyrus were eaten raw, boiled, roasted or ground into flour and were rich in nutrients.
Tiger nut (Cyperus esculentus) was used to make a dessert made from the dried and ground tubers mixed with honey. Lily and similar flowering aquatic plants could be eaten raw or turned into flour, and both root and stem were edible. A number of pulses and legumessuch as peas, beans, lentils and chickpeas were vital sources of protein. The excavations of the workers’ village at Giza have revealed pottery vessels imported from the Middle East, which were used to store and transport olive oil, as early as the 4th Dynasty.
The most common fruit were dates and there were also figs, grapes (and raisins), dom palm nuts (eaten raw or steeped to make juice), certain species of Mimusops, and nabk berries (a species of the genus Ziziphus). Figs were so common because they were high in sugar and protein. The dates would either be dried/dehydrated or eaten fresh. Dates were sometimes even used to ferment wine and the poor would use them as sweeteners. Unlike vegetables, which were grown year-round, fruit was more seasonal. Pomegranates and grapes would be brought into tombs of the deceased.

Meat, fowl and fish

Hunting game birds and plowing a field.
Depiction on a burial chamber from c. 2700 BC. Tomb of Nefermaat I and his wife Itet.

Meat came from domesticated animals, game and poultry. This possibly included partridge, quail, pigeon, ducks and geese. The chicken most likely arrived around the 5th to 4th century BC, though no chicken bones have actually been found dating from before the Greco-Roman period. The most important animals were cattle, sheep, goats and pigs (previously thought to have been taboo to eat because the priests of Egypt referred pig to the evil god Seth).
5th-century BC Greek historian Herodotus claimed that the Egyptians abstained from consuming cows as they were sacred by association with Isis. They sacrificed male oxen but did not eat them and buried them ritually. However, excavations at the Giza worker’s village have uncovered evidence of massive slaughter of oxen, mutton and pork, such that researchers estimate that the workforce building the Great Pyramid were fed beef every day.
Mutton and pork were more common despite Herodotus’ affirmations that swine were held by the Egyptians to be unclean and avoided. Poultry, both wild and domestic and fish were available to all but the most destitute. The alternative protein sources would rather have been legumes, eggs, cheese and the amino acids available in the tandem staples of bread and beer. Mice and hedgehogs were also eaten and a common way to cook the latter was to encase a hedgehog in clay and bake it. When the clay was then cracked open and removed, it took the prickly spikes with it.
Foie gras, a well-known delicacy which is still enjoyed today, was invented by the Ancient Egyptians. The technique of gavage, cramming food into the mouth of domesticated ducks and geese, dates as far back as 2500 BC, when the Egyptians began keeping birds for food.
A 14th century book translated and published in 2017 lists 10 recipes for sparrow which was eaten for its aphrodisiac properties.


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Ruqaiya Sultan Begum

Ruqaiya Sultan Begum
Padshah Begum
Shahzadi of the Mughal Empire
Empress consort of the Mughal Empire
Predecessor Bega Begum
Successor Saliha Banu Begum
Died 19 January 1626 (aged 83–84)
Agra, Mughal Empire (modern day India)
Burial Gardens of Babur, Kabul
Spouse Akbar
House Timurid (by birth)
Father Hindal Mirza
Mother Sultanam Begum

Ruqaiya Sultan Begum (c. 1542 – 19 January 1626) was empress consort of the Mughal Empire from 1557 to 1605 as the first wife and chief consort of the third Mughal emperor Akbar.
She was also the longest serving Mughal empress, having tenure of almost fifty years.
Ruqaiya was a first cousin of her husband, and was a Mughal princess by birth. Her father, Hindal Mirza, was the youngest brother of Akbar’s father Humayun. She was betrothed to Akbar at the age of nine and married him at 14, but remained childless throughout her marriage. In later life, Ruqaiya raised (virtually adopted) Akbar’s favourite grandson Khurram (the future emperor Shah Jahan). As Akbar’s chief consort, Ruqaiya wielded considerable influence over him and played a crucial role in negotiating a settlement between her husband and her stepson, Jahangir, when the father-son’s relationship had turned sour in the early 1600s, eventually helping to pave the way for Jahangir’s accession to the Mughal throne.

She died just a year before her foster-son, Shah Jahan, acceded to the throne after a fratricidal struggle.
Hindal Mirza, presents young Akbar’s portrait to Humayun, during Akbar’s circumcision celebrations in Kabul, c. 1546 AD[8]
Ruqaiya Sultan Begum was born into the Timurid dynasty as a Mughal princess, and was the only daughter of Mughal prince Hindal Mirza, the youngest son of the first Mughal emperor Babur from his wife Dildar Begum.
Ruqaiya’s mother, Sultanam Begum, was the daughter of Muhammad Musa Khwaja and the younger sister of Mahdi Khwaja, who was the brother-in-law of Emperor Babur, being the husband of his sister, Khanzada Begum. Ruqaiya was named after the Islamic Prophet Muhammad’s daughter, Ruqayyah bint Muhammad.
Ruqaiya’s oldest paternal uncle was the second Mughal emperor Humayun (who later became her father-in-law as well) while her most notable paternal aunt was the imperial princess, Gulbadan Begum, the author of Humayun-nama (“Book of Humayun”).
Ruqaiya, being the paternal granddaughter of Emperor Babur, was of Miran Shahi birth just like her husband Akbar. She was a descendant of the lines of the highest Central Asian aristocracy: Timur or Tamerlane the Great through his son Miran Shah, and Genghis Khan through his son Chagatai Khan.
Ruqaiya was thus, Akbar’s only wife who was his equal in birth and stature.
Marriage to Akbar
On 20 November 1551, Hindal Mirza died fighting valorously for Humayun in a battle against their half-brother, Kamran Mirza’s forces. Humayun was overwhelmed with grief upon the death of his youngest brother, who had expiated for his former disobedience by his blood, but his emirs consoled him by saying that his brother was blessed in having thus fallen a martyr in the service of the Emperor.
Out of affection to the memory of his brother, Humayun betrothed Hindal’s nine-year-old daughter, Ruqaiya, to his son Akbar. Their betrothal took place in Kabul, Afghanistan, shortly after Akbar’s first appointment as a viceroy in the province of Ghazni.
On their engagement, Humayun conferred on the imperial couple, all the wealth, army and adherents of Hindal and Ghazni, which was one of Hindal’s jagir, was given to Akbar, who was appointed as its viceroy and was also given the command of his uncle’s army.
During the period of political uncertainty following Humayun’s death in 1556, Ruqaiya and the other female members of the imperial family were staying in Kabul., Ruqaiya came to India and joined Akbar in Punjab, shortly after Sikandar Shah was defeated and had submitted to the Mughals.
She was accompanied by her mother-in-law Hamida Banu Begum, her aunt Gulbadan Begum, and many other female members of the imperial family. Ruqaiya’s marriage with Akbar was solemnized near Jalandhar, Punjab, when both of them were 14 years-old. About the same time, her 18-year-old first-cousin Salima Sultan Begum, married Akbar’s considerably older regent, Bairam Khan.
After resting for some four months in Punjab, the imperial family set out for Delhi. The Mughals were at last ready to settle down in India.
Fatehpur Sikri: Hujra-I-Anup Talao or the Turkish Sultana House, a pleasure pavilion attached to a pond, was used by Empress Ruqaiya
Ruqaiya became Empress of the Mughal Empire at the age of fourteen years following her husband’s accession to the throne in 1556. She remained childless throughout her marriage but assumed the primary responsibility for the upbringing of Akbar’s favourite grandson, Prince Khurram (the future emperor Shah Jahan).
Ruqaiya’s adoption of Prince Khurram signified her rank and power in the imperial harem as one of the special privileges of women of rank (in the Mughal Empire) was to care for ranking children not their own.
Just prior to Khurram’s birth, a soothsayer had reportedly predicted to Ruqaiya Sultan Begum that the still unborn child was destined for imperial greatness. So, when Khurram was born in 1592 and was only six days old; Akbar ordered that the prince be taken away from his mother, Jagat Gosaini, and handed him over to Ruqaiya so that he could grow up under her care and Akbar could fulfill his wife’s wish, to raise a Mughal emperor.
Ruqaiya even oversaw Khurram’s education, for she, unlike her husband, was well educated.[22] The two shared a close relationship with each other, much like the relationship that Akbar had shared with Khurram, who, in the words of Jahangir “always recommended him [Khurram] to me [Jahangir] and frequently told me there was no comparison between him and my other children.
He [Akbar] recognized him as his real child.Jahangir also noted in his memoirs that Ruqaiya had loved his son, Khurram, “a thousand times more than if he had been her own [son].”Khurram remained with her, until he had turned almost 14. After Akbar’s death in 1605, the young prince was then, finally, allowed to return to his father’s household, and thus, be closer to his biological mother. Later, Ruqaiya also brought up Khurram’s first child, a daughter, Parhez Banu Begum, who was born to his first wife, the Safavid princess Kandahari Begum.
Despite not bearing children, Ruqaiya was always kept in high regard by her husband. She remained his sole chief consort from the time of their marriage in 1557 until his death in 1605. Ruqaiya was thus, the most senior lady in the imperial harem and at court during her husband’s reign as well as in his successor’s (Jahangir) reign.
This was primarily due to her exalted lineage, being Mirza Hindal’s daughter, a Mughal princess as well as Akbar’s first and chief wife.
The Empress also took an active part in court politics and wielded considerable influence over Akbar. She played a crucial role (along with her cousin and co-wife Salima Sultan Begum) in negotiating a settlement between her husband and her step-son, Salim (Jahangir), when the father-son’s relationship had turned sour in the early 1600s, eventually helping to pave the way for Salim’s accession to the Mughal throne.
In 1601, Salim had revolted against Akbar by setting up an independent court in Allahabad and by assuming the imperial title of “Salim Shah” while his father was still alive.He also planned and executed the assassination of Akbar’s faithful counselor and close friend, Abu’l Fazl.
This situation became very critical and infuriated Akbar so much that no one dared to petition for Salim. In the end, it was Ruqaiya Sultan Begum and Salima Sultan Begum who pleaded for his forgiveness. Akbar granted their wishes and Salim was allowed to present himself before the Emperor. The prince was finally pardoned in 1603 through the efforts of his step-mothers and his grandmother, Hamida Banu Begum.
Akbar, however, did not always pardon a wrong doer and sometimes his decisions were irreversible. Once, Ruqaiya and her mother-in-law, Hamida Banu Begum, by their joint effort could not secure pardon for a Sunni Muslim who had murdered a Shia in Lahore purely out of religious fanaticism.
During Jahangir’s reign, Ruqaiya and Salima Sultan Begum played a crucial role in securing pardon for the powerful Khan-i-Azam, Mirza Aziz Koka, who would’ve surely been sentenced to death by Jahangir had not Salima interceded on his behalf.
Apart from her own palace at Fatehpur Sikri, Ruqaiya owned palaces outside the fort in Agra, near the Jamuna river, a privilege given to Mughal princesses only and sometimes to empresses who were kept in high esteem; Ruqaiya was both.
Dowager empress
In 1607, Ruqaiya made a pilgrimage to the Gardens of Babur in Kabul and for the first time, visited the mausoleum of her father Hindal Mirza, as well as those of her other ancestors.She was accompanied by Jahangir and Prince Khurram.[In the same year, Sher Afghan Khan, the jagirdar of Burdwan died and his widowed wife, Mehr-un-Nissa (later Empress Nur Jahan) was summoned to Agra by Jahangir to act as lady-in-waiting to his step-mother, the Dowager empress Ruqaiya.
Given the precarious political connections of Sher Afghan before his death, his family was in great danger and therefore for her own protection, Mehr-un-Nissa needed to be at the Mughal court in Agra. Ruqaiya, having been the late Emperor Akbar’s principal wife and being the most senior woman in the harem, was by stature and ability, the most capable of providing the protection that Mehr-un-Nissa needed at the Mughal court.
Mehr-un-Nissa was flattered to have been brought with her daughter into Ruqaiya’s service, for even though she had relatives at court, such as her father Mirza Ghias Beg. Her husband had gone down in ignominy and she could have rightly expected only the worst.] It was under Ruqaiya’s care, then, that Mehr-un-Nissa was able to spend time with her parents and occasionally visit the apartments where the emperor’s women lived.
Mehr-un-Nissa and her daughter, Ladli Begum, served as ladies-in-waiting to the Empress for four years while earnestly endeavoring to please their imperial mistress.The relationship that grew up between Ruqaiya and Mehr-un-Nissa appears to have been an extremely tender one and there is every indication that the former treated the latter as her daughter. The Dutch merchant and travel writer, Pieter van den Broecke, described their relationship in his Hindustan Chronicle: “This Begum [Ruqaiya] conceived a great affection for Mehr-un-Nissa [Nur Jahan]; she loved her more than others and always kept her in her company.
Inside the Gardens of Babur, located in Kabul, Afghanistan
Ruqaiya died in 1626 in Agra, at the age of eighty-four, having outlived her husband by more than twenty years. She was buried on the fifteenth level in the Gardens of Babur (Bagh-e-Babur) in Kabul, Afghanistan. The Gardens of Babur is the final resting place of her grandfather, Emperor Babur, as well as that of her father, Hindal Mirza. Her tomb was built by the orders of her foster-son, the fifth Mughal emperor Shah Jahan.
Jahangir speaks fondly of Ruqaiya in his memoirs and while recording her death in it, he makes note of her exalted status as Akbar’s chief wife.




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Ala-ud-din Khilji’s tomb and madrasa

Ala-ud-din Khilji’s tomb and madrasa

Alauddin Khilji’s Madrasa, which also has his tomb to the south, ca 1316 AD
At the back of the complex, southwest of the mosque, stands an L-shaped construction, consisting of Alauddin Khilji’s tomb dating ca 1316 AD, and a madrasa, an Islamic seminary built by him. Khilji was the second Sultan of Delhi from Khilji dynasty, who ruled from 1296 to 1316 AD.

The central room of the building, which has his tomb, has now lost its dome, though many rooms of the seminary or college are intact, and since been restored. There were two small chambers connected to the tomb by passages on either side. Fergusson in his book suggested the existence, to the west of the tomb, of seven rooms, two of which had domes and windows. The remains of the tomb building suggest that there was an open courtyard on the south and west sides of the tomb building, and that one room in the north served as an entrance.

It was the first example in India, of a tomb standing alongside a madrasa. Nearby stands the Alai Minar, an ambitious tower, he started constructing to rival the Qutb Minar, though he died when only its first story was built and its construction abandoned thereafter. It now stands, north of the mosque.

The tomb is in a very dilapidated condition. It is believed that Ala-ud-din’s body was brought to the complex from Siri and buried in front of the mosque, which formed part of the madrasa adjoining the tomb. Firoz Shah Tughluq, who undertook repairs of the tomb complex, mentioned a mosque within the madrasa.

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The Khilji-Allauddin Khilji

The Khilji dynasty was named after a village in Afghanistan.
Jalal-ud-din Khilji overthrew Balban’s successors and founded the Khilji Dynasty, which ruled large parts of South Asia between 1290 and 1320. His own nephew and son-in-law Alauddin Khilji, killed Jalal-ud-din and took over as the new ruler. That was the second dynasty to rule the Delhi Sultanate of India.
Some historians believe that they were Afghans, but Bharani and Wolse Haig explain in their accounts that the rulers from this dynasty, who came to India, though they had temporarily settled in Afghanistan, were originally Turkic”.
The Khiljis were a Central Asian Turkic dynasty but having been long domiciled in Afghanistan, and adopted some Afghan habits and customs. They were treated as Afghans in Delhi Court”. The three sultans of the Khilji dynasty were noted by historians for their faithlessness and ferocity.
To some extent, the Khilji usurpation was a move toward the recognition of a shifting balance of power attributable to the developments outside the territory of the Delhi Sultanate (in Central Asia and Iran) and to the changes which followed the establishment of Turkic rule in northern India. The court languages of the Khiljis were Persian, followed by Arabic, their native Turkoman language and some northern-Indian dialects.
Although it was not their native language, the Khilji sultans encouraged the use of Persian. This co-existence of different languages gave birth to an early form of Urdu. According to Ibn Batuta, the Khiljis encouraged conversion to Islam by making it customary to have the convert presented to the sultan (who would place a robe on him and reward him with gold bracelets). During Ikhtiyar Uddin Bakhtiyar Khilji’s control of Bengal, Muslim missionaries in India achieved their greatest success in the number of converts to Islam.
The founder of the Khilji Dynasty in South Asia, Malik Firuz, was originally the Ariz-i-Mumalik appointed by Kaiqubad during the days of decline of the Slave Dynasty. He took advantage of the political vacuum that was created due to the incompetence of the successors of Balban.
To occupy the throne, he only had to remove the infant Sultan Kaimurs. On June 13 1290, Malik Firuz ascended the throne of Delhi as Jalal-ud-din Firuz Shah.
Khiljis were basically Central Asians but had lived in Afghanistan for so long that they had become different from the Turks in terms of customs and manners.
Thus the coming of Khiljis to power was more than a dynastic change. As majority of the Muslim population of Delhi was Turk, the arrival of a Khilji ruler was not much welcomed. Yet Jalal-ud-din managed to win the hearts of the people through his mildness and generosity.

Alauddin Khilji was one of India’s greatest kings and one of the world’s greatest military geniuses.
He was born in Delhi in 1266 AD (and hence an Indian; not a foreign invader) and ruled as Sultan of Delhi from 1296 AD – 1316 AD.
Khilji greatly expanded the empire that he inherited from his uncle, Sultan Jalaluddin Khilji, after killing him. Khilji is often seen as a villain.
He retained most of the officers holding key positions in the Slave Dynasty.
From 1296 AD to 1316 AD Alauddin Khilji dominated the Delhi sultanate with many courageous achievements.
Soon after becoming the Sultan of Delhi Alauddin Khilji in 1297 AD went out to win over the various parts of Gujarat state Ala- ud-din also was able to implement startling economic reforms, although their effects were probably restricted to Delhi and the 100 mile radius around it.
Nevertheless this was truly creditable for he achieved what modern governments in India have not completely achieved. Ala-ud-din re-organized the market so that there were fixed prices which were affordable, he developed warehousing facilities to ensure ready stock of goods; the government entered the business of transportation and provided facilities for the swift movement of goods.
Alauddin’s reign is marked by innovative administrative and revenue reforms, market control regulations and a whirlwind period of conquests. It is considered the golden period of the Khilji rule. However, before the death of Alauddin, his house was divided into two camps. This resulted in the ultimate collapse of the Khalji dynasty. He died on January 1316 due to an acute health condition.
The impact of Alauddin Khilj-13th century Sultan of Delhi.
A critical dialogue on the legacy the 13th century Sultan left behind.
It is time for a reckoning not only in how we see Khilji, but historical figures in general.
Many historians have accurately pointed out that the real Khilji was highly influenced by Persian culture, that he used cruelty as a strategy and that he kept the Mongols out of India.
A comprehensive assessment of Khilji’s policies and achievements.
The most long-reaching effects of Khilji’s career were not merely military or territorial, though those were important. His policies also played an important and decisive role in India’s economic and political history.
Cruelty and conquest
The shockingly rapid progress of Turkic and then Mongol hordes through the world from roughly the 10th century begs the question of why they were so successful in the first place. Their meritocratic, well-drilled and highly mobile cavalry armies crushed larger forces from China to Hungary and India. However, their true talent lay in psychological warfare.
Jack Weatherford in Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World (2014) points out that the Mongols always offered cities as the option of surrender before ordering their complete destruction. Often, the brutal levelling of one city and the massacre of its ruling elite would lead to the rapid surrender of its neighbors to Mongol rule, thus saving on manpower. In the case of both the Turks and the Mongols, it took barely a generation to go from “barbaric” conquerors to rulers.
This is a marked departure from earlier tribal confederacies such as the Huns and Vandals, but closer to the Kushans and Parthians. They would adopt local cultural practices, spread technology, enable trade and not interfere too much in the religious practices of their new subjects.
The Turks differed in the last because they had already converted to Islam, but rulers like Alauddin Khilji were nevertheless more pragmatic than we generally think (Khilji, as attested to by Ziauddin Barani—a 13-14th century chronicler in the Delhi Sultanate—was one of the rare sultans who dared skip the Friday prayer). In one of history’s strange twists, by the 13th century, the once-nomadic Turks had to face the recently nomadic Mongols.
It is in this context that we should see Alauddin Khilji. He is a Machiavellian (dare we say Kautilyan?) figure. In fact, Khilji’s ruthless adherence to the principle that the state must benefit at all costs, while being agnostic to religion, is strikingly similar to the views of the Arthashastra.
As a young man, he led a lightning raid into the wealthy fort of Devagiri, supposedly capturing the raja while he was at dinner and holding him hostage until a ransom was paid and a marital alliance concluded. The funds thus accumulated were used to assassinate his uncle and place himself on the throne.
As sultan, Khilji needed to defend his frontiers from Mongol incursions while simultaneously fending off assertive vassals and independent Indian states. The Indian powers were terrorized into submission through a ruthless application of psychological warfare, as Khilji’s actions against the Rajputs proved. This is because during his rule, the Mongols of the Chagatai Khanate invaded India. Khilji, by his military brilliance, managed to defeat the Mongols not once, but five times: in 1298 AD (led by Ulugh Khan, and inflicting 20,000 casualties on the Mongols), 1299 AD in Sindh (led by Zafar Khan), 1299 AD in Delhi (leading the army himself against the Mongols), 1305 AD (led by Malik Nayak, and inflicting 8000 casualties on the Mongols), and 1306 AD (led by Malik Kafur); and a “draw” in the sixth Mongol invasion of 1303 AD (again personally leading the army), where the Mongols were unable to defeat Khilji, but were able to sack Delhi.
This was a military feat unprecedented in those days, because the Mongols were an unstoppable force wherever else they went. No one in the rest of the world – whether the Russian Empire or the mighty Persian empire or the Baghdad Caliphate – could stand up to the dreaded Mongols. Khilji defeated them 5 times and had a draw in a 6th confrontation. The armies of the Delhi sultanate under Khilji were some of the most disciplined and well-trained in the world, and that is why they could defeat the Mongols time and again. Now, people who do not know about the Mongols may ask at this point: “so what’s the big deal? A Muslim ruler whose ancestors were foreign invaders defeats another foreign invader!”
But that would betray a colossal ignorance of Mongol warfare.
The Mongols had a very peculiar way of conducting war. When they did conquer a country, they would raze it to ground. They used to leave nothing in that place – no trace of the civilization that existed there. They never settled in the place they conquered. They would take whatever of value they could back home to Mongolia (or, in the case of the Chagatai Khanate, Uzbekistan), especially what new technology they could find; they would take away women as slaves and kill the men, except those with special skills that they did not have and could use; and they would leave a wasteland behind. The Mongols did not just invade and conquer; they exterminated civilizations. There is a reason the Mongols were referred to as the “scourge of God.”
Had the Mongols conquered India, India would have been set back at least two or three hundred years in its development. All knowledge and culture that had been accumulated in India over millenia would have been destroyed. Every library, every school, every temple, every home would have been burnt to the ground. When Hulagu Khan of the Mongol Ilkhanate sacked Baghdad in 1258, he left the city largely depopulated. He destroyed all the great libraries of the Abbasid empire (it is said that the rivers turned black with ink because of the huge number of books the Mongols took from the libraries and threw in them), and blood was flowing in the Euphrates and Tigris for weeks after his assault. He single-handedly ended what is known as the Islamic Golden Age. A similar thing happened to Russia after the Mongols invaded it; it is considered that the Mongol invasion of Russia set it back by 200 years in its development.
So the Mongols were not like any other invader. If Khilji had lost to the Mongols, it would not have been as benign as when Ibrahim Lodi lost to Babur. In that case, one Muslim ruler was replaced by another, but India itself did not suffer greatly. If the Mongols had won against Khilji, they would have wiped Indian civilization off the map of the world.

For better or worse, they have brought us to where we are, and remind us what we can do better.

But to keep this up, he would need a large standing army, not a traditional feudal levy to be raised only when in danger.
In an almost Ciceronian bent of mind, he seems to have recognized that the sinews of war were infinite money, in addition to Mongol-style psychological attacks. Using the territory of his compulsory ally, Devagiri, he dispatched a series of raiding expeditions south under his general Malik Kafur, while terrorizing the Mongols, building their severed heads into the foundations of Siri Fort in Delhi .
Kafur, too, used shock-and-awe tactics. The infantry and elephant-focused armies of the south were out maneuvered, supply lines severed, and smashed separately before they could converge. The rougher terrain of the Deccan gave them some edge against cavalry (which does best on flat terrain, but the Turkic officer core and army organization, perfected in mobile battlefields of Central Asia. As a result, kingdoms such as the Hoysalas and the Kakatiyas tried to buy time with ransoms but were ultimately defeated.
A new status quo
Khilji’s campaigns completely upset the Indian status quo. The dynasties which he had uprooted adhered to an older form of kingship, a sort of sedmented sovereignty which compelled the ruler to recognize the hereditary rights of interest groups such as village councils, landed nobility, and merchant guilds.
But recent scholarship, especially work done by Burton Stein, points to a broader trend of migration of hardy warrior-peasants (especially from Andhra) into the rocky Deccan that was already in place, creating new urban centers which threatened the older landed order . By shattering this older order, he cleared the way for the creation of new states, the emergence of new interest groups, and therefore new social and political equilibria.
The turmoil which he caused opened up military and administrative careers to castes that would otherwise have been excluded. It might not have been intended, but it is no less real or significant.
Khilji, however, was not interested in setting up shop in the turbulent and distant south. His primary concern would remain the Mongol incursions and maintaining his grip on his North Indian territory.
Booty from raids was generously spread among his supporters, increasing the money supply and causing skyrocketing inflation. This could be one of the reasons for the implementation of his infamous system of price controls. Another could be the expense of maintaining a large standing army, which, like in most empires, necessitated a vicious cycle of more conquest to fuel an even larger army.
The Indian states of the 13th century onward were more integrated into the global economy and the latest technological and military advances. The Bahmani Sultanate and the Vijayanagara Empire learnt well from the campaigns of Alauddin. Trade was a major priority for Vijayanagara, and control of the ports of Tamilakam and the Konkan Coast was deemed important enough to call halts to civil wars.
Sovereigns took care to import the best cavalry from the Arabs and gunpowder weapons from the Portuguese, and recruit Turkic officers. Armies (in the initial period) were relatively meritocratic and many, including the family of the famous ruler Krishna Deva Raya, rose to prominence through military service.
Other groups of cultivators-turned-rulers, remain prominent to this day, and the migratory movements which could happen due to the anarchy of the 13th century left a significant imprint on the demographic profile of India.
A wonder of the world?
The sultan’s price control department wasn’t just an organization full of harmless bureaucrats with misplaced incentives (our modern equivalent perhaps is). The Diwan-e-Riyasat started by keeping essential commodity prices low for soldiers (so Khilji could pay them less) and soon expanded to every item in Delhi’s markets, from camels to cloth.
But these price controls inevitably led to black market trading as a new equilibrium was reached between buyers and sellers. In addition, famines inevitably led to hoarding and shortages.
To deal with this, an intricate spy network ensured that any violations to the system were reported and dealt with. In times of scarcity, the entire city of Delhi was put on rations and fed only from government granaries, which acquired grain at fixed prices.
Barani informs us that any merchant who was found cheating the standard rates was penalized by cutting off an equal weight of flesh from his limbs. Still standing in the heart of South Delhi, functioning as roundabout for traffic, is Khilji’s Chor Minar. This was used to display the heads of thieves or dacoits who tried to defraud the system.
These are further examples of the sultan’s willingness to use calculated, deterring cruelty to further what he saw as the interests of the state, and again an eerie echo of the Arthashastra. Both adhere to a cold-blooded form of political realism, explored at length by scholars such as R.P. Kangle, J. Patrick Olivelle and Thomas Trautmann, which is often visible in the subcontinent.
Within a few years of Alauddin’s accession, Delhi became unrecognizable. Practically a surveillance state where the Big Sultan knew all , its markets boasted possibly the most elaborate system of price controls ever conceived, at relatively cheap prices compared to global standards.
In times of famine, amazingly, every household in the city had something to eat, enabled by a sophisticated system of go downs and warehouses. Contemporary travelers’ accounts describe the fixed prices, come hell or high water, as a wonder of the world. The system allowed Alauddin to maintain, arguably, the largest, best equipped force ever fielded by the Delhi Sultanate, with observable results. But the policy had other ramifications.
The peasantry and landed nobility had little incentive to increase production, struggling under heavy tax burdens. The sultan refused to lower the taxes they paid and his land surveys—the first in the history of the Sultanate—allowed him to keep a keen eye on defaulters, and tax cultivators directly. Merchants, too, could not pursue profits beyond what the sultan allowed (a departure from Kautilya, who has more farsighted views on fair prices and profiteering).
Irfan Habib points out in Cambridge Economic History of India Vol-1 that real wages for labourers remained low, and Khilji often had to subsidizes merchants, though Abraham Eraly argues that the improved functioning of state institutions could have allowed for some degree of prosperity.
While prices were kept constant in Delhi and nearby markets, they kept increasing as per the free market in other parts of the world, creating excellent arbitrage opportunities for traders who were willing to take the risk of getting their heads chopped off.
Gujarati textile merchants made full use of this opportunity, buying cheap cloth from Delhi and selling it at places like Mecca for a delicious 700% profit. Coastal trade grew leaps and bounds, with wealth essentially being transferred from the once-dominant urban center of Delhi to new ones on the coast. These new centers came at a point when the fledgling empires of the Deccan were rising, and would have played a vital role in integrating India into global maritime trade, which was rapidly expanding. This is an important effect, which most Delhi-centric views of Khilji’s rule neglect.
Ultimately, it is difficult to say whether Khilji was a savior or a villain. But that is the point of looking critically at our past—nobody can fit into a single category. Value judgements on those whose values were so different from ours do not help us move forward.
Indeed, the idea of a normative approach to something as inexorable as the march of time and history is absurd. Instead, we need to objectively understand what historical figures did and how it impacted our ancestors—not just in one part of the country, but throughout our subcontinent.

The third and last ruler of the Khilji dynasty in India was Qutb-ud-Din Mubarak Shah. He was the weakest ruler of all and during his reign, all taxes and penalties were abolished. He released all prisoners of war who were captured after waging gruesome battles. He was ultimately murdered by Khusru Khan and this ended the Khilji dynasty in India.

Was Alauddin Khilji actually after Rani Padmini?

The Rajput community was fighting against the film and calling for a ban since they wanted to protect the dignity of Rani Padmini in whatsoever manners.
Alauddin Khilji was one of greatest emperors in Indian history. He was the one who protected India from Mongolese. Had he not been there, there might not be the India we live in today.
Author RV Smith in his book ‘India that no one knows’ and ‘Delhi: Unknown Tales of a city’ has said that Alauddin Khilji had attacked the city of Chittor to expand his region, and not to win Rani Padmini. After defeating The King of Chittor Maharaja Ratan Singh, he came to know about the beauty of Rani Padmini and he just wanted to have a look at her.
Smith, in his book, said that after 250 years of the death of Khilji poet Malik Muhammad Jayasi made the most notable work is the epic poem Padmavat. To make it more entertaining, he added some fiction.
He even crossed out the fact that Rani Padmini committed Jauhar in order to save herself from the hands of Alauddin Khilji. She jumped into fire to commit Sati which was a common practice at that time since her Husband Ratan Singh lost the war.
It is said that Khilji was the first emperor of Delhi who stopped Black Hoarding.
From Different sources.

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Begum Samru

Begum Samru


Joanna Nobilis Sombre (ca 1753– 27 January 1836), a convert Catholic Christian, popularly known as Begum Samru and also, as Begum Sumru, (née Farzana Zeb un-Nissa) started her career as a Nautch (dancing) girl in 18th century India, and eventually became the ruler of Sardhana, a small principality near Meerut.

She was the head of a professionally trained mercenary army, inherited from her European mercenary husband, Walter Reinhardt Sombre. This mercenary army consisted of Europeans and Indians. She is also regarded as the only Catholic ruler in India, as she ruled the Principality of Sardhana in 18th- and 19th-century India.

Begum Sumru died immensely rich. Her inheritance was assessed as approximately 55.5 million gold marks in 1923 and 18 billion deutsch marks in 1953. Her inheritance continues to be disputed to this day. An organization named “Reinhards Erbengemeinschaft” still strives to resolve the inheritance issue. During her lifetime she had converted to Christianity from Islam.

Begum Samru was of slight stature, fair complexion and distinguished by exceptional leadership abilities of an uncommon order. More than once, she headed her own troops in action. She was of Kashmiri descent.

When she was in her early teens, she married (or started living with) a mercenary soldier Walter Reinhardt Sombre of Luxembourg, who was operating in India. Walter Reinhardt Sombre, a European mercenary, then 45-years-old, came to the red light area and fell for the charms of Farzana, then a girl of 14, says Johan Lall in his “Begum Samru – Faded Portrait in a Gilded Frame”.

A soldier of fortune, Sombre moved from Lucknow to Rohilkhand (near Bareilly), then to Agra, Deeg and Bharatpur and back to the Doab.
Farzana helped him in those times of intrigue and counter-intrigue.
On the death of her husband Walter Reinhardt, she succeeded to his Principality yielding about £90,000 per annum.

Farzana was courted by some of the European officers who were associated with her husband. Among them were Le Vassoult, a Frenchman, and George Thomas, an Irishman.

The Begum favored the Frenchman and when, in 1793, the rumor spread that she had married him, her troops mutinied.

The couple sought to escape secretly by night – Le Vassoult on horseback and the Begum in a palanquin. Misinformed that Le Vassoult had been shot, she stabbed herself but survived.

Her lover, however, died of a self-inflicted wound to the head.
One version has it that she suggested a suicide pact but only nicked herself when the unsuspecting Le Vassoult shot himself dead.

When British General Lord Lake met the Begum in 1802, in a fit of enthusiasm he gave her a hearty kiss, which appalled her troops. But with her customary tact, Begum Samru pacified them by saying that it was only “the kiss of the Padre to a repentant child”.

The Begum, though only 41⁄2 feet tall, wore a turban and rode on horseback as she led her troops to battle. So invincible did she seem that the superstitious spread the word that she was a witch who could destroy her enemies just by throwing her cloak towards them.

Her army occupied the left of the Maratha line at the battle of Assaye and hers was the only part of the Mahratta force that was not driven in disarray from the battle field.

Having annihilated an advance by the 74th Highlanders and a picket detachment commanded by a Colonel Orrock, her army then withstood a cavalry charge from the Raj before marching from the field in good order. She inducted Jats into her irregular armies.

Throughout her life, she had only one friend, Begum Umdaa, who belonged to the other Jagirdar Family of Sardhana became her closest friend with time and fulfilled her relation until her death with Begum Samru.

Even after Begum Umdaa was married, Begum Samru took out time to visit her to Meerut in good and bad.

After the fall of Aligarh in September 1803, she was induced to surrender to Lord Lake and afterwards lived on good terms with the British, receiving visitors including the Bishop of Calcutta, Reginald Heber, Commander-in-Chief of the Indian Army Lord Combermere and Italian adventurer Jean-Baptiste Ventura. Her conduct in the internal management of her estate was highly commendable.

Over time, she became powerful, ruling over a large area from Sardhana, Uttar Pradesh. On 7 May 1781, aged around forty, Begum Samru was baptized Joanna Nobilis, by a Roman Catholic priest.

She died at Sardhana in January 1837 at the age of 85, bequeathing the greater part of her property to David Ochterlony Dyce Sombre, who descended from Walter Reinhardt Sombre, from his first wife. His grave is near the statue of Begum Samru in her Church at Sardhana.
Several stories and novels have been written based on her political and diplomatic astuteness and on crucial battles fought by troops directly commanded by her.

There is a rumor that one of the sons of the Begum had been killed by the Begum herself, as he had some physical disorder due to which he couldn’t get married to any lady.

Begum Samru’s Palaces at Chandni Chowk, Jharsa and Sardhana

She built palaces at Sardhana, Chandni Chowk in Delhi and Jharsa. The paragana of Badshahpur-jharsa in Gurugaon in Haryana was also ruled by Begum Samru.

Jharsa palace and cantonment in Gurugram

Begum Samru Place at Gurugram lies between Badshahpur-Jharsa in Gurgaon. The paragana of Badshahpur-Jharsa was ruled by Begum Samru. She built a palace for herself between Badshahpur and Jharsa. Jharsa was the place of Samru’s principal cantonment. Parts of her fort compound have been completely lost to encroachments.

Palace building is located between Gurgaon and Jharsa village, which is used as the official residence cum camp office of the district collector of Gurugram district. The Jharsa place is built in Islamic style.
A 1882 land revenue settlement report records that the idol of Sitla Mata was brought to Gurugram 400 years earlier (15th century). Begum Samru claimed the offering to Sitla Mata temple of Gurugram during the Chaitra month and the revenue from the offerings given to the deity for rest of the month was distributed among the prominent Jat zamindars of the area.

In 1818, Bharawas district was disbanded and Gurugram was made a new district. In 1821, the Bharaswas cantonment was also moved to Hidayatpur in Gurugram.

Sardhana palace

The palace built by her in Sardhana near Meerut was the centre of much activity during the reign of Mughal Emperor, Akbar Shah. Shah Alam II, the predecessor and father of Akbar Shah, regarded Begum Samru as his daughter. He did so because the Begum had saved Delhi from an invasion by a force of 30,000 Sikhs, under Baghel Singh in 1783.
They had encamped at Tis Hazari (the name of the place being derived from the number of those who constituted the force, estimated at 30,000). Thanks to the Begum’s parleys, the Sikhs did not enter the city and went back to Punjab after getting a generous monetary gift from Shah Alam.

In 1787(?), when the emperor, Shah Alam, blind and feeble, was in pursuit of Najaf Quli Khan and trying to quell the rebellion stirred up by him, an incident occurred at Gokalgarh that brought the Begum closer to Shah Alam. Seeing that the emperor’s troops were wavering in their resolve to attack the rebel leader, she advanced with a force of 100 men and whatever big guns she had and opened fire on Najaf Quli Khan and his men. This did the trick and Najaf sought the Begum’s help to make his peace with Shah Alam. Thankful for her intervention, the emperor bestowed special honours on her at the royal court and declared her to be “his most beloved daughter”.

Not only that, she was also confirmed in her estate at Sardhana, which was the subject of a dispute with Louis Balthazar alias Nawab Zafaryab Khan, another son of her late husband, General Sombre, by his first wife, Badi Bibi (senior wife).

Until his death, Emperor Shah Alam and his major wives treated her almost as a relative, and embraced her when she entered the zenana (women) quarters, as the English visitor Ann Deane noted in late December 1808: ” ….and afterwards I accompanied her to the royal residence ……we then ascended ….to the zenanah [‘women’s quarters’]…. the begum now led the way through crowds of eunuchs ….Here we were met by the queen Dowager….an ugly, shriveled old woman, whom the begum embraced.

Chandani Chowk palace

Begum Samru’s palace in Chandni Chowk, now called Bhagirath Palace, was built in a garden gifted by Akbar Shah, a later day mughal, to the Begum when he ascended the throne after the death of Shah Alam in 1806. Her palatial building still stands in Chandni Chowk, New Delhi.



Inscription on the Statue of Begum Samru at the Basilica of Our Lady Of Graces in Sardhana

Begum Samru died on 27 January 1836 at the age of 90 and was buried under the Basilica of Our Lady of Graces which she had built.



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Dargah Qadam Shareef



Inner Tomb Complex
. The Dargah Qadam Sharif in Paharganj, Delhi consists of a small tomb complex, built in 1375-1376 CE, it also houses a mosque, a madrasa and a shrine (“dargah”), which is surrounded by a massive gated wall


Feroze Shah Tughlaq (1309 – 1388) constructed the large rectangular tomb at its core for himself, and surrounded it with massive walls and impressive gates in typical Tughlaq style. However, when his son Fateh Khan died in 1376, he repurposed the tomb to be used for his son. Also added was a stone with a foot print of Muhammad, which Feroze Shah had brought in from Mecca.
This foot print (“Qadam Sharif” = “Footprint of the Prophet” in English) gave the whole complex its name, Dargah Qadam Sharif. A mosque and a madrasa are present round out the inner tomb complex.
In the centuries since then, the whole area has been “absorbed” by housing and commercial buildings, although the tomb, most of the walls as well as a couple of the gate houses are still clearly visible. Furthermore, the madrasa and mosque at the tomb are still actively used.
The complex is located just northwest of the New Delhi Railway Station in a dense “urban jungle. “Most of the maps are highly inaccurate.
Nearby (and barely noticeable as a U-shaped building) are the remains of one of the glorious Seven Mosques of Feroze Shah’s WazirKhan-i-Jahan Maqbul Tilangani (Khan Jahan).
The Tradition is that in the time of the Emperor Feroze Shah about five centuries ago, a celebrated Devotee and a Disciple of the Emperor’s was deputed to Mecca (to which all true Mohammedans are bound to make one Pilgrimage, if they hope for Salvation) to obtain from the Caliph of that place a Khillut or Dress of Honor.
The Boon was granted, and in addition as a mark of high consideration the Slab in question was also consigned to the care of the Devotee.
Dargah Qadam Sharif or Shrine of the Holy Foot.
The tomb of was built by Feroze Shah Tughlaq (r.1351-88) for himself, but when his son Fateh Khan died in 1374, he interred him in the tomb. Over the grave of the Prince was a stone bearing a footprint (qadam) of the prophet, which according to tradition was brought to India for Feroze Shah Tughlaq, by his spiritual guide-Inscribed: naqsha-i dargah-i qadam-i sharif ast. Mazhar ‘Ali Khan.

When Qadam Shareef arrived in Delhi the Emperor and all his Nobles proceeded to a Distance of 15 Miles from the City to do Honor to this precious Relic. It was escorted with much Pomp and finally deposited by order of the Emperor in the Royal Treasury.
Subsequently, the Prince Fateh Khan, a son of the Emperor having been permitted to select from the Treasury what he deemed most valuable, claimed possession of the Relic. The Emperor refused to bestow it, considering it as his own exclusive Property but decreed that is should be placed over the Remains of the one who should first demise.
To the Prince’s lot it fell and the Emperor fulfilled his Promise and around the Prince’s Grave the celebrated Shrine is present………..
The exact coordinates for the tomb are (28.649818, 77.211879) and the U-shaped building are (28.649328, 77.217689).
On a side note, Feroze Shah Tughlaq’s final resting place was in a new tomb in Hauz Khas.
‘Reminiscences of Imperial Delhi’, by Sir Thomas Theophilus Metcalfe (1795-1853), the Governor-General’s Agent at the imperial court.

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Facts about Ancient Egypt

1. Cleopatra was not Egyptian.

Along with King Tut, perhaps no figure is more famously associated with ancient Egypt than Cleopatra VII. But while she was born in Alexandria, Cleopatra was actually part of a long line of Greek Macedonians originally descended from Ptolemy I, one of Alexander the Great’s most trusted lieutenants. The Ptolemaic Dynasty ruled Egypt from 323 to 30 B.C., and most of its leaders remained largely Greek in their culture and sensibilities. In fact, Cleopatra was famous for being one of the first members of the Ptolemaic dynasty to actually speak the Egyptian language.

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

2For over two centuries the Egyptians fought against the Hittite Empire for control of lands in modern day Syria. The conflict gave rise to bloody engagements like 1274 B.C.’s Battle of Kadesh, but by time of the pharaoh Ramses II neither side had emerged as a clear victor. With both the Egyptians and Hittites facing threats from other peoples, in 1259 B.C. Ramses II and the Hittite King Hattusili III negotiated a famous peace treaty. This agreement ended the conflict and decreed that the two kingdoms would aid each other in the event of an invasion by a third party. The Egyptian-Hittite treaty is now recognized as one of the earliest surviving peace accords, and a copy can even be seen above the entrance to the United Nations Security Council Chamber in New York.

3. Ancient Egyptians loved board games.


After a long day’s work along the Nile River, Egyptians often relaxed by playing board games. Several different games were played, including “Mehen” and “Dogs and Jackals,” but perhaps the most popular was a game of chance known as “Senet.” This pastime dates back as far as 3500 B.C. and was played on a long board painted with 30 squares. Each player had a set of pieces that were moved along the board according to rolls of dice or the throwing sticks. Historians still debate Senet’s exact rules, but there is little doubt of the game’s popularity. Paintings depict Queen Nefertari playing Senet, and pharaohs like Tutankhamen even had game boards buried with them in their tombs.

4. Egyptian women had a wide range of rights and freedom

4 While they may have been publicly and socially viewed as inferior to men, Egyptian women enjoyed a great deal of legal and financial independence. They could buy and sell property, serve on juries, make wills and even enter into legal contracts. Egyptian women did not typically work outside the home, but those who did usually received equal pay for doing the same jobs as men. Unlike the women of ancient Greece, who were effectively owned by their husbands, Egyptian women also had the right to divorce and remarry. Egyptian couples were even known to negotiate an ancient prenuptial agreement. These contracts listed all the property and wealth the woman had brought into the marriage and guaranteed that she would be compensated for it in the event of a divorce.

5. Egyptian workers were known to organize labor strikes.
5Even though they regarded the pharaoh as a kind of living god, Egyptian workers were not afraid to protest for better working conditions. The most famous example came in the 12th century B.C. during the reign of the New Kingdom pharaoh Ramses III. When laborers engaged in building the royal necropolis at Deir el-Medina did not receive their usual payment of grain, they organized one of the first recorded strikes in history. The protest took the form of a sit-in: The workers simply entered nearby mortuary temples and refused to leave until their grievances were heard. The gamble worked, and the laborers were eventually given their overdue rations.

6. The pyramids were not built by slaves.

6The life of a pyramid builder certainly wasn’t easy—skeletons of workers commonly show signs of arthritis and other ailments—but evidence suggests that the massive tombs were built not by slaves but by paid laborers. These ancient construction workers were a mix of skilled artisans and temporary hands, and some appear to have taken great pride in their craft. Graffiti found near the monuments suggests they often assigned humorous names to their crews like the “Drunkards of Menkaure” or the “Friends of Khufu.” The idea that slaves built the pyramids at the crack of a whip was first conjured by the Greek historian Herodotus in the fifth century B.C., but most historians now dismiss it as myth. While the ancient Egyptians were certainly not averse to keeping slaves, they appear to have mostly used them as field hands and domestic servants.

7. Egyptians kept many animals as pets.

The Egyptians saw animals as incarnations of the gods and were one of the first civilizations to keep household pets. Egyptians were particularly fond of cats, which were associated with the goddess Bastet, but they also had a reverence for hawks, ibises, dogs, lions and baboons. Many of these animals held a special place in the Egyptian home, and they were often mummified and buried with their owners after they died. Other creatures were specially trained to work as helper animals. Egyptian police officers, for example, were known to use dogs and even trained monkeys to assist them when out on patrol.

8. Egyptians of both sexes wore makeup.

Vanity is as old as civilization, and the ancient Egyptians were no exception. Both men and women were known to wear copious amounts of makeup, which they believed gave them the protection of the gods Horus and Ra. These cosmetics were made by grinding ores like malachite and galena into a substance called kohl. It was then liberally applied around the eyes with utensils made out of wood, bone and ivory. Women would also stain their cheeks with red paint and use henna to color their hands and fingernails, and both sexes wore perfumes made from oil, myrrh and cinnamon. The Egyptians believed their makeup had magical healing powers, and they weren’t entirely wrong: Research has shown that the lead-based cosmetics worn along the Nile actually helped stave off eye infections.

9. Some Egyptian doctors had specialized fields of study.

An ancient physician was usually a jack-of-all-trades, but evidence shows that Egyptian doctors sometimes focused on healing only one part of the human body. This early form of medical specialization was first noted in 450 B.C. by the traveler and historian Herodotus. Discussing Egyptian medicine, he wrote, “Each physician is a healer of one disease and no more…some of the eye, some of the teeth, some of what pertains to the belly.” These specialists even had specific names. Dentists were known as “doctors of the tooth,” while the term for proctologists literally translates to “shepherd of the anus.”

10. Egyptian pharaohs were often overweight.


Egyptian art commonly depicts pharaohs as being trim and statuesque, but this was most likely not the case. The Egyptian diet of beer, wine, bread and honey was high in sugar, and studies show that it may have done a number on royal waistlines. Examinations of mummies have indicated that many Egyptian rulers were unhealthy and overweight, and even suffered from diabetes. A notable example is the legendary Queen Hatshepsut, who lived in the 15th century B.C. While her sarcophagus depicts her as slender and athletic, historians believe she was actually obese and balding.

11. King Tut may have been killed by a hippopotamus.

Surprisingly little is known about the life of the boy pharaoh Tutankhamen, but some historians believe they know how he died. Scans of the young king’s body show that he was embalmed without his heart or his chest wall. This drastic departure from traditional Egyptian burial practice suggests that he may have suffered a horrific injury prior to his death. According to a handful of Egyptologists, one of the most likely causes for this wound would have been a bite from a hippopotamus. Evidence indicates that the Egyptians hunted the beasts for sport, and statues found in King Tut’s tomb even depict him in the act of throwing a harpoon. If the boy pharaoh was indeed fond of stalking dangerous game, then his death might have been the result of a hunt gone wrong.



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Built during a time when Egypt was one of the richest and most powerful civilizations in the world, the pyramids—especially the Great Pyramids of Giza—are some of the most magnificent man-made structures in history. Their massive scale reflects the unique role that the pharaoh, or king, played in ancient Egyptian society. Though pyramids were built from the beginning of the Old Kingdom to the close of the Ptolemaic period in the fourth century A.D., the peak of pyramid building began with the late third dynasty and continued until roughly the sixth (c. 2325 B.C.). More than 4,000 years later, the Egyptian pyramids still retain much of their majesty, providing a glimpse into the country’s rich and glorious past.


During the third and fourth dynasties of the Old Kingdom, Egypt enjoyed tremendous economic prosperity and stability. Kings held a unique position in Egyptian society. Somewhere in between human and divine, they were believed to have been chosen by the gods to serve as mediators between them and the people on earth. Because of this, it was in everyone’s interest to keep the king’s majesty intact even after his death, when he was believed to become Osiris, god of the dead. The new pharaoh, in turn, became Horus, the falcon-god who served as protector of the sun-god, Ra.
Did You Know?
The pyramid’s smooth, angled sides symbolized the rays of the sun and were designed to help the king’s soul ascend to heaven and join the gods, particularly the sun god Ra.
Ancient Egyptians believed that when the king died, part of his spirit (known as “ka”) remained with his body. To properly care for his spirit, the corpse was mummified, and everything the king would need in the afterlife was buried with him, including gold vessels, food, furniture and other offerings. The pyramids became the focus of a cult of the dead king that was supposed to continue well after his death. Their riches would provide not only for him, but also for the relatives, officials and priests who were buried near him.


From the beginning of the Dynastic Era (2950 B.C.), royal tombs were carved into rock and covered with flat-roofed rectangular structures known as “mastabas,” which were precursors to the pyramids. The oldest known pyramid in Egypt was built around 2630 B.C. at Saqqara, for the third dynasty’s King Djoser. Known as the Step Pyramid, it began as a traditional mastaba but grew into something much more ambitious. As the story goes, the pyramid’s architect was Imhotep, a priest and healer who some 1,400 years later would be deified as the patron saint of scribes and physicians. Over the course of Djoser’s nearly 20-year reign, pyramid builders assembled six stepped layers of stone (as opposed to mud-brick, like most earlier tombs) that eventually reached a height of 204 feet (62 meters); it was the tallest building of its time. The Step Pyramid was surrounded by a complex of courtyards, temples and shrines, where Djoser would enjoy his afterlife.
After Djoser, the stepped pyramid became the norm for royal burials, although none of those planned by his dynastic successors were completed (probably due to their relatively short reigns). The earliest tomb constructed as a “true” (smooth-sided, not stepped) pyramid was the Red Pyramid at Dahshur, one of three burial structures built for the first king of the fourth dynasty, Sneferu (2613-2589 B.C.) It was named for the color of the limestone blocks used to construct the pyramid’s core.


No pyramids are more celebrated than the Great Pyramids of Giza, located on a plateau on the west bank of the Nile River, on the outskirts of modern-day Cairo. The oldest and largest of the three pyramids at Giza, known as the Great Pyramid, is the only surviving structure out of the famed seven wonders of the ancient world. It was built for Khufu (Cheops, in Greek), Sneferu’s successor and the second of the eight kings of the fourth dynasty. Though Khufu reigned for 23 years (2589-2566 B.C.), relatively little is known of his reign beyond the grandeur of his pyramid. The sides of the pyramid’s base average 755.75 feet (230 meters), and its original height was 481.4 feet (147 meters), making it the largest pyramid in the world. Three small pyramids built for Khufu’s queens are lined up next to the Great Pyramid, and a tomb was found nearby containing the empty sarcophagus of his mother, Queen Hetepheres. Like other pyramids, Khufu’s is surrounded by rows of mastabas, where relatives or officials of the king were buried to accompany and support him in the afterlife.
The middle pyramid at Giza was built for Khufu’s son Khafre (2558-2532 B.C). A unique feature built inside Khafre’s pyramid complex was the Great Sphinx, a guardian statue carved in limestone with the head of a man and the body of a lion. It was the largest statue in the ancient world, measuring 240 feet long and 66 feet high. In the 18th dynasty (c. 1500 B.C.) the Great Sphinx would come to be worshiped itself, as the image of a local form of the god Horus. The southernmost pyramid at Giza was built for Khafre’s son Menkaure (2532-2503 B.C.). It is the shortest of the three pyramids (218 feet) and is a precursor of the smaller pyramids that would be constructed during the fifth and sixth dynasties.
Approximately 2.3 million blocks of stone (averaging about 2.5 tons each) had to be cut, transported and assembled to build Khufu’s Great Pyramid. The ancient Greek historian Herodotus wrote that it took 20 years to build and required the labor of 100,000 men, but later archaeological evidence suggests that the workforce might actually have been around 20,000. Though some popular versions of history held that the pyramids were built by slaves or foreigners forced into labor, skeletons excavated from the area show that the workers were probably native Egyptian agricultural laborers who worked on the pyramids during the time of year when the Nile River flooded much of the land nearby.


Pyramids continued to be built throughout the fifth and sixth dynasties, but the general quality and scale of their construction declined over this period, along with the power and wealth of the kings themselves. In the later Old Kingdom pyramids, beginning with that of King Unas (2375-2345 B.C), pyramid builders began to inscribe written accounts of events in the king’s reign on the walls of the burial chamber and the rest of the pyramid’s interior. Known as pyramid texts, these are the earliest significant religious compositions known from ancient Egypt.
The last of the great pyramid builders was Pepy II (2278-2184 B.C.), the second king of the sixth dynasty, who came to power as a young boy and ruled for 94 years. By the time of his rule, Old Kingdom prosperity was dwindling, and the pharaoh had lost some of his quasi-divine status as the power of non-royal administrative officials grew. Pepy II’s pyramid, built at Saqqara and completed some 30 years into his reign, was much shorter (172 feet) than others of the Old Kingdom. With Pepy’s death, the kingdom and strong central government virtually collapsed, and Egypt entered a turbulent phase known as the First Intermediate Period. Later kings, of the 12th dynasty, would return to pyramid building during the so-called Middle Kingdom phase, but it was never on the same scale as the Great Pyramids.


Tomb robbers and other vandals in both ancient and modern times removed most of the bodies and funeral goods from Egypt’s pyramids and plundered their exteriors as well. Stripped of most of their smooth white limestone coverings, the Great Pyramids no longer reach their original heights; Khufu’s, for example, measures only 451 feet high. Nonetheless, millions of people continue to visit the pyramids each year, drawn by their towering grandeur and the enduring allure of Egypt’s rich and glorious past.



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Daily Life in Ancient Egypt

Internet Article

The popular view of life in ancient Egypt is often that it was a death-obsessed culture in which powerful pharaohs forced the people to labor at constructing pyramids and temples and, at an unspecified time, enslaved the Hebrews for this purpose. In reality, ancient Egyptians loved life, no matter their social class, and the ancient Egyptian government used slave labor as every other ancient culture did without regard to any particular ethnicity. The ancient Egyptians did have a well-known contempt for non-Egyptians but this was simply because they believed they were living the best life possible in the best of all possible worlds. Life in ancient Egypt was considered so perfect, in fact, that the Egyptian afterlife was imagined as an eternal continuation of life on earth. Slaves in Egypt were either criminals, those who could not pay their debts, or captives from foreign military campaigns. These people were considered to have forfeited their freedoms either by their individual choices or by military conquest and so were forced to endure a quality of existence far below that of free Egyptians.


Plowing Egyptian Farmer

The individuals who actually built the pyramids and other famous monuments of Egypt were Egyptians who were compensated for their labor and, in many cases, were masters of their art. These monuments were raised not in honor of death but of life and the belief that an individual life mattered enough to be remembered for eternity. Further, the Egyptian belief that one’s life was an eternal journey and death only a transition inspired the people to try to make their lives worth living eternally. Far from a death-obsessed and dour culture, Egyptian daily life was focused on enjoying the time one had as much as possible and trying to make other’s lives equally memorable.

Sports, games, reading, festivals, and time with one’s friends and family were as much a part of Egyptian life as toil in farming the land or erecting monuments and temples. The world of the Egyptians was imbued with magic. Magic (heka) predated the gods and, in fact, was the underlying force which allowed the gods to perform their duties. Magic was personified in the god Heka (also the god of medicine) who had participated in the creation and sustained it afterwards. The concept of ma’at (harmony and balance) was central to the Egyptian’s understanding of life and the operation of the universe and it was heka which made ma’at possible. Through the observance of balance and harmony people were encouraged to live at peace with others and contribute to communal happiness. A line from the wisdom text of Ptahhotep (the vizier to the king Djedkare Isesi, 2414-2375 BCE), admonishes a reader:
Let your face shine during the time that you live.
It is the kindliness of a man that is remembered
During the years that follow.
Letting one’s face “shine” meant being happy, having a good spirit, in the belief that this would make one’s own heart light and lighten those of others. Although Egyptian society was highly stratified from a very early period (as early as the Predynastic Period in Egypt of c. 6000-3150 BCE), this does not mean that the royalty and upper classes enjoyed their lives at the expense of the peasantry. The king and court are always the best-documented individuals because then, as now, people paid more attention to celebrities than their neighbors and the scribes who recorded the history of the time documented what was of greater interest. Still, reports from later Greek and Roman writers, as well as archaeological evidence and letters from different time periods, show that Egyptians of all social classes valued life and enjoyed themselves as often as they could, very like people in the modern day.


Egyptian Grinding Corn


The population of Egypt was strictly divided into social classes from the king at the top, his vizier, the members of his court, regional governors (eventually called ‘nomarchs’), the generals of the military (after the period of the New Kingdom), government overseers of worksites (supervisors), and the peasantry. Social mobility was neither encouraged nor observed for most of Egypt’s history as it was thought that the gods had decreed the most perfect social order which mirrored that of the gods. The gods had given the people everything and had set the king over them as the one best-equipped to understand and implement their will. The king was the intermediary between the gods and the people from the Predynastic Period through the Old Kingdom (c. 2613-2181 BCE) when the priests of the sun god Ra began to gain more power. Even after this, however, the king was still considered god’s chosen emissary. Even the latter part of the New Kingdom (1570-1069 BCE) when the priests of Amun at Thebes held greater power than the king, the monarch was still respected as divinely ordained.
Upper class
The king of Egypt (not known as a ‘pharaoh’ until the New Kingdom period), as the gods’ chosen man, “enjoyed great wealth and status and luxuries unimaginable to the majority of the population” (Wilkinson, 91). It was the king’s responsibility to rule in keeping with ma’at,and as this was a serious charge, he was thought to deserve those luxuries in keeping with his status and the weight of his duties. Historian Don Nardo writes:
The kings enjoyed an existence largely free from want. They had power and prestige, servants to do the menial work, plenty of free time to pursue leisure pursuits, fine clothes, and numerous luxuries in their homes. (10)
The king is often depicted hunting and inscriptions regularly boast of the number of large and dangerous animals a particular monarch killed during his reign. Almost without exception, though, animals like lions and elephants were caught by royal game wardens and brought to preserves where the king then “hunted” the beasts while surrounded by guards who protected him. The king would hunt in the open, for the most part, only once the area had been cleared of dangerous animals.
Members of the court lived in similar comfort, although most of them had little responsibility. The nomarchs might also live well, but this depended on how wealthy their particular district was and how important to the king. The nomarch of a district including a site such as Abydos, for example, would expect to do quite well because of the large necropolis there dedicated to the god Osiris, which brought many pilgrims to the city including the king and courtiers. A nomarch of a region which had no such attraction would expect to live more modestly. The wealth of the region and the personal success of an individual nomarch would determine whether they lived in a small palace or a modest home. This same model applied generally to scribes.
Scribes & Physicians
Scribes were valued highly in ancient Egypt as they were considered specially chosen by the god Thoth, who inspired and presided over their craft. Egyptologist Toby Wilkinson notes how “the power of the written word to render permanent a desired state of affairs lay at the heart of Egyptian belief and practice” (204). It was the scribes’ responsibility to record events so they would become permanent. The words of the scribes etched daily events in the record of eternity since it was thought that Thoth and his consort Seshat kept the scribes’ words in the eternal libraries of the gods. A scribe’s work made him or her immortal not only because later generations would read what they wrote but because the gods themselves were aware of it. Seshat, patron goddess of libraries and librarians, carefully placed one’s work on her shelves, just as librarians in her service did on earth. Most scribes were male, but there were female scribes who lived just as comfortably as their male counterparts. A popular piece of literature from the Old Kingdom, known as Duauf’s Instructions, advocates a love for books and encourages young people to pursue higher learning and become scribes in order to live the best life possible.


Egpytian Scribe’s Palette

All priests were scribes, but not all scribes became priests. The priests needed to be able to read and write to perform their duties, especially concerning mortuary rituals. As doctors needed to be literate to read medical texts, they began their training as scribes. Most diseases were thought to be inflicted by the gods as punishment for sin or to teach a lesson, and so doctors needed to be aware of which god (or evil spirit, or ghost, or other supernatural agent) might be responsible. In order to perform their duties, they had to be able to read the religious literature of the time, which includes works on dentistry, surgery, the setting of broken bones, and the treatment of various illnesses. As there was no separation between one’s religious and daily life, doctors were usually priests until later in Egypt’s history when there is a secularization of the profession. All of the priests of the goddess Serket were doctors and this practice continued even after the emergence of more secular physicians. As in the case of scribes, women could practice medicine, and female doctors were numerous. In the 4th century BCE, Agnodice of Athens famously traveled to Egypt to study medicine since women were held in higher regard and had more opportunity there than in Greece.
The military prior to the Middle Kingdom was made up of regional militias conscripted by nomarchs for a certain purpose, usually defense, and then sent to the king. At the beginning of the 12th Dynasty of the Middle Kingdom, Amenemhat I (c. 1991-c.1962 BCE) reformed the military to create the first standing army, thus decreasing the power and prestige of the nomarchs and putting the army directly under his control.
After this, the military was made up of upper-class leaders and lower-class rank and file members. There was the possibility of advancement in the military, which was not affected by one’s social class. Prior to the New Kingdom, the Egyptian military was primarily concerned with defense, but pharaohs like Tuthmose III (1458-1425 BCE) and Ramesses II(1279-1213 BCE) led campaigns beyond Egypt’s borders in expanding the empire. Egyptians generally avoided travel to other lands because they feared that, if they should die there, they would have greater difficulty reaching the afterlife. This belief was a definite concern of soldiers on foreign campaigns and provisions were made to return the bodies of the dead to Egypt for burial.
There is no evidence that women served in the military or, according to some accounts, would have wanted to. The Papyrus Lansing, to give only one example, describes life in the Egyptian army as unending misery leading to an early death. It should be noted, however, that scribes (especially the author of the Papyrus Lansing) consistently depicted their job as the best and most important, and it was the scribes who left behind most of the reports on military life.
Farmers & Laborers
The lowest social class was made up of peasant farmers who did not own the land they worked or the homes they lived in. The land was owned by the king, members of the court, nomarchs, or priests. A common phrase of the peasants to start the day was “Let us work for the noble!” The peasants were almost all farmers, no matter what other trade they cultivated (ferryman, for example). They planted and harvested their crops, gave most of it to the land owner, and kept some for themselves. Most had private gardens, which women tended while the men went out to the fields. Up until the time of the Persian invasion of 525 BCE, the Egyptian economy operated on the barter system and was based on agriculture. The monetary unit of ancient Egypt was the deben, which according to historian James C. Thompson, “functioned much as the dollar does in North America today to let customers know the price of things, except that there was no deben coin” (Egyptian Economy, 1). A deben was “approximately 90 grams of copper; very expensive items could also be priced in debens of silver or gold with proportionate changes in value” (ibid). Thompson continues:
Since seventy-five litters of wheat cost one deben and a pair of sandals also cost one deben, it made perfect sense to the Egyptians that a pair of sandals could be purchased with a bag of wheat as easily as with a chunk of copper. Even if the sandal maker had more than enough wheat, she would happily accept it in payment because it could easily be exchanged for something else. The most common items used to make purchases were wheat, barley, and cooking or lamp oil, but in theory almost anything would do.
The lowest class of society produced the goods used in trade and therefore provided the means for the entire culture to thrive. These peasants also made up the labor force which built the pyramids and other monuments of Egypt. When the Nile River flooded its banks, farming became impossible and the men and women would go to work on the king’s projects. This work was always compensated, and the claim that any of the great structures of Egypt were built by slave labor – especially the claim of the biblical Book of Exodus that these were Hebrew slaves oppressed by Egyptian tyrants – is not supported by any literary or physical evidence at any time in Egypt’s history. The claim by certain authors such as Egyptologist David Rohl that one misses the evidence of a mass enslavement of Hebrews by looking at the wrong time period is untenable since no such evidence exists no matter what period of Egyptian history one examines.


Egyptian Wooden Statue of a Woman Grinding Cereals

Work on monuments like the pyramids and their mortuary complexes, temples, and obelisks provided the only opportunity for upward mobility of the peasantry. Especially skilled artists and engravers were in high demand in Egypt and were better paid than unskilled laborers who simply moved the stones for the buildings from one place to another. Peasant farmers could also improve their status by practicing a craft to provide the vases, bowls, plates, and other ceramics people needed. Skilled carpenters could make a good living creating tables, desks, chairs, beds, storage chests, and painters were required for decoration of upper-class homes, palaces, tombs, and monuments.
Brewers were also highly respected, and breweries were sometimes run by women. In early Egyptian history, in fact, they seem to have been entirely operated by females. Beer was the most popular drink in ancient Egypt and was frequently used as compensation (wine was never that popular except among royalty). Workers at the Giza plateau were given a beer ration three times a day. The beverage was thought to have been given to the people by the god Osiris, and breweries were presided over by the goddess Tenenet. Beer was taken very seriously by the Egyptians as the Greek pharaoh Cleopatra VII (69-30 BCE) learned when she imposed a beer tax; her popularity plummeted more for this one tax than for her wars with Rome.


Ancient Egyptian Brewery and Bakery

The lower class could also find opportunity through work in metals, gems, and sculpting. The exquisite jewelry of ancient Egypt, gems mounted delicately in ornate settings, was created by members of the peasantry. These people, the majority of the Egyptian population, also filled the ranks of the army, and in rare cases, could become scribes. One’s job and position in society, however, was usually handed down to one’s son.


These artists were responsible for creating the furnishings for the lavish palaces, upper-class homes, and temples of Egypt as well as the tombs which were considered a person’s eternal home. The king, his queen, and family lived in a palace which was richly decorated and had their needs tended to by servants. Scribes lived in or near the mortuary or templecomplexes in special apartments and worked from scriptoriums while, as noted, nomarchs lived in greater or lesser accommodations according to their level of success. The peasants who provided the food for the upper classes also helped build their homes and supply them with chests, drawers, chairs, tables, and beds while they themselves could not afford any of these things. Nardo writes:
After a hard day’s work, the farmers returned to their houses, which stood near the fields or in small rural villages located nearby. An average agricultural peasant’s house featured walls made of mud bricks. The ceiling was fashioned from bundles of plant stems, and the floors consistend of hard-beaten earth covered by a layer of straw or mats made from reeds. There were one or two rooms (perhaps occasionally three) in which the farmer and his wife and children (if any) lived. In many cases, the stabled some or all of their farm animals in the same rooms. Because such modest homes lacked bathrooms, the residents had to use an outside latrine (a hole in the ground) to relieve themselves. Needless to say, water had to be hauled in buckets from the river or the nearest hand-dug well. (13)
By contrast, the palace of the pharaoh Amenhotep III (1386-1353 BCE), known as Malkata today, covered over 30,000 square meters (30 hectares) and included spacious apartments, conference rooms, audience chambers, a throne room and receiving hall, a festival hall, libraries, gardens, storerooms, kitchens, a harem, and a temple to the god Amun. The palace’s outer walls were painted bright white while the interior colors were vibrant blues and yellows and greens. The entire structure, of course, had to be furnished and these articles were supplied by the lower class workers. In its time the palace was known as ‘the house of rejoicing’ and other similar names. It is known as Malkata today from the Arabic for ‘place where things are picked up’ owing to the massive debris field found there from the ruined palace.
The apartments and homes of scribes, as with those of the nomarchs, were opulent or modest depending on their level of success and the region in which they lived. The author of the Papyrus Lansing, Nebmare Nakht, claimed to live in grand style and to own land and slaves on par with a great king. This claim is no doubt true, too, as it is well established that priests were able to achieve the same level of wealth and power as some rulers in Egypt, and scribes would have had that same opportunity.
In ancient Egypt, as in every era of human history, the wealth of one person was often coveted by another who might choose to steal it, and in such cases, Egyptian law was swift. After the New Kingdom there was a police force, but even before this time, people were brought before the local official and charged with crimes ranging across the spectrum of criminal activity in the modern day. The state did not involve itself in local affairs unless the criminal had robbed or vandalized state property, such as robbing or defacing a tomb. Egyptologist Steven Snape writes:
The opportunities for criminal activity provided by the concentration of weatlth and property in towns and sities were seized upon wholeheartedly by some ancient Egyptians, just as they have been within all societies. Equally, significant centres of population and administration provided places where justice could be done and punishments meted out. However, the picture we get from ancient Egypt is that the administration of justice was pushed as far down to local lecel as possible. Villagers were expected to regulate their own affairs.
Judgment and justice were ultimately the responsibility of the vizier, the king’s right-hand man, who delegated that responsibility to officials beneath him, who further delegated to others. Even prior to the New Kingdom, there was an administrative building in any city called the Judgment Hall where cases were heard and verdicts rendered. In small towns and villages, these courts might be held in the market place. The local court was known as the kenbet, made up of community leaders of sound moral judgment, who would hear cases and decide on guilt or innocence. In the New Kingdom, the judgment hall and the kenbet were gradually replaced by oracular judgments in which the god Amun would be consulted directly on a verdict. This was accomplished by a priest of Amun asking the statue of the god a question and then interpreting his answer through various means. Sometimes the statue would nod its head, and other times there would be different signs given. If the defendant were found guilty, then punishment was swift.
Most punishments were fines for minor offenses, but rape, robbery, assault, murder, or tomb robbing could result in mutilation (cutting off of the nose, ears, or hands), incarceration, forced labor (essentially slavery for life in many cases), or death. The Great Prison at Thebes held convicted felons who were used for manual labor on the Temple of Amun at Karnak and other projects. There was no death row in Egyptian prisons since a person who was found guilty of a serious offense meriting the death penalty was executed immediately. There were no lawyers to argue a case and no appeals made after a verdict was rendered. The priests were entrusted by the people to give a fair and just hearing to any complaint and to judge according to the precepts of the gods, knowing that they faced a far worse fate in the afterlife should they fail in these duties.
Priests could be male or female. The chief priest of any religious cult was usually the same sex as the deity they served; the head of the Cult of Isis was female, that of the Cult of Amun, male. Priests could and did have families, and their children usually became priests after them.
This was the paradigm for all of Egypt as far as succession went: the children carried on the occupation of the parents, usually the father. Women had almost equal rights in ancient Egypt. They could own their own businesses, their own land, and their own homes, could initiate divorce, enter into contracts with men, have abortions, and dispose of their own property as they saw fit; this was a level of sexual equality which no other ancient civilization approached and which the modern era only initiated – under duress – in the mid-20th century CE.
At least four women ruled Egypt, the best known two being Hatshepsut (1479-1458 BCE) and Cleopatra VII. This was not the norm, however, as most rulers were male. Royal women, for the most part, had slaves and servants who cared for the children and had no responsibility for cleaning or tending the home. They assisted their husbands in receiving foreign dignitaries and advancing certain policies. Women of the upper classes knew a similar lifestyle but might have taken more time caring for the children, while in the lower classes, the care of the home and children were wholly the woman’s responsibility.
Marriages in ancient Egypt were more of a secular than religious affair. Most marriages, in any of the classes, were arranged by the parents. Girls were usually married around the age of 12 and boys around age 15. Royal children were often betrothed to those of foreign kings to seal treaties when they were little more than infants, though it was forbidden for women to leave Egypt as brides for foreign rulers since it was thought they would not be happy outside of their own land. Since Egypt was the best of all places, it was considered disrespectful to a young woman to send her off to some lesser place. It was perfectly acceptable for foreign-born women to come to Egypt as brides, however. Once in Egypt, these women were accorded the same respect as natives. Women of all social classes were considered on par with their husbands, even though the man was considered the head of the household. Nardo notes:
Upper-class husbands and wives dined, held parties, and went hunting together, while both well-to-do and poorer women shared many legal rights with men. In fact, ancient Egyptian women seem to have enjoyed more freedom in their private lives than women in most other ancient societies, even if men made most of the really important decisions. Egyptian men benefitted from positive, loving relationships as much as their wives did.
Although the wives of farmers did not go out to the fields with their husbands (for the most part), they still had plenty of work to do keeping the house clean, tending to any animals not used in plowing, administering to the needs of the elderly in the family, and raising the children. Women and children also would tend the family garden, which was an important resource for any family. Cleanliness was an important value of the Egyptians, and one’s person and home needed to reflect that. Women and men of all classes bathed frequently (priests more than any other profession) and shaved their heads to prevent lice and cut down on maintenance. When an occasion called for it, they wore wigs. Men and women also both wore makeup, especially kohl under the eyes, to help with the sun’s glare and keep the skin soft. Tomb inscriptions and paintings also often show men and women plowing and harvesting in the fields together or building a home.
The life of the ancient Egyptians was hardly all work, however. They found plenty of time to enjoy themselves through sports, board games, and other activities. Ancient Egyptian sports included hockey, handball, archery, swimming, tug of war, gymnastics, rowing, and a sport known as ‘water jousting,’ which was a sea battle played in small boats on the Nile River in which a ‘jouster’ tried to knock the other out of his boat while a second team member maneuvered the craft. Children were taught to swim at an early age, and swimming was among the most popular sports, which gave rise to other water games. The board game of Senet was extremely popular, representing one’s journey through life to eternity. Music, dance, choreographed gymnastics, and wrestling were also popular, and among the upper classes, hunting large or small game was a favorite pastime.


Game of Senet

There was also a sport called ‘shooting the rapids,’ which is described by the Roman playwright Seneca the Younger (1st century CE) who lived in Egypt:
The people embark on small boats, two to a boat, and one rows while the other bails out water. Then they are violently tossed about in the raging rapids. At length they reach the narrowest channels and, swept along by the whole force of the river, they control the rushing boat by hand and plunge head downward to the great terror of the onlookers. You would believe sorrowfully that by now they were drowned and overwhelmed by such a mass of water when, far from the place where they fell, they shoot out as from a catapult, still sailing, and the subsiding wave does not submerge them but carries them on to smooth waters. (cited in Nardo, 20)
After or even during such events, spectators enjoyed their favorite beverage: beer. The favored recipe most often consumed was Heqet (also given as Hecht), a honey-flavored beer similar to, but lighter than, the later mead of Europe. There were many kinds of beer (generally known as zytum), and it was frequently prescribed as a medicine as it made the heart lighter and improved one’s spirits. Beer was brewed commercially and at home and was especially enjoyed at the many festivals the Egyptians celebrated.


All of the Egyptian gods had birthdays which needed to be celebrated, and then there were individual birthdays, the anniversaries of great deeds of the king, observances of acts of the gods in human history, and also funerals, wakes, house-warming events, and births. All of these and more were celebrated with a party or a festival.
The festivals of ancient Egypt were each unique in character depending on the nature of the event, but all had in common drinking and feasting. The Egyptian diet was mainly vegetarian and consisted of grains (wheat) and vegetables. Meat was very expensive, and usually only royalty was able to afford it. Meat was also difficult to keep in the arid Egyptian climate, and so animals who were ritually slaughtered had to be used quickly.
Festivals were the perfect opportunity for indulging in every kind of excess, including meat eating for those who chose to do so, though self-indulgence was not appropriate at every gathering. Each celebration or commemoration had its own unique characteristics as historian Margaret Bunson explains:
The Beautiful Feast of the Valley, in honor of the god Amun, held in Thebes, was celebrated with a procession of the barks of the gods, with music and flowers. The Feast of Hathor, celebrated at Dendera, was a time of pleasure and intoxication, in keeping with the myths of the goddesses’ cult. The feast of the goddess Isis at Busiris and the celebration honoring Bastet at Bubastis were also times of revelry and intoxication. (91)
These festivals were “normally religious in nature and held in conjunction with the lunar calendar in temples” but could also “commemorate certain specific events in the daily lives of the people” (Bunson, 90). At funerals, as one would expect, people dressed in respectful black (though the priests usually wore white) while at birthdays or other celebrations one wore whatever one pleased. At the Festival of Bastet, women wore nothing but a short kilt which they often raised in honor of the goddess.
Clothing in ancient Egypt was linen woven from cotton. In the Predynastic and Early Dynastic Periods, women and men both wore simple linen kilts. Children went naked from birth until around the age of ten. Bunson notes that “In time women wore an empire-type long skirt that hung just below their uncovered breasts. Men kept to the simple kilts. These could be dyed in exotic colors or designs although white was probably the color used in religious rituals or court events”(67). By the time of the New Kingdom women wore linen dresses which covered their breasts and went to their ankles while men wore the short kilt and sometimes a loose shirt. Lower-class women, female slaves, and female servants are often shown wearing only a kilt through the New Kingdom period. At this same time, royal or noble women are shown wearing form-fitting dresses from the shoulder to the ankles and men are seen in sheer blouses and skirts. In the colder weather of the rainy season, cloaks and shawls were used.
Most people, of every social class, went barefoot in emulation of the gods who had no need for footwear. On special occasions, or when someone was going on a long journey or to a place where they might injure their feet or in colder weather, they wore sandals. The cheapest sandals were made of woven rushes while the most expensive were of leather or painted wood. Sandals do not seem to have a great deal of importance to the Egyptians until the Middle and New Kingdoms when they came to be seen as status symbols. A person who could afford good sandals was obviously doing well while the poorest people went barefoot. These sandals were often painted or decorated with images which could be quite elaborate.
At festival times – and there were many of them throughout the Egyptian year – the clothing of the priests was white, but people could wear anything they wanted or almost nothing at all. The Egyptians wanted to live life to its fullest, to experience all their time on earth had to give, and looked forward to its continuance after death.


Male Egyptian Mummy with Amulets

One’s earthly life was only a part of an eternal journey, and one’s death was seen as a transition from one phase to the next. A proper burial was of the utmost importance to the ancient Egyptians of every class. The body of the deceased was washed, dressed in wrappings (mummified), and buried with those objects which they would want or need in the afterlife. The more money one had, of course, the more elaborate one’s tomb and gravegoods, but even the poorest people provided proper graves for their loved ones. Without a proper burial one could not hope to move on to the Hall of Truth and pass the judgment of Osiris. Further, if a family did not honor the dead properly at death, they were almost guaranteeing the return of that person’s spirit, which would haunt them and cause all manner of trouble. Honoring the dead meant not only paying respects to that individual but to the individual’s contributions and achievements in life, all of which were made possible by the goodness of the gods.
Living with mindfulness of kindness, harmony, balance, and gratitude toward the gods, they hoped to find their hearts lighter than the feather of truth when they came to stand in judgment before Osiris after death. Once they had been justified, they would pass on to an eternity of the very daily life they had left behind when they died. Everything in their lives which seemed lost at death was returned in the afterlife. Their emphasis, in every aspect of their lives, was to create a life worth living for an eternity. No doubt many individuals often failed at this, but the ideal was one worth striving for and imbued the daily lives of the ancient Egyptians with a meaning and purpose which infused and inspired their impressive culture.


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Hatshepsut: First Female Pharaoh

Hatshepsut: First Female Pharaoh


Hatshepsut was the first female pharaoh of Egypt. She reigned between 1473 and 1458 B.C. Her name means “foremost of noblewomen.”
Her rule was relatively peaceful and she was able to launch a building program that would see the construction of a great temple at Deir el-Bahari at Luxor. She also launched a successful sea voyage to the land of Punt, a place located somewhere on the northeast coast of Africa, where they traded with the inhabitants, bringing back “marvels.”

Despite the apparent success of her reign, and a burial in the Valley of the Kings, her monuments would be defaced after her death, apparently by her co-ruler and step-son/nephew Thutmose III.

The fact that a woman became pharaoh of Egypt was very unusual. “In the history of Egypt during the dynastic period (3000 to 332 B.C.) there were only two or three women who managed to rule as pharaohs, rather than wielding power as the ‘great wife’ of a male king,” writes Egyptologist Ian Shaw in his book “Exploring Ancient Egypt” (Oxford University Press, 2003).


Hatshepsut, along with her sister Nefrubity, was the daughter of Pharaoh Thutmose I and his wife Ahmose. Thutmose I was a warrior king who launched successful campaigns into Nubia and Syria, expanding the territory under Egyptian rule.

After Hatshepsut became co-ruler of Egypt, she claimed to be of divine birth, the result of a union between her mother and the god Amun. She also claimed that Thutmose I had named her as his successor before his death.

“Underscoring her claim, one of the reliefs decorating Hatshepsut’s enormous funerary complex depicts Thutmose I crowning her daughter as king in the presence of the Egyptian gods,” write Helen Gardner and Fred Kleiner in “Gardner’s Art Through the Ages: The Western Perspective” (Cengage, 2010).

Queen to Thutmose II



After the death of her father, the Egyptian throne passed to Thutmose II, Hatshepsut’s half-brother and husband. In ancient Egypt, it was not unusual for royalty to marry within their family. Like his predecessor, he fought in Nubia. “The Egyptian army continued to quell uprisings in Nubia and brought about the final demise of the kingdom of Kush at Kerma,” writes Betsy Bryan in a section of “The Oxford History of Ancient Egypt” (Oxford University Press, 2000).

In their personal life, the couple had a daughter named Neferure who would go on to assume royal duties. She “appears during her mother’s reign officiating as ‘God’s Wife of Amun’…”writes Michael Rice in “Who’s Who in Ancient Egypt” (Routledge, 1999).

Regency and elevation to pharaoh



With the death of Thutmose II, the throne fell to Thutmose III, a step-son and nephew of Hatshepsut. He was, however, a child and unable to rule Egypt, leaving Hatshepsut to serve as regent. She did this for three years until, for reasons unknown; she became a pharaoh in her own right (although technically a co-ruler with Thutmose III).

She took on a full throne name, and statues were created depicting her as a male king, right down to the beard. However, she did allow some feminine traits to come through. “Although for most of her reign Hatshepsut was depicted with the traditional image of a male king, the names that she used as king were formed with grammatically feminine participles, thus openly acknowledging her female status,” write Gay Robins in a 1999 article in “The Journal of Egyptian Archaeology.”

In addition, University of Toronto Professor Mary-Ann Pouls Wegner, whose team found a wooden statue at Abydos that may be of Hatshepsut, notes that her waist was depicted as being somewhat slimmer than her male counterparts.

“Even though she was portrayed as a man [in her statues], oftentimes they did give a nod to her female physique by making her waist narrower,” she is quoted as saying in a LiveScience article.

In addition, Hatshepsut appears to have taken care to cultivate loyalty and obedience among officials. Bryan notes that there was a “sudden increase in large decorated private tombs” at Luxor and Saqqara, and an inscription carved in her temple at Deir el-Bahari reads “he who shall do her homage shall live; he who shall speak evil in blasphemy of her Majesty shall die.”

“As a ruler, Hatshepsut inaugurated building projects that far outstripped those of her predecessors,” Bryan writes, noting that in conquered Nubia, she built monuments at a number of sites, including Qasr Ibrim, Semna, Faras and Buhen.

In Egypt proper, she launched a number of building projects. At the temple complex of Karnak, she erected a series of obelisks and built a “Palace of Ma’at,” a rectangular structure that was composed of “a series of small rooms with a large central hall for the placement of the central bark [a small ceremonial boat]. The walls of the palace were covered with carved and brightly painted relief scenes of Hatshepsut and Thutmose III,” writes a team of UCLA researchers working on the Digital Karnak Project.

Perhaps the most impressive architectural achievement of Hatshepsut’s builders is the temple at Deir el-Bahari. Shaw notes that its ancient name was djeser-djeseru “the most sacred of sacred places,” with its three colonnaded terraces leading to a sanctuary.

When archaeologists excavated the temple in the 19th century, Shaw notes, they found shrines dedicated to Hathor and Anubis. Shaw writes that they also found, on the lowest terrace, a relief showing Hatshepsut as a sphinx “triumphing over her enemies” and another “describing the quarrying and transportation of two granite obelisks from the quarries at Aswan.” He also notes that the middle terrace contains an “unusual group of painted reliefs” showing a trading expedition to the land of Punt.

Voyage to Punt



This voyage to Punt (also known as “God’s land”) was a key foreign relations triumph during Hatshepsut’s reign. Punt is believed to lie in northeastern Africa, somewhere in the area of Eritrea, Ethiopia and southern Sudan. Egyptians had made voyages to it for centuries by Hatshepsut’s time.

The depiction of Punt at the Deir el-Bahari temple shows “scenes of the Puntite’s village (with) conical reed-built huts built on poles above the ground, entered via ladders,” Shaw writes, adding that palms and myrrh trees can be seen. “The ruler of Punt is distinguished from the Egyptians primarily by his beard and unusual costume, and his wife is depicted as an extremely obese woman.”

An ancient record of the voyage indicates that it was wildly successful. “The loading of the ships very heavily with marvels of the country of Punt; all goodly fragrant woods of God’s-land, heaps of myrrh-resin with fresh myrrh trees, with ebony, and pure ivory, with green gold of Emu.”

After listing more goods, the record concludes that no Egyptian ruler had ever been so successful in Punt. “Never was brought the like of this for any king who had been since the beginning.” (Inscription from “Seagoing Ships and Seamanship in the Bronze Age Levant,” Shelley Wachsmann, Texas A & M University Press, 2009)

Death and defacement



Thutmose III, who was technically co-ruler with Hatshepsut, succeeded the female pharaoh after her death. Although Hatshepsut was given a burial in the Valley of the Kings, her memory was not honored.

“Soon after her death in 1457 B.C., Hatshepsut’s monuments were attacked, her statues dragged down and smashed and her image and titles defaced,” writes Egyptologist Joyce Tyldesley in a 2011 BBC article. She argues that this may have been an attempt by Thutmose III to gain credit for some of the successes Hatshepsut experienced during her rule. “By removing all obvious references to his co-ruler Tuthmosis could incorporate her reign into his own. He would then become Egypt’s greatest pharaoh.”

Hatshepsut’s mummy


In 2007, researchers announced that Hatshepsut’s mummy had been identified in tomb KV 60 in the Valley of the Kings. A “CT scan of a single tooth in a box with Hatshepsut’s name on it perfectly matched a tooth socket in the mummy’s jaw,” writes Cornell University anthropologist Meredith Small in a LiveScience article. She notes that she was around 50 when she died, balding, suffering from diabetes and wearing black and red nail polish. She also had a desire for perfume.

Small writes that despite her health problems, and the post-mortem destruction of some of her images, history still remembers her as a successful ancient Egyptian ruler. “Hatshepsut’s image couldn’t be erased because even with the weight, the beard, and the nail polish, she was a ruler, and a grand one,” she writes. “In ancient Egypt, just like today, you simply can’t keep a good woman down.”

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