Women in ancient Egypt

Men educated in scribal schools dominated the administrative hierarchy of ancient Egypt. Women were generally not part of this system. There is no evidence that women were generally taught to read or write. Élite women did, however, become priestesses, temple musicians and dancers. From the Third Intermediate Period (about 1070-661 BC) onwards the highest office within the cult of Amun-Re, that of the Divine Adoratrice or 'god's wife', was held by a woman.

Women were involved in jobs like weaving, baking, gardening and farming. Women were responsible for running the household and these activities were extensions of their domestic role. Women could conduct business, own and rent land, inherit property and take part in legal cases with a status equal to that of men. They were also equal partners in a marriage, and had equal rights to divorce.

Despite the equality suggested by this evidence, other sources suggest that women were regarded as subordinate to men. In art, women are shown in a subordinate position when they appear with their husband or son, and are often drawn at a smaller scale. In literature, women were regarded as prone to immoral behaviour, and this demanded strict control by their husbands.

Five women became rulers of Egypt: Nitocris (around 2150 BC), Sobekneferu (1799-1795 BC), Hatshepsut (1479-1457 BC), Tausret (1188-1186 BC) and Cleopatra VII (51-30 BC). Egyptian ideas of kingship required that rulers be male, so these women were not queens but rather (female) kings.

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