Women in Ancient Egypt

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The role of women within Egyptian society was a highly complex one. Differing depending on their particular class and place within the social hierarchy, the women of ancient Egypt are often described as the most legally free and equal of any ancient civilisation. Our knowledge of the role played by the Egyptian women is somewhat limited. The majority of evidence for the Egyptians everyday life comes from within the mortuary sphere, a realm in which the male dominated and women received little attention. Though this is not to say that nothing about the role of an Egyptian woman is known. The main purpose of any woman in Egypt, whether they were from the Royal family or were a farmer's wife, was to reproduce. The life expectancy within ancient Egypt was; obviously, considerably lower than in modern Western civilizations so women were often married and reproducing by the age of 16. Whilst there was no set number of children a woman was expected to produce the ideal state was that there was a male heir who would be responsible for the burial of his Father. A popular misconception is that a woman's only role within the Egyptian society was as a "baby machine". This is a result of the high number of children often portrayed within tombs. However, all children, whether alive or dead, were portrayed. This means one can never be sure if all of the children pictured survived into adulthood. The task of identifying the surviving children is made particularly hard by the fact that all the children were depicted as miniature adults with no indication of their age. The role of women as mother to the family was one that brought them great respect throughout the whole of dynastic Egypt. Wisdom texts, which survive from all periods, attest to this. The importance of conceiving a child is perhaps most evident from ostraca found at Deir el-Medina. The ostraca in question relate primarily to divorce though cite infertility as a valid reason for divorce. Obviously if the success...
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