Goddesses on Earth
The Lives of Women in Ancient Egypt
While contemporary societies in the rest of the world regarded women as possessions to be passed down from father to husband, the women of Ancient Egypt were acquiring land from their fathers and dragging their ex-husbands to court. In some extraordinary instances, they took the throne as supreme rulers of the land, in direct opposition to ancient tradition. While they were not completely equal to men socially, they were equal under the law. This playlist not only invites students to learn about the the lives of these women but to place it in contrast to the lives of women everywhere, throughout history and today.
In ancient Egypt, the public realm was largely male-dominated yet women ruled the roost and called the shots behind closed doors. This activity allows for students to explore the surprising ways in which the women of ancient Egypt contributed to society, achieving a level of independence and respect while women in many other “civilized” places in the world were treated as property. Each student will receive a description of the specific roles that women from various economic classes might fulfill. They can use these to compare Ancient Egyptian society to other societies throughout history or to discuss power dynamics amongst women of different classes.
Can you imagine being an ancient Greek woman, from what is supposed to be one of the first civilized societies and then you get a glimpse of how Egyptian women live?! This article compares the rights of Greek women to those of Egyptian women of the same time period in an exploration of how feminist ideas may have had their roots in ancient Egypt.
This animated video clip provides a simple review of the legal rights of women in ancient Egypt and the various roles they played in society.
*Requires flash player
Students should understand that regardless of the freedoms awarded women in ancient Egypt, social hierarchy still dictated the opportunities that they would have. This article introduces two of the most infamous female pharaohs, Cleopatra and Hatshepsut who students will revisit later in the playlist. They also get a glimpse at what the life of the common woman during that time period would have been like.
Students now know from the opening role-playing activity that women played important roles in the temples of ancient Egypt. This video provides even more context for that by looking at the discoveries made at the sacred site of Karnak in the tomb of Pabasa.
Peseshet was an actual doctor who lived during the Golden Age of the Old Kingdom and is credited for being one of the first female physicians in ancient Egypt. This animated video follows her through her day as she makes her way to teach medical students at the House of Life. Along the way, she repairs a worker's fracture, treats a scorpion's sting with an incantation and a knife, gives fertility advice and introduces us to Isesi, a male counterpart with an unfortunate official title.
Before Peseshet, there was Merit-Ptah, the world's first recorded female physician. While there isn't much information about her life, we think it's important for students to know who she was because it really drives home the fact that Egypt was way ahead of the game when it came to a woman's ability to step into male-dominated professions.
She rose to power as pharaoh around 1473 B.C. and went to work improving trade deals and overseeing the construction of massive temples. This "bearded queen" demanded to be depicted as a male in images and statues and, as a result, remained largely unknown to historians for some time.
The Pharaoh That Wouldn’t Be Forgotten | TEDEd
Hatshepsut | RocketLit
Historians suggest that she may have learned from Hatsepshut by taking on a male persona to preserve her anonymity as pharaoh but regardless of her official title, Nefertiti was a global icon and symbol of feminine power. Reigning as queen, she overshadowed her husband as the power couple made radical changes in Egypt.
Women Leaders: Queen Nefertiti | Newsela*
The Beautiful Woman Has Come | SafeShare.tv
This interactive resource is a great way to get students writing about the things they've learned about women in ancient Egypt. Students are provided with prompts and a checklist of things they should cover as they type in their responses. Student work will not be saved by the site so they would need to be able to print (or copy+paste to another document) when they are done working.
This assessment asks for students to compare women's rights in ancient Egypt versus the United States through a series of statements about legal and social rights. In contemporary American society we legally have the same rights that an ancient Egyptian women might have had so this assessment might prove more useful if you have students fill it out using other time periods or other societies throughout history for comparison. For example, how do the rights of women in ancient Greece stand up to those of ancient Egyptian women? How do the rights of contemporary Egyptian women compare to the rights of those of the Old Kingdom? Or see what happens when these statements are used to analyze life for women in modern day Afghanistan or Sudan.
Eboni has extensive experience in curriculum development, with a focus on culturally-responsive and arts-based approaches. Having spent years creating academic content and providing professional development to teachers, she now curates themed playlists meant to provide educators with valuable, time-saving resources.
Women and Gender in Ancient Egypt Exhibit | Kelsey Museum
We learned a ton of really intriguing facts about gender in ancient Egypt by perusing this gallery of artifacts.
What Egyptian Women Did With Their Power Should Be A Warning To Us All | Time
This journalist presents an argument for the idea that any power women in ancient Egypt achieved was actually in service to the patriarchy. It's an interesting conversation about what sometimes happens when women find themselves in positions of power in a male-dominated world.
The Egyptian Economy and Non-royal Women: Their Status in Public Life | William Ward \ Brown University
We definitely need to shout out Ward's essay, which became one of our touchstone resources in developing the first activity in this playlist. You'll have "Did you know..." statements for weeks after reading this.
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