Daily Life in Ancient Egypt

Note: Articles originally posted in Panhistoria. Reprinted with permission from Beketaten and Takhaet, who in real life are academic librarians who love ancient Egypt.



Banquets in Kemet

Author: Beketaten sat Amenhotep
Date: 03-21-05 16:57

Egyptian hosts, both male and female, welcomed their guests and gave them flowers or flower wreaths. They also put perfumed fat cones on their heads, which gave off a nice scent as it melted through the night.

Guests were shown to their seats, where they might sit two to three to a table, or one person per table. People could sit on the floor or in a chair. They ate food with their fingertips, cleaned their hands in water bowls, and were served by servant girls who didn’t wear much. Pictures of banquets show heaps of food on the little tables and several courses served over the evening. Egyptians didn’t have plates but used ceramic bowls, and during banquets, they probably used blue glazed and painted faience dishes for the food and drink (Brier, Boy, and Hoyt Hobbs. (1999). Daily Life of the Ancient Egyptians. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, p. 111-2).

Pictures of banquets include several types and shapes of bread. In the Old Kingdom, there were 15 kinds of bread, but by the New Kingdom, there were names for 40 kinds of breads, cakes, and biscuits. Pictures also show lots of vegetables, which could include chickpeas, lentils, cucumbers and onions. The pictures also show meats. Meat was expensive but was perfect for a feast, where it could be grilled or stewed. There was beef, duck, geese, goats, fish, pigeons, and mullet roe. There was also pork, although pork was sometimes controversial. Pre-dynastic people in Upper Kemet didn’t like pork, but some Egyptians ate pork in dynastic times. Still, pork wasn’t given to the gods, and in Herodotus’ time, anything associated with pigs were shunned. Egyptians also hunted wild animals, like antelopes and gazelles, and often captured them live so they could fatten them up.

King Mereptah had the following foods during the Festival of Opet: filleted and salted fish, oxen, spit roasted ducks, oryx, gazelle basted in honey, beans, bread, sweet oil sauces, celery, parsley, leeks, garlic, lettuce, pomegranates, figs, grapes, jujubes (nabk berries), honey cakes, beer, and wine. (Romer, John. (1984). Ancient Lives: Daily Life in Egypt of the Pharaohs. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston. p. 51-3).

There were more food choices. There was butter and cheese, and dishes flavored with rosemary, cumin, garlic, parsley, cinnamon, mustard, or honey, etc. Fruit included dates, dom nuts, grapes, pomegranates, cactus, figs, and nabk berries. There was wine and beer in jugs dated and identified by estate, vineyard, and vintner. Wines included date, pomegranate, grape, and palm (sap) varieties.

Music and dance were important in a banquet. Guests watched dancing girls and acrobats and listened to stringed instruments like the oboe (usually played by women), and drums. Guests could join in by clapping, chanting, or playing the tambourine.

Dollinger, André. (2004, August, last updated). “Food.” http://nefertiti.iwebland.com/timelines/topics/food.htm

Dollinger, André. (2004, May, last updated). "Meat." http://nefertiti.iwebland.com/timelines/topics/meat.htm

Fodor. (1999). The Complete Guide to Cairo, the Ancient Wonders, the Red Sea, Sinai and Desert Oases. Fodor’s Travel Publications, Inc.

Olver, Lynne (2000). “Food Timeline -- history notes IV” http://www.foodtimeline.org/foodfaq3.html

Springer, Ilene. (1996). “Party Time in Ancient Egypt.” InterCity Oz. Inc.


Ancient Egyptian Sports

Author: Takhaet sat Mentuhotep
Date: 08-22-04 17:50

What kind of sports did Egyptians enjoy? Pictures and inscriptions on monuments show many: archery, acrobatic dancing (gymnastics), handball, the high jump, equestrian events, boxing and wrestling, weightlifting, swimming, rowing, and fishing. They also played hockey and tug of war, and they enjoyed hunting and javelin throwing.

Archery was very popular. Kings and nobles aimed at targets and showed their strength in pulling the bow. In the 21st century B.C., King Amenhotep II was a great sportsman who was proud of piercing the middle of a thick target of brass with four arrows. He also said he was a great general athlete, charioteer and horseman, and that he trained horses well.

Acrobatic Dancing/ Gymnastics. Egyptian dance was often very acrobatic and included many steps now seen in gymnastics. Dancers did cartwheels, handstands, leaps, pirouettes, and backbends. A famous picture from the 14th century B.C. shows a female dancer with her body bent backwards until her hands touch the floor. Another picture shows a vault with more than one turn in the air. At the end of the vault, the dancer is upright. Acrobatic dancing was especially popular in the New Kingdom, based on the number of reliefs. Men and women did not dance together, and women are shown more often than male dancers. Still, men are shown dancing in positions which include standing with one leg as high as possible with arms outstretched. In another picture, two men face each other with bent arms and twisting waists. Another man stands on his head without using hands to touch the floor. While dancing was part of religion and funerals, some dances were for banquets and celebrations. Some dances depicted in Middle Kingdom tombs at Beni Hasan also used balls and were closer to juggling.

Handball shows up in tombs in Saqqara. The ball could be leather stuffed with hay or plant fibers, or it could be made of papyrus. One painting shows girls in two teams throwing balls at each other. They could throw the ball while standing or while on the back of a teammate.

High Jump. In one game, two people sat opposite each other with legs outstretched. Another person tried to jump over them. If the jumper did, the two sitting down put their hands over their feet to make the barrier higher. This is called “goose steps” and is still playing in Egypt.

Equestrian Events. Once chariots and horses were introduced and made available by the Asiatics in the Second Intermediate Period, horses were used with chariots in war and in hunting. Youths raced horses without using saddles.

Boxing and Wrestling. Pharaohs and princes enjoyed watching boxing matches and wrestling contests. Wrestling was also used to train army recruits and was pictured in tombs at Beni Hasan.

Weightlifting. One relief shows an athlete lifting a sack of sand with one hand and keeping it high.

Swimming was a favorite sport. Youths held swimming races in the Nile. Not only did they swim in the Nile, but noblemen built their own swimming pools for their sons.

Rowing is shown as a team sport. The leader held the rudder and told athletes when to row by means of a high pitched call.

Fishing was a favorite of many Egyptians. Everyone from nobility to commoners, from the Old Kingdom to the New fished. Egyptians had many kinds of fishing rods and hooks. They also used nets and harpoons. While the poor fished for food, others harpooned fish from a skiff as a sport.

Hockey. Ancient Egyptians played a game similar to hockey. They had bats of long palm tree branches with a bent end that made them look like hockey bats. The puck was made of papyrus covered with two leather pieces shaped in semicircles and dyed two or more colors. The game is still played in Egypt.

Tug of War. Teams stood facing each other in two lines. The first player on each team held the hands of their opponent while the rest of the team held the person in front of them by the waist and tried to pull the opposite team towards their side. This is still played in Egypt.

Hunting was first done on foot. In the times of the pharaohs, hunting was part of some rituals. Chariots were used by kings once they were introduced. Egyptians used spears, arrows, throw-sticks, nets, and boomerangs. They hunted birds, crocodiles, hyenas, lions, leopards, gazelles, ostriches, and deer, but only pharaohs and noblemen hunted the large animals. Peasants hunted smaller animals like geese, ducks, cranes, and quails, and they ate what they caught. Nobles saw hunting as a sport, but they also ate what they caught. They could also hunt with greyhound dogs. Amenhotep III hunted antelope and ibex in a two-horse chariot in the desert. He hunted with the bow and arrow while his driver drove the chariot. He also hunted lions and wild bulls.

Javelin Throwing. Javelins are first linked to hunting. Hunters are shown throwing javelins at prey. The size of the javelin was based on the kind of animal being hunted. Eventually, javelin throwing shows up as a contest.


Ancient Egyptian Games.
Available at: http://www.mnsu.edu/emuseum/prehistory/egypt/dailylife/games.html

Bunson, Margaret. (1991). A Dictionary of Ancient Egypt. New York: Oxford University Press.

Dunn, Jimmy. (1999-2004). Ancient Egyptian Sports.
Available at: http://www.touregypt.net/historicalessays/ancsportsindex.htm
If you scroll down the page, you can see pictures of some Egyptians playing sports.

Erickson, Adam. (2002). Ancient Egyptian Hunting.
Available at: http://www.mnsu.edu/emuseum/prehistory/egypt/dailylife/hunting.htm

Shaw, Ian, and Paul Nicholson. (1995). The Dictionary of Ancient Egypt. New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc. Publishers.

Watterson, Barbara. (1991). Women in Ancient Egypt. Phoenix Mill -Thrupp-Stroud Gloucestershire, UK: Alan Sutton Publishing Limited.

What Life Was Like on the Banks of the Nile: Egypt 3050-30 B.C. (1996). Eds. Time-Life Books. Alexandria, Virginia: Time-Life.

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