Social Life in the Ancient Egyptian Society

FROM THE LECTURE SERIES: The Other Side of History: Daily Life in the Ancient World

By Robert Garland P.h.D., Colgate University

Appearance in the ancient Egyptian society mattered deeply to the people. They used oils to prevent wrinkles and sunburn, wore jewelry and wigs, and even used perfume in the form of fragrant oils.

Image showing people wearing wigs in ancient Egypt.
People in ancient Egypt cared a lot about their looks.
(Image: amelipulen/Shutterstock)

The house, in ancient Egyptian society, was the place for all the members of the family to find protection and support. However, it was not the only thing that Egyptians cared about. Life outside the house was also important, and they tried to do it as perfectly as possible. The first thing to help us imagine an ancient Egyptian society is how people dressed.

Makeup in Ancient Egyptian Societies

Regardless of the financial situation of the family, everyone wanted to look nice. When going out of the house as a couple, the wife would start with makeup. Before leaving, she would remove unwanted hair with a pair of tweezers, which were used as early as 3100 B.C. in Egypt.

Next, she would use kohl for her eyes. The favorite kohl colors were black or green, combined with red ochre on the cheeks. However, kohl was not only used by women, it was popular among men as well.

Image showing life in ancient Egypt.
People used many things in ancient Egypt to look perfect, from mirrors to jewelry and tweezers. (Image: matrioshka/Shutterstock)

Another popular beauty product for both men and women was the wig. Both sexes had short hair, and wigs made out of human hair or sheep’s wool, decorated with beads of carnelian or faience, were used on special occasions. Beeswax was used to keep them in place. However, it was more popular with women.

Learn more about daily life matters.

Clothing in Ancient Egyptian Societies

Women’s dress was usually white and long till the ankle, sometimes pleated. Different kinds of brightly colored jewelry were also used: a pectoral, worn over the breasts, a collar, a diadem, armlets, bracelets, anklets, and several finger rings. Both men and women wore earrings.

Egyptian jewelry was made of semi-precious stones, glazed compositions, and colored glass. Faience was also a very popular material for jewelry. It was made of a glassy paste formed of crushed quartz.

This is a transcript from the video series The Other Side of History: Daily Life in the Ancient World. Watch it now, on The Great Courses Plus.

Men wore kilts that came down either to the knee or to the calf. If they were of rank, they wore it folded in such a way as to create a front-piece in the shape of a triangle and carried a thin staff as a sign of their rank. In formal gatherings, men wore longer kilts and perhaps a pleated shawl over the shoulder.

In a social gathering, a woman would wear a cosmetic cone on the top of her head, filled with scented oil that slowly dripped over her, acting as today’s perfume. Other than that, they applied a lot of oil on their bodies to prevent wrinkles and cracked skin under the sun and sandy winds.

The Appearance of Ancient Egyptians

Men were normally beardless, with occasional goatees and a thin mustache. Children’s heads were shaved, but they wore side locks. Normally, people went out barefoot, but on special occasions, they would wear sandals. Back then, sandals were made of palm fiber and looked very similar to those popular today: a thong passed between the first and second toes. Everything in the appearance was checked in mirrors made of highly polished bronze.

Learn More about living in Hellenistic Egypt.

Diet in an Ancient Egyptian Society

Eating pork or fish was banned in ancient Egypt, but the peasants ate everything they could. Cattle, ducks, geese, cormorants, cranes, ibises, flamingos, and herons were common, but mice and hedgehogs were special delicacies. Numerous kinds of bread were also popular.

People enjoyed fruits and vegetables, too: apples, apricots, pomegranates, nuts, and dates. Common vegetables included celery, radishes, and lettuces. Beer was the most popular drink, and wine was drunk in large quantities, despite being more expensive than beer.

Entertainment in ancient Egypt

Egyptians cared about fun. Hunting with bows and arrows, throwing sticks, lassos, and weighted ropes were common. For special gatherings, singers, dancers, and magicians were hired. A variety of musical instruments was available at the time: the Egyptian equivalent of harps, lyres, lutes, flutes, oboes, drums, and tambourines.

Men and women sat separately in gatherings, and they played games similar to board games today, one of which was called senet. Reading books – or being read to – before sleeping was another hobby. Tale of Sinuhe is the most famous Egyptian classic to survive.

Egyptians cared not only about what happened inside the house, but also about how they appeared in the public.

Common Questions about Ancient Egyptian Society

Q: Did people in ancient Egypt use makeup?

Men and women both used kohl for their eyes.

Q: What were the popular drinks in ancient Egypt?

People drank both wine and beer. Wine was more expensive than beer.

Q: What were the hobbies of people in ancient Egypt ?

Hunting, playing board games, and reading were popular activities in ancient Egypt.

Q: Did men also wear wigs in ancient Egypt?

Yes, men wore wigs in ancient Egypt.

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