16 Strange Facts About What Everyday Life Was Like In Ancient Egypt

In many ways, everyday life in ancient Egypt was surprisingly modern. Egyptians had a sophisticated education system - for those who could afford it - and a remarkable understanding of medicine. Men and women also enjoyed an equality that wasn't often seen in other ancient populations.

But that doesn't mean that daily life in the ancient world was easy. The majority of the population was made up of farmers, who were indentured to the land and had to cultivate crops in grueling heat. Times were especially tough for the lower classes; the average life expectancy was just 30 years for women and 34 for men. Even if you were lucky enough to be royalty, some experts suggest their typical high-carbohydrate diet would make you susceptible to obesity and diabetes. Lice could be a problem, not to mention other hygienic challenges.

Outside of work, how ancient Egyptians lived was directly tied to their faith. They were an extremely pious people, and believed that their food, their clothing, and even their makeup were all gifts from the gods. Of course, piety didn't exclude the simpler pleasures of life, including beer and board games.

Want to really walk in the shoes of ancient Egyptians? Check out more facts about their daily lives below.

  • They Braved Vicious Hippos To Commute Via Boat
    Photo: Maler der Grabkammer des Ipi / Wikimedia Commons / Public domain

    They Braved Vicious Hippos To Commute Via Boat

    Ancient Egyptian society depended on the Nile River for nearly everything. They used it to irrigate their crops, make their clothes, and even get from place to place. The lower class would use skiffs - boats made out of papyrus reeds - for their day-to-day traveling. More elaborate ships were constructed from acacia wood to transport the large stones used in pyramid construction.

    Besides commuting, boats also served ceremonial purposes. They were used in funeral processions, when the mummified body of a noble would be transported down the river to his burial site by boat.

    These journeys weren't always safe. People who traveled on the Nile had to keep an eye out for hippos and crocodiles. At least one pharaoh, Menes, was reportedly attacked and killed by a hippo. Dr. Benson Harer, a physician and Egyptologist, even theorized that King Tut was maimed by a hippo, eventually leading to his premature death.

  • They Loved (And Ate) Beer

    The ancient Egyptians didn’t just love beer, they depended on it for daily sustenance. Evidence of beer making in Egypt can be traced back 18,000 years to the Paleolithic site of Wadi Kubbaniya. In ancient Egypt, beer was consumed by both children and adults, and was a staple of their diet just like bread. Even their wages were paid in grain, which would be used to make bread and beer (actual coinage was not introduced until the Late Period).

    While drinking your dinner might not sound appetizing, the beer the ancient Egyptians imbibed was more like a meal. It was thick and soupy, not too intoxicating, and probably sweet. They loved beer so much they had several gods and goddesses for it, and they considered Ra - the sun god - to be the creator of beer.

  • They Had Dentists And Gynecologists
    Photo: Pearson Scott Foresman / Wikimedia Commons / Public domain

    They Had Dentists And Gynecologists

    Ancient Egyptian medicine was surprisingly advanced. They had many specialized fields, including dentistry, gynecology, surgery, and autopsy, all typically performed with some element of religious ceremony as well as medical treatment. Healthcare was also apparently accessible to everyone. Even slaves were given medical treatment.

    Most of the evidence found concerning ancient Egyptian medicine comes from the Edwin Smith and Ebers Papyrus, dating back 3000 BCE. Here researchers saw the earliest mention of dentistry as well as detailed procedures on how to cure particular ailments.

  • They Were Obsessed With Hygiene And Invented Deodorant
    Photo: Fuenteclara / Wikimedia Commons / CC-BY-SA 4.0

    They Were Obsessed With Hygiene And Invented Deodorant

    The ancient Egyptians were known for their cleanliness. They were terrified of disease and correctly made the connection between poor hygiene and illness. They bathed frequently and made soaps from animal and vegetable oils mixed with alkaline salts. Both men and women would shave their head and body hair. Gold razors were even discovered in tombs, along with tweezers.

    They also liked looking and smelling good. The Egyptians concocted many different perfumes using ingredients like lily, myrrh, and cardamom. They are also thought to have created the first deodorant with a combination of citrus and cinnamon.

  • They Believed They Thought With Their Hearts
    Photo: Nordisk familjebok / Wikimedia Commons / Public domain

    They Believed They Thought With Their Hearts

    While the ancient Egyptians understood many things about anatomy, they weren’t always correct about the organs’ biological functions. They believed that the heart - or the ib - was where thought originated from within the body. They also thought it was the center of love, sadness, and bravery, images that remained in the popular consciousness until modern times.

    So what did ancient Egyptians think of the brain? Not much, apparently - they discarded the brain during the mummification process.

  • Statues Could Decide Major Court Cases
    Photo: Keith Schengili-Roberts / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 2.5

    Statues Could Decide Major Court Cases

    There were two judicial courts that would decide on cases in ancient Egypt: the kenbet and the great kenbet. The lower kenbet court would deal with minor disputes, while the greater court would deal with crimes such as robbery and murder. The vizier, or the highest ranking official under the pharaoh, would rule in these cases. The pharaoh was the official head of the legal system and his word was the final judgment. However, in complicated cases ancient Egyptians would refer to oracles, or the statue representations of these deities.

    The prosecution and defense would compile their arguments on papyrus and place them on either side of the street. The side to which the statue leaned closer towards was decided the winner.