Weird History

You're Royalty In Ancient Egypt. What Does Your Day-To-Day Life Look Like?  

Setareh Janda
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What was everyday life like for Egyptian royals? In a word: busy. Though they lived in the lap of luxury and enjoyed a standard of living that most other ancient Egyptians didn't, Egyptian royalty generally didn't have much downtime. 

From around 3150 to 30 BC, Egypt was ruled by kings and queens called pharaohs. As supreme heads of a complex kingdom, pharaohs spent their days overseeing the religious, economic, cultural, and political life of Egypt. But pharaohs didn't just have to manage Egypt's affairs - they also had to manage the affairs of their families. The life of the royal family was undeniably political.

What they lacked in personal time, they made up for in privilege. The high, unrivaled status of pharaohs in Egypt meant that they got the best of everything, from fine clothes to the richest cuts of meat. So even though pharaohs kept busy, it was still generally good to be the king.

From Sunrise To Sunset, Your Royal Court Never Leaves Your Side
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Photo:  Wellcome Images/via Wikimedia Commons/CC BY 4.0

For most of their waking hours, pharaohs were constantly surrounded by people. Their posse of hangers-on usually consisted of members of the royal court, which may have included officials, family members, nobles, servants, and royal bodyguards.

How did one get a court position? Apart from the hired craftspeople - like architects - and nobles that filled the ranks, pharaohs often rewarded friends and relatives with plumb positions in court.

You Are Bathed And Dressed By Your Royal Servants
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Photo: Edwin Long/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

After rising from their beds, pharaohs would be met by servants who readied them for the day. These positions brought servants in close proximity to the pharaoh, and they attended to their personal needs.

Servants would bathe the pharaoh. Some rulers, like Hatshepsut, liked to perfume themselves with rich oils to underline their high status. An army of dressers that specialized in everything from sandals to wigs would assemble the clothing. For special occasions, a pharaoh would wear the royal insignia.

You Are Never Fully Dressed Without A Wig
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Photo: Maler der Grabkammer des Userhêt (II)/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

Ancient Egyptians took their wigs seriously. They even had laws that outlined who could and could not wear them. Legally, slaves could not wear wigs, and the more elite you were, the better the quality of your wig. Royal wigs were the most elaborate, and they sometimes included gold and silver threads

Wigs weren't just for the tops of royal heads. Pharaohs sometimes wore fake beards for special events.

Your Duties Are Planned Out In Advance And You Keep A Tight Schedule
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Because pharaohs were in positions of great power and authority, they had a number of responsibilities to fulfill. According to the Greek historian Diodorus, "All their acts were regulated by prescriptions set forth in laws, not only their administrative acts, but also those that had to do with the way in which they spent their time from day to day, and with the food which they ate." The accuracy of this assessment is debated, however. According to Egyptologist Adolf Erman, Diodorus's view of a highly regimented day was probably more the ideal than the reality.

Nonetheless, pharaohs had religious and legal duties - like participating in ceremonies and exercising judgment - to fulfill every day, and their routines were probably well-regulated to manage the volume of tasks expected of them.