In ancient Egypt, you belonged to the social class you were born into. Because they believed this class system maintained order in society, there was very little chance of rising above your class. The most they could hope for would be to gain the favor of a noble or official but even that was a rare occurrence. Although the peasant class represented about eighty percent of the population of ancient Egypt they made up the lowest level of the social pyramid. Despite being of the lowest social class, all of Egyptian society depended on them.
They worked as farmers who grew the crops that applied everyone with food and the laborers who built the bricks and hauled the stone needed for the houses and the temples. An Egyptians life revolved around three seasons: They sowed their fields in the planting season. The Egyptians planted mostly barley and wheat. This made up the staple diet of the peasants. They used wheat to make bread and barley to make beer. Although the higher classes had a consistent supply of a wide variety of food, such as meat, fish, and many different types of fruits and vegetables, to the average peasant these items were considered a luxury they could not afford.They cut and gathered food during the harvest season.
It was backbreaking work, completed by the whole family using had tools and brute strength. After all their hard work only a small portion of the food was used to satisfy their own needs, most of the harvest was spoken for by the many temples and cult tombs throughout Egypt. Then there was the flood season when the Nile flooded its banks and rejuvenated the land for the next planting cycle.
During this time the fields were underwater so they would be put to work as laborers on state building projects. The most famous of these being the pyramids at Gaza.This was labor intensive, dangerous work.
It was common place to lose a limb, become lame, or even die as a result of their injuries. The peasants lived in simple mud brick houses with separate rooms for different purposes. The windows were high on the wall to keep out both the heat and intruders. Furniture was sparse, consisting of a few reed mats and some low lying tables to eat from. There were no pillows or blankets as we know today.
The Egyptian peasant, after a long, hard day in the fields would come home for a little bit of bread and some beer, then retire to a simple mat to sleep.The woman of the peasant class would spend her day tending to the house and the children. She was responsible for brewing the beer, baking the bread, and weaving the linen for her entire family. Women also helped with the planting and the harvesting of the fields. Women weren’t completely subservient to men, they were allowed to inherit and own property. They Were also allowed to will their possessions to whom they saw fit. It is fair to say that they were given rights and privileges that were unknown to their ancient con temporaries. Children were an important aspect of Egyptian society and were regarded s a blessing from the gods.
A child was brought up to take after their parents. Sons were taught the vocation of their father while girls were taught to keep a good home. Almost all peasants were illiterate. Education was something only afforded to the children of the elite and even then was not available to girls, regardless of social status.
All Egyptians believed in the gods and an afterlife. Almost every house had a shrine that was dedicated to their patron god. Egypt was polytheistic but every family had a particular god they worshipped depending on their personal situation.
We can see Egyptian mummies in many museums but this as a practice reserved for the elite.Mummification was a very expensive process that peasants could not afford. Almost all mummies known today are those of the elite classes of society. Except for the early desert burials in which the sand naturally dried out the body the embalming of peasants was non-existent. It is also interesting to note that peasants were not allowed in the great temples, they had to rely on the priests to bring their prayers and offerings to the gods The peasant’s story can still be told. On the west bank of the Nile, across from Luxury, There is an ancient village called Deer El Medina.
It was the village Of the tomb workers.In what was the ancient version of a garbage dump there contained thousands of pieces of castrato (pieces of clay people used to write personal notes to each other, similar to the post it notes of today). There are the personal and business correspondents of the village inhabitants. They contain insight on their daily lives, their thoughts, dreams, and aspirations. Although many have been deciphered, there are still thousands that haven’t. Maybe when all of them have been translated we can get a more complete picture of what life was like so long ago along the banks of the Nile River.