Ah Egypt, the land that was once home of the Pharaohs and the mummies and (probably) dark, mysterious forces. And of course, aliens. The more we hear about it, the more puzzled we get. Let’s take a look at some of the stranger facts about ancient Egypt and see if we can understand the culture a little more.
1. Ancient Egyptians hated hair.
And when we say hate, we mean hate. They believed it was unhygienic to have hair on the body. Every bit of hair was shaved off. The hair you see in Egyptian paintings and carvings was the wigs they wore. Most likely, they wore these wigs as hats to protect them from the sun and not as ‘hair’.
2. All Egyptians wore makeup.
In Egypt, makeup was a necessity. They believed that green or black eye paint protected them from the sun, flies and infections; it also was homage to the facial marking of the sun god Horus. Laborers under Ramses III quit because they were not given balms and massage oils, which they considered necessary.
3. Oral hygiene was important to them.
It is believed that ancient Egyptians invented the toothpaste, sort of. They used a mixture of ingredients, like the powder of ox hooves, burnt eggshells, pumice and ashes to brush their teeth. So important was dental hygiene that mummies were buried with toothpicks beside them, all prepared for the afterlife.
4. Early pharaohs were buried with their servants.
Later pharaohs were found to be buried with models of their servants but the early pharaohs were buried with their real servants. The servants would be knocked unconscious by a blow to the head and buried. No, don’t think about what happened if they woke up later.
5. Once, a majority of Egyptians were Christians.
Yep. From about 400-800 A.D., Christianity was the religion of the majority of Egyptians. After the Muslim conquest in the mid-10th century, Islam became the majority religion. The Coptic language also faded away and has mostly been replaced by Arabic.
6. Cleopatra was not Egyptian by lineage.
Born in Alexandria, Cleopatra came from a long line of Greek Macedonians who had descended from Ptolemy I, one of Alexander the Great’s most trusted lieutenants. The Ptolemaic Dynasty ruled Egypt from 323 to 30 B.C. Cleopatra was the first from the Ptolemaic Dynasty to speak the Egyptian language.
7. Ancient Egyptian women enjoyed much freedom.
Unlike other women around the world, Egyptian women could own property, serve on juries, and make wills. If they worked outside home, they received equal pay. They could divorce and remarry. They even entered pre-nup contracts where they listed items they brought at the time of marriage and could take away after divorce.
8. Pharaohs are believed to have been obese.
Ancient Egyptian art may show pharaohs as slim and fit, but examinations of mummies have shown that the pharaohs were pretty wide around the waistline. Their diet consisted of wine, honey, beer and bread, high in sugar, which contributed to their obesity. Many of them also suffered from diabetes.
9. Ancient Egypt has the first peace treaty record.
Despite over two centuries of warfare between the Egyptians and the Hittites for the lands of modern day Syria, no clear winner emerged. In 1259, both empires were facing other threats; Ramses II and Hattusili III negotiated a peace treaty and promised to help each other against any third aggressor.
10. They were freakishly awesome at math.
Take the main temple in Abu Simbel. Twice a year the sun shines on the faces of gods Amun and Ra and pharaoh Ramses II; it doesn’t shine on the god of the underworld Ptah, seated next to them. The two days the sun shines on Ramses are his birthday (October 22) and the day of his coronation (February 22).
11. They preferred hiring people with unconventional looks.
12. They were the first to practice birth control.
Not in the way we know it of course. To avoid pregnancy, they would make a mixture of mud, honey and crocodile dung. Then they would insert this mixture into a woman’s vagina before she indulged in the act of sex. Crocodile dung is acidic, which was good for killing sperm.
13. They were crazy accurate about temperature.
Egypt is a hot place, where temperatures hit 114 degrees Fahrenheit. In this hot climate, the temperature inside the Great Pyramid of Giza remains at a stable 68 degrees Fahrenheit. To top that off, earth’s average internal temperature is also reported to be 68 degrees. Did the Egyptians know that and somehow recreate that?
14. They loved and revered their cats.
If any animal on earth can inspire such devotion, it’s probably the cat. Cats in ancient Egypt had their own religious cult movement for a while. When their pet cat died, every family member would shave off their eyebrows. If someone killed a cat, they were thrown into a poisonous snake pit. Cats were mummified and buried with their own mummified rats and a bowl of milk.
15. Ancient Egyptians doctors had specializations.
Unlike other doctors of the past who seemed to work on every part of the human body, ancient Egyptian doctors would devote themselves to the study of one part. Historian Herodotus wrote about how “each physician is a healer of one disease and no more”. They had specific names for each kind of doctor; the most interesting of which was a proctologist being called ‘shepherd of the anus’.
16. The pyramids were not built by slaves.
While the work of building the pyramids must have certainly been harsh, evidence indicates that the workers were not slaves as has been suggested before. The workers were artisans and temporary hands and they gave their crews names (‘Drunkards of Menkaure’, ‘Friends of Khufu’) that they scribbled near the monuments they worked on.
17. Ancient Egyptians workers organized one of the world’s first sit-ins.
When laborers working on building the royal necropolis at Deir el-Medina under pharaoh Ramses III did not receive their payment of grain, they organized one of the world’s first sit-ins. They entered nearby temples and refused to work until they were given their overdue rations.
18. The heart was not removed during mummification.
By now it is well-known that before a corpse would be bandaged up, its internal organs would be removed. Its brain would be pulled out through the nostril. All these organs would be placed in canopic jars except the heart. The heart was not removed because it was regarded as the seat of the soul.
19. Pharaoh Hatshepsut was almost removed from history.
In order to rule over Egypt, Pharaoh Hatshepsut wore the traditional pharaoh’s wig on her chin and took on the title of ‘king’. However, it has been suggested that later pharaohs tried to remove the memory of this unconventional ‘king’ by defacing her monuments and leaving Hatshepsut-shaped gaps in the artwork.
20. The Great Pyramid of Giza perfectly aligns with Orion’s belt.
There has been some talk of the Pyramid of Giza being the exact center of earth’s landmass, though that has been hotly debated. Yet, the three pyramids of Giza line up with the three main stars of Orion’s Belt. The Nile takes the place of the earthly version of the Milky Way. Orion was linked to the Egyptian god of rebirth and afterlife, Osiris.
21. All the pyramids discovered so far have been robbed.
Every pyramid that has been discovered has been robbed. It is believed that Tutankhamun’s pyramid was robbed shortly after his death and the robbers, caught in the act, dropped a bag of rings on their way out of the tunnel. The big triangles were like neon signs telling robbers where the kings’ treasures lay.