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Family Structure and Women Status in Ancient Egypt Research Paper

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Updated: Jul 4th, 2021


From 525 BC, Egypt was no longer ruled by the Saite dynasty. This was after the Persians managed to conquer Babylonia around the year 540 BC. This marked the beginning of foreign control in the region. The Persians were the ones who introduced the famous title of Pharaoh. These leaders are observed to rule Egypt as foreigners. The Pharaoh would use local chiefs and resident governors given the name “satrap.” Darius, I ruled this country from 521 to 486 BC. He managed to built temples, strengthened the economy, and reformed Egypt’s legal system. Throughout this period, the roles and statuses of women changed significantly. This was also the same case for the Egyptian family structure. This research paper digs deeper in an attempt to understand the issues from 500 to 400 BC.

Family Structure

After the Persians settled in Egypt, a new political force emerged that transformed the region’s legal systems. The family structure was also changed in an attempt to match with the wishes of the pharaohs (Azad & Barua, 2017). In many cases, extended families appeared to dominate from 500 BC. This was the case because fathers and mothers would live in the same home with their children. Boys who came of age were allowed to marry while in their fathers’ houses. This practice explains why the number of extended families remained high during the period.

After both parents died, children were allowed to inherit property based on gender. For instance, daughters (both married and unmarried) were able to get household materials and items, including furniture (“Ancient Egyptian marriages,” 2014). Sons were allowed to inherit their fathers’ land and other assets. Maids and servants would continue to work for the sons after the death of their bosses. However, this was a common occurrence in wealthy families during the period.

Azad and Barua (2017) argue that nuclear families were also common from 500 to 400 BC. Due to the improved infrastructure, business practices, and legal systems, many people found it easier to migrate to different places whereby they could purchase land and engage in agricultural or economic activities. This process encouraged young men to marry and settle independently away from their parents. Many archeologists and historians have acknowledged that the increasing population in the country must have also led to the emergence of new nuclear families during the studied period (“Ancient Egyptian marriages,” 2014). This development was also observed to result in an increased population in Egypt.

Household Structures and Settings

One of the facts about Egypt is that it lacked forests during the time of the pharaohs. Consequently, the structures considered by the people were largely influenced by the natural environment and their economic positions. Although ancient Egyptians constructed their structures from papyrus reeds, the pharaohs brought new ideas that led to the construction of brick houses. Such building materials were made by mixing straw and mud. They would then be left to dry for some days. One unique observation is that the houses of the rich representatives of the society had two or more brick rows while those of the poor had only one (Azad & Barua, 2017). Archeologists have revealed that such structures were not strong (“Ancient Egyptian marriages,” 2014). This means that they could not stand for many years. The wealthy could have their dwelling places or houses build from stones.

Typically, many nuclear families inhabited houses with three rooms. Such dwelling places also had flat roofs. Individuals living in extended families had houses with two floors to accommodate them. The doors and windows of such houses were covered with papyrus mats. These materials were aimed at minimizing heat and dust (“Ancient Egyptian marriages,” 2014). They were also useful in preventing houseflies. Most of the dwellings were observed to have courtyards for growing vegetables, flowers, and fruits. The infrastructures made by the pharaohs provided the Egyptians with easy access to clean water than ever before. There were also wells constructed in different locations to cater to the needs of the people.

During the period, many people could afford to have decent furniture in their households. Low stools became common in Egypt. Mats made from reeds were also used so the individuals could sit on the floor (Azad & Barua, 2017). Those who had enough money could manage to purchase mattresses and beds. Reed baskets were also used to store different materials such as fruits and foodstuffs (“Ancient Egyptian marriages,” 2014). Rich families were able to acquire cupboards.


Historians acknowledge that the issue of marriage was taken seriously in Egypt from 500 BC. Many people in this country believed that the practice was important and helped to support the integrity of the kingdom. One of the outstanding aspects of marriages in Pharaoh’s Egypt was that most of them used to be arranged or organized by parents. Stol (2016) argues that the practices were embraced in an attempt to ensure that boys married decent and principled girls. Some parents were also keen to ensure that their daughters were married by the rich.

Since the majority of the people in Egypt were peasants, the new laws introduced by the Persians encouraged men to have one wife. Although this was a common practice, those who had adequate resources could manage to marry a second wife. It is also evident that polygamy was allowed in the country (“Ancient Egyptian marriages,” 2014). The pharaohs were entitled to marry several women. This is the reason why the number of extended families continued to increase during the time. Many researchers have also acknowledged that marriage was taken seriously by the Egyptians since they treated it as a blessing from the gods (Stol, 2016). Consequently, the practice would strengthen the nation.

Azad and Barua (2017) indicate that girls were allowed to marry at the age of 12. Their husbands used to be three or four years older. This is a clear indication that most of the marriages that took place were between individuals below the age of 17. The next thing was for every new family to get children and receive blessings from their parents. Additionally, the Egyptians believed that every child was a special gift from the gods. This was the reason why they treasured and took good care of them (Azad & Barua, 2017). Those who were unable to get children were empowered by the existing legal frameworks to adopt. This was an important practice aimed at supporting the success of every family.

Children were raised by their mothers. This was a common practice among the peasants. However, the wealthy members of the society could hire maids or servants to take good care of their children. Women were also expected to respect their husbands and support the welfare of their respective families. The issue of divorce was also taken seriously by members of this society. According to many people, the practice was inappropriate since it could affect the success of every Egyptian family. However, it was permitted under specific circumstances such as mistreatment and abuse (“Ancient Egyptian marriages,” 2014). Men were allowed to divorce their wives if they were unresponsiveness or incapable of obeying them. Women could also ask for divorce if their husbands were abusing them. However, any form of divorce had to be mitigated or approved by several witnesses. With this kind of arrangement, many historians and researchers have acknowledged that Egypt was a good example of democracy in the ancient world.

Women Status

By the year 500 BC, many ancient civilizations were grappling with a number of challenges such as male chauvinism and gender inequality. Such issues emerged due to the absence of effective leadership or governance. Most of the traditional rulers were also keen to enforce their rules without considering the welfare of women. In Egypt, things changed significantly after the Persians settled in the region (“Ancient Egyptian marriages,” 2014). This new development revolutionized most of the country’s social aspects. This kind of transformation empowered women and made it easier for them to engage in numerous roles or activities.

In terms of status, women appeared to enjoy new freedoms than ever before. They were capable of making personal decisions and engaging in various activities that could support their economic goals. The pharaohs created a powerful society whereby women were no longer treated as their husband’s property (Stephens, 2016). However, young girls could be controlled and have their marriages planned or dictated by their parents. In Egypt, the issue of gender equality appeared to have emerged since women could pursue their goals and engage in numerous activities.

Stol (2016) asserts that many women could own property and fixed assets such as land. As indicated earlier, they could inherit their parent’s items such as beds and chairs. This was quite extraordinary since most of the other civilizations, such as Babylon, never empowered their women using similar incentives during the period. According to Stol (2016), women could engage in various business activities and even build their own houses. Those who became victims of divorce decided if they wanted to remarry or not. This kind of autonomy made it easier for them to pursue their aims and achieve their economic goals.

Many women in Egypt from 500 to 400 BC were able to represent themselves in different courts. They would sue any individual who had abused them. This kind of status made it easier for them to engage in numerous activities. They could also pursue their business objectives without fear. The fact that barren women were allowed to adopt children is something that portrays the true status of these individuals. This is a clear indication that they could make their decisions and pursue their economic objectives (Stol, 2016). They could also be involved in a number of roles or decisions in society. Young girls were also empowered to make specific decisions such as future goals and expectations in life. This analysis reveals that the pharaohs managed to transform the country. They also utilized powerful approaches to address most of the social challenges that affected the people for many centuries.

In ancient Egypt, women were privileged to leave with their children after divorce. Although husbands were legally entitled to their wives and children, the new changes experienced in Egypt after the first Pharaoh instituted numerous policies made it easier for women to have their rights addressed. This kind of equality empowered them to transact businesses and engage in numerous economic activities. Stephens (2016) believes that the pharaohs’ decision to empower and support the needs of women was an ingenious move that made it easier for many societies to support their leadership styles. In every community, wives were accorded the right respect and support even when their husbands were not around. They could also manage different business practices and engage in farming activities.

Gender Roles

As described earlier, the elevated status of Egyptian women resulted in a powerful society whereby gender roles were clearly defined. During this time, every person was aware of his or her roles in the community (Stephens, 2016). The ultimate goal was to support the kingdom and make it successful. The first issue to consider was that diverse gender roles could be observed in every household. Husbands were expected to provide for their families. They were also supposed to make superior decisions that would ensure that children succeeded in life (Li, 2017). Some would arrange for their children’s marriages in accordance with the existing social practices.

During the period, men were required to engage in various economic activities such as farming and businesses. They could also look for employment since there were numerous systems being constructed during the time. Men were also allowed to take up various roles in different courts and public institutions (Stephens, 2016). Some became elders, community organizers, local chiefs, and governors. Citizens in this country were also required to respect these individuals. In the domestic setting, males were required to offer adequate resources, construct houses, and acquire the right furniture. The new regime also encouraged men to offer adequate labor in an attempt to deliver the expectations or projects targeted by the pharaohs.

Women, on the other hand, were empowered to engage in a number of roles that supported the effectiveness of this society. For instance, women could give birth and take good care of their children. It was also appropriate for them to respect their husbands and guide their children accordingly. They could also make decisions such as the acquisition of items such as stools, carpets, and curtains. They also maintained their houses and gardens (Stol, 2016). These activities were essential since they supported the integrity and success of every family in Egypt.

The society also empowered women to engage in business activities. They could own land and practice agriculture. The produce could be used to supplement domestic food demands or market it to earn money and purchase a number of household items. They were also capable of making adequate decisions and ensured that their families were successful (Stephens, 2016). They liaised with their husbands to adopt children if they could not get their own. They also engaged in various legal activities, such as presenting themselves in courts (Yildirim, 2017). Some were also allowed to take up leadership positions. This was possible because they were respected by members of society. They could also advise their husbands in order to make appropriate decisions and support the welfare of their respective families.

Women were free to pursue their own objectives or goals in life. For example, they could decide to divorce their husbands or get remarried without any person’s influence. They were also able to engage in various business dealings with members of royal families. Some could take up various roles in courts. The number of women in professional careers such as dancing, music, and singing increased significantly during the period (Yildirim, 2017). Additionally, children were required to respect their parents and engage in various household activities. They were also expected to respect their parents and focus on the existing norms in their communities.

Family and Religion

Many Egyptians believed that every pharaoh possessed divine powers. Due to their grand positions, they were able to link people to the gods. They encouraged their followers to engage in rituals so as to maintain the integrity of the natural world (Stephens, 2016). This means that different members of the family were obliged to maintain positive relationships with the deities. For instance, husbands were expected to guide their family members to engage in rituals and celebrate after the birth of their newborn babies. They were expected to give offerings to the gods and engage in various rituals. This was critical since it was believed to support the success and integrity of every household.

Family members were also able to interact with their goods without the intervention of religious leaders in order to have their wishes fulfilled or granted (“Ancient Egyptian marriages,” 2014). They could pray and use magic to communicate with the deities. Families were required to liaise with different institutions in order to engage in formal rituals (Yildirim, 2017). It was appropriate for families to offer sacrifices during burial ceremonies. This practice was done in an attempt to preserve or protect the spirits of the deceased.

It is also evident that different leaders and family heads had significant religious roles. During harvests, they were expected to offer sacrifices to the relevant gods. This was also the same case during celebrations such as marriage and death. Such rituals were embraced in an attempt to get blessings from the gods. Both women and men were able to engage in such practices and support the future of every Egyptian society. Yildirim (2017) believes that these religious goals were vital since many people sought the blessings of the gods.


The above discussion has revealed that Egypt was a powerful civilization that was supported by the ideas and objectives of the pharaohs from 500 to 400 BC. The leadership experience in the region catalyzed new changes that led to new housing units and family types. The nature of gender roles also changed significantly since more women became empowered than ever before. During the same period, many men and women were able to get involved in various economic activities that led to improved living conditions. Although marriages used to be controlled, many individuals were able to make personal decisions regarding divorce, remarrying, and property ownership. The involvement in different religious activities was something that supported the spiritual needs of many people. In conclusion, this research paper has presented meaningful arguments that can help more scholars understand the nature of family structure and women’s status in ancient Egypt.


Ancient Egyptian marriages were equal partnerships, divorces were quite common. (2014). Web.

Azad, M. M., & Barua, A. (2017). A case studies of ancient Egyptian architecture. International Journal of Engineering and Applied Sciences, 4(10), 35-40.

Li, J. (2017). Women, gender and identity in third intermediate period Egypt: The Theban case study. New York, NY: Routledge.

Stephens, J. (2016). Ancient Mediterranean religions: Myth, ritual and religious. Newcastle, UK: Cambridge Scholars Publishing.

Stol, M. (2016). Women in the ancient Near East. Boston, MA: Walter de Gruyter Incorporation.

Yildirim, K. (2017). Role of women in ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia: Women of ancient world. London, UK: Lambert Academic Publishing.

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