Ancient Egypt has long been a fascinating subject not only to historians, but to average people all over the world. They had many mystical practices that have long kept us intrigued. From their unique burial practices to their awe inspiring pyramids, they have left us with a feeling of mystery and wonder. Architects, Egyptologists, and experts on many different subjects consider the Ancient Egyptians a fascinating subject of study and have long hoped to one day discover all of their secrets. However, while there are many mysteries yet about the Ancient Egyptians, there are also many fascinating things we have already discovered in regards to them that most people are not aware of.
10. Ancient Egyptians Kept Baboons and Other Monkeys as Pets and for Ritual Significance
Most people are well aware that Ancient Egyptians did put some historical significance in certain animals — namely cats. Cats are known to be the number one go-to pet for Egyptians. Some are said to have been buried with their owners to accompany them in the afterlife. And while cats were very valued and had a certain religious and ritual significance, they were not the only animal in that category.
While it may not sound quite as dignified, monkeys, especially baboons, were kept around for their ritual significance in magic and religion — which were basically one and the same — and just to enjoy as fun pets. They had to go to great trouble to get their hands on these baboons because they were not native to the area. Historians believe they would have had to be imported by ship. Nevertheless, they became so important that they show up in a lot of religious imagery associated with the gods and found themselves a permanently revered place in Ancient Egyptian history.
9. They Went to Great Lengths to Remove Body Hair, and Both Genders Often Wore Wigs
In many depictions of Ancient Egyptians they are shown with very little hair on their heads, but many people may not realize the full extent of the work they went to in removing body hair. Children of both genders would wear a small lock on the side of their head that would be cut off when they reached adulthood. Apart from this, both men and women were bald.
Not only that, but both men and women went to great trouble to remove all body hair constantly from all parts of their body. This was a normal part of hygiene in Ancient Egyptian society, but would have been quite extreme to people today. Of course for women and men fashion was still very important, so wigs were quite common, especially among the upper class.
There are many theories as to why they did this. Most historians figure it was either something to do with the heat of the area, and that the Ancient Egyptians hypothesized that removing all hair would keep them cooler. Some people think that it was simply because they were incredibly obsessed with cleanliness. Most of these theories are quite reasonable, but ancient alien theorists believe they were trying to look like their former reptilian overlords the Anunnaki.
8. The Book of the Dead Was Not Originally a Unified Text
The Book of the Dead has been featured in countless movies, books and other media at this point, which hasn’t really done much to help people understand what it actually was. Most people think of it as something like the Egyptian version of the Bible or the Koran, but that isn’t really accurate — at least not originally. The Book of the Dead was in the beginning much more like the Wiccan idea of a “Book of Shadows” — a journal you filled with your combined knowledge of all spells you had learned from others, read from other books and found important, your own created spells and wisdom you yourself came up with over time.
For a long time in Ancient Egypt, Books of the Dead were still very personal, they were rarely organized in any particular order, and there was no unifying structure on what should and shouldn’t be included. It wasn’t until the 26th dynasty that any kind of real organization or order was put in place, and even then historians have still not been able to make proper sense of it.
Egyptologists have managed to collate together 192 different spells from books of the dead, but not a single one contains every spell, meaning that there is, as far as they know, not one single unified text anywhere to accept as the official, correct one.
7. The Racial Identity of Ancient Egyptians is Extremely Controversial
No matter where you live in the world, there are likely controversial race issues around you. These issues have existed as far back as humans have recorded history, and have often led to bloody wars and massacres. While racial tensions still cause violence around the world, we are at a low point historically, and now many people are taking the battle for race to academia, where heated arguments are had over whether revered historical groups or people belong to a certain race.
Everyone respects and admires the Ancient Egyptians, so it likely comes as no surprise to many that groups with an agenda will go to great lengths to attempt to define Ancient Egyptians as whatever race helps them make a convenient political point. After a recent DNA test of King Tut’s mummy, some people claimed it was evidence that he was of Western European origin, and others said the results were entirely flawed and rushed.
In the past people have also claimed the Ancient Egyptians were of Nordic stock, and many have speculated and tried to claim with great passion that they were black africans similar to many today. Historians, on the other hand, believe that they were a fairly racially diverse society that looked similar to many artistic depictions of them. Obviously they would have had somewhat darkened skin from the sun, but were not none for being an entirely homogenous group.
6. There Were Way More Pyramids Than People Realize
Whenever we hear about the pyramids, we hear about the great Pyramids at Giza Egypt. These pyramids have been visited by countless tourists, have been excavated and explored and suffered damage over the years — they have quite a story to tell. People have speculated endlessly on how they were built, and if it may have even been alien visitors from another planet. These theorists will go to great lengths to make these particular pyramids and the exact positioning of them on the sand to be incredibly significant. Many of these theorists are convinced that the pyramids are also not burial chambers at all.
However, the pyramids were almost certainly burial chambers, and if the theorists realized how many pyramids were built, they may realize how little sense the theories make. The Ancient Egyptians built, at least as far as Egyptologists are currently aware of, somewhere getting close to the neighborhood of 100 pyramids, none of them as large as the ones at Giza but they are all quite sizeable. Huge pyramidal chambers could only be afforded by the richest Egyptian citizens in the ancient days, but they were built for many Egyptians, and were hardly a strange occurrence at all.
The truth is that there are many theories on how the various pyramids could have been built, and many of them are possible solutions. We just don’t know exactly how they did it. They also could have used somewhat primitive, but effective, building techniques that we simply have not thought of ourselves.
5. Some of the Richer Citizens in Ancient Egypt Were Incredibly Fat
In the United States and much of the developed world today, obesity has become a very serious health issue. Many people are simply not getting enough exercise and not eating the right foods — or simply overeating in general, and it is causing them serious issues. Apart from the simple strain on the body of excess weight, the massive amounts of sugar intake can cause people to develop a type of diabetes as well.
While most people would think that the Ancient Egyptians were quite thin and muscular, like all societies, the way we look at what is preserved of history can skew our perceptions. Most of what we knew was based on builders and a few rich pharaohs, so it was hard to accurately gauge the true fitness of a person from an ancient society. However, recently remains were found of the pharaoh Hatshepsut, showing that she had been incredibly obese and likely also had diabetes due to her extreme overeating.
While it’s hard to say because surviving mummies are rare these days, if one rich citizen such as a pharaoh could be fat both socially and in terms of resources, it is quite likely that plenty of other richer, more privileged Ancient Egyptian citizens were also fat as well.
4. So-Called “Mummy Parties” Have Caused Much of History to be Lost Forever
Many people today bemoan how children or young people will be out distracted running around with a phone trying to catch a virtual animal that they can use to virtually battle people, but the hobbies of the young people of yesteryear would have had them much more horrified. As we have mentioned, many people have long been fascinated with Ancient Egypt, but this got really strange in the early 1900s when Egypt fever was at a pitch in Europe.
It started slowly, and like many fads quickly grew out of control. People would bring back mummies as souvenirs from travels to Egypt, all to happy to take advantage of the lax laws of the time, and then have parties where they unwrapped the mummy in their home with all their friends around. This obviously permanently damaged precious pieces of history that could have yielded scientists with incredible information in the future with proper DNA analysis.
Some people may just say “it was a different time,” but it is hard to imagine any time period where it would be normal and acceptable to invite your pals over for a fun afternoon of unrolling a several thousand year old dead body. Regardless, it is almost impossible to estimate just how much damage this wanton and careless destruction of Egyptian culture — in the name of enthusiasm — has cost us in terms of our knowledge of them.
3. Ancient Pharaohs Were Sometimes as Crazy as Roman Emperors
Whenever someone wants to think of an example of tyrants who ruled with a combination of insanity and delusional grandiosity, they tend to immediately name someone like Emperor Nero or Caligula. If they can’t think of a specific name, they just generically compare them to the Roman Emperors. They were known for eating absolutely ludicrous feasts, making all kinds of bizarre personal demands and generally abusing their power and position to an insane degree. However, while the Roman Emperors may have been crazy, the Pharaohs of Ancient Egypt came before them, and they were often just as strange or even stranger.
The Pharaoh Hatshepsut, despite being female, was also known for usually wearing men’s clothes as well as a mock up of a male’s beard, in order to look like a male pharaoh. Some historians also believe she may have wore black and red nail polish, kind of like some teenagers today. While she presented herself as a man to receive proper respect as a ruler, and seemed to enjoy mens clothes, there is also no evidence she was anything but straight.
However, even Hatshepsut pales in comparison to Pepi II when it comes to crazy. Pharaoh Pepi II became Pharaoh at a very young age, and as such it may not be surprising that the power quickly went to his head, and he began abusing it greatly. He personally hated flies, and so to ensure that they would never land on him, he came up with an ingenious and cruel idea to keep them off his body. He kept several slaves nearby at all times, covered in honey, so the flies would bother them instead of him. It seems to have never occurred to him that he could have just as easily spread the honey on inanimate objects instead of people.
2. Not Everyone in Ancient Egypt was Elaborately Mummified
When many people think of Ancient Egypt they mostly just assume that the society mummified everyone — and that this was just their idea of a burial. However, while the elite certainly wanted the most elaborate process available, with the most pomp and circumstance, many people did not have the means for very much. In today’s world, loved ones of the deceased who aren’t particularly rich often have to go with more budget options instead of the elaborate ones they prefer, even going so far as to use cremation in some causes simply because it is much less expensive.
In Ancient Egypt, they had a similar situation, where while everyone would have loved to have an elaborate ceremony, many of the poorer or less well to do citizens would have to make do with less complete, or more hasty forms of mummification that wouldn’t preserve the body as long or as effectively. These ceremonies would probably involve some prayers and other spells, and would sometimes be a simple burial in the sand. Only those with some means could afford to bury their dead in what was essentially a mausoleum — something very few can afford today.
In many cases, the reason we mostly think of Ancient Egyptians being preserved are because the ones we have to study are the ones that managed to stick around to be studied. We know from inference that apart from the many mummies destroyed by unwrapping parties, that there had to be many that were simply never mummified fully, or buried in any marked grave or structure, and decayed thousands of years ago, lost forever to the sands of time.
1. Punishments for Breaking the Law Could be Extremely Harsh
In the Ancient world, punishment could often be harsh, but in Ancient Egypt, it was probably still far harsher in many cases than most people would imagine. Today, punishments mostly consist of being sent to a prison where the state sometimes has you do labor, but rarely if ever makes any real money from it. In the ancient world, labor was considered much more important and resources were very valuable. Those who needed to be punished were either killed outright or were given their due and sent right back to work to continue producing for the collective.
In Ancient Egypt, the crime for stealing in one text is described as “100 blows and five wounds” and some studies carried out on skeletons found in Amarna, an Ancient Egyptian city, have given researchers reason to believe this may have been a real punishment. They have found skeletons with gashes on the shoulder blade area, and believe the men were not attacked, but were likely being punished and were then sent right back to work.
However, while punishments for stealing could be quite harsh, those for crimes of a sexual nature could be much harsher. Women were often treated more strictly, and if a woman was caught cheating she literally had her nose cut off to spite her face, while a man simply had to take a severe beating of 100 blows. Of course, while this may seem like a double standard, the penalty for a man raping a woman was also very strict — if a man were judged to have raped a freeborn woman, he would be castrated. Like some ancient cultures, many punishments also included the removal of limbs, and execution for serious offenses like grave robbing.