Ancient Egypt is one of the most fascinating places in the historical record. Their obsession with life after death, their grand pyramids and golden treasures, and the multitudes of evidence they left behind of their great works have captured the imaginations of people for thousands of years. However, underneath the veneer of mysticism and historical grandeur, Ancient Egypt was not always the most fun place in the world to live. Their justice system was often unfair and cruel, some of their medical practices were horrifying, and their devotion to the gods often went to insane lengths.
10. An Outbreak Of Cholera Was Once Linked To Food Wrapping Paper Made From Mummy Bandages
There was a time when anything involving Ancient Egypt was considered a fad. Mummies were imported to Europe to be unwrapped at parties, and many, many mummies were illegally smuggled out of Ancient Egypt. The truth is, there were a lot of mummies around and no one really felt much respect for them – even at the time, very little proper historical significance was attributed to them.
For this reason getting hold of mummy bandages was not only cheap, but in some cases cheaper than paper. An enterprising businessman in the early 1900s in the United States decided that he could save some money making wrapping paper for food, and imported in some old brown mummy paper to do the trick. Unfortunately for him, his plan failed when people started catching cholera, and the use of mummy paper to wrap food was abandoned.
9. Servants Were Sometimes Put To Death To Be Buried Alongside Their Masters
Some people have heard before of the legend that the servants of pharaohs and other important figures in Ancient Egyptian history were often ritually murdered and buried alongside the deceased, so they could serve them in the afterlife. Many today will tell you that this is entirely a mythology about the Egyptians, but the truth is actually far more disturbing. While the practice of killing servants and hiding them in your burial chamber was phased out in the latter days of Ancient Egypt, retainer sacrifices were once a regular part of their society.
Those who were sacrificed this way would not necessarily feel that they were being murdered, though. The Ancient Egyptians had a complicated relationship with death, and were obsessed with carrying on with life after death. In a way, they were far more obsessed with life than they were with death. Those servants who were sent to die and be buried with their masters were considered privileged to be allowed to follow a powerful figure into the afterlife to serve them. However, it was still likely nerve wracking to know that your fate was tied to the random death of a person you work for.
8. Mummies Used To Commonly Be Eaten As A Medicine In Europe
To most people cannibalism is literally the most awful taboo imaginable. The idea of eating human flesh, even in circumstances where you have no other choice, is something that immediately turns the stomach of most humans. Even when talking about incidents like the Donner party, where people would have been pushed to the limit, and likely only ate those who were already dead, people still speak of it in hushed tones, terrified at the very prospect of being faced with such a horrible decision.
However, back in the 1600s and 1700s in Europe, a craze swept around where people were crushing up bits of human of various kinds and eating it in order to attempt to cure themselves of various ailments. It started out with people crushing up mummy and putting it in a tincture, claiming it could cure all kinds of different things, but ended up with people drinking blood to cure blood related illnesses, and even bits of crushed skull to deal with problems of the brain. While most today consider cannibalism obscene, there was a time in Europe when consuming the remains of other people was considered perfectly normal and good for your health as well.
7. If You Disrespected The Sun God They Would Immolate Your Entire Being
In Ancient Egypt violent crime was fairly rare, but one of the most awful crimes you could commit was any form of offense or disrespect toward the Sun God. If you vandalized or robbed a temple, committed any form of personal disrespect, or were otherwise found guilty of any offense related to the Sun God, you were usually sentenced to be burned alive. This punishment was only reserved for the greatest of offenses and was usually accompanied by a ritual that sacrificed the individual to the gods. While the Ancient Egyptians rarely practiced actual human sacrifices, this is one of the few exceptions.
While burning alive is painful enough to begin with, it was considered the most horrific death of all by Ancient Egyptians because of the ritual significance of the act. They believed strongly in preserving the physical body for life after death, and believed that destroying the person’s physical body completely by burning would leave them with no vessel in the afterlife. While the gods could still technically intervene to help this person, it was about as terrifying a punishment as a believer in Ancient Egyptian society could imagine.
6. It Was Extremely Common For Ancient Egyptian Police To Beat Confessions Out Of People
In Ancient Egypt, they had a well put together system of laws and a group that essentially acted as police, but that doesn’t mean things were really all that fair. Just like in older European societies, forcing confessions out of people was incredibly common; in fact it was basically standard practice. Usually, to elicit confessions people would be beaten with sticks, often on the bottom of the feet – a torture known as bastinado.
Those who were tortured into confessing were expected to not only admit to what they did, but explain where anything they stole might still be hiding and rat out every single one of their accomplices. These people could then also be beaten to ascertain any further accomplices as well. Unfortunately, like many imperfect legal systems, it will never be possible to quantify just how many innocent people may have been punished for a crime because they were forced into confessing something they didn’t do. Sadly, false confessions under torture are an incredibly common phenomenon, because people will do almost anything to make torture end when it is painful enough.
5. If You Violated The Law, You Were Considered Guilty Until Proven Innocent
One of the cornerstones of the modern legal system is the presumption of innocence – innocent until proven guilty. It is one of the reasons many people have long touted the Western legal systems, where at the very least, you will receive a fair and somewhat speedy trial, where you know that the system isn’t already presuming guilt before you have had a chance to defend yourself. And while Ancient Egypt had a fairly advanced legal system, in this area they were particularly lacking.
In their legal system, the guilt of the accused was presumed from the very beginning, and it was the job of the accused to prove their innocence. While judges would always do their best to not play favorites, beatings were common to prove guilt – as we mentioned earlier – and were more likely to be applied to the accused party, even though they could have been innocent. Even witnesses could be beaten if necessary if the judges felt it was needed to get more information about the case. While there is no evidence that Ancient Egyptians abused this system regularly by falsely accusing each other, it seems the system would almost benefit those who would abuse it more than it would the innocent.
4. Sometimes If You Were Accused Of A Crime, Your Guilt Would Be Decided By The Magic Of Oracles
In the later days of Ancient Egypt, the priesthood started to gain an increasing control on the daily lives of Egyptians and of the decisions made by the rulers of the land. The priests’ influence and power over the common people increased continually over the years, and before long they were being consulted for far more than they ever had been before. Those in power knew better than to question the priests too much, as they were considered to be able to contact and gain the support of the gods, and also would be able to potentially influence large amounts of people to do their bidding.
This meant that in the latter days of Ancient Egypt, the priesthood now found itself involved in matters of court. They would bring in a statue of the Sun God and set papyri before it with different options for important decisions – in court they were generally two papers deciding innocence or guilt. The statue was supposed to turn toward the correct paper, showing the will of the gods. Of course this gave the priests a chance to manipulate the statues movements and essentially decided court cases based on their own opinions and whims. Unfortunately, this meant that many Ancient Egyptians were at the whim of a con artist while in court; one who everyone believed, but who likely knew full well that he was making up all of the stuff about the gods’ will.
3. Using Birth Control Was An Incredibly Disgusting Horror Show
Today people will use condoms, take pills, or try to predict monthly cycles in order to avoid pregnancies when they are not ready for procreation at that moment. And as many people know, birth control has existed for many thousands of years. Researchers have found evidence of sheepskin condoms from long ago, and the Ancient Romans are said to have used a plant for birth control so frequently that they made it go entirely extinct. However, most of these methods are fairly reasonable ways to deal with birth control, especially compared to the methods used by the Ancient Egyptians.
In Ancient Egypt, they believed that a mixture of mostly honey and crocodile dung, which was then plastered all over the vagina, was a great way to avoid getting pregnant. For some reason, they decided that this was an effective spermicide – although it actually would be more likely to increase the chance of pregnancy. While it is understandable for them to believe it could have worked as birth control considering their knowledge at the time, it is also horrifying to imagine how often they would have to come into physical contact with crocodile dung on the most intimate parts of their bodies.
2. The Death Penalty In Ancient Egypt Was Rare, But Extremely Brutal When Enacted
Life in Ancient Egypt could be quite harsh and beatings were, as we’ve mentioned a few times now, both a common method of extracting confessions and also a common punishment. However, while many people know that Ancient Egypt could be fairly strict in terms of punishing miscreants, like much of the Ancient world they were also very much against wantonly dishing out the death penalty.
While the option existed under the law, it was very, very seldom used. In fact, there was even a time period of roughly 150 years where no official state sanctioned executions for crimes were carried out in the empire of Ancient Egypt. However, when someone had done something bad enough, such as murder, or treason, the death sentence they were punished with was often quite brutal. While we mentioned earlier that burning alive was a punishment of choice for serious offenses to the gods, there were other forms of capital punishment they also employed that were similarly painful and awful, such as decapitation, drowning, and even impalement on a stake.
1. The Legends Of Ancient Egyptian Curses Simply Will Not Go Away
Countless legends and stories have been told about the idea of a mummies curse and the concept goes farther back than many think. Even before the opening of King Tut’s tomb, stories were already cropping up about mummies taking revenge when their remains were disturbed. However, the most popular legend claims that 26 people were involved in opening the tomb, and then they all started to die under mysterious circumstances – with the expedition leader himself succumbing very quickly to blood poisoning.
Searches of the tomb have revealed mold spores but nothing that is deemed particularly dangerous – not strong enough to damage you just by being in the room for a bit, certainly. Some have theorized that perhaps there was a strange disease involved that showed up as blood poisoning, but most scientists dismiss this, pointing out that the whole thing is silly anyway, since only six of the 26 people involved had anything involving a recent death after the event. However, while there may be no logical evidence that curses exist, it doesn’t mean that the Ancient Egyptians didn’t try. Many tombs have various symbols around them, cursing those who disturb their remains in the hopes they will be attacked by vicious animals such as lions or snakes, or even punished by the gods themselves.