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A Popular Account Of The Ancient Egyptians: Volumes 1&2 -Sir J. Gardner Wilkinson F.R.S.

THE monumental records and various works of art, and, above all, the writings, of the Greeks and Romans, have made us acquainted with their customs and their very thoughts; and though the literature of the Egyptians is unknown, their monuments, especially the paintings in the tombs, have afforded us an insight into their mode of life scarcely to be obtained from those of any other people. The influence that Egypt had in early times on Greece gives to every inquiry respecting it an additional interest; and the frequent mention of the Egyptians in the Bible connects them with the Hebrew records, of which many satisfactory illustrations occur in the sculptures of Pharaonic times. Their great antiquity also enables us to understand the condition of the world long before the era of written history; all existing monuments left by other people are comparatively modern; and the paintings in Egypt are the earliest descriptive illustrations of the manners and customs of any nation.

It is from these that we are enabled to form an opinion of the character of the Egyptians. They have been pronounced a serious, gloomy people, saddened by the habit of abstruse speculation; but how far this conclusion agrees with fact will be seen in the sequel. They were, no doubt, less lively than the Greeks; but if a comparatively late writer, Ammianus Marcellinus, may have remarked a “rather sad” expression, after they had been for ages under successive foreign yokes, this can scarcely be admitted as a testimony of their character in the early times of their prosperity; and though a sadness of expression might be observed in the present oppressed population, they cannot be considered a grave or melancholy people. Much, indeed, may be learnt from the character of the modern Egyptians; and notwithstanding the infusion of foreign blood, particularly of the Arab invaders, every one must perceive the strong resemblance they bear to their ancient predecessors. It is a common error to suppose that the conquest of a country gives an entirely new character to the inhabitants. The immigration of a whole nation taking possession of a thinly-peopled country, will have this effect, when the original inhabitants are nearly all driven out by the new-comers; but immigration has not always, and conquest never has, for its object the destruction or expulsion of the native population; they are found useful to the victors, and as necessary for them as the cattle, or the productions of the soil. Invaders are always numerically inferior to the conquered nation—even to the male population; and, when the women are added to the number, the majority is greatly in favour of the original race, and they must exercise immense influence on the character of the rising generation. The customs, too, of the old inhabitants are very readily adopted by the new-comers, especially when they are found to suit the climate and the peculiarities of the country they have been formed in; and the habits of a small mass of settlers living in contact with them fade away more and more with each successive generation. So it has been in Egypt; and, as usual, the conquered people bear the stamp of the ancient inhabitants rather than that of the Arab conquerors.

Of the various institutions of the ancient Egyptians, none are more interesting than those which relate to their social life; and when we consider the condition of other countries in the early ages when they flourished, from the 10th to the 20th century before our era, we may look with respect on the advancement they had then made in civilization, and acknowledge the benefits they conferred upon mankind during their career. For like other people, they have had their part in the great scheme of the world’s development, and their share of usefulness in the destined progress of the human race; for countries, like individuals, have certain qualities given them, which, differing from those of their predecessors and contemporaries, are intended in due season to perform their requisite duties. The interest felt in the Egyptians is from their having led the way, or having been the first people we know of who made any great progress, in the arts and manners of civilization; which, for the period when they lived, was very creditable, and far beyond that of other kingdoms of the world. Nor can we fail to remark the difference between them and their Asiatic rivals, the Assyrians, who, even at a much later period, had the great defects of Asiatic cruelty—flaying alive, impaling, and torturing their prisoners; as the Persians, Turks, and other Orientals have done to the present century; the reproach of which cannot be extended to the ancient Egyptians. Being the dominant race of that age, they necessarily had an influence on others with whom they came in contact; and it is by these means that civilization is advanced through its various stages; each people striving to improve on the lessons derived from a neighbour whose institutions they appreciate, or consider beneficial to themselves. It was thus that the active mind of the talented Greeks sought and improved on the lessons derived from other countries, especially from Egypt; and though the latter, at the late period of the 7th century B. C., had lost its greatness and the prestige of superiority among the nations of the world, it was still the seat of learning and the resort of studious philosophers; and the abuses consequent on the fall of an empire had not yet brought about the demoralization of after times.

The early part of Egyptian monumental history is coeval with the arrivals of Abraham and of Joseph, and the Exodus of the Israelites; and we know from the Bible what was the state of the world at that time. But then, and apparently long before, the habits of social life in Egypt were already what we find them to have been during the most glorious period of their career; and as the people had already laid aside their arms, and military men only carried them when on service, some notion may be had of the very remote date of Egyptian civilization. In the treatment of women they seem to have been very far advanced beyond other wealthy communities of the same era, having usages very similar to those of modern Europe; and such was the respect shown to women that precedence was given to them over men, and the wives and daughters of kings succeeded to the throne like the male branches of the royal family. Nor was this privilege rescinded, even though it had more than once entailed upon them the troubles of a contested succession: foreign kings often having claimed a right to the throne through marriage with an Egyptian princess. It was not a mere influence that they possessed, which women often acquire in the most arbitrary Eastern communities; nor a political importance accorded to a particular individual, like that of the Soltána Valídeh, the Queen Mother, at Constantinople; it was a right acknowledged by law, both in private and public life. They knew that unless women were treated with respect, and made to exercise an influence over society, the standard of public opinion would soon be lowered, and the manners and morals of men would suffer; and in acknowledging this, they pointed out to women the very responsible duties they had to perform to the community.

It has been said that the Egyptian priests were only allowed to have one wife, while the rest of the community had as many as they chose; but, besides the improbability of such a license, the testimony of the monuments accords with Herodotus in disproving the statement, and each individual is represented in his tomb with a single consort. Their mutual affection is also indicated by the fond manner in which they are seated together, and by the expressions of endearment they use to each other, as well as to their children. And if further proof were wanting to show their respect for social ties, we may mention the conduct of Pharaoh, in the case of the supposed sister of Abraham, standing in remarkable contrast to the habits of most princes of those and many subsequent ages.

From their private life great insight is obtained into their character and customs; and their household arrangements, the style of their dwellings, their amusements, and their occupations, explain their habits; as their institutions, mode of government, arts, and military knowledge illustrate their history, and their relative position among the nations of antiquity. In their form and arrangement, the houses were made to suit the climate, modified according to their advancement in civilization; and we are often enabled to trace in their abodes some of the primitive habits of a people, long after they have been settled in towns, and have adopted the manners of wealthy communities; as the tent may still be traced in the houses of the Turks, and the small original wooden chamber in the mansions and temples of ancient Greece.

As in all warm climates, the poorer classes of Egyptians lived much in the open air; and the houses of the rich were constructed to be cool throughout the summer; currents of refreshing air being made to circulate freely through them by the judicious arrangement of the passages and courts. Corridors, supported on columns, gave access to the different apartments through a succession of shady avenues and areas, with one side open to the air, as in our cloisters; and even small detached houses had an open court in the centre, planted as a garden with palms and other trees. Mulḳufs, or wooden wind-sails, were also fixed over the terraces of the upper story, facing the prevalent and cool N.W. wind, which was conducted down their sloping boards into the interior of the house. They were exactly similar to those in the modern houses of Cairo; and some few were double, facing in opposite directions.


1.              House with a Mulḳuf. Thebes.

The houses were built of crude brick, stuccoed and painted with all the combinations of bright colour, in which the Egyptians delighted; and a highly decorated mansion had numerous courts, and architectural details derived from the temples. Over the door was sometimes a sentence, as “the good house;” or the name of a king, under whom the owner probably held some office; many other symbols of good omen were also put up, as at the entrances of modern Egyptian houses; and a visit to some temple gave as good a claim to a record, as the pilgrimage to Mekkeh at the present day. Poor people were satisfied with very simple tenements; their wants being easily supplied, both as to lodging and food; and their house consisted of four walls, with a flat roof of palm-branches laid across a split date-tree as a beam, and covered with mats plastered over with a thick coating of mud. It had one door, and a few small windows closed by wooden shutters. As it scarcely ever rained, the mud roof was not washed into the sitting room; and this cottage rather answered as a shelter from the sun, and as a closet for their goods, than for the ordinary purpose of a house in other countries. Indeed at night the owners slept on the roof, during the greater part of the year; and as most of their work was done out of doors, they might easily be persuaded that a house was far less necessary for them than a tomb. To convince the rich of this ultra-philosophical sentiment was not so easy; at least the practice differed from the theory; and though it was promulgated among all the Egyptians, it did not prevent the priests and other grandees from living in very luxurious abodes, or enjoying the good things of this world; and a display of wealth was found to be useful in maintaining their power, and in securing the obedience of a credulous people. The worldly possessions of the priests were therefore very extensive, and if they imposed on themselves occasional habits of abstemiousness, avoided certain kinds of unwholesome food, and performed many mysterious observances, they were amply repaid by the improvement of their health, and by the influence they thereby acquired. Superior intelligence enabled them to put their own construction on regulations emanating from their sacred body, with the convenient persuasion that what suited them did not suit others; and the profane vulgar were expected to do, not as the priests did, but as they taught them to do.


2.              Over the door is “The good house.”


3.              Doorway, with a king’s name.

In their plans the houses of towns, like the villas in the country, varied according to the caprice of the builders. The ground-plan, in some of the former, consisted of a number or chambers on three sides of a court, which was often planted with trees. Others consisted of two rows of rooms on either side of a long passage, with an entrance-court from the street; and others were laid out in chambers round a central area, similar to the Roman Impluvium, and paved with stone, or containing a few trees, a tank, or a fountain, in its centre. Sometimes, though rarely, a flight of steps led to the front door from the street.







Houses of small size were often connected together, and formed the continuous sides of streets; and a court-yard was common to several dwellings. Others of a humbler kind consisted merely of rooms opening on a narrow passage, or directly on the street. These had only a basement story, or ground-floor; and few houses exceeded two stories above it. They mostly consisted of one upper floor; and though Diodorus speaks of the lofty houses in Thebes four and five stories high, the paintings show that few had three, and the largest seldom four, including as he does the basement-story. Even the greater portion of the house was confined to a first-floor, with an additional story in one part, on which was a terrace covered by an awning, or a light roof supported on columns (as in Woodcut 25). This served for the ladies of the family to sit at work in during the day, and here the master of the house often slept at night during the summer, or took his siesta in the afternoon. Some had a tower which rose even above the terrace.

The first-floor was what the Italians call the “piano nobile;” the ground rooms being chiefly used for stores, or as offices, of which one was set apart for the porter, and another for visiters coming on business. Sometimes besides the parlour were receiving apartments on the basement-story, but guests were generally entertained on the first-floor; and on this were the sleeping rooms also, except where the house was of two or three stories. The houses of wealthy citizens often covered a considerable space, and either stood directly upon the street, or a short way back, within an open court; and some large mansions were detached, and had several entrances on two or three sides. Before the door was a porch supported on two columns, decked with banners or ribands, and larger porticos had a double row of columns, with statues between them.


7.              Thebes.

Other mansions had a right of steps leading to a raised platform, with a doorway between two towers, not unlike those before the temples. A line of trees ran parallel to the front of the house; and to prevent injuries from cattle, or any accident, the stems were surrounded by a low wall, pierced with square holes to admit the air. This custom of planting trees about town houses was common also at Rome.


8.              Porch. Tel el Amarna.


9.              Porch. Thebes and Tel el Amarna.


10.              Entrance to a house. Tel el Amarna.

The height of the portico was about twelve or fifteen feet, just exceeding that of the cornice of the door, which was only raised by its threshold above the level of the ground. On either side of the main entrance was a smaller door, which stood at an equal distance between it and the side-wall, and was probably intended for the servants, or those who came on business. On entering by the porch you passed into an open court (aula, or hall), containing a mándara, or receiving room, for visiters. This building, supported by columns, decorated with banners, was closed only at the lower part by inter-columnar panels, over which a stream of cool air was admitted, and protection from the rays of the sun was secured by an awning that covered it. On the opposite side of the court was another door, the approach to the mándara from the interior; and the master of the house, on the announcement of a stranger, came in that way to receive him. Three doors led from this court to another of larger dimensions, which was ornamented with avenues of trees, and communicated on the right and left with the interior of the house; and this, like most of the large courts, had a back entrance through a central and lateral gateway. The arrangement of the interior was much the same on either side of the court: six or more chambers, whose doors faced those of the opposite set, opening on a corridor supported by columns on the right and left of an area, which was shaded by a double row of trees.

At the upper end of one of these areas was a sitting-room, which faced the door leading to the great court; and over this and the other chambers were the apartments of the upper-story. Here were also two small gateways towards the street.

Another plan consisted of a court, with the usual avenue of trees, on one side of which were several sets of chambers opening on corridors or passages, but without any colonnade before the doors. The receiving room looked upon the court, and from it a row of columns led to the private sitting apartment, which stood isolated in one of the passages, near to a door communicating with the side chambers; and, in its position, with a corridor or porch in front, it bears a striking resemblance to the “summer parlour” of Eglon, king of Moab, “which he had for himself alone,” and where he received Ehud the Israelite stranger. And the flight of Ehud “through the porch,” after he had shut and locked the door of the parlour, shows its situation to have been very similar to some of these isolated apartments in the houses, or villas, of the ancient Egyptians. The side chambers were frequently arranged on either side of a corridor, others faced towards the court, and others were only separated from the outer wall by a long passage.

In the distribution of the apartments numerous and different modes were adopted, according to circumstances; in general, however, the large mansions seem to have consisted of a court and several corridors, with rooms leading from them, not unlike many of those now built in Oriental and tropical countries. The houses in most of the Egyptian towns are quite destroyed, leaving few traces of their plans, or even of their sites; but sufficient remains of some at Thebes, at Tel el Amarna, and other places, to enable us, with the help of the sculptures, to ascertain their form and appearance.


Fig. 2 shows the relative position of the house, a; and the granary, b. cc. trees surrounded by low walls.

11.              Plans of houses and a granary Tel el Amarna.

Granaries were also laid out in a very regular manner, and varied of course in plan as much as the houses, to which there is reason to believe they were frequently attached, even in the towns; and they were sometimes only separated from the house by an avenue of trees.

Some small houses consisted merely of a court, and three or four store rooms on the ground-floor, with a single chamber above, to which a flight of steps led from the court; but they were probably only met with in the country, and resembled some still found in the felláh villages of modern Egypt. Very similar to these was the model of a house now in the British Museum, which solely consisted of a court-yard and three small store-rooms on the ground-floor, with a staircase leading to a room belonging to the storekeeper, which was furnished with a narrow window or aperture opposite the door, rather intended for the purposes of ventilation than to admit the light. In the court a woman was represented making bread, as is sometimes done at the present day in Egypt, in the open air; and the store-rooms were full of grain.


12.              Fig. 1. Model of a small house. From Thebes.

Fig. 2 shows how the door opened and was secured. British Museum.

Other small houses in towns consisted of two or three stories above the ground-floor. They had no court, and stood close together, covering a small space, and high in proportion to their base, like many of those at Karnak. The lower part had merely the door of entrance and some store-rooms, over which were a first and second floor, each with three windows on the front and side, and above these an attic without windows, and a staircase leading to a terrace on the flat roof. The floors were laid on rafters, the end of which projected slightly from the walls like dentils; and the courses of brick were in waving or concave lines, as in the walls of an enclosure at Dayr el Medeeneh in Thebes. The windows of the first-floor had a sort of mullion dividing them into two lights each, with a transom above; and the upper windows were filled with trellis-work, or cross bars of wood, as in many Turkish harems. A model of a house of this kind is also in the British Museum. But the generality of Egyptian houses were far less regular in their plan and elevation; and the usual disregard for symmetry is generally observable in the houses even of towns.


13.              Showing the interior of the court, and upper chamber in the same.

The doors, both of the entrances and of the inner apartments, were frequently stained to imitate foreign and rare woods. They were either of one or two valves, turning on pins of metal, and were secured within by a bar or bolts. Some of these bronze pins have been discovered in the tombs of Thebes. They were fastened to the wood with nails of the same metal, whose round heads served also as an ornament, and the upper one had a projection at the back, in order to prevent the door striking against the wall. We also find in the stone lintels and floor, behind the thresholds of the tombs and temples, the holes in which they turned, as well as those of the bolts and bars, and the recess for receiving the opened valves. The folding doors had bolts in the centre, sometimes above as well as below: a bar was placed across from one wall to the other; and in many instances wooden locks secured them by passing over the centre, at the junction of the two folds. For greater security they were occasionally sealed with a mass of clay, as is proved by some tombs found closed at Thebes, by the sculptures, and in the account given by Herodotus of Rhampsinitus’s treasury.


14.              Fig. 1. The upper pin, on which the door turned.

Fig. 2. Lower pin. British Museum.


15.              A folding-door

Keys were made of bronze or iron, and consisted of a long straight shank, about five inches in length, with three or more projecting teeth; others had a nearer resemblance to the wards of modern keys, with a short shank about an inch long; and some resembled a common ring with the wards at its back. These are probably of Roman date. The earliest mention of a key is in Judges (3:23–25), when Ehud having gone “through the porch, and shut the doors of the parlour upon him and locked them,” Eglon’s “servants took a key and opened them.”


16.              Showing how the doors were fastened. How and Thebes.


17.              Iron key. From Thebes.

The doorways, like those in the temples, were often surmounted by the Egyptian cornice; others were variously decorated, and some, represented in the tombs, were surrounded with a variety of ornaments, as usual richly painted. These last, though sometimes found at Thebes, were more general about Memphis and the Delta; and two good instances of them are preserved at the British Museum, brought from a tomb near the Pyramids.


18.              Painted on a coffin at Thebes.


19.              Thebes.

Even at the early period when the Pyramids were built, the doors were of one or two valves; and both those of the rooms and the entrance doors opened inwards, contrary to the custom of the Greeks, who were consequently obliged to strike on the inside of the street-door before they opened it, in order to warn persons passing by; and the Romans were forbidden to make it open outward without a special permission. The floors were of stone, or a composition made of lime or other materials; but in humbler abodes they were formed of split date-tree beams, arranged close together or at intervals, with planks or transverse layers of palm branches over them, covered with mats and a coating of mud. Many roofs were vaulted, and built like the rest of the house of crude brick; and not only have arches been found of that material dating in the 16th century before our era, but vaulted granaries appear to be represented of much earlier date. Bricks, indeed, led to the invention of the arch; the want of timber in Egypt having pointed out the necessity of some substitute for it.






22.              Tomb near the Pyramids.


23.              Thebes.


24.              Thebes.

Wood was imported in great quantities; deal and cedar were brought from Syria; and rare woods were part of the tribute imposed on foreign nations conquered by the Pharaohs. And so highly were these appreciated for ornamental purposes, that painted imitations were made for poorer persons who could not afford them; and the panels, windows, doors, boxes, and various kinds of woodwork, were frequently of cheap deall or sycamore, stained to resemble the rarest foreign woods. And the remnants of them found at Thebes show that these imitations were clever substitutes for the reality. Even coffins were sometimes made of foreign wood; and many are found of cedar of Lebanon. The value of foreign woods also suggested to the Egyptians the process of veneering; and this was one of the arts of their skilful cabinet-makers.

The ceilings were of stucco, richly painted with various devices, tasteful both in their form and the arrangement of the colours; among the oldest of which is the Guilloche, often mis-called the Tuscan or Greek border.

Both in the interior and exterior of their houses the walls were sometimes portioned out into large panels of one uniform colour, flush with the surface, or recessed, (as in Woodcuts 25 and 30,) not very unlike those at Pompeii; and they were red, yellow, or stained to resemble stone or wood. It seems to have been the introduction of this mode of ornament into Roman houses that excited the indignation of Vitruvius; who says that in old times they used red paint sparingly, like physic, though now whole walls are covered over with it.

Figures were also introduced on the blank walls in the sitting-rooms, or scenes from domestic life, surrounded by ornamental borders, and surmounted by deep cornices of flowers and various devices richly painted; and no people appear to have been more fond of using flowers on every occasion. In their domestic architecture they formed the chief ornament of the mouldings; and every visiter received a bouquet of real flowers, as a token of welcome on entering a house. It was the pipe and coffee of the modern Egyptians; and a guest at a party was not only presented with a lotus, or some other flower, but had a chaplet placed round his head, and another round his neck; which led the Roman poet to remark the “many chaplets on the foreheads” of the Egyptians at their banquets. Everywhere flowers abounded; they were formed into wreaths and festoons, they decked the stands that supported the vases in the convivial chamber, and crowned the wine-bowl as well as the servants who bore the cup from it to the assembled guests.

Besides the painted panels there were other points of resemblance to Pompeian taste in the Egyptian houses; particularly the elongated columns sometimes attached to the building, sometimes painted on the walls, which were derived by the Greeks either from Egypt or from Asia. Their long slender shafts were made to reach the whole way from the ground to the very roof of the house, in utter defiance of proportion or the semblance of utility; performing no more office than many of the pillars and half columns which, having nothing to support, may be said to hang up against the fronts of our modern houses, with two tiers of windows, like pictures, in the vacant space between them.


25.              A Painted House. Thebes.

And though in their temples the horizontal line predominated, as in Greece, the Egyptians were not averse to the contrast of the vertical with it, which they managed by means of the long line of their lofty pyramidal towers, and of their obelisks; and indeed in the lengthy columns that extended up the whole front of their houses they may claim the first introduction of the vertical principle. This was afterwards adopted by the Romans also; and is very obvious in their arches of triumph, where the column, rising from the ground on a pedestal, extends the whole way up the front, forces the entablature to advance, and break its uniform straight course in order to accord with the capital, and is surmounted by a statue or a projecting attic, extending to the summit of the edifice.

The same slender columns, or “reeds for columns,” considered so inconsistent by Vitruvius, found their way into the houses of Rome; and we see them painted in those of Pompeii, as well as the “buildings standing on candelabra,” he equally condemns. Incongruous they certainly were, having been merely called in from another and proper office, in order to assist in developing a new element of architecture; which long afterwards introduced numerous vertical lines, in the form of towers, minarets, and other lofty edifices, that now rise above our roofs, and give so much variety to the external aspect of modern European and Saracenic towns. This contrast was wanting in the low and very uniform outline of Greek buildings, scarcely relieved by the triangular pediment of a temple; for, however beautiful each monument itself, a Greek city was singularly deficient in the combination of the vertical with the horizontal line. But the endeavour to obtain this effect at Rome, by isolated columns bearing a statue, which towered above the roofs, was not such as taste could justify; for we may well condemn the inappropriateness of extracting from a temple one of its legitimate members, and of magnifying it to an extravagant height; and the same Roman poverty of invention, and inapplicableness, were shown in this as in the maimed “truncated column,” called upon to support a bust in lieu of its own head. Nor can any justification be found for the erection of monstrous colossi, such as Egypt, Greece, and Rome produced; and we are now happily freed from the dilemma, of exaggerating what ought to be limited to its proper dimensions, by the resources of modern architecture, whenever we seek the harmonious contrast of vertical and horizontal lines.

The windows of Egyptian dwellings had merely wooden shutters of one or two valves, turning on pins; and these, like the whole building, were painted. The openings were small, because where little light is admitted little heat penetrates; coolness was the great requisite, and in the cloudless sky of Egypt there was no want of light. And though, as in most of our modern houses, the windows were little more than square notes, unreneved by ornamental mouldings, the Egyptians did not spoil the external appearance of the house by making them of unreasonable size, in order to admit the light, and then inconsistently do all they possibly could to exclude it by numerous dust-catching hangings, such as are inflicted on innocent Englishmen by tasteless and interested upholsterers.

The palace of a king was generally of more durable materials than a private house, and, like the temple to which it was often attached, was of stone, as at Medeenet Haboo in Thebes. It was then placed at the outer end of the avenue that led to the sacred building; and the principal apartments stood, in two stories, immediately over the gateway, through which all the grand processions passed towards the temple. The rest of the building extended a considerable distance on the right and left before this gateway, forming an outer approach from two lodges at the very entrance, occupied by the guards and porters. Some of the chambers looked down upon this passage; others faced in opposite directions; and the whole building was crowned with battlements, like the walls of fortified towns. The apartments were not large, being only 14 feet long by 12 feet 8 inches in breadth, and 13 feet 6 inches in height; the walls being 5 to 6 feet thick were a protection against the heat, and currents of air circulated freely through them from opposite windows. The walls were ornamented with subjects in low relief, or in intaglio, representing the king and his household, with various ornamental devices, particularly the lotus and other flowers.

Pavilions were also built in a similar style, though on a smaller scale, in various parts of the country, and in the foreign districts through which the Egyptian armies passed, for the use of the King; and some private houses occasionally imitated these small castles, by substituting for the usual parapet wall and cornice the battlements that crowned them, and which were intended to represent Egyptian shields. The roofs of all their houses, whether in the town or country, were flat, like those of the modern houses of Cairo, and there (as at the present day) the women often held long conversations with their neighbours on the scandal and gossip of the day. Many a curious subject was doubtless discussed at these animated meetings, and report affirms that some modern Cairene stories have been founded on those recorded of Pharaonic times, one of which is thus related.


26.              From the Sculptures at Thebes.

A man, digging in his vineyard, having found a jar full of gold, ran home with joy to announce his good fortune to his wife; but as he reflected on the way, that women could not always be trusted with secrets, and that he might lose a treasure which, of right, belonged to the King, he thought it better first to test her discretion. As soon therefore as he had entered the house he called her to him, and, saying he had something of great importance to tell her, asked if she was sure she could keep a secret. “Oh, yes,” was the ready answer; “when did you ever know me betray one? What is it?” “Well, then,—but you are sure you won’t mention it?” “Have I not told you so? why be so tiresome? what is it?” “Now, as you promise me, I will tell you. A most singular thing happens to me; every morning I lay an egg!” at the same time producing one from beneath his cloak. “What! an egg! extraordinary!” “Yes, it is indeed: but mind you don’t mention it.” “Oh, no, I shall say nothing about it, I promise you.” “No; I feel sure you won’t;” and, so saying, he left the house. No sooner gone than his wife ran up to the terrace, and finding a neighbour on the adjoining roof, she beckoned to her, and, with great caution, said, “Oh, my sister, such a curious thing happens to my husband; but you are sure you won’t tell anybody?” “No, no; what is it? Do tell me.” “Every morning he lays ten eggs!” “What! ten eggs!” “Yes; and he has shown them to me; is it not strange? but mind you say nothing about it:” and away she went again down stairs. It was not long before another woman came up on the next terrace, and the story was told in the same way by the wife’s friend, with a similar promise of secrecy, only with the variation of twenty instead of ten eggs; till one neighbour after another, to whom the secret was intrusted, had increased them to a hundred. It was not long before the husband heard it also, and the supposed egg-layer, learning how his story had spread, was persuaded not to risk his treasure by trusting his wife with the real secret.

The villas of the Egyptians were of great extent, and contained spacious gardens, watered by canals communicating with the Nile. They had large tanks of water in different parts of the garden, which served for ornament, as well as for irrigation when the Nile was low; and on these the master of the house occasionally amused himself and his friends by an excursion in a pleasure-boat towed by his servants. They also enjoyed the diversion of angling and spearing fish in the ponds within their grounds, and on these occasions they were generally accompanied by a friend, or one or more members of their family. Particular care was always bestowed upon the garden, and their great fondness for flowers is shown by the number they always cultivated, as well as by the women of the family or the attendants presenting bouquets to the master of the house and his friends when they walked there.


27.              Painting in a Tomb at Thebes.

The house itself was sometimes ornamented with propyla and obelisks, like the temples themselves; it is even possible that part of the building may have been consecrated to religious purposes, as the chapels of other countries, since we find a priest engaged in presenting offerings at the door of the inner chambers; and, indeed, were it not for the presence of the women, the form of the garden, and the style of the porch, we should feel disposed to consider it a temple rather than a place of abode. The entrances of large villas were generally through folding-gates, standing between lofty towers, as at the courts of temples, with a small door at each side; and others had merely folding-gates, with the jambs surmounted by a cornice. One general wall of circuit extended round the premises, but the courts of the house, the garden, the offices, and all the other parts of the villa had each their separate enclosure. The walls were usually built of crude brick, and, in damp places, or when within reach of the inundation, the lower part was strengthened by a basement of stone. They were sometimes ornamented with panels and grooved lines, generally stuccoed, and the summit was crowned either with Egyptian battlements, the usual cornice, a row of spikes in imitation of spear-heads, or with some fancy ornament.


28.              Gateways. Tel el Amarna.


29.              Tel el Amarna and Thebes.


30.              Villa, with obelisks and towers, like a temple. Thebes.

The plans of the villas varied according to circumstances, but their general arrangement is sufficiently explained by the paintings. They were surrounded by a high wall, about the middle of which was the main or front entrance, with one central and two side gates, leading to an open walk shaded by rows of trees. Here were spacious tanks of water, facing the doors of the right and left wings of the house, between which an avenue led from the main entrance to what may be called the centre of the mansion. After passing the outer door of the right wing, you entered an open court with trees, extending quite round a nucleus of inner apartments, and having a back entrance communicating with the garden. On the right and left of this court were six or more store-rooms, a small receiving or waiting room at two of the corners, and at the other end the staircases which led to the upper story. Both of the inner façades were furnished with a corridor, supported on columns, with similar towers and gateways. The interior of this wing consisted of twelve rooms, two outer and one centre court, communicating by folding gates; and on either side of this last was the main entrance to the rooms on the ground-floor, and to the staircases leading to the upper story. At the back were three long rooms, and a gateway opening on the garden, which, besides flowers, contained a variety of trees, a summer-house, and a large tank of water.

The arrangement of the left wing was different. The front gate led to an open court, extending the whole breadth of the façade of the building, and backed by the wall of the inner part. Central and lateral doors thence communicated with another court, surrounded on three sides by a set of rooms, and behind it was a corridor, upon which several other chambers opened.

This wing had no back entrance, and, standing isolated, the outer court extended entirely round it; and a succession of doorways communicated from the court with different sections of the centre of the house, where the rooms, disposed like those already described, around passages and corridors, served partly as sitting apartments, and partly as storerooms.


30              a. Paneiled walls of an Egyptian building Thebes.

The stables for the horses, and the coach-houses for the travelling chariots and carts, were in the centre, or inner part of the building; but the farm-yard where the cattle were kept stood at some distance from the house, and corresponded to the department known by the Romans under the name of rustica. Though enclosed separately, it was within the general wall of circuit, which surrounded the land attached to the villa; and a canal, bringing water from the river, skirted it, and extended along the back of the grounds. It consisted of two parts: the sheds for housing the cattle, which stood at the upper end, and the yard, where rows of rings were fixed, in order to tie them while feeding in the day-time; and men always attended, and frequently fed them with the hand.


31.              Tel el Amarna.

The granaries were also apart from the house, and were enclosed within a separate wall; and some of the rooms in which they housed the grain appear to have had vaulted roofs. These were filled through an aperture near the top, to which the men ascended by steps, and the grain when wanted was taken out from a door at the base.


32.              Rooms for housing the grain, apparently vaulted. Beni Hassan.

The superintendence of the house and grounds was intrusted to stewards, who regulated the tillage of the land, received whatever was derived from the sale of the produce, overlooked the returns of the quantity of cattle or stock upon the estate, settled all the accounts, and condemned the delinquent peasants to the bastinado, or any punishment they might deserve. To one were intrusted the affairs of the house, answering to “the ruler,” “overseer,” or “steward of Joseph’s house” (Gen. 39:5; 43:16, 19; 44:1); others “superintended the granaries,” the vineyard (comp. Matth. 20:8), or the culture of the fields; and the extent of their duties, or the number of those employed, depended on the quantity of land, or the will of its owner.


33.              —Granary, showing how the grain was put in, and that the doors a b were intended for taking it out. Thebes.


34.              Steward (fig. 1) overlooking the tillage of the lands. Thebes.

The mode of laying out their gardens was as varied as that of the houses; but in all cases they appear to have taken particular care to command a plentiful supply of water, by means of reservoirs and canals. Indeed, in no country is artificial irrigation more required than in the valley of the Nile; and, from the circumstance of the water of the inundation not being admitted into the gardens, they depend throughout the year on the supply obtained from wells and tanks, or a neighbouring canal.

The mode of irrigation adopted by the ancient Egyptians was exceedingly simple, being merely the shadóof, or pole and bucket of the present day; and, in many instances, men were employed to carry the water in pails, suspended by a wooden yoke they bore upon their shoulders. The same yoke was employed for carrying other things, as boxes, baskets containing game and poultry, or whatever was taken to market; and every trade seems to have used it for this purpose, from the potter and the brick-maker, to the carpenter and the shipwright.


35.              Men watering the ground with pots of water. Beni Hassan

The wooden bar or yoke was about three feet seven inches in length; and the straps, which were double, and fastened together at the lower as well as at the upper extremity, were of leather, and between fifteen and sixteen inches long. The small thong at the bottom not only served to connect the ends, but was probably intended to fasten a hook, or an additional strap, if required, to attach the burden: and though most of these yokes had two, some were furnished with four or eight straps; and the form, number, or arrangement of them varied according to the purposes for which they were intended.


36.              Fig. 1. Wooden yoke and strap found at Thebes.

Fig. 2 is the strap a, on a larger scale.

The buckets were filled from the reservoirs or ponds in the garden, and the water was carried in them to the trees, or the different beds, which were small hollow squares on the level ground, surrounded by a low ledge of earth, like our saltpans.


37.              Water-buckets carried by a yoke on the shoulders. Thebes.

They do not appear to have used the water-wheel very generally; though it was not unknown to them; but this and the hydraulic screw were probably of late introduction. They may also have had the foot-machine mentioned by Philo; and it is either to this, or to their stopping the small channels which conducted the water from one bed to another, that the sentence in Deuteronomy (11:10) refers—“Egypt.… where thou sowedst thy seed, and wateredst it with thy foot as a garden of herbs;” but the common mode of raising water from the Nile was by the pole and bucket, the shadóof, so common still in Egypt.

Skins were much used by the Egyptians for carrying water, as well as for sprinkling the ground before the rooms or seats of the grandees, and they were frequently kept ready filled at the tank for that purpose.


38.              Shadóof, or pole and bucket, for watering the garden. Thebes.


              a a a Water-skins suspended close to the tank b.

c Beds of a garden, laid out as at the present day in Egypt, very like our saltpans.

39. Thebes.

Part of the garden was laid out in walks shaded with trees, usually planted in rows, and surrounded, at the base of the stem, with a circular ridge of earth, which, being lower at the centre than at the circumference, retained the water, and directed it more immediately towards the roots. It is difficult to say if trees were trimmed into any particular shape, or if their formal appearance in the sculpture is merely owing to a conventional mode of representing them; but, since the pomegranate, and some other fruit trees, are drawn with spreading and irregular branches, it is possible that sycamores, and others, which presented large masses of foliage, were really trained in that formal manner, though, from the hieroglyphic signifying “tree” having the same shape, we may conclude it was only a general character for all trees.


40.              1. Tree with earth raised round the roots.

2. The same according to our mode of representing it.



Some, as the pomegranates, date-trees, and dôm-palms, are easily recognised in the sculptures, but the rest are doubtful, as are the flowering plants, with the exception of the lotus and a few others.



To the garden department belonged the care of the bees, which were kept in hives very like our own. In Egypt they required great attention; and so few are its plants at the present day, that the owners of hives often take the bees in boats to various spots upon the Nile, in quest of flowers. They are a smaller kind than our own; and though found wild in the country, they are far less numerous than wasps, hornets, and ichneumons. The wild bees live mostly under stones, or in clefts of the rock, as in many other countries; and the expression of Moses, as of the Psalmist, “honey out of the rock,” shows that in Palestine their habits were the same. Honey was thought of great importance in Egypt, both for household purposes, and for an offering to the gods; that of Benha (thence surnamed El assal), or Athribis, in the Delta, retained its reputation to a late time; and a jar of honey from that place was one of the four presents sent by John Mekaukes, the governor of Egypt, to Mohammed.

Large gardens were usually divided into different parts; the principal sections being appropriated to the date and sycamore trees, and to the vineyard. The former may be called the orchard. The flower and kitchen gardens also occupied a considerable space, laid out in beds; and dwarf trees, herbs, and flowers, were grown in red earthen pots, exactly like our own, arranged in long rows by the walks and borders.

Besides the orchard and gardens, some of the large villas had a park or paradise, with its fish-ponds and preserves for game, as well as poultry-yards for keeping hens and geese, stalls for fattening cattle, wild goats, gazelles, and other animals originally from the desert, whose meat was reckoned among the dainties of the table. It was in these extensive preserves that the rich amused themselves with the chase; and they also enclosed a considerable space in the desert itself with net-fences, into which the animals were driven, and shot with arrows, or hunted with dogs.

Gardens are frequently represented in the tombs of Thebes and other parts of Egypt, many of which are remarkable for their extent. The one here introduced is shown to have been surrounded by an embattled wall, with a canal of water passing in front of it, connected with the river. Between the canal and the wall, and parallel to them both, was a shady avenue of various trees; and about the centre was the entrance, through a lofty door, whose lintel and jambs were decorated with hieroglyphic inscriptions, containing the name of the owner of the grounds, who in this instance was the king himself. In the gateway were rooms for the porter, and other persons employed about the garden, and, probably, the receiving room for visiters, whose abrupt admission might be unwelcome; and at the back a gate opened into the vineyard. The vines were trained on a trellis-work, supported by transverse rafters resting on pillars; and a wall, extending round it, separated this part from the rest of the garden. At the upper end were suites of rooms on three different stories, looking upon green trees, and affording a pleasant retreat in the heat of summer. On the outside of the vineyard wall were planted rows of palms, which occurred again with the dôm and other trees, along the whole length of the exterior wall: four tanks of water, bordered by a grass plot, where geese were kept, and the delicate flower of the lotus was encouraged to grow, served for the irrigation of the grounds; and small kiosks or summer-houses, shaded with trees, stood near the water, and overlooked beds of flowers. The spaces containing the tanks, and the adjoining portions of the garden, were each enclosed by their respective walls, and a small subdivision on either side, between the large and small tanks, seems to have been reserved for the growth of particular trees, which either required peculiar care, or bore a fruit of superior quality.


43.              A large garden, with the vineyard and other separate enclosures, tanks of water, and a small house. From the Work of Prof. Rosellini.

In all cases, whether the orchard stood apart from, or was united with, the rest of the garden, it was supplied, like the other portions of it, with abundance of water, preserved in spacious reservoirs, on either side of which stood a row of palms, or an avenue of shady sycamores. Sometimes the orchard and vineyard were not separated by any wall, and figs and other trees were planted within the same limits as the vines. But if not connected with it, the vineyard was close to the orchard, and their mode of training the vines on wooden rafters, supported by rows of columns, which divided the vineyard into numerous avenues, was both tasteful and convenient.


              Egyptian mode of representing a tank of water with a row of palms on either side.

44. Thebes.


45.              The vineyard and orchard contiguous. Tombs near the Pyramids

The columns were frequently coloured, but many were simple wooden pillars, supporting, with their forked summits, the poles that lay over them. Some vines were allowed to grow as standing bushes, and, being kept low, did not require any support; others were formed into a series of bowers; and from the form of the hieroglyphic, signifying vineyard, we may conclude that the most usual method of training them was in bowers, or in avenues formed by rafters and columns. But they do not appear to have attached them to other trees, as the Romans often did to the elm and poplar, and as the modern Italians do to the white mulberry; nor have the Egyptians of the present day adopted this European custom.


46.              Plucking grapes in a vineyard; the vines trained in bowers. Thebes.


47.              Figurative hieroglyphic signifying vineyard.

When the vineyard was enclosed within its own wall of circuit, it frequently had a reservoir of water attached to it, as well as the building which contained the winepress; but the various modes of arranging the vineyard, as well as the other parts of the garden, depended, of course, on the taste of each individual, or the nature of the ground. Great care was taken to preserve the clusters from the intrusion of birds; and boys were constantly employed, about the season of the vintage, to frighten them with a sling and the sound of the voice.


48.              Vineyard, with a large tank of water, b. Thebes.


49.              Frightening away the birds with a sling. Thebes.

When the grapes were gathered the bunches were carefully put into deep wicker baskets, which men carried, either on their head or shoulders, or slung upon a yoke, to the winepress; but when intended for eating, they were put, like other fruits, into flat open baskets, and generally covered with leaves of the palm, vine, or other trees. These flat baskets were of wicker-work, and similar to those of the present day, used at Cairo for the same purpose, which are made of osiers or common twigs. Monkies appear to have been trained to assist in gathering the fruit, and the Egyptians represent them in the sculptures handing down figs from the sycamore-trees to the gardeners below: but, as might be expected, these animals amply repaid themselves for the trouble imposed upon them, and the artist has not failed to show that they consulted their own wishes as well as those of their employers.


50.              Fig. 1. Basket containing grapes covered with leaves, from the sculptures.

Fig. 2. Modern basket used for the same purpose.


51.              Monkies assisting in gathering fruit. Beni-Hassan.

Many animals were tamed in Egypt for various purposes, as the lion, leopard, gazelle, baboon, crocodile, and others; and in the Jimma country, which lies to the south of Abyssinia, monkies are still taught several useful accomplishments. Among them is that of officiating as torch-bearers at a supper party; and seated in a row, on a raised bench, they hold the lights until the departure of the guests, and patiently await their own repast as a reward for their services. Sometimes the party is alarmed by an unruly monkey throwing his lighted torch into the midst of the unsuspecting guests; but fortunately the ladies there do not wear muslin dresses; and the stick and “no supper” remind the offender of his present and future duties.

After the vintage was over, they allowed the kids to browse upon the vines which grew as standing bushes (comp. Hor. ii. Sat. v. 43); and the season of the year when the grapes ripened in Egypt was the month Epiphi, towards the end of June, or the commencement of July. Some have pretended to doubt that the vine was commonly cultivated, or even grown, in Egypt; but the frequent notice of it, and of Egyptian wine, in the sculptures, and the authority of ancient writers, sufficiently answer those objections; and the regrets of the Israelites on leaving the vines of Egypt prove them to have been very abundant, since even people in the condition of slaves could procure the fruit (Numb. 20:5, comp. Gen. 40:11).


52.              Kids allowed to browse upon the vines. Beni-Hassan.

The winepress was of different kinds. The most simple consisted merely of a bag, in which the grapes were put, and squeezed, by means of two poles turning in contrary directions: a vase being placed below to receive the falling juice. Another press, nearly on the same principle, consisted of a bag supported in a frame, having two upright sides, connected by beams at their summit. In this the bag was retained in a horizontal position, one end fixed, the other passing through a hole in the opposite side, and was twisted by means of a rod turned with the hand; the juice, as in the former, being received into a vase beneath; and within the frame stood the superintendent, who regulated the quantity of pressure, and gave the signal to stop.


53.              Winepress. Beni-Hassan.

Sometimes a liquid was heated on the fire, and, having been well stirred, was poured into the sack containing the grapes, during the process of pressure; but whether this was solely with a view of obtaining a greater quantity of juice, by moistening the husks, or was applied for any other purpose, it is difficult to determine: the fact, however, of its being stirred while on the fire suffices to show it was not simple water; and the trituration of the fruit, while it was poured upon it, may suggest its use in extracting the colouring matter for red wine.

The two Egyptian hand-presses were used in all parts of the country, but principally in Lower Egypt, the grapes in the Thebaïd being generally pressed by the feet. The footpress was also used in the lower country; and we even find the two methods of pressing the grapes represented in the same sculptures; it is not therefore impossible that, after having been subjected to the foot, they may have undergone a second pressure in the twisted bag. This does not appear to have been the case in the Thebaïd, where the footpress is always represented alone; and the juice was allowed to run off by a pipe directly to an open tank (comp. Is. 63:3, Nehem. 13:15, Judg. 9:27, Virg. Georg. ii. 7).


54.              Large footpress; the amphoræ; and the asp, or Agathodæmon, the protecting deity of the store-room, fig. 11. Thebes.

Some of the large presses were highly ornamented, and consisted of at least two distinct parts; the lower portion or vat, and the trough, where the men, with naked feet, trod the fruit, supporting themselves by ropes suspended from the roof; though, from their great height, some may have had an intermediate reservoir, which received the juice in its passage to the pipe, answering to the strainer, or colum, of the Romans.

After the fermentation was over, the juice was taken out in small vases, with a long spout, and poured into earthenware jars, which corresponded to the cadi or amphoræ of the Romans. They appear also to have added something to it after or previous to the fermentation; and an instance occurs in the sculptures of a man pouring a liquid from a small cup into the lower reservoir. When the must was considered in a proper state, the amphoræ were closed with a lid, resembling an inverted saucer, covered with liquid clay, pitch, gypsum, mortar, or other composition, which was stamped with a seal: they were then removed from the winehouse, and placed upright in the cellar.


55.              The new wine poured into jars. f. Jars closed.


56.              Wine-jars with Covers. On fig. 1 is Êrp, “wine.” Thebes.

Previous to pouring in the wine they generally put a certain quantity of resin into the amphoræ, which coated the inside of those porous jars, preserved the wine, and was even supposed to improve its flavour; a notion, or rather an acquired taste, owing, probably, to their having at first used skins instead of jars: and the flavour imparted by the resin, which was necessary to preserve the skins, having become, from long habit, a favourite peculiarity of the wine, it was afterwards added from choice, after they had adopted the use of earthenware. And this custom, formerly so general in Egypt, Italy, and Greece, is still preserved throughout the islands of the Archipelago. In Egypt, a resinous substance is always found at the bottom of amphoræ which have served for holding wine; it is perfectly preserved, brittle, and, when burnt, smells like a very fine quality of pitch. The Romans, according to Pliny, employed the Brutian pitch, or resin of the picea pine, in preference to all others, for this purpose: and if, “in Spain, they used that of the pinaster, it was little esteemed on account of its bitterness and oppressive smell.” In the East, the terebinthus was considered to afford the best resin, superior even to the mastic of the lentiscus; and the resins of Judæa and Syria only yielded in quality to that of Cyprus.

The mode of arranging amphoræ in an Egyptian cellar was similar to that adopted by the Greeks and Romans. They stood upright in successive rows, the innermost set resting against the wall, with their pointed ends firmly fixed in the ground; and each jar was secured by means of a stone ring fitting round its pointed base, or was raised on a wooden stand. Others appear occasionally to have been placed in upper rooms, as the amphoræ in a Roman apotheca.


57.              Vase supported by a stone ring

The Egyptians had several different kinds of wine, some of which have been commended by ancient authors for their excellent qualities. That of Mareotis was the most esteemed, and in the greatest quantity. Its superiority over other Egyptian wines may readily be accounted for, when we consider the nature of the soil in that district; being principally composed of gravel, which, lying beyond the reach of the alluvial deposit, was free from the rich and tenacious mud usually met with in the valley of the Nile, so little suited for grapes of delicate quality; and from the extensive remains of vineyards still found on the western borders of the Arsinoïte nome, or Fyoóm, we may conclude that the ancient Egyptians were fully aware of the advantages of land, situated beyond the limits of the inundation, for planting the vine. According to Athenæus, “the Mareotic grape was remarkable for its sweetness,” and the wine is thus described by him: “Its colour is white, its quality excellent, and it is sweet and light with a fragrant bouquet; it is by no means astringent, nor does it affect the head.” But it was not for its flavour alone that this wine was esteemed, and Strabo ascribes to it the additional merit of keeping to a great age. “Still, however,” says Athenæus, “it is inferior to the Teniotic, a wine which receives its name from a place called Tenia, where it is produced. Its colour is pale and white, and there is such a degree of richness in it, that, when mixed with water, it seems gradually to be diluted, much in the same way as Attic honey when a liquid is poured into it; and besides the agreeable flavour of the wine, its fragrance is so delightful as to render it perfectly aromatic, and it has the property of being slightly astringent. There are many other vineyards in the valley of the Nile, whose wines are in great repute, and these differ both in colour and taste: but that which is produced about Anthylla is preferred to all the rest.” Some of the wine made in the Thebaïd was particularly light, especially about Coptos, and “so wholesome,” says the same author, “that invalids might take it without inconvenience, even during a fever.” The Sebennytic was likewise one of the choice Egyptian wines; and, as Pliny says, was made of three different grapes; one of which was a sort of Thasian. The Thasian grape he afterwards describes as excelling all others in Egypt for its sweetness, and remarkable for its medicinal properties.

The Mendesian is also mentioned by Clemens, with rather a sweet flavour: and another singular wine, called by Pliny ecbolada (εχβολας) was also the produce of Egypt; but, from its peculiar powers, we may suppose that men alone drank it, or at least that it was forbidden to newly married brides. And, considering how prevalent the custom was amongst the ancients of altering the qualities of wines, by drugs and divers processes, we may readily conceive the possibility of the effects ascribed to them; and thus it happened that opposite properties were frequently attributed to the same kind.

Wines were much used by them for medicinal purposes, and many were held in such repute as to be considered specifics in certain complaints; but the medical men of the day were prudent in their mode of prescribing them; and as imagination has on many occasions effected the cure, and given celebrity to a medicine, those least known were wisely preferred, and each extolled the virtues of some foreign wine. In the earliest times, Egypt was renowned for drugs, and foreigners had recourse to that country for wines as well as herbs; yet Apollodorus, the physician, in a treatise on wines, addressed to Ptolemy, king of Egypt, recommended those of Pontus as more beneficial than any of his own country, and particularly praised the Peparethian, produced in an island of the Ægean Sea; but he was disposed to consider it less valuable as a medicine, when its good qualities could not be discovered in six years.

The wines of Alexandria and Coptos are also cited among the best of Egyptian growth; and the latter was so light as not to affect even those in delicate health.

In offerings to the Egyptian deities wine frequently occurs, and several different kinds are noticed in the sacred sculptures; but it is probable that many of the Egyptian wines are not introduced in those subjects, and that, as with the Romans, and other people, all were not admitted at their sacrifices. According to Herodotus, their sacrifices commenced with a libation of wine, and some was sprinkled on the ground where the victim lay; yet at Heliopolis, if Plutarch may be credited, it was forbidden to take it into the temple, and the priests of the god worshipped in that city were required to abstain from its use. “Those of other deities,” adds the same author, “were less scrupulous,” but still they used wine very sparingly, and the quantity allowed them for their daily consumption was regulated by law; nor could they indulge in it at all times, and the use of it was strictly prohibited during their more solemn purifications, and in times of abstinence. The number of wines, mentioned in the lists of offerings presented to the deities in the tombs or temples, varies in different places. Each appears with its peculiar name attached to it; but they seldom exceed three or four kinds, and among them I have observed, at Thebes, that of the “northern country,” which was, perhaps, from Mareotis, Anthylla, or the nome of Sebennytus.

Private individuals were under no particular restrictions with regard to its use, and it was not forbidden to women. In this they differed widely from the Romans: for in early times no female at Rome enjoyed the privilege, and it was unlawful for women, or, indeed, for young men below the age of thirty, to drink wine, except at sacrifices. Even at a later time the Romans considered it disgraceful for a woman to drink wine; and they sometimes saluted a female relation, whom they suspected, in order to discover if she had secretly indulged in its use. It was afterwards allowed them on the plea of health, and no better method could have been devised for removing the restriction.

That Egyptian women were not forbidden the use of wine, nor the enjoyment of other luxuries, is evident from the frescoes which represent their feasts; and the painters, in illustrating this fact, have sometimes sacrificed their gallantry to a love of caricature. Some call the servants to support them as they sit, others with difficulty prevent themselves from falling on those behind them; a basin is brought too late by a reluctant servant and the faded flower, which is ready to drop from their heated hands, is intended to be characteristic of their own sensations.


58.              A servant called to support her mistress. Thebes.


59.              A party of Egyptian ladies. Thebes.

That the consumption of wine in Egypt was very great is evident from the sculptures, and from the accounts of ancient authors, some of whom have censured the Egyptians for their excesses; and so much did the quantity used exceed that made in the country, that, in the time of Herodotus, twice every year a large importation was received from Phœnicia and Greece.

Notwithstanding all the injunctions or exhortations of the priests in favour of temperance, the Egyptians of both sexes appear from the sculptures to have committed occasional excesses, and men were sometimes unable to walk from a feast, and were carried home by servants. These scenes, however, do not appear to refer to members of the higher, but of the lower, classes, some of whom indulged in extravagant buffoonery, dancing in a ludicrous manner, or standing on their heads, and frequently in amusements which terminated in a fight.


60.              Men carried home from a drinking party. Beni Hassan.

At the tables of the rich, stimulants were sometimes introduced, to excite the palate before drinking, and Athenæus mentions cabbages as one of the vegetables used by the Egyptians for this purpose.

Throughout the upper and lower country, wine was the favourite beverage of the wealthy: they had also very excellent beer, called zythus, which Diodorus, though wholly unaccustomed to it, and a native of a wine country, affirms was scarcely inferior to the juice of the grape. Strabo and other ancient authors have likewise mentioned it under the name of zythus; and though Herodotus pretends that it was merely used as a substitute for wine in the lowlands, where corn was principally cultivated, it is more reasonable to conclude it was drunk by the peasants in all parts of Egypt, though less in those districts where vines were abundant. Native wines of a choice kind, whether made in the vicinity or brought from another province, were confined to the rich; and we learn from Strabo that this was the case even at Alexandria, where wine could be obtained in greater quantity than in any other part of Egypt, owing to the proximity of the Mareotic district; and the common people were there content with beer and the poor wine of the coast of Libya.

Egyptian beer was made from barley; but, as hops were unknown, they were obliged to have recourse to other plants, in order to give it a grateful flavour; and the lupin, the skirret (Sium sisarum), and the root of an Assyrian plant, were used by them for that purpose.

The vicinity of Pelusium was the most noted for its beer, and the Pelusiac zythus is mentioned by more than one author. The account given by Athenæus of Egyptian beer is that it was very strong, and had so exhilarating an effect that they danced, and sang, and committed the same excesses as those who were intoxicated with the strongest wines; an observation confirmed by the authority of Aristotle, whose opinion on the subject has at least the merit of being amusing. For we must smile at the philosopher’s method of distinguishing persons suffering under the influence of wine and beer, however disposed he would have been to accuse us of ignorance in not having yet discovered how invariably the former in that state “lie upon their face, and the latter on their backs.”

Besides beer, the Egyptians had what Pliny calls factitious, or artificial, wine, extracted from various fruits, as figs, myxas, pomegranates, as well as herbs, some of which were selected for their medicinal properties. The Greeks and Latins comprehended every kind of beverage made by the process of fermentation under the same general name, and beer was designated as barley-wine; but, by the use of the name zythos, they show that the Egyptians distinguished it by its own peculiar appellation. Palm-wine was also made in Egypt, and used in the process of embalming.

The palm-wine now made in Egypt and the Oases is simply from an incision in the heart of the tree, immediately below the base of the upper branches, and a jar is attached to the part to catch the juice which exudes from it. But a palm thus tapped is rendered perfectly useless as a fruit-bearing tree, and generally dies in consequence; and it is reasonable to suppose that so great a sacrifice is seldom made except when date-trees are to be felled, or when they grow in great abundance. The modern name of this beverage in Egypt is lowbgeh; in flavour it resembles a very new light wine, and may be drunk in great quantity when taken from the tree; but, as soon as the fermentation has commenced, its intoxicating qualities have a powerful and speedy effect.

Among the various fruit-trees cultivated by the ancient Egyptians, palms, of course, held the first rank, as well from their abundance as from their great utility. The fruit constituted a principal part of their food, both in the month of August, when it was gathered fresh from the trees, and at other seasons of the year, when it was used in a preserved state. They had two different modes of keeping the dates; one was by the simple process of drying them, the other was by making them into a conserve, like the agweh of the present day; and of this, which was eaten either cooked or as a simple sweetmeat, I have found some cakes, as well as the dried dates, in the sepulchres of Thebes.

Pliny makes a just remark respecting the localities where the palm prospers, and the constant irrigation it requires; and though every one in the East knows the tree will not grow except where water is abundant, we still read of “palm-trees of the desert,” as if it delighted in an arid district. Wherever it is found it is a sure indication of water; and if it may be said to flourish in a sandy soil, this is only in situations where its roots can obtain a certain quantity of moisture. The numerous purposes for which its branches and other parts might be applied rendered the cultivation of this valuable and productive tree a matter of primary importance, for no portion of it is without its peculiar use. The trunk serves for beams, either entire, or split in half; of the gereét, or branches, are made wicker baskets, bedsteads, coops, and ceilings of rooms, answering every purpose for which laths or any thin woodwork are required; the leaves are converted into mats, brooms, and baskets; of the fibrous tegument at the base of the branches, strong ropes and mats are made, and even the thick ends of the gereét are beaten flat and formed into brooms. Besides the lowbgeh of the tree, brandy, wine, and vinegar are made from the fruit; and the quantity of saccharine matter in the dates might be used in default of sugar or honey.

In Upper Egypt another tree, called the Dôm, or Theban palm, was also much cultivated, and its wood, more solid and compact than the date-tree, is found to answer as well for rafts, and other purposes connected with water, as for beams and rafters. The fruit is a large rounded nut, with a fibrous exterior envelope, which has a flavour very similar to our gingerbread; and from its extreme hardness this nut was used for the hollow socket of their drills, or centre-bits, as well as for beads and other purposes. Of the leaves of the dôm were made baskets, sacks, mats, fans, fly-flaps, brushes, and light sandals; and they served as a general substitute for those of the date-tree, and for the rushes, halfeh or poa grass, the cyperus, osiers, and other materials employed for the same purposes in Egypt.


61.              Fig. 3. Dôm nut, which is the head of the drill. Found at Thebes.

Next to the palms, the principal trees of the garden were the fig, sycamore, pomegranate, olive, peach, almond, persea, nebk or sidr, mokhayt or myxa, kharoób or locust-tree; and of those that bore no fruit the most remarkable were the two tamarisks, the cassia fistula, senna, palma christi or castor-berry tree, myrtle, various kinds of “acanthus” or acacia, and some others still found in the deserts between the Nile and the Red Sea. So fond were the Egyptians of trees and flowers, and of rearing numerous and rare plants, that they even made them part of the tribute exacted from foreign countries; and such, according to Athenæus, “was the care they bestowed on their culture, that those flowers which elsewhere were only sparingly produced, even in their proper season, grew profusely at all times in Egypt; so that neither roses, nor violets, nor any others, were wanting there, even in the middle of winter.” The tables in their sitting-rooms were always decked with bouquets, and they had even artificial flowers, which received the name of “Ægyptian.” The lotus was the favourite for wreaths and chaplets; they also employed the leaves or blossoms of other plants, as the chrysanthemum, acinon, acacia, strychnus, persoluta, anemone, convolvulus, olive, myrtle, amaricus, xeranthemum, bay-tree, and others; and when Agesilaus visited Egypt he was so delighted with the chaplets of papyrus sent him by the Egyptian king, that he took some home with him on his return to Sparta. But it is singular that, while the lotus is so often represented, no instance occurs on the monuments of the Indian lotus, or Nelumbium, though the Roman-Egyptian sculptures point it out as a peculiar plant of Egypt, placing it about the figure of the god Nile, and it is stated by Latin writers to have been common in the country.

In the furniture of their houses the Egyptians displayed considerable taste; and there, as elsewhere, they studiously avoided too much regularity, justly considering that its monotonous effect fatigued the eye. They preferred variety both in the arrangement of the rooms and in the character of their furniture, and neither the windows, doors, nor wings of the house, exactly corresponded with each other. An Egyptian would therefore have been more pleased with the form of our Elizabethan, than of the box-shaped rooms of later times.

In their mode of sitting on chairs they resembled the modern Europeans rather than Asiatics, neither using, like the latter, soft divans, nor sitting cross-legged on carpets. Nor did they recline at meals, as the Romans, on a triclinium, though couches and ottomans formed part of the furniture of an Egyptian as of an English drawing-room. When Joseph entertained his brethren, he ordered them to sit according to their ages. And if they sometimes sat cross-legged on the ground, on mats and carpets, or knelt on one or both knees, these were rather the customs for certain occasions, and of the poorer classes. To sit on their heels was also customary as a token of respect in the presence of a superior, as in modern Egypt; and when a priest bore a shrine before the deity he assumed this position of humility; a still greater respect being shown by prostration, or by kneeling and kissing the ground. But the house of a wealthy person was always furnished with chairs and couches. Stools and low seats were also used, the seat being only from 8 to 14 inches high, and of wood, or interlaced with thongs; these however may be considered equivalent to our rush-bottomed chairs, and probably belonged to persons of humble means. They varied in their quality, and some were inlaid with ivory and various woods.


62.              Positions, when seated on the ground. Fig. 1. Cross-legged.




64.              Chairs. British Museum.


65.              Fauteuils painted in the Tomb of Remeses III. Thebes.


65 a.              Fauteuils painted in the Tomb of Remeses III. Thebes.

Those most common in the houses of the rich were the single and double chair (answering to the Greek thronos and diphros), the latter sometimes kept as a family seat, and occupied by the master and mistress of the house, or a married couple. It was not, however, always reserved exclusively for them, nor did they invariably occupy the same seat; they sometimes sat like their guests on separate chairs, and a diphros was occasionally offered to visiters, both men and women.


66.              Double and Single Chairs. Thebes.

Many of the fauteuils were of the most elegant form. They were made of ebony and other rare woods, inlaid with ivory, and very similar to some now used in Europe. The legs were mostly in imitation of those of an animal; and lions’ heads, or the entire body, formed the arms of large fauteuils, as in the throne of Solomon (1 Kings 10:19). Some again had folding legs, like our camp-stools; the seat was often slightly concave; and those in the royal palace were ornamented with the figures of captives, or emblems of his dominion over Egypt and other countries. The back was light and strong, and consisted of a single set of upright and cross bars, or of a frame receding gradually and terminating at its summit in a graceful curve, supported from without by perpendicular bars; and over this was thrown a handsome pillow of coloured cotton, painted leather, or gold and silver tissue, like the beds at the feast of Ahasuerus, mentioned in Esther; or like the feathered cushions covered with stuffs and embroidered with silk and threads of gold in the palace of Scaurus. (Woodcuts 65 and 65 a.)

Seats on the principle of our camp-stools seem to have been much in vogue. They were furnished with a cushion, or were covered with the skin of a leopard, or some other animal, which was removed when the seat was folded up; and it was not unusual to make even head-stools, or wooden pillows, on the same principle. They were also adorned in various ways, bound with metal plates, and inlaid with ivory or foreign woods; and the wood of common chairs was often painted to resemble that of a rarer and more valuable kind.


67.              Fig. 1. A stool in the British Museum, on the principle of our camp-stools.

2. Shows the manner in which the leather seat was fastened.

3. A similar one from the sculptures, with its cushion.

The seats of chairs were frequently of leather, painted with flowers and fancy devices; or of interlaced work made of string or thongs, carefully and neatly arranged, which, like our Indian cane chairs, were particularly adapted for a hot climate; but over this they occasionally placed a leather cushion, painted in the manner already mentioned.



The forms of the chairs varied very much; the larger ones generally had light backs, and some few had arms. They were mostly about the height of those now used in Europe, the seat nearly in a line with the bend of the knee; but some were very low, and others offered that variety of position which we seek in the kangaroo chairs of our own drawing-room (Woodcut 70, fig. 3). The ordinary fashion of the legs was in imitation of those of some wild animal, as the lion or the goat, but more usually the former, the foot raised and supported on a short pin; and, what is remarkable, the skill of their cabinet-makers, even before the time of Joseph, had already done away with the necessity of uniting the legs with bars. Stools, however, and more rarely chairs, were occasionally made with these strengthening members, as is still the case in our own country; but the drawingroom fauteuil and couch were not disfigured by so unseemly and so unskilful a support.


69.              From the Sculptures.


70.              Fig. 1. A διφρος or double chair, without a back.

2. A single chair, of similar construction.

3. A kangaroo chair. Sculptures.


71.              Fig. 1. Stools. 2. With a cushion. 3, 4, 5. With solid sides. Thebes.

The stools used in the saloon were of the same style and elegance as the chairs, frequently differing from them only in the absence of a back; and those of more delicate workmanship were made of ebony, and inlaid, as already stated, with ivory or rare woods. Some of an ordinary kind had solid sides, and were generally very low; and others, with three legs, not unlike those used by the peasants of England, belonged to persons of inferior rank.


72.              Fig. 1. Stool of ebony inlaid with ivory. British Museum.

2. Shows the inlaid parts of the legs.

3. Of ordinary construction, in the same collection.


73.              A stool with leather cushion. British Museum.


74.              Figs. 1, 2. Three-legged stools, from the Sculptures.

3. Wooden stool, in the British Museum.

4, and 1, are probably of metal.


75.              Fig. 1. Low stool, in the Berlin Museum.

2, 3. Mode of fastening, and the pattern of the seat.

The ottomans were simple square sofas, without backs, raised from the ground nearly to the same level as the chairs. The upper part was of leather, or a cotton stuff, richly coloured, like the cushions of the fauteuils; the base was of wood, painted with various devices; and those in the royal palace were ornamented with the figures of captives, the conquest of whose country was designated by their having this humiliating position. The same idea gave them a place on the soles of sandals, on the footstools of a royal throne, and on the walls of the palace at Medeenet Haboo, in Thebes, where their heads support some of the ornamental details of the building.


76.              Ottomans, from the tomb of Remeses III. Thebes.

Footstools also constituted part of the furniture of the sitting-room; they were made with solid or open sides, covered at the top with leather or interlaced work, and varied in height according to circumstances, some being of the usual size now adopted by us, others of inconsiderable thickness, and rather resembling a small rug. Carpets, indeed, were a very early invention, and they are often represented sitting upon them, as well as on mats, which were commonly used in their sitting-rooms, as at the present day, and remnants of them have been found in the Theban tombs.


77.              Fig. 1. A low seat, perhaps a carpet.

2. Either similar to fig. 1 or of wood.

3. A mat.

Their couches evinced no less taste than the fauteuils. They were of wood, with one end raised, and receding in a graceful curve; and the feet, as in many of the chairs already described, were fashioned to resemble those of some wild animal.


78.              Fig. 1. A couch.

2. Pillow or head stool.

3. Steps for ascending a lofty couch. (Tomb of Remeses III.) Thebes.

Egyptian tables were round, square, or oblong; the former were generally used during their repasts, and consisted of a circular flat summit, supported, like the monopodium of the Romans, on a single shaft, or leg, in the centre, or by the figure of a man, intended to represent a captive. Large tables had usually three or four legs, but some were made with solid sides; and though generally of wood, many were of metal or stone; and they varied in size, according to the purposes for which they were intended.


79.              Fig. 1. Table, probably of stone or wood, from the sculptures.

2. Stone table supported by the figure of a captive

3. Probably of metal, from the sculptures.


80.              Wooden table, in the British Museum


81.              Fig. 1. Table, from the sculptures of Thebes.

2. With solid sides.

Of the furniture of their bed-rooms we know little or nothing: but that they universally employed the wooden pillow above alluded to is evident, though Porphyry would lead us to suppose its use was confined to the priests, when, in noticing their mode of life, he mentions a half cylinder of well polished wood “sufficing to support their head,” as an instance of their simplicity and self-denial. For the rich they were made of oriental alabaster, with an elegant grooved or fluted shaft, ornamented with hieroglyphics, carved in intaglio, of sycamore, tamarisk, and other woods of the country; the poorer classes being contented with a cheaper sort, of pottery or stone. Porphyry mentions a kind of wicker bedstead of palm branches, hence called baïs, evidently the species of framework called kaffass, still employed by the modern Egyptians as a support to the diwans of sitting rooms, and to their beds. Wooden, and perhaps also bronze, bedsteads (like the iron one of Og, King of Bashan), were used by the wealthier classes of the ancient Egyptians; and it is at least probable that the couches they slept upon were as elegant as those on which their bodies reposed after death; and the more so, as these last, in their general style, are very similar to the furniture of the sitting-room.


82.              Wooden pillow.


83.              Fig. 1. Wooden pillow of unusual form.

2. Another found by me at Thebes, and now in the British Museum. The base was lost.


84.              Fig. 1. Kaffass bedstead of palm sticks used by the modern Egyptians.

2. Ancient bier on which the bodies were placed after death.


B.              Modern shadóof, or pole and bucket, used for raising water, in Upper and Lower Egypt.


C.              Pavilion of Remeses III at Medeenet Haboo Thebes.

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