Modern people are fascinated by how an ancient Egyptian wedding was held. Surprisingly, no wedding ceremony was performed in the past to formally announce the union of a man and a woman in antiquity.
At that time, you could not expect a grand and elaborate event or an ancient Egyptian wedding ceremony. For them, the couple would just pack their things and move in with all their belongings to seal their marriage.
You might think that it’s quite simple, but the reality is that marriage in the past was as complicated as it is now because marriages, as a tradition, were considered sacred. Marriage was arranged for a clan’s strength, personal development, and romantic reasons. With these notions, you could probably comprehend how complex marriage was in Egypt without the most important ingredient called love.
It’s far different from our modern idea of the sacrament of marriage, in which couples are interviewed and counseled before receiving the matrimonial vows. In Egypt, instead of having only a couple in the relationship, it’s like committing themselves to the welfare of the entire village or town or the entire kingdom.
Honoring the Tradition of Ancient Egypt Marriage
Although marriages were done to acknowledge the relationship of two families or clans formally, there was a confirmation that marriages happened out of love. You could not simply undermine the feelings of the couple because there could have been love as they believed that it was necessary to live a harmonious life together.
This belief was strengthened in the New Kingdom (1570–1069 BC) when literature about love, hope, and loyalty emerged because people started to value the significance of a mutual relationship in marriage.
On the contrary, ancient Egyptian royal marriage customs were instituted to protect the kingdom and keep the political control of the royal bloodline. A priest, as a member of the clergy, could also marry the woman he wanted to live with. This way kept his feet on the ground as he knew the ups and downs of married life.
Love Stories in Ancient Egypt
Since time immemorial, love has been a fascinating topic for people from all walks of life. Cleopatra (69–30 BC) has taught us a lot about love. It was not just love because some archeologists have also assumed that her union with two of the greatest Roman leaders in history was done with political interests to save Egypt and her people.
Many wanted to question Cleopatra’s relationships with Julius Caesar and Mark Antony, but she defied everyone’s expectation to display the victory of what she called love.Whatever her motive was, you saw how she sacrificed herself to capture the attention of Julius Caesar and Mark Antony. It was a whirlwind romantic love that tragically ended in death in ancient Egypt.
Another touching relationship in ancient Egypt was the marriage of Tutankhamun (1332–1323 BC) and Ankhesenamun (1350 BC). They were both young when their union began. The pharaoh was unanimously favored by his people for his new leadership and resilience in rebuilding the political security and religious stability of Egypt, although everyone knew that his bride was his own half-sister. You might fall in love with how they showed their respect and affection considering their young age, family tie, and social stature.
We didn’t meet them personally, but paintings of Tutankhamun and Ankhsenanum reflected how they cared for each other. This was an embodiment of what romantic love in Egypt was all about. You could tell in their images their devotion to each other, but this true love, as you might want to call it, was a short-lived romance. Tutankhamun died early at the age of 18, and Ankhsenanum gradually vanished in history. In a short time, they made us think about an authentic marriage. You could probably imagine the depth of their love.
Although they were challenged by their differences in religion, you could feel the love story of King Akhenaten and his wife, Nefertiti. It was a classic example of love, as shown by Nefertiti’s care for the pharaoh. She was there to stay behind the unpopular king until the end.
Meanwhile, the most beautiful expression of love in ancient Egypt was portrayed by Queen Nefertari, the wife of King Ramses the Great. She was the genuine support behind the king, who honored her by engraving the most beautiful adoration to a wife written on the front façade of the temple built for her.
Sexuality in the Early Days
You have learned about the love stories of ancient Egyptians and how they expressed their feelings. Now, you will discover their perception of sex, as consented by two mature people. Egyptians believe in life after death and the necessity for the marriage of a man and a woman.
You know that sex is a basic physiological need, and as humans, Egyptians displayed an active sexual life, as presented by their pictures drawn on walls. Even members of the clergy were married and had children. They were free to choose their partner and form a family.
They were particularly concerned about male impotence, such that they have revealed methods to develop their sexual power. Although symbolically illustrated on walls, you would understand their codes for their sexual needs, similar to how they expressed their erotic life in a straightforward attitude.
With their unequivocal manner, they openly talked about impotence and masturbation without being embarrassed. They also resorted to magic and aphrodisiacs to stimulate their sexual desires. You would not think of sex in ancient Egypt as taboo, except for infidelity and incest for the lower classes.
As you already know, royal family members could marry their siblings or relatives to keep the power of the throne in their bloodline. In contrast, those people confined to the peripheral edge of society are prohibited from committing incest.
You may not agree as it may sound weird, but according to customs, the pharaoh in ancient times was powerful. He was portrayed as a man who took ladies from their spouses whenever he willed and when his heart wanted.
Women in Ancient Egypt
Women in ancient Egypt were treated practically equal to men. According to the legend, after Osiris and Isis triumphed over the universe at the dawn of creation, Isis made the males and females equal in authority. Males were still considered the dominant gender, and literature was primarily written by male scribes, which impacted how women were viewed. Nonetheless, it’s their custom to give high regard to women as a symbol of their honor and duty.
You could see the women’s strength, leadership, and intuition in decision-making. Men were physically strong, but women were respected for their emotional stability. It was a fair society for women because they’re honored in ancient Egypt.
Ladies were generally in charge of the household. Upper-class women tried to avoid the sun because darker complexion was associated with members of the peasantry who worked outside. The emotions of dedication and affection felt by these lower-class members of the community were similar to those felt by people in higher social classes.
A woman in Egypt had the legal right of inheritance and could donate, own land, and run her own businesses. She could file a lawsuit, serve on a jury, and testify in court. She could also work in the fields, sell things in the market, and weave cloth for a living. She did not, however, play a significant role in civic spaces.
You need to know that women were regarded as equal to men, but here’s a warning to the unfaithful ones: Adultery is a crime and an immoral act. Once convicted, women received cruel judgment. For example, immoral women were punished by slitting their noses, or in other cases, they were tied to a tree in front of their house to serve as a warning to others.
You might be asking about prostitution in ancient Egypt. Don’t be shocked because it is regarded as one of the oldest trades. Back then, prostitution was apparently condoned. Some incidents of temple prostitution were believed to have occurred in the past, and immoral dances were secretly performed during religious celebrations. In short, prostitution was not given much thought.
In terms of birth control, prescriptions were given to women to help them plan their families. They could refrain from giving birth for a year or two or even three once they followed some prescriptions concocted to prevent pregnancy. Some doctors prescribed ground acacia dates mixed with honey and blended with moistened seed wool to be inserted into the vagina.
Abortions were performed without the stigma of being accused. You can recount that ancient Egyptians were liberal about sexual relationships. They were not interested in whether a woman was a virgin. Moreover, they didn’t care much about a woman’s sexual experience before marriage, but her extramarital affair during a marriage was absolutely unacceptable.
You can see the difference in their social manners and traditions. Egyptians’ primary concern was to live a harmonious, peaceful, and stable life. They valued simplicity and peace at home. They avoid further conflict in relationships by having family responsibilities as their main concern.
Marriage in Ancient Egypt
Although Egyptian marriage customs were planned for societal stability and financial enrichment, evidence suggests that romantic love was as essential to the Egyptians as it is nowadays. There was a time when romantic love was highlighted in their literature. It was a frequent topic for poetry.
Poems were often celebrating the merits of one’s beloved or wife. Marriage ceremonies were usually not well documented in Ancient Egyptian monuments, yet we do know that rings and some kinds of gifts were important aspects of marriage.
The average age for men to marry was around 20. The chosen female was frequently much younger, perhaps 12 or 13 years old. He might have run into her in the fields, in the market, or on the streets. In any event, love was a highly valued emotion, as evidenced by pieces of Egyptian poetry. The man proposed after a few meetings, and the girl consented to marry him. They might or might not have been in love, but hardly anyone pushed them to do anything.
When a pair wanted to start a family and told their family and relatives about it, they just started living together. Divorce was also frequent, albeit it was not always pleasant. The wife was liable to one-third of the marital property in the event of a divorce. Yet, some men simply pushed the wife out of the house, disregarding the norms and agreements.
Although most ancient Egyptian marriages were monogamous, it was not uncommon for a wealthy man to have more than one wife. This was particularly the case if the man’s first bride had been unable to conceive her own children.
If a lady was infertile, her husband might consider divorcing her for failing to produce heirs. Cleansing regulations were integrated with religious beliefs, as they had been in other religions in the area. During menstruation, Egyptian women were thought to be removing filthy substances; therefore, they were exempted from labor and couldn’t visit temples’ restricted areas. Couples who wanted to start a family also performed fertility rites.
Gender roles were clearly established, and women were more likely to stay at home without much choice. Elders arranged marriages, and men were encouraged to be faithful. All of them represent the stereotypical lives of people living in historical civilizations.
The man owed his wife social and legal obligations, such as supporting her with resources, honoring her, not ordering her, and remaining faithful to her. The husband and wife would share a tomb after death and spend an eternity together. As a result, in ancient Egypt, marriage was the bedrock of the most essential aspect of life: family.
Tomb paintings that show couples in a somewhat sweet gesture were regarded as romantic. For the most part, marriages were arranged to benefit both parties as much as possible, with the goal that as they resided together, they would learn to love each other if they hadn’t already.
It was common to have 6 or 7 children, but having 10 or even more was not uncommon. The ideal case would be for the wife to become pregnant soon after the pair wed. Although children were expected, there is no evidence that having a son was favored over having a daughter. There were some options if the wife did not become pregnant after a while.
Some of the babies died shortly after birth or were stillborn. Infections, as well as snakes and scorpions, played a significant role in the high child mortality rate. When the couple decided they’d had just enough offspring, they experimented with various contraception techniques.
The groom and the bride’s father would prepare a marriage contract, which they would complete in front of eyewitnesses, and the pair would be declared married. The children from the marriage belonged to the mother and would follow her in the event of a divorce. Despite several cautions about unfaithful women, women were granted a great deal of independence in marriages.
Modern marriages are sealed by a wedding ring, but did you know that ancient Egyptians already paved the way for the institution of this fascinating tradition? The history of wedding rings leads us to the meaning attached to them. They symbolize an endless union, an eternal or infinite life together, or a never-ending promise to share love and life. Much can be told about a wedding ceremony with rings, but the bottom line is the unbroken symbol of love between two individuals.
Researchers have found that the ring finger contains the vein called vena amoris, or the vein of love, because it’s connected to the heart. It’s probably the reason why people have started to wear wedding rings to remind them of their endless love for their partners.
To end a marriage was pretty much as basic as how you started it. The couple or even one of them would request a separation, as stated in their prenuptial understanding. Another agreement was signed, and the marriage was done.
These arrangements became increasingly intricate, mostly during the New Kingdom and Late Period. Divorce settlement appeared to be more formalized, and a central authority became more involved in the procedures.
Divorce was only legal in certain conditions. Some grounds for divorce included any indications of adultery, inability to conceive a child, disloyalty, hostility, abuse, or disease. A married couple could then divorce. Another cause of divorce was incompatibility. Regardless of gender, the divorced spouse was required to give half of the dowry to the other.
The wife would immediately receive a document after the divorce, permitting her to remarry. The process of divorce could be disappointing for both families, but it was not a social blunder. In fact, it was common for divorced people to find another partner.
Because the Egyptians cherished social peace, it’s only natural that stories encouraging social harmony would be given special attention and priority. You could notice that even the gods promoted monogamy as a value.
In contrast, the king, like any royal person of wealth, was free to have as many brides as he could manage. This most clearly affected how male adultery was viewed. An ideal ancient Egyptian marriage was still a pair that remained loyal to each other and had offspring.
You believe that marriage should last a lifetime, and it’s everyone’s hope as well. However, there are circumstances in a marital relationship that can cause the marriage to cease. Ancient Egyptians were not exempted from marital failure, such that they resorted to divorce, but, if possible, just like us, it’s their wish to keep the marriage last.
A great marriage is expected to last eternally. It’s their fervent hope, considering that lifespan at that time was extremely short. Most men would live into their 30s, and women suffered from death while giving birth. They could die at the age of 16. Given this limited time together, early Egyptians had to really take care of their lives and their relationships. You also must expect them to cherish their company and live a contented life on earth.
Although it was short, living a pleasurable life gave them a good memory until eternity. They claimed that eternity was boundless, such that they expected an endless cycle of life. Without fear, Egyptians consecrated themselves to everlasting life.
According to myths, people would stand before Osiris to be judged for their attitude on earth. There, you could find a review of your life, including the mean acts toward your spouse.
There were times that you needed the intercessory prayers of the priests to implore the spirit for the atonement of sins and the lifting of the penalty for your wrongdoings. To avoid this judgment, everyone was encouraged to practice eternal kindness, authentic generosity, and real love.
A wedding is a beautiful tradition in the past and in our modern times. It represents the union of a man and a woman and their free will to live together as husband and wife.
Similar to other customs, an ancient Egyptian wedding was a vital part of their culture and history. Devoid of elaborate ancient Egyptian marriage rituals, it was simply done by deciding to live together and moving in.
However, Egyptians have learned to honor their gods for a new milestone in their lives. Thus, an ancient wedding was highlighted by an offering to their gods and an exchange of gifts between the bride and the groom.
You already know that men are regarded with respect in Egypt and even in our time, but women are honored and respected as faithful wives. Ancient Egyptians lived a simple, harmonious, and quiet life. Marriage was the epitome of the groom’s pride, and a good family managed by his bride was an invaluable reward that he would take to his tomb. You may agree or disagree, but a genuine love that binds two souls will always win.