The Extended Family: three or four generations living together along with all the unmarried relatives. This would be the typical scope of the ancient and medieval family structure. This is the kind of familial unit covered in professor Garland’s lecture series.
Arranged marriages do not seem to be the norm in ancient Egypt. Love poetry suggests that the Egyptians put a high value on emotional attachment. It could be that most marriages were consensual, even if both of the participants were aged dramatically different (which by today’s standards, of course, would rightly be wholly unacceptable). In any case, there does not seem to be a word in Egyptian that denotes marriage; as much as we know, the two people simply began to live together.
All though there appears to be no “official” ceremony for marriages, aside perhaps from a family announcement, the marriage itself appears to have been still binding. We know there was some minor paperwork regarding property but other than this we can not find any involving legal process.
Interestingly enough, it seems that baby boys were not strictly preferred to baby girls, an oddity that departs from many ancient cultures. If your wife should not become pregnant, however, you could purchase a spell, encourage your bride to visit a woman’s shrine, or even adopt (another option was to buy a slave girl with the express intention to impregnate her; a risky option).
Large families were the norm in ancient Egypt with families tending to be six or seven large, some bigger than ten. As a father, you could even apply for maternity leave when your wife gives birth. Like all ancient societies, however, many babies would be stillborn while many others die young, as is attested to many small coffins discovered underneath ancient Egyptian houses.
Egyptian woman had the right to own land and operate their own businesses. They could serve on a jury or testify in a trial as well as bringing lawsuits. They could sell wares or work the land. However, women have no role in public life.
Women as wives were treated with high respect with numerous pieces of literature encouraging men to give them due respect as rulers of the home. Men, however, did not have to be faithful to their lives; though largely confined to the aristocracy, men could have more than one wife. For men, there were no punishments for adultery, while for women, the punishment was usually being burnt alive.
For low-class youth, boys would work the fields while young girls performed domestic tasks and/or tended to the livestock. Free time among youth was not plenty though children would play with tops and dolls like in other ancient societies.
For financially well-off families, your children would be educated from a young age, perhaps even from a private tutor with whom you share with several other families to cut the cost. Or, you might succeed in sending them off to a state-sponsored school that is attached to a temple or public office where they, ultimately, will become literate. Scholars have estimated that fewer than 1% of the population of ancient Egypt could read or write.
Sons would often follow in their fathers’ footsteps occupation wise; this is another part of the highly conservative nature of Egyptian society. And all though women were not given any formal education, this does not mean that they didn’t know how to read or write since archeologists have discovered letters from female authors.
Pre-modern societies often placed a lot of emphasis on Rites of Passage. These marked the transition from adolescence to adulthood. We know of no such rites for ancient Egypt, however.
Wealthy families usually had one or more servants though whether they were slaves is another, unknown, question. Such servants were attached to the house and sold with the property and were beaten at times, but whether they meet the definition of slavery is an open question, especially with the scholarly consensus now being that slavery in ancient Egypt was low. More likely, free Egyptians were conscripted each year to help build the structures just as they were conscripted to clear the irrigation.
Ancient Egyptians believed in two forms of the dead: the Blessed dead and the Damned dead. As an ancient Egyptian, humbling yourself before spirits and the dead played an important role in resolving altercations with neighbors and fellow workers. Family relationships, then, extended both ways– into the future (procreation) and the past (death).
Cats or dogs were usually kept in households as a deterrent against pests such as scorpions and snakes. Animals such as pets were treated very well.
Working class Egyptians were homed in a single small dwelling that shared ‘party walls’ with neighbors on two or three sides. No such record of multi-stored buildings existing in ancient Egypt though scholars do not rule out the possibility that such existed.
Rudimentary perfumes and make-ups did exist for ancient Egyptian families, from using oils, charcoal, cream, to spices and scents. Eyeliners was popular among both men and women. Mirrors made from highly polished bronze would be used in applying make-up as they are among the commonest objects found in tombs.
Women usually dressed in white, semi-transparent linen sheets. Men wore kilts. As far as jewelry went, you would use semi-precious stones and minerals which were believed to have magical properties. Men would sometimes carry a staff as a sign of their rank. Both men and women wore sandals and earrings.
Due to the prevalence of head lice, most people kept their hair short with wigs being immensely popular.
Dietary life had a restriction on pork and fish, though this did not apply to the working class which would eat whatever they could get their hands on. Waterfowl were very popular as they were many to choose from. Mice and hedgehogs were a delicacy. Apples, apricots, and pomegranates were eaten for fruits. Nuts and dates were consumed along with celery, radishes, lettuces, and many kinds of bread. Diets, though, were restrictive with Herodotus saying that the workers who built the pyramids lived on bread, onion, and beer (beer is the most popular drink in all levels of society, though wine was also consumed in large quantities).
If you decided to host a party, you would socialize with the men while your wife would sit with the other women. Well to do families even hired entertainers such as magicians to arouse guests. If you were a man, you could go to a tavern, though only disreputable women hung out in taverns. Married couples did not go to taverns. Board games would be played (such as senate, though we do not know the exact rules) or you could read before bed. To our knowledge, there was nothing like public entertainment such as theaters, so one’s whole life was focused on their work and family.
Divorce seems common in ancient Egyptian society. Women were entitled to one-third of your property if you divorced. A divorced woman would return to her parent’s house if they still lived or to the home of one of her brothers. We do not know what happens to children in the case of divorce.