4 Surprising Facts You May Not Know About Ancient Egypt

By Liz Carlson – March 05, 2021
Image by oniscience.com

Ancient Egypt has long been a source of fascination for everyone from historians and archeologists to engineers and even school students, who love hearing the tales of the pharaohs. Due to the wealth of antiquities left behind, we are still discovering so much about this amazing place. Here are four facts you may not have known about Ancient Egypt. 

The Pyramids Weren’t Built by Slaves

The Greek historian Herodotus, from 5 B.C., suggested that the great pyramids were built by slaves, but now that view is mostly dismissed as conjecture. The ancient Egyptians certainly seemed to have slaves for working the fields or in their homes, but upon deeper investigation, it seems that those who built the pyramids were mainly skilled laborers and temporary workers who were paid for their craft. The level of artisanship would indicate that some of these really enjoyed and were passionate about their work. 

It wasn’t an easy life. The remains of pyramid builders show that they might have suffered from arthritis and other ailments. However, graffiti that has been discovered near the sites shows names like “Friend of Khufu” and “Drunkards of the Menkaure” that suggest a level of humor they had even when going about their work. This is unlikely the work of slaves.

Cleopatra Wasn’t Actually Egyptian

Probably the most famous female associated with Ancient Egypt, Cleopatra VII is certainly a vital part of history, as she managed to maintain peace with Rome for some of her reign. However, Cleopatra was not Egyptian, and it is doubted that she even had any Egyptian blood at all. She was directly descended from Ptolemy I, so was actually from a long line of Greek Macedonians. In power over Egypt from 323 B.C. to 30 B.C, many of the Ptolemaic Dynasty kept their own Greek traditions running but Cleopatra was more considerate of Egyptian culture and sensibilities and actually learned the Egyptian language. This powerful Queen is the most famous femme fatale of them all.

Image by agypten-tours.com

The First Household Pets

In other civilizations, animals were mainly used for food, while their carcasses became everything from bowls to spears and other implements. The Egyptians, however, thought that animals were the incarnations of the gods, and as such, treated them with care. Many households had pets, with cats being a favorite, as they were associated with the goddess, Bastet. They also liked baboons, dogs, hawks, ibises, and lions. When an animal died, they were often mummified and buried with their owners. Egyptians also realized that animals could be trained for special tasks, so the police used dogs for special tasks, probably for their incredible scent ability, and monkeys were also trained to assist them while they patrolled the streets.

King Tut May Have Died as a Result of a Hippo Attack 

One of the most famous Egyptians, Tutankhamen, became the ruler of Egypt at only nine years old. Very little is known about his life, except that he ruled for ten years and died at just 19. When historians examined his body after exhumation, it showed that he was embalmed without his heart or chest wall, which was a very unusual practice for the time. Egyptologists have surmised that he was badly injured, and one of the most likely reasons that he would have suffered an injury such as this could have been a bite from a hippopotamus. Statues found in his tomb show the boy throwing a harpoon, so it seemed the boy liked to stalk dangerous prey. If a hunt went badly wrong, it may be the reason his life was cut short.