An idealized version of women appears everywhere in the art of ancient Egypt, but the true nature of these women’s lives has long remained hidden. Gay Robins’s book, gracefully written and copiously illustrated, cuts through the obscurity of the ages to show us what the archaeological riches of Egypt really say about how these women lived, both in the public eye and within the family.
The art and written records of the time present a fascinating puzzle. But how often has the evidence been interpreted, consciously or otherwise, from a male viewpoint? Robins conducts us through these sources with an archaeologist’s relish, stripping away layer after interpretive layer to expose the reality beneath. Here we see the everyday lives of women in the economic, legal, or domestic sphere, from the Early Dynastic Period almost 5,000 years ago to the conquest of Alexander in 332 BC. Within this kingdom ruled and run by men, women could still wield influence indirectly—and in some cases directly, when a woman took the position of king. The exceptional few who assumed real power appear here in colorful detail, alongside their more traditional counterparts. Robins examines the queens’ reputed divinity and takes a frank look at the practice of incest within Egypt’s dynasties. She shows us the special role of women in religious rites and offices, and assesses their depiction in Egyptian art as it portrays their position in society.
By drawing women back into the picture we have of ancient Egypt, this book opens a whole new perspective on one of world history’s most exotic and familiar cultures.
Beautiful as they are, Egypt’s ladies barely make it into the historical record. We have no firsthand accounts, and their thoughts will eternally remain a mystery… This makes Gay Robins’ authoritative Women in Ancient Egypt doubly welcome. Ms. Robins, who teaches Egyptology at Emory University in Atlanta, knows her stuff. In astonishingly few pages, she covers 3,000 years of politics, economics, family, society, religion and art. She backs every statement with the hard evidence of artifacts and texts, and if she offers a theory she marks it as such. Her book stands head and shoulders above sensationalist popularizations… [It] is a book you can trust… Ms. Robins writes clearly and well…[and] provides rewarding fare. Her discussion of marriage…is lively with examples and rich in detail.
This book relies on artistic, archaeological, and written evidence to reconstruct the private and public lives of women in Egypt from approximately 3000 to 300 BCE… Robins analyzes particularly skillfully the challenges and problems inherent in her study, including the familiar problem of trying to reconstruct women’s lives when scholars have maintained a persistent silence about them; evidence that may be fragmentary or derived from biased sources; evidence that often excludes entire classes of women; and modern prejudices that encourages errors in interpreting the evidence.
- 208 pages
- 6-3/4 x 9-1/2 inches
- Harvard University Press
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