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The suffrage awarded to women allowed them to enjoy a high level of financial freedom. A body of surviving accounts and contracts show that they received the same rewards as men for the same work and both royal and non-royal female citizens could own property and make wills.

Possessions, property and debt acquired by a woman through labour or inheritance was seen as separate from her husband and if she became a widow, she was entitled to inherit one third of the property they jointly owned, with the rest divided between the late husband’s children and siblings.
Despite their freedoms, Egyptian women were most commonly bestowed with the title of ‘Lady of the House’ and were expected to run the home and bear children. For poorer families, large numbers of offspring were necessary to provide extra sources of labour and income but for the wealthy few, this was less of an obstacle.

With both male and female servants to tend to daily chores and child rearing, richer women spent much of their time in leisure pursuits like listening to music, taking care of their pets, playing board games, eating good food and drinking fine wines.
It is as mothers, sisters, wives and daughters to pharaohs, that royal women were most influential to the state. This is reflected in the scale of monuments they had put up in their name and the fact that they were often buried within pyramid complexes Dr Fletcher argues.

Pharaohs also had a host of ‘minor wives’, who often were able to wield some influence and as succession did not necessarily go to the eldest son, they had the opportunity to become mother to a pharaoh.
Pharaohs would often have a host of women known as ‘Ornaments of the King’ who were chosen for their beauty and employed to entertain with singing and dancing. Although this seems more in keeping with treatment of women elsewhere, in Egypt, they were important participants in court life and were active in royal functions, state events and religious ceremonies.

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Women's History Magazine


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