Blowhard, Esq. writes:
I’m currently working my way through the Teaching Company course called The Other Side of History: Daily Life in the Ancient World by Prof. Robert Garland. I finished the lectures on ancient Egypt and thought I’d share some interesting facts:
- It took approximately 10,000 men (who were likely not slaves) 20 years to build each of the great pyramids. They did so on a diet of bread, onions, and beer.
- Scribes started training around age 5. If they attained full literacy, it was considered a highly respectable accomplishment. Such men were permitted to wear long skirts, while most male workers wore short skirts.
- Literacy was an important stepping stone to a good career. We have a record of a father writing to his son, “I will make you love books more than your own mother.”
- Engineers were required not only to be literate, but they also had to learn mathematics. For ancient Egyptians, “mathematics” consisted solely of addition and subtraction – they did not know multiplication or division. In other words, all of those incredible monuments that have amazed and astounded millions of people for thousands of years were built with math no more sophisticated than what your average 8 year-old knows.
- Ancient Egyptians had no money, so all payment was in kind. They also had no word for “art”.
- Death of course meant embalming. There were packages available for all price points. For the rich, the organs (liver, lungs, entrails, etc.) were carefully removed and placed in jars so that a person could be reunited with them in the afterlife. The brain tissue was removed through the nose via a long needle. For the poor, an oil was squirted up the anus and plugged up. After a few days the plug was removed so the liquefied viscera could pour out. Sorry, 99%ers, you’re not reunited with your organs in the world to come.
- There was a court proctologist who had a title that translates as “herdsman of the anus.” This is objectively the greatest job title in the history of human civilization and possibly galactic civilization, too.
Herodotus, who personally observed the Egyptians, was fascinated by them. Here’s an excerpt from The Histories:
The Egyptians who live in the cultivated parts of the country, by their practice of keeping records of the past, have made themselves much the most learned of any nation of which I have had experience. I will describe some of their habits: every month for three successive days they purge themselves, for their health’s sake, with emetics and clysters, in the belief that all diseases come from the food a man eats; and it is a fact — even apart from this precaution — that next to the Libyans they are the healthiest people in the world. I should put this down myself to the absence of changes in the climate; for change, and especially change of weather, is the prime cause of disease.
They eat loaves made from emmer — ‘cyllestes’ is their word for them — and drink a wine made from barley, as they have no vines in the country. Some kinds of fish they eat raw, either dried in the sun, or salted; quails, too, they eat raw, and ducks and various small birds, after pickling them in brine; other sorts of birds and fish, apart from those which they consider sacred, they either roast or boil.
When the rich give a party and the meal is finished, a man carries round amongst the guests a wooden image of a corpse in a coffin, carved and painted to look as much like the real thing as possible, and anything from eighteen inches to three feet long; he shows it to each guest in turn, and says: ‘Look upon this body as you drink and enjoy yourself; for you will be just like it when you are dead.’