Ancient Egyptian funerary practices of preserving mummies and burying their dead with objects from daily life reveal much about the people and period. From 3000 B.C. to 30 B.C. conclusions about demographics must be drawn from these materials, although the later Roman period includes more written records. Demographics reflect the difficult life many ancient Egyptians lived.
Education and Careers
Most citizens in ancient Egypt worked as laborers, typically in the numerous wheat fields. Boys could raise their status by joining the army as a soldier or learning reading and writing to become a scribe. Males could enter a school run by a priest at about age 7. Girls learned at home. The literacy rate in ancient Egypt was probably less than 10 percent. Male children typically followed in their father's footsteps in terms of career; if he was a scribe, the sons would usually become scribes.
Family and Diversity
Ancient Egyptians tended to marry in their middle or late teens, generally no later than age 20. Marriage was an important institution because it involved the regulation of property and led to children. The continuation of the family line held great significance in ancient Egypt. The population included people from various other countries throughout the periods, such as the Middle Eastern Hyksos who entered around 1650 B.C., Nubians who began migrating to Egypt in about 2100 B.C. and other Africans between about 2000 and 1000 B.C.
Population and Life Expectancy
Although few census records exist, scholars believe in its earliest stages the population of ancient Egypt likely ranged between 1 and 2 million people and rose rather steadily from then on with periodic declines due to war, famine and plagues. Most people died in their mid-20s for some periods, such as the Roman period. It is thought to have expanded into the 30s in some periods. Royalty and other upper-class men could live much longer, even into their 90s.
Causes of Death
Three out of every 10 infants died in their first year, approximately 20 percent of children under 5 died, and mothers often died in childbirth. People died from injuries, cardiovascular disease and other ailments. The shortened lifespan likely prevented some health issues common today, such as breast cancer and tumors, although some mummies do show evidence of other types of cancer. Tuberculosis also ran rampant during some periods as did smallpox.
- University of Michigan: From Birth to Death and Beyond: Gender, Life Span, Family, and the Afterlife
- Everday Life through the Ages; Reader's Digest
- Reshafim: The People of Ancient Egypt
- University of Chicago: Ancient Egyptian Society and Family Life
- University of Illinois at Chicago: Mummies; Mummies and Disease in Egypt
- Medioimages/Photodisc/Photodisc/Getty Images