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What Did the Nobleman Eat in Ancient Egyptian Times?

by Lynn Blanch, Demand Media
    Ancient Egyptians made lavish offerings of food to the gods, which were then consumed by priests.

    Ancient Egyptians made lavish offerings of food to the gods, which were then consumed by priests.

    The ancient Egyptian diet is often characterized as being primarily vegetarian, and included vegetables, pulses, unleavened bread and salted fish. This was the diet of common people and laborers. The diet of the Egyptian nobility, however, as revealed both through hieroglyphic accounts and the wonders of modern technology, was completely different, consisting of a lavish meat-and-animal-product-centered diet similar to the modern Western diet -- and including all of the health and heart problems that come with it.

    A Noble Diet

    The events of noble life in ancient Egypt were carefully documented in hieroglyphs that reveal the daily habits of the nobility, including their diet. The Egyptian nobility's daily diet included various meat products, particularly red meat from cattle, geese, ducks and other fowl, and antelope, as well as cakes and breads baked with milk, eggs from wild birds, animal fats and other oils. Fruits such as figs and pomegranates were consumed, and vegetables and pulses were also eaten. They usually ate three meals a day and drank wine and sometimes beer with most meals.

    The Diet of the Priests

    The priests held a very high place in Egyptian society. One of their responsibilities was to preside over the worship practices in the temples, including food offerings. The foods offered to the gods were often lavish, and included fruits, wine, cakes and meats. Rituals, during which offerings were made, occurred three times a day. After the ritual was concluded, the priests would collect the food as part of their pay and divide it with the other temple officiants. Therefore, the diet of the priests was one of the richest in ancient Egypt.

    Pork and Fish

    It's sometimes speculated that Egyptians did not eat pork because Set, the god who represented evil, had a boar's head. Scholars have found that the nobility of Lower Egypt bred and occasionally ate pork; however, it was mainly consumed by commoners. Famed ancient historian Herodotus wrote that the Egyptian nobles of Upper Egypt often abstained from eating fish, and fish was not included in the feasts offered to the gods or in the tombs of the dead. There's even a story about the pharaoh Piankhi refusing to eat with the nobles of Lower Egypt because their diet included fish.

    The Price of Nobility

    Though the hieroglyphs provide a number of examples of Egyptian eating habits, the ancient Egyptian practice of mummification ensured the preservation of noble corpses, and this technique, coupled with modern technology, has allowed scientists to identify the eating habits of the Egyptian nobility. Calcification of the arterial walls reveals that many of them suffered from blocked arteries, a condition often believed to be a modern phenomena caused by the Western diet and sedentary lifestyle. The food intake of the ancient Egyptian nobility is estimated to have been extremely high in saturated fat. Since most meats were preserved with salt, their salt intake was also extraordinarily high. The life expectancy of a member of the noble class was between 40 and 50 years, with their cause of death often related to their high-fat diets.

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    About the Author

    Lynn Blanch is a writer, translator and educator. She is the co-founder of an educational/cultural nonprofit in Brazil, speaks fluent Portuguese and has published a travel blog. She holds a bachelor's degree in liberal arts from Sarah Lawrence College.

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