Although life for the poor was hard in Ancient Egypt, by comparison to other societies of the time, even they were comparatively well-off and had a reasonably high standard of living. Most peasants worked in the fields, while many others were employed in the massive building programmes of the pharaohs. Most were well treated.
A stable family life was important to all classes of Egyptians. Great respect was given to elderly relatives. Once children became teenagers they often became servants to more afluent families. Houses, whether in town or country, were constructed of dried mud, mixed with straw and made into bricks. They were reasonably spacious, usually two stories, with flat roofs in which a vent was provided to catch the cool north winds.
Here are some snippets showing life for the poor:
Few poor people could afford wagons, horses or camels to transport themselves and their goods about. The most common form of transport for them was donkeys. There were few proper roads so transport was always difficult. For many people the only journeys they ever undertook were to and from the local market. Donkeys still provide the main means of transport for poor Egyptians in remote areas today.
A Measure of Worth
The measure of a man’s wealth was calculated by the number of beasts he owned, such as goats and geese, but particularly cattle. Scribes recorded the details and people were taxed accordingly. The agricultural season in Ancient Egypt was governed by the annual flooding of the Nile. Each year the river burst its banks, depositing a thick black silt over a considerable distance of the surrounding land making it very fertile. Farmers also constructed irrigation channels from the river far into their fields to grow more crops inland.
Although the Ancient Egyptians did extend their rule over a small empire in north Africa and the eastern Mediterranean, they were not by nature a war-mongering people. When they did make forays into other lands, such as Nubia, Ethiopia or Lebanon, they captured native peoples and brought them back to Egypt as slaves. Some were put to work as servants in rich households, but mostly they provided the labour for the almost continuous building programmes of the pharaohs.