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Egyptian culture
Louvre - DNP Museum Lab   Eighth Presentation Offerings for Eternity in Ancient Egypt: a Question of Survival
You will find here further information about Egyptian culture in relation to the stela of Sakherty.
Family life Meals and banquets Dinner with a dignitary
© Musée du Louvre / Christian Décamps
Egyptian weddings in the Pharaonic period bore little resemblance to the ceremonies of today. Marriage had no particular religious connotation; it was a simple administrative act that bound husband and wife together and established the legal position of each; a man and a woman living under the same roof were considered married. With the exception of the king, who could have several concubines, the ancient Egyptians were monogamous. In the first millennium, the bond between spouses was strengthened by a contract listing the property of each; in the event of separation, this facilitated an "amicable settlement".
Founding a family
Couples and families are omnipresent in Egyptian art, often united around an activity. Egyptian images reflect the close ties between parents and children, brothers and sisters... Hunting and fishing scenes, for example, show family groups, the husband catching birds while his wife plays music and their children have fun. In everyday activities, the father is often accompanied by his sons, and the study of titles has taught us that a certain number of administrative positions were passed down through families from generation to generation.
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© Musée du Louvre / Christian Décamps
The funerary meal
The funerary meal, represented in every tomb, was the ruse which enabled the deceased to enjoy earthly sustenance for all eternity. It provides precious insight into Egyptian eating habits. The scene always shows one or more figures in front of a stone table, placed on a tall stand, which holds upright slices of bread—the staple food of the period. All around are lists or images of the items considered essential to a good meal: bread, red meat, poultry, wine, and beer. The person depicted always holds his or her hand out toward the food, in symbolic acceptance of the offering.
Many New Kingdom tombs contain images of well-attended banquets. The host wears ceremonial garb, and servants attend to the guests who are dressed and made up for the occasion. Banquets of this kind, accompanied by music, singing and dancing, were common among the wealthier families. For the average Egyptian, the family meal was no doubt a rapid and frugal affair: the staple foods were bread and vegetables, supplemented by fish caught in the river. The diet of poorer Egyptians did not include meat.
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© RMN / Christian Larrieu
This high ranking official lived during the Old Kingdom. A wall of his tomb was inscribed with the list of offerings he wished to enjoy in the afterlife; this document gives us a very full picture of the delicacies that could be found on the tables of rich Egyptians at the time of the construction of the pyramids.
The menu
The list reads from top to bottom and right to left. Each section contains the name of a product and a quantity.
There are many different sorts of bread (ut bread, baker's bread, heta, neher, depeti, pezen, and shenes bread, bread baked in the earth, henefu and hebenut bread, pat cakes, grilled bread, zif bread, shat cakes, nepat and mesut cakes, white barley, toasted cereal, babat grains... The names of these various breads no doubt correspond to a particular shape or to the kind of dough used to make them.
There is meat too: a piece of sut meat, a shoulder of beef, a leg of beef, a kidney, beef ribs, a roast, a liver, a spleen, a breast, a tjerep goose, a zet goose, a duck, a turtle dove. The preference is clearly for red meat on this wealthy person's menu.
Fruits and vegetables are fewer: onions, ished fruit, jujube fruit, jujube paste, carobs, figs... Lastly, there are drinks: a jug of pale ale, a jug of khenmes beer, portions of milk beer, of peha, of sesher, of wine, of wine in jars. The complete list contains ninety-one products composing the deceased's ideal menu for the afterlife.
The text ends with a sort of summary of the list: "a thousand loaves of bread, a thousand cakes, a thousand ox heads, a thousand duck heads"... plenty to sustain the deceased on his long journey!
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Abstracts from L’Égypte est au Louvre
Author: Daniel Soulié
Publishing: Musée du Louvre éditions / Somogy
Publication Date: 2007
Courtesy of the author and publishers.
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