The peasant farmers on the estates lived in houses of sun- dried brick or wattle daubed with clay, not much different from the neolithic houses of their ancestors, with a single room (oblong or square), one door and no windows. Furnishings comprised no more than a rough stool, a box or chest, and perhaps a headrest. Reed mats were hung from the ancient egyptian walls, and baskets and earthenware pots were used for storage.
The peasants, who rose with the sun and retired early, wore a loincloth which they frequently cast off during the day. The smaller statues of the Egyptian Old Kingdom depict an array of good- natured folk: a naked peasant going to market with his sandals in his hand and his shoulder slightly bent beneath the weight of the bag slung over it, for example, or a baker and his wife kneading dough. The tombs of the noblemen, moreover, contain numerous scenes of the poor man’s world: fishermen drying fish in the sun or repairing nets and snares, farmers fattening geese or sowing the crops, workers from the vineyard vigorously treading grapes, others in the bakery grinding flour. Both the murals and the inscriptions indicate that the people were happy. The men who carry the nobleman around his estate in a carrying-chair sing that it is as light to bear with their lord seated in it as it is when empty. A musician follows a line of reapers and, as he plays his flute, one of the reapers simultaneously holds a sickle and claps his hands singing the ‘Song of the Oxen’. A piper accompanies the harvest. A shepherd leading sheep through the fields sings: ‘The shepherd is in the water among the fish; he talks with the nar-fish, he passes the time of day with the west-fish . . .’ Some of the reliefs are accompanied by texts of conversations between the workers:
‘That is a very beautiful vessel [you are making].’
‘Indeed, it is.’
‘I have brought four pots of beer.’’
‘ That's nothing. I loaded my donkeys with 202 sacks while you were sitting . . .’
The diet of the people consisted mainly of bread, onions, lentils, vegetables and dried fish. They bartered for their needs. In the Egyptian tomb representations a loaf of bread is exchanged for some onions, a carpenter’s wife gives a fisherman a small wooden box for some fish, a potter’s wife obtains ajar of fragrant ointment for two bowls from her husband’s kiln.
The foremen of the various projects appear to have been more heavily built than their slim and muscular workers. The famous statue of Ka-aper, known as the ‘Sheikh el Balad’ (village chief), shows a heavy, stocky but energetic man striding forward with an acacia staff in his hand. That of Nofir, the Director of the Granaries, also shows him to be broad in build. In a mural in the Egyptian tomb of Ptahhotep is a scene of the foreman, obese and lazy, seated in a skiff accepting a drink from an oarsman.
The barracks for the skilled masons at construction sites were crowded, huddled townships, often a succession of small chambers beneath a single roof with open passages between. To the south of Egyptian Khafre’s pyramid are the ruins of a ‘pyramid- town’ that must have accommodated the skilled masons employed on the construction of the tomb. It consisted of long galleries sub-divided into about ninety-one chambers, each 9^ft wide by 7ft high, and it has been calculated that such barracks could reasonably have taken 4,000 workers. Presumably the wholesome ideals of Ptahhotep were not widespread among them.
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Workmen in Ancient Egypt
Farmers in Ancient Egypt