and Female Roles
access to power varied over time. In general, men were in charge
of temples and temple administration, but in the Pharaonic period women
filled a variety of religious offices, especially as priestesses associated
with the cults of such goddesses as Hathor. By the New Kingdom,the priesthood
had become part of the state bureaucracy, which excluded women. At this
time there was an increase in the number of elite women associated with
temples as "musicians" of a particular deity. In the Graeco-Roman
period, women again served in priestly roles but with the rise of Christianity
in Egypt, they were once more excluded from formal religious office.
Both female and
male officiants were associated with the cults of female deities, although
by far the most common female religious titles relate to the worship
of male gods. Although women did hold office, particularly in religious
institutions, they were largely excluded from administrative roles.
Power is intimately
linked to sex and gender relations, both of which are solidified in
politics and religion. Pharaonic Egypt was ruled by a pharaoh
or "god-king" who ideally passed the succession to his divine
son. Occasionally, a woman would rule independently as pharaoh, but
this happened rarely, most often in times of uncertainty over succession.
The best-known examples are Hatshepsut from the 18th Dynasty, shown
here on the left, and Cleopatra VII from the Ptolemaic period.
Some female titles
appear to allude to marital status. A woman was frequently identified
by her husband and his occupation but still had considerable theoretical
autonomy in legal and economic situations including the legal right
to inherit property. This Egyptian tradition persisted even after the
introduction of Greek and Roman attitudes and legal traditions, which
more heavily restricted women's activities and status.
Most literary sources
reflect the experiences of elite women and men. Since many of the observable
trends in the autonomy of elite women are tied to ownership and property,
it is likely that the experience of non-elite women was very different
from that of their elite counterparts. Non-elites
probably had considerably less autonomy in general.