By Xin Wen
Ancient Egyptian life was shaped by the natural environment, especially the River Nile which was vital to the survival of the ancient Egyptians. Although nowadays the most renowned fabric from Egypt is long-staple cotton, about five thousand years ago, the most popular fabric in Ancient Egypt was linen. The cloth that was used to wrap Egyptian mummies was not cotton, but linen. Linen was derived from a plant called flax. What surprised me is that: from the plant flax plenty of fabrics can be derived—not just linen, but also lace, cambric, damask and so on. People said Ancient Egyptians enjoyed wearing linen because linen dries quickly and resists decay. Taking the heat in Egypt into consideration this indeed is a very evident advantage. But what is overlooked is the soil of The Nile Delta is very suitable for the growing of flax—flax needs alluvial and fecund soil.
From the plant flax to the fabric, to make fine linen very complex techniques and procedures are needed: threshing, retting and dressing, etc. Different grades of linen were produced according to the desired product. The best kind of linen was transparent—so the clothes of the Pharaohs and the noble class were very light and breathable. From only fabrics and clothes, we can tell that Ancient Egyptian civilization must have been a very advanced civilization, because even nowadays with the help of the most sophisticated machines, transparent clothes are not that easy to produce.
Noble women in Ancient Egypt wore sheath dress (A rectangular piece of cloth folded once and sewn to make a barrel), straight caftan or kilt. Apart from these, tunics were very popular among women too. The length of the tunic was different depending on gender and historical periods and social status. Like Scottish men, aristocratic men in Ancient Egypt wore kilts. Speaking of shoes, Ancient Egyptians either went out without shoes or wore leather sandals. During my visit to The British Museum, I saw a pair of child’s sandals made from woven cord. The introduction of these shoes said:
‘We have limited evidence, but it seems that at least some of the lower levels of society held similar religious and political beliefs to the elite. They even played the same games, though with much less luxurious materials.’
Ancient Egyptians loved to wear amulets. They believed amulets could bring them peace and health. Since Ancient Egyptians value life after-death more than this life, they even bury more amulets with mummies. Here are some Wedjat eye’s amulets:
According to the introduction of these amulets: ‘The wedjat eye of the falcon-headed god Horus was injured and subsequently restored. The eye, with characteristic markings based on those of a falcon’s head, was regarded as a potent amulet, maintaining the wearer ‘uninjured’ or ‘sound’, and conferring protection.
Scarab beetle is the one of the most frequent symbols used to make amulets. Ancient Egyptians envisioned a beetle pushing the sun into the sky everyday; as a result the beetle was associated with ‘rebirth’. Here are some beetle amulets in the British Museum.