They inherited equally and held property independently. Married women did not submit to their husbands’ control. They enjoyed the right to divorce and to be supported after a divorce. Until the time an ex-wife’s dowry was returned, she was entitled to be lodged in the house of her choice. Her property remained hers, it was not to be squandered by a wastrel husband. The law sided with the wife and children if a husband acted against their interests…They loaned money and operated barges. They served as priests in the native temples. The initiated lawsuits and hired flute players. As wives, widows, or divorcees, they owned vineyards, wineries, papyrus marshes, ships, perfume businesses, milling equipment, slaves, homes, camels. As much as one third of Ptolemaic Egypt may have been in female hands.
–excerpt from Cleopatra, a life by Stacy Schiff
[my review here]
And that paragraph is exactly and precisely where I became interested in writing a crime fiction series about a queen’s fixer set in Cleopatra’s Alexandria.
The “she” in question being Cleopatra. See why I want to write this series?
I’ll make you love the scribe’s job more than you love your own mother. I’ll make its beauties obvious to you, for it is the greatest of all professions, and there is none like it in all the land…See, there is no worker without an ovrseer except for the scribe, who is always his own boss. Therefore, if you can learn to write, it will be far better for you than ll the other careers which I have listed before you, each one of which is more wretched than the last.
–Egyptian Middle Kingdom scribal propaganda, ca. 2000 B.C.
(from Joyce Tyldesley’s Daughters of Isis)
Yeah, I would have taken that job.
Research, ah, research. If historical personages had not lived such fascinating lives and if writers did not write so fascinatingly about them, I would be far more productive. To wit, an illustration from What Life Was Like on the Banks of the Nile (Time-Life Books, 1996).
I don’t know that I would have fit right in but for sure as a woman I would have been a lot more comfortable in Egypt than I would have been in Rome, where women stayed home with the spinning, couldn’t pick their own husbands, couldn’t divorce, didn’t get the children if the husband up and left, didn’t receive alimony, and couldn’t own or operate their own businesses. In Egypt, a woman of that time could do all those things, and more.
My hero, Tetisheri? Well, let’s just say she does more.