Female Slaves in Ancient Egypt: A Complex Picture of Servitude

The status and roles of female slaves in ancient Egypt are subjects of ongoing historical discussion and research. As in many ancient societies, slavery was a complex institution in ancient Egypt, and the experiences of female slaves varied depending on numerous factors, including their origin, the period in history, and their particular duties or skills.

Slavery in Ancient Egypt: An Overview

Slavery in ancient Egypt differed somewhat from the forms of chattel slavery that existed in other societies, particularly those of later periods, like the Roman Empire or the American South. Egyptian slaves were considered property, but they also had some rights, could hold personal property, and even attain high status positions.

Origins of Female Slaves

Female slaves in ancient Egypt often came from foreign lands conquered by the Egyptians, including Nubia and Libya. Some were sold into slavery by their families during times of famine, while others were born into slave families. Female slaves could also be acquired as spoils of war, as part of tribute payments from vassal states, or through trade.

Roles and Duties of Female Slaves

Female slaves were typically employed in domestic roles. They cooked, cleaned, fetched water, and cared for children. They could also be involved in spinning, weaving, and other textile work, an industry largely dominated by women in ancient Egypt. Some female slaves were concubines or served in temples.

Life Conditions and Treatment

The life conditions of female slaves depended greatly on their owners. Some were treated reasonably well and integrated into the family structure. They might form relationships with their masters, bear their children, and potentially gain their freedom. However, they were still subject to the whims and power of their masters, and physical punishment was not uncommon.

Female Slaves and the Law

Despite their status as slaves, women could own “property,” usually gifts or payments from their masters. In some cases, female slaves were able to buy their freedom or were emancipated by their masters. They could also go to court to settle disputes, and there are records of slaves marrying free individuals.


The roles and lives of female slaves in ancient Egypt were diverse and complex, reflecting the intricacies of a society that lasted for thousands of years. While they were undeniably subject to the hardships and injustices inherent in any system of slavery, the ancient Egyptian context provided them with some opportunities not typically associated with slavery as understood in other historical periods. Understanding their lives helps us gain a more nuanced picture of ancient Egyptian society and the various roles women played within it.

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British Museum: Ancient Egypt

Ancient Egypt