Tour of a Middle Class House in Ancient Egypt

When historians discuss ancient Egypt, they often talk about how the pharaohs lived. Thanks to excavations at places like Deir el Medina, however, we know some things about the ancient Egyptian middle class. Deir el Medina was a village that housed craftsmen who worked on New Kingdom tombs of the Egyptian upper classes. Architects, carpenters, and other workers lived in this village with their families near the Valley of the Kings.

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Necropolis workmen’s village, Deir el Medina. Photo by Roland Unger.

Houses in the village were made of adobe brick. The houses stayed cool because windows were built into small rectangles and were high up on the walls to keep out direct sunlight. Doors were made of wood, and some could be locked from the inside. A would-be thief could easily break the fragile locks, but most workers in ancient Egypt had few goods to steal.

If you could walk into one of the workers’ homes, you would enter the hall first. This was a place where visitors were welcomed. You might compliment the lady of the house on the colorful drawings and shapes painted on the walls. This room would also have an altar to Bes, the goddess who protected families.

If your guest invited you to come farther into the home, you would enter the family space. This was the central room of the house where family members gathered each day. Most ancient Egyptians couldn’t afford furniture, though some of the workers’ families may have had wooden tables or stools in their family rooms. The room also had long benches built into the walls which were used as sofas or beds. Mats used for sleeping might also be in this room.

The house also had a basement for food storage, though guests probably didn’t go in there often.

In the back of the house was the kitchen. In ancient Egypt, this was one of the most important and busiest rooms. Here you would find a built-in clay oven and spaces for cooking utensils. Some ancient Egyptians even had a primitive refrigerator. They placed pottery filled with beverages in a pit deep in the ground. A tiny roof was placed over it to keep the drinks cool. Since the most common ancient Egyptian drink was beer, your guest would likely offer you one from his pit on a hot day.

Privacy was an unknown concept for the ancient Egyptian middle class. Their houses were small and usually only one story. Kids and adults didn’t have separate bedrooms. Ancient Egyptians also lived very close to their neighbors. There were no “backyards” because the next home was just feet away.

 

Ancient Egyptian Art: The Great Sphinx

The Great Sphinx is one of the most recognizable monuments in Egypt. Built during the Old Kingdom, an amazing period for Egyptian art, it is thought to represent the pharaoh Khaefre (c. 2555-2532 B.C.). The Great Sphinx guards the entrance to Khaefre’s mortuary temple and the second largest pyramid on the Giza plateau.

With the head of a human and the body of a lion, the Sphinx was the perfect symbol of Egyptian kingship. Lions were associated with the very first pharaohs. At Abydos, site of early Egyptian burials, lions were found buried with pharaohs. The Great Sphinx represented a combination of animal strength and royal power. It wore the pleated nemes head cloth often used by pharaohs, which provided a substitute for a lion’s mane.

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The Great Sphinx. Photo by Manek Kocjan May 30, 2006 http://www.kocjan.pl

Building the Great Sphinx was a massive undertaking, especially during an era when only stone and copper tools were available. The base of the sphinx was carved from hard limestone that stuck out of the surface of the Giza plateau. The middle section of the Sphinx was made of softer limestone, and the head was made of very firm limestone. When the workers finished, the Great Sphinx was approximately 240 feet long (about the length of a football field) and almost 70 feet tall. Though other pharaohs built colossal statues, Khaefre’s Sphinx remained the largest.

Though the Great Sphinx was impressive, by the New Kingdom (c. 1539 B.C.), it needed some major repairs. Since the Sphinx was built on a seabed, salt eroded parts of it, including the paws. In addition, its body was covered in sand. According to the legend carved on a stela between the Sphinx’s paws, a young prince named Tuthmosis IV came to the Sphinx’s rescue. One day while Tuthmosis hunted in the desert, he needed a place to rest. He fell asleep in the shadow of the Sphinx. By the New Kingdom a god named Horemakhet, whose name meant Horus on the Horizon, was associated with the Sphinx. The god appeared in the prince’s dream and promised him that if Tuthmosis helped to restore the Sphinx, Horemakhet would make him pharaoh.

Tuthmosis set about restoring the Great Sphinx. He had tons of sand removed from it and had its broken paw repaired. To top off the restoration, the prince had the Sphinx repainted in bright colors, including blue, yellow, and red. The god must have been satisfied with Tuthmosis’ project, since he became king despite not being first in line for the throne.

Presidential Pets: Herbert Hoover’s Dogs

President Hoover and his wife enjoyed having dogs in the White House. They had some trouble keeping pets in the busy executive mansion, however.

Hoover’s favorite dog was a Belgian shepherd named King Tut. King Tut met the future US President while Hoover was on assignment in Belgium for President Wilson. Hoover adopted the dog and brought him back to the US.

When Hoover ran for president in 1928, his political advisors looked for a way to soften the public servant’s stiff image. Hoover fished wearing a full suit, so his advisors had their work cut out for them. Their solution was to photograph Hoover with King Tut. In the photograph, a smiling Hoover holds up the dog’s front paws, as if he were begging for votes. After Hoover autographed the photo, it was sent to thousands of voters. King Tut and his master became more popular as a result. The New York Times called it “one of the happiest photos ever made” of Hoover. With the help of man’s best friend, Hoover was elected president.

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Herbert Hoover with his dog King Tut before the 1928 election

After he arrived at the White House, King Tut took on the responsibility of guarding both the president and the grounds around his new home. The White House security chief considered Tut “a sergeant, not merely a sentry” as Tut made his rounds each night.

Unfortunately, being on guard 24/7 started to stress the dog out. Tut sulked and stopped eating. Hoover sent him to a quieter residence in the hope that King Tut would improve, but he died in late 1929.

Hoover didn’t make the dog’s death public for several months. The stock market had already crashed and people were feeling the effects of what would be called the Great Depression. Under those circumstances, Hoover didn’t think it was appropriate to grieve publicly over a dog.

Like her husband, First Lady Lou Hoover also liked dogs. She received an Irish wolfhound from a breeder and school friend when she moved into the White House. The friend thought the dog’s enormous size would make him a good guard dog for the president and his family. Sadly, the dog, whose name was Patrick, passed away from an infection shortly after his arrival.

To compensate for this loss, Mrs. Hoover’s friend sent another Irish wolfhound named Patrick II. A contemporary newspaper reported that Patrick was “sensitive, shy, and shaggy.” Mrs. Hoover decided the dog was too shy for the busy White House and traded him for Shamrock, another Irish wolfhound. Shamrock was definitely not shy, but he wasn’t friendly, either. He bit one of the Marine guards at Camp Rapidan. The Hoovers eventually gave Shamrock to a colonel.

Ultimately, neither President Hoover or his dogs stayed long at the White House. In 1932, Hoover ran for reelection without King Tut and lost to fellow dog lover Franklin Roosevelt.

 

Why FDR Decided to Rescue Jews from the Holocaust in 1944

As mentioned in my last blog post, President Franklin Roosevelt showed little interest in the fate of Europe’s Jews until January 16, 1944. On that date he had a meeting with officials from the Treasury Department, including Secretary of the Treasury Henry Morgenthau, Jr. and a man in his thirties named John Pehle. These men presented to FDR a report which detailed the State Department’s attempts to “stop the obtaining of information concerning the murder of the Jewish people of Europe.” The report revealed that State Department officials blocked cables about Nazi atrocities that reliable informants tried to send to the U.S.

 

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Henry Morgenthau, Jr. 1944

Fortunately for Morgenthau and Pehle, FDR was receptive to a report of State Department wrongdoing. A major reason for this was the recent testimony of Assistant Secretary of State Breckinridge Long. The House of Representatives was debating whether to ask FDR for a refugee rescue agency that would be separate from the State Department. Congress held private hearings with witnesses testifying for and against the new agency.

Breckinridge Long testified that another agency was not needed because “we have taken into this country, since the beginning of the Hitler regime and the persecution of the Jews, until today, approximately 580,000 refugees.” Most members of the House initially believed Long’s story. Then Long made a mistake by allowing his testimony to be published. A few news outlets and Jewish organizations pointed out the inconsistencies in Long’s statement. According to the Immigration and Naturalization Service, the number of Jews who came in under national quotas between January 1, 1933 and June 30, 1943 totaled only 166,843–far from Long’s claim of 580,000.

The press made Long a laughingstock, and members of Congress who supported the new agency were more determined than ever. The Senate planned to put the rescue agency to a vote, and polls showed it would pass.

FDR hated the idea of a scandal, especially in an election year like 1944. Long’s false testimony and the Treasury Department’s report on State Department duplicity were enough to convince FDR to create the War Refugee Board. He made his decision in his twenty minute meeting with Henry Morgenthau and John Pehle.

Why FDR Showed Indifference to Jews during the Holocaust

Before President Franklin Roosevelt created the War Refugee Board in January 1944, he showed little interest in the plight of Europe’s Jews. His indifference wasn’t caused by a lack of information. FDR had read reports that revealed the Nazi plan to exterminate the Jews. He also met with Jan Karski, a Polish underground leader, who witnessed the gassing of Jews in a concentration camp. Since he knew what was going on, why did FDR fail to act on proposals to rescue the Jews until 1944?

One problem was FDR’s personal opinion of European immigrants. In his April 23, 1925 column for the Macon Daily Telegraph, FDR wrote that immigration to the U.S. should be restricted to those who had “blood of the right sort.” FDR happily upheld the strict immigration quotas he inherited from previous presidents and even left quota slots unfilled. More than 190,000 additional immigrants from Germany and other Axis countries could have entered the U.S. between 1933 and 1945, without the quotas being exceeded.

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Official Presidential Portrait of FDR

The president’s callous attitude toward immigrants influenced his choice for Assistant Secretary of State, the chief government official in charge of refugee matters. FDR appointed his friend Breckinridge Long to the job. Long had no intention of relaxing the strict immigration laws. On October 3, 1940, Long wrote in his diary “I left him [FDR] with the satisfactory thought that he was wholeheartedly in support of the policy which would resolve in favor of the United States any doubts about the admissibility of any individual.” FDR generally left State department officials in charge of refugee and immigration issues. He knew his desire to limit immigration would be taken care of by Long.

Anti-Semitic feeling among American voters influenced politicians including FDR. Public opinion polls taken during World War II showed one-third of the American public was anti-Semitic. When voters show little sympathy for a group of people, elected officials have little incentive to act.

Yet not all politicians were as insensitive as FDR to the European Jews. For example, some members of Congress drafted the Wagner-Rogers bill. If passed, the bill would have allowed 20,000 Jewish children to enter the U.S. outside the immigration quota. Even though the children were supposed to return to Europe after the war, many members of Congress and the public opposed the bill. The president’s cousin, Laura Delano, commented that “twenty-thousand charming children would all too soon grow into 20,000 ugly adults.” When the bill crossed his desk, FDR wrote “no action” on it.

In my next post, I’ll discuss why FDR changed his mind and created the War Refugee Board in January 1944.

Source: Passionate Crusaders: How Members of the U.S. War Refugee Board Saved Jews and Altered American Foreign Policy during World War II by Heather Voight

The First Book on the U.S. War Refugee Board’s Efforts to Save Jews during the Holocaust FREE on Kindle

Hi all. I wanted to let you know that my book Passionate Crusaders: How Members of the U.S. War Refugee Board Saved Jews and Altered American Foreign Policy during World War II is FREE on Amazon Kindle through Sunday, April 8th. Here’s the link: http://amzn.to/2IAWwzv.

 

 

Presidential Pets: George Washington’s Dogs

George Washington was both the founder of the United States and the founder of the American foxhound. He crossed seven larger hounds given to him by the Marquis de Lafayette with his smaller Virginia hounds to develop the new breed. Around 1785, Lafayette sent his hounds to America on a ship. They were placed in the care of a young John Quincy Adams, who appeared to have misplaced the dogs at one point. Washington got rather worked up over the incident, but fortunately the dogs were located.

Washington wrote that he wanted to create “a superior dog, one that had speed, scent and brains.” Washington’s fondness for foxhunting caused his search for a superior hound. In the winter he went foxhunting several times a week. He gave his hounds mischievous-sounding names like Drunkard, Mopsey, Taster, Tipsy, Tipler, and Lady Rover.

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Lithograph of George Washington and General Lafayette at Mount Vernon, Library of Congress

In addition to foxhounds, Washington also wished to breed Irish wolfhounds to protect the sheep at his plantation Mount Vernon. Unfortunately, the wolfhound was so rare even in Ireland at the time that Washington had to give up the idea.

Washington enjoyed owning many other breeds of dogs throughout his life. In 1786 he bought a Dalmatian named Madame Moose. The next year he bought a male to breed with her. He recorded the arrival of the second dog: “A new coach dog [arrived] for the benefit of Madame Moose; her amorous fits should therefore be attended to.”

Fox hunting and breeding dogs were only two of Washington’s passions. Washington also enjoyed duck hunting. For this purpose, he took his poodle named Pilot with him. Other dogs included spaniels which were used to flush out birds and retrieve them when they were shot. Terriers hunted on their own for rats at Mount Vernon, a service Mrs. Washington undoubtedly appreciated.

Though he owned many dogs, Washington didn’t think that his slaves should have the same privilege. Eventually any dogs owned by his slaves were hanged.

The Maya Creation Story

In 1701, a Dominican priest named Francisco Ximenez was allowed by the Maya to see something no other European had ever laid eyes on. They showed him a copy of their creation story, known as the Popol Vuh. The document had been hidden in the town of Chichicastenago in Guatemala. Ximenez made a Spanish translation of the Popol Vuh so Europeans could read it.

The document Ximenez saw was written between 1554-1558. Before the anonymous Mayan authors wrote it down, Mayans told the creation story orally. Here is the basic story of the Popol Vuh.

In the beginning, there was nothing but stillness. There were only a group of gods called Heart of Sky, Newborn Thunderbolt, Sudden Thunderbolt, and the Plumed Serpent. These gods went to a pair of other gods named the Maker and Modeler–a pair of male and female creators. Maker and Modeler created the earth through the power of their words. They created land, mountains, trees, rivers, and plants. The gods weren’t completely satisfied, though. They wanted to create beings that could worship and thank them for what they created.

First, the gods made animals, but then realized that animals couldn’t speak to honor the gods with words. Next the gods tried making humans out of mud. The humans could speak but they were stiff and melted in the rain. The gods decided to send a flood upon the mud people to destroy them. On their third attempt, the gods made wooden people. These humans had great strength and could speak but they treated the animals cruelly. As revenge, the gods allowed the animals to eat the wooden people. The few wooden people who survived hid up in the trees and became monkeys.

While the gods were trying to create humans, the earth was still without a sun or a moon. One day Seven Macaw, a large bird with shining feathers and jeweled eyes, went up into a tree and claimed that he was the sun and the moon. The Hero Twins, Hunahpu and Xbalanque, thought Seven Macaw had too much pride. They used their blow guns to shoot him and Seven Macaw fell from the tree with a broken jaw. (This image is portrayed often in Mayan pottery). Unfortunately, Seven Macaw wasn’t dead. He ripped off Hunahpu’s arm and took it back to his house.

The twins went to the houses of their elders. They asked for help to defeat Seven Macaw and get Hunahpu’s arm back. The twins suggested that the elders pretend to be healers and they pretend to be their assistants. Then the elders walked by Seven Macaw’s house selling their healing practices. Seven Macaw invited them in to fix his jaw. He was told that all his teeth need to be replaced. Reluctantly, Seven Macaw agreed to this treatment. The elders replaced Seven Macaw’s teeth with white corn so that he couldn’t eat and he dies. The elders then fixed Hunahpu’s arm.

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Maya Maize God statue at British Museum March 25, 2012. Photo by BabelStone

At this point, the Popol Vuh goes back in time to explain who the twins’ ancestors were. Their father was defeated by the Lords of Death in the Underworld. The twins went through many trials concocted by the same Lords but they won and resurrected their father, who came back to life as the Mayan Maize god.

After all their adventures, the Hero Twins went up in the sky and became the Sun and the Moon.

With the Sun and Moon in place, the gods made a final attempt to create humans. This time they mixed yellow and white corn with water to make human flesh. According to the Popol Vuh, “this time the beings shaped by the gods are everything they hoped for and more: not only do [they] pray to their makers, but they have perfect vision and therefore perfect knowledge.” The gods decided that these humans were too perfect, however. They put a fog on the people’s eyes so they couldn’t see that they were godlike.

The Childhood Adventures of Winston Churchill

Most pictures taken of Winston Churchill with the bald head and rounded stomach make it hard to picture him as a young boy, but he did have a childhood.

Winston Churchill was born on November 30, 1874 in Oxfordshire, England. His family didn’t stay long in England though. Soon after Winston’s birth, the family moved to Dublin, Ireland. Winston and his parents lived with his grandfather who was the Viceroy of Ireland. Winston’s father, Lord Randolph Churchill, worked as the viceroy’s secretary. By the time the Churchills returned to England in 1880, Winston had a new brother named Jack.

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Winston Churchill, 1881 Dublin, Ireland

Like a lot of kids from wealthy families in Victorian England, Winston was closer to his nanny than to his parents. His nanny’s name was Mrs. Everest, but Winston affectionately called her “Old Woom” or “Woomany.” They remained friends when Winston grew up. Though he was only twenty when she died, Winston kept a picture of his nanny in his bedroom until his death.

Winston didn’t become close to his mother, Lady Randolph Churchill, until after Mrs. Everest’s death. He later wrote of his mother that she “always seemed to me a fairy princess…I loved her dearly—but at a distance.”

Lady Randolph Churchill had both physical and emotional distance from her son. Before his eighth birthday in 1882 Winston was sent to St. George’s boarding school. Winston showed no interest in his subjects and had poor grades. Lord and Lady Randolph didn’t take much interest in their son, either, even when he begged them to visit the school. His father was a politician and his mother was busy with her social life.

After two years at St. George’s Winston transferred to Miss Thomson’s Preparatory School. He liked his new school much better. Winston remembered his time there fondly: “At this school I was allowed to learn things which interested me: French, History, lots of Poetry by heart, and above all riding and swimming.”

In 1888 Winston entered Harrow School. He joined the Harrow Rifle Corps which held mock battles. Though he excelled in the Rifle Corps and enjoyed the mock battles, he was not a stellar student otherwise. As he remembered, “in all the twelve years I was at school no one ever succeeded in making me write a Latin verse or learn any Greek except the alphabet.”

Clearly, Winston had other goals in mind that didn’t involve school. He told one friend that “I shall be in command of the defenses in London…it will fall to me to save the capital and save the Empire.” During World War II, young Winston’s comments came true.