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Gender: sex and fertility - non-royal evidence

The wish to have children was essential for the ancient Egyptians, as is clearly expresses in their literature. Infant mortality must have been very high and many children were needed so that at least some of them could survive to adulthood. The ancient Egyptians did not have any pension system: children might be treated as security in old age or in times of illness. The following figures need to be viewed in this context.

Pre - and Early Dynastic Period

Small figures showing naked women are already among the earliest depictions of human figure in Egypt from the Badarian period (about 4400-4000 BC). It is possible that they are intended as fertility figures. Sexual organs are often shown very explicitly. These figures might have different functions: the wish for many children and fertility in agriculture may well have been inseparable. Figures of naked men are also known but not so common. The connection to fertility is not certain. However, already at the end of the Predynastic Period the god of male procreative power, Min was important and already shown ithypallic

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Old Kingdom (about 2686-2181 BC)

The evidence for the Old Kingdom is not very abundant. This might reflect the change in burial customs; fertility figures were no longer placed into tombs. There are also not many excavated settlement sites of the period. However, several funerary statues placed in tombs show the (male) tomb owner naked. At the end of the Old Kingdom figures of naked women appear in tombs. They are often interpreted as 'concubines' for the tomb-owner who wished to continue a sexual life in the afterworld: the subject requires more research.

Middle Kingdom (about 2025-1700 BC)

In the Middle Kingdom small often very stylised figures of naked women were placed in tombs; they have also been found at settlement sites. They seem to have a strong connection to fertility. Their function might have been to guarantee safe childbirth in this life, or regeneration (and sexual activity) in the next world. Nothing similar is known on this (more private) level for male sexuality; though the cult of Min was still one of the main state cults.

New Kingdom (about 1550-1069 BC)

The New Kingdom record is similar to that of the Middle Kingdom. There are many (female) figures known from settlement sites, evidence for a more domestic fertility cult. A typical new form is the naked woman lying on a bed, sometimes with child by the legs. Votive offerings to Hathor, found at several of her chapels might also have had a fertility function.

Third Intermediate Period and Late Period

Clay figurines showing naked women are often in the tradition of the New Kingdom. Amulets made in faience become common in this period. The type of 'Isis and Horus' (= Mother and child) might have been used for the protection of mother and child and perhaps also for the fertility of women in general: however, the motif also appears in the context of healing, where the patient is identified as Horus and the healer as Isis.

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Ptolemaic Period

There is a wide range of figures which seem to be connected with fertility. In previous periods the focus of such figures seems to have been on the female body; in the Ptolemaic Period, under Greek influence, figures of men with an oversized phallus become very common. In particular, figures of the child/king/god usually identified as Harpocrates (Hr-pA-Xrd 'Horus the child') became very popular. Depictions of single women are also known, and there are explicit figures of copulating couples.

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Roman Period

The Roman Period material is in the same tradition as that of the Ptolemaic Period. Phallic figures, especially of Harpocrates are common. Isis and her son Horus are also still common. Their image is now often fully Hellenised

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Coptic Period and early Islamic Period

Rough figures showing women are common. They are often very simple, but the sexual organs are clearly depicted.

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