Gender differences are also observed in ancient societies. Homosexuality was prohibited among the Hittites. During the time of the Prophet Lot, the divine punishment of the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah was attributed to the increase in homosexual behavior.
Was there homosexuality in Ancient Egyptian civilization? How did the Egyptians view homosexuality?
Egyptologist Uroš Matić from the OeAW (Austrian Academy of Sciences) explains how today’s concepts of gender differ from those in ancient times and how sexuality was closely linked to power during that era.
Uroš Matić, an Egyptologist working at the Austrian Archaeological Institute (ÖAW), is conducting research on the archaeology of gender and sexuality in prehistoric and ancient societies. His work focuses on exploring questions related to gender roles, sexuality, and their manifestations in archaeological contexts.
What makes the field of gender archaeology so exciting for you?
Matić: In our current heteronormative society, you wouldn’t expect men to apply makeup in the streets because we tend to associate it with women and femininity. However, it was different in Ancient Egypt. Back then, both men and women would wear makeup, such as eyeliner. It wasn’t gendered in itself but rather represented an ideal of beauty for both genders and was even considered a form of therapy.
Is it possible to project contemporary concepts of gender identity or sexuality onto the past?
Matić: There are scholars who believe that applying modern terms to past societies is not possible because those societies themselves did not use those terms. Did anyone in Egypt identify themselves as heterosexual or homosexual? The answer is no. We don’t have any individuals from that period who identified themselves as homosexual. We also don’t have any equivalent words for it among the Egyptians. However, this does not mean that there were no same-sex relationships. On the contrary, there is ample evidence for this in prehistoric and early historical periods, not just in Egypt, but in other regions as well.
What did it mean to be “homosexual” in Ancient Egypt?
Matić: This changes over time in ancient Egyptian history. From Pharaonic Egypt to the Hellenistic period and the Ptolemaic government, there are not many sources that define who was “queer.” However, what we do know is that it was socially acceptable for men to have relationships with other men as long as they assumed an active role. A passive role was not deemed appropriate. This was designed for women, and women in ancient Egypt were dependent on men. Of course, this also had a class affiliation aspect to it.
Is there any information about lesbian relationships among women in Ancient Egypt?
Matić: Ancient Egyptian terms from the 2nd and 3rd millennia BCE, among other things, mean “male friend/female friend” and can also refer to same-sex couples. Additionally, a magical tablet made of lead dating back to the 3rd century CE was found in Hermopolis in Egypt, which contained a spell involving a woman named Sophia who wanted to charm and bewitch another woman named Gorgonia.
Cover Photo: The case of Niankhkhnum and Khnumhotep, two ancient Egyptian men who were buried together in a shared tomb in the city of Saqqara, is indeed a subject of debate among researchers. It is uncertain whether they were a couple or perhaps brothers, or even possibly twins. The evidence from their tomb indicates a close and enduring relationship, but the nature of that relationship remains open to interpretation. © Shutterstock