The Insinger papyrus, from the Ptolemaic period, states:
A man spends ten years as a child before he understands death and life,
He spends another ten years acquiring the instruction by which he will be able to live.
He spends another ten years earning and gaining possessions by which to live.
He spends another ten years up to old age, when his heart becomes his counselor.
There remain sixty years of the whole life, which Thoth has assigned to the man of god.
From the age of 40 to the expected 100, a man could enjoy the best years of his life, using the fruits of his labor and knowledge.
Of course, most people did not live to be 100, but by the Ptolemaic period, the average age of those whose ages were noted (meaning they likely had a burial of at least middle-class status) was 54 years for men, and 58 for women. The long lifespan has been attributed to a generally healthy lifestyle, a diet with adequate grains and proteins, and a society that generally revered their elders and cared for them, even when they were not able to physically contribute to society.
When You Lived a Long Life…
The workers on the pyramids (and within the royal court) also had pensions, which is the first time in history that this concept was recorded. They received grain rations that, while smaller than what the workers got, was more than enough to sustain an elderly citizen.
It was also expected that the children (especially the oldest son) or nieces and nephews would help attend to the needs of the elderly. Of course, this did not always happen, and there have been wills and manifests found expressly disinheriting children for being disrespectful or not caring for their parents in their frail dotage.
Of Course, Lots of People Still Died Young:
The lifespan was, of course, not always nearly 60 years. From the Old Kingdom onward, the lifespan slowly increased, from a starting point of around an average of 22-30 years of age.
Analysis of over 3000 Egyptian mummies and medical papyri have left behind information about many different diseases that people suffered and died from.
During the spring and summer (the dry season), the much smaller amount of water available led to concentrations of people in a very narrow region along the banks. This created ideal conditions for infectious diseases, like dysentery, smallpox, typhoid, and relapsing fever.
When the rainy season came, malaria was, of course, very prevalent, thanks to standing water in the flooded fields, which served as ideal mosquito breeding grounds.
A few of the other diseases and ailments found in mummies included:
- Atherosclerosis: A hardening of the arteries, prevalent especially in non-clergy Egyptians. Their healthy lifestyle and diet led researchers to hypothesize that the atherosclerosis originated from the repeated inflammation due to parasitic diseases. There is also the possibility that salt-preserved foods contributed to unhealthy arteries.
- Dental caries: The corn in Egypt was very coarsely ground, and to more finely grind it, sand would be added. This, combined with lots of other coarse foods, would lead to fairly rapid decay of teeth, exposure of the dentin and pulp, and chronic infections. These infections would be routinely drained by physicians, using a thin hollow reed.
- Bone trauma: There was a LOT of this. I mean, they hauled around huge blocks of stone, what would you expect? Broken arms were very common. Unsurprisingly, physicians were fairly good at setting broken bones, and if the skin wasn’t broken (allowing in infection), the splinted limbs had a decent recovery rate.
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