Egyptians secured their furniture for later civilizations by sealing it for the afterlife

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Petra Bjelica
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Ancient Egyptian Furniture

The insight into the world of Ancient Egyptian furniture today is provided by the fact they believed it was necessary to secure all the necessary possessions for the afterlife and seal them into tombs with the dead.

The combination of their great building abilities and the hot dry climate preserved most of the items used in the first of the great classical civilizations and the only surviving genuine ancient furniture. Compared with European civilization, which was still stuck in the Stone Age, Egyptian society was complex, refined, and based on profound philosophy and religion drawing inspiration from the laws of nature and a strong historical awareness of culture and tradition. It might seem that they managed to secure their existence in the afterlife of the civilizations that succeeded them.

Ancient Egyptian furniture and accessories

Evidence of advanced use of furniture can be traced to the period of the First Dynasty which falls within the Early Bronze Age – a recent study from 2013 places the beginning of the dynastic period somewhere around  3100 BC. Before unification, there is barely any evidence of furniture, but it is known that the Ancient Egyptians began using mortar around 4000 BC. During the Dynastic Period, when Egypt achieved its first continuous peak of civilization and culture, furniture developed significantly. Since art started having a major role in their everyday life and living arrangements, interior design was an integral part of the interest in both beauty and comfort. Modern knowledge of furniture from the Old Kingdom is mainly reconstructed from fresco paintings. It included stools, small tables, chests, and footrests, but it can be seen that its design depended on the line, proportion, shape, and use of texture for decorative effect.

Examples of Egyptian stools

Furniture of Egyptian nobility often had carvings of animal parts on it, such as lion or bull shaped legs. In the Middle Kingdom, decoration became more and more sophisticated, featuring sacred animals like cows, lions, or hippopotamus heads as well as the use of inlay or paint. In the period of the New Kingdom, furniture design became grandiose in its aim to fit in with the extravagant temples and tombs. The tomb of Tutankhamun is the one of the best preserved, reflecting the unprecedented level of splendor of the possessions found there.

More sophisticated chairs and stools

Regarding the types of furniture used in Ancient Egypt, one can notice that it was so well made that a lot of the designs have changed very little until the present day. Stools were their invention, the most popular type of furniture, and an important status symbol. Chairs were a sign of someone’s fortune as well; only the upper class had chairs with ornate backs, carvings of animals, flowers, and birds.

Headrest with dual carved images of Bes emerging from a lotus blossom

But in general, stairs weren’t used until the Eighteenth Dynasty. Maybe the most different piece of furniture from today is the bed. They were gently inclined with both elevated headrests and footrests – which is said to have had ergonomic benefits on the spine. Tables were low and easily movable, used mostly for eating, playing games, and writing, or could be used as offering tables in the tombs.

Funerary Headrest.

One of the most distinctive Egyptian characteristics is their richly elaborate home décor. Their furniture was set in rooms with painted walls and ceilings, inscriptions, covered floors, jeweled ornaments, and hangings. Most of the furniture was made of wood, but there are traces of metal, leather, ivory, clay, cloth.

One can trace the Egyptian influence in Greek, Roman, and many other civilizations, but the revival of Egyptian aesthetics of home décor and furniture became prominent in the early 19th century with Napoleon’s military campaigns. This extremely popular fashion quickly spread over Europe and America, marking the beginning of a Neoclassical era in interior design.