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what did artisans do in ancient egypt

Ancient Egypt Artisans: Roles & Contributions

In ancient Egypt, artisans played pivotal roles in shaping the civilization renowned for its enduring art and architecture. These highly skilled craftsmen were responsible for creating the intricate wall art and decorations found in the tombs of pharaohs and other officials. The artisan community included a wide range of specialists such as stone masons, plasterers, draftsmen, sculptors, carvers, carpenters, painters, and scribes. They lived in purpose-built villages or “workshops” with their families, where they honed their crafts and passed down their skills from one generation to the next.

Ancient Egyptian artisans held vital roles in society, contributing to the creation of impressive architectural structures and artistic masterpieces that have withstood the test of time. Their expertise and craftsmanship continue to captivate and inspire people around the world.

The Craftsmen’s Process: From Design to Execution

The process of creating the elaborate wall art in ancient Egypt involved a series of specialized trades. Each artisan contributed their skills to transform raw materials into timeless masterpieces. Let’s explore the journey of craftsmanship that brought ancient Egyptian art to life.

The Masters of Stone: Stone Masons

Stone masons played a crucial role in shaping the tombs and temples of ancient Egypt. Using chisels and hammers, they skillfully cut away the rooms of the tombs, creating intricate chambers that would stand the test of time.

The Canvas: Plasterers and Whitewash

Plasterers meticulously covered the walls with gypsum and whitewash, creating a smooth canvas for the artists to work on. This preparatory step ensured that the artwork would adhere properly and achieve a pristine finish.

The Architects on Papyrus: Draughtsmen

Draughtsmen were responsible for translating ideas onto papyrus. Working closely with the master draughtsman, they meticulously inked out proposed designs, capturing the vision and details of the artwork to guide the craftsmen in their execution.

The Sculptors’ Imagination: Carving Eternal Beauty

Sculptors brought the artwork to life with their hands. These skilled artisans expertly carved out the intricate designs that symbolized eternity and spirituality. Each stroke and cut transformed blocks of stone into captivating statues and reliefs.

The Painters’ Vibrant Touch: Adding Colors

Painters were the final touch in the creation process. With a keen eye for detail and a deep understanding of color symbolism, they added vibrant pigments to the artwork, breathing life and personality into the ancient Egyptian masterpieces.

This meticulous process of craftsmanship continued for thousands of years, with each trade passing down their knowledge and skills from one generation to the next. The dedication and expertise of these ancient Egyptian craftsmen have left a lasting legacy of art and culture that continues to captivate and inspire to this day.

ancient egyptian art

Trade Role
Stone Masons Cutting away rooms of tombs
Plasterers Covering walls with gypsum and whitewash
Draughtsmen Inking out proposed designs on papyrus
Sculptors Carving intricate designs in stone
Painters Adding vibrant colors to the artwork

The Struggles of Ancient Egyptian Artisans: The First Industrial Strike

Despite their significant contributions, artisans in ancient Egypt faced challenges and sought fair treatment. In one instance, the artists’ village of Deir el-Medina recorded the first-ever industrial strike around November 1153 BCE. The workmen in the village protested when their payment of wheat and barley, owed for their services, did not arrive on time.

They staged a sit-down demonstration outside the funerary temples of pharaohs Thutmose III, Ramesses II, and possibly Seti I, demanding sustenance and fair treatment. The strike was successful, highlighting the power and unity of the artisans.

In ancient Egypt, the craftwork was an integral part of daily life and society. Artisans played a crucial role in creating magnificent structures, tombs, statues, and various decorative items. Their craftsmanship showcased the artistic excellence and cultural significance of ancient Egypt. However, their work was not without challenges and aspired to attain fair treatment for their labor.

Trade and commerce were essential components of ancient Egyptian society, and artisans contributed immensely to this economic activity. Their creations were highly valued and sought-after throughout the region, leading to extensive trade networks and the exchange of goods.

The strike organized by the artisans in Deir el-Medina shed light on their struggles and aspirations. It demonstrated their unity and determination to demand fair treatment from those in power. It also highlighted the significant role they played in shaping ancient Egyptian society and culture.

The strike not only secured the payment owed to the artisans but also served as a symbol of their strength and resilience. Their protest showcased the power they held as a collective, emphasizing the importance of craftsmanship and their contribution to the society’s prosperity.

Tools and Materials of Ancient Egyptian Artisans

Ancient Egyptian craftsmen relied on a diverse array of tools and materials to bring their artistic visions to life. They harnessed the power of these resources to create masterpieces that have stood the test of time.

Materials Used by Ancient Egyptian Artisans

Ancient Egyptian artisans had access to a wide range of materials, both natural and imported. These materials included:

  • Clay
  • Pigments for paints
  • Inks
  • Metals such as copper, tin, and iron
  • Indigenous and imported woods
  • Ivory and bone
  • Glass
  • Flax
  • Reeds
  • Wax
  • Leather
  • Stone

Tools Utilized by Ancient Egyptian Artisans

Ancient Egyptian craftsmen employed a wide assortment of tools to shape and refine their creations. These tools included:

  • Axes
  • Saws
  • Adzes
  • Chisels
  • Moulds
  • Mallets
  • Set squares with plumb lines
  • Levels with plumb lines
  • Kilns
  • Brushes
  • Pens made from reed
  • Pottery wheels
  • Palettes with wells for red and black ink

These essential tools and materials were often supplied by the government to ensure the smooth operation of Egypt’s flourishing artisan community. Scribes meticulously recorded the usage and wear of these resources to prevent theft and ensure accountability.

Tools and materials of ancient Egyptian artisans

Material Tool
Clay Pottery wheels
Pigments for paints Brushes
Inks Pens made from reed
Metals Chisels, saws, adzes
Wood Axes, saws, chisels, mallets
Stone Chisels, mallets, levels
Glass Engraving tools

Artistic Expression Beyond Official Catalogues: Artists’ Notepads

In ancient Egypt, artisans found an extraordinary way to document their artistic expressions and ideas – they used broken pottery pieces or flat limestone sherds as makeshift sketchbooks and notepads. Known as “ostraka,” these fragments provided a canvas for artisans in places like Athribis and Deir el-Medina to unleash their creativity.

These “notepads” offer a unique glimpse into the daily life and artistic endeavors of ancient Egyptian artisans. Unlike the well-documented monumental artworks found in tombs and temples, these ostraka showcase the hidden creative process, personal styles, and subjects that may have otherwise gone unnoticed. They reveal the diverse range of artistic expressions and the innovative techniques employed by these talented artisans.

From quick rough sketches to meticulously detailed designs, these ostraka provide valuable insights into the ancient Egyptian art and craft beyond conventional official catalogues. They demonstrate the experimentation, inspiration, and exploration that were part of the artistic journey in ancient Egypt. These fragments serve as a testament to the artists’ passion and dedication, offering a captivating window into the rich cultural heritage of ancient Egyptian art.


What role did artisans play in ancient Egypt?

Artisans in ancient Egypt played pivotal roles in shaping the civilization renowned for its enduring art and architecture. They were highly skilled craftsmen responsible for creating intricate wall art and decorations found in the tombs of pharaohs and officials.

What were the different types of artisans in ancient Egypt?

The artisan community in ancient Egypt included a wide range of specialists such as stone masons, plasterers, draftsmen, sculptors, carvers, carpenters, painters, and scribes.

How did artisans in ancient Egypt create elaborate wall art?

The process involved specialized trades, including stone masons cutting away the rooms of tombs, plasterers covering the walls with gypsum and whitewash, draughtsmen inking out proposed designs, sculptors carving intricate designs, and painters adding vibrant colors.

Did ancient Egyptian artisans face challenges?

Yes, artisans in ancient Egypt faced challenges and sought fair treatment. The artists’ village of Deir el-Medina recorded the first-ever industrial strike in November 1153 BCE, where workmen protested for payment and fair treatment.

What materials and tools did ancient Egyptian artisans use?

Ancient Egyptian artisans utilized various materials such as clay, pigments for paints, metals, woods, ivory, glass, flax, reeds, wax, leather, and stone. They used tools like axes, saws, chisels, moulds, brushes, and pens made from reed, pottery wheels, and palettes with wells for ink.

Did ancient Egyptian artisans use notepads to design and practice their art?

Yes, broken pottery pieces or limestone sherds served as makeshift sketchbooks and notepads for ancient Egyptian artisans. These fragments known as “ostraka” provided valuable insights into artistic expressions beyond official catalogues.

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