Question: What ancient civilization do models have to thank for getting them runway ready?
Answer: Ancient Egypt
In ancient Egypt, looks mattered—at least among the upper classes. Just like today, trends would sweep the culture and, seemingly overnight, everyone who was anyone adopted the latest style. While specific fads have come and gone in the thousands of years since, the staples of Egyptian beauty still echo today from the runways of Paris to the beauty counter in your local mall.
Egyptians were the first culture to create make-up for non-ritual purposes. The original eyeliner, kohl, was used by men and women alike to dramatic effect. The women used tinted clay rouge to color their cheeks and smoothed their skin with moisturizers.
Once they had on full face, it was time to don wigs. Egyptians first invented wigs to keep up appearances during the summer months when they shaved their heads. But wigs became so popular that beeswax-and-resin wig glue was invented to hold them in place atop real hair during other seasons.
No one wants to ruin a good impression with body odor, and the glamorous Egyptians were no exception. Beyond a wide array of plant-based perfumes, they wore incense-based deodorant. And their breath was just as pleasing. They made a variety of toothpastes—one a mix of ox hooves, ashes, burnt eggshells and pumice, and another composed of rock salt, mint, dried irises, and pepper. And they even had breath freshener made from licorice root, frankincense, and herbs.
While the historical Cleopatra may not have been as beautiful as Elizabeth Taylor, the movie star’s glamourous look in the film indeed traces its roots all the way back to the Nile.
You can thank Egypt every time you…
- Open a Book: Egypt wasn’t the first culture to have a language, but it was the first to turn its language into a formal set of written symbols with recognizable rules and patterns. It started with the famous pictograms known as hieroglyphs, and then eventually translated those into a cursive script. It was also the first to put its text on “paper”—the paper-like papyrus—which revolutionized communication with its light weight and portability. Egyptians wrote on papyrus with the first black ink, made of soot, beeswax, and vegetable gum. To this day, books still resemble the black text on white paper format, including on e-readers.
- Go to a Farmer’s Market: It is one thing to grow enough food on which to subsist, but another thing entirely to grow crops that can be traded or sold. Early Egyptian advances in farming technology allowed for bigger, better fields tended more easily. One of the earliest advances was the sickle, a harvesting tool with a curved blade that made it faster to bring in the wheat and barley. It was also Egyptians who invented the ox plough, with livestock (instead of humans) propelling the equipment through the soil instead, conserving human energy, so that farmers could cover more ground. Still in use all over the world in rural communities, this early model inspired the later electric ploughs. And these first booming farms were nourished by irrigation systems that ran from the Nile to fields often many miles away.
- Visit the Emergency Room: The physicians of ancient Egypt were equipped to deal with a wide array of medical dramas. Papyruses detail 50 different kinds of surgery, covering everything from broken bones to head wounds. They had versions of plaster casts, stitches, splints, scalpels, and cauterizing tools. One of the most common injuries was burns, for which they created a variety of treatments; a common salve used a blend of ochre, kohl, and sycamore juice, while other burn ointments were composed of ingredients like carob grounds, knotgrass, and wormwood.
- Toast Your Anniversary: The Egyptians were determined to get a handle on the passage of time. The world’s first solar calendar was premised on the appearance of Sirius in the sky (which always seemed to occasion the flooding of the Nile). With this as their starting point, their mathematicians composed a calendar of 365 days broken into 12 months (though it would be a while before they figured out leap year). Just knowing the length of the year was not enough: Their sundials helped them predict the number of hours in a day and a water clock determined the specific time of day. These ancient inventions mean we know just how many millennia have passed since their time.
Discover the bounty of the ancient world and the descendants of those early inventors when you join us on Suez Canal Crossing: Israel, Egypt, Jordan & the Red Sea.