Arts & Artisans


If you are poor, serve a man of worth,
That all your conduct may be well with the god.
-- Ptahhotep

Skilled craftsmen were responsible for creating and decorating temples, and the tombs and houses of the wealthy. They enjoyed many privileges, among them, the possibility of a proper burial. Artists who decorated the tombs of Nobles in the Old Kingdom sometimes include images of themselves, forever well-paid, competently serving those who commission their work.

Even though they were considered a step below the artists, other craftspeople such as carpenters and metalworkers formed a distinct class. People in these skilled trades may have had certain advantages because they had skills or products that they could exchange for other commodities or services. At Giza, sculptors, painters, and carpenters have their own cemetery, which imitates, on a smaller scale, the tombs of the Great Ones. Scraps of stone leftover from building the great pyramids were used to make small pyramids and mastabas for the skilled builders who spent their lives constructing the Wonders of the World.

It's not always easy to understand the status of various professions. Nefer and Ka-hay, singers and musicians at court, were not nobles, but were sufficiently prosperous to afford a very nice tomb in the Royal Cemetery. Hairdressers and manicurists could be very high status people if they worked at the royal court, and perhaps had the privilege of touching the sacred person of the King. Niankhkhnum and Khnumhotep, who ran the Royal Manicurists' school, were also priests of a Sun Temple, and rich enough to build one of the finer tombs of the Fifth Dynasty.