There were three solid reasons for widespread nudity in Kemet (Ancient Egypt): the hot climate, high prices of linen and a less than prudish religious view that, in its turn, promoted nudity as an essential part of the culture.
Consider this, in the time of 18th dynasty when Kemet prospered one coarse linen shirt cost as much as 5 copper deben. A peasant’s family could buy 3 sacks of wheat or 2 sacks of barley for this kind of money! As for fine linen garments the price ranged from 20 to 35 deben of copper or one kit of silver. Given their wages, the prices and the warm, sunny weather one ceases wondering why ordinary Kemeties took off their scanty clothing in situations where it might get ruined.
Servants, farmers, fishermen and those involved in vigorous activities went either naked or wearing only a loincloth. Artisan and peasants women did not cover their breast while working, placing their pricy linen covers only at the end of the day or during festivities. Hence a view of naked flesh was not anything unusual in everyday life. None says that the view was not erotic or provoking. Hoping to get better tips female dancers and acrobats, for example, purposely left their legs and breasts uncovered during their performance. It’s just that people’s attitude to nudity was different.
The wealthy on the other hand used clothing and jewelry to indicate their social status. The finer and more elaborate the clothing, the higher the person’s social status.
Yet, female nudity in Kemet was an important symbol of fertility and during religious ceremonies and festivals which were related to sacred fertility one could enjoy the sight of bare breasted or fully naked noble ladies, – royalty even!- and priestesses. Incredible by the modern day standards, just imaging Queen Elizabeth, Camilla and Duchess Katherine taking their annual summer walk to Westminster abbey adorned in nothing but jewels, crowns and body paintings, all for the sake of stressing the sacred nature of fertility.
The most erotically attractive female were considered the most fertile. This aspect was so highly promoted that if Kemeties men had an equivalent to a Playboy magazine they would put a naked woman suckling her newborn onto the cover.
Male representations associated with fertility, however, focused on a single element: the erect phallus. Representations of gods and mortals with oversized erection on temple reliefs as well as isolated phallus images and amulets were very common throughout the millenniums of Kemet’s civilization. A fertility god Min was shown frankly as ithyphallic, because that was what he was: a producer of seed. Often god Osiris was depicted with large and prominent organs, as a mark of his supreme power; and models of him in this form – or with a triple phallus! – were carried in religious processions. Even the living kings (pharaohs) were often proudly shown as unabashedly ithyphallic.
To summarize, sexuality and nudity as element of fertility were regarded as sacred. Creation, procreation and resurrection were what the religion in Black Land (Kemet) was all about and the gods took part in these acts to create and sustain world order, Maat. Humans too played an important role in the upholding of Maat, but being mortal they had to procreate and were in need of divine help in doing so. Therefore, there was no prudish attitude towards the naked and the erotic.
It is ironic, however, that the Arabs, the nation that currently populates Egypt, took a totally opposite attitude to the natives. They choose a hostile approach to nudity forcing female to cover even their faces and hands. Such aggressive measures are commonly justified by an effort to prevent a husband being tempted by a view of another man’s wife.
Perhaps modern Egypt would benefit from this ancient native wisdom in which the gods created the human body to serve as temples: temple of fertility, temple of knowledge, temple of temperance and, most importantly, temple of fortitude.