The answer is yes; yes they did.
Casual reminder that Akhenaten is a dick
Bringing this back to remind everyone that we don’t stan Akhenaten in this house.
Correct me if I’m wrong, but I thought most people back then didn’t expect to live past their early 20’s. They were all children; even the pharaohs when they took charge. It’s Lord of the Flies: Egypt Edition.
No, that’s a common misconception.
Most people in Egypt would live well into their 30s, 40s, 50s and beyond, it’s just that there was a higher chance of them not getting as old as we do because they’ve not got the same medical care. Ramesses II died in his 90s. Most of Ramesses II’s children were in their 60s and 70s when they came to power. You see tombs of common folk who died in their 40s from cancer, or mummies of 50 year olds who died of an infection after a fall. Hatshepsut died from skin cancer aged 50, her successor died at 56. We’ve got tomb biographies and wisdom texts that talk about going grey and getting wrinkles, and medical texts that have ‘cures’ for greying hair and wrinkles. If they’re only living to around 25 then they’re not going to need those, yet they exist for a reason.
Yep. I can confirm this was the same in the rest of the Ancient Near East as well.
The misconception is based on average life expectancy. Nowadays, if you hear a country has an average life expectancy of 75, you would assume – quite correctly – that the average person will live to around 75. Naturally, if you hear that an ancient civilisation had an average life expectancy of 25, you would assume the same thing – but this time, you would be wrong.
Let’s take two imaginary populations as an example. In the first, everyone dies at the age of 25, meaning that the average life expectancy is obviously 25. In the second, half the people die as newborns, and the other half die at the age of 50. This population also has an average life expectancy of 25. It’s this second population, not the first, which is closer to the reality of the ancient world.
Demographic data from Hittite Anatolia shows this quite well. A land donation tablet* from the Middle Hittite period (approx. 15th century BC) gives us the members of the household of a man called Pappa: among them are Pappa, two other men, four women, one boy, two baby (breastfed) boys, three baby girls, and an elderly man. That’s five babies for four women – and only one older boy. Other land donation tablets paint a similar picture: on average, there is one (or more) breastfed baby for each grown woman, but the number of babies vastly exceeds the number of children. This leaves us with a grim conclusion. More than half of all Hittites, in this time and place, died in infancy.
Once someone had survived infancy, however, their chances of living to an old age were quite good. The Hittite king Ḫattušili lived to around 70 despite a chronic illness; his sister Maššanauzzi was still alive at over 50; his wife Puduḫepa may have lived to 90. The same goes for Mesopotamia, where Adad-Guppi, mother of king Nabonidus, died at the age of 102. This wasn’t just the case for royalty, either:
Conventional wisdom in ancient Mesopotamia had it that 40 years was a human’s prime, 60 was the age of full maturity; dying at 50 meant a short life and at 70 a long one. Eighty years was old age; 90 extreme old age; and the longest life span possible for humans had been set by the gods after the flood at 120 years.
Scurlock, JoAnn, Anderson, Burton R., Diagnoses in Assyrian and Babylonian Medicine. Ancient Sources, Translations, and Modern Medical Analyses, University of Illinois Press, 2005, p. 24.
So to go back to the original article, no, a cemetery of children and teenagers is not normal. It’s the sign that something is tragically wrong with the way these children are being treated.
*Source: Wilhelm, Gernot, “Demographic Data from Hittite Land Donation Tablets”, in: F. Pecchioli Daddi, G. Torri, C. Corti (eds.), Central-North Anatolia in the Hittite Period. New Perspectives in Light of Recent Research (Studia Asiana 5), Roma: Herder, 2009, 223-233.
And this explains beautifully the thing I was too busy eating toast to type properly! Thank you!