Did Brothers Marry Sisters In Ancient Egypt

In ancient Egypt, the question of whether brothers married their sisters has long been a source of scholarly debate. Studies attempting to answer this puzzle have presented contradicting evidence. Some studies suggest that the brother-sister marriage practice was common while others point to occasional occurrences or what is spoken of as an ‘abnormal’ or ‘inappropriate’ activity. Despite these discrepancies, it is clear that brothers did marry their sisters in ancient Egypt in certain contexts.
The marriage between siblings was quite common in Egyptian culture and was accepted by their society as a whole. Those of the noble class often married their siblings in an effort to attain the highest rank achievable. This practice was not exclusive to the ruling class, however, and evidence has suggested that the custom extended to all levels of society. Those living in peasantry may not have necessarily considered the practice acceptable, but often had to do so in order to keep their inheritance intact.
Sibling marriages were far from ideal, as it could be considered incestuous by modern standards, and yet it was rife in the ancient Egyptian culture. Ancient Egyptian court documents such as the Papyrus Chester Beatty IV provide evidence to the fact that marriages between brother and sister were common. Accounts of such unions stretched back to the 2nd millennium BCE and lasted for a millennium.
In addition to the legal documents detailing sibling marriages, there is also evidence of such arrangements in the jewellery and tomb artwork of the ancient Egyptians. In some images, brother and sister couples are shown in traditional poses, with the groom carrying his bride across the threshold while in other images, couples are depicted nearly touching, indicating a marriage, but not of the traditional kind.


The level of consanguinity between a brother and a sister was an important factor in ancient Egyptian culture. A brother and sister who were only half siblings, or who had different mothers, were allowed to marry. This gave greater flexibility in terms of marriage partners for individuals who were already part of the same family. A half brother and sister, as well as a full brother and sister, could marry as long as they weren’t related by blood.
In some cases, sibling marriage was seen as an appropriate way to strengthen ties between families or groups. This could be a result of political alliances or a way of consolidating property or resources. Evidence suggests that in some cases, sibling marriage was even encouraged by parents or other family members.

Stigmatization and Uniqueness

Although it was seen as acceptable, a brother-sister marriage was stigmatized in some circles. It was seen as an inappropriate practice even by some of the ancient Egyptians. The wealthy often avoided it, as it was considered beneath them. The lower classes were more likely to embrace it, not out of choice but out of necessity.
Despite the cultural stigma, there are many examples of brother-sister couples in ancient Egypt. Such couples included the oldest surviving medical text, the Edwin Smith Papyrus, which states that a brother and sister were married. There are also examples of brother-sister couples in the artwork found in tombs, such as the Tomb of Mereruka in Saqqara.


It was important that the brother and sister were both virgin when entering into a marriage agreement. This was because ancient Egyptian customs dictated that a bride should be pure and that her virginity should be respected. If a sister was found to be already pregnant or to have had sexual relations before the marriage, she would be punished.
In the case of a brother-sister marriage, the two would often remain separate due to social mores, and would often only interact when visiting family members. This allowed the two to maintain their virginity prior to the marriage and their purity after the marriage.


The motivations behind the brother-sister marriages varied from case to case. In some cases, the marriages were used to keep the family together and to keep property or land within the family. In other cases, a brother and sister might marry to gain political power or to create strong bonds between different families.
There was also a spiritual motivation behind some brother-sister marriages. Ancient Egyptians believed that a union like this was special and could bring good fortune to the couple. The marriage could be seen as a way of honoring the gods and creating a link between the couple and the divine.

Parental Approval

In ancient Egypt, parental approval was needed in order for a brother and sister to marry. The father would have to agree in order for the union to take place. Some sources suggest that the mother’s opinion was of less importance, but she could still provide input if she so desired.
In some cases, there was a fear of repercussion should the father not approve of the marriage. If a father disapproved of his son and daughter’s union, he could break it up and even punish the couple if they were caught. This could include anything from fines to imprisonment or even death.

Religious Influence

Religion was also an important factor in the brother-sister marriage practice. The Akkadian god Ningishzidda was known to have blessed sibling unions. Some ancient Egyptians believed that this meant that such marriages were blessed by the gods and were therefore more sacred.
The Egyptians also had a strong belief in the afterlife and were convinced that brother-sister marriages played an important role in the afterlife. Many believed that even if the marriage didn’t last until death, the couple would still be united in the afterlife.

Social Impact

The social impact of such unions was widespread. Brother-sister marriages were taboo in some circles and yet still accepted by others. Those in higher ranks of society often chose to keep these kinds of relationships quiet, as public opinion would cast a negative light on such arrangements.
Despite the social stigma attached to it, the brother-sister marriage practice was not uncommon in ancient Egypt. Evidence suggests that marriages between brothers and sisters were so common, that they were accepted as a normal part of life. Such unions played an important role in the social, political, and religious life of ancient Egyptians.

Economic Value

The economic benefit of brother-sister marriages were also undeniable. Marrying one’s siblings could be beneficial in terms of property and inheritance. Many families saw it as a way of ensuring that the family’s economic situation remained secure.
In many cases, marrying one’s sibling was seen as a way to keep the family wealth intact. It was a way to ensure that no outsider could lay claim to it and that it would remain in the family for generations to come. Marrying one’s siblings could also create stronger ties within the family and ensure that there was no conflict when it came to sharing wealth.

Effects on Society

The effects of brother-sister marriages on society were mixed. On one hand, it was seen as an accepted form of marriage in some circles and could even be beneficial in terms of property and inheritance. On the other hand, it was seen as an abnormal practice and was frowned upon by many.
In recent years, scholars have speculated that brother-sister marriages may have had an effect on the population of ancient Egypt. It is thought that such unions could have led to an increased rate of genetic defects and deformities. These theories, however, remain largely speculative and unproven.


Today, brother-sister marriages are still heavily stigmatized and seen as an aberration. They are now illegal in most parts of the world and their practice is thought of as wrong. Despite this, one can still see traces of such unions in modern day culture.
In many cultures and countries, there are still traces of the brother-sister marriage practice, though it is not as predominant. Sibling marriage is still practiced in some African countries, as well as some Native American tribes.
The practice of brother-sister marriage in ancient Egypt has left an indelible mark on history. Although it was a controversial practice, it was an accepted practice in certain circles and still has its impact on our modern world. From legal documents to artwork, there are many traces left of this practice and it serves as a reminder of our unique past.

Clarence Norwood

Clarence E. Norwood is an author and scholar specializing in the history and archaeology of ancient peoples. He has written extensively on the civilizations of the Near East, Egypt, and the Mediterranean. He has authored numerous books and articles on a wide range of topics, including the evolution of the alphabet, the rise of the ancient nations, and the impact of ancient cultures and religions on modern society. He has also conducted archaeological field research in North Africa, the Middle East, and Europe.

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