The ancient Egyptians lived thousands of years ago, long before the invention of electricity. Yet they were an advanced civilization that built impressive monuments like the pyramids and developed sophisticated technologies. Lighting their homes and being able to see at night was an essential need. So how did they illuminate their dwellings without electric lights?

Sources of Light

The ancient Egyptians had various methods of producing artificial light in their homes after sunset:

Oil Lamps

One of the main sources of lighting was oil lamps made of stone or clay. These lamps were shaped like bowls with a spout for the wick. They would pour olive oil or animal fat into the lamp and light the wick, which would then burn and produce light.

Oil lamps were relatively cheap and easy to produce. They provided a portable source of light that could be moved around the home. However, oil lamps gave off faint, flickering light and produced smoke and soot.


Another common lighting method was the torch. Torches consisted of a stick or branch with one end wrapped in cloth or papyrus and dipped in wax or oil. Once lit, the torch provided a mobile source of bright light.

Torches were used to light homes as well as to light the way outdoors at night. But torches burned quickly and had to be replaced often. They also posed a fire hazard indoors.


For affluent Egyptians, candles made of beeswax or animal fat were used to light homes. Candle holders allowed candles to stand upright.

Candles produced brighter, steadier light compared to oil lamps and torches. But they were more labor-intensive to make and expensive, so only the wealthy could afford them.


Simple fires were another lighting method, whether in fireplaces, braziers, or stone lamps filled with oil. Fires provided warmth as well as light. However, indoor fires posed risks and created smoke.


Ancient Egyptian houses often had small windows near the roof to let in daylight. But the windows were not glazed, so they allowed very little light in at night. Their main purpose was ventilation.

Night Time Activities

What did ancient Egyptians do in their homes after dark with their rudimentary lighting?


Many Egyptians had to continue working after sunset. Tasks like spinning, weaving, carpentry, or toolmaking could be done by oil lamp light. Scribes also worked by lamplight to keep written records.


In the evenings, Egyptians would get together to eat, talk, play games and music. Workers would return home to be with their families. Homes were dimly lit by oil lamps, candles, or fires.


Most Egyptians went to sleep soon after sundown. Their sleep schedules rose and set with the sun. Without electric light to extend their waking hours, they slept much of the night.

Challenges and Hazards

Lighting ancient Egyptian homes at night came with certain challenges and hazards:


While ancient Egyptians did not have modern electric lighting, they developed effective ways to illuminate their homes at night using the technology available to them. Oil lamps, torches, candles, and fire provided portable and stationary light sources. This allowed them to work, socialize, and function after sunset. But lighting in ancient Egyptian homes remained dark, smoky, and hazardous by today's standards. Their ingenious methods of domestic lighting are a testament to human adaptability without electricity.