Frequently Asked Questions

Links checked December 27th, 2010

In July 2001, I started this FAQ in the hope that some of the more common enquiries Egyptologists receive can be answered by reference to this page. Anyone who wishes to offer to make a contribution on a topic here should contact me.

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How do I become an Egyptologist?

Becoming an Egyptologist is not easy, as with any highly specialised profession. I am often asked questions about this, and so Eugene Cruz-Uribe (ECU) and I (NCS) have put here a page answering the main questions.

Added 2007: The University of Memphis has a page with two very informative letters for prospective students:

Added 2010: The Theban Mapping Project has its own page on the subject:

Q: What do I have to study at (high) school?

A: As you cannot study Egyptology for a full exam at school, you should prepare yourself for University requirements. While history, especially ancient history, is useful practice, I feel languages are even more important. Studying an ancient language like Greek or Latin will give you practice in grammar and working with complex languages. But as important are modern languages, as they give you wide access to the scholarly publications about Egypt. My estimate is that of this literature, about 40% is in English, 40% in German and 20% in French, although this will vary widely for certain areas of the subject. You will have advantages over other students at university if you can read a wider range of material, and if you go on to do research, you will have to know these three languages. [NCS]

1) Because of my own background and interest I would suggest that students take French and German (both) while undergraduates. The amount of Egyptology literature and publication in those languages makes the learning of French and German a must. This applies to those interested in Egyptian art, religion, archaeology, history or language.
2) Take some archaeology (Old World if possible) courses if you have an interest in archaeology. 3) Take plenty of ancient and classical history. These are always useful and can never hurt. One can also investigate religious studies, cultural anthropology and art history courses for things related to Egypt. For myself, I wish I had studied more classical Greek and Roman stuff.
4) Become familiar with the various web sites and discussion groups dealing with ancient Egypt and the Near East (EEF, ANE, ABZU, etc.). These provide lots of information and some nice discussions. AWOTV and Explorator are also useful and resources.
5) Do not stop reading. [ECU]

Q: You didn't mention Arabic in the last answer. Should I study it?

A: Good question. For historical reasons, presumably the Western domination of Egyptology, there is very little material in Arabic, other than that which is written for domestic consumption in Egypt. Egyptian Egyptologists tend to have studied at least in part abroad and write their scholarly contributions in (usually) English, French or German, and language suggestions tend to focus on what is needed for study at university. Also, few Egyptology courses (in the UK at least) offer the option of Arabic; for example, when I was an undergraduate, we had to do one other 'oriental' language, but the choice was Coptic, Akkadian or Hebrew.

Where Arabic is of course useful is for working in the field, but the sort of Arabic taught at universities isn't always the best for that. Most Egyptologists tend to learn spoken Arabic on digs backed up by conversational classes at home. I would certainly urge that anyone wanting to work in Egypt try and learn some conversational Egyptian Arabic, as it makes life easier in Egypt. [NCS]

Q: Should I go to Egypt on a tour before I begin studying Egyptology?

A: Going to Egypt is a great experience and I recommend it for everyone. But it is only part of learning about ancient Egypt. Modern tourism in Egypt is both a boon and a bane. The money is great for the Egyptian economy, but the wear and tear on the monuments can be hurtful for preservation of the monuments. [ECU]

Q: What can I study at university, and where?

A: In many European countries, it is possible to start Egyptology at an undergraduate level. This is particularly true in the UK, France and Germany. In the USA and Canada, while there are courses at undergraduate level, most of the serious work on Egypt does not start until graduate level. The following are some universities which teach Egyptology (apologies for any omissions); I do not include those where it would not be possible to follow it at a graduate level:

UK: Oxford, Cambridge, London (UCL), Birmingham, Liverpool

France: Paris (various), Lille, Montpellier, Lyon

Germany: Heidelberg, FU Berlin, Trier, Mainz, Tübingen, München, Köln, Bonn, Hamburg, Göttingen, Münster, Leipzig

Switzerland: Basel, Zürich, Geneva

Italy: Rome, Milano, Pisa

Belgium: Leuven, Bruxelles

Holland: Leiden, Groningen

Sweden: Uppsala

Denmark: Copenhagen

Canada: Toronto

USA: New York (NYU), University of Chicago, Brown, UC Berkeley, UCLA, Memphis, Emory, Michigan, Pennsylvania (UPenn, Penn State)

Australia: Monash, Macquarie

Japan: Waseda

Egypt: it would be wrong not to include Egypt here, as Egyptology is taught in a very large number of universities in the country. It would appear to me that most of the course are aimed at Egyptian students; the oldest centre for teaching Egyptology is the University of Cairo. For a US-style approach in Egypt, there is the American University in Cairo.

Most of these universities have web pages where you can learn more. [NCS]

Very few schools offer a specific major in Egyptology for undergraduates. It is most usual at American universities that you can major in Near Eastern Studies or Near Eastern Civilisations. At other institutions you may have to major in History or Classics and get a variety of Egyptian courses as chance may have it. In the US most Egyptology training is done at the graduate level leading to a PhD degree. [ECU]

[ECU adds on the question "What are the best schools for Egyptology (in the USA)?"] That is a very loaded question and the answer you receive will depend on the individual scholar that you ask. For myself, my alma mater, the University of Chicago is the best. However, the best programs in the country in addition to Chicago would certainly include: Yale University, UC Berkeley, UCLA, University of Pennsylvania, NYU, and University of Toronto. There are numerous other universities where there may be only one or two people who do Egyptology and thus only offer a limited number of courses. One can go to the Directory of North American Egyptologists (on ABZU) and look up the variety of individuals who work in the field and then check the institutions that they are associated with and see what courses they offer. My own situation may be symptomatic: I teach Egyptian history, Ancient Near Eastern history, Egyptian religion, Introduction to Hieroglyphs and sometimes Humanities of the Ancient Near East. However, I usually teach one, maybe two of these a semester so they are not always available every year. You should also keep in mind that some of the best Egyptology programs are found in European universities.

Q: How much graduate work do I have to do?

A: Nowadays no-one gets very far in Egyptology without a doctorate, the sole or major part of which (depending on country) is the writing of a thesis. Some countries will make you do a Master's degree before going on to a PhD. The time this all takes depends on your country and you. In the UK we do it now a little too quickly in my opinion, but getting a PhD before the age of 26 is quite possible. In Germany the age tends to be about 30, while in North America people tend to be in their early 30s or older. Getting this far in any country is not for the faint-hearted! [NCS]

Q: My parents are concerned with future employment. What are the job prospects?

A: Poor. Everyone who thinks of doing Egyptology must know this from the start, that it is not a passport to an easy job opportunity. There are very few jobs available throughout the world, normally in universities and museums, which usually only become available when someone somewhere retires; with few professional Egyptologists this means that this does not happen very often. There are limited research funds available, which mean that it is rarely possible to prolong your research beyond a doctorate for more than a few years, unless you live in poverty! My recommendation to prospective students is always to have other skills available in the likely event of things not turning out as you would like. [NCS]

Sometimes parents are right. The late Klaus Baer (Univ. of Chicago) felt it his duty to take aside all first year students and let them know there are no jobs in Egyptology, so quit now. Many of my fellow students left soon after. If you are looking into Egyptology to get rich, forget it. It won’t happen. If on the other hand you are passionate about Egyptology and are willing to work long years to finish the program with only small chances of getting a full time job at a University, then by all means follow your passion. But know ahead of time that the options are limited. But Klaus Baer also said, the good students will make something happen. [ECU]

Q: How much does it pay?

I was brought up never to ask this sort of personal question, so I will not answer it, except to say that one does Egyptology because one loves it, and that being an Egyptologist is not going to make you rich. I was, however, asked whether one can live as an Egyptologist without money worries, and my response was that one hears of the very wealthy with financial problems, so that issue is very much down to the way in which the individual manages their finances. [NCS]

© Eugene Cruz-Uribe & Nigel Strudwick 2001

How do I get on an Egyptian dig?

Please note that there is a Fieldwork Opportunities Web page run by the Archaeological Institute of America. Such lists tend not to include Egyptian digs, but may be worth looking at.

Egyptian digs are not that easy to get on. The following guidance began as part of an email I submitted to a mailing list early in 1999, but you should pay attention to the very last paragraph which was added more recently:

A person going on a dig in Egypt tends to be a student of Egyptology who wants to get some training in what it's like to be in the field, or else has got to have a useful skill. There is no scope for doing manual labour as in European/US/Israeli digs; casual labour for excavations is an important source of income at many sites in Egypt--Egyptian workmen, properly supervised, do a great job and work very hard.

I, for example, would take people with Egyptological knowledge (so that I don't spend ages explaining the history and culture) but with less archaeological knowledge. After all, these people could be the future of the subject. They are asked to do menial tasks I'm afraid, but my experience has been that they adapt to the job and are quickly able to do more exacting work. But I would take them only when we are actually digging; when studying material, you need specialists.

Specialists tend to be much more in demand. Those who show an expertise in e.g. photography, human/animal remains, botanical remains, ceramics, or conservation are essential to any properly run dig, and they can attend for a short time to do a very specific job and get on with it immediately. But the needs will depend on each dig.

[Eugene Cruz-Uribe adds] Excavations in Egypt are strictly controlled by the Supreme Council for Antiquities (Ministry of Culture) in Egypt. Normally, foreigners apply for permission to excavate with the SCA. The Egyptian government requires that people who excavate or work in Egypt be associated with a reputable institution. For students, you normally are part of a team working on a project at a specific site. It is common for professors to take their good students on expeditions. Three restricting factors are the expense of travel and maintaining an individual in Egypt, what skills you have, and how you will interact with the rest of the expedition staff.

[Nigel Strudwick adds 7/11/03, updated Feb 2005] Since 2002/2003, there have been a number of new regulations introduced which relate to the operation of foreign missions in Egypt. One of these is that students are not allowed to work on expeditions, and another that every participant has to have a recognised institutional affiliation. There can be no doubt that these regulations make the taking of non-professionals into the field much more difficult than before.

© Nigel Strudwick and others as indicated 1999-2010

Why did you become an Egyptologist?

This is one of the most common questions at parties and the like. Eugene Cruz-Uribe (ECU) and I (NCS) have put here our responses. If any colleagues would like to add their experiences, we would be happy to put them here.

[ECU]: When I was in 8th grade I read a book about ancient Egypt about archaeology in Egypt. The books was directed to young adults and was written such that it sounded like that one could go anywhere in Egypt and stick a shovel in the sands and come up with gold treasure. I quickly learned that that was not the case, but was hooked on ancient Egypt. I continued doing a lot of reading in high school. Tried teaching myself hieroglyphs from A. H. Gardiner’s Egyptian Grammar (moderately successful) and read everything I could get my hands on about Egypt. By the time I went to college I knew that I wanted to be an Egyptologist, so in choosing where I wanted to go, I looked mainly at what type of ancient history and Egyptology courses they offered.

[NCS]: I recall that when I was about 10 I was going to the public library every weekend and looking for new books to read. I went through reading about dinosaurs and space travel, and then one day I came across a book called 'Temples Tombs and Hieroglyphs' by Barbara Mertz. I read it and I was hooked; I eventually acquired a copy of the book about 12 years ago. I also met the author in Luxor in the 1990s and told her that I blamed her for everything! At secondary school I just took an Egyptian angle on everything I could (projects, essays and the like), and when I came to apply for university, I did try to get in for other things and failed, so I thought, 'What the hell--go for what you want to do' and I did. At times in my career when things haven't been too good I have tried to give Egyptology up, but I have failed. It's just part of me now.

© Eugene Cruz-Uribe & Nigel Strudwick 2001

Further reading on Egyptology

The best way to learn more about any aspect of Ancient Egypt is by reading books. They can provide a depth of information in a way which the Internet is mostly incapable of. Here are some examples:

The Oriental Institute, Chicago

The British Museum

Francesca Jourdan's bibliography

A number of other Reading lists are on the EEF site.

Specific book thoughts:

Q: What is the best book on the history of Egypt?
A: a very loaded question. A recent volume by Ian Shaw, et al., The Oxford History of Ancient Egypt (Oxford, 2000), and Nicholas Grimal, A History of Ancient Egypt (Blackwells, 1992 and lots of reprints since) are two quite good volumes that I use in my courses. [Eugene Cruz-Uribe]

© Nigel Strudwick & others as indicated 2001-2011

How to find teaching distance-courses in Egyptology?

If you wish to enrol in Egyptology courses to learn more about different aspects of Ancient Egypt, teaching distance-courses can be a good and useful way. Due to personal situations, professional dedication or lack of free-time, some people would like to pursue courses on an open learning basis, by distance learning or online.

Q: Which teaching methods are available?

A: Basically you can distinguish three types of courses on an open learning basis: Continuing Education courses (Evening courses), Correspondence courses and On-line courses. If you are interested on distance-courses, then you have to focus your interest on courses arranged by post (Correspondence Courses) or computer (On-line courses). Some institutions or specific Egyptologists arrange distance-courses in Egyptology on specific subjects (history, archaeology, hieroglyphs, religion, society...).

Likewise you must consider two important details for your decision. Firstly, these institutions and individuals are located only on specific countries, and this is an important matter for Correspondence courses. And secondly, you should take into consideration the language in which the course contents are provided, moreover if you are "attending" an On-line course.

Q: Where can I find Correspondence Courses?

A: Information about institutions and individuals providing Correspondence courses can be obtained either from their proper websites in some cases, or from other related sites, journals, study groups or societies. I will include here some of the most known distance-courses which can be pointed:


  • Courses on hieroglyphs, by Vivian Raisman, and courses on history, by Suzanne Bojtos

Details: PO Box 368, Edgware, Middlesex HA8 9SF

Courses on Egypt and Nubia, religion, art or methods in Egyptology
* Also courses available on-line

Courses on history, archaeology and language

Courses in ancient Egypt and hieroglyphs

Course in Egyptology


Courses in ancient Egypt and different aspects of its culture


Courses in hieroglyphs, religion, archaeology, art...


Course in hieroglyphs (only Beginner Level)

Q: Where can I find On-line courses?

A: When visiting some web sites, you can realise that most of courses are for teaching yourself (Hieratic, Coptic, hieroglyphs). You should consider that a first contact with language taught by yourself can be desirable to have a general idea about what you can find later if deciding to attend a language course by correspondence or at an institution. Here I include some of the most important sites where on-line courses can be obtained. BUT IT SHOULD BE NOTED that I cannot keep these regularly updated.

Courses in Egyptology, hieroglyphs or Coptic

Basic Lessons in Hieratic (teaching yourself to read Hieratic)

Course in hieroglyphs and/or Coptic (teaching yourself)

Courses in ancient civilizations (ancient Egypt).

  • Department of Ancient Studies, University of Stellenbosch, South Africa

Q: How much must I pay for these kinds of courses?

A: It is easy to understand that these courses are usually cheaper than common courses arranged in centres and institutions. This is another advantage for those wishing to learn about ancient Egypt without big expenses! You should think that you are paying course material, distance tutorials and postal taxes in correspondence courses, and your admission fee (if requested) for those courses on-line depending on official institutions.

It is supposed to be an enjoyment to learn so easily...

* If you want to check by yourself more opportunities to find Correspondence courses or On-line courses, I recommend you to visit the EEF list of Egyptological institutions. So you will be able to see which institutions can maintain distance-courses close to your place or or-line.

The inevitable disclaimer

This information was written to be a guide, and information in it may well become out of date. The author and Egyptology Resources cannot be responsible for any errors.

© Antonio J. Morales 2001

What is the truth about the mummy films?

The 1999 film The Mummy was not a reworking of the 1932 film which starred Boris Karloff. The two films are very different, and the 1999 one is not a travesty of the earlier one, which still remains the best film of the genre. For a web site dedicated to films about Egypt, see Given Hollywood's obsession with sequels for successful films, The Mummy returns was soon in production and appeared in 2001.

My own personal opinion of the two films is that the first was much better than the second. The Mummy was quite understated and had a well-paced story. The Mummy returns just went at a breakneck pace from the start and was far too long; rather boring in fact. There's a lot more Egyptology in the first film.

Needless to say, there is no truth to the concept of the mummy film. The Egyptians' concern to preserve their dead for eternity gave rise to the idea of the mummy film in the early years of the 20th century. Still, the films have excited some interest in Egypt, and we get asked questions, so here are some comments on certain things about the films, plus a few things you perhaps didn't know:

The setting of The Mummy: Thebes was of course a living city. In 1290 BC most of its importance was based around the cult of Amun in the temples and also it being the place of burial of kings and high officials. It was not a royal residence except when the king visited to take part in rituals and the like--it was a 'religious capital'.

The setting of The Mummy returns: a settlement at Thebes barely existed in 3067 BC, and the oasis referred to is a product of the scriptwriter's imagination.

There is no evidence that Sety I was murdered. He reigned from about 1298-1279 BC, the second king of the 19th dynasty.

Hamunaptra has, to my knowledge, only come into being in The Mummy and its sequel The Mummy Returns. In those films it is the 'City of the Dead'. It of course does/did not exist. The name sounds to me as if it could be composed of Amun, the god Amun, ipet, select or harim, and Ra, the sun god Re. The nearest thing the Egyptians would have had to a 'City of the Dead' was simply a large necropolis, such as at Thebes (Luxor).

The Book of the Dead and the Book of Amun-Re (or Amun-Ra) appear in one or both of the films. The former of these is of course the well-known text, principally found on papyrus, which was buried with many Egyptians from the New Kingdom on, and which was supposed to provide a guide through the next world, telling the owner what to say and do in various places. Needless to say, just having the book meant that you were guaranteed to get everything right. However, the Book of Amun-Re was invented just for the 1999 film. Books in the form they are seen in the film of course did not exist in ancient Egypt; they would have used rolls of papyrus.

Five Canopic jars: yes, you weren't wrong, there were always four when you learned about the containers into which the Egyptians put the internal organs of a mummified person. I have been assured that the creators knew there were only four jars and that using five was partly a joke and partly for the plot. I am sceptical about the first part of this. Never underestimate the stupidity of scriptwriters.

Imhotep is a good Egyptian name, but the idea of 'keeper of the dead' is just concocted for the plot. The most famous person of this name was the architect who is credited as building the Step Pyramid at Saqqara (the first pyramid) and who was revered as a god of healing in the Graeco-Roman period,

'Anakh-su-namun' seems to be based on the name of well-known spouse of Tutankhamun, normally written Ankhesenamun, but whether someone of this name existed in Sety's time is unknown. Imhotep is heard pronouncing the name of this person properly in The Mummy but in the follow-up the other strange form predominates.

'Nefertiri' is presumably named after the famous Nefertari who was a wife of Sety's son Ramesses II, and who has a famous painted tomb in the Valley of the Queens.

The 'hyundai' curse is a creation of the film. It always sounds like a make of car to me!

The Medjay: name of a sort of Ancient Egyptian police force, who appear often in texts relating to the Theban region in the New Kingdom. They may originally have been descended from Nubian migrants who moved to Egypt in the Second Intermediate Period. But, yet again, the idea of them watching to prevent Imhotep and the Scorpion king from coming back to life is an invention of Hollywood. There is no secret society either. And it is very unlikely that they wore the sorts of tattooes seen in the films, and it seems very inappropriate that their leader was played by an Israeli actor! However, the hieroglyphs tattooed on the latter's forehead are interesting; they read imHt, which is one of the words for "Nether/Underworld" [Thanks to R.J. Leprohon for that]. I had always thought of them as a collapsed or incorrect (it's Hollywood after all) version of the name Imhotep, imHtp. But the other interpretation is interesting!

The Mummy returns brought in the Scorpion king. He, in name at least, must be based on a late predynastic king whose name is written with a scorpion hieroglyph, and who has a most impressive mace-head in the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford, but the rest is total fabrication. The logogram used in the film in the pyramid is meaningless in Egyptological terms, although it is composed of a pyramid, the eye of Horus and two cobras. There is no year of the Scorpion. There is likewise no sceptre of Osiris.

There are no statues of Anubis or Horus quite in the manner of the films, although there are of course statues of both gods, probably from temples. Anubis is the god of embalmment and a protector of the dead, but he is usually benign. Horus, the son of Osiris and Isis, is a deity particularly identified with the reigning king; he is also the archetypal dutiful son, as he avenged his father Osiris.

Both films feature rather nasty Scarab beetles. The Egyptian scarab is a dung-beetle and does not eat flesh. The Egyptians associated it with the sun probably because the beetle rolls along with its back legs [I didn't know that until I caught a film in a Washington DC museum] a ball of dung which contained its eggs-hence the metaphor of the sun being pushed along by a scarab-and when the young beetles burst forth from the dung the Egyptians saw this as a particularly good illustration of the concept of creation and new life.

The reference to the plagues is based on the Biblical plagues which are supposed to have caused Pharaoh to let the Israelites go, but there is no other evidence for them.

The spoken Egyptian language in the films. We don't know how Ancient Egyptian was pronounced, but some scholars have made some brave although ultimately futile (in my opinion) attempts. One such scholar was the late Dr John Callender, who taught Egyptology at UCLA until his death in 1987. He developed a set of conventions very different from those which I and most others learned, and I recall finding it quite odd at first, although it does sound quite exotic. The relevance of this is that one of his students, Stuart Smith, has advised on the two Mummy films.

The exterior of the British Museum in The Mummy returns isn't the museum at all, but the central building of University College London, as the BM was undergoing a major building project at the time. And no, we don't keep cratefuls of inflammable liquids in the museum, nor do we have curators like the fellow in the second film.

© Nigel Strudwick 2001-2

What do certain Egyptology terms mean?

All subjects have their jargon, and I'm sure we're no exception. So here are some of the more common ones. Please note that these are broad outlines of each one, and I haven't done intensive research for these answers.

Q: Why is a canopic jar so called?

It's generally known I think that the canopic jars contained some of the internal body organs removed during mummification. What is less clear to most is the origin of the term.

Kanopus (Canopus) was a steersman of the Greek ruler Menelaos. On the way home from Troy, they landed in Egypt, where Kanopus insulted Theonoe, the daughter of the Egyptian king Proteus. For this he was bitten by a snake; he died and was buried at the site later to bear his name on one of the mouths of the Nile. It appears that there a cult of him grew up in the Graeco-Roman period, in a temple which also include the cults of Sarapis, Isis, Anubis and Harpokrates. His image was that of a vessel with a human head; a legend runs that this image was developed by his priests to counteract the adherents of a Chaldean fire-god, who supposed to consume the images of other gods. These priests took a pot, put the head of an old god image on top of it, stopped up the holes in it with wax and filled it with water. When fire was applied to it, the wax melted and the water put out the fire. Another story says that a jar with a human head was a manifestation of Osiris.

This image, of a jar with a head, was confused very early on with the completely unrelated jar which contained organs, and the name 'Canopic jar' was coined. Completely inaccurate, it is one of those terms which has remained in the vocabulary.

Q: What does the word shabti mean?


The real and honest answer to the question is: we don't know. The word shabti is actually of unknown origin. In fact, the ancient Egyptians themselves re-interpreted it a few times. Here are some possible interpretations of the three words you'll find to designate these funerary figurines.

1.1. Shabti:
• the word itself is of uncertain origin
• some scholars think this word comes from the word shebed or shebty, a loan-word from Semitic (i.e. Western Asia), meaning "stick" (Hans D. Schneider, Shabtis [Leiden, 1977], 137-38)

1.2. Shawabti:
• the word occurs almost as early as shabti, but is rarer
• this word is only found in the Theban area
• some people think this word comes from the word shawab, "persea tree", the material from which some of the early statuettes were made.

1.3. Ushabti
• appears at the end of the Third Intermediate Period, and remains the spelling throughout the Ptolemaic Period, when the last of these funerary figurines were made
• this one we know: the word means "answerer", from the verb wesheb (or usheb), "to answer"


The text found on shabti figurines is originally from Spell 472 of the Coffin Texts, which was later incorporated into Chapter 6 of the Book of Going Forth by Day (what we today call The Book of the Dead).

Here's the original Spell from the Coffin Texts, as translated by R.O. Faulkner (The Coffin Texts vol. 2 [Warminster, 1977], p. 106):


See him,
you August ones, you gods, spirits and dead who are in sky and earth.
He has taken possession of his strength and his power;
he has taken possession for himself of his thrones;
he has come to rule among the (human) herds who were made for N in
accordance with the command of the gods.

If So-and-so* be detailed the removal(?) of a block(?) to strange
sites(?) of the desert plateau,
to register the riparian lands,
or to turn over new fields for the reigning king,
"Here I am"' you shall say to any messenger who may come for So-and-so
when taking his ease(?).
Take your picks(?), your hoes, your pegs and your baskets in your hands,

just as every young man does for his master.

O you shabtis which have been made for So-and-so,
if So-and-so be detailed for his task,
or an unpleasant duty in it be imposed on So-and-so as a man at his
"Here we are" you shall say.

If So-and-so be detailed to keep an eye on those who work there at
turning over new fields,
to plant the riparian lands or to convey sand to the West which was
placed on the East--and vice
versa-- "Here we are!" you shall say about it.


* Here, they'd fill in the name of the deceased who had purchased the figurine.

(R.J. Leprohon, University of Toronto)

Q: Where do dynasties come from?

The concept of dynasties, so central to our description of the history of Egypt, go back to an Egyptian priest called Manetho, who in the early 3rd century BC wrote a history of Egypt in Greek. He divided the kings up into groups which he called dynasties; the use of that (Greek) word was no doubt influenced by its use to describe Greek ruling families. Manetho's work does not survive in the original, but rather in excepts in the works of other ancient writers, such as Africanus and Josephus. Thus we cannot be sure how accurate what we have is. Much ink has been spilled in trying to relate Manetho's often garbled records to what we have from more ancient sources.

It could be that he worked from a king list, and made arbitrary divisions where he got to the bottom of pages or the like. It is pretty clear that his dynasties do not always relate to different families on the throne. For example, in family terms, links can be traced from the 1st right through to the end of the 5th. Also, the last king of the 17th dynasty was the brother of the first king of the 18th. Hence there is a measure of Manetho apparently starting new dynasties either where he thought there were too many kings, or where something important happened.

However, we are stuck with the system of dynasties, and it is a very convenient framework with which to discuss Egyptian history.

Q: Who came up with the terms Old, Middle and New Kingdoms?

Tough one this. The most likely is the German historian Bunsen, writing in the first half of the 18th century, right at the beginning of Egyptology as a serious subject. He seems to have worked out that there were periods in which Egyptian culture was highly developed, and these he termed the Old, Middle and New Kingdoms. This was probably not uninfluenced by the cyclical view of history as cultures waxing and waning. Later on, primarily in the 20th century, the term 'Intermediate Period' was coined to describe the periods of disunity which came between these great periods of stability.

© Nigel Strudwick 2002

Some basic questions on Egyptian Religion

by Eugene Cruz-Uribe

1. Who did the ancient Egyptians worship?

The ancient Egyptians had a complex religious system that combined aspects of personal/family deities, city gods, and a very small number of national deities.  Few of the books on religion put the lists in that framework.  The best way to understand it is: every city had a deity and that deity was the principal god for that person.  There was also the only true national god and that was the king.

2. How did they worship, what kind of  ceremonies?

Again worship varied.  There was individual prayer.  There were community celebrations.  There was worship and rituals within temples.  Since the general populous could not go into the temples, there was no public worship in the temples.  The major public worship ceremonies would be those where the god was carried out of the temple in a shrine and paraded around town for people to see and returned to the temple.  Within temples an ordained/purified priesthood carried out the daily, monthly and seasonal rituals.

3. Why did they worship who they did?

See no. 1.  Also, many of the deities in ancient Egypt were related to natural phenomenon and worship may have been developed as a respect for that (such as rising of the nile flood, appearance of certain stars, beginning of growing season, etc.).

4. Where did they have their ceremonies and worship?

See # 2.

5. What day did they worship on?

Christianity has recognized Sunday as the day of worship.  Islam has Friday.  Jews honor the Sabbath.  Since the ancient Egyptians used a lunar calendar, all of their festival days are tied into lunar calendar dates.  They also used a civil calendar and special national festivals were associated with the New Year time.

6. What rituals did they perform?

This varies immensely by god.  Some of the more common rituals include waking, feeding, bathing, clothing, singing to, and putting the god to bed in the evening.  These would have happened on a daily basis.  Each temple would have had additional rituals during the month.

7. What kind of funerals did they have?

Funerals seem to be times of transition for the deceased.  They are passing from this life into the afterlife.  The corpse and spirit are ritually brought to the tomb and a variety of rituals are performed to assist them in making the passage to the afterlife where they are reborn in the Egyptian version of paradise.  The funerals include much weeping and wailing, but also include a festival meal and libations for the deceased.

8. Did they believe in an afterlife and if so what kind?

There afterlife was a place where they were reborn in the company of the gods.  It mainly included all of what they held dear in this world and many others, especially cool breezes, good food, a nice place to live, etc.

9. Who got to go into the afterlife? (pharoahs and commoners?)

This is a most discussed question.  We assume that everyone could make it to the afterlife, but the social position of the dead in the afterlife mirrored that of the resent world.  If you were a commoner here, you will be a commoner there.

10. Where they afraid to die?

They did fear death, but also recognized it was mainly an area that they have not experienced and thus that can be a very daunting thing.

11. Did they do sacrifices?

Yes, they did both regular and burnt offerings.  It was normal that the produce of fields owned by temples was offered to the gods.  It normally happened that the priests were then given a portion of that as their salaries once the god had consumed that part which he/she wanted.

12. What was buried in the tomb with them?

What was buried with the deceased was entirely based upon their social / economic standing.  Wealthier people had more stuff, poorer had less. Wealthier people normally had better tombs, nicer coffins, etc.  It truly was a reflection of their current wealth.

13. Did they believe in re-incarnation?

Not in the sense that some beliefs from India have the spirit reborn into a different or better physical form in this world.  Rather we need to remember that their rebirth was confined to the afterlife.

14. Did everyone get buried in pyramids, where did less important people get buried?

Pyramids were restricted to those who could afford them such as kings and queens.  We do see in the New Kingdom (1500 - 1100 BC) private individuals begin to place mini-pyramids on the tops of their personal tombs, but again those individuals were wealthy and could afford that extravagance.

15. What did they believe their god did for them?

The gods were in charge of maintaining the world. Thus the king did his job of maintaining the country in good order and the gods rewarded him with a long reign (or so the theory goes).  People worshipp

ed the gods because the world belonged to them and if people disrupted the world, the gods could remove their protection over the people.  It was definitely a system where the gods had the upper hand so to speak.



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