Egypt, new dimensions, new frontiers

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Pharaonic History

The history of Pharaonic Egypt can be traced through divisions made by ancient and modern historians . According to Maneton, the ancient egyptian historian, the period was divided into 30 dynasties who successively ruled Egypt. Venues of their civilizations were spread over Ahnasia, Thebes, Memphis and Awn.

On the other hand, modern historians divide the Pharaonic period into three main eras, the Old Kingdom, the Middle Kingdom, and the New Kingdom, in addition to the pre-historic era.

The Old Paleolithic era was a rainy period when deserts and the Nile Valley were overflooded. Living in uphill huts, Egyptians took up hunting as a means of subsistence. They used stone tools and some primitive potteries.

In the Neo-Paleolithic era, the rainy period came to an end, the plateau became dry, and the lands of the Nile Valley became inhabitable. Thus, man descended to the Valley. Since then, Egyptians have developed intimacy with the Nile. They learned much from and interacted with the river which became the main source of their life.

From their experience with the Nile, Egyptians learned how to measure and count. They used not only foot and cubit as measuring but also the decimal numbers and counting. Using the Nile Papyrus, they invented paper and writing. Out of the Nile silt, they made pottery, bricks and utensils. They knew farming seasons and divided time into years, months and days.

Farmed-related crafts were developed to cater for man's basic needs and tribes, regions and districs emerged. Later two kingdoms representing Lower and Upper Egypt rose.

First Dynastic period (3100-2700 BC)

According to ancient records the First Dynastic period began with the unification of Egypt by King Menes after he successfully subdued the north and united both parts of the land, Lower and Upper Egypt, to one kingdom. The Dynasty that he founded together with the one after it constitutes the Archaic Period. During this period a new type of government and court was created and consolidated.

Foundation of Memphis; Palette of Narmer (Cairo Museum); Stele of Peribsen (British Museum)

Old Kingdom (2700-2200 BC)

During the subsequent Old Kingdom, beginning with the Third Dynasty, the Egyptian civilization developed the principles of central government and administration. As agriculture and industry flourished, the Egyptians used the first river fleet to trade their products. Genuine Egyptian particularity in the art of sculpture, engraving and architecture had then taken form.

This era represents the beginning of the Pyramid Builders' Age. The main figure of the third dynasty was King Djoser whose architect, Imhotep, built the first step pyramid in Saqqara. Of these, the most notable are the Giza Pyramids, built during the period of the 4th Dynasty by kings Cheops (Khufu), Chephren (Khafre) and Mycerinus (Menkaure) together with the Sphinx. About 97 pyramids were designed as tombs for Pharaohs. Today, including the little Queen's Pyramids, 108 pyramids have been discovered in Egypt.

III Dynasty 2686-2613: Step Pyramid built at Saqqara; collapsed Pyramid at Meidum.

IV Dynasty 2613-2494: Bent Pyramid at Dahshur; Great Pyramid of Giza.

V Dynasty 2494-2345: Sun temples and Pyramids at Abusir; Pyramids of Teti, Pepi at Saqqara.

First Intermediate Period (2200-2050 BC)

Five centuries after the Third Dynasty, following the end of the Sixth Dynasty (around 2182 BC), the system appears to have faltered and there began a century and a half of disintegration of political unity and distribution of power.

IX Dynasty 2160-2130: Capital at Heracleopolis near Beni Suef.

XI Dynasty 2133-1991: Ruined mortuary temple at Deir El-Bahri; Mentuhotep's statue (Cairo Museum)

Middle Kingdom (2050-1800 BC)

Entrance of the Luxor Temple

The re-establishment of the central government followed, whereby the Middle Kingdom period marked another establishment of the Old Kingdom patterns. In that period, prosperity and security prevailed, agriculture flourished and handicrafts developed. Egyptian artists and architects left behind a magnificent heritage that was spread over Luxor, Fayoum and Ain Shams.

During this era, many funerary temples were built. The 12th Dynasty Kings were also interested in the Fayoum area where they especially attended to irrigation works. The most famous of the temples was built by the kings of this dynasty was the Labyrinth Temple or the "Maze Palace" as called by the Greeks. This temple was built by King Amenemhat III in Hawara. In addition, castles, fortresses and walls were erected along Egypt's eastern borders.

During the latter part of the Middle Kingdom there began an influx of "Asiatic workers". These were nomads whose tribal chiefs were called by the ancient Egyptians "Hikaw Khasut" (meaning "rulers of desert uplands"). This name was rendered by Manetho as Hyksos or shepherd kings.

These people first entered Egypt through a peaceful but persistent migration and gradually began to settle in northern Egypt. By the end of the Middle Kingdom the immigrant communities were uniting and starting to gain control over certain areas that were available to them. They were also able to acquire such power as a result of the state being weak and in the process of disintegration.

XII Dynasty 1991-1786: Pyramid of Lahun, Lisht, Hawara; rock tombs at Beni Hassan and Aswan; site of Medinet Ma'adi.

The Second Intermediate period (1800-1550 BC)

The Second Intermediate period (1800-1550 BC) thus begins due to these factors. The term Second Intermediate is a label for a period of about two hundred years, during which the central authority of the kingdom was once more fragmented.

The power of the Hyksos had by then grown to such an extent that they controlled the Delta area taking Avaris as their capital, while at the same time native Egyptian power retreated to the south.

XV Dynasty 1674-1567: Capital at Avaris in the Delta; Rhind Mathematical Papyrus (British Museum).

XVI-XVII Dynasty 1684-1567: Tombs at Qarat Hilwah.

New Kingdom (1570-1090 BC)

From the south at Thebes there was another native Dynasty controlling the land from Abydos to Elephantine. At the beginning there was no open conflict between the two dynasties, however there began a conflict which ended by the reign of King Ahmosis (1570-1560 or 51 BC) in favour of the Theban Dynasty.

After routing the Hyksos and re-conquering the country, Ahmosis reorganized its system of government, resumed major religious and funerary architectural projects and started opening up contacts with the Near East.

Ahmosis thus founded the New Kingdom, a period during which Egypt's relations influenced the ancient world and its power came to dominate the Near East for half a millennium. The New kingdom was characterized by extraordinary expansions abroad and strong centralized stability internally. Egypt's past military glory was restored and the Egyptian Empire extended from the Euphrates in the east to the fourth cataract on the Nile to the south.

During the tenure of this imperial state, Egypt enjoyed unparalleled prosperity, wealth and glory. The capital Thebes became the hub of human civilization at that time, abounding in temples, obelisks and statues (especially under Thuthmosis III).

Every Pharaoh upon accessing the throne began a campaign of foreign conquests to sustain the power and position of Egypt in the ancient world. By the time king Amenophis III had accessed the throne, Dynasty 18th had reached its zenith. By his reign Egypt had reached a position of such absolute power in the world that it had never witnessed before.

Amenhotep was about nine years old when he succeeded his father Tuthmosis IV on the throne of Egypt. In spite of his young age he married his chief wife, Queen Tiye, at his coronation. His reign could be divided into two parts. The first 10 years, he carried out a campaign in Nubia and boasted about it being such a success in that he had excelled in it above any other king.

In spite of this campaign during his reign Egypt had no need to go to war, because of the conquests of his predecessors. Egypt's international policy was carried out from a position of strength and its "legendary might" was sufficient to prevent invasion and discourage any "would be rebel" in the Empire.

The second part of his reign witnessed an extended program of construction. Amenophis III was thus remembered by later generations as "The great Horus", "King of the Kings", "Ruler of Rulers". It is known that Amenhotep III lived to complete his 37th may be even 38th year on the throne.


After his reign the succession passed to his son, Prince Amenophis IV. Amenophis IV married the beautiful Nefertiti upon his accession to the throne. Amenophis IV was to reign for 17 years, the main feature of his rule was "an exclusive, even fanatical, personal devotion to the god Aten."

The principal god of Egypt was Amon, who had reached such position of importance by the New Kingdom Period. Amenophis IV replaced the principal god of the Egypt Amon with the god Aten, thus making "Atenism" the state religion in place of Amon worship.

He changed his name from Amenophis to Akhenaten (meaning one who is beneficial to the Aten). At about the fourth year of his reign he changed the capital of the country (which had been Thebes) to a new virgin site at El-Amarna.

Akhenaten worshipped his god as sole god of the country and thus hacked out the word gods in the plural, and often the word Amon, wherever they occurred. Akhenaten also limited the activities of the other temples and confiscated priestly goods for the state if he had not actually closed down certain temples.

From tomb scenes at El-Amarna dating to the 12th regal year of Akhenaten we start seeing the king with a new figure, Smenkhkare. It is not clear whether Smenkare was a co-regent during the last two years of Akhenaten's reign, becoming a sole ruler of the country for a few months only, or if he was eventually attested as king by the end of Akhenaten's rule and his reign probably lasted for two years intervening between those of Akhenaten and Tutankhamon.

Whatever the length of Smenkare's reign, it couldn't have exceeded the period of three years after which he disappears and the spotlight shifts to a child named Tutankhaten better known today as Tutankhamon.

Tutankhamon inherited the throne from Smenkhkare at the age of about nine. He married Ankhesenpaaten the daughter of Akhenaten and Nefertiti upon his accession to the throne. It must have been a hazardous and uncomfortable position to become king at that particular time in the history of his country. The situation at the time could be imagined as follows: abroad the empire that had begun by the Eighteenth Dynasty was crumbling, at home one could imagine the dissatisfaction felt especially by the priests of the ancient faith, upon seeing their gods flouted and their very livelihood compromised.

Hard facts about Tutankhamon's reign are few. However as he ascended the throne at such a young age, it is most likely that the government was not controlled by him but for the most part of his reign. It could have been that a council was formed and governed by the name of the king, among its most likely members would have been Ay, the vizier and regent to Tutankhamon (also Akhenaten's father-in-law) and the General Horemheb each of whom would succeed Tutankhamon to the throne.

The most important event of Tutankhamon's reign was in this religious sphere. Early in his reign he issued an edict restoring the traditional cults, abandoning the religion that was introduced by Akhenaten. In this edict, which was set up at the foot of the third pylon of the temple of Amon at Karnak, he described at great length the wretched state to which the country had been reduced to by the mistakes of Akhenaten.

The capital was moved from El-Amarna to Thebes. Neglected temples during the reign of Akhenaten were restored and reconstructed. The royal couple also abandoned the "-aten" forms of their names, which were associated with Akhenaten's god and took the "-amon" forms. In the foreign sphere there are no details. There is reference to at least one Asiatic and Nubian military campaign in relief fragments from Karnak and Luxor and Horemheb's Memphite tomb.

Recent re-examination of Tutankhamon's mummy has shown that he died around the age of 19 and that he had a wound in the region of his left ear. This was taken as to indicate that he might have died from a cerebral hemorrhage. His hair has been shaved off his head to treat such injury, as we know from the Edwin Smith Surgical papyrus. He was the last in the line of king Ahmose, the founder of the New Kingdom and the 18th Dynasty and he left no heir.

Tutankhamun's sarcophagus

Tutankhamon, as Carter himself explained, did not capture the attention of the whole world on basis of his eventful reign for he was "a king of obscure origin with a short and uneventful reign" but rather "his fame comes from the single fact that while the tomb of every other pharaoh yet discovered had been riffled in ancient times, that of Tutankhamon was found practically intact. In the confined space of this tomb was contained an assemblage of royal possessions such as had never been seen. He was the only king who has ever been seen in the wrappings, coffins, sarcophagus and tomb in which he was originally laid to rest."

Next dynasty was the XIXth which began with the reign of Horemheb's vizier, Ramses I whose family was to produce several warrior-kings who would recapture territories lost under Akhenaten. Seti I reasserted pharaonic authority in Nubia, Palestine and the Near East, and began a magnificent temple in Abydos. His son Ramses II completed the temple and the reconquest of Asia Minor, commemorating his dubious victory in Qadesh with numerous reliefs but later concluding a treaty with the Hittites. At home, Ramses usurped temples and statues built by others and raised his own monumental edifices, notably the Ramesseum at Thebes and the sun temples at Abou Simbel.

XVIII Dynasty 1567-1320: Temple of Deir El-Bahri; site of Tell El-Amarna; Royal tombs in the Valley of the Kings and Queens at Thebes; Luxor and Karnak Temples; Tutankhamun's gold (Cairo Museum).

XIX Dynasty 1320-1200: Serapeum at Saqqara; temples at Abydos, Abu Simbel; Ramesseum and royal tombs at Thebes.

XX Dynasty 1200-1085: Temple of Medinet Habu, further royal tombs in Thebes

Third Intermediate Period and Late dynastic period (1090-343 BC)

A period of decline followed known as the Third Intermediate Period that had occasional flashes of energy. Egypt during this period was controlled mainly from the Delta where the capital moved from one city to another. In Upper Egypt, the High Priest of Amon controlled the southern part of the country together with the Priestess of Amon. During the late dynastic period, Egypt was invaded by the Assyrians and the Persians, and opened its borders to the Greeks for the first time.

XXI Dynasty 1085-945: Capital at Tanis; Treasure of Tanis (Cairo Museum); Book of the Dead (British Museum).

XXII Dynasty 945-715: Ruins at Tanis; Shoshenk's relief at Karnak.

XXV Dynasty 747-656: Reliefs at Luxor; Kiosk of Taharqa at karnak; statue of Amenirdis (Cairo Museum)

XXVI Dynasty 664-525: Ruins of Naucratis; steles at Ismailiya.

XXVII Dynasty 525-404: Temple of Hibis at Kharga Oasis; completion of Nile-Red Sea canal; foundation of Babylon-in-Egypt (Cairo).

XXVIII-XXIX Dynasty: Temple of El-Ghweeta, Kharga Oasis.

XXX Dynasty 380-343: Additions to Philae & Karnak; ruined temple of Amun, Siwa Oasis.

The Ptolemaic period (322-30 BC)

Ancient Egyptian Dynastic history ends with the arrival of Alexander the Great in 332 BC. For the next 250 years Egypt was ruled by Greeks, but as a separate country with its own interests. Immigration was encouraged from all sides of the Mediterranean. The newly founded capital Alexandria displaced Athens as the center of learning. The Greeks also introduced new agriculture techniques and restored earlier temples.

Upon Alexander's death in 323 BC, Alexander's generals divided the empire. Ptolemy became ruler of Egypt and established the Ptolemaic Dynasty. During this dynasty of almost three centuries, Greek became the official language, Greek deities were introduced while Ptolemies were cultivating the Egyptian gods and erecting great cult temples such as Edfu and Kom Ombo. They built also the Pharos (a 120-meter-high lighthouse) and established the great Library in Alexandria known as the hub of knowledge all over the antic world.

332-330 : Construction (or modification) of temples of Edfu, Esna, Kom Ombo, Dendera & Philae; Catacombs in Alexandria; Sanctuary of Amun at Siwa Oasis; Ruins of Karanis and Qasr Qaroun in the Fayoum.

The Roman period (30 BC-AD 639)

However Ptolemaic rule ended with the conquest of Egypt by the Romans in 30 BC. Under the Greco Roman Period there was an initial increase in prosperity. But this policy was carried out to secure wealth for Rome and not for Egypt's own sake. Egypt was not given any degree of local autonomy, unlike other provinces of the Roman Empire. It was administered by a prefect under the jurisdiction of the emperor.

When Cleopatra and Mark Antony died, Egypt was annexed by Rome. It became the personal estate of the Emperor Octavian (who later became Augustus) and the granary of the Roman Empire. Roman emperors after Augustus styled themselves like pharaohs just to maintain the appearance of being legitimate Egyptian kings.

Annexed by Rome, Egypt became a prosperous part of the Roman Empire. It had indeed become a wealthy province, and many new cities had been founded. Some monuments from the Roman period still stand in Egypt. One of the best-known buildings from Roman Egypt is called Pharaoh's Bed, or Trajan's Kiosk. It was built on the Philae Island by Trajan, a Roman ruler from A.D. 98 to 117. Egypt continued to enjoy its wealth until the end of the 2nd Century. After this period, however, during the reign of Commodus, from A.D. 180 to 192, Egyptian supplies had to be supplemented from North Africa. In addition, during that period the coins used in Egypt dropped in value. Later, the Roman Empire was divided into east and west. Under the rule of Emperor Diocletian, Egypt was not administered as a separate province, but was made part of the eastern empire, and it was split into three provinces: the Thebaid, Aegyptus Jovia, and Aegyptus Herculia. About A.D. 341, a new province named Augustus was formed, and later Herculia was renamed Arcadia. At that time Egypt had a civil administrator as well as a military one. Egypt also used the same coins that were used in the Roman empire. Things remained much this way for several centuries.
30 BC : Tomb of Kitnes and Temple of Dush in Kharga Oasis.

45 AD: Muzawaka Tombs in Dakhla Oasis.

249-305: "Pompey's Pillar" in Alexandria

395: Necropolis of El-Bagawat at Kharga Oasis.

Pharaonic Religion

A comprehensible knowledge of Egyptian religion is indispensable for anyone who wishes to grasp the essence of the Egyptian civilization. Religion had deeply dominated all aspects of the Egyptian culture, its art, science, government, and law. Egyptian religion can be characterized by its infinite complexity and diversity. This diversity is justified by the constant growth of religious beliefs over many centuries during which new ideas were introduced without ever discarding any old ones (except during the reign of Akhenaten). Therefore, to the ancient Egyptian this diversity of beliefs and gods was acceptable, consequently each divine power was approached by a variety of images related to nature, animal and human life.

Sources of information

Much of our knowledge about religion comes from the religious literature in the form of hymns, charms, spells, and other religious texts inscribed on the walls of the tombs & temples, and on coffins, stelae, statues and papyri. The earliest religious writings were the Pyramid Texts written on the walls of the burial chambers of the fifth and sixth dynasties rulers within their pyramids. In the Middle Kingdom these were transferred from the structure of the tomb to the coffins thus given the name the Coffin Texts. In the New Kingdom these are replaced by what is known as the Book of the Dead (190 chapters), which were rolls of papyrus buried with the dead in the coffin. Apart from the Book of the Dead various other 'books' are known as the Am-duat, Book of the Gates, Book of the day and night etc... The texts in their various forms were concentrating on one subject that was mainly the welfare of the dead and his journey in the after life.

Gods and Myth

The Egyptian pantheon was so diversified, it included many gods which varied in character and form, some being defined by myth, and others by geographical location and organization into groups.

Local Deities

Ancient Egypt was composed of many local areas referred to as nomes, each district possessed its own traditions and customs with its own divinity that was worshipped by its inhabitants. These deities shared the fate of their localities meaning that depending on the political and economic importance of the locality, some of the deities were promoted to state gods whose cults spread all over the country, for example Ptah of Memphis, Amon of Thebes and Re of Heliopolis.

Cosmic Deities

There were other gods who did not have local basis, however they participated and fulfilled their roles in general myths of creation like Nun which was a personification of chaos before creation.

Minor Deities

Most Egyptians did not have an access to the state gods in the temples' shrines, which represented the most sacred place. The people could only approach the gods in the national festivals. However there were additional deities who answered the everyday life wishes and were connected with the family. These are referred to as household deities. The most popular were Bes and Tawert which were associated to child birth. Gods represented themselves in various forms and manifested human behavior. They thought, they spoke, they dined, and they had emotions. Sometimes they went into battle and traveled by boat, some even drank to excess, as illustrated by the behavior of the goddess Hathor in the myth of The Destruction of Mankind. The forms of the deities were numerous. They could be human such as the gods Amon and Ptah, or animal such as the gods Anubis as a jackal and Sobek as a crocodile. The Egyptians sometimes combined human and animal forms in one image such as the gods Horus shown as a falcon-headed man and Sekhmet as a lioness headed woman. Often the same deity possessed more than one form of representation . Gods were assimilated together to form sets composed of three deities, two adults and one youthful deity. These were referred to as triads like The Theban triad composed of Amon- Re and Mut as his consort with Khonsu as their child, another common way of combining gods together is referred to as syncretism, it is when a deity takes the name and character of a more important one, therefore Amon Re means Amon in the form of Re.

Egyptians' conception of the origin of the world

In the Egyptian view of the universe, both the divine and human worlds had come into being at the time of the creation, before which there were only an uncreated matter. The act of creation took place when this matter was separated into the myriad different forms that make up the created world. There was mainly three major creation myths in ancient Egypt. One of the major creation myths was associated with the religious centre of Heliopolis, the creator god who was self generated, began the creation by masturbation thus creation the first pair of male and female deities, who in turn produced another pair ...etc.

The temple as the cosmos

The temple was considered the dwelling house of the god, it was a miniature picture of the world at the moment of creation. The temple was conceived as the center of creation. This symbolic role of the temple was expressed in its location and design as well as the decoration of its walls and ceiling. The structure was separated from the outside world by a massive mud brick enclosure wall which symbolize the watery state of the cosmos at creation. Within this lay the main wall or the entrance wall, decorated with scenes of the king slaughtering his enemies. The pylon is the largest element in the temple symbolizing the hieroglyph of the horizon with its two massive columns and the gap between them. The orientation of the temple was always east-west, therefore the sun rises in the pylon gateway penetrating with its rays to the sanctuary (or shrine in which the statue of the god was kept) which is placed in axis. The sanctuary represent the mound of creation. Therefore in passing through the temple, toward the sanctuary, one goes through the various phases of creation. The hypostyle hall encompasses the decorative scheme of the whole. The hall with its columns represented the marsh of creation while the ceiling is decorated with reliefs of the sky. On the walls, the activity of the world is represented, and in terms of the temple the give and take relation between the king and the god is the core of the world activity. There was a consistent general pattern of temple building. This pattern ensured a that gradual approach was made to the divinity. The arrangement consisted of a gradual move from light to shadow, with a rise in the ground floor and lowering of the ceiling. The temple's daily ritual was a dramatization of the god's daily life. The main services at dawn, midday, and night consisted of washing, anointment, adornment with clothing and feeding of the deity with offerings. The great festivals represented the god's social life when he was taken in procession to visit another deity in his house or received such a visit. These procedures stand in sharp contrast with the religious practices of the majority of the Egyptians.


It was ritual not myth that dominated the religious thought of ancient Egypt. In each of the main temples the king was regarded symbolically as the high priest. There were three services performed each day, at dawn, at midday and in the evening all centered around purification and offerings presented to the god.


In the daily rituals the public had no role, in fact access to the inner parts of the temple was strictly forbidden to the common people, they can only participate in the great festivals. Each temple had a calendar of its feasts. One of the most important festivals was The feast of Opet held in Thebes during the second month of the season of the inundation. At this feast Amon barked from Karnak to Luxor accompanied by the boats of Mut and Khonsu, another important festival was The New Year Feast. There was also the visit of the goddess Hathor of Dandara to the god Horus of Edfu. The procession of the goddess Hathor used to leave Dandara and arrive at Edfu covering a distance of about 180 km, details of this great festival are depicted on the walls of the court of the temple at Edfu.

Funerary Beliefs and Customs

Egyptians were particularly religious people obsessed by death and burial however their preoccupation with the after life originated essentially from the Egyptian's devotion to life and the perfect harmony they found in the Egyptian environment. In general it was believed that the best existence of man after life is composed of what was thought as the best and the most desired style of life on earth. In death as in life, the Egyptians expected to belong to an hierarchical society in which the best was reserved for the king and the nobles. It is from their tombs that most of the information about the Egyptian customs comes. It is difficult to give an account of the beliefs of all the social classes, however, it is assumed that at every level the Egyptian conception of his existence after death was that it should consist of the best of what is available to him in his life on earth. In order to achieve the desirable end, the deceased should assure that his name continued to exist, his body remain intact, and be supplied with all the necessary food and drink. This led to the development of exquisite tombs containing incorruptible mummies and inscribed with texts with the owner's name and with scenes that would secure for him by magical means food, drink and other desirable objects.

Akhenaten's new religion

The New Kingdom has witnessed the first attempt of monotheism when Amenhophis IV established Aten as the sole universal god of Egypt and eliminated all the traditional deities in the Egyptian pantheon. This god was not in fact unknown to the Egyptians. It originally represented the light and heat of the sun. His name appeared frequently in texts, and used in expressions, the most common was referring to the universe. Akhenaten's new doctrine did not last long after his death. The return to the orthodox worship of Amon-Re took place under the influence of the divine father Ay who guided the steps of the small king Tutankhamun. During Tutankhamun's reign, Amon-Re regained its supremacy that lasted till the end of the Egyptian empire.

Ancient Art

Art flourished and played a vital role in shaping the ancient Egyptian culture. The ancient Egyptian conceived art as a means of translating his religious experience into a visual form. Thus all form of art - sculpture in the round, relief and painting - mainly possessed a ritual purpose whose aim was to reflect the Egyptian conception of his world and afterlife, which was conceived as a timeless idealized world. From this philosophy originated the character and basic features of art which expressed the religious ideas in the most comprehensible way. The most distinctive character is the adoption of the two dimensional representation, since art was conceived as a set of symbols that convey information for the viewer to read. The figures were conceived as diagrams of what they represent. The artist showed objects in what were believed to be their real forms without any distortion of perspective. Thus use of foreshortening and the adoption of a single unified view point for the whole picture, which we come to know in western art, were both irrelevant to the purpose of Egyptian artist. Therefore the first rule for the artist to follow was to represent objects by showing its most characteristic aspects, two dimensionally on a flat surface without depth. In this sense Egyptian art is conceptual rather than perceptual, for it depicts a concept rather than an image.

Bas-relief : Horus, Hathor and Pharaoh

For example, the human figure was represented by a composite diagram of what was regarded as the typical aspect of each part of the body, with the whole being recognizable and expressive. The head was shown in profile with a full view eye, eyebrow, and a half mouth. The shoulders were shown full width from the front, while the forward side of the body from armpit to waist including the nipple (or in a woman the breast) was shown in profile, as were the waist, elbows, legs, and feet. As for the hands they were usually represented in full view either opened or clenched. This description is of the standing figure at rest, however there are many variations in pose and detail.

By examining the scenes on the walls of the tombs and temples, we see that it can be divided into two basic types: The formal scenes which posses a ritual purpose, depict the world of the gods and the dead, and the major figures in them are those of the deities, the king or the tomb owner. In the temples the major theme shows the rituals carried by the king before the gods and the acts performed by the gods towards the king. In the tombs the subject matter centers around the owner receiving offerings from his family as well as overseeing activities related to his position or office.

The figures were all shown in an idealized perfect form. The men were youthful and handsome. The women were slim and beautiful, and only the accompanying inscriptions distinguish between a man's wife and his mother. Oldness, illness, and deformity were deliberately excluded. The poses of these figures are limited to standing, sitting, and kneeling, while the violent movements were generally avoided even when the king was shown smiting his enemies, or the tomb owner engaged in an activity like hunting or spearing fish. In such scenes a perfectly balanced body is in the midst of the action giving an impression of controlled power.

In addition to these formal scenes there are other types of scenes showing daily life activities in which subordinate figures are usually depicted. Figures in these scenes were far from being perfect sometimes even showing deformity. While the possible poses of the formal figures were limited, the poses in which minor figures might be shown were extremely wide, they could be shown engaged in activities like dancing, fighting, farming .......etc.

In both scenes the scale was used to organize the entire compositions. The larger the figure, the more important it is. Usually the king and god were both shown equal in size and facing each other.

Amarna art

However, with the introduction of the new religion by Akhenaten, we see changes that resulted in a distinctive style of art which was developed to express his religious ideas and decorate his new capital, El-Amarna.

The difference between the traditional art style and Amarna art is not a fundamental difference in the principles of representation that were inherited a long time ago. However the difference lies in the subject matter as well as the proportions of the human figure.

Traditional scenes in the temples centered around rituals carried by the king towards the gods, while in the Amarna Period these scenes were all combined in one unvarying scene type, where the king adores beneath the sun disk, while the rays of Aten embrace him and offer him the sign of life. As for the scenes in the tombs a new scene type was developed which replaced the traditional representation of the tomb owner seated before a table of offerings or standing before a deity. The new scenes show the royal family in various domestic situations breaking away from the previous type of formal scenes of the king.

One of the most obvious ways in which Amarna art departs from the traditional is in the proportions of the human figure. The king was shown with bizarre features, a long bony face with narrow and slanting eyes, fleshy mouth, long neck, protruding belly, heavy buttocks and thighs, short legs and spindly arms. It is a controversial matter whether this way of representation reflects Akhenaten's real physical appearance or rather an image of Akhenaten that arises as an expression of his religious ideas. Traces of Amarna Art continued in spite of the return to orthodoxy under Tutankhamun and his two successors, Ay and Horemheb. However, the reign of Horemheb shows the start of the working out of the Amarna legacy, where a certain formalism and a return to the traditional type of representations are evident. Within these basic rules the Egyptians produced their artistic materials. Despite some changes and developments that occurred, the character of the art remained the same through out all the phases of the Egyptian history.

Arabic Language

Try to write your name (no vowels in hieroglyphic)!

Throughout their more than 3000 year-long history, the Ancient Egyptians used three kinds of writings to write religious and secular texts:

Hieroglyphic writing is the basis of the two other writings. It owes its name to the fact that when the Greeks arrived in Egypt, this writing was mainly used for "sacred (Greek hieros) inscriptions (Greek glypho)" on temple walls or on public monuments. Hieroglyphic writing uses clearly distinguishable pictures to express both sounds and ideas and was used from the end of the Prehistory until 396 AD, when the last hieroglyphic text was written on the walls of the temple of Isis on the island of Philae. It was used in monumental inscriptions on walls of temples and tombs, but also on furniture, sarcophagi and coffins, and even on papyrus. It could either be inscribed or drawn and often the signs would be painted in many colors. The quality of the writing would vary from highly detailed signs to mere outlines. Drawn on papyrus or on linen, the signs would often be simplified but they would still be recognizable as individual signs. A special, cursive form of hieroglyphic writing was used for the Book of the Dead.

Hieratic writing is as old as hieroglyphic, but it is more cursive and the result of a quick hand drawing signs on a sheet of papyrus with a reed brush. While writing, the scribe would often omit several details that made one sign different from another. Several smaller signs, written in one quick flow, would melt together, but despite this, the hieratic text can still be transcribed into hieroglyphics. Hieratic was mainly used for religious and secular writings on papyrus or on linen and during the Greek-Roman era occasionally in an inscription of a temple wall. It was called "hieratic" by the Greeks because when they arrived in Egypt, this writing was almost exclusively used by the Egyptian priests (Greek hierATICos, "priestly"). Prior to demotic, it was also used in administrative and private texts and in stories.

Demotic writing started being used during the 25th/26th Dynasty (c 8th BC). In part, it is a further evolution from hieratic. Like hieratic, demotic was a handwriting, but the strokes of the reed brush or the reed pen are even quicker and more illegible. Hieratic signs representing a group of hieroglyphs could be broken up, not as the represent the individual hieroglyphic signs again, but to facilitate the writing. With these entirely new signs, unknown in hieroglyphic or hieratic were shaped. The link between handwriting and hieroglyphic text slowly faded with demotic. Where hieratic texts often are transcribed into hieroglyphic before translation, demotic texts are not. Demotic was mostly used in administrative and private texts, but also in stories and quite exceptionally in inscriptions. Its name comes from the Greek word demotikos meaning "popular". It is important to note that neither writing would entirely replace another, but it would merely restrict the other writings to specific domains and be restricted itself to other domains. Thus demotic would become the writing of the administration from the 26th Dynasty on, but it did not entirely replace hieratic as a handwriting, which was still being used in religious texts. Hieratic, on its part, did not replace hieroglyphic either. From its beginnings, it was hieroglyphic, but more cursive and written by a speedier hand than hieroglyphic. As the two writings evolved, practicality caused hieratic to be used when a text need not be written in the slow but detailed hieroglyphic signs and was used in administrative texts, texts that were not to be inscribed on monuments or on funerary objects, texts that mattered for their contents only.

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© World INvestment NEws, 2000.
This is the electronic edition of the special country report on Egypt published in Forbes Global Magazine.
August 7th 2000 Issue.
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