Ancient Egypt

    Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.

    • Main
    • Quotes
    • Wikipedia
    • All Subpages
    • Create New
      /wiki/Ancient Egyptwork
      The Sphinx and the Khafre's Pyramid in Giza outside Cairo, in December 2004. Photo by "Isewell", licensed under CC-BY-1.0

      Ancient Egypt has meant two things to Hollywood, Cleopatra and walking mummies.

      George Macdonald Fraser, The Hollywood History of the World

      Land of the original God-Emperors the Pharaohs, pyramids, sphinxes, and beautiful brown-skinned seductresses with braided wigs and kohl-painted eyes. Also home to fanatical bald priests in lapis collars and leopard-skin robes, who usually wind up being turned into mummies after calling down the wrath of the gods upon their heads (usually for getting involved with the aforementioned beautiful olive-skinned kohl-painted seductresses in some way). Wretched slaves labour to build pyramids in the scorching sun beneath the whips of merciless overseers, despite the fact that the great monuments were actually built by paid labourers with their own guilds.

      Often considered a culture so exotically different (especially in the field of architecture) to Western and Eastern civilizations alike that some theorize outside inspiration.

      Sadly, humanity had to wait thousands of years for The Eighties to come along to be able to walk like an Egyptian. Which may explain why the civilization fell....

      Comedies set in Ancient Egypt often have a scene in which one of the protagonists knocks the Great Sphinx's nose off, leaving it in the form we know today . (Alternately, the story has it that one of Napoleon's cannons blew it off.) However, the nose is documented to have been firmly attached at the time of the Arab invasion of Egypt in the seventh century AD (and detached by the time any Revolutionary Frenchmen got there). The most likely story is that a Muslim fanatic knocked it off about six hundred years after the Arab conquest--and then being hanged by the Sultan for vandalism. (While normally being hanged for vandalism might normally seem like Disproportionate Retribution, most archaeologists and historians feel it to be entirely justified.)

      Some history

      Egypt was the second civilization in the world (after ancient Mesopotamia) to invent writing. As a result, its history is extremely long. Almost any trope recorded in Ancient Egypt is therefore by definition Older Than Dirt.

      Ancient Egyptian history is conventionally divided into ten periods. They are generally identified with dynasties, which unlike the dynasties of other states are numbered rather than named.

      Important note: Names of Ancient Egyptian places are most often not what they were called in Ancient Egyptian. Most of the placenames in English are actually Greek, as the Greeks seem to have had a collective case of Egyptomania (seriously, the Pharaoh gave the Greeks the entire city of Naucratis, there were so many of them) and wrote incessantly about it (Herodotus in particular was a big fan). On the other hand, personal names tend to be modern guesses at the actual Egyptian -- a somewhat problematic endeavor, as Egyptian writing leaves out even more vowels than modern Arabic and Hebrew -- although some Greek names persist (e.g. Cheops for Khufu).

      1. Predynastic period (before 3150 BC): Prehistoric Egypt. Not much is known. Tradition holds that Egypt was divided into small squabbling city-states that gradually merged together into the kingdoms of Upper (southern) and Lower (northern) Egypt, which in turn were united by King Menes sometime around 3150 BC.
      2. Protodynastic period (much of the 32nd and 31st centuries BC): The first hieroglyphic writing is from this period, but records are very sketchy. Dynasties may or may not have existed.
      3. Early Dynastic Period (1st and 2nd Dynasties, c. 31st century BC-2686 BC): The capital moves from Abydos in Upper Egypt to Memphis where Upper and Lower Egypt meet (just south of modern Cairo). Writing develops and becomes more common. New technologies in copper and pottery appear, possibly arriving from the southern Levant (modern Israel/Palestine and Jordan). The state becomes increasingly centralized. Rich people start building ever-larger tombs.
      4. Old Kingdom (3rd-6th Dynasties, 2686-2181 BC): Centralization reaches its peak. Previously independent or semi-independent states become nomes, i.e. provinces, ruled at the discretion of the Pharaoh in Memphis. This centralization makes massive projects possible; given the Lensman Arms Race in tomb-building among Egypt's nobles, the Pharaohs start building pyramids just to show who's boss. The Old Kingdom is therefore sometimes known as "the Age of Pyramids." However, this centralized state eventually falls apart, and the hereditary rulers of the nomes became increasingly rich and powerful.
      5. First Intermediate Period (6th-11th Dynasties, 2181-2055): Dynasties of Pharaohs continue to exist, but have little power outside their home territories (fans of Chinese history, think of the Zhou Dynasty). However, powerful families in Heracleopolis in Lower Egypt and Thebes in Upper Egypt succeeded in gradually uniting their respective parts of the country; inevitably, they clashed. In about 2055 BC, the Theban 11th Dynasty decisively defeated the Heracleopolitan Tenth Dynasty and founded the...
      6. Middle Kingdom (11th-13th Dynasties, 2055-c.1720 BC): Because of the way in which they conquered Egypt, the pharaohs had to deal with the nobles, who had done very well in the period of of pharaonic weakness. As a result, while a centralized state was established, the Middle Kingdom was characterized by a certain amount of power sharing between the king and the nobles in the provinces; this era is consequently called the "Feudal Age" in some sources. Surprisingly, this did not end up falling apart under its own weight, but rather ended by means of foreign invasion.
      7. Second Intermediate Period (14th-16th Dynasties c.1720-c-1550 BC): Specifically, a group of barbarian charioteers from Asia, known in Egyptian records as "Hyksos" (probably some flavor of Canaanite) conquered the country with what for the time was alarming speed. Chariots in particular were frightening, as both horses and wheeled vehicles had to that point in time been essentially unknown in Egypt. They also introduced the composite bow, a far more powerful weapon than the Egyptians had yet seen. A Hyksos family took power as the Fifteenth dynasty, and Hyksos continued to dominate the native Egyptian Sixteenth Dynasty. At this point, several nomes declared independence; the most important of these is the ruling family of Thebes, which declared itself the Seventeenth Dynasty. Adopting Hyksos technology and tactics, the Seventeenth Dynasty gradually brought Egypt under its control, driving the Hyksos out of Egypt back to Asia and crushing local leaders across Egypt. This led to:
      8. New Kingdom (18th-20th Dynasties, 1550-1069 BC): The Seventeenth Dynasty having petered out, they were succeeded by the Eighteenth without too much trouble. Finding itself in possession of all kinds of new military tech and a series of young, dynamic rulers, Egypt at this point began to expand, primarily into Canaan. As a result, the New Kingdom is often known as the Egyptian Empire. The world's first recorded peace treaty is from this era, between Egypt and the Hittite Empire. Eventually, however, Egypt's strength was sapped, and the empire retreated into splendid isolation.
        When most people think of Ancient Egypt (besides pyramids and Cleopatra), this is what they're thinking about -- especially the Eighteenth Dynasty. Pharaoh from The Bible? Mostly New Kingdom; the ones mentioned in Exodus are all from the Eighteenth Dynasty, and one of them is probably Ramses II. The crazy king who worshiped the Sun? Akhenaten, Eighteenth Dynasty. King Tut? Akhenaten's son. Hatshepsut? Tut's great-great-great-great aunt.
      9. Third Intermediate Period (21st-25th Dynasties, 1069-664 BC): Yet another period of division. Several dynasties of foreigners -- chiefly from Libya to the west and Nubia to the south -- rule all or much of Egypt.
      10. Late Period (26th-31st Dynasties, 664-332 BC): The last gasp of Egypt, with two periods of rule by The Persian Empire known in Egyptian historiography as the Twenty-Seventh and Thirty-First Dynasties.

      In 332 BC, Egypt was conquered by Alexander the Great and became part of Hellenistic civilization under the Ptolemy dynasty, the last (and arguably most famous) sovereign being Cleopatra VII Philopator. Egypt would be part of various empires until the 19th century, and would not be ruled by someone of Egyptian stock (President Muhammad Naguib) until 1953.

      See also Build Like an Egyptian, Pyramid Power.

      Tropes used in Ancient Egypt include:
      • Ancient Astronauts: Often attributed to this time period, even though history and science have both marched well beyond believing in them. What you see in Stargate SG-1 is just similar, though.
      • Brother-Sister Incest: Standard practice for Pharaohs. This was because while the Pharaoh was Always Male (with a few exceptions), succession to the throne passed through the daughter: the person who became Pharaoh was the man who married the eldest daughter of the senior wife of the previous Pharaoh (or something like that), meaning a lot of princes married their half-sisters to get the throne.
        • That is in fact untrue, a 19th c. theory that has been very thoroughly exploded. The truth is that Pharaoh's eldest son by his Great Wife had first dibs on the throne followed by his younger full brothers. If there was no such son then one of Pharaoh's male offspring from one of his innumerable secondary wives would be tapped and usually married to the eldest available daughter of the Great Wife if there was such a woman. If Pharaoh had no sons at all he might select a trusted lieutenant as his successor creating him co-regent to secure his claim. OR a royal daughter might be in a position to claim the throne in an attempt to keep her dynasty in power. This worked once. Pharaohs apparently married their sisters not so much to secure their throne as because nobody else was considered worthy to be Queen of Egypt; because princesses were not normally allowed to marry men of inferior rank and because it kept the royal family united and strong - at least until and unless bad genes kicked in.
          • There was also a religious reason (or possibly excuse). The Pharaoh's family was supposed to be descended from Ra, the chief deity of Egypt (most of the time). Thus keeping it in the family meant less human blood to dilute the divine heritage.
      • Egyptian Mythology
      • Guyliner: Eyeliner was considered androgynous and both men and women wore it to make their eyes look bigger. And because it was made out of a substance that repelled flies.
        • A lot of eye make-up was also needed to reduce the glare from the sun. A group of pyramid workers even organized a strike to get more make-up.
      • History Marches On: Although slavery existed in Ancient Egypt, it is generally accepted by modern historians that its crowning achievement, the Great Pyramid of Giza, was not built by slave labour, but by the equivalent of paid contractors who were mostly skilled workers (the equivalent, because the pay took the form of food and other supplies, money not having been invented yet).
      • The Mummy
      Depictions of Ancient Egypt in fiction include:

      Anime and Manga

      Comic Books



      • In the third book of The Bartimaeus Trilogy there are parts set in Ptolemaic Egypt. They're backstory bits of Bartimaeus with his long dead, and much cared for, master...Ptolemy.
      • Pretty much anything by Wilbur Smith.
      • The Kane Chronicles takes place in the present day but has the Egyptian gods.
      • The Queen of the Damned novel by Anne Rice reveals Kemet (Ancient Egypt) to be birthplace (undeathplace?) of the original vampire, Akasha, the titular queen, although Akasha herself is not originally Egyptian. A good chunk of Maharet's story takes place in Kemet or around it.
        • She also wrote The Mummy, or Ramses the Damned, in which Ramses the Great and Cleopatra have both been made immortal.
      • Features prominently in The Bible. In Genesis, Joseph ends up there after his brothers sell him to some Egyptian traders. He works his way up from slavery to prime minister. In Exodus, another pharaoh has conquered and enslaved the Israelites, and Moses has to get him to let them go free. Elsewhere, Egypt is referred to, though often as a nation of godless heathens right along with the Canaanites, Assyrians, and other non-Yahweh-worshiping peoples, because of Values Dissonance.
      • In The Red Tent, Dinah starts a new life in Egypt with her mother-in-law after her husband is killed by her brothers.
      • Pyramids sends up Ancient Egypt to way past eleven. Terry Pratchett creates a country where building pyramids is all and everything and which is up to 3,000 years behind the rest of the Discworld. It takes a gifted Assassin to bring it all crumbling down.
      • Imprisoned With the Pharaohs, by HP Lovecraft, is basically Indiana Jones on a bad acid trip.
      • Death Comes as the End by Agatha Christie.
      • Herodotus spends a lot of time talking about Egypt in The Histories.
      • Excavating and investigating Ancient Egypt is a major element of the Amelia Peabody stories by the late Elizabeth Peters.
      • Shadow Hawk by Andre Norton depicts the Egyptians beginning to push the Hyksos out.

      Live-Action TV


      • Michael Jackson's music video "Remember the Time".
      • Nile, obviously.
      • "King Tut" by Steve Martin, produced during the "Tut-mania" of the 1970s when Tutankamun's treasures went on tour.
      • The artwork of Iron Maiden's album Powerslave is an obvious homage to this period of time, complete with Pharaoh Eddie. And so is the title track.


      • Aida (Verdi's opera) and Aida (the Disneyfied Broadway musical).

      Video Games

      Web Original

      • The Global Guardians PBEM Universe featured the heroic weather-controlling crimefighter Pharaoh, who was, in fact, Pharaoh Imhotep II brought forward to the modern era by a supervillain's plot.
      • Repeatedly lampshaded in Atop the Fourth Wall. Linkara points out all the traps and tricks and concludes that it's a death trap. Now when it appears, a picture of the pyramids appears with the Imperial March from Star Wars accompanying it.

      Western Animation

      • The Prince of Egypt, an animated movie about the story of Exodus.
      • Joseph: King of Dreams, a prequel to the Prince of Egypt that tells the story of Joseph from the Book of Genesis.
      • Papyrus, a French/Canadian animated series.
      • It's supposedly set in Arabian Nights Days, but Aladdin has the aforementioned "character makes the Sphinx's nose fall off" gag. The Sphinx would have already been covered over with sand by the medieval period, not still being worked on.
        • Especially considering that they'd have been strict Muslims, and prohibited from building such a statue anyway.
      • Certain episodes and sketches on Histeria!, of course.