Thotmose IV Chair panel

Today, thanks to the vast amount of written texts they left behind, we know more about the Egyptians society than most other ancient cultures. Lutz Popko of the University of Leipzig wrote: “There does not exist in the Egyptian repertoire a genre of historiography comparable to Greek and Roman examples. However, some texts intentionally recorded “historical” data. For this reason they were regarded as a kind of history-writing and indeed were explicitly named as historiography in modern Egyptology.[Source: Lutz Popko, Universität Leipzig,UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology, 2014, ]

In Egyptology, the term historiography” is used twofold—namely for Egyptian texts that deal with the distant past of Egyptian culture itself, and in a more diffuse sense as a synonym for “historical texts”. But both are not the same, and both are not necessarily historiography. This is one reason why the modern definitions of historiography as objective and methodological analyses of historical events do not absolutely match Egyptian genres in question, and why those genres apparently have historiographical deficiencies.

“Although the adjective “historical” is often used for works from or referring to “the past,” there is a difference between “the past” and “history”: the past is a physical phenomenon, whereas history is a cultural phenomenon. The past is everything that happened before the present; history is a portion of the past that was actively observed by someone and that has significance for a specific group of people. For examining history, one depends highly on written records. Such records are called “historical” because they are used by modern historians to reconstruct “history.” The main focus of the historical sciences in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries was political and military history, which was reconstructed with the help of records or narratives of wars and military leaders.

“Apart from incidental written records (treaties, letters, graffiti, etc.) that historians use to reconstruct history, some texts were written with the intent to inform posterity about contemporary events. These incidents were thereby imbued with a historical significance, although they were often written down for propagandistic or legitimating purposes. Real historiography, in contrast, is a denomination for a genre that intentionally reflects on, reconstructs, and interprets man-made processes, often in order to explain where we come from, who we are, or where we should be headed. It is mostly a narrative: there is no history without a story. As such, it always contains fictional elements, such as a cohesive time-frame or a specific perspective, although various research methods should be applied to minimize subjectivity and provide the veracity that is theoretically claimed by every historian.

“The primary purpose of the Old Kingdom annals and later king-lists is time measurement (archival lists), as well as a demonstration of continuity from primeval times (cultic assemblages). But the former group provided more information than was necessary. The Palermo Stone also presents, for example, the level of the Nile flood and it displays in the first row some kings wearing the red crown, about whom apparently nothing more than their names was known. Indeed the Turin king-list includes the time when the gods ruled on earth from its mythical beginning, arranges the kings into dynasties, and gives summations of regnal dates. This was necessary neither for calendaric purposes nor for the purpose of legitimization (indeed breaks of continuity are implied by virtue of the existence of different dynasties). Sety I’s Abydos list, one of the large cultic assemblages of the Ramesside Period, suppresses the entire Second Intermediate Period, though it is questionable whether the missing kings were all actually considered illegitimate. According to Redford, they were simply not important enough to be included. “Insignificance” is a verdict of their historical value in its own right. Further on, the sequence restarts strikingly with Ahmose, most likely because he was considered a dynastic founder. This choice is, again, a historiographical element, not merely dictated by the course of time.”

Websites on Ancient Egypt: UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology, ; Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Egypt ; Discovering Egypt; BBC History: Egyptians ; Ancient History Encyclopedia on Egypt; Digital Egypt for Universities. Scholarly treatment with broad coverage and cross references (internal and external). Artifacts used extensively to illustrate topics. ; British Museum: Ancient Egypt; Egypt’s Golden Empire; Metropolitan Museum of Art ; Oriental Institute Ancient Egypt (Egypt and Sudan) Projects ; Egyptian Antiquities at the Louvre in Paris; KMT: A Modern Journal of Ancient Egypt; Egypt Exploration Society ; Amarna Project; Abzu: Guide to Resources for the Study of the Ancient Near East; Egyptology Resources

Ancient Egyptian Concept of History

Lutz Popko of the University of Leipzig wrote: “Historical consciousness is a prerequisite, and the “natural environment,” as it were, of historiography. It is debated whether the ancient Egyptians possessed it prior to the Ramesside Period. This debate is complicated by the fact that the criteria for historical consciousness are debated, moreover, in the historical sciences. Apparently historical consciousness transcends a mere awareness of the past, which may be imputed to every speech community whose language has a tense system. According to Pandel, historical consciousness consists, among other things, of an awareness of time, of alterity (“otherness,” i.e., the state of being different), of reality, of identity, of morality. Nearly all of those aspects deserve special attention when speaking about Egyptian historiography, since they define the Egyptians’ theory of history and its limits. [Source: Lutz Popko, Universität Leipzig, UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology, 2014, ]

“The Egyptian theory of history, and our modern perspective of it, is complicated by the Egyptians’ dual concept of time as being both linear and cyclical. It is stated by Hornung that the Egyptians related historical events to the latter and perceived them not as historical but as time- transcending and ritualistic processes. This repetition of structural types and patterns (e.g., defeating rebellious enemies, restoring dilapidated buildings) in fact constitutes a theoretical framework according to which actual occurrences were interpreted. Thus occurrences acquired historical significance and re-historicized those time-transcending patterns. That the Egyptian view of history also operated according to a linear, non-repetitive time-frame is indicated, for example, by formulae that something was found, or not found, in old texts. The former is an appreciation of the past, and the latter, an accentuation of the singularity of the actor’s activities. King-lists are another indication of the operation of a linear time- frame.

“An awareness of time also includes a notion of consequences, although causality is of lesser importance in the Egyptian concept of cyclical, ever-repeating history. History is apportioned to single events, and causalities are restricted to brief, mostly formalized remarks—for example, a war is necessary because of a rebellion, or building activity is caused by the discovery of an occurrence of destruction. But this restriction is a consequence of the chosen literary form, not of the non-existence of causal thinking. The “Teaching of Merikare”, § E121, may indicate that the ancient Egyptians actually were aware of historical causalities: “Every beating will be repaid similarly. Everything that is done is entangled(?).”

“Events of the distant past are the domain of Egyptian mythology rather than historiography. But since the ancient Egyptians did not distinguish between myth and history, the former must be taken into account when studying their philosophy of history. Irrespective of this matter, an awareness of time does not generally result in a focus on the distant past. Historical thinking can also focus on contemporary history as the past-to-be. Similarly, the so-called “historical texts” of Egypt recorded contemporary events for the ensuing ages. Indeed Assmann classified them as “prospective commemoration,” and Eyre wrote: “Texts may be classed as historical insofar as they describe the past for the present or the present for posterity.”

“Regarding the concept of alterity, Assmann defines ancient Egyptian culture as a “cold culture” in the tradition of Levi- Strauss, because it hid variations and instead emphasized continuity over time. Such a characteristic obstructs the notion of historical progression. Furthermore, the didactic purpose of Egyptian “historical texts” implies that developments can be predicted by projecting the past onto the future. Apparently, this contradicts the above-mentioned awareness of alterity, because it implies equability over time....

“History defines a group of people through a common past and so creates identity. Therefore, Egyptian historical texts resemble “cultural texts” and as such they approximate myths, which can serve the same purpose. In contrast to the latter, history usually remains “bygone,” despite the fact that it can also become ritualized and mythologized. Conversely, myths can also become historicized.

Turin King List 7

“Historical consciousness existed perhaps as early as the Early Dynastic Period, when specific singular events were chosen as year names, as attested on Early Dynastic year labels and in the Old Kingdom annals. The Egyptians also referred—whether implicitly or explicitly—to previous phases of their history in art and literature, especially during the first millennium B.C.. Such archaizing attitudes reflect a deliberate way of handling the past. This past is not analyzed systematically and methodologically in a written form, but there exist texts that link the present with history, or narrate achievements for later commemoration. Although not actual historiography, they show approaches to it: they structure the distant past (king-lists), narrate recent events for posterity (commemorative inscriptions), or even apply a moral or ethical value.”

King Lists

Lutz Popko of the University of Leipzig wrote: “During the Old Kingdom, the Egyptian dating system changed from an eponymous system to a method of dating by regnal years. Both systems require chronologically correct concordances to count and to calculate dates for economic, judicial, and other purposes: an eponymous system requires a reference list with all eponyms, as is the case with the Roman “fasti consulares “(lists of consuls after whom the years were named), while regnal-year systems need only royal names and their highest date. A number of Egyptian texts belong to either class of concordance, or at least reflect the existence of such concordances. [Source: Lutz Popko, Universität Leipzig, UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology, 2014, ]

“An eponymous dating system is reflected in the Palermo Stone and its associated fragments, ranging from proto-dynastic times until the 5th Dynasty; the second (and third?) annal stone; and the annals of Saqqara South from the 6th Dynasty, all of which are inscribed on both sides and contain year names and other data. Various composition dates ranging from the Old Kingdom to the Kushite Period are ascribed to the Palermo Stone, whereas the annals of Saqqara South were reused as a sarcophagus lid in the late Old Kingdom and are therefore definitely from this time at the latest. O’Mara claims to have detected various handwritings on the former, so it might have been gradually added to at different times, by different people. Such texts are apparently identical with the so-called “gnwt “mentioned in later texts.

The Turin king-list, also known as the Royal Canon of Turin, was written in the Ramesside Period on the verso of a tax list and is therefore clearly a copy of an older record. While its original author carefully collected about 350 kings with their regnal years and tagged missing or obliterated items by “wsf”- the present copy was made very carelessly. A similar text is the Demotic king-list pCtYBR 2885rto, which likewise contained royal names, regnal years, and a possible dynastic summation. The papyrus roll mentioned by Herodotus, from a Memphite temple and containing 331 royal names, might be a further example of king-lists dated by regnal year.

“Besides the Turin list, there exist other sequences of kings that were often likewise designated as “king-lists,” whereas Redford calls them “cultic assemblages.” They are known from royal as well as non-royal contexts (the most famous is Tjuloy’s list in Saqqara), and were primarily intended to link the current king to (all) previous kings and, beyond them, to primordial times, when the gods ruled the earth. Because of this legitimating purpose, they contain only the kings’ names—without the regnal years or dynastic orders—and they do not seek completeness but omit “illegitimate” kings, such as Hatshepsut and the kings of the Amarna Period. These assemblages are in most cases chronologically correct, although apparently such accuracy was not the priority, as can be demonstrated by the Karnak List, which has no chronological order. In a modified way, this kind of legitimacy by virtue of a long line of “legitimate” predecessors was revived in Ptolemaic times.”

Manetho’s King List and the Demotic Chronicle

Karnak King List

Lutz Popko of the University of Leipzig wrote: “ Manetho of Sebennytos’ “Aigyptiaka”, written in Greek at the end of the fourth/beginning of the third century B.C., is considered by many Egyptologists as the first narrative historiography by an ancient Egyptian. Possible typological and/or literary influences of Greek historiography remain debated. [Source: Lutz Popko, Universität Leipzig, UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology, 2014, ]

“The text consisted of a list of kings’ names and regnal years, summations of the length of dynasties, and accounts of every(?) king—that is, it structures and narrates the past and exhibits tendencies to evaluate the past moralistically. Only fragments survived, cited in the works of Flavius Josephus and the Christian chronographers of late antiquity. The latter fragments did not derive directly from Manetho but upon a Manethonian excerpt— the so-called “Epitome”—rendering it difficult to specify the message and the exact purpose of the original Manethonian work. The text’s (re)construction and presentation of Egypt’s chronological outline closely parallels Greek historiography, despite a missing overarching topic. Perhaps it should link the Ptolemies to the previous kings of Egypt, thus having a similar function as the cultic assemblages mentioned above. The later addition of the 2nd Persian Period as the 31st Dynasty destroyed this link.

“The so-called “Demotic Chronicle” is comparable to Manetho’s “Aigyptiaka “in its presentation of the effects of (moralistically) “right or wrong” behavior. The text deals with rulers of the 29th and 30th Dynasties and contains links to the 2nd Persian Period and the Ptolemaic Period. The papyrus, badly destroyed, is in precarious condition, and the parts that serve as the basis for oracular interpretation are cryptic. This renders its classification nearly impossible, although various classifications have been suggested—e.g., that the text is oracular, or an exemplary description of the concept of royalty, or an example of sacral historiography. The text’s background and intention are similarly debated: it has been described as propaganda for the Ptolemies or Nectanebo II, an anti-Persian treatise, and an anti-Greek treatise. The text is more a propagandistic tractate than a real chronicle, and it emphasizes the prophesied Golden Age through detraction of the previous reigns. As such, the “Demotic Chronicle “historicizes the ideological motive of rejecting the chaos at the ascension of a new king, a motive that can found in earlier descriptions of chaos. In its unusual diachronic depth, the “Demotic Chronicle “recalls the historical section of Papyrus Harris I, wherein contrarily the legitimacy of Ramses IV is emphasized by exposing the legitimacy of his two predecessors.”

Historical Texts and Reliefs

Lutz Popko of the University of Leipzig wrote: “From the late Old Kingdom onward, personal achievements were documented in writing, first in non-royal contexts, and later primarily in royal contexts. The royal documents can be grouped according to the two lines of development they exhibit. [Source: Lutz Popko, Universität Leipzig, UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology, 2014, ]

“The first group originates stylistically (though not functionally) from the annals of the Old Kingdom. Its evolution can be traced from the brief notes in the Palermo Stone to the annals of Amenemhat II, to the detailed annals of Thutmose III, to the chronicle of prince Osorkon . These annals present important events in a yearly succession, though within a determined chronological framework, structuring the narrative by means of infinitives rather than conjugated verbs. They relate primarily to donations to temples, often connected with the outcome of wars, and there are overlappings in function and form with other royal inscriptions. A parallel form of annals comprising records of yearly endowments to the Souls of Heliopolis or to Amun-Ra (in the latter case), but which are devoid of connections to “profane” events, is known from the reign of Senusret I.

“The second group comprises the paraliterary accounts of royal “res gestae “(deeds done), containing expeditions, building projects, or donations to temples. These emerged in the First Intermediate Period from autobiographical statements of the nomarchs and were published as single or multiple feats on durable surfaces (rocks, walls, stelae). Apparent historical texts on papyri are in fact private copies or topical political statements. As a result, in the case of wall inscriptions, their occurrence partially conforms to temple-building activity, starting in the early Middle Kingdom, increasing during the late Second Intermediate Period, and decreasing in the late Ramesside Period, their peak being the New Kingdom. There are a few examples from the Kushite and Late Periods, but far fewer than in the New Kingdom (1550–1070 B.C.).

War reliefs are similar to historical inscriptions in content and function. The often synonymously used term “battle relief” is somewhat inadequate, since not every one depicts a pitched battle. “Expedition relief” could be suggested as a better generic term, since it also includes the relevant reliefs with non-military content. The close relationship between historical texts and the reliefs in question can be seen in Hatshepsut’s Punt reliefs, whose accompanying narrative has the form of a “king’s novel”, or in the bulletin of Ramses II’s Kadesh relief, whose accompanying narrative, though sometimes used like a large caption, is an autonomous text. The Ramesside Period appears to be the golden age of war (expedition) reliefs, but scanty, highly fragmented evidence for them can be found already on ceremonial palettes of the Predynastic Period. Expedition reliefs communicate the same message and serve the same purpose as the scenes of “smiting the enemies”—namely, presenting the king’s victory over his enemies, the preservation or restoration of the world order, and the protection of the temples on whose walls they are depicted. Single elements of such reliefs can become a “topos”, but mostly they present apparently contemporary events, thus updating the “topos “of the victorious king, or indeed re- historicizing an ahistorical pattern and individualizing the feats of the respective king.

“The historical inscriptions, as well as the expedition reliefs, range between ideological affirmations of royal policy and the writing of “prospective” history. They present individuals who act according to “maat “and who concurrently create “maat “by their actions. As such, they turn their actors into role models and their actors’ feats into “exempla “for ideal behavior. That these inscriptions were actually perceived as orientation guides and points of reference is proven by the previouslymentioned formulae in which comparisons were made with old writings—the implication being that validation was searched for in the older texts. And examples like that of Qenherkhepeshef, who copied the Kadesh poem on Papyrus Chester Beatty III and created some king-lists, attest that this interest in the past was not always a mere literary “topos”.

“Historical inscriptions report events and details that are not only “true” but also “real” from the ancient Egyptian’s point of view. They address, sometimes explicitly, a future audience who might be interested in the events described, and they teach this audience how to achieve a similar remembrance. Such elements correspond to the demands of historiography. However, the historical inscriptions do not describe events per se, but rather how their protagonists coped with those events. The missing historical criticism is “inter alia “caused by this ideological function, which implies a restriction on events, or an interpretation of events that casts a positive light on the protagonist; therefore they are characterized by a high degree of “re”-writing history.”

Graffiti in Ancient Egypt as a Historical Source

Graffiti at Kom Ombo

Eugene Cruz-Uribe of Northern Arizona University wrote: “Some of the earliest evidence for written communication in Egypt derives from figural graffiti—a variation of rock art. These texts are evidenced from many sites in Egypt, especially the Western Desert. From probable derivative of rock art, were a significant means of recording religious, totemic, gender, and territorial boundaries throughout Egypt, the Near East, and Africa. In Egypt, numerous sites with figural graffiti have been found along the Nile Valley and in the Eastern Desert; however, the largest number of sites with collections of prehistoric rock art comes from Nubia and the Western Desert. The locations of these sites coincide with known prehistoric “occupation” and usage areas (such as camp sites, watering holes, and sources of flint). The surveys and excavations by Schild, Wendorf, Mills, Darnell, Klemm, and many others have enriched the corpus of known rock-art sites. The Nubian salvage operations in the Nile Valley—especially those of the Čzech concession and, more recently, of the Belgian team —have reported major sites that have evoked comparisons with the Lascaux galleries in France. [Source: Eugene Cruz-Uribe, Northern Arizona University, UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology 2008, ]

“Analysis of the figural graffiti found at these sites has developed slowly. While earlier publications focused mainly on cataloguing and describing the finds, and while figural graffiti that have an accompanying (textual) inscription have often been fronted in discussions, it is important to emphasize that both textual graffiti and figural graffiti are grapholects of the Egyptian communication system as a whole. Representative of figural graffiti are boat drawings, discussed by Červíček, who established criteria with which to place these items within a concise chronological framework. The studies by Huyge have expanded our understanding of these and other types of images. Huyge has suggested that we can analyze certain non-textual graffiti using ethnographic markers and textual references, especially for interactions between (ancient) non-literate Bedouin populations and settled literate groups within the Nile Valley. Among these representations we find boxes surrounding textual graffiti. The significance of such boxes has not been studied in depth, but their presence may prove useful for dating and placement purposes and may also provide a means of connecting textual graffiti with figural forms. We also find numerous signs of religious significance, such as pilgrims’ feet in and around pilgrimage destination sites (mainly tombs and temples), and religious images on the exterior walls of temples (such as the Khonsu Temple at Karnak), where the general populace honored the local temple gods.

“The range of figures bearing figural graffiti is immense and often exhibits some connection to the location in which the figures were found. Thus sites that had religious significance, such as temples and shrines, may feature a large number of representations of deities—either anthropo- morphic images or examples of animals sacred to the local deity (rams, vultures, falcons, bulls, and the like are all seen in various contexts). One complicating aspect of the role of figural graffiti in temple areas is the question of whether the exterior walls, where most of these graffiti are found, bore official decoration (scenes and/or hieroglyphic inscriptions), for we find examples where people emulated already existing decorations by replicating, for example—and usually on a smaller scale—a deity (standing or seated on a throne), an offering table, a sacred bark, or a flower bouquet. In many cases the quantity and size of the graffiti were contingent on the amount of relatively flat space available. In quarries and in way-stops on caravan routes, figural graffiti depicting the “composer” are common, as are depictions of desert animals, cattle, donkeys, and camels.

Over time some sites became contested areas, competed over by several parties. A classic example of this is the Temple of Isis on the island of Philae where Egyptians, Nubians, Greeks, Romans, and later Coptic Christians, each claimed access and rights to all or part of the island. Each group had its own priority and wrote its own culturally designated graffiti there (mostly textual, although some figural examples are present). A similar situation can be found in the royal tombs in the Valley of the Kings: on the tomb walls we frequently find examples of textual graffiti left by Greek, and Greek-speaking Egyptian, visitors, as well as some figural graffiti. Later the Coptic Christians usurped these spaces, converting the tombs into sites dedicated to local martyrs (for example, the martyr Appa Ammonias in the tomb of Ramses IV) by drawing abundant crosses and figures of the local saint.

“Certain sites may prove over time to have greater significance as we learn more of the nature of figural graffiti in their original context. What may have motivated the composers of these graffiti is often not known. One site that may prove instructional with further study is the quarry of Abdel Qurna just north of Asyut on the Nile’s east bank. The site contains a large number of both figural and textual graffiti. On the face of the cliff is a “wall” of boat graffiti, where over the centuries visitors continually expanded the number of examples of boats portrayed. Preliminary dating suggests that the boat graffiti include a range of examples dating from late Predynastic times through the Late Period (712–332 B.C.). It is possible that later visitors to the site found the earlier boat graffiti and emulated them with contemporary examples. We do not yet know why boat graffiti are displayed at this particular site. What we can say is that in the New Kingdom (1550–1070 B.C.) and Late Period the site was principally a limestone quarry, similar to a number of adjacent sites. Over time numerous groups came to quarry stone for official uses and left remains of their visits, as evidenced by the graffiti.

“In Egypt it appears that, over time, the number of figural graffiti decreased. One could argue that this indicates that earlier communication methods (including figural graffiti) were being replaced by textual graffiti and subsequently hypothesize that, as the culture became more literate, figural graffiti were abandoned in favor of textual forms. However, the Egyptian evidence shows that this cannot be the case. Since the hieroglyphic writing system remained figural in essence until the Coptic stage of the language, the appearance of “textual” graffiti in Egypt was simply an extension and continuation of the figural graffiti forms within the Egyptian context. Thus at the quarry of Abdel Qurna we have the 19th-Dynasty stela of the scribe Mehy and a cartouche of 26th-Dynasty pharaoh Apries. Each is in essence a figural graffito, as the images represent an aspect of the individual (or agents of the individual) visiting the site. That both contain “texts” simply indicates that they can be considered a different variety of figural graffiti. Hieroglyphs—in which text and picture are one—are thus, in a sense, an advanced form of figural graffiti.

“When we analyze most sites where graffiti are found (in the present context, “graffiti” refers to unofficial inscriptions), we can see that Egyptian culture was unique in its ability to pass seemlessly from rock art to text over time in a way that only cultures utilizing figural writing systems could. That Coptic graffiti are also found at the site of Abdel Qurna may indicate that even after the figural system had passed away, the alphabetic system utilized earlier scriptural techniques and locational criteria.”

Herodotus on the Egyptians


“Histories” by the famous Greek historian Herodotus (490-425 B.C.) contains a lot of information on the Egyptians. He devoted nearly all of Book 2 to describing their achievements and the curiosities. On the Egyptians he reported "In any home where a cat dies" the residents "shave off their eyebrows" and “sons never take care of their parents if they don't want to, but daughters must whether they like it or not." He also noted “Women urinate standing up, men sitting down."

Herodotus wrote: I “heard other things at Memphis in conversation with the priests of Hephaestus; and I visited Thebes and Heliopolis, too, for this very purpose, because I wished to know if the people of those places would tell me the same story as the priests at Memphis; for the people of Heliopolis are said to be the most learned of the Egyptians. Now, such stories as I heard about the gods I am not ready to relate, except their names, for I believe that all men are equally knowledgeable about them; and I shall say about them what I am constrained to say by the course of my history. “

Although Herodotus visited Egypt centuries after ancient Egypt was at its peak, the customs from that era endured until the time of classical Greece when Herodotus lived. Matt Bune of Minnesota State University, Mankato wrote:: The history, geography and ethnography of Egypt are what Herodotus wrote about. The customs of Egyptians fascinated him because of their differences compared to Greek culture. He wrote about how the Egyptians did everything backwards in relation to the Greeks. Observations he made describe how the Egyptians wrote from right to left, instead of left to right. Activities like eating were done outside while doing their "easement" indoors. The reason he gave was that the Egyptians thought "unseemly but necessary things should be done in secret, and things not unseemly in the open." [Source: Matt Bune Minnesota State University, Mankato, +]

“Herodotus also wrote about the appearance of the priests. He noticed that the Egyptian priests had shaven heads, while priests from other lands kept their hair long. The Egyptians, in his opinion, were the most religious nation than any other he had known. The monuments that he witnessed also filled him with wonder. He even considered Egypt to have more monuments than any other country in the world. The Nile River was also a target for his writings, which were considered valuable. Before the beginning of Egyptology in the nineteenth century, Herodotus’ writings were the main source of information pertaining to Egypt. “+\

Relations Between Ancient Egypt and Greece

Papyrus writing, another important source

Stefan Pfeiffer of Martin-Luther-Universität Halle-Wittenberg wrote: “Egypto-Hellenic contacts, here defined as contacts between the ancient Egyptians and the“haunebut”—the peoples of the Aegean—can be observed since the beginning of Greek civilization. Both the Minoans and the Mycenaeans had intensive trade relations with Egypt and used Egyptian prototypes to craft their own objects, adapting the original Egyptian meanings into their own cultural contexts. In Egypt, Minoan and Mycenaean influence can be traced in the craftsmanship of pottery and textiles. [Source: Stefan Pfeiffer, Martin-Luther-Universität Halle-Wittenberg, UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology, 2013 ]

“The relations between Greece and Egypt in the Archaic and Classical Periods were based mainly on trade, but Greek mercenaries gained special importance for Egypt during the Egypto-Persian struggles of the fifth and fourth centuries B.C.. While Egypt profited from these contacts, Hellenic culture seems nevertheless to have had little influence on Egypt. Greece, in contrast, profited from Egyptian goods such as papyrus and grain. Moreover, Egyptian wisdom was held in high esteem in Greece.

“When we speak of contacts between Egypt and Greece before the time of Alexander, we should divide these contacts into two historical phases: the first comprises the contacts between Egypt and the Minoans (c. 3000 – 1400 B.C.) and Mycenaeans (c. 1600 – 1100 B.C.) and the second, the contacts between Egypt and the Greeks/Hellenes (c. 800 – 332 B.C.) from the time the Greeks entered the scene of history in the eighth century until the conquest of Egypt by Alexander. The two phases are separated by the so-called Dark Ages between the fall of the Mycenaean civilization and the formation of the Greek “polis “culture. To speak of “Egypto-Hellenic culture” poses questions of both definition and chronology. Does “Hellenic culture” define only the culture of Archaic and Classical Greece, or can the first phase of Minoan and Mycenaean Greece also be included? Since the Mycenaeans were clearly Greeks as we know from their Linear B script, they are subsumed under the Egyptian-Greek contacts. It is improbable, however, that the Minoans were Greeks as their Linear A script is not a Greek dialect and has not been deciphered. A discussion of their relations with Egypt is nevertheless important to our understanding of the Mycenaean contacts.”

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology, ; Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Egypt ; Tour Egypt, Minnesota State University, Mankato,; Mark Millmore,; Metropolitan Museum of Art, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Discover magazine, Times of London, Natural History magazine, Archaeology magazine, The New Yorker, BBC, Encyclopædia Britannica, Time, Newsweek, Wikipedia, Reuters, Associated Press, The Guardian, AFP, Lonely Planet Guides, “World Religions” edited by Geoffrey Parrinder (Facts on File Publications, New York); “History of Warfare” by John Keegan (Vintage Books); “History of Art” by H.W. Janson Prentice Hall, Englewood Cliffs, N.J.), Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Last updated September 2018

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