The Egyptians - Glossary
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1000 jars of beer 1000 loaves:part of what is called the offering formula. It was a bit like a menu written on a tomb or coffin. It was to make sure that the dead person did not go hungry.
Abydos:probably the most important religious site in Egypt. There was a very famous temple there dedicated to Osiris. It is in southern Egypt, about 80km northwest of Luxor.
Afterlife:the life that may come after death. The Egyptians believed that the soul could be re-born after death and have another life, the afterlife.
Ammut:the demon that ate the heart if it did not balance the feather of Maat. Maat was part crocodile, part lion and part hippo. She is often shown in the weighing of the heart scene watching and waiting for the heart to fail the test.
Amulet:a kind of charm, which was supposed to bring luck or protection to the wearer. The Egyptians often had amulets of gods and goddesses.
Amun:the most important and powerful god of the New Kingdom. He was sometimes shown as a human and sometimes with a ram's head. In the New Kingdom, the priests of Amun became very powerful in politics as well as in religion.
Animal mummies:the mummified bodies of animals. The Egyptians often mummified animals that were sacred to their gods. There are several animal cemeteries in Egypt.
Antiquities:a general name for anything that is very old.
Archaeologist:a person who excavates and studies ancient remains.
Architect:a person who designs and draws the plans for new buildings.
Assyrians:a fierce race of people who lived in the north western area of modern Iraq. The Assyrian king, Esarhaddon, conquered Egypt but could not hold it. Another Assyrian king, Ashurbanipal, also conquered it in 669 BC but again failed to hold his conquest for long.
Asyut:a place that was sacred to the jackal god, Wepwawet. It is about halfway between Aswan and Cairo.
Atef Crown:the crown traditionally worn by the god, Osiris. It is the same shape as the Crown of Upper Egypt but decorated with two feathers - one on either side of the centre. It is easy to identify Osiris because this is one of his special symbols.
Babylonians:a people who lived in Babylonia, in the modern area of southern Iraq.
Banquet:a big fancy meal or feast - often for a special occasion.
Beaker:a distinctive kind of pottery associated with the people who placed them in graves.
Bitumen:a black tar-like substance. It was not used in mummification, as is often stated. The material used was resin, which is the sap from trees. Over time this became very black and was mistaken for bitumen.
Bronze Age:a name given to the period in history when bronze was the most widely used metal. Its dates vary from place to place.
Burials:places where dead bodies have been placed in the ground and covered over.
Burnished:something that is polished until it shines. In pottery it means allowing the clay to dry a little and then rubbing it with a smooth stone to give a shiny finish to the surface.
Cartonnage:layers of plaster mixed with linen or papyrus. This could be moulded to shape for mummy masks and casings. It was often painted and gilded.
Cast:when metal is melted and poured into a mould to make something into a particular shape.
Celtic:relating to the Celts, a people who gradually settled in Britain, having arrived from Europe from about 500 BC.
City States:in the Near East, people began to live in cities with a ruling class from about 3000 BC. These individual cities ruled the land around them and are known as city states.
Civil War:when different groups of people from the same country fight against each other.
Coptic:a language based on hieroglyphic words and grammar but written in Greek letters. It was important in the decipherment of hieroglyphs because it never went completely out of use and it gave clues as to how the hieroglyphic language had been put together.
Courtiers:important people who were attendants to the pharaoh at his court or royal palace.
Crook and Flail:two symbols that showed that the person carrying them was the king. Their exact meaning is uncertain but the flail was used to prepare grain for grinding and was probably to show that the pharaoh was a provider for his people. The crook may simply be a kind of sceptre to show power. They were carried from very early times and were very important parts of a royal costume.
Decipherment:working out what something (often a language) means.
Deir el Medina:modern name for the site of a village that, from the early New Kingdom, was home to the men who built the royal tombs in the Valley of the Kings. Their families also lived there.
Deities:gods and goddesses.
Delta:the northernmost part of Egypt, where - before flowing out to the sea - the Nile splits into many small streams with marshy land in between. It marked the border area between Egypt and the hostile tribes to the north.
Democracy:a system where the people decide who will run the country. The people are involved in making decisions about how their country should be ruled.
Demon:an evil spirit.
Dendera:a place in southern Egypt, about 60 miles north of Luxor, the site of an important temple of the goddess Hathor.
Dynasty:a family. It usually refers to one group of kings who were all from the same family. Several dynasties ruled during each kingdom and intermediate period.
Egyptologist:a person who studies ancient Egypt.
Embalming:another word for mummification, where a body is preserved artificially to stop it from rotting.
Empire:lots of countries, or states, all ruled by one very powerful country.
Etruscan:a race of people who lived in Italy before Rome was founded and who may have influenced Roman culture.
Excavate:to dig something up, usually using scientific methods.
Eye of Horus:also known as the wadjet eye. The eye of Horus was a protective symbol because the god Horus had lost his eye in a fight with his enemy, Seth. His mother, Isis, restored the eye and so it represents healing.
Faience:a material, a bit like clay, made from sand and other materials. It was shaped when soft then coated with a glaze that was often bright blue, although many other colours were used. The material was then fired to make the glaze shiny. It was in very common use, especially for jewellery and small amulets. It was much cheaper to copy semi-precious stones in faience than it was to use the real thing.
Feather of Truth:the feather worn by the goddess Maat, in her hair. It was used in the weighing of the heart.
Fields of Reeds:the place where Egyptians believed they would go after death. This was just like the Egyptian countryside but without any of the hardships or dangers.
First Dynasty of Ur:Ur was a city founded by a group of people known as Sumerians. It was in the area of modern Iraq. The First Dynasty of Ur dated approximately to 2650 BC and was one period at which the site was occupied.
Flint:a type of stone used to make tools, especially blades.
Forts:buildings that are designed to house soldiers and which are strongly built to withstand attacks. They are often built near country borders or other important places.
Funerary:anything to do with death and funerals.
Gebelein:a place in southern Egypt, about 30 km south of Luxor. There was a temple of Hathor here, along with settlements, from early times to the Ptolemaic period.
Gilded:covered with a very thin layer of gold for decoration and to show how rich a person was.
Giza:a suburb of Cairo, where the Sphinx and three of the most famous pyramids, including the Great Pyramid of Cheops, are to be found.
Granaries:special buildings used to store grain. Egyptian granaries usually had a domed top.
Hatshepsut:a queen who ruled Egypt in the 18th Dynasty. She took the titles of a pharaoh and ruled as a man.
Herbs and Spices:plants, seeds which have been ground, and bark of plants used to flavour food and also used for medicine.
Herodotus:a Greek traveller who visited Egypt in about 450 BC. He wrote a history of Egypt and is one of the few writers to describe the process of mummification. However his work is full of fantastic tales and is not always to be trusted as correct.
Hieroglyphs:the name for the picture writing symbols of ancient Egypt. They are not hieroglyphics - the correct word is hieroglyphs. Hieroglyphic is used to describe a text that is written in hieroglyphs.
Hill Fort:a settlement built on a hilltop and protected by one or more ditches dug around the hilltop.
Hittites:an aggressive race who occupied an area in modern Turkey and Syria. They were enemies of the Egyptians and were defeated at the battle of Qadesh by Ramesses II, although the Hittites also claimed that they won.
Hymns:songs sung to praise or worship gods and goddesses.
Intermediate Periods:The times between the Old and Middle and Middle and New Kingdoms, when Egypt was unstable and ruled by many different kings, some of them at the same time, in different parts of the country.
Invasion:when people of one country come into another country and try to take it over, usually by force.
Irrigation:watering the land by artificial means. The Egyptians used canals and banks of earth. They also had a device called a shaduf. This was a bucket on the end of a long pole, mounted on a stand. The bucket was dipped into the Nile. They are still used in Egypt today.
Karnak:the largest and probably most important temple in Egypt, certainly in the New Kingdom. It was the centre of worship for Amun, and also a centre of political power, based on the priests of Amun.
Kilt:a skirt-like garment with folds of pleated linen and worn by Egyptian noblemen.
Kingdoms:used in a particular way by Egyptologists to mean one of the three periods (Old,Middle and New Kingdoms), when Egypt was wealthy and peaceful and had stable government resulting in developments in areas such as language, religion and building styles.
Mastaba:name for the earliest type of brick or stone tomb found in Egypt. They were built before the pyramids and have a flat top and sides that slope inwards. The word mastaba means a bench in Arabic.
Mediterranean:the name of the sea which borders the southern countries of Europe such as Italy and Spain, and also the name used to describe countries in that area.
Memphis:the capital city of Egypt from about 3000 BC. It is located about 30 miles south of modern Cairo, although there is very little left to see. It was the centre of worship for the god Ptah.
Minoan:name for the Bronze Age civilisation on the island of Crete.
Moisture:dampness. In such a dry country as Egypt, dampness was very important. This is why it was worshipped as a god.
Mummification:a process of preserving a body by drying. In Egypt, it was the process of drying a body, wrapping it in linen bandages and treating it with oils, resin and spices to stop it from rotting.
Mummy:a body that has undergone mummification.
Mycenae:a town in mainland Greece, which was a very important centre of Greek Bronze Age culture. Mycenaean pottery has been found in Egypt.
Naqada:a small village in Upper Egypt. The site of a huge and very important predynastic cemetery and also a settlement. It was the first predynastic site to be discovered and excavated. The whole predynastic period is sometimes called the Naqada period because of the site where it was first discovered. Naqada I is earlier than Naqada II.
National gods:also called State gods, these were the gods and goddesses worshipped all over Egypt and with their own very important temples. There were also gods who were only important locally. Some, although known throughout Egypt, were only worshipped by people in their homes and not in large nationally important temples.
Natron:a salty substance, which was found in Egypt. It was this that was used to dry the body for mummification. The body had to be packed with natron then buried in it for seventy days.
Near East:the lands to the north and east of Egypt, including the modern countries of Israel, Jordan, Iraq, Iran, Syria, Lebanon and Turkey.
Negative confession:part of The Book of the Dead which had to be recited to the 42 judges of the underworld and which said that you had not done anything wrong in your life.
Niche:a little gap or hole cut in a wall.
Noblemen:men from the top level of society, often friends or relatives of the pharaoh.
Nubia:a country to the south of Egypt, approximately in the modern country of Sudan. Egypt tried, not always successfully, to control it because it was an important source of gold. The word 'nub' means gold in ancient Egyptian.
Obelisk:a tall granite tower with a pyramid-shaped top. It was important in the worship of the sun.
Olmec:a people who lived in Mexico from about 1200 BC.
Ostraca:pieces of broken pottery or flakes of stone used for writing or painting and drawing practice.
Overseer:a man who is in charge of workmen.
Palette:a flat, smooth, stone used for grinding and preparing colours for paint or make-up. In prehistoric Egyptian times they were very precious and owning one showed that you were very important. They probably had religious significance.
Papyrus:an early kind of paper made from the soft inner flesh of the papyrus plant which used to grow on the edges of the river Nile.
Peasant:the ordinary people of Egypt were peasants. This means they owned small plots of land, which they farmed. They were not very rich but their farms usually provided them with a reasonable living in the countryside.
Persians:a race of people from the area of modern Iran. In 525 BC, Cambyses the Persian king, captured Memphis and Persia ruled Egypt for a short period.
Pharaoh:name used for an Egyptian king. It comes from two Egyptian words meaning great house (per wer), so he was named after his palace.
Pharaonic:anything that belongs or relates to the time when pharaohs ruled Egypt.
Philae:a place in southern Egypt, close to Aswan, an island with a temple dedicated to the goddess Isis.
Potsherd:a special name used by archaeologists for a piece broken from a whole pot.
Predynastic:the Egyptian name for prehistoric, ie, a time before any written records exist.
Preserve:to treat something to stop it from becoming rotten.
Priest:a person who has been especially trained to work in a temple and who knows the correct way to carry out tasks to praise the gods. There were different levels and kinds of priest. Girls also trained to be priestesses.
Protective:something that looks after you.
Pyramid:the word is Greek and means a little honey cake. It was used to show that the Greeks were not impressed with the pyramids. The huge buildings were used as tombs for the royal family and especially for the pharaoh. Their ancient Egyptian name 'mer' probably meant something like a place to climb up or ascend.
Quarry/quarried:a quarry is where stone blocks are cut out of the rock. Quarried stone is stone that has been cut in this way.
Religion/religious:belief in god(s) and wanting to worship god(s) by doing things to please them such as going to the temple, praying and giving them praise.
Royal processions:it was popular, especially in the New Kingdom, for the pharaoh to appear with other members of his family and courtiers to show himself off to the people. On such occasions, the pharaoh and his family often rode in chariots.
Sacred:something that is very holy and associated with religion or a god or goddess.
Saqqara:an area on the West Bank of the Nile, about 30 miles south of Cairo. It was the cemetery of the capital city, Memphis, from the earliest dynasties to the end of the Roman period. It was probably most important during the Old Kingdom.
Scholar:someone who studies something in depth.
Scribe:a person who was trained to write hieroglyphs and other scripts and languages.
Settlements:places where people have settled and lived.
Shrine:a special place set aside for the worship of a god or goddess. This was often a small niche in the wall of an ancient Egyptian house. A shrine could also mean a special and grand temple.
Signs:a word used by Egyptologists to talk about individual hieroglyphic symbols.
Society:groups of people living together and sharing similar interests, beliefs and values. Society is often divided into groups of people with lots of ordinary people at the bottom, fewer quite important people in the middle, and a very few very important people at the top. The king would have been the most important of all.
Stonemason:a person who can cut and carve stone to shape.
Surveyor:a person who uses an architect's plans and makes sure building are built correctly and safely.
Temple:a special building where a deity is worshipped. Ancient Egyptian temples were either dedicated to gods or goddesses or they were to used to remember and praise dead kings. They were also centres of education and medicine. People did not go inside temples, which were the houses of the gods. Priests attended to the gods' needs. People might visit the outer part of the temple on special occasions and festivals.
Texts:a word used by archaeologists to mean bits of writing of many different types.
Thebes:the capital city of Egypt for most of the New Kingdom. It was on the site of the modern city of Luxor. The Valley of the Kings is opposite on the West Bank.
Tomb:a place where a body is buried, usually a building of some kind. Egyptian tombs were often beautifully painted.
True Of Voice:An Egyptian expression, which meant that the person had passed the judgement of Osiris and had spoken truthful answers. When you see this written after someone's name it means they are dead.
Underworld:the magical kingdom of the god Osiris, where people went when they died.
Ushabti: see Shabti
Weighing of the Heart:a scene often found on copies of the Book of the Dead, as well as on coffins. It shows the heart of a dead person being weighed against the feather of truth. People believed that this would happen to them after death as part of their judgement by the god Osiris.
Worship:giving praise and thanks.