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Ancient Egypt A-Z

Abu Simbel   The site where two huge temples, ordered by Rameses II, are built into a rock wall. Outside the temple are seated statues of the king. The smaller temple is dedicated to Queen Nefertari.
Akh   The part of a person’s soul that would live on in the Afterlife. The life of the akh was only possible if the proper funeral rites were performed. The akh was represented as a crested bird called an ibis.
Akhenaten   King of Egypt from 1353 to 1336 BC. He tried to make people abandon their many gods and worship only Aten, the Sun in the sky. He was the father of Tutankhamun.
Akhet   One of the three seasons in ancient Egypt. It was the season when the Nile flooded, spreading tons of mud and silt across its floodplain. This occurred between July and November. Akhet was also known as the “season of the inundation”.
Amulet   A charm worn like jewellery or placed between the bandages on a mummy. Amulets were thought to protect against evil. They came in the shapes of hieroglyphs, gods and animals.
Amun-Re   King of all the Egyptian gods, considered the father of the pharaohs.
Anubis   The Egyptian god of the dead, mummies and embalming. He is depicted with the head of a dog called a jackal.
Ba   The part of a person’s soul that was their personality. The ba was represented as a human-headed bird.
Book of the Dead   A book of spells and hymns that were thought to help the dead through the Afterlife. It was written on papyrus and placed in the coffin or burial chamber of the dead person.  
Burial chamber   The room in a tomb or pyramid where a mummy was placed. It was filled with objects that would be needed in the Afterlife.
Canopic jar   Decorated jars inside which a mummy’s internal organs were stored. In the New Kingdom they took the form of the four sons of Horus: a man, a falcon, a jackal, and a baboon.
Capstone   The pyramid-shaped stone at the top of a pyramid, also called a pyramidion.
Cartouche   An oblong shape that symbolized eternity. Pharaohs believed that their name would live on for ever if it was written inside a cartouche.
Casing stones   The outer layer of a pyramid, mostly made from limestone blocks. Casing stones would be highly polished.
Causeway   The covered way that led from a pyramid’s valley temple to the pyramid itself.
Cleopatra   Queen of Egypt from 51 to 30 BC and the last pharaoh before Egypt was conquered by the Romans.
Crook   A gold-plated shepherd’s crook carried by the pharaoh during religious ceremonies. It was a symbol of his duty to protect his people.
Death mask   A highly-decorated mask placed on a mummy to guard the soul from evil on its journey to the Afterlife.
Demotic   The normal, everyday writing used by the Egyptians in the later years of their civilization.
Deshret   The ancient Egyptian name for the desert. The name means “the red land”, referring to the colour of the sand.
Embalm   To preserve a body from decay.
Emmer   A type of wheat grown in ancient Egypt. It was used for making bread.
Flail   A gold, whip-like farming tool, carried by the pharaoh during ceremonies. It was a symbol of his power to punish enemies.  
Giza   A famous pyramid site, made up of three large pyramids. These are: the Great Pyramid of Khufu, the Pyramid of Khafre and the Pyramid of Menkaure.
Great Pyramid of Khufu   The largest of the pyramids at Giza. It was 147 metres (482 feet) high. It is the only one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World still standing today.
Hathor   The Egyptian goddess of love, music, joy and beauty.
Hatshepsut   Queen of Egypt from 1479 to 1458 BC. When her husband Thutmose II died, she took power and was made pharaoh. She wore the traditional clothing of a male pharaoh, including a false beard.
Heb sed   An ancient Egyptian festival held to celebrate the rule of the pharaoh. It was celebrated after 30 years of a pharaoh’s reign and then every three years afterwards. The pharaoh would have to perform physical activities to prove that he was still fit enough to rule Egypt.
Hieratic   The normal, everyday form of writing used by ancient Egyptians. It was a simplified form of hieroglyphics and was much quicker to use.
Hieroglyphics   A form of Egyptian writing, using signs that resemble pictures. The signs themselves are known as hieroglyphs. They were used only for inscription on tombs and other official or ceremonial purposes.
Horus   The Egyptian god of the sky, war and protection. He was depicted with the head of a falcon and was believed to enter a pharaoh’s body when he was crowned.
Inundation   The annual flooding of the Nile. Each summer, rains upstream caused the Nile to burst its banks, laying down a fresh layer of rich, fertile earth across the floodplain on both sides. The Egyptians learned to irrigate the land so that it was not too dry or too sodden after the floods. They dug channels between the fields to take water to fields that were further away from the river.
Isis   The Egyptian goddess of women, mothers and children.
Ka   The part of a person’s soul that needed food and drink to survive. On death, it was thought to leave the body. The ka was represented as a pair of upraised hands.
Karnak   The site of a huge temple built to honour the god Amun-Re. The temple complex had ceremonial halls and avenues where processions took place.
Kemet   The ancient Egyptian name for the floodplain surrounding the Nile. The name means “the black land”, referring to the dark colour of the floodplain’s fertile soil.  It is sometimes called the Nile Valley.
Lower Egypt   The northern area of Egypt.
Ma’at   The principle of truth, justice and morality that was strictly followed by the ancient Egyptians. The principle was embodied by the goddess Ma’at.
Mastaba   A rectangular, flat-topped tomb made from mud-bricks and stone. Mastabas were used for the burial of high-ranking individuals.
Menes   Probably the first pharaoh to rule both Upper and Lower Egypt. He is believed to have conquered Lower Egypt in about 3100 BC and brought the two kingdoms together.
Middle Kingdom   A period of time in ancient Egypt’s history from about 2040 to 1640 BC. During this period, Egypt traded widely and conquered Nubia.
Mortuary temple   A temple built alongside a pyramid. Priests went there each day to make offerings to the spirits of the dead.
Mummification   The process of preserving a body. It was carried out by people called embalmers. First they removed all the inner organs except for the heart, placing them in canopic jars (except for the brain, which was discarded). Next, they packed the body with salt, sand and spices and rubbed it with oils and resin, before wrapping it in layers of long linen bandages. It took about two months to mummify a body.
Mummy   A body that has been preserved after death and then wrapped in cloth.
Mut   Queen of the Egyptian gods. She was shown as a vulture or a crowned woman.
Natron   A natural salt used to dry out bodies during mummification.
Nefertiti   Queen of Egypt from 1353 to 1336 BC. She ruled beside her husband Akhenaten. After her husband’s death, it is believed Nefertiti ruled as pharaoh in her own right for a short time.
Nemes cloth   A striped headdress worn by the pharaoh as a symbol of his royalty.
New Kingdom   A period of time in ancient Egypt’s history from about 1560 to 1070 BC. During this period, the “Golden Age” of Egypt, the pharaohs conquered much land and made their kingdom prosperous. New Kingdom pharaohs were buried in underground tombs instead of in pyramids.

Nile   The river that flows through the centre of Egypt. The river flooded every year, providing fertile soil for farming. The Nile was also vital for travelling from place to place and for transporting heavy goods. 

Nile Delta   The place where the River Nile flows into the Mediterranean Sea. In ancient Egyptian times, it divided into seven main channels and hundreds of smaller ones which fanned out across the lowlands. This triangular area of land resembled the shape of the Greek letter “delta”, so the region was known as the Nile Delta. The lands around the Nile Delta were fertile and an ideal place for farming.

Nomarch   A person who governed a province, or area, of ancient Egypt.
Nubia   A region to the south of Egypt. The Nubians flourished through trade with Egypt. Nubia was controlled by Egypt for much of the New Kingdom.
Obelisk   A tall stone pillar with a small pyramid at its top. The Egyptians placed obelisks at the entrances to their temples.
Old Kingdom   A period of time in ancient Egypt’s history from about 2575 to 2134 BC. During this time, the belief in the Afterlife became an important part of Egyptian religion. This was the age of pyramid-building.
Opening of the Mouth   A funeral ceremony believed to give the mummy its senses and movement in the Afterlife. A priest touched the hands, feet, eyes, ears, nose and lips of the mummy with a tool called an adze.
Osiris   The Egyptian god of the dead. He was believed to rule the Afterlife.
Papyrus   A reed that grows along riverbanks and can be used to make every day utensils, boats and a material for writing on.
Peret   One of the three seasons in ancient Egypt. Peret was the Egyptian winter, when the Nile’s flood waters retreated, leaving behind a layer of fertile soil. This occurred between November and March. It is sometimes known as the “season of the emergence”.
Pharaoh   The king, high priest, and ruler of ancient Egypt. The Egyptians believed that the pharaoh was descended from the Sun god, Re, and that the spirit of the falcon god Horus entered the pharaoh when he was crowned.
Pschent   The double crown worn by the pharaoh. It was a symbol of a united Egypt, combining the pointed white crown (hejet) of Upper Egypt and the flat red crown (deshret) of Lower Egypt.
Pyramid   A pharaoh or queen’s stone tomb with four sloping triangular sides. The pharaoh’s body was placed in the pyramid, alongside his treasures. The entrance was then sealed to deter robbers. It took thousands of workers more than 20 years to build one pyramid.
Ramesses  Twelve kings of ancient Egypt carried the name Ramesses, meaning “born of the Sun god Re”. The most famous was Ramesses II, or Ramesses the Great, who ruled from 1290 to 1225 BC. He led his people to victory over nearby lands.
Re  The Egyptian god of the Sun. He was shown with a falcon’s head, carrying the disc of the Sun above his head.
Reed boat   A simple boat made from bundles of papyrus tied together. Reed boats had wooden paddles or long poles.
Resin   A sticky substance that comes from tree sap and was used for embalming.
Sarcophagus   The outer stone coffin into which a wooden coffin was laid.
Scarab   A dung beetle that was a sacred symbol of new life and regeneration.
Scribe   A person trained to read and write in ancient Egypt. Written records were vital to the way Egypt was governed. All government officials, priests, army generals as well as the pharaoh himself, knew how to read and write. In the cities, classes were set up for scribes. Only the sons of wealthy families went to school.
Seth   The Egyptian god of deserts, storms, evil, darkness and war.
Shabti   A small figure in the shape of a mummy. Shabti were placed in tombs to act as servants in the Afterlife.
Shaduf   A device for lifting water from the river to water the fields close by. It consisted of a pole with a bucket suspended from one end and a heavy counterweight at the other end. A farmer would lift the bucket of water by pulling the weight.
Shemu   One of the three seasons in ancient Egypt. Shemu was the time of year when the River Nile was low and the crops were harvested. The word shemu means “low-water”.
Sphinx   A statue in the shape of a lion with a human or ram’s head. The most famous example is the Great Sphinx at Giza.
Thebes   An ancient Egyptian city on the east bank of the Nile. Thebes was the capital of Egypt during the Middle and New Kingdoms.
Tutankhamun   King of Egypt from 1336 to 1327 BC. Tutankhamun is sometimes called the Boy King because he was only 19 when he died. His tomb was discovered intact in the Valley of the Kings in 1922.
Upper Egypt   The southern area of Egypt.
Valley of the Kings   A valley near Thebes where New Kingdom pharaohs were buried in underground tombs.
Valley temple   A temple on the River Nile, linked to the pyramid by a causeway. It was where the Opening of the Mouth ceremony may have been performed. The mummy was brought to the temple along the river on the royal funerary barge.
Vizier   The person responsible for the day-to-day running of Egypt. He collected taxes and administered justice.

Consultant: Philip Parker


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