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Egypt – A Culture

   Hieroglyphics

Ancient Egyptians believed that in order to store information/records about religion and government they have to write them down. Thus, they invented written scripts that could be used to record information. The most famous of all the Egyptian scripts is hieroglyphic. This was a system of picture writing used in ancient Egypt where each picture, or hieroglyph, stood for an idea or a sound. In fact, this system of writing fascinated many people, and it involves a series of ‘picture’ words. The first hieroglyphs were used on tombs and stone monuments and could be as detailed as other works of art. It is believed that this system of writing dates back to 3200 BC and consists of more than 500 symbols. Some facts about hieroglyphics:

  • No vowels were involved but only consonants were used.

  • There was no form of punctuation or spacing.

  • More than 500 symbols which represents actual words and sounds. It took quite a long time to learn to write in hieroglyphs.

  • Unlike most forms of modern languages, which are typically read from right or left, Egyptian hieroglyphics could be read either from left to right or from right to left, but it was always written from right to left, usually in horizontal rows.

  • Symbols represented both single letters and words. Symbols that make up the Egyptian alphabet are sub-divided into phonograms, (they were used to spell out the sound of the words. They usually had no relation to the word they were sounding out) and ideograms (they were used to write the words they represented. Ex: a picture of a woman which looked like a woman and represented the word ‘woman’).

   

Because the majority of Egyptians did not know how to read and write they depended on scribes (who were able to read and write therefore, they were able to preserve the beliefs, history and ideas of ancient Egypt on temples, tomb walls and on papyrus scrolls). Scribes used a lot of training to get the position of a scribe. Young boys who had a rich background usually entered schools to learn how to become scribers at the age of six or seven and training was very intense and it took several years to complete. One of the advantages of being a scriber was that they were exempted from taxes. For ancient Egypt they were considered amongst the important people.


   Music & Art

Music was an important part in the Egyptian culture and in ancient times, musicians occupied a number of positions in Egyptian society. In fact, music found itself in many Egyptian places, namely temples, palaces, tombs and battlefields amongst the others. Because music played a synonymous role in Egyptian religion, it is not surprising to find gods, namely Hathor and Bes, who were specifically associated with music.There were three musical categories: percussion, wind and stringed. These were then represented by a number of instruments. Percussion instruments included hand-held drums, rattles, castanets, bells and the sistrum. Hand clapping was also used to accompany the rhythm. Percussion instruments were in fact the most common instruments used in ancient Egypt.  Wind instruments included flutes and trumpets, whereas stringed instruments included harps, lyres and lutes. Most of the time these instruments were decorated with representations of the gods Hathor and Bes of music. Both males and females were asked to sing. Music was an important part of the Egyptian culture. But, although we know what they played, the Egyptian music itself- the notes and the composition is unknown to us. It is believed that some of the Egyptian music was spontaneously created! Like every other society, Egypt used its music for a number of reasons. Whether to honour their gods, mourn the death of someone or celebrate an event, music was and still is an essential part of a society’s culture.

  

Ancient Egypt is also known for its sculpture, architecture and crafts. In fact Egyptians loved to make art. They loved expressing themselves with statues, pottery, reliefs, jewellery, sculptures and coffins. Their art symbolised their beliefs and religion, and many times their religious beliefs were shown in the making of paintings and sculptures. Most of the time, Egyptian art was intentionally made for their gods, pharaohs, queens and the dead ones, and what we have left is very delicate, detailed and beautiful. But what were they influenced by? It is hardly to say what influenced them the most, as they were influenced by many things. Their religion, beliefs, everyday life activities and dedication to their gods were probably amongst the most influenced. Surviving art is represented by tombs, monuments, paintings and sarcophagus.  The majority of Egyptian art was dedicated to important people; a god or a goddess, a pharaoh or a queen. Ancient Egyptians believed in the afterlife and perhaps the most striking legacy left by ancient Egyptians was depicted by their funerary art and the surviving coffins. It is highly noted the impressed symbolism and detailed work of the most admired artists. Another interesting art form was relief art. They showed every kind of everyday activity, from working to feasting, dancing and learning. Statues were another interesting piece of art. Most likely they were of gods, goddesses, queens or pharaohs. They were done in every size; from large to small. All Egyptian art carried a symbolism. For example, ordinary people looked flat and strange, whereas important people looked large and detailed. Paintings were another form of Egyptian art. The intention was chiefly to show the beauty of afterlife. The main themes included: the journey to the other world and protective deities introducing the deceased ones to the gods of the underworld. The main colours used for such paintings were red, green, blue and black.

   


   Jewellery & Beauty

How many of us wear jewellery to express ourselves? For many people, jewellery is a good way to express who we are and what we think of as attractive. Every piece of jewellery symbolises something, from wedding bands to a simple ring. Ancient Egypt might be the first evidence of worn jewellery because from Egyptian remaining we have concluded that jewellery was an important part of the Egyptian culture. The fashion of Ancient Egypt consisted of a number of different colours. Precious gems and jewels were very much adorned. Egyptians were very much aware to show their beauty and while every care was taken to adapt their clothing for the purposes of keeping cool in the hot, dry desert, this did not mean that they should sacrifice beauty for comfort. Light and thin material for clothing was used and linen was generally used which allowed the person to feel comfortable during the hot weather. Many different types of linen were produced. Both men and women wore tunic which was made of light fabric and worn with pleated skirts. Clothing was often draped over the body. To show royalty, the royal families wore a headdress which was frequently decorated with gems and other jewellery. Both males and females wore the kalasiris which covered one or both shoulders. Most ancient Egyptian fashion costumes usually included a kilt which were short skirts tied around the waist, for a number of purposes, namely to show the age and the social position. The length of the garments varied depending on their social position. Footwear was not very much used because of the hot climate. However, those who could afford them wore leather sandals adorned with jewels and beads, others remained barefoot.

     

Jewellery was extremely important throughout the history of this nation. A number of archaeological excavations proved that Egyptians wore elaborate and exquisite pieces. Jewellery was not only worn by the royal families but it was also worn by those people who belonged to the lower strata of society. Nevertheless, the amount of jewellery worn by an individual often indicated his social position and level of wealth. Brightly coloured gems and gold were highly used for the creation of jewellery but this of course, was only affordable for the rich people. The poor people had to create their own jewellery using bright colours and were constructed of materials such as clay and pottery. Rings, anklets and bracelets were part of the normal fashion. Earrings, charms and pendants were common among wealthy women.

Makeup was also part of the Egyptian fashion. Both men and women wore different eye makeup, rouge and perfumed oils in order to protect and prevent any damages to the skin from the sun and sandy winds. Apart from men and women, makeup was put on the statues of their gods and goddesses. The part which was extremely elaborated was the eye. Eye makeup had a long history in Ancient Egypt and colour was given to their eye lashes, eye lids and eye brows. Black and green were oftenly used for the colouring of the eyes. Kohl was used for the black colouring, which was obtained from galena (a natural mineral form of lead sulphide) and Malachite (as copper ore, a carbonate mineral imported from the Sinai Desert) was used for the green colouring. Rouge was used for lips and cheeks. Red colouring was achieved by the use of ochre which was of a red colouring made from clay. Nails and hair were also coloured. Nail colouring showed the social status of an individual. Fragrances were derived from flowers, plants and seeds and were used for the protection of their body.

      


   War Crafts

For a long period of time, Egypt was at peace. This was because the lands are surrounded by deserts and it was hard to invade. In fact, they did not have a proper army until the invasion of the Hyksos. But, this does not mean that, although ancient Egypt was considered one of the most peaceful civilizations they were in peace all the time. They in fact fought between themselves over who would be in charge of their country and on the issue whether Egypt would be a united country or not. The Egyptian army consisted solely of foot soldiers whose job was to settle any civil unrest, guard the palaces, watch the borders of the country and guard trade ships. Prior the Hyksos invasion, fighting was less common in ancient Egypt. Because they had strong religious beliefs they did not want their country to fall under the hands of the others. With the Hyksos invasion, new weapons were introduced in Egypt. War chariots drawn by horses were used to cover the walls in the tombs of dead nobles and kings. Other weapons included; clubs and maces, axes, knives and swords, spears, bows, arrows and javelins. It seemed that they did not wear any body armour and the shields were the main defensive equipment. Whenever necessary, towers and battering rams were used for the fighting.

      

When other countries such as Rome and Greece showed interest in invading Egypt, a large number of men were called to help with the fighting. Nubian mercenaries were hired to fight in their wars and it might be possible that Greek mercenary soldiers were also hired to help in the Egyptian wars in 1500BC. What is certain is that many Greek soldiers fought for Egypt during the war with Persia in the 500s and 400s BC. Because ancient Egyptians were a very religious and peaceful people, they wanted to keep their lands free from foreign hands. For a long time it worked and it was ruled by the Egyptians themselves. Not until the invasion of Alexander the Great and his army! Egypt never got back to how it was before!


Activity

Egyptologist Alert! - All Egyptologists should be able to read Hieroglphics. Use this online Translation tool to write secret messages to your friends using Ancient Egyptian Language!  


   Pop Questions

  • Egyptian women were very vain. From the evidence of the pictures you've seen and from the information you've read do you agree or disagree with this statement?

  • The Pharaoh took part in wars with his soldiers but he didn't go by foot. What means of transport did he use?

  • Name a few instruments that were used by ancient Egyptian musicians. 


   Colouring Activity

Choose one of these 4 free colouring pages and write a short story of what do you think is the story behind the picture you use - Hunting / Chariot / Beauty / Musicians.

 

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