Intriguing Ancient Egypt Facts That are Sure to Surprise You

Fact about Cleopatra the last Pharaoh of Egypt
Ancient Egypt, the land of the pharaohs, situated in a virtually unconquerable desert, has been a subject of awe for centuries together. The sands of Egypt contain an unfathomable amount of historical treasures, telling tales about one of the mightiest of ancient civilizations.
(Fe)male Pharaoh
Pharaoh Hatshepsut was a female ruler, who wore a false beard so that she looked masculine. However, the later kings were so scandalized at the thought of a woman with a beard that they attempted to remove every possible image of her from their monuments.
What we know about ancient Egypt today is largely through a vast array of material information that is available in the form of paintings, sculptures, monuments, symbolism, and written sources. Although little, this knowledge about the ancient Egyptians and their lives goes on elevating with every new discovery. Let's take a glimpse at some intriguing facts about the wondrous civilization that was ancient Egypt.
Egyptian Papyrus
Egyptian Papyrus
Pyramids, hieroglyphs, papyrus scrolls, mummies, beautifully-crafted artifacts, and much more - the fascination about ancient Egypt never seems to die off; in fact, it goes on increasing by the day. It is indeed overwhelming to imagine how a mighty civilization might have sprung up in the Nile valley, some five thousand years ago, and managed to retain its status as the most important empire in the Mediterranean world.
Prehistoric Egypt
Prehistoric Egypt
There has been abundant human settlement in ancient Egypt since the prehistoric times. There are evidences of tools made by the Paleolithic people (40,000 B.C. to 20,000 B.C.), and strong indications of population migration during the Mesolithic period (18,000 B.C. to 10,000 B.C.). The Neolithic culture that spanned from about 6000 B.C. to 3100 B.C., saw a shift from hunting and gathering to an agrarian form of subsistence. People began to settle down, and life became stable.
Egyptian Kings
Egyptian King
The Dynastic era in ancient Egypt commenced in 3100 B.C. Since then, till about 332 B.C., Egypt was under absolute monarchy. The civilization went through a number of ups and downs throughout the Dynastic period as a number of different dynasties of rulers established their sway in the region at different points in time. The Egyptian kings, who ruled during the Dynastic era, were known as Pharaohs.
Foreign Rule in Egypt
After 332 B.C., Egypt fell into the hands of foreign invaders including the Greco-Romans, the Arabs, and finally, the Ottomans, who ruled the land up to 1805 A.D. The Muhammad Ali Pasha Dynasty that succeeded the Ottomans from 1805 A.D. to 1953 A.D., fell after the Egyptian Revolution of 1952. Following this, the modern Republic of Egypt came into being.
Renaming Egypt
Throughout its long history, Egypt has been renamed several times. During the pharaonic age, it was known by the names Kemet (Black Land, owing to the black alluvial soil of the Nile valley), and Deshret (Red Land, owing to the vast expanse of desert land). The Greco-Roman rulers named Egypt as Aegyptus.
The Egyptian Evil
The Egyptian Evil
Hippopotamus was thought to be evil, and a carrier of bad omens in ancient Egypt. In fact, many times, it would overturn the vessels sailing in the Nile, and so was considered to be even more dangerous than the crocodile. Owing to its 'evil and destructive behavior', the animal came to be associated with Seth, the ancient Egyptian evil deity governing the storms.
The First Pharaoh
King Menes statue in Memphis
King Menes is considered to be the first pharaoh of Egypt, who, according to a legend, was killed by a hippopotamus. He ruled Egypt for about 60 years, and is credited with the act of consolidating Upper and Lower Egypt under a single rule. After the unification of Egypt, the city of Memphis was made its capital.
Is the Pharaoh Fit Enough?
King Menes statue in Memphis
In ancient Egypt, there were several interesting rules and regulations set for the pharaohs. For instance, it was a rule that every pharaoh, after the completion of thirty years of his/her reign, had to undergo a fitness test. They had to run around a fixed course in a certain time limit, in order to prove their fitness for holding the throne.
The Reign of Pepi II
King Pepi II, who ruled Egypt from 2278 B.C. to 2148 B.C., assumed power at the age of 9 and retired at the age of 100. Legend says that he was always surrounded by several naked slaves, with their bodies covered in honey. This was done to keep the insects away from the king, as the honey-covered slaves would be swarmed and bitten by them.
Egyptian Nemes
Pharaoh headdress
Customarily, the pharaohs would always hide their hair under a headdress made of striped cloth (nemes) during daily affairs, and a crown during special ceremonies.
Pharaoh Akhenaten or Amenhotep IV
Pharaoh Akhenaten family
Pharaoh Akhenaten, who belonged to the Eighteenth Dynasty of Egypt, is considered to be world's first monotheist. It is believed that he, along with his wife Nefertiti, considered the Sun as their supreme deity, and had abandoned the entire Egyptian pantheon in favor of Aten, the Sun god.
Tutankhamun or King Tut
Pharaoh Tutankhamun
Contrary to popular belief, the famous pharaoh Tutankhamun, whose tomb stirred a lot of controversy, was not murdered by his uncle for the throne. The X-ray that was given to his mummy in 2005, showed that he had a broken leg, which was possibly the cause of his death.
The Curse of Tutankhamun
Pharaoh Tutankhamun Tomb
As Howard Carter and George Herbert discovered the tomb of Tutankhamun in 1922, it was thought to be 'cursed'. Rumors had it that the priests had cast spells on the tomb, especially to keep away tomb raiders. Coincidentally, as the tomb was unearthed, Carter's canary was eaten by a cobra (assumed the protector of the tomb), and 5 months later, Herbert died of an infectious mosquito bite. This stirred up a media controversy about the tomb, and Tutankhamun became the most famous of the pharaohs.
Women Rulers in Egypt
Pharaoh Cleopatra
While most of the pharaohs were men, Egypt also saw some female pharaohs. The most remarkable ones include, Hatshepsut (18th dynasty, c. 1473-1458 B.C.), remembered as a powerful woman who brought stability to the land of Egypt; Nefertiti (18th dynasty, c. 1336 B.C.), who is believed to have ruled independently after her husband, Akhenaten's death; and Cleopatra, of Macedonian ancestry, whose much-famed suicide brought Egypt's 3,000 year-long monarchical system of governance to an end.
Inside the Pyramid
Egypt Pyramid
The pyramids with architectural magnificence and awesomeness, are in actuality, tombs of the pharaohs and their consorts, built during the Old and Middle Kingdoms. They contained not only the grave of the pharaoh, but also several grave goods that were buried along with the king, in order to make his life comfortable in the underworld. Grave goods included, alongside things such as utensils and pottery, clothes, ornaments, and several other riches from the treasury of the demised pharaoh.
Saqqara, Egypt
Pyramid in Saqqara
The earliest known Egyptian pyramid is located in the Saqqara necropolis, northwest of Memphis. It is a step pyramid, dedicated to Djoser, a pharaoh of the 3rd Dynasty, and was constructed in 27th century B.C. by his vizier (highest official), Imhotep.
Burial of Slaves with the Pharaoh
King with Slaves
During the Old Kingdom, when a pharaoh died, the heads of some of his slaves were also chopped off, and their bodies were buried with him, so that the pharaoh could be accompanied by his slaves even in the realm of the dead. However, by the Middle Kingdom, this practice was discontinued, and clay/terracotta models of slaves would be buried with the remains of the pharaoh.
The Pyramid Shape
View of Pyramid
The shape of a pyramid represents the 'primordial mound', which according to the ancient Egyptian creation myth, was the source of earth's creation. The dead royals were buried in these 'symbolic primordial mounds', only to be resurrected/reborn in the mortal world. When Napoleon was in Egypt (late 17th century), he also took with him, a large contingent of scientists and scholars to study the history and culture of ancient Egypt through its overwhelming monuments, especially the pyramids.
The Great Pyramid of Giza
Great Pyramid of Giza
On studying the Great Pyramid of Giza, Napoleon's engineers told him that if the pyramid was dismantled, its stones could build a one meter high wall around France. Moreover, if its stones were cut into rods, each measuring 6 centimeters long, and arranged one on top of the other, they could reach the moon.
The God of Mummification
God of Mummification - Anubis
Anubis was the jackal-headed god, associated with the afterlife. Its association with the jackal was probably due to the animal's ability of uncovering the dead bodies from the cemeteries, and scavenging on them.
The Sphinx
Pyramid and Sphinx
Sphinx, the lion-bodied and human-headed creature that guards the three pyramids at Giza, is believed to represent Pharaoh Khafre, the son of king Khufu whose remnants are buried in the Great Pyramid. More sphinxes were found guarding some other pyramids as well, and as such, a sphinx is considered to be the guardian of tombs.
Robbery of Egyptian Tombs
Almost every discovered ancient Egyptian tomb has been robbed. In the 1880s, a robber was caught while selling the treasures of some thirty different tombs. Later on, the Egyptian government appointed him as a tourist guide, to show the tourists the area around the same tombs that he had robbed.
Preserving the Dead
Egyptian Dead Body
Egyptian royals were mummified, so that their dead bodies could be prevented from decay. This is the reason why many dead bodies have been found intact in the tombs.
Burying the Cats
Burying the Cat
Interestingly, numerous remains of mummified cats have also been found buried, alongside humans. This may have been the result of an ancient belief that regarded cats as keepers of the underworld. Also, a collection of spells, known as the Books of the Dead were also buried with the mummies. These were for guiding the dead into their afterlives.
Embalmers working - mummification
The mummification process could not be complete without the essential involvement of three people viz., an embalmer, a cutter, and a scribe. Moreover, each mummy was wrapped in seven layers of shrouds, and it took about seventy days for the entire mummification process to complete.
Storing the Vital Organs
During the mummification of the body of the deceased, four of his vital organs - the lungs, the liver, the stomach, and the intestines - were removed and stored in 'canopic jars', because it was believed that all these organs would be needed by the deceased in his 'afterlife'. The heart, however, was not removed, as it was believed to be the place of the soul, and hence had to remain within the body.
Eyes of the Mummy
Replacing eyes of the Mummy
The eyes of the mummies were replaced by black stones. In the case of pharaoh Ramesses IV, shallots were used instead of black stones to replace the eyes.
The Mummy Magic!
In Victorian England, when Dr. Pettigrew hosted a public show to unwrap a mummy before a live audience, the response was overwhelming. People flocked in such large numbers that even the Archbishop of Canterbury had to back off.
Women in Ancient Egypt
Ancient Egyptian Women
Women of ancient Egypt had more privileges and rights than women from the other civilizations existing at that time. For instance, Egyptian women could own property, take higher education, make business deals, and call for a divorce.
The Pharaoh God
The Pharaoh is like God
Egyptian commoners were not allowed to take the name of their pharaoh. This was because the pharaoh was associated with God, who had to be addressed respectfully.
Laborers in Ancient Egypt
Peasants who worked on the lands, were essentially not slaves as they received returns for their labor. However, they were regarded as an important part of the wealth of the landowner. Their children had to start working on the fields as soon as they started walking. If not anything else, they were made to guard the fields as scarecrows. In ancient Egypt, tax evasion was punishable with whipping. Sources speak of one such incidence, wherein the 'crime' was punished with 100 blows on the back.
United They Stood!
The first ever recorded labor strike in the world took place in Egypt in 1155 B.C., during the reign of Ramesses III. It happened on the construction site of Deir el-Medina, where the laborers had to do without ration for a number of days. Consequently, the work was halted until their demands were fulfilled. This instance has been recorded on a papyrus, and details the workers' struggle and widespread corruption in the empire.
The Oldest Dress in the World
Oldest Dress in World
The world's oldest dress comes from Egypt, and dates back to 2400 B.C. It has a simple design made with pleated linen.
Ancient Egyptian Wig
Oldest Dress in World
Both men and women shaved their heads in order to avoid lice, a common problem during ancient times. However, they wore wigs, either made from human hair (if they could afford it), or animal hair. The kind of wig that was worn, later came to signify the status of a person wearing it. Women's wigs were more elaborate than those of men, and bore a cone of a greasy substance on top of them, which melted slowly, and released a pleasant scent of myrrh.
Kohl for Eyes
Egyptian Men and Women eyes
Egyptian men and women used kohl to beautify their eyes. They also believed that kohl possessed healing powers, and it could cure eye infections and restore bad eyesight.
Ancient Egyptian Food
Egyptian Food
Food that was consumed, varied depending on the status and wealth. However, the ancient Egyptian diet consisted of meat and poultry, fish, bread, different vegetables, and fruits. Sugar was not known to them; honey was the common sweetener that was used.
Beverages in Egypt
Egyptian beverages
Beer also seems to have been known by the ancient Egyptians, as models of brewers have been found in some tombs. Such models may have been buried, in order to ensure that the deceased got his favorite drink even in his afterlife. Besides beer, the first ever evidence of wine cellars also comes from Egypt.
Writing Systems
Papyrus sheet
The ancient Egyptians were the inventors of a system of writing. They wrote in both, hieratics (a kind of cursive writing system), and hieroglyphics (a pictorial/symbolic script). Different types of surfaces were used for writing such as stelae; walls of pyramids, tombs, etc; and of course the famous Egyptian papyri.
In their hieroglyphic writing system, sounds and words were represented by an array of pictures and symbols. There were more than 700 different symbols used as hieroglyphs. This also sheds light on their profound symbolism.
The Rosetta Stone...
It is a famous piece of ancient Egyptian writing, discovered in 1798 during Napoleon's Egyptian Campaign, in the port-city of Rosetta (present day Rashid). The writing is in 3 different scripts viz, the Egyptian hieroglyphs on the top, the Demotic script in the middle, and the ancient Greek script at the bottom. This stela, belonging to 196 B.C., was issued in Memphis during the reign of Ptolemy V.
Art in Egypt
Ancient Egyptians were excellent artists. Their sculptures and paintings speak volumes about their artistic sensibilities. Their early art forms were largely indigenous, and did not bear any outside influence, because for thousands of years, the Egyptian empire was able to keep the foreign invaders away. The Egyptian sculptors made several impressive sculptures. The bust of Nefertiti, and the larger than life images in the Abu Simbel temple of Ramesses II, are worthy of a mention.
Ancient Paintings
Egyptian paintings
Artists from Egypt seemed to paint on every single plain surface that existed. Ancient paintings have been found in large numbers on pyramids, temple walls, tombs, stelae, papyrus scrolls, pottery, and so on.
The Egyptian rulers commissioned the construction of a large number of colossal structures all along the Nile valley. Owing to this, numerous religious and secular edifices were built, thus giving testimony of the architectural expertise of their builders. Apart from the pyramids, and the Great Sphinx, which have now become the symbols of Egypt, there are also remnants of many temples, palaces, and monasteries.
A Historical Experience!
Pharaohs with crown
The city of Luxor, situated in southern Egypt, is today the largest open-air museum in the world. It has several colossal statues, obelisks, temples, tombs, and other secular structures, all of which belong to different periods of Egyptian history. The city attracts a large number of tourists from across the globe every year.
Ancient Egypt Inventions
Ancient Egyptian priests are considered to be the inventors of the sundial, the water clock, and the calendar. The ancient Egyptians have also possibly invented the cubit, a basic unit for measuring length.
Mathematics in Egypt
'The entrance into the knowledge of all existing things and all obscure secrets' is the title of the oldest surviving mathematical work, known as the 'Rhind Mathematical Papyrus'. It was written by the Egyptian scribe Ahmes in the 17th century B.C.
Science in Ancient Egypt
The Egyptians had also seemingly figured out various surgical methodologies. They knew the technique of sewing wounds, some 4,000 years ago. Moreover, they had also understood the antibiotic properties of moldy bread and honey, which they used to treat infections. The science of astronomy was also well-developed in ancient Egypt. They had an in-depth knowledge about the planets, the stars, and the various constellations.
The land of Egypt is a storehouse of ancient history and culture. It has something or the other to offer to each and every enthusiast of Egyptology, and the curiosity about its ancient past never ceases to exist. In fact, the ancient Egyptians are extremely inspirational to the modern society, owing to their huge advancements in every possible field of human activity, in spite of the limited number of resources at their disposal.