One of the greatest civilizations in our history belonged to the ancient Egyptians. It flourished in the fertile valleys of the world’s longest river – the Nile, where a magnificent civilization rose from the surrounding sands and lasted for roughly 3,000 years. Rising above beast and nature, these ingenious people became a unique culture of the world.
The ancient Egyptians brought to life a variety of gods and goddesses, and fashioned a colorful and natural mythology by which they governed their lives. As time went on and their advancements grew, the Egyptians pioneered some of the world’s first technologies – mathematics, papyrus making, writing systems, medicine and pyramid building. They gave us some of the finest achievements of humanity – which remain stunning and marvelous to this very day. And to celebrate this grand ancient civilization, we are going over the top 15 interesting facts about ancient Egypt!
Our List of the Top 15 Interesting Facts About Ancient Egypt
A civilization that flourished for approximately 3000 years had to be rich, well developed, vast and inspiring. And the ancient Egyptians were all this and more. To get better acquainted with this, we have assembled a list of the most amazing aspects of ancient Egypt.
From arts and entertainment, to religion and law, all the way to war and science – we will delve deeper into the most astonishing achievements of one of the world’s most amazing ancient civilization. Of course, it is difficult to put 3 millennia into a single article, but it should be enough to give you an idea that there are a lot of truly interesting facts about ancient Egypt, and that it definitely bears a passionate study.
One of the most astonishing features of the ancient Egyptian civilization is their pantheon and in particular, the sheer amount of diverse deities and beings – today we know more than 1,500 of them by name.
The Egyptian deities were closely entwined with the daily lives of the people, and were often the personification of everyday items, occurrences and natural phenomena. Moreover, they were for the most part the personification of animals that dominated the valleys of the Nile. And the minor deities were usually connected to seemingly trivial, everyday things.
Another unique and interesting fact about the ancient Egyptians is this astonishing part of their burial rites, mummification. Almost all of their burial practices and rites were connected to the belief in immortality. In the earliest days, the mummification was natural – bodies were desiccated by the harsh desert environment.
But as time went on, the mummification process became elaborate and to an extent artificial. Preservation of the bodies was often reserved for the wealthiest individuals, and involved organ removal, covering in natron salts and linen wrapping. The process took 70 days in its most advanced state.
The very age of the ancient Egyptian civilization and the timeline in which it spanned is a fact worthy of mention and awe. With its Early Dynastic Period having generally emerged around ~3000 BC, and the dynastic periods on the whole ending with Cleopatra in 30 BC, the age of this civilization came close to 3 millennia. And that in itself is incredible. It shows us the power and the importance of Egypt, and how it managed to persevere, for such a long time, through superiority and advanced technologies.
Everyone knows about the pyramids – the immortal heritage of ancient Egypt. These immense structures of stacked stone served as royal burial chambers, and exuded a great sense of power and royalty. Even today, the pyramids continue to baffle all visitors. They perfectly display the wealth and the sheer power of the ancient Egyptians and their industry, as well as a clear emphasis of their belief in afterlife. Here is another pyramid-related fact: Did you know that it took around 10,000 workers close to 30 years to build a single pyramid?
Some of the earliest medicinal advancements came from ancient Egypt. Surviving hieroglyphic writings detail some of the techniques and methods used in treating wounds and illnesses. Furthermore, some of the earliest medicinal specializations appeared in Egypt, with certain doctors focusing only on certain types of afflictions.
Amputation was common, as was wound stitching and infection prevention. Also, some of the oldest artificial limbs appeared in Egypt, where wooden carvings replaced amputated limbs. Although primitive by modern standards, medicine in Egypt was highly developed for its time and covered a broad area of expertise.
Even in the Pre-Dynastic period in Egypt, early mathematical calculations appeared – with a fully functional numerical system. Four basic mathematical operations were well known to the Egyptians – addition, multiplication, division and subtraction. Alongside basic knowledge of algebra and geometry, fractions, volume and area calculation.
They also had knowledge of the Pythagorean theorem – in their own way – and their buildings usually displayed the golden ratio. Today, there are several surviving mathematical papyrus scripts, including the famous ‘ Rhind Mathematical Papyrus ’, and the astronomical chart of Senemut’s tomb.
The Rhind Mathematical Papyrus. (The British Museum / CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 )
The Egyptians were well known for their writing system – the hieroglyphs. Hieroglyphic writing goes back as far as 3000 BC, and it consisted of several hundred symbols. But did you know that the hieroglyphs were not the only form of writing in ancient Egypt? They were usually only used in a formal way – as inscriptions on tombs and monuments.
But in fact, there was a simpler script, called hieratic, a cursive version, which was used in everyday situations, by scribes, priests and officials. It was much simpler and faster to write than the hieroglyphs. It was dominant until roughly 1000 BC, when the demotic script took over, perhaps an even simpler script.
Ancient Egyptian hieroglyphic carvings. ( mikolajn / Adobe stock)
The Earliest Peace
The fact that the earliest peace treaty in history was made by the Egyptians is also very important and needs to be on our list. This treaty dates to around 1259 BC, and was made between the Egyptians and the Hittites, after almost two centuries of conflict and enmity. At that time, both sides had ample reasons to cease conflicts and sue for peace, since the Egyptians were under threat from the infamous ‘Sea Peoples’, and the Hittites from the encroaching Assyrian Empire. Both versions of the treaty text survive to this day, fully translated. This peace treaty is known as the Eternal Peace.
Did you know that the Egyptians developed a unique style of ceramic that was known as faience? This was a sintered quartz ceramic that displayed vitrification, meaning it had a bright luster of several colors, mostly blue and green. This is somewhat similar to glazing, and was used in all forms of ceramic ware, from ornaments to jewelry and to monuments. It was also widely exported throughout the ancient world, and built locally throughout Egypt. It is often described as the first high technology ceramic, and today survives in numerous archaeological finds.
Even by 3000 BC, the ancient Egyptians had mastered fully their shipbuilding techniques. They used these both for sailing up and down the Nile – which was an immense part of their economy, and also for seafaring trade with neighboring nations. In their earliest form these were plank ships, but they developed steadily into unique barges and transport vessels.
Egyptians mastered the use of trennels (wooden pegs for connection) and also the use of pitch for caulking. Mortise and tenon joints were also used, showing their understanding and mastery of woodworking. The most famous fully intact surviving ancient Egyptian ship is the ‘ Khufu Ship ’, found sealed in the Pyramid of Giza. It measures almost 44 meters in length (143 feet).
The magnificent Boat of Khufu, Solar Boat Museum, Giza, Egypt. (David Berkowitz / CC BY 2.0 )
There is a reason why the Egyptians managed to dominate the ancient Near East and create a vast realm for such a long time. And this reason was their skilled military. For the most part the soldiers were trained civilians from the general populace, but over time, many mercenaries also filled the ranks. These came from Nubia, Libya, Kush and other places.
The Egyptian military relied on the use of bows and arrows, but also on use of shields, spears, and unique khopesh swords. They were also well known for their use of war chariots, which they adopted from their Hyksos enemies.
You might be surprised to know one unique fact about the Egyptian diet – it was simple. Most commonly it consisted of bread and beer, and also great amounts of vegetables – mainly onion and garlic, which the Egyptians believed was highly beneficial to health. Dates, figs, carobs and other fruits were also common.
For the common folk, meat was reserved mostly for festivities, while the upper classes had it more often. Fish and fowl were common foods, especially with the proximity of the Nile. Interestingly, Egyptian beer was the most common, staple part of their diet – consumed daily and often. But don’t be mistaken, it was far from today’s beer. It was rich and nutritious, quite similar to a mash or gruel.
Representation of Ancient Egyptians brewing beer. ( Mary Harrsch / CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 )
Contrary to popular belief, the ancient Egyptians really knew how to have fun. They enjoyed music greatly, and mastered the use of cymbals, tambourines, drums and bells, while importing other instruments from afar, such as lutes and lyres. They also had their iconic sistrum instrument, which was like no other, and closely resembled a rattle.
Other than music, the Egyptians enjoyed boardgames. Many different types are known today, such as senet and mehen, which are boardgames where pawns were moved about. Another highly unique boardgame was “Hounds and Jackals,” which spread from Egypt to many far places. Did you know that senet is one of the oldest known board games?
Faience senet board and playing pieces inscribed with the name of Amunhotep III. Reportedly from Thebes, and possibly from his tomb. (Keith Schengili-Roberts / GNU Free Documentation License )
Even though the early Egyptian writings were the inscriptions from tombs and monuments, dealing with religious aspects and afterlife, later on they became more complex, and slowly Egyptian literature began to develop. A sort of autobiographical writing became popular, and was incised on tomb walls. Another unique genre of ancient literature was developed, and was known as Sebayt (teachings, instructions), which documented ethical teachings for a true way of living.
One of the finest examples of ancient Egyptian literature is known as the Story of Sinuhe , written around 1800 BC. Its author is unknown, but is widely heralded as the “Egyptian Shakespeare.” The work is written in a form of verse, and can be performed as well. It survived in numerous fragments, which tells us that it was extremely popular in its time.
“Does a lowly man become loved when fate makes him a master? Does a marsh-reed flourish on the mountain-side?”
Ostracon CG 25216, one of the biggest ostracon ever found. Found in 1886 in the tomb of Sennedjem (Deir el-Medina, Tomb Nr. 1), today in the Egyptian Museum Cairo, it is broken into two pieces, one side contains the Story of Sinuhe and the other a private letter. (Georges Daressy / Public domain )
One important fact about the ancient Egyptians is that they had a well-developed legal system. At its head was usually the ruler – a pharaoh – who brought new laws, ensured order, and delivered justice. In all court cases that dealt with minor disputes and offenses, a special council of elders presided – it was known as kenbet. And when the cases were serious, a great kenbet presided, at whose head was the pharaoh.
A key part of this system was the scribes. They kept all records, assessed taxes and dealt with administration. Around the coming of the New Kingdom, oracles began to play a major role in the legal system. At this time, the gods were asked for justice, where an effigy of a god had to give an answer – yes or no – through various orchestrated means.
Dreaming of Ancient Times
And thus ends our short list of 15 interesting facts about ancient Egypt. There is no doubt that this magnificent civilization truly left enormous marks on our world, and that they have remained even to this day. The tales of this era in history can keep us occupied for days on end, and the sheer amount of archaeological wonders will continue to intrigue us for generations to come. Because we are often unaware at just how advanced and marvelous these ancient people truly were – all those millenniums before us.
Top image: Top 15 interesting facts about ancient Egypt. Source: Maurizio / Adobe stock