Category: Ancient Egyptian Hieroglyphics

Ancient Egyptian Birds in Hieroglyphs

Hieroglyph showing the Sacred Ibis

Most hieroglyphs are based on things that the ancient Egyptians saw around them. Hands, feet, boats and animals all feature in a big way. One of the most popular themes was the birds of Egypt, which played an important part in the culture.

The sacred Ibis

The sacred Ibis

Birds were viewed as important or powerful for various reasons – not least that being able to fly they were in many ways, out of the reach of humans. Many of the gods were depicted with bird heads. Thoth, the Egyptian god of wisdom or knowledge was always depicted as having the head of an Ibis. The

Ancient Egyptians believed that the soul (the ‘ba’) was able to leave the body during death and would one day return – the process of resurrection. In many inscriptions, the ba is depicted as a bird.

Along the Nile, some of the multitude of bird-life included the falcon, kite, goose, crane, heron, plover, pigeon, ibis, vulture and owl. Many of these birds were, in fact, kept in sacred flocks by the ancient Egyptians and some individual birds were even elevated to temple animals.

We know that birds were often mummified, usually for Egyptian citizens to present as offerings to the gods. Many of these bird mummies were provided with the same provisions in death as would have been afforded a human mummy!

A mummified bird

A mummified bird

Given the above, it’s not surprising that birds feature heavily in the hieroglyphic alphabet – unfortunately it’s hard to put a name to many of the birds at first glance, so in this post we’ve matched each hieroglyph up with its bird species it actually represents. See how many you can guess!

 

Hieroglyph Species Sound
󳮮 Vulture A
𓅀 Double Vulture AA
󳰎 Quail chick U or w
𓅳 Double Quail chick Uu or ww
󳯑 Owl M
𓅔 Double owl MM
𓅮 Pintail Duck flying pA
𓅜 Crested Ibis Ax
𓅯 Pintail Duck alighting (taking off) xn
𓅬 White fronted – Goose gb
𓅠 Black Ibis gm
𓅧 Cormorant aq
𓅭 Pintail Duck zA
𓅷 Duckling TA
𓅘 Sennar Guine-fowl nH
𓅨 Swallow wr
𓅙 Hoopoe db
𓅡 Jabiru bA
𓅰 Fattened duck wSA
𓅪 Sparrow nDS
𓅶 Quail chick with U1 mAw
𓅐 Vulture mwt
𓅂 Falcon tyw
𓅚 Lapwing rxyt
𓅟 Flamingo dSr
𓅤 Crested ibis on perch baHi

 

Bonus

We couldn’t finish an article about Egyptian bird hieroglyphics without mentioning what is arguably the cutest hieroglyph known to have existed:

󳰘

The “three ducklings in a nest” Hieroglyph is thought simply to have been an ideogram for the word nest.

Hieroglyphic Vowels

Before you start to learn any hieroglyphs you first need to understand that when writing, the Egyptians didn’t actually write vowels.

Vowels, (A, E, I, O and U) help to “stick” words together, and make pronouncing them easy. Its likely that the Egyptians simply added the vowels when inscriptions were read aloud – this probably saved a lot of time on carving and writing at the time but leaves modern Egyptologists with a conundrum!

Because we don’t have the vowel sounds, we can’t be exactly sure how many Egyptian words would have sounded – we can make a pretty good guess, but there’s some room for interpretation.

While this might seem difficult to work with, you can quickly get your head around the problem by practicing in English – and on the flip side, writing hieroglyphic messages is quicker without having to do vowels!

 

In English

Here’s some examples in English –

 

Explain, without any vowels, becomes – xpln .

That might seem odd to you, but it also might not – after all if you sound out the word it still sounds an awful lot like “explain”!

 

A simple one – cat ­ bcomes ct.

The word is still clearly cat, and, what’s more, I bet when you read “ct” the voice in your head still says “cat”! This is exactly how hieroglyphs would be read – with the reader adding the vowels as necessary.

 

Another example – Hurricane becomes hurrcn.  

This one looks a little more different. What’s more theres a good bet you read that in your head as something like “hurricun” – which is another way people with certain dialects pronounce “hurricane”. Since is clear what the meaning of the word is either way, the difference in pronunciation does not really matter for understanding.

 

In fact, this whole thing isn’t too different to text language when you think about it!

 

In Egyptian

Ok, now for some Egyptian examples:

Lets start with the Egyptian word “yew” – it means “are”. The hieroglyph looks like:

Sound out the hieroglyphs – we have a single reed (i) and a baby chick (which can be a u or a w).

We have iw – lets add an e to make it easy to read, for iew.

In English we write this as “yew” because it’s a more sensible way to represent the sound “iew”, but to write “iew” would be equally valid.

 


Up next, the Egyptian word “ren” which means “name”. The hieroglyph looks like:

 

This time we have the mouth symbol (r ) and the water symbol (n) – this gives us “rn” – which I bet you already pronounced “ren”!

 


Lets finish with a more complex one –  the Egyptian word “Heru” – it means “day”. The hieroglyph looks like:

We can start by sounding out the hieroglyphs – remember higher comes before lower, so in order we have the reed shelter (h) the mouth (r  ) and the baby chick, (which can be a u or a w).

This gives us “hru” – to make the word easy to say, we add an e, to get heru.

But wait, what about the sun hieroglyph? In this instance, it’s a determinative – well discuss these in a minute. Essentially, its there to help us understand the meaning of the word, you can imagine that it says “I’m a little picture of the sun, to help you understand that the last word was day”.

 

A note

Using our translator, and using many charts you will find approximations of our vowel sounds – we go with the nearest Egyptian sound which would make sense, but if you really want to write your name like an Egyptian, don’t write the vowels!

Nouns

Nouns (or naming words) are the names of things, book, house, bird etc. These are known as tangible nouns – names of physical things.

We also use intangible nouns, intangible nouns are the names of things which aren’t physical, like love, hate, fear or joy.

 

Genders

Like most languages, nouns in Egyptian have genders. We don’t have a gender structure in English, so the concept can seem a little strange, especially if you’ve never learned a foreign language. Thankfully, in middle Egyptian the system is very simple. Feminine nouns (almost) always end in a t ( 󴨿 )   Masculine nouns do not end in t.

The egyptian word for Son was Sa – it was written in hieroglyphs as

We know the word Sa is masculine, because it does not end in a T.

The egyptian word for Daughter was Sat – it was written in hieroglyphs as

We know the word Sat if feminine, because it does end in a T.

 

There are a handful of masculine nouns which do end in a t, but they are few and far between.

 

 

Plurals

Nouns can be either singular, or plural. Singular nouns refer to one thing, and plurals refer to a number of things – Temple, and Temples.

Forming plurals in middle Egyptian is also quite easy!

The Egyptian word for man was z – it could be written phonetically as    but was usually represented ideographically, using the man hieroglyph. 󳀀

 

The word for Woman was Zet – it was written phonetically as   but could also be represented by the woman hieroglyph. 󳍔

These are both examples of singular nouns.

 

The Egyptian word for people was retchu – this is a plural noun.  It was written with the man and woman hieroglyph, followed by three strokes – it’s the strokes which indicate the noun is plural.  󳀀󳍔󴪑

Ancient Egyptian Valentines

love in ancient egypt

With valentines day coming up, you might be looking for a really unique (but affordable!) way to impress someone. Here are some different ideas inspired by ancient Egypt which you can make or buy today! We absolutely guarantee your valentine will not have received any of these before!

Click to download free cheat sheet!

 

Write your partners’ name in hieroglyphs

Difficulty: Super easy

Instructions: Use our translator to transliterate your partner’s name – write this on an envelope, gift tag or in your card to make an ordinary item much more interesting!

Egyptian pharaohs wrote their names in a cartouche – you might want to do this too – learn more here!

 

Make a Hieroglyphic card

Difficulty: Quite easy

Instructions: Instead of just writing the name, you could make or write your entire card in hieroglyphs! Not much good at drawing? Print this page, and trace the hieroglyphs from below.

Here’s some useful words you might want to use :

English Middle Egyptian Hieroglyphic
Beer hket
Beautiful / Happy Nefer
Eternity / Forever Djet
Body khet
exist kheper
face her
I, Me wi   i,me_hieroglyph
You (masculine) tchu you(m)_hieroglyph
You (feminine) tchen you(f)_hieroglyph
We, us n we,us_hieroglyph
Love merwt love_hieroglyph
Love (verb) mer love_verb_hieroglyph
Wine Irep

 

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Make a papyrus!

Difficulty: Medium

Instructions: first get yourself some papyrus (cheap links below – yes, its genuine papyrus!) We absolutely guarantee your valentine will have never received a papyrus!

With papyrus in hand, you could either write a message or (if you’re feeling creative) why not go for an Egyptian style artwork? Many original papyri have colorful drawings with hieroglyphs used for names or important messages, which make clear the events shown in the picture. The pictures will give you some ideas for style an layout! It was common to show the couple seated, perhaps enjoying an activity or family time, with brief messages or names in hieroglyphs worked into the image.

Egyptian Art showing figures hand in hand

Egyptian Art showing figures hand in hand

 

 

A couple playing senet

A couple playing the popular game, senet

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pharaoh Tutankhamun and his wife Ankhesenamun

Pharaoh Tutankhamun and his wife Ankhesenamun

Papyrus showing couple seated together

Papyrus showing couple seated together

 

 


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How about some Historical (but affordable) Jewelry?

The ancient Egyptians certainly appreciated the finer things in life – jewelry was as for them then as it is for us today! For the rich, there was gold, silver and precious stones – Some of the more prized and favored stones were lapis lazuli, turquoise, garnet, carnelian, obsidian and rock crystal. Ordinary people went for imitation stones and copper based items. A popular material, faience, was made of ground quartz mixed with a colorant that was heated and molded to imitate more expensive natural stones.

Popular among all classes were amulets, which were often incorporated into Egyptian jewelry or worn as independent pieces. Amulets are charms or talismans believed to either protect the wearer or infuse him or her with power, protection, luck and so on. Egyptian amulets were carved into various forms and shapes, such as animals, humans, gods and symbols. The amulets were equally important protectors of the living as they were armor of the dead.

 

The Scarab

The scarab beetle was a universal sign of good luck – it was belied to convey courage and the protection of the gods. Giving small scarab beetles, often made of faience were frequently given as gifts. Some were even inscribed with messages or images of deities and given for special occasions, such as a marriage or pregnancy.

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  • The Scarab was sacred to all Egyptian Sun Gods, the scarab amulet provided the wearer with both the protection of the sun and its' creative life-force.

  • Size 30 x 20mm / 1 1/4" x 1"

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The Ankh

The ankh symbolised life – the ankh, when used as a hieroglyph literally meant “life”.  The popularity of the ankh in ancient Egyptian life is evident in the numerous and varied types of everyday objects which were shaped in the form of the ankh. In Tutankhamun’s tomb, a gilded mirror case was found in the shape of the ankh, many of the gods were pictured holding and ankh and they were certainly popular gifts to give!

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  • The Ankh is probably the most well known ancient Egyptian amulet and is found in many tombs and sarcophagi and illuminations.

  • This Ankh amulet is beautifully detailed and finished in gold and silver, set with a lovely blue crystal.

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Bast

Bast, the cat goddess was associated with health, happiness and love. Cats were highly respected in ancient egypt – not least because they were incredibly useful for controlling mice, rats and even snakes! Because domestic cats tend to be tender and protective of their offspring, Bastet was also regarded as a good mother, and she was sometimes depicted with numerous kittens. Consequently, a woman who wanted children sometimes wore an amulet showing the goddess with kittens, the number of which indicated her own desired number of children.

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Something a little more modern?

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  • Vibrant enamel inlays recall the colourful splendour of the Pharaonic Age and bring each charm to life in a burst of colour

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Beer and Wine!

Difficulty: Painting and decorating, medium – drinking, very easy.

The ancient Egyptians were HUGE beer and wine fans – they got through loads of the stuff, so that there were even festivals entirely devoted to getting so drunk one

Example of an amphora

Example of a decorated amphora

passed out… The ancient Egyptians made and consumed red and white wine (irep) Throughout Egypt there are many tomb paintings illustrating the gathering and pressing of grapes and making them into wine.

The Egyptians usually stored and served their wine from vessels known as Amphorae.  Amphorae vessels were frequently inscribed on the shoulder or have stamps or mud seals. Often the inscription would have the King’s name, the particular variety of wine, its vineyard, the vintner and the and the wine’s owner. For a unique gift you can buy and decorate you own Amphora!

Popular scenes involved couples drinking, armies heading off to war or animal motifs – but you can add anything you like – find the hieroglyphs for beer and wine in the table above.

 

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How about some alternative flowers?

While many people today think of Egypt primarily as a dry, its important to remember that the vast majority of Egyptian settlements in antiquity (As today) are located along the Nile river, in a band of rich soil and diverse flora and fauna. The Egyptians were, in fact, big flower givers, using them for all the same occasions as today, birthdays, weddings, funerals, and as a token of love an affection.  This year, why not skip the roses, and go for something with an interesting back-story?  At festivals, women frequently adorned their hair with lotus flowers and on some special occasions, men did as well.

Water Lillies

Hows that for different? For the Egyptians, water lillies had particular significance – they open in the morning and close again at night. This was probably the reason that the ancient Egyptians saw in them an image of rebirth and regeneration, important concepts in their religion. It was incredibly popular to give water lillies, with some of the first every bouquets being made of papyrus and lilies!  There was even a yearly “feast of the lotus” – During this feast, every one was supposed to hold a silver pot, shaped like a lotus with a burning candle in its middle. Then, everyone was supposed to head for the Nile, with the pot in his hand and an overwhelming dream in his heart. According to the old myth, it was believed that if the burning candle continued floating on the surface of water, the dream would come true.

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Or get the silver pot, and have your own dream ceremony..

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Top 5 Myths about Hieroglyphs

Hatshepsut, the first female Pharaoh

Almost since the art of writing hieroglyphs was lost myths and rumors about their usage and purpose have been circulating – many of these have only recently been disproved!  Today lets take a look at some of the most common myths about Hieroglyphics.

They’re Pictograms.

Almost since the study of hieroglyphics began there was the assumption that the symbols were pictographic – that is to say, they were pictures of the things they represent. In fact, each hieroglyph has a sound value associated with it just as we have in western languages today.

 

So they’re not Pictograms?

Well, sometimes they are. Hieroglyphs can, in fact, be used as ideograms, phonograms and as determinatives. When used as an ideogram, they represent the thing they show, so in this instance they are pictographic. However, when used as a phonogram, they instead represent a sound – when used as a determinative they instead help to convey the meaning of a preceding word.

While this seems quite confusing, It makes a lot more sense once you start reading!

You can read more about this here.

 

There are only a small number of glyphs

This assumption which was also fairly widespread until the language was fully understood is understandable, given that many hieroglyphic inscription’s use similar symbols. In fact, we now know that there are over 700 individual hieroglyphs.

 

Hieroglyphs belong on temple walls  for spells and prayers.

While the above notion isn’t wrong – we do find a great number of hieroglyphs on temple walls, and they certainly were used for spells and prayers, they were used far more widely than that! We find evidence of hieroglyphs being used to record all sorts of information, from military records to tax receipts and even to tell personal stories.

Hieroglyphs, and their shorthand version hieratic script were also frequently written on papyrus sheets, which were far easier to transport than stone tablets! Glyphs also decorate many pieces of ancient Egyptian art, some pottery and personal possessions.

 

All Egyptians could read hieroglyphs

While this is a pleasant notion, it’s likely that only a few well educated individuals could read and write hieroglyphs. Like most ancient civilisations, the majority of ancient Egypt’s citizens were probably illiterate. However, they could follow along with important stories and teachings via the colorful wall paintings and sculptures which depicted so many of the key events from Egyptian history.

That being said, most people could probably have understood at least some of the glyphs, since their meaning is very clear when used pictographically.

Most of the writing and reading of hieroglyphs was done either by the priesthood, or by overseers and professional scribes. While this isn’t the level of literacy we expect today, it was still a vast improvement on societies who depended purely on word of mouth and storytelling to record their history.

Hieroglyphics timeline

King Tutankhamen depicted on his tomb wall

Hieroglyphs have an interesting and rich history all of their own. From the first symbols appearing over 5,000 years ago, right through to discoveries which we are still making even today!

 

The Cartouche

A Cartouche is the name given to an oval which surrounds the name of an Egyptian Pharaoh. Understanding the Cartouche was important to deciphering hieroglyphs and is another feature which helps to make them much easier to read than you might think!

19th century bullets, the inspiration for the name "Cartouche"

19th century bullets, the inspiration for the name “Cartouche”

The word Cartouche is actually French and means “cartridge,” like a cartridge shell. The Cartouches were named during Napoleon’s expedition to Egypt, when his soldiers saw upright Cartouches carved on temple walls and thought they looked like bullet casings. The name stuck, and has been used ever since!

Like most hieroglyphic elements, the Cartouche can be used either horizontally or vertically, the main concern being aesthetic. The first Pharaoh’s we know to have used the Cartouche were Sneferu and his son, Khufu – the builders of many of the pyramids of Egypt.

Egyptian Cartouches, vertical in this instance.

Egyptian Cartouches, vertical in this instance.

 

The Hieroglyphic alphabet – Uniliterals

Below you can find a breakdown of the Hieroglyphic alphabet as defined by Gardiner. These symbols, known as uniliterals are the simplest Hieroglyphs which have a single western charter to which they can be transliterated.

There is a simpler version of this chart here which is ideal for kids!

 

Hieroglyph Represents Symbol
󳮮 A egyptian vulture
󳼲 i reed
󴪔 y pair of strokes, river
󳛆 a arm
󳰎 w quail chick
󳛳 b lower leg
󴑬 p reed mat, stool
󳷝 f horned viper
󳯑 m owl
󴂿 n ripple of water
󳚢 r mouth
󴅤 h reed shelter, enclosure
󴣺 H twisted wick, rope
󴫙 x placenta
󳪱 X animal belly with udder or tail
󴇟 z door bolt, lock
󴗛 s folded cloth, linen
󴃉 S garden pool, basin
󴂫 q slope of a hill
󴤆 k basket with handle
󴦪 g jar stand
󴨿 t bun, bread
󴣔 T tethering rope
󳛐 d hand
󳷡 D cobra
󴪛 W coil of rope
󴫴 M unknown (i̓m)
󴖤 N crown of Lower Egypt
󳝭 R mouth, lips
󴘓 K head cover
󳣍 l recumbent lion
󳼳 i-i reeds, pair of

The Hieroglyphic alphabet – Multiliterals

In addition to the other symbols, there are a  number of hieroglyphs which have a miltiliteral meaning – that is to say that their sound is best approximated by a number of western charters.

 

msDr 𓄔 iAdt 𓇲
mDAt 𓏛 imAx 𓄪
niwt 𓊖 imnt 𓋀
nbty 𓅒 inpw 𓁢
nxxw 𓌅 wrrt 𓌝
nSmt 𓆠 wsxt 𓉩
nTrw 󴓨 wDAt 𓂀
rxyt 𓅚 baHi 𓅤
Hnqt 𓏊 mAat 𓁦
HqAt 𓌿 mniw 𓀦
xAwt 𓊯 mnit 𓋧
xAst 𓈉 mnhd 𓏞
xprS 𓋙 mnxt 𓋲
Xnmw 𓁠 mxAt 𓍝
zxnt 𓉽
zzmt 𓃗
zSSt 𓏣
spAt 𓈈
spty 𓂏
snTr 𓊸
srqt 𓆫
sTAw 𓍮
sDAw 𓋨
Swty 𓋛
Spsi 𓀼
Snwt 𓊚
Styw 𓆉
qnbt 󴇰
qrsw 𓊭
dwAt 𓇽
dSrt 𓋔
Hnmmt 𓇶
sxmty 𓋗
Sndyt 𓋯
DHwty 𓁟

The Hieroglyphic alphabet – Triliterals

In addition to the uniliteral and biliteral symbols, there are a large number of hieroglyphs which have a triliteral meaning – that is to say that their sound is best approximated by three western charters.

 

Aby 𓃮 wHA 𓐎 nfr 𓄤 zAb 𓃥 qiz 𓀫
Abd 𓇹 wHa 𓊠 nmt 𓌩 zin 𓌕 qmA 𓌙
Ams 𓌄 wHm 𓄙 nxn 𓊔 zwn 𓌕 kAp 𓊶
Axt 𓈌 wsr 𓄊 nzt 𓎼 zmA 𓋶 (𓄥) kAr 𓉬
Atf 𓋚 wsx 𓋝 nTr 𓊹 zmn 𓍖 kfA 𓄖
iAb 𓋁 wSA 𓅰 nDm 𓇛 zSn 𓆸 grg 𓍅
iAm 𓆭 wSm 𓆀 nDs 𓅪 sAb 𓄜 gHs 𓃴
iAt 𓈏 wdn 𓆻 rwd 𓌗 sAq 𓆌 tyw 𓅂
iab 𓎺 wDa 𓐣 rwD 𓌗 sAH 𓃃 tHn 𓋣
iaH 𓇹 wDb 𓈄 rmi 𓁿 siA 𓋷 txn 𓉶
iwa 𓄯 bAs 𓎰 rnp 𓆳 sbA 𓇼 TAw 𓊡
iwn 𓉺 biA 𓍄 rsw 𓇔 sbq 𓂾 TmA 𓎅
ibA 𓏡 bit 𓆤 rtH 𓍕 sbk 𓆋 THn 𓋣
ipt 𓊒 bnr 𓇜 rdi 𓏙 spr 𓄭 dwA 𓇼
imi 𓏶 bdt 𓇣 hrw 𓇳 spt 𓂎 dmD 𓋬
ini 𓏎 pAq 𓆁 HAt 𓄂 snT 𓍰 dSr 𓅟
inb 𓊅 pXr 𓄲 Hwi 𓀜 snD 𓅾 Dam 𓌁
iry 𓀸 pzD 𓇷 Hwt 𓉗 sxm 𓌂 DbA 𓌥
isw 𓄯 psD 𓄦 Hfn 𓆐 sxt 𓌦 (𓇏) Dba 𓂭
iTi 𓎁 fnD 𓂉 Hmt 𓍍 sXr 𓌕 DrD 𓄔
idn 𓄔 mAi 𓃬 HqA 𓋾 sSm 𓌫 Dsr 𓂦
idr 𓎩 mAa 𓐙 Htp 𓊵 sSr 𓎤
idt 𓇲 mAw 𓅶 HDt 𓋑 sti 𓄝
awt 𓋿 mwt 𓅐 HDD 𓌍 stp 𓍉
abA 𓌂 mnw 𓁤 xAt 𓊯 stX 𓁣
apr 𓐢 mnx 𓍊 xpr 𓆣 sTA 𓍬
anx 𓋹 mnD 𓂑 xpS 𓄗 sDm 𓄔
arq 𓍼 mHy 𓄧 xnt 𓏃 Swt 𓋺
aHA 𓂚 mzH 𓆊 xrw 𓊤 Sps 𓀻
aHa 𓊢 msi 𓁒 xrp 𓌂 Sma 𓇗
aSA 𓆈 msn 𓎣 xsf 𓍙 Sms 𓌞
wAH 𓎝 mSa 𓀎 xtm 𓋩 Sny 𓁸
wAs 𓌀 mDH 𓋜 XAr 𓎅 Sna 𓍁
wAD 𓇅 mDt 𓎅 Xnm 𓎸 Szp 𓊏
wab 𓃂 nbw 𓋞 Xrd 𓀔 SsA 𓄃
wbA 𓍏 nfw 𓊡 Xkr 𓐬 qAb 𓄲