Egyptian Timeline

Ancient Egyptian history is divided into three large parts, known as the Old, Middle and New Kingdoms. Smaller parts are known as periods. The pharaohs are ordered into 31 dynasties, or groups. This simplified table lists the dynasties, their approximate dates and the dates that some pharaohs reigned.

All dates are BCE (before the Common Era). BCE dates are counted back from the year 1, which is taken to be the beginning of the Common Era. There was no year 0. These dates work in the same way as BC (before Christ) and AD (Anno Domini, “the year of Our Lord”). Some dates have a “c” in front of them. This stands for “circa“, which means “about”. These dates are mainly guesses, because no one knows what the real date is.

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The Rosetta Stone

RosettaStoneFor European explorers in the 18th century, it was difficult to make sense of the ancient monuments. They couldn’t tell who had built them, when or why, because they couldn’t read hieroglyphs, the Egyptian picture writing.

Then, in 1798, Britain and France went to war, and fought in Egypt. Napoleon, the French general, took a big term of scholars with him to study the monuments. But it was his soldiers who made the most important discovery – a slab of black stone, near the Mediterranean sea, at a place called Rosetta. It had three different scripts on it – one Greek, and two Egyptian. The French scholars guessed the the texts were translations of each other.

The Rosetta Stone, as it became known, did indeed make it possible to decipher hieroglyphs. Most of the work was done by a Frenchman, Jean-François Champollion, and an Englishman, Thomas Young.

Source: The Usbourne Encyclopedia of Ancient Egypt

Egyptian Dress

The most common textile in Egypt was linen. It was mostly a spotless white. Dyes such as iron (red), indigo (blue) and saffron (yellow) were sometimes used, but coloured and patterned clothes were usually the mark of a foreigner.

However, the Egyptians did decorate their clothes with beads and beautiful feathers. Wool was not used for weaving in ancient Egypt. Silk and cotton did not appear until foreign rulers came to power in Egypt, after about 1000BC.

The basic items of dress for men were a simple kilt, loin cloth or tunic. Women wore a long, closely fitting dress of fine fabric. Fashions for both men and women varied over the ages, with changes in the straps, pleating and folds. Although more elaborate styles of clothing did appear in the New Kingdom, clothing was relatively simple, with elaborate wigs, jewellery and eye make-up creating a more dramatic effect.

tutschairThe image to the right shows Tutankhamun and his wife, Ankhesenamun, in their palace. The image is made from glass, silver, precious stones and faience (glazed pottery). The queen is wearing a long, pleated dress, while the pharaoh wears a pleated kilt. Garments were draped around the wearer rather than sewn, and pleating was very popular from the Middle Kingdom onwards. Both Tutankhamun and his wife wear sandals, bracelets, wide collars and beautiful headdresses or crowns. The queen is offering her husband perfume or ointment from a bowl.

Food and Banquets

Working people in Egypt were often paid in food. They ate bread, onions and salted fish, washed down with a sweet, grainy beer. Flour was often gritty and the teeth of many mummies show signs of severe wear and tear. Dough was kneaded with the feet or by hand, and pastry cooks produced all kinds of cakes and loaves.


A big banquet for a pharaoh was a grand affair, with guests dressed in their finest clothes. A royal menu might include roast goose or stewed beef, kidneys, wild duck or tender gazelle. Lamb was not eaten for religious reasons, and in some regions certain types of fish were also forbidden. Vegetables such as leeks were stewed with milk and cheese. Egyptian cooks were experts at stewing, roasting and baking. Red and white wine were served at banquets. They were stored in pottery jars marked with their year and their vineyard, just like the labels on modern wine bottles.

Workers and Slaves

The pharaohs may have believed that it was their links with the gods that kept Egypt going, but really it was the hard work of the ordinary people. It was they who dug the soil, worked in the mines and quarries, sailed the boats on the river Nile, marched with the army into Syria or Nubia, cooked food and raised children.

Slavery was not very important in ancient Egypt, but it did exist. Most of the slaves were prisoners who had been captured during the many wars that Egypt fought with their neightbours in the Near East. Slaves were usually treated well and were allowed to own property.

Most Egyptian workers were serfs. This meant that their freedom was limited. They could be bought and sold along with the estates where they worked. Farmers had to be registered with the government. They had to sell crops at a fixed price and pay taxes in the form of produce. During the season of the Nile floods, when the fields lay under water, many workers were recruited into public building projects. Punishment for those who ran away was harsh. They might be beaten, and their tools or their house could be seized.

Editing Again

Yesterday, I wrote the following:

I need to be productive and feel that what I’m doing is a worthy past-time. I need to write.

Therefore, starting tomorrow I am going to make an effort and return to Cat’s Eyes and see if I can lose myself in a fantasy world of my own creation.

Tonight, I kept to my word. I wrote; or should I say, I edited. Admittedly, I felt increasingly nervous as the day progressed and the hour in question got nearer. In fact, I was scared to death. But at 7.30pm I retrieved my cobweb covered laptop from it’s hiding place and looked at the pages I had been working on while on holiday three months ago.

It took me about half an hour to settle in and start to focus. After that, I was drawn in and my attention was held for almost two hours (when my focus suddenly snapped off and I began to fidget). I’m so pleased with myself, as I imagined that I’d be lucky to stay focused for one page.

Tomorrow, I will attempt to do the same thing. 😀

Ancient Egypt: Did you Know?

…Upper Egypt is actually the southern part of Egypt.

…that papyrus is a tall reedy plant that grows in the river Nile. It is used for making paper.

…that canopic jars are made of pottery and are used to hold the lungs, liver, intestines and stomach of a dead person.

…that concubine is a term applied in a historical context to a woman who lived with a man without being married. In ancient Egypt it was an officially recognised relationship and a concubine had special rights.

…God’s Wife refers to the woman who is head of the priestesses at the temple of Amun at Karnak. By the Third Intermediate Period this was a very powerful position held by a princess.

…that an Ankh is an Egyptian amulet shaped a little like a cross. It is the symbol of life.

…that an obelisk is a stone pillar, erected as a monument to the sun god, with flat sides that taper towards a pyramid-shaped top.

…that a mastaba is a brick building containing tombs, used for Egyptian royal burials before the introduction of pyramids.

Skilled Workers

Skilled workers formed a middle class between the poor labourers and the rich officials and nobles. Wall paintings and models show us craft workers carving stone and wood, making pottery, or working precious metals. There were boat builders, and chariot makers, too.

Artists and craft workers could be well rewarded for their skills, and some became famous for their work. The house and workshops of a sculptor called Thutmose was excavated in el-Amarna in 1912. He was very successful in his career and was a favourite of the royal family.

Craft workers often lived in their own part of town. A special village was built at Deir el-Medina, near Thebes, for the builders of the magnificent, but secret, royal tombs. Amoung the 100 or so houses there, archaeologists found delivery notes for goods, sketches and plans drawn on broken pottery. Working conditions cannot always have been very good, for records show that the workers once went on strike. They may well have helped to rob the tombs that they themselves had built.