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Open Access Publications from the University of California

UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology

UEE: open version

Egyptology has as its object of study the history, practices, and conceptual categories of a culture that was remarkably prolific in terms of written texts, art, architecture, and other forms of material culture. The knowledge of Egyptologists, archaeologists, linguists, geologists, and all other professionals who are involved in research related to Ancient Egypt reflect the interdisciplinary approach that is needed to make sense of such a wealth of information. The peer-reviewed articles of the UEE are written by the world's leading scholars.

In the coming decade we will continue to build the content of the UEE, while a separate web site, the UEE Full Version, will be available starting in 2010. The full version will have enhanced searches, such as a map-search functionality, alphabetical and subject browsing, in-text links, explanations of terminology for non-professionals, an image archive, and Virtual Reality reconstructions. In addition, a Data-Access Level is under development, which links articles with the results of original research. Information on the development of the UEE Full Version can be found at

Cover page of Late Egyptian

Late Egyptian


Late Egyptian, the language of ancient Egypt during the New Kingdom and Third Intermediate Period, is attested in written form in a large array of literary and non-literary genres, mainly in the hieratic script on papyri and ostraca, but also in hieroglyphic monumental epigraphy. Late Egyptian is the first stage of the second major phase of Egyptian, according to the widely accepted division of the history of the language into Earlier and Later Egyptian. Typologically, Late Egyptian reflects major differences with respect to earlier stages of the language. Being more analytical in character, Late Egyptian thus displays a marked tendency to separate morphological from lexical information. It also tends to be more explicit in the articulation of sentences at the macro-syntactic level (Conjunctive and Sequential) and more time-oriented in its system of grammatical tenses than the aspect-oriented system of Classical Egyptian.

Cover page of Letters to the Dead

Letters to the Dead


Letters to the Dead is the conventional, modern name for a collection of texts that petition the recently deceased, typically for assistance with problems of inheritance, illness, or fertility. They are known from the Old Kingdom through the Late Period and have been preserved upon ceramic vessels and figurines, stone stelae, papyrus, and linen. The Letters were written by male and female petitioners and are addressed to both male and female dead. Though only a few dozen Letters to the Dead have been identified, they are important artifacts for better understanding interactions between the living and the dead in ancient Egypt. Notably, they illuminate the quotidian, social networks that existed between the living and the dead, help us to understand how the ancient Egyptians conceived of and interacted with the dead, and expand upon our knowledge of mortuary culture and popular religious practices in ancient Egypt.

Cover page of Late Antiquity

Late Antiquity


Late antique Egypt ran from the reign of the Roman emperor Diocletian (284-305 CE) to the Arab conquest of Egypt (641 CE). During this period, Egypt was part of the eastern Roman Empire and was ruled from Constantinople from the founding of that city in the 320s CE. Culturally, Egypt’s elite were part of the wider Roman world, sharing in its classical education. However, several developments marked Egypt’s distinctiveness in this period. These developments included the flourishing of literature in Coptic, the final written form of the native language, and the creation and rapid growth of several forms of monastic Christianity. These developments accompanied the expansion of Christianity throughout the countryside and a parallel decline in the public role of native religious practices. This expansion of Christianity also led to its expansion in Nubia and Ethiopia, Egypt’s closest international neighbors, as a result of travel and trade from the Roman world. Documentary and archaeological evidence suggests a decline in Egyptian village and small town life in some places in this period, but the picture is mixed. The documents reveal large aristocratic estates in some regions and small-scale middle-class enterprises in others, but debate on how to interpret this data continues.

Cover page of Microhistory



Microhistory is a rather ambiguous term, usually referring to the lives, activities, and cultural values of common people, rarely evoked in official sources. In the case of ancient Egypt, both the urban and village spheres provide some clues about the existence, social relations, spiritual expectations, and life conditions of farmers, craftspersons, and “marginal” populations (such as herders), and also about “invisible” elites that played so important a role in the stability of the kingdom. In some instances, exceptional archives (the Ramesside tomb-robbery papyri, Papyrus Turin 1887, recording the “Elephantine scandal,” and the thousands of ostraca recovered at Deir el-Medina) cast light on the realities of social life, in which crimes and reprehensible practices appear quite common. In other cases, structural archaeological evidence reveals the harsh conditions under which many Egyptians lived and died. Finally, small private archives, often associated with temple activities, reveal how some individuals managed to thrive and to follow personal strategies that enabled them to accumulate moderate wealth. Microhistory clearly has a role to play in Egyptology in balancing the information provided by official texts, with their biased perspectives of the social order and cultural values prevailing in the Nile Valley.

Cover page of Radjedef to the Eighth Dynasty

Radjedef to the Eighth Dynasty


Our sources for the chronology of the Old Kingdom comprise a mere handful of contemporary written documents, supplemented by radiocarbon dates, some of which have recently been recalibrated by Oxford University. The bulk of historical evidence, deriving primarily from residential cemeteries of the ruling kings and the elite, as well as from provincial sites, shows that during large portions of the Old Kingdom Egypt represented a relatively centralized state with a well-structured administrative system. Until the end of the Fourth Dynasty Egypt’s royal family exercised a role of complete authority, exemplified in the monumental construction of pyramids, such as those on the Giza Plateau. Fourth-Dynasty king Radjedef broke with tradition, building his pyramid at Abu Rawash, nearer the major cult center of Heliopolis. Evident from the Fifth Dynasty onward is a steady decline in the royal family’s dominant role in the state administration, concomitant with the rising importance and authority of non-royal officials and provincial administrators. Tomb motifs accompanied by various proxy data, particularly from the reign of Niuserra, are suggestive of changing environmental conditions and climatic stress, supported today by scientific data. The so-called “status race” became yet more explicit in the Sixth Dynasty, which was marked by instability and court intrigue, the provincial nomarchs ultimately succeeding in combining powers of both the administration and priesthood. The Seventh Dynasty represents a fleeting period of political upheaval wherein, according to the historian Manetho, 70 kings reigned during a period of 70 days. By the Eighth Dynasty—the ultimate closing stage of the Old Kingdom—the powers of the formerly centralized government had become territorial and personal.

Cover page of Metaphor



When tracing the epistemological but also thematic development of metaphor studies in Egyptology, what can be seen is a change from a typological perspective, which sought to categorize both motifs and metaphor types, to a more cognitive perspective, which was more interested in the processes behind the linguistic phenomena. In the last few years there has also been increased interest in the development of metaphors in pan-textual as well as multimodal perspective and in the usage and extent of metaphors in all range of phenomena, such as textual, graphemic, and even pictorial media.

Cover page of Reserve Head

Reserve Head


The enigmatic reserve heads of the Old Kingdom (2670-2168 BCE) in Egypt have been the topic of much discussion and debate since their discovery, primarily on the Giza Plateau, at the turn of the twentieth century. Their purpose and meaning to the ancient Egyptians confounded the first excavators who discovered them (de Morgan, Borchardt, Reisner, and Junker), and have puzzled the later Egyptian art historians, archaeologists, and Egyptologists who have studied them over the past century. This is mainly because the Egyptians did not leave a record for their use or function and because the heads were discovered in secondary context. All of the tombs in which they were found were either plundered or disturbed by flood, leaving them to much speculation. Their original discoverers and subsequent scholars have advanced numerous theories, which may or may not have a basis in the archaeological record. Included here is a closer examination of the form, typology, and archaeological context of the reserve heads, as well as an overview of the theories of their function and meaning, in short, an anatomy of an enigma.

Cover page of History of Egypt in Palestine

History of Egypt in Palestine


Egyptian interactions and contact with Palestine began as early as the fourth millennium BCE, and continued, in varying forms and at times far more intensively than others, until the conquest of the ancient world by Alexander the Great. Numerous data—textual, material, archaeological—found in both Egyptian and southern Levantine contexts illustrate the diverse spectrum of interaction and contact between the two regions, which ranged from colonialism, to imperial expansion, to diplomatic relations, to commerce. By virtue of geographic proximity, economic interests, and occasionally political necessity, the respective histories of the two regions remained irreducibly interconnected. In all periods, situations and events in Egypt influenced growth and development in the southern Levant, while at times different societies and political considerations in Palestine also affected Egyptian culture.

Cover page of Ration System

Ration System


The distribution of rations can be found in documents from different period of the Egyptian history but the general features of the ration system is not easy to trace. Most of the sources are the more or less fragmentary lists of wages/payments that reflect various conditions, such as status of the recipients, period to which the payment corresponds etc, that are not always known to us. Other documents provide us with categories of allowances ascribed to the workmen and officials who participated on the same project. A few traces of a systematic approach can be recognized in the evidence, for instance value-units and day’s work units, but many details remain unclear. Bread, beer and grain represented the basic components of the rations in all periods. Bread and beer was often allocated daily while the grain was at some periods used as a monthly payment. On the other hand meat was considered an extra ration while linen and other valuable products could be distributed in longer periods, for instance once a year. Rations were distributed to the attendants of projects organized by the state but similar payments in the form of commodities occurred in exchange for a hired service in the private sphere.

Cover page of Meroitic



The Meroitic language is known from more than two thousands inscriptions found in the northern part of Sudan and in Egyptian Nubia. Although it was written only during the Kingdom of Meroe (300 BC – AD 350), the language is already attested in Egyptian transcriptions of personal names from the second millennium BC on. Meroitic was written in two scripts, cursive and hieroglyphic, both derived from Egyptian scripts. The system is alphasyllabic and uses twenty-three signs plus a word-divider made of two or three dots. The scripts were deciphered in 1907-1911 by F. Ll. Griffith, but knowledge of the language itself still remains incomplete. However, the linguistic affiliation of Meroitic has been recently established: it belongs to the Northern East Sudanic branch of the Nilo-Saharan phylum. Further advances in understanding the Meroitic texts are expected from comparative linguistic research made possibly by this discovery.