Introduction | Architecture | Painting and Low-Relief Sculpture | Sculpture | Conclusion | Bibliography


Ancient Egyptian civilization first began around 3150 BC, from many small farming communities slowly coming together, until finally Upper and Lower Egypt were united under the first Pharaoh. stone slab depicting the unification of Egypt under one PharoahAccording to legend, the ruler of Upper Egypt defeated the leader of Lower Egypt to rule both as a united land. As soon as this happens, the Pharaoh's depictions show him as larger than life, as a godlike figure.

Egypt's dependence on the yearly flooding of the Nile, and constant, stable area made the people optimistic and their farming lifestyle was very conducive to forming communities. This optimism and faith that the Gods are happy accounts for the preparation for the afterlife, as well as the Egyptian culture's lack of desire to change for the sake of change.

The sense of togetherness provided by communities joining together to work at farming and other tasks was an extremely important part of the reason Ancient Egypt lasted so long as a culture. Another important reason, however, was the fact that writing recorded so many events and stopped religion, culture and traditions from being lost to the ages. Over thousands of years, Egyptians used three main scripts. Thoth, God of the MoonThese were hieroglyphs, hieratic and demotic. They believed that writing was invented by the god Thoth and called it 'god's words'. In fact, the word hieroglyphics means 'sacred inscriptions'. These writings were carved in stone and wood, but papyrus, an early form of paper, was also used.

Hieroglyphics were used from at least 3,400 BC, and hieratics were invented soon after as a sort of shorthand. Hieroglyphics were used for formal writings, for instance on a tomb, while hieratics were used for informal writings such as bookkeeping and writing letters. The first was a collection of images which represented sounds and letters, and a picture of the word would also be placed beside the writing. If we examine them side by side, it is easy to see how one evolved from the other.

Hieroglyphics compared to hieratic script (in bold)

The last known use of hieroglyphics was in 396 AD, while hieratics evolved into demotics by the 25th dynasty.
Demotic script (meaning 'writing for documents') developed by the year 660 BC and was used until about 425 AD when it was replaced by the Coptic alphabet. It was a variation of hieratic script that was used for courts, scientific, religious and other such more official documents.

demotic script

Thousands of years have gone by since any of these scripts were used regularly, so it is not surprising that much of their meaning was lost for many years.The Rosetta StoneIn 1799 a large stone was discovered. On it was written political records. These records were not particularly important, but the fact that they were written in three languages was. The three languages are hieroglyphics, demotic and Greek. This made the final deciphering of hieroglyphics in 1822 by Thomas Young and Jean-Francois Champollion possible.