Fun Facts: Ancient Egypt
"Cheops' Law: Nothing ever gets built on schedule or within budget."
Robert A. Heinlein, Time Enough For Love
The word "pyramid" comes from the Greek word "pyramis," which means "wheat cake." To the ancient Greeks, the pyramids of ancient Egypt reminded them of wheat cakes with pointed tops.
The Egyptian calendar, which was 365 days long and started on the
day that Sirius rose in line with the sun, was instituted around 4,241 B.C.
The great architect of ancient Egypt, Imhotep (2,655–2,600 B.C.)
is the earliest scientist who is known by name today.
We also know the names of other ancient Egyptian architects, scientists, and
mathematicians, such as the scribe Ahmes. On the other hand,
China, Sumeria, and Babylon did not record the names of their early
The use of cosmetics dates from around 5,000 years ago in ancient Egypt.
Their original use was to protect skin from sunlight, rather than for beauty care.
Hatshepshut (reigned circa 1494–1482 B.C.) was neither the only female
pharaoh of Egypt nor the first. Sobeknefru reigned from around
1790–1782 B.C., and evidence exists suggesting that Nitokris reigned
from around 2184–2181 B.C. (although it is unclear if she really
existed) and that Merneith reigned sometime in the 30th century B.C.
The Great Pyramid of Cheops (Khufu) at Giza, built around 2,570 B.C.,
used 2,300,000 large stone blocks that weigh a total of 7 million tons.
In terms of volume, the largest pyramid in the world is in Mexico, not Egypt.
Called the Cholula Pyramid (sometimes referred to as Quetzalcoatl), it was
built around the year 100 at what is now Cholula de Rivadahia (near Puebla) from sun-dried brick and earth. Although only
177 feet high,
less than 40% of the height of Egypt's Great Pyramid of Cheops (Khufu) at Giza, it
covers an area of 39.5 acres. In contrast, the Great Pyramid is
480 feet high but covers an area of only 13 acres.
It has been estimated that the Mexican
pyramid has a volume of 4,300,000 cubic yards as compared with the Great
Pyramid's 3,360,000 cubic yards.
There are cavities in the Great Pyramid of Cheops (Khufu) at Giza,
possibly totalling up to 15 to 20 per cent of the structure,
that appear to contain
sand, not from the site of the pyramid but from another part of Egypt.
The pyramids of Egypt, the oldest of the seven wonders
of the ancient world, are the only one of those wonders to survive
to the present day.
The earliest known last will was made by Nek'ure
(died circa 2601 B.C.), son of the
Egyptian Pharaoh Khafre. It was carved on his tomb. Beginning by
asserting that Nek'ure had made his decisions about his property "while
living upon his two feet and not ailing in any respect", it goes on to
dispose of 14 towns and two estates to his wife, three children, and
The earliest description of the circulation of the blood may be found in
the Edwin Smith surgical papyrus, a papyrus fron ancient Egypt that was dated
to 1600 B.C., but is believed to be a copy of an older work written around
2500 B.C. and attributed to Imhotep.
Pharaoh Pepi II of Egypt, who reigned from around 2294 B.C. to about
2220 B.C., had the longest known reign of any monarch (74 years).
Other long-reigning monarchs are: King Alfonso I of Portugal (1112–1185,
73 years), King Louis XIV of France (1643–1715, 72 years), and Prince John II
of Liechtenstein (1858–1929, 71 years).
In order to deter flies from landing on him, Pepi II of Egypt always
kept several naked slaves nearby whose bodies were smeared with honey.
A portion of the Rhind Mathematical Papyrus containing the work's title.
The oldest surviving work about mathematics (the Rhind Mathematical Papyrus,
written by the ancient Egyptian scribe Ahmes around 1650 B.C.) is entitled
"The Entrance Into the Knowledge of all Existing Things and all Obscure Secrets".
When the troops of ancient Egyptian Pharaoh Thutmose I invaded
Syria and Carchemish on the upper Euphrates in 1525 B.C., they
were astounded to see the Nile "falling from the sky" and a river
that "in flowing north flowed south." The soldiers only knew Egypt
and the Nile, and so were fascinated to
see rain (the Nile falling from the sky) and the direction of
the flow of the southward-flowing Euphrates; to the Egyptians, south
meant "upstream", so they saw the Euphrates as flowing "backwards".
Pharaoh Ramses II was soundly defeated by the Hittites at the Battle
of Kadesh in 1288 B.C. Undaunted, the Egyptian pharaoh erected a memorial
to commemorate his magnificent "victory". The monument endured, and
generations of historians saw the Battle of Kadesh as an Egyptian victory.
Only recently have archaeologists unearthed the facts about the Battle of Kadesh.
The oldest recorded death sentence is found in the Amherst
papyri, a list of state trials of ancient Egypt, dating to 1500 B.C.
A teenaged male, convicted of "magic", was sentenced to kill himself
by either poison or stabbing.
In ancient Egypt, slaves are known to have been murdered to accompany
their deceased owners to the afterlife.
Egyptian pharaoh Amenhotep IV, who renamed himself Akhenaten, who reigned circa 1351–1334 B.C., was the first
recorded monotheist in history. He decreed that Aten was the only god to be
worshipped, and images of the old official god, Amun, were destroyed.
However, this revolution did not affect the general population of Egypt, who continued
to worship their own regional gods, nor was it long-lasting, since after his
death the old gods were reinstated.
The first recorded use of the flute, clarinet, oboe, and trumpet was
in ancient Egypt.
The ancient Egyptians played a game similar to bowling, with large
stones set up as pins and small stones for a ball.
Some ancient Egyptians slept on pillows made out of stone.
While the use of antibiotics did not begin until the 20th century,
medicine included the use of mouldy foods or soil for infections. In
ancient Egypt, for example, infections were treated with mouldy bread.
The ancient Egyptians used hieroglyphics only for ritual purposes and
official inscriptions. For everyday use, a script known as hieratic
was used, and starting around 700 B.C., a second script
known as demotic was used. Both of these scripts were written using a
brush on papyrus.
The earliest known standard of weight is the beqa,
an ancient Egyptian unit which equals from
6.66 to 7.45 ounces.
It is still generally used in weighing gems,
precious metals, and stones in troy weight.
More damage has been done to Cleopatra's Needle, a hieroglyphic-covered
granite obelisk, in the 125 years it has stood in pollution-filled,
weather-beaten New York City than in thousands of years in dry Egypt.
The ancient Egyptians defined the hour to be one-twelfth of the time
between sunrise and sunset. So, as the days grew longer in winter and
spring and shorter in summer and autumn, the length of the hour varied
from one day to the next.
The last hieroglyphic inscription was made in 394 A.D., and the last
demotic inscription in 452 A.D. Both were found at the temple of Isis
It is not known who destroyed the nose of the Sphinx. There are sketches
of the Sphinx without a nose in 1737, over 60 years before Napoleon reached
Egypt and hundreds of years before the British and German armies of the two
World Wars. The only person known to have damaged it was an Islamic cleric,
Sa'im al-dahr, who was lynched in 1378 for vandalism.
It is not known exactly when or by whom the Sphinx was built or whom it represents.
In old times the guests at an Egyptian feast, when they grew hilarious, were called back to sober propriety by the exhibit of a little skeleton, and the admonition to reflect upon the lesson it conveyed.