Make your own free website on


Recreation: The Performing Arts

Home | Education *new* | Philosophy | Religion | Writing | Fashion | Dynasties | Recreation

Introduction || Kids Play || Games || Sports || Special Events || The Performing Arts || Other



Musical performances were an additional importance of the worship of deities and rulers at the cults dedicated to either. Such performances were also enjoyed by the common population. During the Old Kingdom, concerts could be composed of two harpists, a small flute musician, a large flute musician, and one male singer for every instrumentalist who clapped his hands to keep a beat. Flutists were always accompanied by a singer or singers under all kingdoms, whereas harps could be the only accompaniment to singers. By the New Kingdom, as seems constant, women singers were more frequent in concerts and often sang with men, all of whom could appear with a small symphony of the following instruments: a large harp; two lutes or one lute and lyre; and a double flute.


Usually, such concerts were the main entertainment during feasts composed of family members and friends of royal or high status. It was a frequent event where all drank to the enjoyment of life and where becoming drunk was not an inconvenience but rather commonplace [see “happy hour” festivals.]





From the earliest times in Egypt, we find evidence of dancing; from pre-dynastic times, archeologists have found representations of dancing in the form of clay figures that have their hands raised above their heads as well as depictions on pre-dynastic vessels that show women raising their hands above their heads as others shake rattles or sistra. It is also from tomb and temple scenes from all periods of dynastic Egypt that one sees the importance of dancing, acrobatics, gymnastics, and music, of both the religious and secular sort. Most of our evidence of ancient dancing comes from depictions inside tombs, which date to the Old and Middle Kingdoms and then disappear completely during the New Kingdom, which does not mean that New Kingdom Egyptians stopped dancing all together; it might just be that New Kingdom tombs did have dancing scenes depicted in them. On the other hand, concerning temples, it is the exact opposite: during the New Kingdom, the Late Period, and onward, we find dancing scenes while in temples dating to the Old and Middle Kingdoms we really do not see anything of the sort, as Old and Middle Kingdom temples are quite rare. Again, this does not mean that there could not have been dancing scenes depicted in them. Deterioration or the prospect of finding such evidence could be the case here.


When we think of dancing, acrobatics, and gymnastics, we can think of three different sporting events or special events that call for each to take place. The reason for such a large range of activities being described under one header to examine ancient dancing—including in the subject acrobatics and gymnastics—is there was no distinction among the three; dancing, acrobatics, and gymnastics of any degree were seen as activities cut from the same cloth. Also unlike today, where music is a catalyst to provoke dancing, in ancient times, music was really not a catalyst to dancing; it was the clapping of hands or playing of percussion instruments like the tambourine, drums, or sistrum that gave dancers the cause for it. No depictions or records of stringed or wind instrumentalists have been found to be associated with dancers. If they are depicted together—and they sometimes were, as where there are instrumentalists, there may also be dancers close by—there is typically an element of some sort that separates them. However, this does not negate the fact that dancing and music were not done at the same time, as one depiction found at Giza and which dates to the New Kingdom shows less than a dozen women wearing wigs and diaphanous gowns; shaking tambourines or kettle drums and castanets or sticks; and perhaps twirling about in execution of some sort of dance, as the flow of some of the female dancer’s wigs suggest.


Having been such an important element in religious, ritualistic, and daily life, it may come as a surprise that the ancients did not have a concrete word that expressed the words “dancing” or “dance.” However, from the earliest records found, the ancients had derivatives, words that are synonyms of this generic word “dance:” the most common word is ibw, perhaps meaning ‘caper’ or ‘frolic;’ another common word to describe dance in which an acrobatic might engage was hbi, or ‘acrobatic dance;’ a word that described a dance for which performers bore animal-headed clappers was rwi, which means ‘to run away;’ one word that describes a dance that both non-royal and even animals executed was called ksks, meaning ‘twist;’ the word for an Old Kingdom dance performed exclusively by a pair of men was called trf; and then there is a whole slew of more words that describe either a type of dance or another synonym of the word “dance,” profoundly worsening the matter in finding that one word that literally means “dance.”


From the evidence found thus far, we mostly see women dancing or performing aerobatic sequences either alone or en masse, in such scenes; young men were also acrobats, employing or playing with hoops and such, but the majority of acrobats were women. This should not come as a surprise, the ancients even held dancing as an honorable career for women. Women, being considered the “stronger sex,” had to be physically fit; exhibit grace and athleticism; and be very flexible in order to perform different types of aerobatic movements. What is more, some depictions show females with muscular thighs, indicating that they were in fact professionals. Some of these women dancers were sometimes mentioned under the name of khebeyet, particularly in the royal harems.


Being a possible career to either men or women, one had the possibility of working freelance or professionally; the latter being attached to an estate or temple. Of course, any ancient Egyptian could engage in dancing of any kind, as it was an activity in which all enjoyed participating; one could be a dilettante and still engage in dancing and do well at it. The ancients were not strangers to filling their leisurely time with singing and dancing: farmers could praise the gods for a good harvest season by dancing just as female song and dance troupes could complete a dinner party.


Although professional dancers were never revered individually as celebrities and sports figures are to the world today, there is one instance where two female performers—a pair of dancers named Hekenu and Iti—during the Old Kingdom where honored at Nikaure’s tomb, for whom they may have been entertainers. Whatever truth lies in that, it only makes stronger the ancients’ mindset of song and dance being an extremely important aspect of every day life.


Some banquets, celebrations, feasts, festivals, processions, rites, rituals, and other special occasions for which dancing, singing, and regular merriment or mourning were needed were the procession of the mummy or a decedent, either of Pharaoh or a person of high social status; during the Dance of the Muu, which occurred after the procession of the mummy; the heb-sed and the Opet festivals; the procession of deities on barks; feasts celebrated in honor of a chosen deity; or banquets as a means of celebrating with family and friends.


Perhaps the richest and oldest of evidence of ancient dancing is of the funerary kind and comes most notably from tombs. It was the Old Kingdom custom that, shortly after the decedent’s body was mummified women dancers, typically from what is called the ‘acacia house,’ performed for the deceased king or official. Their duty in dancing was to appease the dangerous lioness goddess, Sekhmet, who was known to have a vicious temperament. These dancing women of the ‘acacia house’ danced also for and celebrated the rejuvenation of the dead by mourning the decedent, much like Isis and her sister, Nephthys did for Osiris; as the sisters rejuvenated their husband and brother, respectively, so, too would the dancers from the ‘acacia house’ do for the dead king. The dancing of the women of the ‘acacia house’ was said to have lured the dead to the offering table so that he may be born into his new life in the Afterlife by eating his first meal. This dance was rightfully called the ‘offering table’ dance. Yet, neither the way it was performed nor who performed it were fixed; the women of the ‘acacia house’ were not always the ones to perform it. It was during the Old Kingdom that both men and women of other dancing groups performed this particular dance—there have been scenes found that evince this; a specific group of dancers called the hnrt were also discovered to have been performers in the ‘offering table’ dance, even though they were known to have danced during childbirth ceremonies. Despite the hnrt being particular dancers during birthing rites, these rites and the rejuvenation of the body of the king in the Afterlife are fairly similar in symbolism: both celebrate new life—one on earth and the other in the otherworld. More notable than the “offering table” dance is the dance of mourning that is comprised of women whose are exposed at the chest, crying and shouting, and throwing dirt on and pulling at their hair. Evidence of this band of mourning women has been found on several rolls of papyrus, belonging to several decedents’ Books of the Dead.


At the moment of the actual procession of the mummy to its resting place, Middle and New Kingdom depictions show us dancers dancing during the procession. The best representations of this lot are found at Beni Hassan and illustrate them more as acrobats in a circus rather than dancers—but dancers they were nonetheless. Following these dancers would be the carriers of the funeral equipment and statues in the likeness of the decedent.


Once the procession reached the place of burial another band of dancers, called the mww dancers, were present. The documentation of their importance in funerary processions date from the Old Kingdom to the New Kingdom; they are depicted on tomb walls in various settings, such as among small chapels, tree-surrounded pools, and religious symbols; and they have a very distinctive appearance indeed: they wore a special headdress made of woven papyrus stalks, which denoted them as marsh dwellers and, more importantly, ferrymen. Being marsh dwellers, their duty for the funeral procession was a symbolic one: they were responsible for ferrying the decedent through the waters that lead to the underworld, from Memphis to Sais, and from there to Buto and back.


When the dead Pharaoh or official started his journey through the underworld, he was almost always accompanied by Hathor, whose job it was to ensure a safe journey. In honor of this event, there was a special sort of funeral dance and celebration, which included dancers, singers, and percussionists using their hands to clap and sticks to beat out a rhythm. This festival was called the “Feast of Eternity,” which always included dancers who would process before the statue or effigy of the deceased. It is from depictions from the Middle and New Kingdoms that have illustrated such an event. Dancers participating in this dance are seen leaping or skipping as a means to celebrate Hathor’s appearance to aid the dead in his otherworldly journey as well as to assist in his rebirth into the Afterlife. A dance to appease Hathor would have most certainly made it all the more easy for the king to succeed in his quest for eternal life.


Breaking away from dances for funerary rituals but not parting from the religious quality of dancing, we come to examine further dances that were in honor of the gods, at which our last paragraph hinted. A wise man of ancient Egypt—Anii was his name—once said that banquets composed of family and friends should occur as oft as possible in order to celebrate their favorite gods and that such feasts should include music, dancing, and heavy drinking or beer—wine was less significant to the ancient Egyptians, even though they did make it. Such an occasion is the topic of examination in this paragraph—it was an event where dancing was a means to honor the goddess Hathor, Sekhmet, or the necropolis and for getting drunk together to enjoy life to its fullest and forget how short life was—for life in ancient times was rather short. Toasting each other to “long life” and becoming drunk was a means of enjoying the company of others and communicating with, say, Hathor, who, when in the form of Sekhmet, was known as the “Lady of Drunkenness”; it is evident that the relation between Sekhmet and drunkenness is a reference to the Egyptian legend known as “The Destruction of Mankind,” where this goddess, upon being induced into a drunken stupor by the people of Egypt, forgot her original intensions of killing off the blasphemers against Re, a rather jealous god, according to the story. Toasting to Hathor, to Sekhmet, or to other deities of the necropolis was not only a means of communicating with them, but also it was a panacea to appease them, keeping them in good spirits with mankind. Evidence of such banquets have been found in some New Kingdom tombs and bring together the ritualistic and domestic side of a family get-together to life.


More of a ritual ceremony than a daily life celebration, the Valley festival at Thebes was one was held during the new moon of the tenth month of the year and that honored the god Amun, whose temple is located at Karnak. It is during the time when Amun was said to have parted from his temple par bark, crossing the River Nile to pay respects at the West Bank tombs, that priests, who carried Amun on his bark, musicians, and dancers accompanied him. Despite being more a ritual than a daily life celebration, it would have been commonplace that families set up a grand banquet near the West Bank tombs, awaiting Amun’s arrival and rejoicing when he processed past them on his bark, on his way to the sanctuary of Hathor, which is located at Deir el-Bahri and is where Amun would have honored the goddess as a patroness of childbirth and of the dead. As seems to follow Hathor, a feast, known as the “Inebriation feast,” was held in her honor and was accented with dancers.


It was for another festival for Amun, during which dancers, this time acrobats and dark and exotic dancers—Nubians, no doubt—jumped and weaved to the rhythm of drums, performed in his honor. This event was known as the Opet festival, when Amun, upon his bark, traveled from his temple at Karnak to the Luxor temple dedicated to Mut, his wife.


Yet another feast that was meant for honoring a deity was for Min, the god of fertility and regeneration. Such a feast was held at Min’s cult center at Koptos or at Akhmim and was composed of ceremonies and processions, similar to feasts dedicated to Amun. In addition, just as Amun had dancers to express their praise for him, so did Min, whose dancers were not only human, but also monkeys—it was during the Later Period that monkeys are prominently shown as dancers at the feast of Min, which was more likely to be symbolic rather than actual, so most scholars say. Representations of monkeys and humans, especially the priests of Min, show them paying homage to the setting and the rising of the sun by executing farewell and greeting dances, respectively.


possible training for dance: There has been no solid evidence of training for prospective dancers such as is the case for wrestling and boxing, which were means of training for the military as well as a fun sport. It is more than likely that any “training” at all would have occurred during childhood or relatively close to a young age. The only evidence found that suggests that there may have been training for dancing appear to us in reliefs on tomb and temple walls—no surprise there. Some of these depictions show dancers leaping, pirouetting, lithely bending, running, using tambourines as a means to a beat, all the while, in some cases, swinging weights from side to side.


When done as either a profession or for recreation, in the case of women, one wore typically wore pleated, short, or slit skirts; strap supported loose tunics of the diaphanous or sheer kind; long shawls draped over their bodies; or nothing but a simple beaded or cowry shell-covered belt girdle over the belly, leaving the rest of her body exposed. The mindset behind these costumes seems to be, the less one wears, the freer a dancer was. It was this last costume in which one most often sees female dancers, singers and instrumentalists dressed; it was common to don nothing other than a strap or a belt, as public nudity was acceptable in ancient times—not so in the Western World, however. Men, on the other hand, often wore short wrapped skirts or, in the case of the Dance of Muu, exclusively performed by male dancers, tall reed headdresses who were often accompanied by a small orchestra. In some cases the muu dancers were considered divine and in yet other cases, muu dancers were women who waited the appearance of the funeral procession of a decedent at a designated burial site.



It is difficult to determine and understand how any category of dance was executed, as archeologists have yet to discover depictions, texts, or otherwise that describes such in detail. The gestures depicted in objects and scenes thus far found give their viewers only an idea of what is going on, much like it might be hard to guess what a couple is taking about in a photograph—it is through their facial features and gestures that we could determine the emotion being shown. Anyway, all that which has been documented—that could be documented on this area—is the meaning of movement, which the ancients revered in any type of dance in which they were performers. The following is not an exhausted list of the types of dance in which the ancients engaged, but it is a rather good account of most of the forms of dancing:

  • Dancing for the soul purpose of movement was more than a simple release of energy. Both performer and audience, if there happened to be one, would enjoy this sort of dancing just for the rhythm of it. This sort of style of dance could be linked to freestyle dancing, say, at a school dance, where the audience forms a circle round a few dancers moving their bodies in whatever way they please.
  • Dancing as a means of gymnastic activity was the most physically intensive form of dance in which trained individuals engaged. Here, most certainly, dancers of this sort were more skilled at the more strenuous and difficult movements and it would be without a doubt necessary to have training in order to perfect movements of this caliber. This form of dance could be related to modern gymnastic tournaments or programs, where athletes showcase their superior skills in delicacy, dexterity, flexibility, and precision.
  • Imitative dance was a means of reenacting various animal movements by way of dance. Observing their animal neighbors the ancients would undoubtedly have done in order to imitate their movements; it is obvious that they would have, as they do the same in order to be successful hunters--knowing their prey well before hunting them makes this so.
  • A paired dance in ancient times was between two men or two women, but never one man and one woman; men danced with men and women with women. Knowing this, it would not come as a surprise to learn that there have been found no depictions of a man and a woman dancing. This homogenous dance was executed in perfect symmetry, which denotes to a certain extent that the ancients saw this dance as more than just haphazard movement; it was something to have learned and shared with another individual.
  • Group dancing was either of the haphazard movement or of the symmetrical kind. In terms of the former, groups of anywhere between four to eight dancers would dance together, following the same rhythm but executing different movements. Perhaps this denoted the connection between persons, where one chose to move in whatever way he or she pleased, causing a transfer of movement into the others’ movements. This would occur with a connection between hand and body of two people dancing, or of pairs of two in a group. In terms of the latter type of group dancing, it was of the ritual sort, especially for funeral procession, where ranks of dancers executed identical movements.
  • War dances were recreations performed for resting mercenary troops of Libyans; Sherdans; Pedtiu, otherwise known as Sea Peoples; and those from other places.
  • The dramatic dance commemorative in genre and was performed by dancers who would recreate a particular historical scene. Typical movements with symbolic meaning would be the following: a dancer kneeling represented a defeated enemy king, a dancer standing represented Pharaoh, and a dancer holding the enemy by the hair with one hand and a holding a club in the other represented Pharaoh smiting his defeated enemy. The above would be a dramatic representation and commemoration of Pharaoh defeating his enemies against whom he and his army fought. Again, as seen from a depiction at Beni Hassan, a group of two dancers, who seem to be called “Under the feet,” wear their hear up in a way that the overall look resembles the white conical crown of Upper Egypt. In this scene, one of the women has grabbed with her left hand her kneeling partner by the hair and holds up an invisible weapon with her right hand. This scene is symbolic or Pharaoh smiting his enemy. Near this same group is another, calling their selves “the Wind” and consisting of three women who wear their hair in the same style as the two preceding dancers. Here, the woman on the left crosses her arms over her chest and leans back at a 45 degree angle from upright. The middle woman executes a perfect backbend. The third female dancer is erect and raises both her arms with palms up. Observing this depictions brings to one’s mind a representation of the swaying and bending papyri reeds in the wind.
  • The lyrical dance was a dance that illustrated a story; much like a story with words, this was a story with movement. It would have been only for this sort of dance that a man and a woman would dance together. Wearing wooden clappers upon their feet gave their rhythm a more dramatic and audible effect, aiding in illustrating their harmonious movements. Movements for this sort of dance were the following: dancing separately or together; pirouetting; parting; approaching; the girl fleeing from the man who pursued her. This sort of ancient dance is similar to the ballet of modern times. 
  • The grotesque dance and dances similar to it have been known since the Old Kingdom, but documented only from the Middle Kingdom. The thing most notable about the grotesque dance it that it seems to have been performed mainly by dwarves such as the dwarf named Harkhuf, Pharaoh Pepi II’s official whom he ask to return from a southern expedition with a dwarf in order for him to dance at the “divine dances” or the “god’s dances.” Such dances were performed only by dwarfs and were meant to be farewell ceremonies associated with the setting sun, which parted from the sky and entered the underworld, beginning its journey there. The reason for Pharaoh’s request was dwarfs were a rarity and were seen as representations of the sun; both were considered timeless, never growing old and, in the case of dwarfs, never growing past the size of children. It was not only for the sun that dwarfs danced but also for the Apis and Mnevis bulls, during their funerals, who were, in themselves, connected to the rebirth of Osiris and to the sun god.
  • Funerary dance was composed of three sorts, which have been found represented on papyri, which documented mostly the funeral procession of a mummified royal. The first of this sort was specifically performed as part of the actual funeral rite. The second of this sort was performed using expressions to illustrate grief. In one case, the performers would place their hands on their heads or perhaps make a gesture that represented the ka. This gesture was illustrated when one rose up both arms. The third of this sort of dance was executed in order to entertain the ka of the decedent, the spirit of the mummified royal.
  • Finally, there is dance as a means to religion—the religion dance, which were performed during temple rituals and ceremonies, especially during the worship of various deities and rulers at the cults dedicated to either. Such rituals employed trained musicians and singers to participate in the liturgy to play songs and sing hymns and other chants for the ritual, respectively.

In general, some evidence of acrobatics, gymnastics, and dancing are the following: in Saqqara at the tombs of Menu and of Ptah-hotep, which date to Dynasty 5 and 6, circa 2300 and 2250 BCE respectively; in Luxor at the tombs of Keroef and of Ramesses I (?), which date to Dynasty 18 and 19, circa 1500 and 1300 BCE respectively; at Medinat Habu, the mortuary temple of Ramesses III, which dates to Dynasty 20, circa 1100 BCE; and at Karnak Temple, in the sanctuary of Hatshepsut, which dates to Dynasty 18, circa 1480 BCE.





As mentioned before, during the Old Kingdom, male singers could be accompanied by either flute or harp and it was acceptable for women to be accompanied by the same instruments by the New Kingdom. However, during the Old Kingdom it seems that men were the only instrumentalists, accompaniment for singers only.


It appears that at religious festivals, the point of playing music might not have been to create a pleasing sound, but to keep a steady beat that bordered on religious ecstasy or to chase away evil spirits at a time of vulnerability, say during childbirth or during the funeral of a decedent who was about to start his dangerous journey to his afterlife. Clappers or sistra and even tambourines or drums were very useful for such occasions.


Clappers were usually made of ivory, with its natural curve resembling apotropaic wands, which were considered magical. It was also usual that carved designs decorated clappers: heads of women or of the goddess Hathor, sometimes known as “Lady of Dance,” dancing being the activity for which a clapper was particularly employed.


A sistrum was also closely associated with Hathor and was commonly seen in the hands of Bastet. Such percussion instruments were made out of wood or bronze. The handles of sistra were usually made in the shape of the former goddess, Hathor. From the head of Hathor was connected a loop, fashioned as a steep arch or, as some have observed, a cartouche. Through the either sides of the arch were usually three rods usually fashioned from metal. Like an abacus, the rods were completed with beads usually fashioned from metal. In one of Hathor’s other forms—as Nebethetepet, also known as “Lady of the Vulva” or “Hand of Atum”—she was represented as a naos sistrum, which was a sistrum that had a shrine decoration incorporated into the handle. For either sistrum,m was made gave it a resemblance in purpose to a rattle, which made noise when shaken. One of the most simple of sistra made came from el-Amarna: it is made of wood, the three serpent-shaped rods and flat-squared beads are fashioned from metal, and the long square-shaped handle does not have Hathor’s face on it. The lack of this last characteristic may represent the religious influence of the time: all gods but the Aten were condemned, with the tolerance of minor deities such as Tawret and Bes, so a Hathor faced handle would not have been orthodox during the reign of the heretic king, Akhenaten. On the other hand, there is a lovely representation of a sistrum in the hands of a priestess in a tomb painting from the tomb of Sennefer. Although it is hard to tell from what the loop, handle, rods, and beads are made, the handle has the likeness of Hathor’s head with cow’s ears, which acts as a link between the loop and the handle.


Tambourines were also percussion instruments that closely related to deities and one in particular: Bes, a minor deity in charge of watching over children and mothers in labor. Following a successful birth called for—what else but?—a celebration supported by music and dance.


Perhaps the most popular instrument to be played during ancient times was the harp. There were two types of harps used during dynastic Egypt: a six- to seven-stringed harp of modest size, which was small enough that one could sit and play it, and a twenty-stringed harp of larger size, which one had to stand in order to play it properly. During the New Kingdom, a new harp appeared: it was small and could be rested on the shoulder. It was typical during the Old Kingdom that harps were made with resonance chambers at their lower ends. This element functions much like f-holes on stringed instruments, giving the sound of the instrument more projection. During the Middle Kingdom, a separate resonance chamber could be attached under the harp. By the New Kingdom, small harps could be made with a belly and larger ones could be elaborately decorated with heads of rulers with crowns and/or papyrus bud-inspired patterns.


Yet another instrument played by Egyptian musicians was similar to the harp: the lute, which was represented in hieroglyphic form meaning ‘beautiful’ or ‘good.’ Considering the use of the image of a lute in hieroglyphic form, we can safely assume that it was used in ancient Egypt at roughly the same time as the usage of hieroglyphs, yet no examples of early-period lutes have been found as of yet. However, New Kingdom lutes have been found and were typically constructed with three strings. This sort of lute is a trigonon and was used well into the Late Period. Such instruments were played by using a plectrum, similar to a pick one might use to play a guitar. A New Kingdom tomb painting from Thebes gives us a good idea of what such instruments looked like, how they where played, and with what other objects one had to use in order to play it properly. In this depiction, a bejeweled girl with a lotus atop her bewigged head plays her lute and uses a plectrum to do so, which is attached to her lute by a string. The body of the lute rests in the crook of her bent right elbow, the long neck of it comes diagonally across her chest, and her uplifted left hand holds the end of the neck, where she places her fingers to find the desired notes she wants to play.


Any earlier model of the lute was the lyre, which was most likely of foreign design. Evidence of this instrument comes from Dynasty 18 and is seen in the hands of a Bedouin. Here, the Bedouin plays a medium-sized lyre that is in the shape of a stout rectangle. He holds it in front of him, with the strings facing his right side, where we observers can see them. His left hand is behind the back of the lyre and his fingers are visible through a square cut-out as big as the body of the lyre. Here he places his fingers in a way to play notes and in his right hand he holds a plectrum to strum the strings that face us. Along with the lute, it became in popular use by the New Kingdom and could be fashioned in all shapes and sizes: five-stringed lyres of small size could be held, especially by women, and lyres of up to eighteen strings and six feet high needed to be stood by in order to play them.


Other percussion instruments include the kettledrum and castanets or cymbals, which were instruments usually played by dancers, as mentioned before. Soldiers could play barrel-shaped drums or trumpets. It is sad that there have been only two trumpets discovered, discovered in the KV62 of Tutankhamen by Howard Carter. One of the best of the lot is made nearly entirely of silver, with a golden rim around the opening of the trumpet, which is decorated to resemble a lotus bud. It has a long thin neck and a modest opening; it was found also with a wooden core counterpart, which was used to hold the trumpet’s shape. It too is designed like a lotus bud, although it is painted. It was played twice in modern times: once by Carter, who sent an eerie silence through the Valley of the Kings and, on a live BBC program in 1939, it was also played by a professional trumpeter, who put a modern mouth piece in it, played it, and broke it. It has been restored but it does not sound as it once did in 1923 when Carter played it.


The only wind instrument employed by ancient Egyptian musicians was the flute, which had its start in the Old Kingdom. During this time, there has been evidence of two types of flutes: a long flute that had to be held up diagonally to the lips and whose end had to be held behind one’s hips with one’s hands as well as the short flute which was held up horizontally to one’s lips and whose end was held directly in front of the player with both hands. During the dawning of the New Kingdom, single-piped flutes were in continuous use as well as the double flute, played in much the same fashion as the single-piped flute, with the exception of being able to play double-stops with the latter.


Festivals where the playing of musical instruments was important was for the Beautiful Feast of the Valley, which was a festival at Thebes held during the new moon of the tenth month of the year and that honored the god Amun, whose temple is located at Karnak. During this time, Amun parted from his temple here on his solar boat and crossed the Nile to pay respects at the West Bank tombs. In addition, the text that dates to the Late Period, the Lamentations of Isis, in the version where it is called the Festivals Songs of the Two Weepers required tambourines and other musical instruments to be played.





Singing was a popularly employed form of worship to the gods and rulers, as well as a means of entertainment. The popularity of singing as a means of worship is evident do to the fact that some women of the upper echelon of society held the title “Chantress of Amun.” It is disheartening that no sheet music—written lyrics or scores—from ancient Egypt has ever been found, with the exception of a few texts containing love songs, dating from the Ramesside period—Dynasty 19. Such texts were found at Deir el-Medina.


In royal households, especially in the harem, and during the Old Kingdom to the New Kingdom, musicians-singers were numerous and were under the direction of a superintendent, who was a conductor or choir-master of sorts. During the Old Kingdom, we are confronted with several of such choir-masters: Ra’henem, the Superintendent of the Singing who was also a choir-master for the harem; Sneferunefer, who held the title of Superintendent of Royal Singing as well as Superintendent of All the Beautiful Pleasures of the King; and ‘Et’e, and Re’mery-Ptah, who were also Superintendents of Royal Singing as well as singers themselves. H’at-euy and Ta held similar titles during the New Kingdom. From the evidence of such titles, we can see how important music was to the ancient Egyptians.


Both men and women could be singers during ancient times, not just people of high status. However, there seems to be a difference between the genders, as seen from depictions: during the Old and Middle Kingdoms men were usually accompanied by musical instruments such as harps and flutes, whereas women were not. In some depictions, men were portrayed more like artists, whereas women were depicted as musical accompaniment to dancing performances only. Despite this difference, it was typical for both male and female singers to sing along with a beat, made by clapping their hands. In depictions, men could also wave their hands back and forth at a fast pace, whereas women are depicted mostly clapping their hands and only that. From this, it is evident that it might have been a custom that men and women singers had their differences. By the New Kingdom, clapping ones hands to keep time was employed with the addition of the following: now both men and women could sing together and women could sing with the accompaniment of musical instruments.


Blind men and women could sing also and were considered the best of the population to do so. Their lack of sight made them ideal singers for the gods in whose shrines they would sing hymns. No layperson could look upon the statues of the gods in their shrines or their temples other than high priests and the king, so being blind was the only way for any layperson to be before a statue of a deity. It seems the ancients did not ostracize people with physical disabilities, which is a good thing.


For either the blind or for those with sight, one could become trained in the art of being a singer, much like what one could do in order to become a dancer. Evidence has made known that the best singing school for women was located in Memphis.


Singing was an essential part to festivals such as the Hymn of Rising, a daily ceremony held every morning in which the priests and courtiers participated to wake the gods and king with songs and hymns with lyrics dedicated to Nekhbet and Wadjet, the tutelary goddesses of Upper and Lower Egypt respectively. Another festival was the Lamentations of Isis and Nephthys—also called the Festival Songs of the Two Weepers and the Songs of Isis and Nephthys—where two priests would recite these lamentations during the fourth month when Osiris was said to have suffered and died. In addition, there have been found litanies discovered that were dedicated to various gods: the Litanies of Sokar were discovered in the Rhind Papyrus and consisted of 100 lines of praise to this god of the underworld; the Litany of Osiris was found as one of the many texts in the Ani Papyrus, which comprised of a hymn or prayer in honor of Osiris; and the Litany of the Sun was found in the tomb of Seti I and is a religious text included in mortuary rituals during this time, around Dynasty 19.





During the Greco-Roman Period, theatre made its way to becoming the major source of entertainment. Plays have been found on scrapes of papyri; these scrapes came from the cartonnage masks of mummies of the period.

Enter supporting content here

Copyright November 2003 - December 2007 Egyptology Page. All Rights Reserved

Latest Update: December 17, 2007 at 10:10 am

Site Competitions: VE Page || Vote Page || Spirit Page