**Dogs and Jackals
**Heb Sed Festival
The Performing Arts
In Ancient Egypt, the most illustrated activities are the many sports and games in which both royal and non-royal
men, women, youths, and children engaged, whether for training and strengthening their bodies or for pleasure and recreation.
In general, sports were divided into two categories: sports of the entertainment and fitness sort included acrobatics, gymnastics,
high jump, hunting, and swimming; sports of the military training sort included archery, boxing, equestrian activity, marathons,
and wrestling. It is difficult to determine whether or not the depictions of these various sports are pictured in the way
the ancients actually played them, but one thing is certain: whether painted, carved or found in tombs, temples, or pyramids,
these records are rich in artistry and massive in quantity. In terms of the latter, nowhere is this more evident than at Beni
Hassan and in Theban tombs, which depict acrobatics, archery, ball games, boxing, dancing, fencing, gymnastics, high-jump,
hockey, hop and jump, horse-riding, running, swimming, weight-lifting, wrestling, and yoga. From the quantity and care the
artists took in documenting these recreational activities, one understands that the ancients held a high reverence for physical
fitness, placing an invaluable role in sports in order to raise the standard of health and of national productivity, and engaging
in such activities with a fervor that is ritualistic. As an example of this, Egyptian men are illustrated as lean, muscular,
and strong and women are shown to be slender and gracefully feminine.
The area of paramount importance for sports and recreational activities was the River Nile. Sports and recreational activities done here included boating, fishing, hunting,
rowing, and swimming. The desert herself was yet another location of import when it
came to sports and recreation, notably for hunting.
In some way or another, most sports--be they organized, individual, or of the leisurely kind--the ancient
Egyptians established a set of basic rules, which were more pronounced for organized sports. For the more organized sports
competitions, the ancients chose a referee to uphold the rules of a game; required players to wear uniforms; and announced
winners of competitions and awarded them colored collars of ribbons, depending on their placement, similar to different colored
ribbons for multiple-person games. Not only did Egyptians play with their fellow countrymen, but also they played (competed,
rather) with their neighbors, such as the Nubians. Referees from both Egypt and other lands enforced the rules and,
it was typical that, if the foreigner lost the competition and if he was before Pharaoh, he would have to accept his defeat
by kissing the ground before the ruler.
The following examines the many types of recreational activities in which the ancients engaged, as seen from the many depictions
that have survived for more than 3,000 years, and which spread from Egypt to Phoenicia, Carthage, Greece, and Rome.
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Kids Play: Children's Sports and Games
Unlike that which men and women played, children and adolescence played less organized games, which tested their balance, strength, strategy, dexterity,
and hand-eye coordination. Similar to today, in ancient times boys' games were more fierce and competitive than those that girls played.
however, girl were--and are--known to indulge in a little fighting and hair-pulling when the occasion called for
Most child's play included games that implemented a ball. Rubber neither having been invented yet nor known to the ancients,
leather skin filled with chaff or dried papyrus reeds wound tight together with strings or rags were used as materials for balls.
As with organized games played by adults, children's games had some structure to them in that they too had rules.
On the other hand, different from organized games played by adults, children's games had a very violent approach to refereeing
games: if a player was found cheating, violating the rules, they were punished by receiving kicks and punches, and at
times, by being tied up and flogged. How often this happened is undetermined, lost to history.
The oldest of all children's games were marble games, probably played like the game of Skittles. However, instead of pins,
the ancients used three small marbles and two large marbles--one black, the other white
This marble game, like Skittles, was probably played by setting the five marbles in a semi-circle a distance
away from the players, of which there might have been two or more. The object of such a game would most likely have been to
roll another marble or ball toward the semi-circle of said marbles. Hitting one or more would most likely have
meant that the player who rolled the marble or ball scored a number of points. Again, this is pure speculation.
Other equipment used in children's games were spears or a block of wood. Boys played a gamed called Shezmu
, who was originally a god of the wine and unguent oil-press as well as an underworld deity. This was a spear-throwing
game of sorts, where the player most likely competed with others. The concept of this game was similar to that of darts,
where each player had to through his spear at a target, which was drawn on the ground. A variation of this appears to be an
archery competition, where several players use bows and arrows to aim, shoot, and hit a target made of animal skin. Both the
point system and the general set of rules for either variation of archery game are yet unknown to us. The child's game
for which one used a block of wood was a Middle Kingdom game called Tipcat
This was most likely a solitary game. To enjoy this game, one held a stick in one hand and hit with the other the end
of the stick closest to the ground on one of the tapered ends of a block of wood. Hitting the piece of wood would cause it
to spring up into the air and, while it was still airborne, one hit knocked it away, much like one would a baseball with a
One popular game played among boys was a sort of wrestling match, where two boys faced each other. Behind
these two boys, other competitors formed a row, each holding on to the boy in front of him, forming a human chain. The leaders of each chain began wrestling,
while those behind each player cheered them on. Perhaps these cheering boys would be next in line to wrestle the winner or
perhaps it was a game played in the style of Around the World, the last boy to beat all was the winner. This is pure speculation,
of course. This was not the only form of wrestling game done in Ancient Egypt: boys and girls alike sat piggyback on each
others' backs and tested their ability to stay on. The object of this game was to avoid being thrown off, almost
like a human bull ride.
Yet another game that required physical contact between two or more players was a game that resembles the western version of Heads
Up Seven Up. The western version requires everyone but a few people to conceal their eyes by putting their heads down on their arms and then sticking their thumbs up
before the heads. The seven who are standing must go around the room or designated area and stick any person's thumb
into this person's fist. When these seven have completed their task, they all say "heads up seven up" whereupon
everyone who concealed their eyes must open them. Those whose thumbs have been pressed down must guess who did this from the
seven who are standing up. Depending on the way one plays it, if the person guesses correctly, then the person who pushed
in the thumb takes the place of the person whose thumb he pushed in or the person who guessed correctly joins the seven. The
way the Ancient Egyptians played their version of this game was to have one person crouch down, with knees and arms folded
under his/her torso. Two or more persons would then surround the crouched person and start pounding their fists on the
crouched person's back. The crouched person, not being able to see who is hitting him, would have to guess who hit him each time.
Another game played among children in ancient times as well as in present day in Lower Egypt was somewhat like Red Rover. In ancient
times, this game was called The Kid is Made to Fall. The set up of this game was thus: two crouched players on one end of a
designated area held on to each others' arms, locking them tight to make a human fence, an obstacle over which a line
of players on the opposite end of the area jumped. All jumpers announced when they were going to jump, after which the two players on
the opposite end then raised or lowered their arms in order to prevent the jumper from succeeding in hurtling over them.
The following is perhaps the same sport, only called by a different name: this game is still played in Egypt and is called Goose Steps, where players jumped over
the obstacle that two others created with their arms and legs. After all the jumpers went through their turns, they would
go again, where, on the other end they would meet a high obstacle, which would consist of leg stacked on leg stacked on hand
stacked on hand, getting higher and higher as the high jump competition grew harder and harder. Evidence of such a game appears
in the tomb of Mereruke in Saqqara, which dates to Dynasty VI, circa 2250 B.C.E.
Other Ancient Egyptian children's games that are still seen in modern day are tug of hoops and tug of war. The former was a game that
required good hand-eye coordination. Two players compete against the other, trying to keep his hoop rolling as he ran,
using a hooked staff that was also used to off-set the opponent (a rather nasty tactic, but part of the game). The latter
game, tug of war, required a much larger group of people; no less than two people could play this game. Tug of War was like
the modern game of the same name that usually employs a rope that is pulled from both ends by a group of people vying for victory, hoping to pull
the opposite team over the center and onto the ground. In Ancient Egypt, two opposing teams would execute this game in much
the same fashion, yet without the use of a rope. Instead, the two leading people, one from each group of conteners, stood face-to-face,
grasped each others' arms while each team's participants (situated behind the two leaders) grabbed the waist of the person in front of them, planted
the soles of their feet to the other's foot for support, and then started to pull. This game no doubt measured a group's
strength and equilibrium.
The last of children's sports is that of swimming. With the accessability of the River Nile, it is no wonder there has
been found evidence of leisurely swimming and competitions in ancient times (mostly of different swim strokes, found in the tombs of those
buried at Beni Hasan).
Toys were popular items among Egyptian children during all dynasties, starting as early as the Pre-dynastic Period. The oldest toys
ever found, which date from the Pre-dynastic Period, were small toy boats made from wood. Certain toys were made to represent
both various animals and people and where made from baked clay, bone, ceramics, ivory, stone, or wood. Royal children had
access to toys made from any material, whereas children of the lower classes had access to only clay, which was commonly
formed into dollies. The loveliest of toys found were dolls of Nubians or dolls with jointed limbs (some of these dolls
date to Dynasty XI and some were made in the form of pincushion dolls with long hair or, in some cases found without hair
either by accident or on purpose, as would be the case by taking scissors to a Barbie's hair); pull-string dancing dolls
(evidence of such having been found at el Lisht, where three of such dolls were set in an ivory stand and could be made to spin when
one pulled strings attached to them; another of the same concept found elsewhere represented a slave crushing corn); toy animals such as
horses and crocodile, whose mechanical mouth would open and shut when pulled; spinning tops; and jumping jacks. Some such
wooden toys were in the shape of horses on wheels and, as mentioned before, in the shape of boats.
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Both royal and nono-royal Ancient Egyptians adored board games very much. One of the most popular of such
is Senet. It was an ancient game with many meanings: that of distraction and that of a symbolic, ritualistic meaning. Concerning
the former significance, some illustrations show two people playing the game; concerning the latter, other representations show
one person playing alone with an invisible opponent, as shown in the picture of Nefertiti, below:
The Ancient Egyptians played this game from as early as the Pre-Dynastic period just until the first few centuries after Christ.
Although it is not exactly clear how one played this game, scholars have formulated a set of rules based on what Egyptologists
and archeologists learned from tomb paintings, illustrating rulers playing this game, as well as from texts written on papyrus.
The layout of the board looks like the following [minus the numbers--they are there only to show the direction that the player(s) follow]:
This game was also known as the Game of Thirty Squares, in that, on the top of the board there are 30 squares--24 of which are
left blank, while 5 have hieroglyphic pictures on them. The hieroglyphic symbols on each of the last 4 squares are as follows:
a row of three long-necked instruments, representing nfr
, meaning beautiful or
good in Ancient Egyptian; three rows of horizontal and zigzagged lines, representing water (landing on this square might have been a good
or a bad thing: water could mean purification or it could me chaos); a line of three ibis; images of Nephthys and Isis, facing each
other, which possibly meant that if one landed on this square, one was protected by both goddesses; and the last square depicts
a figure of what looks like Ra in falcon form, complete with solar disk headdress. There is also another square (#15) that has written on it the ankh
symbol, which probably
marked the starting point of the game or another safe space. The direction in which each play was to move might have been in the shape of a backwards
The pieces one used to distinguish players were any of the following: pawns, knucklebones or sticks. The number of player pieces
varied, depending on at which tomb painting one looks. Some illustrations show the players using five pieces, some using seven,
while others show them using as many as ten. The discarded game pieces were stored in a drawer that opened from the base of
the Senet board.
RULES OF THE GAME:
Below are links to various rules of the game. Tim Kendall's rules (from the 1970s) seem to be the most sound
and acceptable in that they are based on archeological and textual data (though, this is just my opinion). Another person to create rules to the game of Senet
was RC Bell. His rules are commonly cited and are based on the rules of Tabula, a Roman version of backgammon.
However, since no one knows exactly how Senet was played, it would be erroneous to think of these rules as similar to those
Tim Kendall's Rules
John Tait's Rules
RC Bell's Rules
Gustave Jequier's Rules
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Dogs and Jackals
Yet another Ancient Egyptian board game was Dogs (or Hounds) and Jackals. The Ancient Egyptians called this game of Fifty-Eight
Points because there were 58 holed poked into the board's surface. Also on the face of the board was an image of a palm tree.
Because this game was more complex than Senet, adults played, rather than children.
Typically, the game board rests atop a piece of furniture that had carved legs resembling those of an animal. A Dogs and Jackals board
found in the tomb of Reny-Seneb was fashioned of ebony and ivory and dates ca. 1800 B.C.E. or Dynasty XII. Within the drawer
at the base of the rectangular board were found 10 pawns: 5 with the heads of dogs and 5 with the heads of jackals. These
player pieces (rather, sticks) were typically made of ebony. Since there are only two animals represented fro each set of
player pieces, the game allows only two players to play the ancient game. For these pawns there are 58 holes poked into the
surface of the board in which to stick them (29 holes on the dog side; 29 holes on the jackal side). Some of these holes were
inlaid with ivory, probably giving them a more important role in the game. Other holes on the board were left unfilled and
were probably meant to be a means of a shortcut for any of the players, according to some sources.
R.C. Bell's Rules to the Game
The game is designated to two players: one player represents the 5 dog-headed sticks and the second player represents the 5 jackal-headed
sticks. The goal is to reach the five holes labeled 25, 26, 27, 28, and 29 on your side of the board to win the game.
MOVING AROUND THE BOARD:
Using three coins or spare change or whatever you have, the rules for moving are as follows:
*one head facing up = move one pace
*two heads facing up = move two paces
*three heads facing up = move three paces
******one cannot move four paces in this game, apparently******
*three Tails facing up = move five paces and you receive another turn
PLAY THE GAME:
1. Both players agree on a wager (say if Sithathoriunet wins, Sathathor must give her opponent her set of diaphanous gowns; if Sathathor wins,
Sithathoriunet must give Sathathor her cosmetic jars). Remember, gambling is frowned upon in the occidental culture, so many
of you should not consider this rule, sorry folks!
2. The right side of the board belongs to the dogs and the left to the jackals.
3. The brown circle above the palm tree is the starting point. Each player is to start off with only one pawn. The direction for
each player to move his or her pawns is marked on the outline of the board, and then continues from the base of the tree trunk
to the top of the tree trunk. Each player's goal is to reach the top of the tree trunk first (holes 25 through 29).
4. Exact throws are required to reach the final positions (holes 25 through 29). The order in which it is done has no importance. In
other words, one does not have to fill each hole in order, starting with 25, then 26 and so on. One could fill hole 29 first,
then hole 25, 27, 29, then 28 or any other order.
5. The two players throw the three coins in turn. A five is required to introduce a new pawn on the starting point (the circle above
the palm tree). Then the coins are thrown again to move the pawn(s).
6. The first pawn to reach a hole with a horizontal mark (hole 15 on both sides) wins the bet (whatever Sithathoriunet and Sathathor
bet each other).
7. Only one pawn may be put on a hole (obviously, the holes are not big enough for more than one, plus this is not Candyland
we are playing here!)
8. If a pawn reaches a hole linked to another hole by a path (holes 10 through 24; 20 through 22, on both sides), it follows the
line, which acts like a ladder to victory (sounds like shoots and ladders, doesn't it?). Let's say one lands on hole 12, then
that player gets to move his or her piece to hole 15.
9. A player may move his pawn when he or she can do so. If one can move no pawns, his or her opponent is allowed to add the unlucky
person's throw to his or her own throw and this unlucky person looses his or her turn. Say Sathathor rolls a three, but is unable
to move because one of her pawns is in the way, that means that Sithathoriunet get to move three paces and Sathathor looses
10. The first player having put his or her five pawns in the five holes, numbered 25, 26, 27, 28, and 29, wins the game! This person
may or may not have won the bet, however (just like a candidate for president may have received the popular vote, but did
not become president because another candidate received more electoral votes).
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This game, also known as the Game of Snake, was another game from Ancient Egypt, was played by everyone, and held religious
significance. The latter statement is evident because it is mentioned in the Coffin and Pyramid Texts. In Ancient Egyptian
history, Mehen was the serpent god who protected Ra during his nighttime voyage through the Underworld. On a more interesting
note, the game and the god seem to have been deliberately synchronized. It is relatively impossible to decipher which one
influenced the other: if Mehen (the deity) inspired the game or if Mehen (the game) inspired the creation of the deity.
The board was composed of squares (or rectangles, depending on your perspective) that coiled up into a ball, which resembled a
coiled serpent. From the known Mehen board games found (about 14), the number of squares varies. However, one thing remains
the same: the squares lack distinguishing marks or images, unlike the game of Senet.
Just as the rules to the game of Senet are unknown, so are those of Mehen and for the same reason: there are no surviving documents
that can tell us what they were. From what has been found in paintings in tombs and from the game itself, one can guess the
function of the game: to win, one must be the first player to reach the center of the board.
Furthermore, one can guess that the game was played with six (or two, according to some Egyptologists) marbles or stones that at most six
(or two) players moved all the way around the board towards the center, which represents the serpent's eye. These game pieces
(six pieces to a person, thus 36 in all...or 12 in all, if there are only two players) were in the form of dangerous and predatory
animals, which included lions/lionesses (the more prominently represented pieces), dogs, or hippos. If, in fact, Mehen permitted
up to six players, then, unlike Dogs and Jackals and Senet, this game was the only known multi-player Ancient Egyptian board
game (remember: for both Dogs and Jackals and Senet, up to two players are alotted).
The first findings of the game of snake date to around 3,000 B.C.E. (or earlier) until about 2,300 B.C.E.. From 2,300 B.C.E. until
700 B.C.E., representations of this game seem to disappear, but reappear after 700 B.C.E. The best representations materialize during
the Old Kingdom and the best illustration of this game is found in the tomb of Hesy-Ra.
A game that seems to resemble the game of snake is the Hyena Game. One reports that during the 1920s, Baggara Arabs of the Sudan
played this game. The board of said game is similar in design to the game of snake: it was of a spiral pattern and one used stick-dice (of the Ancient Egyptian kind) to play
the game and had two player pieces, one of which represented a predatory animal. Again, according to some, the latter characteristic
would not fit the game of Mehen because Mehen permitted six people to play. However, if you are one of those people who believe
that the game allowed only two people to play, then the latter characteristic is valid. Personally, I believe that six people
could play the game at a time, just by looking at the number of spaces on the board. Otherwise, if only two were permitted
to play at a time, then Mehen would be a rather long game to play. Then again, the Ancient Egyptians did not have television
or shopping centers with which to occupy them, so this game could have possibly been meant for only two players.
Consider this: Monopoly is a long game as well, even when there are more than two players playing!
Would you like to try your hand at Mehen? Click here
to be directed to a brilliant website that offers rules to the game and allows you to download the game onto your computer
(the file size is about 1 MB). If you would like to know the rules of the game, click here
. You will be directed to a help file that is from the same website. Here, you will find a list of other games. Look for the
sign that I have placed at the bottom and you will be on your way to playing the most "forbidden" games of ancient times.
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To start of, let us examine the composition of the bow and arrow of Pre- and Dynastic Egyptian era. Being a weapon of paramount importance, the bow and arrow was a means of recreational sport. Beginning its usage during
the Pre-dynastic Period, some of the first Egyptian bows ever to be created were made by joining
the butt-ends of two antelope horns to a piece of wood (scholars refer to these bows as "horn bows" and both peasants and royals used these bows frequently).
At the start of the Old Kingdom, bows no longer had a double curve that "horn bows" made,
but were of a single curve, looking more like a modern bow. In addition, horns and a piece of wood were no longer used as
construction material; rather, artisans used wood strung with sinews or plant fiber strings to make them. This type of bow was called a "self bow"
or a "simple bow." The length of a "simple bow" was between one and two meters. Its shape was broad at its center, narrowing towards either end.
Simple bows that were closer to two meters in length could be strengthened at various points on the wooden rod by binding on it a cord. Compared
to the Pre-Dynastic "horn bow," the "simple bow" was far harder to use.
Enter the composite bow, which was an adoption during the New Kingdom, sometime during the Second Intermediate Period, and was of
Asiatic Hyksos design. Different from the preceding two bows just described, at this time, bows were imported from the Middle East rather than made within Egypt. Such bows could
be as long as 1.45 meters. The central part of the composite bow was most likely made of the wood from the acacia tree and
was brought together with fish glue on two wood slats. The outer part of the bow was covered with sinew and the inner part
was covered with antelope horn plates. The string that the archer drew back to make fly his arrow was made of four intertwined
animal intestines. Evidence of composite bows has come from the tombs of Amenhotep II and Tutankhamun.
From these bows, one can see how elaborately decorated some could be, bedecked with leather or even gold, inscribed with the
greatness and skill of the owner. In addition to bows and arrows, archaeologists have discovered archer's rings, which archers put around their thumbs to shoot arrows from his bow. Here, one can see how the Ancient Egyptians
pulled the strings--with their thumbs, rather than with three fingers, as is done in modern times. Even though this sort
of bow came into use and was more modern than either the horn or simple bow, the Egyptians did not abandon the latter two. For one thing,
composite bows were much more difficult and expensive to produce than horn and simple bows because the archer was able to
draw the bow at a greater length than he could with a horn or simple bow, whose maximum draw length never exceeded the length
of the archer's arm. In other words, composite bows were more flexible and could withstand the tension of drawing the
string back than could the earlier bows, making them more conevient and more expensive. What is more, the expense of the composite bow depended on the amount of care required
to keep it in perfect condition: being vulnerable to moisture, one needed to cover it and, when not in use, the archer would
have to unstring his bow, then restring it when he used it again--sometimes two people were required to carry out this
process. With these requirements it is evident that peasant archers or hunters with bow and arrow could afford only the horn
or simple bow. This does not mean that the king snubbed his nose up at the thought of using one, no. Because of its simplicity,
pharaohs like Tuthmosis III and Amenhotep II were not beyond using such objects for archery practice, hunting or combat. However,
chariot drivers employed often the composite bow as a weapon during battle, so as to better penetrate the enemies armor.
Arrows used with most styles of bow were made of reed and were fletched with feathers--usually three. Artisans fashioned arrow points
from flint, hardwood, or bronze (bronze replaced flint and hardwood in the second millennium). Ancient arrows could
measure up to 50 cm in length. The sharpness of the point depended on its use: sharper points where made for archery, for
battle, and for large-game hunting, whereas more blunt heads were for small-game hunting.
Archery was both a means of battle and of sport. The following information chronicles its sportive employment. During ancient times, archery--more
precisely, target archery--was a sport played in public and graced the walls of tombs. Skill was not the only element measured in archery competitions but also, the princes' or princesses' ability
to use their strength to draw an arrow. As has been examined already, some bows were harder to draw than others, so it would have been impressive to witness an archer being skilled at the bow that
was the most difficult to handle. A record of an ancient archery competition records that Amenhotep II pierced a thick brass
target with four arrows and had offered a prize to anyone who could equate the feat.
Evidence of this sport can be found at the Luxor Museum: it is a depiction of Amenophis III of Dynasty XVIII and dates around 1,420 B.C.E. Another representation of the sport can be found
at the temple at Karnak. Here, there is a depiction of Taharak of Dynasty XXV, which dates to around 700 B.C.E.
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One way the Egyptians tested strength was by rowing. Races during ancient
times are similar to those of modern times: a team of men would move their oars at the same time to a systematic and high-pitched
call from the leader, whose place was at the rudder, where he held that boat's appendage and steered the vehicle.
Other than for sport, boating/rowing had another, more religious significance: mostly used for hunting and catching birds and fish, a man
and possibly his wife and children would set out on their merry way down the marshes of the Nile, either collecting lotus flowers
or catching birds in nets or using whatever equipment the man employed. Collecting lotus flowers symbolized new life or rejuvenation and
catching birds symbolized the successful taming of chaos. Such scenes with this religious significance can be found in the
tomb of Queen Meresankh III, possible granddaughter of Khufu and wife to Khafre (her burial place resides on the eastern side of Khufu's
pyramid, in the Eastern Cemetery). Depicted on one relief, she and her mother, Hetepheres II in a boat with two children. The former two and one of the children
are pulling lotus flowers while the other child steers the boat. Other religious significance attached to boats can be seen
near this site, at the Pyramid of Khufu, where several boat-shaped pits and pits made to bury boats can be found. The former pits
were more for religious purposes, perhaps intended to come to life for the ruler in the afterlife to bring him north to the
stars, rise in the east as the setting sun with Ra, or to transport the ruler's ka
through the underworld. The latter
pits, which were actually occupied with disassemble boats, were most likely used as elements in the funerary procession and
might have been used in real life. One of the many disassembled boats found near Khufu's pyramid is comprised of 1,224
pieces, made of cedar wood to look like a papyrus reed boat, originally held together with ropes and pegs but not nails, and
measures 142 ft long and 19 ft wide. The tops of its prow and stern are in the form of papyrus buds. Model boats
were other evidence of the importance of the sport in ancient times. Not only do they reside in royal burial places, but
also in non-royal burial places. This illustrates the lack of social limitation that this sport had in ancient times: it was a
sport and recreational activity that could be enjoyed by both Pharaoh and his subjects.
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Boxing, Weightlifting, Wrestling
Wrestling was a sport mainly for boys and men. Animals partook also in this sport: there is a representation of a cat boxing a mouse at the Carlberg
Museum. Its date of origin is unknown and it is more than likely a symbolic illustration, rather than an actual boxing match set up
between the two. Inside the bellies of pyramids, we may view possibly the first recordings of this sport, some 3,000 years old, from
the Old Kingdom--and through the New Kingdom, where depictions are located in tombs
and mortuary temples. One can find such a recording, dating to 2,300 B.C.E., inside the tomb of Ptah-hotep, Dynasty V pyramid
builder and vizier. Its location is at Saqqara> and illustrates a group of six young men boxing
and wrestling each other. In addition, at Beni-Hassan there are hundreds of depictions of wrestling group scenes, around 200 to
be exact. These depictions show wrestlers donning loin-cloths and practicing various wrestling positions, holds, and moves
as a means of military training. Such reliefs illustrate both dilettantes and professionals alike executing various moves
and contorting their bodies in an assortment of positions. Within Beni Hassan are prime examples: the tombs of Paket and Khiti
of Dynasty XI, which date to 2,000 B.C.E. Perhaps weightlifting activities were also meant for Egyptian military training, but without sufficient
evidence this is just speculation. However, one can get a sense of how the Egyptians went about this activity from a depiction of weightlifting found in the tomb of Paket
The weights were in the form of heavy sacks of sand and had to be picked up off the ground and held up in the air above the weightlifter's head for an allotted
time. No doubt this measured the sportsman's strength (and it is similar to modern weightlifting).
During the Middle Kingdom, Dynasty XVIII to be exact, and at the tomb of Kheroef at Luxor, there is yet another depiction of wrestling. This dates to about 1,500 B.C.E.
During the New Kingdom, there have been at least five instances where Ancient Egyptians wrestled
against their southern neighbors,the ancient Nubians. It was at the height of Egyptian control over and imperialization of
Nubia that these scenes are most prominent. However, let us not assume that Nubians appeared inferior to the Egyptians. It is from a tomb painting, dating to around 1,410
B.C.E., in the tomb of Tyanen, an officer, that proves otherwise and is the first of five Nubian wrestling scenes mentioned herein. This wrestling
scene represents a wrestling competition as a means of military training for Nubians, whom the Egyptians recruited often in
their battles, even making them their archers (this possibly meant that Egyptians held Nubian wrestlers in high esteem, at least
with regard to warfare). In addition, this depiction illustrates five Nubians marching together. The first four Nubians brandish
sticks, which were sometimes used in dueling tournaments, and the final man in the procession carries a platform on which
a husky wrestler--most likely a Nubian--and a leaner Egyptian wrestle. The appearance of men welding sticks is most
likely a common addition to wrestling during ancient times. Stick-fighting and wrestling appear together, perhaps indicating
that those who wrestled also stick-fought.
On the other hand, wrestling matches might have been a means of illustrating the Egyptians superiority over Nubians, representing Egypt's suzerainty and prowess
over Nubia--an ethnocentric, boastful, fancifully imaginative, and derogatory illustration of their power over their southern
neighbors. One sees an example of this caliber on a relief (the second of five examples), found in the tomb of Meryre at Akhetaten, dating to around 1,355 B.C.E.
Meryre was the palace steward Nefertiti. On the relief, there
is a depiction of a sequence of four scenes, which were carried out as a "tribute match" in front of Akhenaten,
foreign ambassadors, nobles and soldiers. The first scene depicts the Egyptian wrestler in military garb; the second scene
depicts the Nubian in a head-lock; in the third, the Egyptian reaches through the Nubian's legs and pulls his head down;
and the final scene shows a victorious Egyptian, raising his hands in triumph, and the defeated Nubian, over which the Egyptian
The third evidence of Nubians depicted in wrestling scenes appears also at Akhetaten and dates just five years after the depiction
in the tomb of Meryre. This shows not a tournament for royal affairs, but that of a general match between two Nubians, at
which a woman and a dog gaze. In the same area, we see also Nubians welding sticks, evidence that wrestling and stick-fighting
could be seen used together. The location the sandstone carving shows is the countryside, an informal setting compared to
the king's court.
The fourth and fifth evidence of Nubian wrestling in Egyptian art can be seen at the temple of Ramesses III (pharaoh during Dynasty XX) at Medinet Habu, an arm's
length away from the Ramesseum (the mortuary temple of Ramesses II). This artifact, which dates to around 1,000 B.C.E., was meant to be a prototype made for the latter
location, for Ramesses II. Both the prototype and the one at the Ramesseum similarly depict a Nubian and an Egyptian engaged
in a wrestling match, with Ramesses III's appearing below the Window of Royal Appearance--a window-like structure through
which he appeared in order to collect spoils of war and tribute in his honor. Nevertheless, from both the prototype and from
the Ramesseum depictions, it is evident that, at these wrestling matches, Pharaoh and his court appear as well as a Nubian, possibly
an emissary, bedecked with a plume and an earring. A particularly enthusiastic tournament, it was most likely organized to illustrate
Egyptian power over Nubia. It is also from this depiction that we see stick-fighting and wrestling happening together; a rowdy crowd calling out praises to the
Egyptian, comparing him to Montu and assuring the wrestler that Amun is watching over him; and a vision that negates the fancifulness
of the match: a referee (or a facsimile thereof), whose presences possibly denotes that all abide by an established set of rules and that the
Egyptian and the Nubian have a fair chance at winning the match.
Similar to the relief in the tomb or Meryre, the depictions of a wrestling Egyptian and a Nubian opponent at Medinat Habu are shown
in a sequence of scenes, of which there are three. In the first scene, the Egyptian has the Nubian in a choke-hold, as the
referee reinforces the rules to ensure fair play before the king. The second scene shows the Egyptian forcing his defenseless
opponent to the ground, taunting him all the while--a similar scene is shown on the depiction at the Ramesseum. The way
in which the Egyptian weakens his opponent appears to be thus: he forces the Nubian's left arm into submission and holds him
tightly, leaving the Nubian's legs to crumple beneath him. According to one source, this move would most likely not drive an opponent's
face to the ground as it does the Nubian in this depiction. It might have been the ignorance of the artist that this move
was not properly documented. Rather than follow this sequence of moves to defeat the Nubian, and in true Egyptian technique, the
Egyptian would have employed the following moves: twisting the left arm, forcing the opponent's thumb down, causing
the bent arm to straighten all the while localizing all the pressure on the back of the Nubian's arm. This maneuver
would more than likely have hunched the Nubian's shoulder than the maneuver depicted, but hunch his shoulder the depiction
undeniably shows. And finally, the last scene shows the triumphant Egyptian in a victorious pose similar to the one depicted on
the relief at the tomb of Meryre. Unlike the relief at Meryre, however, the one at Medinat Habu depicts the winner chanting
a victory hymn as the defeated Nubian genuflects to kiss the ground before Pharaoh.
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Being an agricultural civilization, cattle-breeding was eminent in Egypt's development. Depictions of cattle and other breeds of oxen
seem to grace nearly every tomb, whether in a sacred setting, which includes the celestial cow or Hathor, or in the
every day setting, which includes herding, branding, grazing, and fighting. What is perhaps most unusual about
the Egyptians is their association of the bull as a strong, resistless creature; where they compared several of their gods
to the "strong bull," other civilizations compared theirs to the mighty lion. Granted, the ancients revered the
lion just as much as the cow, either was equally strong in their eyes. In fact, the king was often represented with the body of a lion
and his ownw head superimposed on the body.
Now to the matter at hand: bull-fighting was a sport that the Egyptians held in an arena usually during an event known as the gymnastic
games and the bull-contenders, much like in horseracing, had epithets such as "the favorite" or "broad striker."
To entice the bulls into fighting, two men acting as umpires to their own bull would use short sticks. When a clear winner
was observed, this bull would then compete against another with even longer horns and swaddled with a festive cloth. A representation
of this sort can be seen at Beni Hassan and dates to the Middle Kingdom. Other representations of bullfights
can also be seen at a funerary temple in Kerma, just recently discovered. Along with bullfights, these scenes also depicted
fishing, crocodile, and rows of giraffes and hippopotami, the latter two being depicted rarely during ancient times. Such
scenes seen at Kerma are also seen in the Aswan tomb of Sarenpet, a mayor of Khnum, and overseer of the priests of the local temples under the reign of Senusret I during Dynasty
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Chariot racing was another sport of the public kind. There are no depictions anywhere to suggest the manner the ancients organized
this sport, but we do know that aristocrats who were charioteers enjoyed engaging in this activity, mainly for the glamour
and honor that the Egyptians had for a chariot riders. As in all things, the ancients were sticklers for perfection, and this is what they
did when they drove chariots; they strove to perfect the art of it. On the other hand, charioteering was more a military element than a
recreational sport, just as one will see for the next activity: horseback riding.
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Equestrian Sport, Horseback Riding
Although the horse was not introduced into Egypt until the New Kingdom, the ancients picked up its usage plenty quick and became masterful
horseman. Originally, donkeys were the main form of transportation of both royals and commonfolk. This animal was a great means of transportation,
especially good for usage in Egypt. A saddle used for this animal now resides in the Berlin Museum and dates to the New Kingdom.
The Egyptians sometimes imported horses from Sangar, but the credit generally goes to the Hyksos for the introducing the horse into
Egypt--perhaps it was this Asiatic peoples that introduced the horse, but more has yet to be uncovered in this matter.
The earliest evidence of their use
, along with the chariot, has been dated to Dynasty XVII. However, the earliest mention
the word "horse" (htor
) appears on a personal stela that dates to Dynasty XIII. Other words from Ancient Egypt that
relate to this word are ssmt
. Even though horseback riding was a minor recreational activity, to the Egyptians it was not done with quite
as much fervor as other, more documented sports and games. However, this does not mean that the Egyptians were not horseback riders.
Nevertheless, there have been no depictions of Egyptians horseback riding found as of yet, though barbarians were
represented thus and the Semitic goddess of war was also depicted on horseback. Generally, horses attached to a chariot used
for war, campaigning, and hunting are the only evidence of horses.
Evidence of horseback riding by a non-Egyptian can be seen
on a battle ax. Evidence of horseback riding, of only man and horse together with only a saddle between them, comes in the
form of the written word, of literary illusions: the officers were said to have been on horseback, in pursuit of the enemy;
a story tells us of the pharaoh mounting a horse and another ruler was accompanied by his wife who was on horseback; and a
fighter received a letter from an opponent by a messenger who appeared to him on horseback. Evidence of the chariot and horse
are the following: in the tomb of Horemheb, which is located in Luxor and dates to Dynasty 18 circa 1900 B.C.E.; at the Luxor Temple,
which dates to Dynasty 18 circa 1280 B.C.E. and depicts a cavalry; also depicting a cavalry is one that dates to Dynasty 26 circa
700 B.C.E.; and at Medinat Habu, the mortuary temple of Ramesses III, which illustrates equipment for a horse (a saddle
and other accoutrement), which dates to Dynasty 20 circa 1180 B.C.E.
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The most surprising element of Egyptian sporting may be that the Ancient Egyptians were the first to institute a form of sport known to most Europeans
as "football" and or "soccer" to Americans. As is the case for evidence of handball, evidence of football in Ancient Egypt can be
seem depicted on the walls of Beni Hassan where the girls who are shown playing handball with each other also play football,
kicking a ball with their legs and executing passes with it. What a great reason to give the next World Cup concession to
Egypt, as they were the first nation to invent it.
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Some depictions at Beni Hassan in Minya, especially at the tombs of Khiti and Baket, which date to Dynasty XI circa 2,000 B.C.E., offer
us a glimpse at what a handball game might have looked like, who played, how many played, and with what equipment the players
played the game. The most likely way players of handball set themselves up to play the game was to have two or more bend
over, while carrying a person on each of their backs. Once there are two or more people on piggy-back, they would
then toss around and catch a handball or juggle two to three balls at once. There is evidence of this particular game on one
wall painting at Tel-el Amarna, ancient Akhetaten. This painting shows a group of girls--most likely of royal status,
as the headdresses each wears denotes. Not only did girls play this sport but also boys. One theory voices that the beauty
of a girl was measured by the strength of her back--her ability to play this game, to carry another person on her back,
would give credit to her beauty. According to the ancients, women were in charge of bearing heavy burdens such as birthing
children and carrying heavy things--they were thought to be the stronger gender, whereas men were the directors.
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The prime area from where the evidence of this sport can be found in tombs at Beni Hassan. Drawings in Menia Governate illustrate
hockey players, holding bat-like sticks, most likely made from the wood of palm or tamarisk branches or stalks. At the end
of such sticks was a bent edge, which resembles the form of the modern day hockey stick. As for the ball used for the ancient
game: it was made from papyrus fibers, which were compressed within two pieces of leather, shaped in a semicircle. At times,
the ball was tinted to make its color contrasting to the ground on which it was played. Usually it was dyed in two or more
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Ends To The Means:
Perhaps the most beloved sport in which royalty and peasant alike engaged was hunting both in the marshes and on land
for either sport or for leisure. Peasants hunted mainly on foot in order to provide their families with food, whereas kings,
courtiers, dignitaries, and other folks of royalty hunted in order to display their strength, courage, valor, and mastery
over all animals they hunted. Peasants would not have hunted to prove anything, but being a successful hunter without a doubt
symbolized his strength, courage, valor, and mastery.
In general, hunting had a ritualistic connotation for anyone who engaged in it. No greater civilization
has ever revered more the animals they hunted than the Ancient Egyptians, with the exception of the Native Americans. Like
the latter, the Ancient Egyptians prayed to various gods and goddesses of animal images--say, praying to Bastet or to Mafdet
for success in hunting wild cat or praying to Sobek that they may avoid being eaten by crocodile--ere going out
on the hunt, to ensure their safety and the bounty for which they hoped would come in plenty. Not only did success come in
praying for it, but also it came by knowing their prey well. The Egyptians knew how each species of animal mated, ate, by what means
each normally died, and other personal traits they felt important to know in order to ensure success on the hunt. It usually
worked. What is more, animals such as the lion, represented royalty and there was something more to hunting lion than just
for the fun of it. Being the image of the pharaoh's power and leadership and the dangers that came with hunting such
a beast, the lion embodied the pharaoh's ability to triumph over his enemies and further symbolized the pharaoh's
Type Of Game On Land:
The Ancient Egyptians hunted both on the waters of the River Nile and in the red sands of the desert. The game after
which they chased on land varied from dynasty to dynasty. For example, during the pre-dynastic period--the time before
the unification of Egypt--agricultural Egypt had not yet been established. The area next to the Nile was more of a jungle complex than
anything else, with its tamarisk trees, thickets, papyrus plants and reeds. This meant that all sorts of large game on four
legs prowled around: elephant, giraffe, lions, rhinoceros and wild boar. Other animals the Egyptians hunted included antelope,
gazelle, stags, ibex, ostrich, fox, hare, hyena, and many species of deer and bird, just to name a handful. Later on, the
first few dynasties hailed the first signs of agricultural development: farmers began to drain the marshes where once large
game lived, extending the agricultural boundaries. All this cause was not without effect: when farmers drained the marshes,
they chased all large game--elephant, giraffe, rhinoceros, and wild board being a few examples--away from the valley.
Despite this change in economics and the loss of larger game, the Old Kingdom Egyptians still hunted for food--they were
actually quite good at hunting at this time. The game they hunted was of the faster sort and included animals they had hunted
before, such as lions, gazelle, stags, and ostrich.
Type Of Game In The Marshes:
Just as the ancients were great hunters on land, they were also just as great in the marshes and waters of the River
Nile. The animals the Egyptians hunted at this time included any of the following: fish, duck, crocodile, or hippopotami.
One artifact that makes known the type of animal hunted in or by water is a fragmented papyrus named The Pleasures of Fishing
and Fowling. Let us first examine fishing.
To us westerners, fishing might be a pastime, a means of nutrition, or both. To the Ancient Egyptian, fishing was both a pastime and
a means of nourishment; the Egyptians always considered these two aspects of fishing one-in-the-same. Examine how you fish, next time you go; how fish
market venders sell their fish; and how they prepare fish to sell. Whatever one observes will be a near replica of how the ancients used to do it
(with far less technological advances as are evident now, of course).
Like most recreational activities in which the ancients engaged, in particular peasants, fishing was depicted on many-a
tomb painting: Egyptian fishers, much like today, could be seen lounging lazily about in chairs alongside the Nile or beside
their garden pools--if they were so lucky to have one--waiting for a single tug. Depictions also have shown us the
playful side of fishing: on another tomb painting, one can see fishermen jostling each others' fishing rods--the
fishing rod, a New Kingdom technique used for so many things. Fishing was also a measure of professionalism.
Professional fishers stood on canoes made of papyrus, wielded harpoons, and waited for the right opportunity to strike
As is no doubt evident, fishing was a great pastime and sport among the Egyptians and having an abundant supply of
species of fish helped in the matter. Among the many fish caught for sport--a count of around 20 different species, as
shown on tomb paintings and reliefs--were the following: Nile perch; eel; catfish; carp; mullet; tilapia or "bolti
"; elephant-snout; tiger fish; the amphibious
; the electric catfish, called malapterurus electricus
, which packs a powerful 200 volt punch; and moonfish. The Egyptians considered the Nile
as the most sacred and the best of the lot.
Just as there were a great many fish after which both royal and commoner hunted either for sport or for necessity,
there was an equal amount of fowl after which they hunted. These included the ser, which was a rather fat goose; the terp;
the hoopoe; crane; ducks; quail; the much sought-after bird off Arabia, which supposedly smelt of myrrh; and many others.
Whether hunting or sporting in the water, there were dangers all the same, be it from crocodile or other fish-eating
aqua dwellers such as poisonous catfish. Crocodile finding a fish on a line could without effort make a meal out of the fisherman--if
he should fall overboard--on whose line this fish was caught.
It was not only in the mind of a hunter to be wary of the crocodile to keep from being injured by such an animal, but
also to be seen as brave in hunting such a dangerous and sacred beast. In ancient times, it was an honor and a feat of which
to be proud if one successfully hunted the crocodile. However, no depictions of such a sport exist, which gives one reason
to believe that the Egyptians revered the crocodile with such respect that depicting it being hunted was not conducive to their reverence.
One the other hand, the hippopotamus--an even more dangerous creature to hunt because of its size
and powerful jaws that can crush a crocodile--was extensively shown being hunted. It too was dangerous and sacred to
the Egyptians like the crocodile. Successfully hunting a hippopotamus, which took several jabs of the harpoon at times, was
also cause for great pride to whoever hunted it. It must have been the best mode of feeling proud and gaining great recognition
and reverence from one's people, owing to the fact that Old Kingdom depictions of such hunting are plenty.
Preparation Of Food After Hunting:
If a fisherman caught his fish without incident, he prepared to eat it by first cleaning it and then cooking
it by doing any of the following: pickling, roasting, salting, drying in the sun, or boiling. It was also usual for a fisherman
who was part of a group of men working for a master to collect their lot of fish to string the fish through their gills, attach
their catch of fish in rows on a stick, and then carry it all to the fish dealers. Just as a lone fisherman might prepare
fish for his family's next meal, so also did the fish dealers: they sat low to the ground, near a small table, and
cleaned out and cut up the freshly caught fish. Afterward, he hung the fish on strings in order for them to
dry out in the sun. Sometimes, to spare the dealer from this preparation process, to prevent spoiling, and if the fishermen's
trip was a rather long one, the fishermen did the cleaning and cutting on their boats.
Hunting Techniques; Equipment Used:
During the earlier dynasties, hunting on land was done on foot; only until the advent of the usage of the horse and chariot (around
2,000 B.C.E. thanks to the Hyksos) did the king and his colleagues hunt this way. For either means of hunting, the
key technique that the ancients employed to hunt their prey resembled a wild animal's: to lie-in-wait
for animals or to lure a large number of them to a specific locale like a body of water or a valley. Afterward,
the hunters attacked their prey en bloc with throwing sticks, boomerangs, or nets to catch birds; spears or arrows
to catch land or water animals; or specially made nets to capture fish. Sometimes, the ancients used dogs (perhaps
a type of greyhound, so tomb paintings illustrate) or tamed cheetah as accompaniment on the hunt.
When the ancients hunted in the marshes, especially for fish, they used nets, traps, pens, hooks, or harpoons--this
type of equipment was in great employ during the Old and Middle Kingdoms. In its earliest usage, the harpoon was a common
tool to spear fish, usually two at a time: hunters could catch one fish on either end of the double-edged harpoon, which was made
of a thin piece of wood 3 yards long with barbs attached to either end. Later on, however, the spear was used in a more recreational
setting, where fishing for necessity was not the aim; rather, it was used to measure skill and technique. It was also during the Old
Kingdom through the New Kingdom that hunters of hippopotami used harpoons. It was designed so that if one punctured the
skin of this animal the shaft of the weapon would separate from the spear, which was attached to a string, a
hippo fishing pole, if you will. Being such powerful creatures with killer jaws, hunters of this animal dared only to approach it by boat (what
fool would jump in the water with it, aside from the Crocodile Hunter)? The method of killing the animal came in not
one but several jabs of a harpoon, but in several. If it happend that the hippo retreated after the hunter striked it with the harpoon,
the hunter waited for it to return to the surface. Because the harpoon's spear point was detachable from the shaft, it was easy for the
hunter to track the hippo's movements under water no matter how deep it swam--the hunter just let out the harpoon's line.
Having the ability to hold its breath under water for a limited time, the hippo eventually came up for air. At this moment,
the hunter wounded the creature again. When the hippo gave into weakness, the hunter tiee a rope around the animal's head
and then dragged its body to shore.
Other tools the ancients used to fish for either recreation or necessity were bow- and drag-nets. These were the
favorite and more convenient pieces of equipment used mostly by the common fisherman at the start of the Old Kingdom.
These nets are almost similar in design to modern ones, where corks (on top) and weights (on bottom) were
fastened to either end of the net. Once it was situated upright in the water and when a good amount of fish were wading within
the net's boundaries, the fishermen pulled on strings that were attached to either end of the net and trapped a good
thirty heavy fish of various kinds, previously mentioned. When fishermen used hooks, they were simple in structure, made of bone
and attached to a line. A typical bone hook measured anywhere from 8mm to 18mm. By Dynasty XII, the ancients started to
make their hooks from metal in lieu of bone. Some of these hooks could be made with or without barb.
The Ancient Egyptians also enjoyed hunting or sporting for fowl, which included crane, duck, geese, and quail. The
nobility employed throwing sticks to knock their prey out of the sky--it illustrated their skilled aim, not necessarily
their success in hunting for food. The common Egyptian preferred to net fowl like they did fish. Otherwise stated,
Egyptians of royal blood used spears, throw sticks, or harpoons to hunt fish, birds, and hippopotami for recreation,
respectively--this equipment was efficient enough to kill one animal at a time. On the other hand, the commoner used nets or snares for hunting
for the need of food--this equipment was efficient enough to catch a large amount of animal. The way the common Egyptians lured water dwelling creatures
was to bait a trap with corn, maggots, or worms. Contrarily, when royals used spears, throw sticks, or harpoons, it was
not necessary to provide bait. The royal fisherman's skill was the only thing that was required of him during the hunt.
Typically, the royal Egyptian wore his honorable costume when he went out to hunt any animal he pleased and was accompanied
by his wife and his children. This costume was composed of a royal skirt, a beautiful wig, and a false beard. His wife
might wear a sheath dress covered by a beaded collar and a wig of longer length than that of her husband's. The royal
man's children were usually naked and wore a number of bracelets, armlets, or anklets. As mentioned before, if the
royal was hunting birds in the marshes, he would float through the forest of papyrus reeds and fling his boomerang-like
throw stick (typically made from a small piece of hard wood that was bent in a certain way so as to cause it to return to
the thrower after he threw it) at the neck of a bird, which caused its neck to break if the fisherman was so skilled. When the bird fell to the water, his
wife collected it as her husband scoped the air for more targets. The children, on the other hand, would playfully swirled
the water with their fingers as the boat sailed through it.
The commoner, whose aim at hunting was of the necessary sort, did not trouble himself with decorating his body with unnecessary
clothing, such as a skirt, a wig, or a false beard, the last article being one he would never have worn. It was commonplace to start
off with wearing a skirt, but it was not an unusual event to discard this, leaving nothing concealed. This was optimal when hunting became
intense, especially when the bird and fish nets were full to the brim with bird and fish. Rather than be accompanied by wife
and children, the common Egyptian was accompanied by a handful of his best mates. Sometimes, a master had a small group of men who worked
for him in hunting. In either case, this group of hunters would far exceed the royal group, the latter group's only master of hunting being the king.
The costume and number of hunters in a group were not the only aspects that differed between royal recreation
and common persons hunting for food, but also the way the latter group of people caught their birds and fish. As mentioned
before, snares and nets were mostly used and were baited either with maggots or other types of food or with a decoy bird. It
is difficult to be certain of the actual bait used, as most of the scenes depicting such hunting occur at the moment a group
of men catch their lot of prey. However, just from observation, one can determine that bait was used and that the nets and
snars, especially for bird-catching, measured about 10 feet by 12 feet. Much like how modern-day hunters trap their prey,
during the Old Kingdom, the common Egyptian concealed his net or snare beneath the reeds floating on the water. In silence,
the common angler waited until a great many birds sat their fannies on the traps to delight themselves with the bait. Once the number
of birds within the concealed net or snare was to the master's liking, usually around 30 or 40 birds, he waved a
piece of linen in the air to signal to his men to start pulling on the string that was attached to the net or snare in order
to close it. The master would also help in closing the net as well as break some of the wings of the birds inside
to prevent any from escaping. Once caught, the Egyptian fisherman sorted the trapped birds and put them into cages, ready for transport.
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In ancient times as well as in modern times, anyone from any social class knows how to and can run. However, in ancient times it was the king for whom
running was of the utmost importance, especially to measure his ability to rule. Typically, the king and those born on the
same day participated in a marathon race of sorts, where each runner fasted until he covered 180 stages of the race. Whether
or not this was part of the following festival, which is of a more sacred significance, is not certain.
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The heb sed festival:
The heb sed
festival, also known as the "Royal Jubilee Festival," was the most famous and ancient of all running sports in Ancient Egypt.
Unlike other sports, this was a race for only one person: the king. The festival took place after the 30th year of a
pharaoh's reign, thus it is evident that only a handful of Egyptian rulers have ever gone through this ritualistic run.
However, on some reliefs and for some kings, the festival is celebrated earlier. What is more, rulers that had a relatively
shorter reign, say of less than 30 years, would only have been depicted symbolically carrying out this duty of kingship.
The point of the exercise was to renew the ruler's royal powers and position as king. As a means of illustrating
his right to rule, Pharaoh was sometimes depicted running in step with an Apis bull, the living image of Ptah when alive
and of Osiris when dead. When Pharaoh successfully executed the race, re-coronation took place. It was not only in life that
Pharaoh ran the heb sed
and renewed his power and position, but also in death. Evidence of the heb sed
Afterlife can be found depicted on an alabaster vase, which scholars found in a chamber under Djoser's pyramid.
A great example of a heb sed
court--where Pharaoh engaged in this ceremony--can be found at Saqqara, near King Djoser's step pyramid. On the walls
of the Southern Tomb, on the south side of the Great Courtyard, there are depictions of King Djoser running the heb sed
race; here he has renewed his royal position,
rightfully being called Horus Netjerikhet
(meaning "God of the Horizon). At the center of the Great Courtyard resides a set of semi-circular blocks, between which Djoser
ran the heb sed
in the Afterlife. It is said that these semi-circular blocks had some cosmic connotation, representing
the order of the universe. On the other hand, these markers may have represented the frontiers of Egypt, symbolizing the boundaries of Pharaoh's dominion. On the east side
of the Great Courtyard is a temple, named Temple T, perhaps a pavilion through or at which King Djoser ran or waited at a certain point
in the ceremony, respectively. Following the curve of the walls of Temple T, one enters the heb sed
court. It is at the center of this court that steps would have led up to a platform roofed by a canopy; here King Djoser would have
been re-crowned twice: once as the Ruler of Lower Egypt and another time as the Ruler of Upper Egypt.
The earliest evidence of this festival can be found on a small ebony label, which used to be attached to an oil jar
perhaps belonging to King Den of Dynasty I, in whose tomb at Abydos this object was found. On it one can see a tiny figure of a man, running through a court and then being crowned on a canopied
platform. From this date through Pharaonic Egypt, the Egyptian rulers practiced this festival. For example and as mentioned before, there is a wonderful mural at Saqqara, dating to 2,650
B.C.E., which depicts king Djoser participating in his heb sed
festival. The quality
of workmanship accentuates the significance of physical fitness that the ancients held in high opinion. Here, the artist shows his
skill in depicting the leanness of Pharaoh's muscles; the anatomical correctness of arms, legs and torso; and movement
only such a skilled artist could capture. One finds also the remains of the heb sed
boundaries of Hatshepsut at the Red Chapel at Karnak, which dates to 1,480 B.C.E., where also
she is depicted running with the Apis bull between these boundaries. Inside the Theban mortuary Temple of Amenhotep III, one sees the king running
his race, though in a different manner as the previous two. Instead of running his race in a court near his tomb, descriptions
indicate he did so, on the great artificial lake he designed at Malkata. However, Amenhotep III was not the only ruler to
break with tradition: the heretic king, Akhenaten, did so as well--big surprise. Evidence of Akhenaten running his heb sed
race appear in
the colonnade court of the Temple of Aten at Karnak. Traditionally, Pharaoh was the only runner in the
race; however Akhenaten, Nefertiti, their daughters, and the Aten took part in the action together. The most intriguing of the lot
is the aten; never has a god been depicted in a heb sed
festival, other than the
Apis bull. The Aten's appearance and participation in the festival was necessary, as Akhenaten's philosophy implied, because both king and god
were considered one-in-the-same. Pharaohs of Dynasties XIX and XX engage also in their
royal duty to re-coronation. For example, Seti I carried out his heb sed
duty, which is depicted
at Abydos and dates to 1,300 B.C.E. His son, Ramesses II, is depicted running the heb sed
on the inner walls of the hypostyle hall at the Temple of
Karnak, on a dilapidated block found at Tanis, and at Abu Simbel (the latter dating to 1,280 B.C.E.). Ramesses III, a Dynasty XX ruler, participated in his Royal Jubilee Festival, which
is depicted at his mortuary temple at Medinat Habu and dates to 1,880 B.C.E.
Other evidence of this festival taking place span all the way to Dynasty XXII, where Osorkon II is depicted in his heb sed
uniform--usually a short wrapped skirt, a crown, a false beard, a flail, and an object yet to be
identified. This depiction of Osorkon II is located in scenes on the wall of the temple dedicated to Bastet, at Bubastis.
At Kom Ombo, Ptolemy VIII, a foreign king, is depicted on carved reliefs: here he receive gifts from Horus.
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Similar to the execution of handball, girls and boys (and even Pharaoh and his wife), played a game that resembles
modern tennis or badminton. Evidence of such matches can be found in paintings at Tel-el Amarna (ancient Akhetaten).
Although it is far from clear, Egypt--along with Greece and Rome--may have been one of the first ancient civilizations to
engage (invent?) the game of tennis. Others accredit the origins of tennis to French monks of Medieval France.
What is in Ancient Egypt's favor is the apparent similarities between Arabic words--dating from ancient times--and
English derivatives: Tinnis or Tanis, the city near the Delta, and rahat
(in English it means
"palm of the hand") correspond to "tennis" and "racquet," respectively.
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The Performing Arts
Musical performances were an additional importance in the worship of deities and rulers at the cults dedicated to either. The common population also enjoyed
such performances. During the Old Kingdom, concerts could be composed of two harpists, one small and one large
flute musician, and one male singer for every instrumentalist who clapped his hands to keep a beat. During all kingdoms, one or more
singers always accompanied flutists, whereas harps could be the only accompaniment to singers. By the New
Kingdom, 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
Usually, such concerts were the main entertainment during feasts composed of family members and friends of royal or high status.
Drinking to the enjoyment of life and becoming inebriated was a frequent happening and was not an inconvenience, but commonplace. [see "happy hour" festivals.]
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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 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. This 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, in temples it is the exact opposite: during the New Kingdom, the Late Period,
and onward, one finds dancing scenes. However, in temples dating to the Old and Middle Kingdoms one really does 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 one thinks of dancing, acrobatics, and gymnastics, one thinks of three different sporting 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, acrobatics, and gymnastics is there was no distinction among the three: the Egyptians believed that dancing,
acrobatics, and gymnastics of any degree were activities cut from the same cloth. Also unlike today, where music can
to provoke dancing, in ancient times, music was really meant to. Instead, it was the clapping of hands
or the playing of percussion instruments like the tambourine, drums, or sistrum that gave dancers the cause to dance. 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 have been 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: here, less than a dozen women wear wigs and diaphanous
gowns, shake tambourines or kettle drums and castanets or sticks, and perhaps twirl about in execution of some sort of
dance, as the flow of some of the female dancers' 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
, 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, one mostly sees in such scenes women dancing or performing aerobatic sequences either alone or en masse.
Young men were also acrobats, employing or playing with hoops and such, but the majority of acrobats were women.
The ancients 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
, 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 like sports figures are in the world today, there is one
instance where two Old Kingdom female performers--a pair of dancers named Hekenu and Iti--were 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 the king or a person
of high social status; during the Dance of the Muu, which occurred after the procession of the mummy; the
and the Opet festivals; the procession of deities on barks; feasts celebrated in honor of a chosen deity;
or banquets, where family and friends celebrated together.
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. Just as the sisters rejuvenated their husband and brother, respectively, so too did the dancers from the "acacia
house" 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. Thus 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
being particular dancers during birthing rites, these rites and the rejuvenation
of the body of the king in the Afterlife were somewhat similar in symbolism: both celebrated new life--one on earth and the
other in the otherworld. More notable than the "offering table" dance was the dance of mourning that was comprised
of women who are exposed at the chest and who cry, shout, and throw dirt on and pull at their hair. Evidence of
this band of mourning women has been found on several rolls of papyri, which belonged to several decedents' Books of the
At the moment of the actual procession of the mummy to its resting place, Middle and New Kingdom depictions show 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 were 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 performers, 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: among small chapels, tree-surrounded pools, and religious symbols. In addition, their appearance is very distinctive:
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 Sais there to Buto and
When the dead king or official started his journey through the underworld, he was almost always accompanied by Hathor, whose
job was to ensure a safe journey. In honor of this event, there was a special funeral dance and celebration, which
included dancers, singers, and percussionists who used their hands to clap and sticks to beat out a rhythm. This festival was
called the "Feast of Eternity," which always included dancers who processed before the statue or effigy of
the deceased. It is from depictions from the Middle and New Kingdoms that have best 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, one comes to examine further dances
that were in honor of the gods, at which our last paragraph hinted. A wise man of Ancient Egypt called Anii 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 of 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. Drinking 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 to forget how short life was. Toasting each other to
"long life" and becoming drunk was a means of enjoying the company of others and communicating with, 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 Ra (according to the story, he was a jealous god). 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.
More of a ritual ceremony than a daily life celebration, the Valley Festival at Thebes was one held during the new moon of
the tenth month of the year. It 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 it being more of a ritual than a daily life celebration,
it would have been commonplace for families to set up a grand banquet near the West Bank tombs, await Amun's arrival,
and rejoice 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 honored the goddess as a patroness of childbirth and 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 that dancers, acrobats, and dark and exotic dancers (Nubians, no
doubt) jumped and weaved to the rhythm of drums and performed for 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 praise him, so did Min, whose dancers were not only human,
but also monkeys. It was during the Late Period that monkeys were prominently shown as dancers at the feast of Min, which
was more likely to be symbolic rather than actual. Representations of monkeys and humans, especially
the priests of Min, show them paying homage to the setting and rising sun by executing farewell and greeting dances,
Possible training for dance:
There is no solid evidence of training for prospective dancers as is the case for wrestling and boxing. 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 appears in reliefs on tomb and temple walls. Some of
these depictions show dancers leaping, pirouetting, lithely bending, running, using tambourines as a means to create a beat, and
swinging weights from side to side.
In the case of women, when dancing was done as either a profession or for recreation, one typically wore pleated, short, or slited skirts;
a strap to support loose tunics of the diaphanous or sheer kind; long shawls to drap over their bodies; or nothing but a simple
beaded or cowry shell-covered belt girdle over the belly, which left the rest of the body exposed. The mindset behind these costumes
seemed to be, the less one wore, the freer a dancer was. It was this last costume (a simple belt) 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. 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. The latter troupe was often accompanied by a
small orchestra. In some cases the Ancient Egyptians considered the muu
dancers as divine. In other cases, where they were less divine
they were muu
dancers 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 describe such in detail. The gestures depicted in objects and scenes thus far found give their viewers
only an idea of what is going on. This is much like trying to guess what a couple is taking about in a photograph. It
is only through their facial features and gestures that one tries to determine the emotion being shown. All that has
been documented in Egyptian dancing scenes 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 dances in which the
ancients engaged, but it is a rather good account of most of the forms of dancing:
- Dancing for the single purpose of movement was more than a simple release of energy. Both performer and audience, if there happened
to be one, enjoyed this sort of dancing just for its rhythm. This sort of style of dance could be linked to freestyle
dancing, at a modern school dance, where the audience forms a circle around a few dancers who move their bodies in whatever way
- 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 was 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
- Imitative dance was a means of reenacting various animal movements by way of dance. As the ancients observed animals to hunt successfully,
so did they do to dance.
- A paired dance in ancient times was between two men or two women, but never one man and one woman. In other words, dancing was homogenous.
So far, there has been found no depictions of coed 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 danced together, following the same rhythm but executing different movements. Perhaps this denoted
the connection between the dancers, where one chose to move in whatever way he or she pleased, causing a transfer of movement
into the others' movements. This occurred 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 a funeral procession,
where ranks of dancers executed identical movements.
- War dances were recreations of events performed for relaxing mercenary troops of Libyans; Sherdans; Pedtiu, otherwise known as Sea Peoples;
and those from other places.
- The dramatic dance was of the commemorative genre and was performed by dancers who recreated 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 group
called "the Wind," which consisted 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 illustrated a story. Much like a story with words, it was a story with movement. It would
have been only for this sort of dance that a man and a woman danced together. Wearing wooden clappers on 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, and 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 were documented only from the Middle Kingdom and beyond.
The most notable thing about the grotesque dance it that it seems to have been performed mainly by dwarves such as the dwarf
named Harkhuf whom King Pepi II asked his official to bring back from a southern expedition 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 the king'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. They were, in themselves, connected to the rebirth of Osiris and to the sun god.
- Funerary dances consisted of three sorts, which have been found represented on papyri that document 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 placed their hands on their
heads or perhaps made 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 was 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 Ptah-hotep,
which date to Dynasty V and VI, circa 2,300 and 2,250 B.C.E., respectively; in Luxor at the tombs of Keroef and Ramesses I (?),
which date to Dynasty XVIII and XIX, circa 1,500 and 1,300 B.C.E., respectively; at Medinat Habu, the mortuary temple of Ramesses III,
which dates to Dynasty XX, circa 1,100 B.C.E.; and at Karnak Temple, in the sanctuary of Hatshepsut, which dates to Dynasty XVIII,
circa 1,480 B.C.E.
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As mentioned before, during the Old Kingdom, male singers could be accompanied by either flute or harp. By the New Kingdom, it was acceptable
for women to be accompanied by the same instruments. 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 was 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 goddess Hathor. From
the head of Hathor was connected a loop, fashioned as a steep arch or, as some have observed, a cartouche. Through either
side of the arch were usually three rods sometimes made from metal. Like an abacus, the rods were completed with beads
usually fashioned from metal as well. 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, it was designed as was used like a rattle: when shaken it made noise.
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 is without Hathor's likeness.
The lack of this last characteristic may represent the religious influence of the time: all gods but the Aten were
condemned, with minor deities such as Tawret and Bes being tolerated; therefore, 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, one in particular: Bes, a minor deity in charge of watching
over children and mothers in labor. Following a successful birth came 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 made one have 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 and meant
"beautiful" or "good." Considering the use of the image of a lute in hieroglyphic form, one
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. 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
XVIII 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 popular in 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.
Soldiers could play barrel-shaped drums or trumpets. It is sad that there have been only two trumpets
discovered: both came from KV62, the tomb of Tutankhamen, found by Howard Carter. One of the best of the lot is made nearly entirely of
silver, with a gold 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 another time on a live BBC program in 1939. At this time, 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, which was 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, a text that dates to the Late Period, the Lamentations of Isis, in the version where this festival is called the
Festivals Songs of the Two Weepers, required tambourines and other musical instruments to be played.
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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 have ever been
found, with the exception of a few texts containing love songs, dating from the Ramesside period--Dynasty XIX. 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, one
is confronted with several of such choir-masters: Ra'henem, the "Superintendent of the Singing," 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 these,
one 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 the 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 only. 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 one's 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 could 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.
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 recited these lamentations
during the fourth month when Osiris was said to have suffered and died. In addition, there have been found litanies
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 among the many texts in the Ani Papyrus, which
is 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, which is included in mortuary rituals during this time, around Dynasty XIX.
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During the Greco-Roman Period, theater made its way to becoming the major source of entertainment. Plays have been found on scrapes
of papyri, which came from the cartonnage masks of mummies of the period.
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Royal Egyptians were known to own many animals, already tamed or to be tamed: from their hunting activities, they brought home ox,
ibex, gazelle, and hyena; from those giving animals as tribute there were lion--often tamed to follow its master like
a dog, much like the one owned by Ramesses II--and leopard, hyena, gazelle, ibex, hare, and porcupine, which were brought
to Egypt from neighboring countries; from countries that were rich in incense came the baboon and giraffe; from Syrian came
the bear and elephant; or from Ethiopia came the unknown animal called the ka'eri
which was often tamed and taught to dance and to understand commands. Being an overtly illustrated animal, the baboon
or the ape was a popular house pet throughout Dynastic Egypt and was brought from Arabia. This
sort of pet was not limited to royals: even common Egyptians contented themselves with a small monkey, which was sometimes
be depicted sitting under its master's chair, being mischievous. It was quite typical that a good pet for a woman was
a small monkey, but men favored them as well.
Now let us turn to the relationship between man and his dog, a rapport that continues to be seen throughout all civilizations
and eras. As has been examined already, dogs, in particular the cunning greyhound, were used to pounce upon and kill animals
after which a royal hunter hunted. In a more relaxed setting, a setting more fitting of an Egyptian who was not a hunter,
a dog would accompany his master in lying about the house or outside, much like today. Of dogs tamed as household pets, we
see several: the t'esem
, a non-Egyptian greyhound that was obtained from
neighboring countries near the Red Sea; a type of earless dog that was used during the Old Kingdom for coursing; and, perhaps,
though it is highly debatable, prairie dogs, once thought to have been used for hunting but, as the lack of depictions showing
them with collars on, have been figured to be pets.
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Being a rather hot country, it is no wonder that the Ancient Egyptians enjoyed the shade of trees. Egyptians finding sanctuary beneath a tree
is nothing unheard of: it was thought that when a prince was about to become a king, he waited underneath a sacred tree (an
acacia tree for example) where he was greeted by Thoth and Sheshat. The latter deity inscribed on the leaves of the tree
of eternity the name of the prince so that he and his name would last forever--just as the acacia tree lasted for eternity, so would the prince.
What is more, the Ancient Egyptians loved nature almost as much as they did animals that they incorporated this passion
into their architecture: they decorated their columns and boats with papyrus plants and they incorporated into coffins and household designs the lotus flower.
Since the environment of Ancient Egypt was no longer covered with forest as it once had been, some Egyptians filled the void by creating their own gardens, which
consisted of dark green foliage trees, figs, pomegranates, or trees covered with vines. Trees were perhaps the most important
element in a garden as they were closely associated with several goddesses such as Hathor and Isis.
The ancients believed that loved dwelled in a garden, especially underneath a tree. Like today, the Ancient Egyptians were not beyond being proud of
their gardens; they spoke of the quality and beauty of their gardens with pride. What is more, in cities, just like in modern
times, there might be a garden or a park in which the ancients could enjoy themselves.
Like most of the sports, games, and other recreational activities done in Ancient Egypt,
gardening was for the royal and non-royal alike. However, each had a different amount of resources to create one. For example,
the garden of a royal was more luxurious and more massive, covering a whole city. It was Ramesses III who accomplished
this: the city that he founded in the Delta was where he created a garden composed of foreign and exotic plants and trees;
papyrus plants; vineyards; and walkways lined with flowers, fruits, lotus, and papyrus. In addition, he is credited with planting
trees and papyrus in Thebes as well as decorating the court of Amun with rare shrubs. Queen Chnemtamun was also another figure from Ancient Egypt
who enjoyed gardening. She imported foreign incense trees from areas around the Red Sea.
The arrangement of a typical upper class garden during the New Kingdom looked somewhat like the following: to preserve silence,
high walls were constructed around the confines of the house, which was surrounded by a vast garden complete with trees, pathways
covered with grape vines that led one to the entrance to the home, a fish pond surrounded by shrubbery and more trees, tree
nurseries, and palms.
Temples were also adorned with gardens--these were of a more sacred caliber than domestic gardens. For example, there is a temple built by Chuen'eten
in Middle Egypt that he most likely built for Horakhty (he also founded a town by the same name) in which he created temple
buildings, some having gardens and artificial lakes. The space separating each temple building was filled with trees, around
which a pile of earth was created, near which were tanks whose water was used to nourish these trees. It is uncertain if
the tank at the center of a garden grove behind some storehouses was meant to be an artificial lake that would religiously
represent the waters of chaos or if it served as a means of purifying priests. Either way, it was a
good addition to any Egyptian garden.
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