Homepage Timeline Maps A-Z index Learning

Scope of writing in ancient Egypt

Written sources greatly extend the scope of the evidence for Egypt, but in specific areas of life, each with specific histories of writing from the time of the development of Egyptian scripts in the late fourth millennium BC. In order to use any written evidence productively, its context must be borne in mind, and it is important to recognise the gaps in the surviving record, and therefore the limits to this source of information. The tables on this page offers a very general introduction to the variety of written content in Egyptian scripts currently available for each period.

The hieroglyphic script was regularly deployed with formal art; the sacred script and art are interwoven, creating a specific world for inscription - a horizon of eternity.


Categories of content

The vast quantities of manuscript and inscription from ancient Egypt can of course be divided in any number of ways. The seven broad categories proposed here are those suggested by study of the papyrus fragments from the late Middle Kingdom town at Lahun (from roughly 1850 to 1750 BC), applied to all three thousand years of ancient Egyptian history. For each category the table offers one example from the Petrie Museum, or the comment 'examples' where examples are preserved elsewhere but not present in the Petrie Museum.


  administrative legal letters healing religious literary treatises
3000-2000 BC UC 32769 examples UC 16244 examples UC 14540    
2000-1500 BC UC 32097A UC 32037 UC 32203 UC 32057 UC 32157 UC 32773 UC 32134A
1500-1000 BC UC 32795 UC 19641 UC 32782 UC 39673 UC 8446 UC 39614 examples
1000-500 BC UC 33179 examples examples   UC 14693 examples examples
500 BC-AD 200 UC 71101 UC 71105 UC 31906 UC 16546 UC 32374 UC 32423 UC 54961A-D


This table could be broken down into narrower groupings of content and less abstract general periods. This would expose more gaps, such as the following:

For an example of a more detailed tabulation, see the second page on scope of writing.


Copyright © 2003 University College London. All rights reserved.