What sort of things did the Egyptians write?

Religion and Magic Hieroglyphs were mainly for religious writings. These could be about the gods, or about trying to get the soul of a dead person to heaven, or magic spells of protection, or many other things.

The Book of the Dead was not really a book, but a collection of spells which was written on tomb walls or coffins, or on papyrus and put in a tomb. The spells were to help the soul get into the afterlife. An example is shown to the right.

'Spell for causing the deceased to be remembered in the realm of the dead

A name has been given to me in the shrines of Upper Egypt, my name has been remembered in the shrines of Lower Egypt, on that night of reckoning the years and of counting the months. ...As for any god who shall not come following after me, I shall declare his name to those who are yet to be.'

Papyrus of Ani, containing

spells from the Book of the Dead


Stories and Myths The Egyptians liked stories. Many are religious, myths which tell of the gods. A famous one is the story of Osiris and his brother Seth. Seth murdered Osiris and cut his body into many parts, which he spread all over Egypt. But Osiris' wife Isis found all the parts, and put them back together again. Later on, Osiris' son Horus got his revenge on Seth.

Another famous story is the Story of Sinuhe, a nobleman who fled Egypt when the king died and went to Palestine. Here he became wealthy, and defeated a giant in battle. Many people think this is where the Bible story of David and Goliath came from.

Click here to read a bit of that story.

To read lots more of the Egyptian myths and legends, try Stories from Ancient Egypt by Joyce Tyldesley.



the god Osiris

History Some stories written on temple walls are supposed to be true. Some famous ones are the Battle of Megiddo, fought by pharaoh Thutmose III, the Battle of Kadesh, fought by Ramses II.

The picture shows a scene from the Battle of Kadesh, 1275 BC. Below is a section of the story, written to make Ramses sound like a great hero!

The Battle of Kadesh

'When his majesty saw them, he was enraged against them, like his father, Montu, lord of Thebes. He seized the adornments of battle, and arrayed himself in his coat of mail. He was like Baal in his hour. Then he betook himself to his horses, and led quickly on, being alone by himself. He charged into the foes of the vanquished chief of Kheta, and the numerous countries which were with him. His majesty was like Sutekh, the great in strength, smiting and slaying among them; his majesty hurled them headlong, one upon another into the water of the Orontes.'




Expedition to Punt

The tale of the trading expedition to the land of Punt is on the walls of the temple of Hatshepsut. The pictures show scenes from the expedition.

The travellers brought back many things, including spice trees, gold, ivory, panther skins, leopards, ebony, baboons, and even giraffes.

The Expedition to Punt - inscription in the temple of Hatshepsut

'The voyagers against the current in the great river, start your voyage to the land of God. Set anchor peacefully in the desert of Punt. By the army of the master of the Two Lands, by order of the tongue of  God's master of the bride of the Two Lands, who is first in Karnak, to bring him wonders from all foreign lands.'

The picture below, from Hatshepsut's temple, shows sailors loading a ship in Punt. Look for the incense trees. And can you find the hieroglyph for baboon?



Poetry The Egyptians liked poetry, which was not all religious. They wrote a lot of love poems. An example is given here, from the 'Songs of Entertainment.' What do you think of it?

A love poem

The love of my sister lies on yonder side, and the river is between us; a crocodile waits on the sandbank.

Yet I'll go down into the waves; my heart is brave on the water, and the waves like land to my legs.

It is love of her which strengthens me, as if for me she made a water spell.

I'll watch the lady love return. My heart rejoices and my arms spread out to clasp her, my heart is giddy in its seat, as if this were not fated forever.


Medicine The Egyptians had the best doctors in the ancient world. They wrote a lot of their medical knowledge on papyri, many of which have been found. 


The Egyptians knew a lot about treating injuries. The Edwin Smith Papyrus, which dates from the time of the pyramids, describes treatments for broken bones, fractures, and cuts, using bandages, plaster, tape, and splints. These would have worked quite well. A large cut would be sewn up, a piece of raw meat placed on it for a day, then a mix of honey and oil put on it. Honey contains antibiotics, so this would have helped the healing.


Magical Remedies

The Ebers Papyrus shows us the other side of Egyptian medicine: magic. If they couldn't see what had caused a problem - if it was a disease, rather than an injury - the Egyptians thought it was caused by evil spirits, or the punishment of the gods. This meant they had to use holy magic to cure it.

The Ebers Papyrus has more than 800 cures for various diseases and other problems, using magic potions and spells. Some of the ingredients for these remedies are pretty nasty, like the milk of a woman who has borne a son, asses' testicles, cat's dung, and skinned mice. Yuk!

Here are some examples of magical remedies:

Splinters - Catch a mole, kill it, cook it, and drain the oil. Take worm's blood, cook and crush in oil. Mix in the dung of an ass and fresh milk. Apply to the opening. The splinter will be drawn out.

Diarrhoea - Mix 1/8 measure of figs, 1/8 measure of grapes, 1/32 measure of bread dough, 1/32 measure of pit-corn, 1/64 fresh lead-earth, 1/32 measure of onion, 1/8 measure of elderberry. Sing, O, Hetu! O, Hetu!

Constipation - Mix half an onion in the froth of beer. Drink it. This is also a delightful remedy against death.


Records Most Egyptian writing was records, legal documents, and letters, important for the day to day running of the country. This is the kind of writing most scribes did. They did not use hieroglyphs, however, but hieratic, which was a lot quicker to write.

The picture shows some hieratic writing. Click on it to go to the web page on hieratic.