Ancient Egypt
Per MESUT For Young Readers Image Credit: Ancient Egypt
Per MESUT For Young Readers Image Credit: Ancient Egypt

Per MESUT: For Young Readers

In this 100th edition of ANCIENT EGYPT Magazine I thought I would look at which numbers and anniversaries were significant to the ancient Egyptians.

Hilary Wilson

Though the symbols for numerals are well known, only a few words for numbers have been identified in the hieroglyphic script, largely by comparison with how they were written in the Coptic script. The Egyptians, in common with most cultures throughout history, used a decimal number system simply because human beings have ten digits on their hands with which to count. The base unit, one, was represented by a single vertical stroke which looks like a figure 1 or the Roman numeral I. The unit stroke was also a determinative, a sign which explains other sign groups without adding any extra sound to the word, being used to show that a hieroglyph meant exactly what it portrayed. For example, when the forearm sign, which has the alphabetic value ‘a’, is determined with the unit stroke it means ‘arm’

The numbers two to nine were written with the appropriate number of units. Two strokes, often written on a slant, indicated a ‘pair’ or ‘two of a kind’. As well as the number three, three strokes were used to indicate the Egyptian plural form of a noun and the number nine, being three-times-three, was a plural of plurals or ‘many’. ‘The Nine Bows’ was a title given to the traditional enemies of Egypt (see opposite), often shown as bound captives kneeling or lying beneath Pharaoh’s feet (see top right). Nine also had religious significance since the creator sun-god, Atum, was associated with eight other deities in a family of gods and goddesses, known as an ennead, the Greek word for a group of nine. Before Amun relocated to Thebes he was one of an ogdoad, a group


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