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Glossary of Egyptian Terms
Glossary of terms used in Egyptian history and in reference to Egyptian-oriented monuments
Ar, Arabic; En, English; Gk, Greek; Hr, Hieroglyphics;
Heb, Hebrew; It, Italian; L, Latin; Pr, Persian; Tk, Turkish.

A | B | C | D | E | F | G | H | I | K | M | N | O | P | Q | R | S | T | U | W | Y

Term Meaning Source
- A -
Abu Literally father of, but used in many occasion to express appurtenance. Ar.
Amphitheater A Roman style oval building with a stage surrounded by elevated tiers of seats for spectacles. Gk: theater on both sides.
Anba Title of Coptic bishops or senior saints. Coptic.
Ankh The cross with a loop at its top, a symbol of life in Ancient Egypt. Hr: live.
Antechamber The chamber that precedes the sanctuary in ancient temples. L.
Apis The bull which was believed to be an incarnation of Egyptian god Ptah, hence deified.  
Arabesque An intricate Islamic art uses geometric shapes and linear flowers and fruits in design. It: Arab-like.
Architrave A decorated stone beam topping columns that support a ceiling. L.
- B -
Bab A door or a city gate. Ar: door.
Bahr Literally a sea in Arabic but sometimes called on rivers and canals. Ar.
Barque A vessel used by Ancient Egyptians to transfer statues of deities through the Nile in religious ceremonies. Coptic.
Beit A house in Arabic. Ar.
Berket A lake in Arabic. Ar.
Bey or Bay A title given to dignitaries in the Ottoman era. Tk.
Bir A well or a spring. Ar.
Birth House See Mammisi. En.
Black Death The bubonic plague that hit Europe and spread to Egypt, decimating the population in the 14th century. En.
Book of the Dead Magical spells buried with the deceased. En.
- C -
Caliph A title of rulers of Islamic empire who claim descent to Prophet Mohamed. Ar: successor.
Caliphate The administration of a Caliph, title of Islamic empire. Ar.
Caravansary or Caravanserai A courtyard prepared for accommodation of caravans. Pr: inn
Cartouche The oval ring that bears a name of a pharaoh. It: paper.
Catacombs An underground cemetery that has rooms to hold coffins of a dynasty. obscure.
Cataract A waterfall. Gk: fall down.
Cenotaph A symbolic tomb to honor a dead human whose body is buried somewhere else. Gk: empty tomb.
Cistern A water reservoir. L.
Colonnade A line of columns usually supporting part of an entablature. It: columns.
Colossus - pl: colossi A gigantic-size statue. Gk: statue.
Copt An Egyptian Christian who belongs to the Coptic Orthodox Church of Egypt. Ar > Gk: Egyptian.
Corveé Unpaid workers who were brought to work forcefully. L.
Cush or Kush A kingdom founded in Nubia in Upper Egypt.  
- D -
Dar A house. Ar.
Deir A monastery, usually belongs to Coptic Christians. Some sites bear the same name which indicate its usage as a monastery in the past. Ar: monastery.
Demotic Simplified form of hieroglyphics used in late pharaonic eras. Gk: plebeian.
Diadochi Name given to Macedonian generals who succeeded Alexander the Great.  
Divan A council of an Islamic state, brought in by Ottomans. Pr.
Druze An offshoot sect of Islam named after Darazi, vizier of Fatimid Caliph Al-Hakim in the early 11th century. Ar: of Darazi.
Duumvir Equal-footed couple of rulers. L: two men.
Dyophysitism The belief that Christ has two natures, divine and human which are inseparably united. - Compare with Monophysitism. Gk: of two natures.
- E -
Ein - pl: Oyoun A spring of underground water. Ar.
Emir Head of state in some Islamic states. Ar: prince.
Ennead A group of nine deities. Gk: of nine.
- F -
Fresco Painting using water coloring on wet plaster on walls and ceilings. It: fresh.
- G -
Gabal Mountain in Arabic. Ar.
- H -
Hammam - pl: Hammamat Literally paths, means natural pool or spring. Ar: bath.
Haramlik Women's private section in a Mamluk house prohibited on strangers to enter, usually where women walk freely - Compare with Salamlik.  
Harem Literally women in Arabic, or the place where women lodge. Ar: prohibited.
Heb Sed An ancient Egyptian festival for the king to rejuvenate and prove himself as a potent ruler, usually after 30 years of his rule. Hr.
Hieratic An abridged form of Hieroglyphics used by priests. Gk: of priesthood.
Hieroglyphics The pictographic writing of Ancient Egyptians. Gk: sacred writing.
Hittites People of the Asciatic kingdom of Khatti who were engaged in war with Egypt on several occasions. Heb.
Hyksos Asciatic people who invaded Egypt and founded the 15th and 16th dynasties. Hr: Rulers of the foreign lands.
Hypostyle A hall whose roof is supported by many huge columns. Gk: rest on pillars.
- I -
Iconostasis A screen adorned with icons in a Coptic church separates the altar from the nave. Gk.
Imam A Moslem leader or preacher. Ar: leader.
Intermediate Period Name of three periods in ancient Egypt during which central authority was absent and chaos prevailed. En.
Iseum A temple dedicated to goddess Isis. L.
Ithyphallic Portrayed with an erect penis, as the Egyptian god Min. Gk: erect penis.
- K -
Ka The spirit of a deceased which remains around and can watch religious ceremonies on condition that his corpse is mummified. Hr.
Kemet A name of Egypt, means the black land. Gk: straight.
Khamasin A southerly wind that blows in Egypt during 50 days from mid March. Ar: fifty.
Khan A caravansary. Pr.
Khedive Title of Egyptian rulers from 1867 to 1914. Pr: prince.
Kiosk An open pavilion with columns supporting a roof. Pr.
- M -
Madrasa A theological school to teach Islamic jurisprudence in Islamic era. Ar.
Mammisi This small building is built to celebrate the labor of goddess Hathor to her child, the Pharaoh, as she was considered mother of the kings and in turn they were imbibing divinity from her. -Also called Birth House.  
Maristan A hospital usually attached to a mosque during medieval Islamic rules. Pr: place of the sick.
Marsa or Mersa Anchorage. Ar.
Mastaba A Pharaonic elevated rectangular tomb with sloping sides. Ar: bench<./td>
Mausoleum The burial place of a famous man. Gk.
Medinet A city in Arabic. Ar.
Midan Arabic term for traffic square. Ar.
Minaret The tower attached to mosques where the muezzin call on people to attend religious semons. - See Muezzin. Ar.
Minbar A pulpit in a mosque from which preachers deliver their religious sermons. En.
Mitanni A kingdom in Asia fought by Thutmose III of 18th dynasty.  
Monophysitism The belief that Christ has only once nature with both divine and human incorporated in him. - Compare with Dyophysitism. Gk: of one nature.
Mosaic Colored stones or glasses forming a piece of patchwork. obscure.
Mosque The place of worship for Moslems. Ar.
Muezzin The crier who ascends a minaret to call Moslems for prayers. -See Minaret. Ar.
Mulid A popular festival usually celebrating birthday or death of a saint. Ar.
- N -
Naos The inner part of sanctuary which contains statues. Gk: shrine.
Napata A kingdom founded at late Pharaonic eras in the far south of Egypt.  
Narthex The passage between the entrance of a church and its nave. Gk.
Necropolis Large cemetery of a city-size. Gk: city of dead.
Niche A recess in a wall carved to hold statues and paintings. L.
Nilometer A place to measure the level height of the Nile water. En: Nile meter.
Nomarch Ruler of a nome. - See nome. Gk: ruler.
Nome A province of Ancient Egypt. - See Nomarch. Gk: district.
Nubia The farthest southern part of Egypt lies beneath the first cataract.  
- O -
Obelisk The four-sided inscribed pillar with a pyramidal apex erected by Egyptian kings on certain occasions. Gk: pointed pillar.
Osireion A symbolic tomb of Osiris. Gk.
- P -
Pasha A title given to senior statesmen in Ottoman era. Tk.
Papyrus Type of paper cut from a plant bears the same name used by Pharaohs for writing. Gk.
Pharaoh The title of ancient Egyptian kings. Hr: great.
Pharos The name of the ancient light house of Alexandria, built by Ptolemy II. Gk.
Portico A roof supported by columns at the entrance of a huge building. It.
Pronaos The small room that leads to the inner sanctuary of a temple (the naos). Gk: before shrine.
Ptolemy Name of a line of Macedonian kings who ruled Egypt 323-30 B.C.  
Pyramid Texts Special prayers and advises about afterlife and texts including magical spells inscribed on walls of a pyramid. En.
Pyramidion A miniature pyramid, used as a capstone.  
- Q -
Qasr A palace in Arabic. Ar.
Qubbet The dome in Arabic. Ar.
- R -
Ras Cape. Ar: cape.
- S -
Sabil Water fountain dedicated to thirst passersby. Ar: path.
Safari An expedition in the deserts for the purpose of exploring. Ar: journey.
Salamlik A public area of a Mamluk house where guests can be received. -Compare with Haramlik.  
Sanatorium Hospital for treating chronic diseases. L: place to heal.
Sarcophagus The sculptured stone coffin of a deceased Egyptian. Gk: flesh eating.
Scarab A beetle used by Egyptians as an amulet. Gk: horned beetle.
Sea People Allied tribes who came from the Mediterranean Sea to attack Egypt during 20th dynasty's Ramesses III. En.
Serapeum A temple for Egyptian-Greek god Serapis. Gk.
Seven Wonders of the World The seven structures considered the most remarkable of ancient times: the Egyptian pyramids, the Mausoleum at Halicarnassus, the Temple of Artemis at Ephesus, the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, the Colossus of Rhodes, the statue of Zeus by Phidias at Olympia, and the Pharos or lighthouse of Alexandria. (See them) En.
Shadoof An Egyptian device used to raise waters for irrigation of land, still used to the moment. Ar.
Shah Title of former Iranian kings. Pr: king.
Sheikh The head of a big family and sometimes a title for Moslem clerics for respect. Ar: old man.
Sheikh El-Balad The master of country, a title like a mayor. Ar.
Shi'ite A minority sect of Islam that believes the Prophet's succession of power should have gone to his cousin Ali. Ar.
Sirdar A commander. Pr.
Sistrum An Ancient Egyptian percussion instrument. Gk: shake.
Solar boat Boats used to transfer the soul of the deseased in the afterworld. En.
Sphinx Recumbent statue having a body of a lion and a human or animal head. Gk.
Stela, stele - pl: stelae A monumental stone slap bearing inscription of a certain achievement or event. Gk: make stand.
Sufi Ascetic mystical Moslems. Ar.
Sultan A sovereign of some Islamic countries. Compare with Sultana. Ar.
Sultana The wife of a Sultan. - Compare with Sultan. Ar: Sovereign.
Sunni The main rite of Islam who compose majority of Moslems in the World. Ar.
- T -
Tall / Tell Hill. Ar: hill.
Triad The name given to god Osiris, goddess Isis and their son god Horus. They are also called The Theban Triad. Gk: group of three.
- U -
Uraeus The cobra snake sacred by ancient Egyptians and represented in their headdresses as a symbol of mightiness. Gk > Hr.
Ushabti Mummy-form statuettes placed with the deceased in his tomb. Hr.
- V -
Viceroy A ruler of a province and deputy of the sovereign. - See Wali. L: vice king.
Vizier Deputy ruler, in old Islamic countries, a post like a vice president. Ar.
- W -
Wadi Dry watercourses or valleys. Ar: valley.
Wahhabism Conservative movement in Arabia founded by followers of Abdel Wahhab (1703-92) based on the radical interpretation of the teaching of Islam. Ar: of Abdel Wahhab.
Wali A ruler of a province or a big city in big Islamic empires - See Viceroy. Ar: ruler.
Wekala A special inn for merchants. Ar.
- Y -
Yom Kippur A Jewish holiday on 10th Tishri (first month of Jewish calendar). Heb: Day of Atonement.
Images in the left column 2004
Amphitheater Amphitheater



Apis Apis

Arabesque Arabesque

Architrave Architrave

Birth House or Mamissi Birth House or Mamissi


Cataract Cataract

Cenotaph Cenotaph

Hieratic Hieratic

Hieroglyphics Hieroglyphics

Hypostyle Hypostyle

Mastaba Mastaba







Papyrus Papyrus

Pharaoh Pharaoh

Pharos Pharos




Sarcophagus Sarcophagus



Seven Wonders of the World Seven Wonders of the World
Click to enlarge

Shadoof Shadoof



Sphinx Sphinx


Uraeus Uraeus

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