Ancient Egyptian Terms for Children

When children are studying ancient Egypt, they should become familiar with most of these terms, some—like Cleopatra and King Tut—because they are such colorful figures and part of common culture. The others should be learned and quickly because they are essentials needed for reading and discussing further. In addition to these terms, discuss the Nile's floods, irrigation, the limitations imposed by the desert, the results of the Aswan Dam, the role of Napoleon's army in Egyptology, the Mummy's curse, Ancient Egyptian myths, and more that may occur to you.


Poster of Theda Bara as Cleopatra

Wikimedia Commons/CC0

Cleopatra was the last pharaoh of Egypt before the Romans took over. The family of Cleopatra was Macedonian Greek and had ruled Egypt from the time of Alexander the Great, who died in 323 B.C. Cleopatra is thought of as the mistress of two of Rome's great leaders.


Photo of hieroglyphs on Cleopatra's Needle
Photo of Hieroglyphs on Cleopatra's Needle.

© Michael P. San Filippo

There is more to Egyptian writing than just hieroglyphs, but the hieroglyphs are a form of picture writing and, as such, are beautiful to look at. The term hieroglyph refers to the fact that it is carving for sacred things, but hieroglyphs were also written on papyrus.


Mummy in a sarcophagus
Patrick Landmann/Cairo Museum/Getty Images

Various entertaining B-movies introduce young viewers to mummies and mummy curses. Mummies didn't walk around, though, but they are to be found inside the carved and brilliantly painted burial case known as a sarcophagus. Mummies are also found elsewhere in especially arid parts of the world.


Ancient Egypt on a map

Samuel Butler/CC0

The River Nile is responsible for the greatness of Egypt. If it hadn't flooded each year, Egypt wouldn't have been Egypt. Since the Nile is in the Southern Hemisphere, its flow is opposite that of northern rivers.


Heracles (Hercules) Papyrus

Wikimedia Commons/CC0

Papyrus is the word from which we get paper. The Egyptians used it as a writing surface.


Ramses II
Ramses II.

"Pharaoh" designates the king of ancient Egypt. The word pharaoh originally meant "great house," but came to mean the person who resided in it, i.e., the king.


A bent pyramid

dustinpsmith/flickr/CC by 2.0

A geometrical term that refers to the aboveground part of the burial complexes especially for Egyptian pharaohs. Classic examples are the great pyramids of Giza, and the idea of the Mastabas.

Rosetta Stone

The Rosetta Stone

Wikimedia Commons/CC0

The Rosetta Stone is a black stone slab with three languages on it (Greek, demotic and hieroglyphs, each saying the same thing) that Napoleon's men found. It provided the key to translating the previously mysterious Egyptian hieroglyphs.


Egyptian Mummy and Sarcophagus

Sarcophagus is a Greek word meaning flesh-eating and refers to the mummy case.


Carved Steatite Scarab Amulet - c. 550 B.C.
Carved Steatite Scarab Amulet - c. 550 B.C. PD Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Scarabs are amulets formed to look like the dung beetle, an animal associated, by the ancient Egyptians, with life, rebirth, and the sun god Re. The dung beetle gets its name from laying eggs in dung rolled into a ball.


The Sphinx in front of the Pyramid of Chephren
The Sphinx in front of the Pyramid of Chephren. Marco Di Lauro/Getty Images

A sphinx is an Egyptian desert statue of a hybrid creature. It has a leonine body and the head of another creature—typically, human.

Tutankhamen (King Tut)

King Tut's sarcophagus
Scott Olson/Getty Images

The tomb of King Tut, who is also referred to as the boy king, was found in 1922 by Howard Carter. Little was known of Tutankhamen beyond his death as a teen, but the discovery of Tutankhamen's tomb, with his mummified body inside, was of tremendous importance for the archaeology of Ancient Egypt.