Facts About Ancient Egypt They Didn’t Teach In School

Facts About Ancient Egypt They Didn’t Teach In School

Khalid Elhassan - October 29, 2023

The Egyptian civilization of the pharaohs lasted for an incredibly long time – more than three thousand years. To put that in perspective, an ancient Egyptian alive when the last pharaoh died in 30 BC is closer to us in time than he or she would have been to when the Great Pyramids were built. Indeed, the ancient Egyptian civilization is so old, that woolly mammoths were still around when the first pharaohs rose to rule the kingdom. Below are twenty five things about those and other lesser known ancient Egyptian facts.

Facts About Ancient Egypt They Didn’t Teach In School
Howard Carter examines Tutankhamen’s coffin. The Telegraph

King Tut’s Radical Family Background

One of archaeology’s greatest events occurred in 1922, when Egyptologist Howard Carter discovered the tomb of Pharaoh Tutankhamen (reigned, circa 1333 – 1323 BC). The find triggered a wave of Egypto-mania that swept the world, and that hasn’t receded since. Relics from the ancient ruler, nicknamed King Tut in pop culture, traveled the globe and were viewed by millions in exhibits for which people waited in line for hours. Ancient Egyptian references made their way into popular culture, and musical hits such as “Old King Tut” topped the charts. Even US President Herbert Hoover caught the Tutankhamen bug, and named his dog King Tut. Today, Tutankhamen is the best known ancient Egyptian pharaoh, which is ironic: ancient Egyptians saw him as one of their least memorable and most insignificant pharaohs.

Facts About Ancient Egypt They Didn’t Teach In School
Pharaoh Akhenaten and his sister-wife, Queen Nefertiti. K-Pics

King Tut’s father, Pharaoh Akhenaten, and his wife-sister (ancient Egyptian royalty often kept it in the family) Nefertiti, had been radical religious reformers. “Reformers” is probably an understatement: they outright overthrew the Egyptian religion that had dominated the Nile Valley for centuries. In place of its many gods, they ordered the worship of a single deity: Aten. Akhenaten and Nefertiti also displaced the Egyptian priesthood, who until then had acted as middlemen between worshippers and the gods. Instead, they made themselves the main conduit through which divine blessings flowed to the people. When the priests objected, the couple closed the main temple at Karnak, seized its treasury, fired the priests, and moved hundreds of miles away to a new city, purpose built for the worship of Aten. Understandably, the traditional Egyptian priests were livid. As seen below, they undid all of Akhenaten’s religious works as soon as he died.

Facts About Ancient Egypt They Didn’t Teach In School
Tutankhamen’s golden death mask. Pinterest

The Best Known Egyptian Pharaoh Today Was Seen as Insignificant by Ancient Egyptians

Pharaoh Akhenaten died in 1334 BC, after a tumultuous seventeen-year-reign that plunged Egypt into chaos and bankrupted the kingdom. Nefertiti tried to continue her late husband-brother’s religious revolution, and stepped up to act as regent for Akhenaten’s successor, a seven-year-old born him by another sister. However, she lost a power struggle at court, and power went instead to a chief minister, Ay, who became the child pharaoh’s key adviser. The kid’s birth name had been Tutankhaten birth, which means “Living Image of Aten”, after the god worshipped by his father. Soon as he ascended the throne, the child ruler’s advisers had him change his name to Tutankhamen, or “Living Image of Amen”, the traditional Egyptian god ditched by Akhenaten. That heralded a rejection of his father’s religious revolution, and a counter-revolution that restored the old Egyptian gods and traditional ways of worship.

Facts About Ancient Egypt They Didn’t Teach In School
How Tutankhamen probably looked. Art News Net

The new pharaoh was relatively insignificant. He was a child king for most of his life, which lasted for only another ten years before he died at age seventeen. In that time, actual power was wielded by his advisers. Tutankhamen was also physically disabled and sickly. A product of generations of royal incest, he suffered many deformities caused by inbreeding. He had a cleft palate, scoliosis (a deformation of the spine), and a clubbed foot, so he needed a cane to walk. He also caught frequent bouts of malaria, which ultimately killed him. When he died, courtiers raided the tombs of his father and Nefertiti, and ransacked them for items to toss into Tutankhamen’s tomb. Indeed, the most famous ancient Egyptian artifact, Tutankhamen’s Mask, had actually been Nefertiti’s. Even his sarcophagus had been made for somebody else: masons simply carved over its original inscriptions, and repurposed them for King Tut.

Facts About Ancient Egypt They Didn’t Teach In School
Ancient Celtic warriors. Celtic Life International

The Celts in Ancient Egypt

One of history’s lesser known facts is the presence of Celtic warriors in ancient Egypt. In the centuries before Julius Caesar’s conquest of Gaul and its subsequent pacification and Romanization, the Celtic peoples had dominated most of Europe north of the Po and Danube river valleys. They had a fearsome reputation that terrified many. The Romans in particular saw the barbarian Celts – whom they referred to as Gauls – as their greatest national threat. For centuries, Roman mothers quieted down their fussy tots by warning them that the Gauls might hear them. The Romans had good reason for alarm. Throughout much of Rome’s early history, Celtic/ Gaulish tribes dominated Italy north of the Po River and along the much of Italy’s Adriatic coast. That was not that far as the crow flies or as the barbarian marches.

That was driven home in 387 BC, when Celtic tribesmen, led by a chieftain named Brennus, defeated a Roman army, then marching on to capture and sack Rome. It was a feat no foreigners would repeat for another eight centuries. The era’s Celtic warriors were famous for the quality of their weapons. They were also known for their courage and ferocity in battle, their frightful battle cries, and their terrifying, butt naked, headlong charges. That reputation made them highly sought after as mercenaries. From the fourth century BC onwards – and especially after the fragmentation of Alexander the Great’s empire into rival Hellenistic states – Celtic mercenaries became all the rage from Sicily to Asia Minor. As seen below, some of them ended up in the pay of Egyptian pharaohs.

Facts About Ancient Egypt They Didn’t Teach In School
Celtic mercenaries, bottom left, in ancient Egypt. Pinterest

The Ancient Egyptian Celtic Mercenaries

In addition to fighting for the various Greek kingdoms, Celtic warriors also fought for Carthage. Indeed, they formed a significant part of Hannibal’s army when he invaded Italy in the Second Punic War. Celtic mercenaries were also a bulwark of Egypt’s Ptolemaic Dynasty in the third century BC, and were included in the Egyptian army’s order of battle. For example, Ptolemy II Philadelphus hired 4000 Celtic mercenaries, recruited from the Balkans with help from the Anigonids of Macedon. They played a decisive role in beating back a challenge from a half-brother who had tried to seize Ptolemy’s throne.

Facts About Ancient Egypt They Didn’t Teach In School
Celtic mercenaries in Ptolemaic Egypt. Ancient Origins

However, the Celt mercenaries then made a bid of their own to dethrone Ptolemy and seize Egypt for themselves. They failed, and Ptolemy crushed their rebellion. He then dumped the surviving Celts into a small island in a Nile, to die of starvation. Despite that, the Ptolemies continued to hire Celts mercenaries – their lack of local roots made them particularly useful in putting down the frequent native Egyptian uprisings. They remained in Ptolemaic service until the end, and the dynasty’s final ruler, Cleopatra, was known to have employed Celtic mercenaries.

Facts About Ancient Egypt They Didn’t Teach In School
Woolly mammoths. Penn State Gatsby Files

The Last Woolly Mammoths Overlapped With the Construction of the Great Pyramids

Woolly mammoths were still around when the ancient Egyptian Great Pyramids were built. The hairy beasts, such as Manny from the Ice Age animated movie franchise, flourished during the Pleistocene epoch. The now-extinct pachyderms were roughly the size of modern African elephants, and males reached shoulder heights greater than eleven feet, and weighed in at around six tons. While no man ever saw a live dinosaur, mankind and its hominid ancestors did share the planet with woolly mammoths for hundreds of thousands of years. Woolly mammoths, in fact, were still around while the Ancient Egyptians were busy building the Great Pyramids.

Most woolly mammoths were hunted by humans into extinction and disappeared from the continental mainland of Eurasia and North America between 14,000 and 10,000 years ago. The last mainland population, in the Kyttyk Peninsula in Siberia, vanished about 9650 years ago. However, small populations survived in offshore islands, such as Saint Paul Island in Alaska, where woolly mammoths existed until 5600 years ago. The last known population survived in Wrangel Island, in the Arctic Ocean, until 4000 years ago, or roughly 2000 BC. That was well into the era of human civilization and recorded human history. By the time the last woolly mammoth died, the ancient Egyptian civilization had been around for more than a thousand years. The Great Pyramids of Giza, whose construction concluded around 2560 BC, were already centuries old before woolly mammoths finally went extinct.

Facts About Ancient Egypt They Didn’t Teach In School
Elizabeth Taylor as Cleopatra. K-Pics

Cleopatra is Closer to Us than She Was to When the Great Pyramids Were Built

As seen above, the civilization of ancient Egypt is so old, that woolly mammoths were still around when the Great Pyramids were built. It also lasted for a seriously long time, from before when the Great Pyramids were built, to the annexation of Egypt by the Romans, circa 30 BC. To put into perspective just how long that was, consider this: we are closer in time to one of Ancient Egypt’s most famous queens, Cleopatra, than she was to the Great Pyramids.

Facts About Ancient Egypt They Didn’t Teach In School
The Great Pyramids of Giza, as they would have looked when newly built. Quora

Fewer years separate us from Cleopatra (69 – 30 BC), than separate Cleopatra from the Pyramids. Cleopatra famously committed suicide in 30 BC, or 2053 years ago at the time of this writing in 2023. The Great Pyramid of Giza was built around 2580 BC, about 2510 years before Cleopatra was born. So in 2023 Cleopatra is roughly 457 years closer to us than she was to the construction of the Great Pyramid. And the Great Pyramid was not built at the start of the ancient Egyptian civilization, but more than five centuries after it began, sometime around 3150 BC.

Facts About Ancient Egypt They Didn’t Teach In School
Construction of the Great Pyramid of Giza. Fine Art America

The Great Pyramids Were Not Built by Slaves

The Great Pyramids’ construction required moving and piling up six and a half million tons of stone, in blocks as heavy as nine tons. Were they built with slave labor? The Old Testament’s portrayal of the Hebrews’ forced labor for Pharaoh popularized the notion that slave labor was widespread in Ancient Egypt. Ancient Greek writers such as Herodotus and subsequent historians, fiction, as well as film, further cemented the perception that ancient Egyptians used slave labor for their great construction projects. Despite graffiti inside the Great Pyramids suggesting paid laborers, made by the workers who built them, the notion that slaves built the pyramids became entrenched in popular imagination. The idea that the pyramids were built by slaves remained widespread for a long time, but we now know that is untrue.

Facts About Ancient Egypt They Didn’t Teach In School
Remains and artifacts from the tomb of workers who built the Great Pyramids. CCTV

In 1977, Egyptologists discovered the city of the Great Pyramids’ builders, and excavations demonstrated that the builders were not slaves. In 2010, archaeologists unearthed the tombs of the Great Pyramids’ builders, and their contents debunked the notion that the edifices had been built by slave labor. The tombs held the perfectly preserved skeletons of about a dozen pyramid workers. They showed that their occupants were paid laborers, not slaves. The builders hailed from all over Egypt, and were not only paid for their work, but were so respected for that work that those who died during construction were honored by burial near the tombs of the sacred Pharaohs. The proximity to the sacred sites, and the care taken to prepare their bodies for their journeys to the afterlife, disprove the notion that the builders were slaves. Slaves would never have been extended such honors.

Facts About Ancient Egypt They Didn’t Teach In School
Painted relief of Pharaoh Thutmose III. Wikimedia

The Ancient Egyptian Pharaoh Who Fought History’s Earliest Recorded Battle

Pharaoh Thutmose III was a warrior-king, and his best-known engagement was the Battle of Megiddo, in 1457 BC. It is the earliest recorded battle in the history of war for which reliable details exist. It took place between an Egyptian army led by Thutmose, and a coalition of rebellious Canaanite states that sought to free themselves of vassalage to Egypt. The rebellion was centered in the city of Megiddo, an important hub at the southern edge of the Jezreel Valley, astride the main trade route between Mesopotamia and Egypt.

Thutmose departed Egypt at the head of a strong army, and marched to Yaham. He had a choice from three routes to reach Megiddo: a southern one via Taanakh, a northern route via Yokneam, and a central one via Aruna that would take him straight to his destination. The southern and northern routes were longer, but safer. The central route was quicker but risky, because it required passage through narrow ravines in which an army would have to advance single file. It would be easy for an enemy to let an army file through the narrow passage, then attack the exit and entrance to bottle it up front and rear.

Facts About Ancient Egypt They Didn’t Teach In School
The approach routes to Megiddo. Pinterest

The Trick That Won a Pharaoh a Victory

Pharaoh Thutmose III figured that the central route to Megiddo through Aruna was so obviously dangerous that no reasonable commander would risk his army in its ravines. He also reasoned that the rebels would leave it unguarded because they would not expect the Egyptian army to court disaster with such an obviously risky advance. Thutmose was the kind of warrior who did not fear calculated risks if the prize was big enough. So he made a gamble, and took the central route. As he had hoped, the path was unguarded, and the Egyptians arrived at Megiddo sooner than expected.

Facts About Ancient Egypt They Didn’t Teach In School
Pharaoh Thutmose III at the Battle of Megiddo. Egypt Fun Tours

Thutmose’s sudden arrival caught the Canaanites flat-footed. In the Battle of Megiddo that followed, Thutmose won a decisive victory that secured Egyptian hegemony over the region for centuries. 3375 years later, in World War I, British General Allenby, an avid student of ancient history, faced the same choice as Thutmose as he advanced northward through Palestine. Allenby led a British army that advanced from the south against Ottomans and Germans entrenched in the Jezreel Valley. He stole a march upon them and burst unexpected in front of Megiddo with an advance through the central route via Aruna.

Facts About Ancient Egypt They Didn’t Teach In School
Queen Ahhotep recovers the body of her slain husband, who died fighting the Hyksos. National Geographic

An Ancient Egyptian Warrior Queen

Queen Ahhotep II (flourished sixteenth century BC) was Ancient Egypt’s most heroic female fighter. A warrior queen of the Seventeenth Dynasty, she led armies in combat against the Hyksos – Semitic invaders who had conquered Lower Egypt. Ahhotep took control of Egypt’s throne and armies after her husband was killed fighting the invaders, and ruled as regent during the minority of her son, Ahmose I. She kept up the pressure against the Hyksos until her son was old enough to take charge and take over the fight.

Facts About Ancient Egypt They Didn’t Teach In School
Ring of Queen Ahhotep. Louvre Museum

A stele records Ahhotep’s deeds: “The king’s wife, the noble lady, who knew everything, assembled Egypt. [Ahhotep] looked after what her Sovereign had established. She guarded it. [Ahhotep] assembled her fugitives. She brought together her deserters. [Ahhotep] pacified her Upper Egyptians. She subdued her rebels … [The queen] is the one who has accomplished the rites and taken care of Egypt… She has looked after her soldiers, she has guarded her, [Ahhotep] has brought back her fugitives and collected together her deserters, [the queen] has pacified Upper Egypt and expelled her rebels.”

Facts About Ancient Egypt They Didn’t Teach In School
Detail from a ceremonial ax depicting Queen Ahhotep’s son, Pharaoh Ahmose I, slaying a Hyksos. K-Pics

The Queen Who Saved Ancient Egypt

Queen Ahhotep successfully led her armies against the Hyksos. She fought them to a standstill, and kept them at bay long enough for her son to grow up and take over the struggle. When he came of age, her son – a heroic figure in his own right – took the reins of power, took on the Hyksos, defeated and chased them out of Egypt, and reunified the country. As Pharaoh Ahmose I, he founded the Eighteenth Dynasty, during which the Egyptian Empire reached its zenith.

Facts About Ancient Egypt They Didn’t Teach In School
Jewels, weapons, and decorations found in the tomb of Queen Ahhotep. Wikimedia

At its height, Ahmose’s realm stretched from Syria in the north to Nubia in the south, and from Mesopotamia in the east to the Libyan deserts in the west. Ahhotep was not done fighting, however. Rebels sympathetic to the Hyksos tried to seize the throne while her son was away fighting the Nubians. So Ahhotep rallied loyal troops, fought them off, and foiled their attempt. For that, she was awarded the “Golden Flies of Valor” – Ancient Egypt’s highest military award for courage. It was discovered in her tomb, along with weapons and jewelry, thousands of years later.

Facts About Ancient Egypt They Didn’t Teach In School
Ancient Egyptian women and children. Medium

Ancient Egyptian Pregnancy Tests

In ancient Egypt, long before modern medicine or even the concept of medicine as a professional discipline existed, people did not have a firm grasp on why some women got pregnant and others did not. They also had no way to predict pregnancy, or to tell the gender of a fetus in a woman’s womb. That did not stop some ancient healers – whether they were charlatans or whether they simply acted on sincerely held but mistaken beliefs – from taking a stab at it.

Some of those attempts even worked. One of the earliest written records of a pregnancy is found in an ancient Egyptian papyrus that dates from around 1350 BC. It called for a woman who might be pregnant to urinate on wheat and barley seeds over the course of several days. As the test put it: “If the barley grows, it means a male child. If the wheat grows, it means a female child. If both do not grow, she will not bear at all“. As seen below, it was not just innocent ancient gibberish: the test actually had some substance to it.

Facts About Ancient Egypt They Didn’t Teach In School
Ancient Egyptian women. Culture Trip

These Ancient Pregnancy Tests Actually Worked More Often than Not

When the ancient Egyptian pee-on-wheat-and-barley pregnancy test was subjected to scientific examination via modern methodology in 1963, it turned out that there might actually have been something to it. To be sure, the test did not accurately predict whether the fetus was male or female. However, it did not do too badly when it came to the detection of whether a woman was pregnant or not. Seventy percent of the time, the urine of pregnant women actually promoted growth in wheat and barley.

Facts About Ancient Egypt They Didn’t Teach In School
Ancient Egyptian women urinated on wheat and barley to test for pregnancy. 9Gag

By contrast, the urine of non-pregnant women (and men) did not have a positive impact on the plants’ growth. It was the earliest known example of testing for pregnancy by detecting something unique in the urine of pregnant women. Scholars identified this test as the first recorded in history to work along the lines of modern pregnancy tests that work by identifying something in the urine of pregnant women that is not present in the urine or those who are not with child. The elevated levels of estrogen in pregnant women’s urine might have been the key to the test’s success.

Facts About Ancient Egypt They Didn’t Teach In School
Ancient Egyptians believed that garlic had many medicinal uses. K-Pics

But This Ancient Egyptian Pregnancy Test Left a Lot to be Desired

Another odd ancient Egyptian pregnancy test, although one that was less successful than urinating on wheat and barley, had to do with garlic. Egyptian women who might be pregnant would place a clove of raw garlic next to their cervix when they went to bed at night. When they woke up the next morning, if the sulfuric taste of garlic had migrated to their mouth, they were thought to be pregnant. Unfortunately, it does not seem that any modern scientific tests have supported the effectiveness of the garlic pregnancy test.

Egyptian men also had a special use for garlic. The ancient Greek philosopher Charmidas wrote that Egyptian husbands chewed garlic cloves on their way home from their mistresses. That way, their wives would not suspect that anybody would have been kissing them with such bad breath. The ancient Egyptians were not alone in their belief in the effectiveness of garlic. Other ancient cultures ascribed various medicinal properties to garlic, from relieving headaches to curing rabies. The Roman naturalist Pliny thought garlic could sap a magnet’s power, while Roman legionaries were fed garlic in the belief that it would give them courage. Either that, or repel the enemy with their nasty garlic breath.

Facts About Ancient Egypt They Didn’t Teach In School
Pharaoh Ramesses III. Wikimedia

A Great Pharaoh Who Saved Egypt from Fierce Invaders, But Couldn’t Save Himself from His Own Family

Pharaoh Ramesses III (reigned 1186 – 1155 BC) is seen by many historians and scholars as the last great ancient Egyptian ruler. A warrior king, he is most famous for having successfully fought against and beat back a confederation of mysterious marauders known as “The Sea Peoples”, who overran nearly all of the era’s Mediterranean kingdoms. The seaborne invaders inflicted widespread devastation that ushered in what came to be known as The Bronze Age Collapse – a dark age that lasted for centuries, during which civilization took a nose dive.

Facts About Ancient Egypt They Didn’t Teach In School
Detail from a relief, depicting Pharaoh Ramesses III defeating the Sea People. Teach Middle East

The one kingdom that the Sea Peoples failed to conquer was Ramesses’s Egypt. In the eighth year of his reign, the Sea Peoples invaded Egypt by land and by sea. As he put it: “As for those who reached my frontier, their seed is not, their heart and their soul are finished forever and ever. As for those who came forward together on the seas, the full flame was in front of them at the Nile mouths, while a stockade of lances surrounded them on the shore, prostrated on the beach, slain, and made into heaps from head to tail“. Unfortunately, as seen below, although he managed to save Egypt, Ramesses III was unable to save himself from his own family.

Facts About Ancient Egypt They Didn’t Teach In School
Pharaoh Ramesses III’s mummy. Aventuras na Historia

An Ancient Egyptian Royal Murder

As was common with many Egyptian pharaohs, Ramesses III had multiple wives and many sons. His designated heir was his son Ramesses IV. However, one of his minor wives, Queen Tiye, wanted her son Pentawer to take the throne instead. She enlisted a group of palace officials in a conspiracy to assassinate the pharaoh. In 1155 BC, as the pharaoh relaxed amidst the royal harem in a palace near Luxor, the plotters struck and killed Ramesses III by slashing his throat.

Facts About Ancient Egypt They Didn’t Teach In School
The Screaming Mummy. Ancient Origins

Unfortunately for the plotters, although they managed to assassinate the pharaoh, they were unable to accomplish their ultimate goal and install Pentawer on the throne. Ramesses IV rallied his supporters, and secured the throne. He then rounded up the plotters, and had 28 of them executed. Pentawer was either strangled to death or buried alive. His mummy was discovered, bearing an agonized expression, which led to its getting designated as “The Screaming Mummy“. Other plotters had their ears and noses cut off. Queen Tiye’s punishment is not recorded.

Facts About Ancient Egypt They Didn’t Teach In School
Cat mummies. K-Pics

Ancient Egyptian Cats Were Loved – But Not as Pets

Cats are probably the animals most commonly associated with ancient Egypt. For good reason: there are thousands of cat statutes all over the place, and millions of cat mummies. Indeed, mummified cats were so common that archaeologists in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries recorded that Egyptian farmers routinely crushed and used them as fertilizers. So it stands to reason that ancient Egyptians must have really loved cats and treated them as pampered pets. That was a common assumption, but it turned out to be untrue. Recent discoveries and research indicate that while cats were popular in ancient Egypt, they were not popular for the same reasons as in the modern era.

Facts About Ancient Egypt They Didn’t Teach In School
Cat mummy. University of Manchester

Ancient Egyptians did not see cats like we do today, as pets and cute fur ball companions. Instead, they saw them as religious sacrifices to be killed in order to please one of their gods. Those millions of mummified cats? They were not dear pets, lovingly preserved by their saddened owners after their sad demise. Instead, they were bred by the millions near temples. Soon as they got big enough – usually around five or six months old, but sometimes as young as two to four-month-old kittens – they were sold to the faithful to sacrifice at the temple. So while Ancient Egyptians liked cats, it was a different kind of “like” than that exhibited by modern cat owners towards their cuddly felines.

Facts About Ancient Egypt They Didn’t Teach In School
Feet like these inspired Shelley’s Ozymandias. Choice of Games

The Real Ancient Egyptian Ruler Behind Shelley’s Poem

I met a traveller from an antique land,

Who said—”Two vast and trunkless legs of stone

Stand in the desert. . . . Near them, on the sand,

Half sunk a shattered visage lies, whose frown,

And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,

Tell that its sculptor well those passions read

Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,

The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed;

And on the pedestal, these words appear:

My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings;

Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!

Nothing beside remains. Round the decay

Of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare

The lone and level sands stretch far awayOzymandias, by Percy Bysshe Shelley

Ancient Egyptian pharaoh Ramesses II (circa 1303 – 1213 BC), or Ramesses the Great, a title he might have bestowed upon himself, was the powerful ruler whom the Greeks named Ozymandias. Often identified as the pharaoh who clashed with Moses in the Exodus story, this Ramesses was the greatest, most powerful, and most celebrated ruler of the New Kingdom, ancient Egypt’s most powerful period. A warrior through and through, he battled sea pirates, fought numerous campaigns in the Levant, and led several military expeditions into Nubia.

Facts About Ancient Egypt They Didn’t Teach In School
A Memphis relief depicting Pharaoh Ramesses II capturing enemies – a Nubian, Libyan, and Syrian. Cairo Museum

Ancient Egypt’s Greatest Warrior King

Ramesses II fought the Battle of Kadesh in 1274, the earliest battle in recorded history for which details such as tactics and formations are known. 6000 chariots took part, which also made it the biggest chariot clash in history. It occurred against a backdrop of a generations-long rivalry between Egypt and the Hittite Empire of Anatolia, as they jockeyed to control the lands of Canaan between them. Early in his reign, which lasted from 1279 to 1213 BC, Ramesses II decided to finish off the protracted war once and for all. Over a period of years, he patiently assembled a powerful army, and built up supply depots.

When all was ready, Ramesses marched north from Egypt into Canaan with four divisions. First was the Amon Division, led by the pharaoh in person. It was followed by the divisions of Re, Ptah, and Sutekh. When he heard the news, the Hittite King Muwatalli II marched south from Anatolia into Canaan, with 3000 heavy chariots and 8000 infantry. In the late spring of 1274 BC, Ramesses emerged from the hills above the city of Kadesh on the Orontes River, near today’s Lebanon-Syria border. Throughout, he had not spotted the Hittites. As seen below, they were far closer than he knew.

Facts About Ancient Egypt They Didn’t Teach In School
Pharaoh Ramesses II in the Battle of Kadesh, slaying one foe and trampling another. Wikimedia

Ancient Egyptian Propaganda Boosted a Stalemate Into a Great Victory

The Hittites were hidden behind Kadesh when Ramesses II reached the city. However, nomads falsely informed the pharaoh that his enemies were nowhere near. Emboldened, Ramesses hurried with the Amon Division to Kadesh, and left the rest of his army behind to catch up. As Ramesses advanced, the Hittites circled around the city, and made sure to keep Kadesh between themselves and the Egyptians as they did so. While Ramesses and the Division of Amon made camp, the Division of Re straggled up the road behind. That was when 2000 massed Hittite chariots charged directly across the Egyptian line of march. They wrecked the Division of Re, then surrounded Ramesses in his camp.

Facts About Ancient Egypt They Didn’t Teach In School
Charge of the Hittite chariots at the Battle of Kadesh. Evo Historia

The pharaoh gathered his personal guards, and led a desperate charge that drove some Hittite leaders into the Orontes River. Fortunately for Ramesses, the Hittites behind him abandoned their chariots to loot the Egyptian camp. That was when the Division of Sutekh arrived in the nick of time, and slaughtered the looters. As the Hittite King Muwatalli sent in the rest of his chariots, the last Egyptian Division of Ptah arrived, and the battle lasted until sunset. After prolonged slaughter, the Hittites finally withdrew into Kadesh, and left the field – and technically the victory – to Ramesses. Upon his return, the warrior pharaoh littered Egypt with monuments and murals that detailed the engagement – or at least his version of the engagement. In them, he described himself as “Ramesses, the Great, Conqueror of the Hittites” – which is how we know so much about the battle.

Facts About Ancient Egypt They Didn’t Teach In School
Ancient Egyptians believed donkey dung had healing properties. AZ Animals

Ancient Egyptian Poop Cures

Most people would agree that dung is disgusting. However, it is widely available, and at some point way back when, some people figured that it might be useful as medicine. Whether for better or for worse, the exact details of how somebody first arrived at that brainstorm are lost in the mists of history. There probably was an interesting tale involved. However it came about, by the time civilization arose, poop was often prescribed to treat a variety of illnesses and assorted maladies.

Ancient Egyptians, for example, swore by the healing properties of gazelle, dog, donkey, and fly dung, and the ability of those creatures’ droppings to ward off evil spirits. They also used animal poop to heal their wounds. On the one hand, that might have caused tetanus and other infections on occasion, especially when poop was applied to open cuts. On the other hand, the microflora in some animal dung contains antibiotics, so the remedy might actually have worked every now and then. At least enough times to keep alive the belief in the medicinal benefits of poop.

Facts About Ancient Egypt They Didn’t Teach In School
A crocodile defecating – Ancient Egyptians swore by the healing properties of crocodile poop. AZ Animals

Crocodile Poop Contraceptive

The use of fly poop as medicine raises some fascinating questions. Not just about its effectiveness, if it actually was effective. The more fascinating question is just how did people back then, long before microscopes were invented, even manage to spot, let alone gather, tiny fly turds? However they went about the collection of fly poop, Egyptian doctors had a good reputation in the ancient world. As a result, many contemporary cultures looked up and tried to emulate Egyptian medical practices.

The ancient Greeks in particular borrowed a lot from the Egyptians. One of those borrowed things was a medical prescription that used crocodile poop as birth control. Ancient Greek women believed that crocodile dung inserted into their vaginas would serve as a powerful contraceptive. It might have even worked. At least in the sense that to encounter a vagina full of or smelling like crocodile poop might have been such a huge turn off, that it eliminated any desire for sexual intercourse in the first place.

Facts About Ancient Egypt They Didn’t Teach In School
Ptolemy I Soter, founder of the Ptolemaic Dynasty. Flickr

Ancient Egypt’s Last Dynasty Was a Seriously Weird Family

Few ruling families have been as dysfunctional, perverse, or given to more intra-familial strife, than the Ptolemaic Dynasty, which ruled Egypt from 323 to 30 BC. All fifteen of the dynasty’s kings were named Ptolemy, numbered I through XV. Of the Ptolemaic queens, there were seven Cleopatras, and four Berenices. The family had a tradition of incestuous marriages, mostly with brothers marrying sisters, with the occasional uncle-niece and nephew-aunt weddings, and at least one possible mother-son marriage, thrown into the mix. In addition to marrying their close relatives, the Ptolemies were also into murdering each other, and history abounds with Ptolemies killing their brothers, sisters, uncles, aunts, nieces, nephews, and even mothers.

Facts About Ancient Egypt They Didn’t Teach In School
The Ptolemaic Empire at the end of the third century, BC. Livius

The dynasty’s founder, Ptolemy I Soter, Greek for “Ptolemy the Savior” (367 – 282 BC), was a Macedonian general and close companion of Alexander the Great. After Alexander’s death, Ptolemy was one of the three Diadochi, or successors, who carved up Alexander’s empire amongst themselves. Ptolemy ended up taking Egypt as his share. There, he set himself up as king, or pharaoh. His descendants and heirs became the Ptolemaic Dynasty, which ruled Egypt for three centuries, until Queen Cleopatra VII’s suicide and the annexation of Egypt to the Roman Empire in 30 BC.

Facts About Ancient Egypt They Didn’t Teach In School
The Death of Cleopatra, by Reginald Arthur. Roy Miles Gallery

The Last Egyptian Pharaoh

All of the Ptolemaic Dynasty’s vices, intrigues, betrayals, and perversions, were present in the reign of Cleopatra VII, the Ptolemaic Dynasty’s most famous ruler. She was also the last of the dynasty who wielded actual power. Carrying on the family’s tradition of incest, she married her younger brother, Ptolemy XIII. She carried on the family tradition some more when she fell out with him and plunged the country into a civil war. The conflict ended with the death of her brother-husband, after Julius Caesar intervened and took Cleopatra’s side in the conflict. She then married another brother, Ptolemy XIV, while carrying on an affair with Caesar. She bore the Roman dictator a son, Caesarion, the future Ptolemy XV – the dynasty’s last nominal ruler.

After Caesar’s assassination, Cleopatra took up with his chief lieutenant, Mark Antony, with whom she had one of history’s most famous love affairs. The couple were eventually defeated by Antony’s rival, Gaius Octavius, the future emperor Augustus. Antony fell on his sword, and Cleopatra famously committed suicide via snakebite in 30 BC. She was nominally succeeded by Ptolemy XV Caesarion, but Augustus had him killed when he was captured a few weeks later. The deaths of Cleopatra and Caesarion brought the Ptolemaic Dynasty to an end, and Egypt was made into a Roman province.



Where Did We Find This Stuff? Here Are Our Sources:

Ancient Egypt Online – Queen Ahhotep I

Ancient Origins – Exploring the Little Known History of Celtic Warriors in Egypt

BBC – The Weird History of Contraception

Bingen, Jean – Hellenistic Egypt: Monarchy, Society, Economy, Culture (2007)

Dupy, Richard Ernest, and Dupuy, Trevor N. – The Encyclopedia of Military History from 3500 BC to the Present (2nd Edition, 1986)

Encyclopedia Britannica – Cleopatra

Fathom Archive – Ancient Egyptian Society and Family Life

Gonick, Larry – The Cartoon History of the Universe: Volumes 1 – 7, From the Big Bang to Alexander the Great (1990)

Guardian, The, January 11th, 2010 – Great Pyramid Tombs Unearth Proof Workers Were Not Slaves

Harvard Magazine, July-August 2003 – Who Built the Pyramids?

Harvard University, Science in the News – Pee is for Pregnant: The History and Science of Urine-Based Pregnancy Tests

History Collection – 10 Gruesome and Gory Archaeological Finds

Kitchen, Kenneth – Pharaoh Triumphant: The Life and Times of Ramesses II, King of Egypt (1983)

Live Science – Mummified Kitten Served as Egyptian Offering

Live Science – Mummy Murder Mystery: King Ramesses III Throat Slashed

Medical Daily, October 7th, 2016 – The Use of Poop in Medical Treatments Throughout History

National Geographic, February 17th, 2010 – King Tut Mysteries Solved: Was Disabled, Malarial, and Inbred

National Geographic, July 9th, 2017 – We Could Resurrect the Woolly Mammoth: Here’s How

Office of NIH History – A Timeline of Pregnancy Testing

Redford, Donald B. – The Wars in Syria and Palestine of Thutmose III (2003)

Redford, Susan – The Harem Conspiracy: The Murder of Ramesses III (2002)

Saveur, Daniel J. – The Galatian Mercenaries: The Strengthening of Celtic Cultural Identity in Ptolemaic Egypt

Tyldesley, Joyce – Chronicle of the Queens of Egypt (2006)

World Atlas – Did Woolly Mammoths Still Roam Parts of the Earth When the Great Pyramids Were Built?