VII : Numbers and dates
Whole numbers and fractions.
Ancient Egyptian numeric system consisted of a sign for units,
and special signs for the various powers of ten.
numbers were written by using as many of these signs as needed
to make up the total number, starting with the highest. Thus
the number 5 was written by repeating the unit-sign 5 times:
; 50 by repeating the sign for "tens" 5 times: ;
and 55 by repeating the sign for "tens" 5 times,
followed by 5 times the unit-sign: .
The latter could be interpreted as (5 times 10) + (5 times
1) = 55.
must be taken not to confuse the number 1 with the determinative
stroke mentioned in Lesson IV.
sign for million, which also means "many" and "infinity",
early fell into disuse. Higher numbers and values were sometimes
written in a different way: means 4 times 100,000 = 400,000.
numeric system did not include a decimal point. Decimal numbers
were written as fractions. With the exception of 1/2, 2/3
and 3/4, fractions were always written using the sign , combined with a whole number, to convey the meaning 1/x. E.g.
means 1/5. This example can be transcribed both as r-5
and as 1/5.
with numerators bigger than 1 were written as a sum of fractions
with numerators equal to 1. Thus 2/5 was written as . Complex
fractions were always broken down to the simplest sum of 1/x
type fractions. 3/8 was written as ,
1/4 + 1/8 and not by repeating the group for 1/8 three times.
already mentioned exceptions to this rule are 1/2, which is
written as ,
2/3 and 3/4 .
The use of numbers to indicate amounts.
were written after the word of which they render the amount.
The word to which the number is added, is normally written
in singular. Some examples follow:
ds 2, "two jugs"
HfAw 75, "75 snakes"
s 2, "two men"...
Ancient Egyptians used three different kinds of calendars:
an agricultural, a lunar and an astronomical. The latter two
were mainly used for liturgical purposes and were mostly limited
to temples. Thus the lunar calendar was used to make specific
rituals for lunar gods, such as Khonsu, coincide with specific
agricultural calendar, on the other hand, was used to date
all kinds of events, documents,
It divided the year
into 3 seasons of 4 months:
Ax.t, the season of inundation
pr.t, the season of sowing
Smw, the season of harvesting (summer).
months had names they were only rarely used in dates. Most
often, months numbered from the start of each season on; e.g.
ibd 3 (n) Ax.t, "the third month of Akhet"
or "the third month of inundation". The word for
month is transcribed ibd or Abd and
was written using a sign that represents a part of the moon.
month was divided into 30 days. Days were counted from the
beginning of each month on. E.g. ibd 3
(n) Smw ssw 25, "the 3rd month of Shemu,
the 25th day". The word for "day"
in dates can be either ssw or hrw. When
it is only written using the sign that represents the solar
disk, one can chose between either two of them.
Egyptian year thus counted 12 months of 30 days, or 360 days
in total, to which 5 so-called "epagomenal" days
were added to make the year correspond more or less to the
theory, the first day of the first month of Ax.t
was supposed to coincide with the start of the annual inundation
of the Nile. There were no leap years, so the agricultural
calendar lacked one day every four years. For this reason,
the 1st day of the 1st month of Ax.t
could fall on any day of our calendar.
the Middle Kingdom on, years were numbered starting the accession
to the throne of a new king. A regnal year was written as
followed by the number of that year; e.g. ,
HA.t-sp 15. The regnal year can be followed by
a more precise date, following the agricultural calendar,
and the name of a king. The name of the king could simply
be his prenomen or his nomen, but it could also be his full
2, ibd 3 (n) Ax.t, ssw 1 xr Hm n (n-mAa.t-ra), Year
2, the 3rd month (of) Akhet, the first day under the Majesty