How much of an influence did Ancient Egypt have on...


Protector of Cats
Jun 9, 2004
Sydney, Australia
... Greece?

If Greece laid the foundations for western culture, I think it's interesting to look at who laid the foundations for the Greeks.

One thing I don't subscribe to that extreme Hellenism or Afrocentrism. The Greeks were aware of Egypt and were fascinated by that place - they held it in higher regard than any other non-Greek people/places - but how much an influence did it have in the philosophical and cultural development of Greece.

I know, very broad but let's give it a go?
Definately Astronomy, with 365 days taken from the Thoth theology. Mathematics, architecture and a sort of specialized pantheon. I would also say the use of mausoleums for afterlife and

However, Egypt had the Nile, where the Greeks had a lot of islands, which made the Greeks more maritime inclined, and the Egyptians more introverted. Slaves in Egypt were used to build monuments and work the fields, more agricultural, where Greek slaves were used for example on building ships and so on.
Mesopotamia also had a lot of influence on astronomy and mathematics. The alphabet apparently was adapted from a set of Egyptian signs that were used for transliteration. The Egyptians kept their hieroglyphic writing system, but Semitic people used the specialized signs to create the first alphabet.
Mesopotamia also had a lot of influence on astronomy and mathematics. The alphabet apparently was adapted from a set of Egyptian signs that were used for transliteration. The Egyptians kept their hieroglyphic writing system, but Semitic people used the specialized signs to create the first alphabet.

Yes I should've included Mesopotamia too. The purpose of this thread is to explore the precursors to western civilization before the Greeks. Obviously, it hasn't really taken off. LOL.
Egypt and Mesopotamia gave the Greeks a lot - astronomy, alphabet, mathematics, architecture and maybe religion and the concept of city-states (from Mesopotamia).
^Atlantis. :p

but more seriously (or not), there is a rather interesting book, albeit a little old, but still valid enough in my opinion, on the topic of Egypt's influence on the Western World. its called "Black Spark, White Fire", and it is NOT your average Afrocentric book, althuogh it does suggest that Africans did play more of a role in Egypt than previously thought.

however, it does suggest early Greek culture, like that of the Mycenaeans, coud have had much influence from Ancient Egypt. it even suggests that Egypt could have had colonies in Greece, which i consider much more reasonable than saying the Egyptians had flying machines and used telepathic powers to buuld the pyramids.

There's Egyptian influences on things like archaic period (pre-classical) Greek sculpture.

Religiously, hard to tell. The suspiscion is that the Greek mystery religions might have taken stuff from the Egyptians, but they were hardly alone in mysery relgiosity along the eastern Med. back in the days. And it was secret, enough so to make it hazy in retrospect exactly what was being taught.

As far as Egyptian high-brow theology, the Greeks apparently had No Clue Whatsoever. The sophistication of things like "The Memphite Theology" was obviously well beyond the horizon of the Greek of the day.

What otoh was directly taken from Egyptian religion was the notion of a happy afterlife. Looking at for instance ancient Mesopotamian conceptions of the land of the dead, it's a dark, dank, cold and dreary place. Being dead is not a meaningful state to Mesopotamians, it's just an eternity of tedium, everything is over. And that's also true for ancient Greek notions of Hades as the land of the dead, at least up to Homeric times. That's why the Greek dead drink from the waters of Lete, to forget who they were, once upon a time when it mattered. Or why dead Achilleus tells Odysseus that he would rather be a slave alive than king of the land of the dead.

And then suddenly there was this new surprise addition to the Greek afterlife — the happy fields of Elysion, where the dead live in eternal bliss.
The closest prior parallell to it was the Egyptian "fields of Iaru" (Ia=E, ru=ly, since the Egyptian "r" is a sound in between r, l and d), where the dead lie in the shade, having a cool drink, and watch the wheat grow ten feet tall and someone else do the work. Paradise...

So Greek took the happy afterlife from the Egyptians, and that's where the montheistic idea of a paradise after death comes from as well.

Thenthere's the indirect influence of alphabetic script as well, mediated by the Phoenicians.
The Egyptian system of writing was always a mix of alphabetic script and ideograhic signs. If one wanted to simply represent the sounds it was quite possible to go for phonetic script. The oldest Egytian tomb inscriptions tend to consider the pictures on the walls as sufficient ideograms and were much more phonetic than they later became.

As it turns out the alphabetic aspect of the Egyptian script was picked up by their semitic neighbours (oldest semitic language written in the Egyptian alphabet at the turqoise mined at Serbit el-Khadeim, Sinai penninsula), who did away with the ideograms as redundant, but adapted the alphabet, and then passed it on to the Greek.

As mentioned the Egyptian solar calender was the inspiration for the Julian calender, adopted and improved by Caesar, who actually inserted three extra months in one year to make things align properly. With a 15 month year he could get some extra campaigning in too.

Going by reputation from Greek sources, Egyptian medicine was much appreciated by the Greels as well, though it seems to be problematic to find direct evidence of borrowing.

As for direct political contacts between Egypt and Greece in classical times, there's quite a bit of evidence of it.

The kings of Egypt built a "treasure house" of their own at Olympus, like any other Greek polis would do, i.e. the Pharaos of Egypt found it to be wise policy to honour the god, the Olympian Appollon and his oracle, with gifts.

The reason for this of course being that Greek mercenaries and Greek armies were constantly passing through late dynastic Egypt. The Spartans in particular seems to have had a intimate relationship with the last Egyptian pharaos fighting the Persians. At the demise of independant Egypt, an entire Spartan army was fighting alongside the Egyptians, while the Persians had availed themselves of a "military advisor" in the form of a leading "Strategos" on loan from Athens.
Actually, the book i mentioned above suggests that possibly up to 25% of Greek words came from Ancient Egyptian. though personally i don't believe it could be that high, i still believe a number of words we are using could possibly come from Egyptian.
Well, in terms of art & architecture, the Greeks essentially started where the Egyptians left off. Early Greek art is heavily based on Egyptian art, gradually improving as time went on, and the Doric order- the original and, some would argue, most important order of Greek architecture is an evolution of a style borrowed from the Egyptians.
Early Greek art is heavily based on Egyptian art,

Kouros article in wikipedia with interesting fotos:

early Greek culture, like that of the Mycenaeans, coud have had much influence from Ancient Egypt.

I would go back even further > Minoans.

Of course we can think in reverse and consider how Hellenization itself was a result of blending later Egyptian, Greek and Judaic cultures with respect to Alexandria, the center of Hellenistic culture.
I would go back even further > Minoans.

yeah. personally, i think that very ancient Greece could have even been possibly a little colonized by Egypt, though probably very low scale or possibly Egypt could've sent a good amount of educated people to the courts of the archaic Greeks.
The later is entirely possible. IT certainly happened in Asia (Japan and China).
Thanks for your contributions everyone. I don't have much to add but I will do further reading on this.

I do want to say though that with regard to the evolution of western civilization, I think it's very important to consider the influences of ancient Egypt, Mesopotamia and Israel/Hebrews/Judaism. When people think western civilization they tend to think that the Greeks appeared out of thin air. But the evidence suggests otherwise and that there's plenty of intercultural influence occurring in that period.
...there's plenty of intercultural influence occurring in that period.

Quite correct. The Eastern Medditeranean and the Middle East were very interconnected in the ancient age, at leaset economically, even in the conservative view. The first records of "diplomacy" occured here (Amarna letters).
Ah, I was just talking about this recently! Very interesting debate.

There has been a tendency by some scholars as of late to think of Greeks as simply the copiers of the east, with far fewer original innovations of their own than most credit them with. They see the older cultures, like Sumer, as truly influential and innovative. There is even an element of this in antiquity: Herodotus in particular wrote of Egypt with only the highest regard for their science and traditions. His Histories are most interesting for their ethnographic analysis and the light they shed on contemporary views of Egypt (however varied those may have been--Herodotus didn't necessarily represent the average bloke on the street). Conversely, he also portrays them as "the other," in contradistinction to the Greeks, by the use of antithetical pairings. "Greeks do this, Egyptians do the reverse." (Sometimes this is rather funny--one thing he can't get over is how the Egyptian genders seem to be reversed in the manner in which they use "facilities.") I suggest you look into that for a cursory examination; it's easily available on the web. I personally don't believe Greece is simply a copier of older civilizations, as some do, but everybody is influenced by their predecessors to a degree. It's unavoidable.
unfortunately, because of the distant time all this takes place in (c. who knows BCE - c. 1000 BCE), we may never know how much influence Egypt had on Greece, and the world for that matter (unless if we find where Atlantis is buried. :p). but i think it has played a role then most believed.

there are some definite examples of Greeks being influenced by the Egyptians - one such is that statues from the Archaic Period (around 700 BCE or something) were crafted in a stiff position similar to that of Egypt. so even if Egypt didn't give birth to Greece (which it obviuosly probably didn't), it certainly has had some influences on Greece
Top Bottom