(EGPT009) Ancient Egyptian Hieroglyphs for Beginners

Ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs


Course start date: Monday 23rd September 2024
Course end date: Friday 29th November 2024
Early Bird Price: £135 BOOK NOW

Tutor: Dr Bill Manley
Course Code: EGPT009
Level: Non-accredited, non-credit bearing
Assessments/Exams: None. Throughout the course you will be given ideas and questions to respond to in the online discussion area. Participation in online discussion is encouraged, but not compulsory.
Duration: 10 weeks
Estimated Student Study Time: 2 – 5 hours per week are recommended, but time spent is flexible and at your discretion.
Price: £150.00
Pre-Requisites: None – no academic qualifications or experience of studying Egyptology or linguistics are required – only an enthusiasm for this subject.
Delivery: Online Distance Learning
Late Entrants: If this course is not full by the start date then late entrants will be accepted for up to two weeks after the start of the course. As a late entrant you can choose to catch up on the material you have missed or you can skip the missed weeks and concentrate on the material at the point where you join the course, but unfortunately we cannot offer fee reductions or course extensions for late entrants.
Required Reading**: The following book is the set text for this course and you will need to acquire it prior to the course start:

How To Read Egyptian Hieroglyphs
M.A. Collier and W.P. Manley
British Museum Press, 2003.

The first edition of this text, published in 1998, is also suitable for the course.

If you buy books using this link, we may earn a commission from Bookshop.org, whose fees support independent bookshops, and which helps us keep our course costs low.

**Please note: All courses are subject to sufficient numbers of students registering before they are confirmed as running. Therefore, after booking your place you are advised not to purchase any texts until you have received confirmation that the course is running.

This course was previously taught by Dr Bill Manley when it was offered by the University of Exeter*. If you studied it with the University of Exeter* you might not wish to study it again with Learn for Pleasure as although we have revised and updated our courses where necessary, it will likely be substantively the same.


You may be approaching the subject due to a general interest in Egyptology, but this will not be assumed; you may equally be someone with, for example, an interest in languages, linguistics, Coptic, art history, religion or philosophy. Anyone wishing to study this subject is very welcome, whatever the reason for your interest.

Intended for complete beginners, but also well suited to those returning to the subject, this course will teach you the basics needed to read the kinds of Ancient Egyptian monuments typically found in museum collections.

Through a series of short video tutorials and follow-up practical exercises with tutor support, this course will help you progress from the basics of hieroglyphic writing to becoming familiar with the commonest signs and the elementary grammar of the Middle Egyptian language.

Syllabus Plan

Week 01: The Language of Ancient Egypt / Hieroglyphs and Ancient Egyptian
Week 02: Sound-Signs and Determinatives
Week 03: Word Order and Short Phrases
Week 04: Unexpected Writings / ‘Revered Ones’
Week 05: The Offering Formula
Week 06: Everything Perfect and Pure On Which A God Lives
Week 07: Seeing the Perfection of Osiris / A Word About Verbs
Week 08: Kingship and Hieroglyphs
Week 09: The Kings and the Gods
Week 10: Labelling and Dating Kings’ Actions

Course Content in Depth

Week One: The Language of Ancient Egypt / Hieroglyphs and Ancient Egyptian

There will be a short presentation about the Egyptian language, and then we will look at how hieroglyphs were used to write the sounds of the Ancient Egyptian language, looking especially at one-sound signs and determinatives.

Week Two: Sound-Signs and Determinatives

We will look at how the Ancient Egyptians used hieroglyphs to write specific combinations of more than one sound, and how these are combined with sound complements to write words.

Week Three: Word Order and Short Phrases

We take a first look at how words are combined to form short phrases, including elements such as number, gender, agreement, and word order.

Week Four: Unexpected Writings / ‘Revered Ones’

We look at different ways of writing the same word and reasons for doing so, such as abbreviation or changes made for space or to signify prestige. There will also be a presentation on various titles, but especially the title ‘Revered One’, and what it tells us about ancestor worship.

Week Five: The Offering Formula

We will look at the three parts of the Offering Formula:

  1. The introduction
  2. The list of offerings
  3. The identity of the deceased

We will pay particular attention to summary phrases typically used in each section, and to common variations.

Week Six: Everything Perfect and Pure On Which A God Lives

We continue with the typical list of offerings, and the different ways in which it may be summarized on monuments. We will also look at characteristic phrases used to talk about the recipient of the offerings, including the epithet ‘True of Voice’ and phrases that identify parents.

Week Seven: Seeing the Perfection in Osiris / A Word About Verbs

We begin our discussion of the funerary gods of Ancient Egypt, especially Osiris, a subject we will return to in the remaining weeks. In the first instance we shall concentrate on Osiris’ festivals at Abydos, as well as looking at captions for scenes where the deceased is viewing the festivals, and learning useful words for ‘seeing’ and ‘adoring’.

Following on from this, we will look a little deeper at two key language topics:

  1. Verb classes (strong verbs and weak verbs)
  2. Infinitives (words for ‘doing something’)

Both of these topics are fundamental in developing your ability to read Middle Egyptian.

Week Eight: Kingship and Hieroglyphs

We will look at the ‘titularies’ of the Pharaohs, which are made up of several names and other elements, especially titles which express their authority. We will also look at the graphic devices used in writing kings’ names: the serekh and the cartouche.

Week Nine: The Kings and the Gods

Beginning with how kings presented their names in monumental inscriptions using titles and epithets, we will then pay particular attention to the relationship between kings and gods, expressed using the word mry ‘beloved’, in the formula ‘King X beloved of Y’.

Week Ten: Labelling and Dating Kings’ Actions

Finally we look at infinitives used to label the actions of kings, and then we will turn to regnal dating – how monuments are dated to the reign of a specific king.

Learning and Teaching Methods

A unit of course material will be released every week for you to work through. Class discussions on this material will take place in the online discussion forums.

Class discussions are asynchronous – i.e. you do not need to be online at a set time; you can leave and collect messages from the online discussion forums at a time suitable for you.

Learning Outcomes

This course will help you to develop:

  • a good working knowledge of the Egyptian hieroglyphic script and the Middle Egyptian language
  • the ability to demonstrate this knowledge through your translation skills
  • the ability to recognise and interpret the meaning, use and archaeological context of the monuments studied during the course within the context of Ancient Egyptian material culture
  • the ability to discuss certain key cultural and language topics pertaining to the monuments studied during the course within the context of Ancient Egyptian religion