Ethnic identities are nuanced, fluid and adaptive. They are a means of categorizing the self and the ‘other’ through the recognition of geographical, cultural, lingual, and physical differences. This work examines recurring associations, epithets and themes in ancient Egyptian texts to reveal how the Egyptians discussed the ethnic uniqueness they perceived of their regional neighbors. It employs Egyptian written records, including temple inscriptions, royal and private correspondence, stelae and tomb autobiographies, and literary tales, from the Old Kingdom to the beginning of the Third Intermediate Period. The textual examples are organized by ethnic group and divided into four regions, beginning with those concerning the western groups and proceeding clockwise, ending with those concerning the southern groups. The analysis of these texts produces an understanding of the Egyptian conceptualization of ethnicity in general, and the conceptualization of distinct ethnic identities specific to the four regions surrounding Egypt. This enhances our understanding of the lexical differences through which the Egyptians distinguished their neighbors from each other. Egyptian written records do not support the belief that the ancient Egyptians only understood their foreign neighbors within the simplistic framework of four broad ‘races.’ Egyptian literature contained a multitude of primary ethnonyms for distinct ethnic groups, as well as a number of secondary, informal ethnonyms. This study elucidates the placement of Egypt’s neighbors in the organization of the Egyptian cosmos, their distinct perceptions in Egyptian cultural cognition, and the Egyptian vocabulary for discussing foreigners and foreignness, thus leading to a better understanding of ethnic perceptions in ancient Egypt.

Degree Name

MA in Egyptology & Coptology

Graduation Date


Submission Date

May 2014

First Advisor

Ayad, Mariam

Committee Member 1

Sabbahy, Lisa

Committee Member 2

Haikal, Fayza


130 p.

Document Type

Master's Thesis

Library of Congress Subject Heading 1

Ethnicity -- Egypt.

Library of Congress Subject Heading 2

Egyptology -- Egypt.


The author retains all rights with regard to copyright. The author certifies that written permission from the owner(s) of third-party copyrighted matter included in the thesis, dissertation, paper, or record of study has been obtained. The author further certifies that IRB approval has been obtained for this thesis, or that IRB approval is not necessary for this thesis. Insofar as this thesis, dissertation, paper, or record of study is an educational record as defined in the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) (20 USC 1232g), the author has granted consent to disclosure of it to anyone who requests a copy.

Institutional Review Board (IRB) Approval

Not necessary for this item