Upper Egypt

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Map of Upper Egypt showing important sites that were occupied during the Protodynastic Period of Egypt (clickable map)

Upper Egypt (Arabic: صعيد مصرSaʿīd Miṣr, shortened to الصعيد es-Ṣeʿīd/es-Ṣaʿīd  pronounced [es.sˤe.ˈʕiːd, es.sˤɑ.ˈʕiːd]) is the strip of land, on both sides of the Nile valley, that extends between Nubia, and downriver (northwards) to Lower Egypt.


Upper Egypt is between the Cataracts of the Nile above modern-day Aswan, downriver (northwards) to the area between Dahshur and El-Ayait,[citation needed] which is south of modern-day Cairo. The northern (downriver) part of Upper Egypt, between Sohag and El-Ayait, is also known as Middle Egypt.

In Arabic, inhabitants of Upper Egypt are known as Sa'idis and they generally speak Sa'idi Arabic.

In Pharaonic times, Upper Egypt was known as Ta Shemau[1] which means "the land of reeds."[2] It was divided into twenty-two districts called nomes.[3] The first nome was roughly where modern-day Aswan is and the twenty-second was at modern Atfih (Aphroditopolis), just to the south of Cairo.


Hedjet, the White Crown of Upper Egypt

Predynastic Egypt[edit]

The main city of predynastic Upper Egypt was Nekhen (Hierakonpolis in Greek),[4] whose patron deity was the vulture goddess Nekhbet.[5]

By about 3600 BC, neolithic Egyptian societies along the Nile River had based their culture on the raising of crops and the domestication of animals.[6] Shortly after 3600 BC Egyptian society began to grow and advance rapidly toward refined civilization.[7] A new and distinctive pottery, which was related to the pottery in the Southern Levant, appeared during this time. Extensive use of copper became common during this time.[7] The Mesopotamian process of sun-dried bricks, and architectural building principles—including the use of the arch and recessed walls for decorative effect—became popular during this time.[7]

Concurrent with these cultural advances, a process of unification of the societies and towns of the upper Nile River, or Upper Egypt, occurred. At the same time the societies of the Nile Delta, or Lower Egypt also underwent a unification process.[7] Warfare between Upper and Lower Egypt occurred often.[7] During his reign in Upper Egypt, King Narmer defeated his enemies on the Delta and merged both the Kingdom of Upper and Lower Egypt under his single rule.[8]

Dynastic Egypt[edit]

For most of pharaonic Egypt's history, Thebes was the administrative center of Upper Egypt. After its devastation by the Assyrians, its importance declined. Under the Ptolemies, Ptolemais Hermiou took over the role of Upper Egypt's capital city.[9] Upper Egypt was represented by the tall White Crown Hedjet, and its symbols were the flowering lotus and the sedge.

Medieval Egypt[edit]

In the 11th century, large numbers of pastoralists, known as Hilalians, fled Upper Egypt and moved westward into Libya and as far as Tunis.[10] It is believed that degraded grazing conditions in Upper Egypt, associated with the beginning of the Medieval Warm Period, were the root cause of the migration.[11]

20th-century Egypt[edit]

In the 20th-century Egypt, the title Prince of the Sa'id (meaning Prince of Upper Egypt) was used by the heir apparent to the Egyptian throne.[12]

Although the Egyptian monarchy was abolished in 1953, the title continues to be used by Muhammad Ali and Hereditary Chief, Sheikh Beja Khawr al`allaqi, Prince of Sa'id.

List of Pharaohs of the Predynastic Period of Upper Egypt[edit]

The following list may not be complete (there are many more of uncertain existence):

Name Image Comments Dates
Elephant End of 4th millennium BC
Bull 4th millennium BC
Scorpion I Oldest tomb at Umm el-Qa'ab had scorpion insignia c. 3200 BC?
Iry Hor name.jpg
Possibly the immediate predecessor of Ka. c. 3150 BC?
Ka vessel.JPG
Maybe read Sekhen rather than Ka. Possibly the immediate predecessor of Narmer. c. 3100 BC
King Scorpion
Potentially read Serqet; possibly the same person as Narmer. c. 3150 BC
The king who combined Upper and Lower Egypt.[15] c. 3150 BC

List of nomes[edit]

Map of Upper Egypt with its historical nomes
Number Egyptian Name Capital Modern Capital Translation
1 Ta-Seti Abu / Yebu (Elephantine) Aswan Land of the bow
2 Wetjes-Hor Djeba (Apollonopolis Magna) Edfu Throne of Horus
3 Nekhen Nekhen (Hierakonpolis) al-Kab Shrine
4 Waset Niwt-rst / Waset (Thebes) Karnak Sceptre
5 Herui Gebtu (Coptos) Qift The two falcons
6 Aa-ta Iunet / Tantere (Tentyra) Dendera The crocodile
7 Seshesh Seshesh (Diospolis Parva) Hu Sistrum
8 Abdju Abdju (Abydos) al-Birba Great land
9 Min Apu / Khen-min (Panopolis) Akhmim Min
10 Wadjet Djew-qa / Tjebu (Aphroditopolis) Edfu Cobra
11 Set Shashotep (Hypselis) Shutb The creature associated with Set
12 Tu-ph Hut-Sekhem-Senusret (Antaeopolis) Qaw al-Kebir Viper mountain
13 Atef-Khent Zawty (z3wj-tj, Lycopolis) Asyut Upper Sycamore and Viper
14 Atef-Pehu Qesy (Cusae) al-Qusiya Lower Sycamore and Viper
15 Wenet Khemenu (Hermopolis Magna) al-Ashmunayn Hare[16]
16 Ma-hedj Herwer? Hur? Oryx[16]
17 Anpu Saka (Cynopolis) al-Kais Anubis
18 Sep Teudjoi / Hutnesut (Alabastronopolis) el-Hiba Set
19 Uab Per-Medjed (Oxyrhynchus) el-Bahnasa Two Sceptres
20 Atef-Khent Henen-nesut (Herakleopolis Magna) Ihnasiyyah al-Madinah Southern Sycamore
21 Atef-Pehu Shenakhen / Semenuhor (Crocodilopolis, Arsinoe) Madinat al-Fayyum Northern Sycamore
22 Maten Tepihu (Aphroditopolis) Atfih Knife

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Ermann & Grapow, op.cit. Wb 5, 227.4-14
  2. ^ Ermann & Grapow, op.cit. Wb 4, 477.9-11
  3. ^ The Encyclopedia Americana Grolier Incorporated, 1988, p.34
  4. ^ Bard, op. cit., p.371
  5. ^ David, op.cit., p.149
  6. ^ Carl Roebuck, The World of Ancient Times (Charles Scribner's Sons Publishing: New York, 1966) p. 51.
  7. ^ a b c d e Carl Roebuck, The World of Ancient Times (Charles Scribner's Sons: New York, 1966) p. 52-53.
  8. ^ Carl Roebuck, The World of Ancient Times (Charles Scribner's Sons Publishers: New York, 1966), p. 53.
  9. ^ Chauveau, op.cit., p.68
  10. ^ Ballais, Jean-Louis (2000) "Chapter 7: Conquests and land degradation in the eastern Maghreb" p. 133 In Barker, Graeme and Gilbertson, David (2000) The Archaeology of Drylands: Living at the Margin Routledge, London, Volume 1, Part III - Sahara and Sahel, pp. 125–136, ISBN 978-0-415-23001-8
  11. ^ Ballais, Jean-Louis (2000) "Chapter 7: Conquests and land degradation in the eastern Maghreb" p. 134 In Barker, Graeme and Gilbertson, David (2000) The Archaeology of Drylands: Living at the Margin Routledge, London, Volume 1, Part III - Sahara and Sahel, pp. 125–136, ISBN 978-0-415-23001-8
  12. ^ The title was first used by Prince Farouk, the son and heir of King Fouad I. Prince Farouk was officially named Prince of the Sa'id on 12 December 1933.Brice, William Charles (1981). An Historical Atlas of Islam. Leiden: BRILL. p. 299. ISBN 90-04-06116-9. OCLC 9194288. 
  13. ^ Rice (1999) p.86
  14. ^ Wilkinson (1999) pp.57f.
  15. ^ Shaw (2000) p.196
  16. ^ a b Wolfram Grajetzki, The Middle Kingdom of ancient Egypt: history, archaeology and society. London, Duckworth Egyptology, 2006, pp. 109-111


  • Bard, Katheryn A. and Shubert, Steven Blake (1999) Encyclopedia of the Archaeology of Ancient Egypt Routledge, London, ISBN 0-415-18589-0.
  • Chauveau, Michel (2000) Egypt in the Age of Cleopatra: History and Society Under the Ptolemies Cornell University Press, Ithaca, New York, ISBN 0-8014-3597-8.
  • David, Ann Rosalie (1975) The Egyptian Kingdoms Elsevier Phaidon, London, OCLC 2122106.
  • Edel, Elmar (1961) Zu den Inschriften auf den Jahreszeitenreliefs der "Weltkammer" aus dem Sonnenheiligtum des Niuserre Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, Göttingen, OCLC 309958651, in German.
  • Ermann, Johann Peter Adolf and Grapow, Hermann (1982) Wörterbuch der Ägyptischen Sprache Akademie, Berlin, ISBN 3-05-002263-9, in German.