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Egyptian Writing and Numbering System

Writing System

Our English writing system is based on 26 characters or letters. Using these letters we create words to then make sentences, which then tells our reader a message or a story that we want to tell. Ancient Egyptians used a writing system as well in order to tell a message or a story. Their writing system was called Hieroglyphics, which uses more than 2,000 characters. These characters are pictures that represent certain sounds and some pictures represent different words. These are the different egyptian characters that are used:

When we read in English, we read words and letters from left to right. Hieroglyphics can be read from left to right, right to left, and even top to bottom. The trick to figuring out which way to read the hieroglyphics is to look at the animals or humans and see which way they face. If it faces left, then you read the hieroglyphics from left to right. If it faces right then you read them from right to left. If the hieroglyphics are stacked are in a column, then you would read them from top to bottom.

A modern day type of hieroglyphic writing is called a rebus. A rebus is a picture puzzle that you can sound out by reading the sounds symbolized by the picture. When you read the sounds together out loud you can hear the message.


Sometimes there are hieroglyphics that are written in what looks like an oval with a line at the bottom. This is called a cartouche. A cartouche is a little tablet with an inscription in it which is a name. A cartouche represents power and authority and was usually worn by pharaohs and gods.

Number System

In the English number system, the numbers are counted on a Base 10 system. Each part of a number has a certain place value. For example:

751 - 7 = 700, 5 = 50, 1= 1

700 + 50 + 1 = 751

The Egyptian number system is also based on the number 10. However, they do not use numbers; they show their numbers with pictures. To represent each unit or place value, you would just draw that specific hieroglyphic as many times as needed.

If I wanted to show 500, I would show it by drawing 5 of the hieroglyphics that represent 100. To show 23, I would draw 2 of the hieroglyphic that represents 10 and 3 of the hieroglyphics that represent 1.

Want to learn more about hieroglyphics and egyptian numbers?

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