Upper Egypt

Upper Egypt (Arabic: صعيد مصر Ṣaʿīd Miṣr, shortened to الصعيد Egyptian Arabic pronunciation: [es.sˤe.ˈʕiːd], locally: [es.sˤɑ.ˈʕiːd], Coptic: ⲙⲁⲣⲏⲥ) is the southern portion of Ancient Egypt and is composed of the lands on both sides of the Nile that extend downriver between Nubia and Lower Egypt in the north.

Upper Egypt

ⲙⲁⲣⲏⲥ (Coptic)
ta shemaw[1] (Egyptian)
Άνω Αίγυπτος (Greek)
صعيد مصر (Arabic)
الصعيد (Egyptian Arabic)
Aegyptus superior (Latin)
c. 3400 BC–c. 3150 BC
Map of Upper Egypt showing important sites that were occupied during Naqada III (clickable map)
Common languagesAncient Egyptian
Ancient Egyptian religion
 c. 3400 BC
Scorpion I (first)
 c. 3150 BC
Narmer (last)
c. 3400 BC
c. 3150 BC
Succeeded by
Early Dynastic Period (Egypt)
Today part of Egypt

In ancient Egypt, Upper Egypt was known as tꜣ šmꜣw,[2] literally "the Land of Reeds" or "the Sedgeland"[3] It is believed to have been united by the rulers of the supposed Thinite Confederacy who absorbed their rival city states during Naqada III and its unification with Lower Egypt ushered in the Early Dynastic period.[4] Both Upper and Lower Egypt became imbedded within the symbolism of the sovereignty in Ancient Egypt such as the Pschent double crown.[5] Upper Egypt remained as a historical distinction even after the classical period.


Upper Egypt is between the Cataracts of the Nile beyond modern-day Aswan, downriver (northward) to the area of El-Ayait,[6] which places modern-day Cairo in Lower Egypt. 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 Sai'idi Egyptian Arabic.


Hedjet, the White Crown of Upper Egypt

Predynastic Egypt

The main city of prehistoric Upper Egypt was Nekhen.[7] The patron deity was the goddess Nekhbet, who is depicted as a vulture.[8]

By approximately 3600 BC, Neolithic Egyptian societies along the Nile had based their culture on the raising of crops and the domestication of animals.[9] Shortly after 3600 BC, Egyptian society began to grow and increase in complexity.[10] A new and distinctive pottery, which was related to the Levantine ceramics, appeared during this time. Extensive use of copper became common during this time.[10] The Mesopotamian process of sun-drying adobe and architectural principles—including the use of the arch and recessed walls for decorative effect—became popular during this time.[10]

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.[10] Warfare between Upper Egypt and Lower Egypt occurred often.[10] During his reign in Upper Egypt, King Narmer defeated his enemies on the delta and united both of the kingdoms of Upper Egypt and Lower Egypt under his single rule,[11] which endured throughout Dynastic Egypt.

Dynastic Egypt

For most of Egypt's ancient history, Thebes was the administrative center of Upper Egypt. Upper Egypt was represented by the tall White Crown Hedjet, and its symbols were the flowering lotus and the sedge. Its patron deity, Nekhbet, was depicted by the vulture. After unification of the two kingdoms, the patron deities of both Lower Egypt and Upper Egypt were represented together as the Two Ladies, to protect all of the ancient Egyptians, just as the two crowns became united throughout the dynasties that followed.

After its devastation by the Assyrians, the importance of Egypt declined. Under the Ptolemies, Ptolemais Hermiou took over the role of the capital city of Upper Egypt.[12]

Medieval Egypt

In the eleventh century, large numbers of pastoralists, known as Hilalians, fled Upper Egypt and moved westward into Libya and as far as Tunis.[13] 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.[14]

20th-century Egypt

In the twentieth-century Egypt, the title Prince of the Sa'id (meaning Prince of Upper Egypt) was used by the heir apparent to the Egyptian throne.[Note 1]

Although the Kingdom of Egypt was abolished after the Egyptian revolution of 1952, the title continues to be used by Muhammad Ali, Prince of the Sa'id.

List of rulers of prehistoric Upper Egypt

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?
Possibly the immediate predecessor of Ka. c. 3150 BC?
May be read Sekhen rather than Ka. Possibly the immediate predecessor of Narmer. c. 3100 BC
Scorpion II
Potentially read Serqet; possibly the same person as Narmer. c. 3150 BC
The king who combined Upper and Lower Egypt.[18] c. 3150 BC

List of nomes

Map of Ancient Egypt with its historical nomes, "Upper Egypt" is in the lower portion of the map
NumberAncient NameCapitalModern CapitalTranslation
1Ta-khentitAbu / Yebu (Elephantine)AswanThe Frontier/Land of the Bow
2Wetjes-HorDjeba (Apollonopolis Magna)EdfuThrone of Horus
3NekhenNekhen (Hierakon polis)al-KabShrine
4WasetNiwt-rst / Waset (Thebes)KarnakSceptre
5HarawîGebtu (Coptos)QiftTwo Falcons
6Aa-taIunet / Tantere (Tentyra)DenderaCrocodile
7SesheshSeshesh (Diospolis Parva)HuSistrum
8AbdjuAbdju (Abydos)al-BirbaGreat Land
9MinApu / Khen-min (Panopolis)AkhmimMin
10WadjetDjew-qa / Tjebu (Aphroditopolis)EdfuCobra
11SetShashotep (Hypselis)ShutbSet animal
12Tu-phHut-Sekhem-Senusret (Antaeopolis)Qaw al-KebirViper Mountain
13Atef-KhentZawty (Lycopolis)AsyutUpper Sycamore and Viper
14Atef-PehuQesy (Cusae)al-QusiyaLower Sycamore and Viper
15WenetKhemenu (Hermopolis)HermopolisHare[19]
17AnpuSaka (Cynopolis)al-KaisAnubis
18SepTeudjoi / Hutnesut (Alabastronopolis)el-HibaSet
19UabPer-Medjed (Oxyrhynchus)el-BahnasaTwo Sceptres
20Atef-KhentHenen-nesut (Heracleopolis Magna)Ihnasiyyah al-MadinahSouthern Sycamore
21Atef-PehuShenakhen / Semenuhor (Crocodilopolis, Arsinoë)FaiyumNorthern Sycamore
22MatenTepihu (Aphroditopolis)AtfihKnife

See also

Further reading

  • Edel, Elmar (1961) Zu den Inschriften auf den Jahreszeitenreliefs der "Weltkammer" aus dem Sonnenheiligtum des Niuserre Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, Göttingen, OCLC 309958651, in German.


  1. 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.[15]


  1. Ermann & Grapow, op.cit. Wb 5, 227.4-14
  2. Ermann & Grapow 1982, Wb 5, 227.4-14.
  3. Ermann & Grapow (1982), Wb 4, 477.9-11
  4. Brink, Edwin C. M. van den (1992). The Nile Delta in Transition: 4th.-3rd. Millennium B.C. : Proceedings of the Seminar Held in Cairo, 21.-24. October 1990, at the Netherlands Institute of Archaeology and Arabic Studies. E.C.M. van den Brink. ISBN 978-965-221-015-9.
  5. Griffith, Francis Llewellyn, A Collection of Hieroglyphs: A Contribution to the History of Egyptian Writing, the Egypt Exploration Fund 1898, p.56
  6. See list of nomes. Maten (Knife land) is the northernmost nome in Upper Egypt on the right bank, while Atef-Pehu (Northern Sycamore land) is the northernmost on the left bank. Brugsch, Heinrich Karl (2015). A History of Egypt under the Pharaohs. 1. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press. p. 487., originally published in 1876 in German.
  7. Bard & Shubert (1999), p. 371
  8. David (1975), p. 149
  9. Roebuck (1966), p. 51
  10. Roebuck (1966), pp. 52–53
  11. Roebuck (1966), p. 53
  12. Chauveau (2000), p. 68
  13. Ballais (2000), p. 133
  14. Ballais (2000), p. 134
  15. Brice (1981), p. 299
  16. Rice 1999, p. 86.
  17. Wilkinson 1999, p. 57f.
  18. Shaw 2000, p. 196.
  19. Grajetzki (2006), pp. 109–111


  • Ballais, Jean-Louis (2000). "Conquests and land degradation in the eastern Maghreb". In Graeme Barker; David Gilbertson (eds.). Sahara and Sahel. The Archaeology of Drylands: Living at the Margin. 1, Part III. London: Routledge. pp. 125–136. ISBN 978-0-415-23001-8.
  • Bard, Katheryn A.; Shubert, Steven Blake (1999). Encyclopedia of the Archaeology of Ancient Egypt. London: Routledge. ISBN 0-415-18589-0.
  • Brice, William Charles (1981). An Historical Atlas of Islam. Leiden: Brill. ISBN 90-04-06116-9. OCLC 9194288.
  • Chauveau, Michel (2000). Egypt in the Age of Cleopatra: History and Society Under the Ptolemies. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press. ISBN 0-8014-3597-8.
  • David, Ann Rosalie (1975). The Egyptian Kingdoms. London: Elsevier Phaidon. OCLC 2122106.
  • Ermann, Johann Peter Adolf; Grapow, Hermann (1982). Wörterbuch der Ägyptischen Sprache [Dictionary of the Egyptian Language] (in German). Berlin: Akademie. ISBN 3-05-002263-9.
  • Grajetzki, Wolfram (2006). The Middle Kingdom of ancient Egypt: History, Archaeology and Society. London: Duckworth Egyptology. ISBN 978-0-7156-3435-6.
  • Rice, Michael (1999). Who's Who in Ancient Egypt. London: Routledge. ISBN 978-0-415-15449-9.
  • Roebuck, Carl (1966). The World of Ancient Times. New York, NY: Charles Scribner's Sons Publishing.
  • Shaw, Ian (2000). The Oxford History of Ancient Egypt. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-280458-7.
  • Wilkinson, Toby A. H. (1999). Early Dynastic Egypt. London: Routledge. ISBN 0-415-18633-1.

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