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The Real Ancient Egypt

See how modern research sometimes supports—but often refutes—what we thought we knew about the ancient Egyptians and their world.
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Overview

In The Real Ancient Egypt, Betsy M. Bryan, Melinda Hartwig, Kate Liszka, and Kasia Szpakowska—four working Egyptologists—share their insights into this long and complex historical period. You’ll hear stories of kings, priests, and peasants; witness religious rituals, shocking crimes, and tense military conflicts; see extraordinary works of art and architecture; and more.

About

Melinda Hartwig

Let's travel up the Nile together and explore the epic, exotic, transcendent, land of the pharaohs.

INSTITUTION

Michael C. Carlos Museum

Melinda Hartwig is an Egyptologist and the Curator of Ancient Egyptian, Nubian, and Near Eastern Art at Emory University’s Michael C. Carlos Museum. She holds a PhD in Near Eastern Art and Archaeology from the Institute of Fine Arts at New York University. She has led tours and projects in Egypt for more than 30 years.

By This Expert

The Great Tours: A Guided Tour of Ancient Egypt
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The Real Ancient Egypt
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Betsy M. Bryan

INSTITUTION

Johns Hopkins University

Betsy M. Bryan is the Alexander Badawy Professor Emerita of Egyptian Art and Archaeology at Johns Hopkins University. She earned a PhD in Egyptology from Yale University. An accomplished educator and curator, she led the excavation of the temple of the goddess Mut at South Karnak for two decades.

By This Expert

The Real Ancient Egypt
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Kate Liszka

INSTITUTION

California State University, San Bernardino

Kate Liszka is the Benson and Pamela Harer Fellow in Egyptology and an Associate Professor of History at California State University, San Bernardino. She received a PhD in Egyptian Archaeology from the University of Pennsylvania. She also directs the Wadi el-Hudi Expedition in Egypt’s Eastern Desert.

By This Expert

The Real Ancient Egypt
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Kasia Szpakowska

Kasia Szpakowska is an Egyptologist and a former Associate Professor of Egyptology at Swansea University. She earned a PhD in Egyptology at the University of California, Los Angeles. She also directed the Ancient Egyptian Demonology Project: Second Millennium BCE.

By This Expert

The Real Ancient Egypt
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The Real Ancient Egypt

Trailer

The Fall and Rise of King Tut

01: The Fall and Rise of King Tut

Professors Bryan, Hartwig, Liszka, and Szpakowska introduce you to many of the subtle, yet impactful changes Egypt experienced over 3,000 years, which has made piecing together a straightforward history of the region next to impossible. Likewise, they discuss why Egyptologists are always reinterpreting artifacts in light of new information and adapting their assumptions. Using the life and legacy of King Tutankhamun as an example, they show how and why reconstructing Egypt’s past can be so difficult. You’ll not only learn more about the civilization, culture, politics, and religion of the time, but you’ll also discover more about the King himself—his family, his health, and his famous burial.

28 min
Akhenaten the Heretic

02: Akhenaten the Heretic

Professor Liszka notes, “What sets Akhenaten apart is his sheer willingness to destroy the entire world around him to get everything he wants.” Or, as Professor Bryan puts it, “Akhenaten was weird.” Get to know this “weird” king who came to the throne around 1350 BC as a heretic who believed in a god no one else recognized. Learn about the stunning new city and new art style he created. And examine how he caused mass chaos, all in the name of his new god, by shutting down temples, destroying the economy, fumbling international diplomacy, and weakening the military. Plus, discover the lengths his successors took to erase his legacy.

26 min
Egypt’s Female Kings

03: Egypt’s Female Kings

Although it was difficult for women to gain power in ancient Egypt, it did happen. Professors Bryan, Hartwig, Liszka, and Szpakowska present the stories of some of these female rulers, including Merneith, Sobekneferu, Nefertiti, Hatshepsut, Twosret, and Cleopatra. Looking at both archaeological discoveries and written records, the professors recreate the lives of these women, discussing how they ruled and their impacts on Egyptian civilization.

29 min
The Truth about Cats and Gods

04: The Truth about Cats and Gods

Contrary to popular belief, the ancient Egyptians did not worship animals. Professors Bryan, Hartwig, Liszka, and Szpakowska consider the historical evidence that led to the idea the Egyptians worshipped animals. They reveal the real roles of animals and animal images in ancient Egyptian religion. You’ll see how animals played a role in various religious practices and how these roles were adapted to different purposes in different eras. You’ll see how animals were involved in divination and pilgrimage rites, and how foreigners in ancient Egypt both misinterpreted and influenced the religious roles of animals—cats, in particular.

25 min
Demons of the Desert

05: Demons of the Desert

Fear of the dark and of the unknown is a universal human experience. Professors Bryan, Hartwig, Liszka, and Szpakowska examine what frightened the ancient Egyptians and how they responded to threats both real and imagined. You’ll meet some of the malevolent beings who personified threats like war and illness, as well as benevolent beings who offered protection from extraordinary and everyday harm. Learn about the demons and guardians, shielding objects, rituals, and practices that evolved to keep chaos at bay.

24 min
Death and Beyond

06: Death and Beyond

Another common misconception about the ancient Egyptians is that they were obsessed with death. Professors Bryan, Hartwig, Liszka, and Szpakowska explain how the opposite was true. They show why the evidence was misinterpreted for so long and demonstrate that the ancient Egyptians had an enormous passion for life and its continuation. Learn about the meaning behind many ancient Egyptian death rituals, and explore what the Egyptians believed came after death.

24 min
Money and Murder in Egypt’s Courts

07: Money and Murder in Egypt’s Courts

The Egyptians had a fundamental belief in natural law, a divine order created by the gods and fulfilled by the pharaoh and his court. The legal system encompassed all the residents of Egypt and was based on the idea of maat, a cosmic principle of goodness, morality, justice, and what is correct. Many of their legal practices resemble modern one; others, like the use of divine oracles, were very different. Professors Bryan, Hartwig, Liszka, and Szpakowska walk you through the evolution of Egyptian law, the concept of justice, and social politics by evaluating ancient stories and judicial records, including the intriguing tale of a pharaoh’s murder.

24 min
Becoming an Egyptian

08: Becoming an Egyptian

The Egyptians were largely ethnocentric, yet in many places there is strong evidence of the influence of foreign practices. Given Egypt’s location at the crossroads of the entire ancient world, people were constantly coming and going. Professors Bryan, Hartwig, Liszka, and Szpakowska provide insight into the many different peoples who inhabited ancient Egypt. They demonstrate how ethnicity was represented through iconography, which was packed with meaning but not literal representations of reality. Along the way, you’ll meet one of Egypt’s most famous groups of immigrants—the Medjay—and see how they evolved from nomadic outsiders to an important part of military and royal life.

27 min
How to Rob a Pyramid

09: How to Rob a Pyramid

If you are going to be a burglar in ancient Egypt, you may as well go big. Tomb robbery started almost as soon as ancient Egyptians started being buried with their treasures—gold, silver, jewels, and other items that they wanted to take to the next realm. That meant, the thieves were not just stealing “stuff,” they were stealing valuable aspects of the afterlives of the deceased. Professors Bryan, Hartwig, Liszka, and Szpakowska divulge the secrets of the tomb raiders, who were frequently middle- and upper-class people with the means to break into the tombs. They explain what it takes to successfully raid a tomb as well as common practices when thieves were caught, and what modern archeology has lost—and gained—because of these robberies.

28 min