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Ancient Egypt

"Ancient Egypt has meant two things to Hollywood, Cleopatra and walking mummies."
George Mac Donald Fraser, The Hollywood History of the World

Ah, Egypt! Vast country of sand and history, cut through by the nourishing course of the Nile. Land of the original God-Emperors, the Pharaohs, who raised pyramids and sphinxes to say "Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!"

Venturing through this country, O Bold Troper, you will likely find merchants from faraway lands, wily theives, ill-tempered camels, and olive-skinned seductresses with braided wigs and kohl-painted eyes. Also home to fanatical bald priests in lapis collars and leopard-skin robes, who usually wind up being turned into mummies after calling down the wrath of the gods upon their heads (usually for getting involved with the aforementioned beautiful olive-skinned kohl-painted seductresses in some way). Wretched slaves labour to build pyramids in the scorching sun beneath the whips of merciless overseers... despite the fact that the great monuments were actually built by paid labourers with their own guilds.

Often considered a culture so exotically different (especially in the field of architecture) to Western and Eastern civilizations alike that some theorize outside inspiration.

See also Build Like an Egyptian and Pyramid Power. For actual Ancient Egypt, see Ancient Egyptian History.


Popular tropes from this time period are:

  • Ancient Astronauts: Often attributed to this time period, even though history and science have both marched well beyond believing in them. What you see in Stargate SG-1 is just similar, though.
  • Brother-Sister Incest: With a religious reason (or possibly excuse). The Pharaoh's family was supposed to be descended from Ra, the chief deity of Egypt (most of the time). Thus keeping it in the family meant less human blood to dilute the divine heritage.
  • Cool Crown: Some of the coolest ever.
  • Egyptian Mythology
  • Guyliner: Eyeliner was considered androgynous and both men and women wore it to make their eyes look bigger. And because it was made out of a substance that repelled flies. And because the stuff reduced the glare from the sun. A group of pyramid workers even organized a strike to get more make-up as eye protection.
  • Historical In-Joke: Comedies set in Ancient Egypt often have a scene in which one of the protagonists knocks the Great Sphinx's nose off, leaving it in the form we know today . (Alternately, the story has it that one of Napoleon's cannons blew it off.) However, the nose is documented to have been firmly attached at the time of the Arab invasion of Egypt in the seventh century AD (and detached by the time any Revolutionary Frenchmen got there). The most likely story is that a Muslim fanatic knocked it off about six hundred years after the Arab conquest—and then was hanged by the Sultan for vandalism. (While normally being hanged for vandalism might normally seem like Disproportionate Retribution, most archaeologists and historians feel it to be entirely justified.)
  • History Marches On: Although slavery existed in Ancient Egypt, it is generally accepted by modern historians that its crowning achievement, the Great Pyramid of Giza, was not built by slave labour, but by the equivalent of paid contractors who were mostly skilled workers (the equivalent, because the pay took the form of food and other supplies, money not having been invented yet).
  • The Mummy
  • The Nepharious Pharaoh
  • The Punishment (The Curse of the Mummy)
  • Walk Like an Egyptian


Series that are set in this time period include:

    open/close all folders 

     Anime and Manga 

     Comic Books  

     Film  

     Literature  

  • In the third book of The Bartimaeus Trilogy there are parts set in Ptolemaic Egypt. They're backstory bits of Bartimaeus with his long dead, and much cared for, master...Ptolemy.
  • The River God and its sequels by Wilbur Smith supposedly based in Egypt 1780 BCE, and follows a slave eunuch with magical powers.
  • The Kane Chronicles takes place in the present day but has the Egyptian gods.
  • The Queen of the Damned novel by Anne Rice reveals Kemet (Ancient Egypt) to be birthplace (undeathplace?) of the original vampire, Akasha, the titular queen, although Akasha herself is not originally Egyptian. A good chunk of Maharet's story takes place in Kemet or around it.
    • She also wrote The Mummy, or Ramses the Damned, in which Ramses the Great and Cleopatra have both been made immortal.
  • Features prominently in The Bible. In The Book Of Genesis, Joseph ends up there after his brothers sell him to some Egyptian traders. He works his way up from slavery to prime minister. In The Book Of Exodus, another pharaoh has conquered and enslaved the Israelites, and Moses has to get him to let them go free. Elsewhere, Egypt is referred to, though often as a nation of godless heathens right along with the Canaanites, Assyrians, and other non-Yaweh-worshipping peoples, because of Values Dissonance.
  • In The Red Tent, Dinah starts a new life in Egypt with her mother-in-law after her husband is killed by her brothers.
  • Pyramids sends up Ancient Egypt to way past eleven. Terry Pratchett creates a country where building pyramids is all and everything and which is up to 3,000 years behind the rest of the Discworld. It takes a gifted Assassin to bring it all crumbling down.
  • Imprisoned With the Pharaohs, by HP Lovecraft, is basically Indiana Jones (as played by Harry Houdini!) on a bad acid trip.
  • Death Comes as the End by Agatha Christie.
  • Herodotus spends a lot of time talking about Egypt in The Histories.
  • The Royal Diaries series has a book about Cleopatra VII that takes place mostly in Egypt.

     Live Action TV  

     Music  

  • Michael Jackson's music video for "Remember the Time".
  • Nile, obviously.
  • "King Tut" by Steve Martin, produced during the "Tut-mania" of the 1970s when Tutankamen's treasures went on tour.
  • The artwork of IronMaiden's album Powerslave is an obvious homage to this period of time, complete with Pharaoh Eddie. And so is the title track.
  • Dio's "Egypt (The Chains Are On)", also covered by Doro Pesch.
  • Pink Floyd's The Nile Song.
  • Jonathan Richman and the Modern Lovers, Egyptian Reggae and Abdul and Cleopatra.
  • The Bangles, Walk like An Egyptian.
  • Both Richman and the Bangles, for those with long memories, were drawing on music hall act of the 1930's, Wilson, Keppel and Betty.
  • And there is Verdi's 19th century opera set in ancient Egypt, Aida.
  • "Spirits Of Ancient Egypt", by Wings.

     Tabletop Games 
  • The Tomb Kings of Warhammer are this Up to Eleven. The liche-priests told the pharaohs that they knew how to prepare bodies for life after death, ensuring them a heavenly afterlife. Unfortunately, it turns out they were only capable of raising them as mummies. Now the Tomb Kings war with each other, as every one of them still thinks himself the rightful king of Khemry with a bunch of related usurpers to eliminate.

     Theatre  

    Video Games 

    Web Original 
  • The Global Guardians PBEM Universe featured the heroic weather-controlling crimefighter Pharaoh, who was, in fact, Pharaoh Imhotep II brought forward to the modern era by a supervillain's plot.
  • Repeatedly lampshaded in Atop the Fourth Wall. Linkara points out all the traps and tricks and concludes that it's a death trap. Now when it appears, a picture of the pyramids appears with the Imperial March from Star Wars accompanying it.
  • The eighth Chrono Hustle story is set in Ancient Egypt. Jack meets Imhotep.

    Western Animation 
  • The Prince of Egypt, an animated movie about the story of Exodus.
  • Joseph King Of Dreams, a prequel to the Prince of Egypt that tells the story of Joseph from the Book of Genesis.
  • Papyrus, a French/Canadian animated series adapted from the aforementioned Belgian comic book of the same name.
  • It's supposedly set in Arabian Nights Days, but Aladdin has the aforementioned "character makes the Sphinx's nose fall off" gag. The Sphinx would have already been covered over with sand by the medieval period, not still being worked on.
    • Especially considering that they'd have been strict Muslims, and prohibited from building such a statue anyway.
  • Certain episodes and sketches on Histeria, of course.


    UsefulNotes/EgyptAncient Egyptian History
The BibleHollywood HistoryAncient Greece
Americans Are CowboysImageSource/PhotographyAnd a Diet Coke

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