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 strip of land on both sides of the Nile that extends between Nubia and downriver (northwards) to Lower Egypt.

Upper Egypt

Unknown–c. 3150 BC
Map of Upper Egypt showing important sites that were occupied during Naqada III (clickable map)
Common languagesAncient Egyptian
Ancient Egyptian religion
Unknown (first)
 c. 3150 BC
Narmer (last)
c. 3150 BC
Succeeded by
Early Dynastic Period (Egypt)
Today part of Egypt


Upper Egypt is between the Cataracts of the Nile above modern-day Aswan, downriver (northwards) to the area of El-Ayait,[1] 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.

In ancient Egypt, Upper Egypt was known as tꜣ šmꜣw,[2] literally "the Land of Reeds" or "the Sedgeland"[3] It was divided into twenty-two districts called nomes.[4] The first nome was roughly where modern-day Aswan is and the twenty-second was at modern Atfih just to the south of Cairo.


Predynastic Egypt

The main city of prehistoric Upper Egypt was Nekhen,[5] whose patron deity was the vulture goddess Nekhbet.[6]

By about 3600 BC, Neolithic Egyptian societies along the Nile had based their culture on the raising of crops and the domestication of animals.[7] Shortly after 3600 BC, Egyptian society began to grow and increase in complexity.[8] 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.[8] 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.[8]

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.[8] Warfare between Upper and Lower Egypt occurred often.[8] 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.[9]

Dynastic Egypt

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.[10] Upper Egypt was represented by the tall White Crown Hedjet, and its symbols were the flowering lotus and the sedge.

Medieval Egypt

In the 11th century, large numbers of pastoralists, known as Hilalians, fled Upper Egypt and moved westward into Libya and as far as Tunis.[11] 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.[12]

20th-century Egypt

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.[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.[16] c. 3150 BC

List of nomes

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[17]
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.[13]


  1. See list of nomes. Maten (Knife land) is the furthest north nome of 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.
  2. Ermann & Grapow 1982, Wb 5, 227.4-14.
  3. Ermann & Grapow (1982), Wb 4, 477.9-11
  4. The Encyclopedia Americana Grolier Incorporated, 1988, p.34
  5. Bard & Shubert (1999), p. 371
  6. David (1975), p. 149
  7. Roebuck (1966), p. 51
  8. Roebuck (1966), pp. 52–53
  9. Roebuck (1966), p. 53
  10. Chauveau (2000), p. 68
  11. Ballais (2000), p. 133
  12. Ballais (2000), p. 134
  13. Brice (1981), p. 299
  14. Rice 1999, p. 86.
  15. Wilkinson 1999, p. 57f.
  16. Shaw 2000, p. 196.
  17. 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. Vol. 1, Part III. London: Routledge. pp. 125–136. ISBN 978-0-415-23001-8.CS1 maint: uses editors parameter (link)
  • 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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