What are Some Common Egyptian Symbols?

Jessica Ellis
Jessica Ellis

Egyptian symbols are a fascinating window into a unique ancient culture. Found on the many artifacts recovered from the ancient Egyptian empires, these symbols form a language and descriptive picture of one of the oldest human civilizations. Being able to identify common Egyptian symbols is a must for any Egypt enthusiast, and can give great depth to your body of knowledge about history and culture.

The owl was used as a common hieroglyph symbol.
The owl was used as a common hieroglyph symbol.

One of the most frequently seen Egyptian symbols is the Eye of Horus, also called the Eye of Ra. This symbol, which resembles a human eye, can mean many things depending on the context used. It is symbolic for the all-seeing eye of the gods, and may also symbolize rebirth. The Eye of Ra was also extremely important in ancient Egyptian mathematics, as it was used to describe or indicate different fractions.

Many Egyptian symbols are also called logograms or pictograms. These signs are meant to look like the thing they are describing. The symbol for the sun is a circle above a straight line, while the symbol for mountains looks like two jagged peaks next to one another.

Other common Egyptian symbols have a meaning only somewhat related to the actual character. These characters are called metonymic and are basically used much like a figure of speech or metaphor in modern language. For instance, one symbol for the word God looks like a flag. This may seem nonsensical until you know that the flag is meant to represent the flags that were flown on religious temples of the era.

One frequently seen symbol looks like an owl or bird drawn in profile, with head facing front. This interesting glyph has a variety of meanings, and was frequently used as a preposition, such as by, with, or from. Because of this symbol’s versatility, its specific meaning is often derived in context of the surrounding words.

Another extremely commonplace Egyptian symbol is the ankh. This glyph looks like a cross with an egg-shaped top, and is the symbol for eternal life. Some Egyptian artifacts depict various gods holding the ankh to a person’s mouth or giving it to them, believed to symbolize a life that continues past death. The ankh is often used in jewelry and replica Egyptian art.

For those wishing to learn more about the translation and interpretation of Egyptian symbols, a wealth of literature and online information is available on the subject. Additionally, check with local museums to see if they feature and Egyptology department or can recommend experts willing to help you learn. Understanding the history and society of an ancient culture is often enhanced by learning the language and important symbols used during its existence. By studying the meaning of Egyptian hieroglyphs and artistic symbols, you may be able to shed a little more light on one of the greatest and most complex civilizations ever to grace the planet.

Jessica Ellis
Jessica Ellis

With a B.A. in theater from UCLA and a graduate degree in screenwriting from the American Film Institute, Jessica is passionate about drama and film. She has many other interests, and enjoys learning and writing about a wide range of topics in her role as a wiseGEEK writer.

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Discussion Comments


@fBoyle-- Like the article of this article said, this symbol like many Egyptian symbols can have slightly different meanings depending on the context in which it is used and the other symbols accompanying it. As far as I know, the Eye of Horus is mostly about health of the body, recovery from illness and also prosperity. It can also be used to refer to eye health specifically. It was sometimes worn by people as a talisman to protect against "evil eye."

The concept of "evil eye" still exists in many cultures today. And in the Middle East, you will see a lot of necklaces and jewelry in the shape of a blue eye. People may wear them believing that they will ward off "evil eyes." The meaning of "Evil eye" is jealousy and hatred of others that can cause one to become ill.

I think that today's evil eye talismans are actually an extension of the Eye of Horus but many people do not know. The strange part is that many of the cultures who believe and use this are Muslim cultures where the belief of objects granting protection generally isn't accepted. We can say that it's a cultural tradition that has stuck on.


Can anyone tell me more about the Eye of Horus? I'm writing a paper on Egyptian symbols and I want to mostly talk about this symbol. What are some of the other meanings and uses of this symbol that the article mentioned?


We learned about Egyptian culture, pyramid, mummification and basic symbols in middle school social science class. I had found the topic very interesting, it was one of the most enjoyable lessons for us. I still remember the symbol for eternal life for example. We had also learned the symbols and did some exercises with them.

I think that Egyptian symbols are very representative of the worldview, traditions and beliefs of Egyptians at that time. The importance of the pharaoh, the preparation for death and afterlife impacted the kind of symbols Egyptians made and used. The fact that a lot of the symbols are about life after death shows how much Egyptians pondered on the idea. I actually think that they feared death or not knowing what would happen after death.

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