Music and Dance in Ancient Egypt

By | August 22, 2019

Picture games, textual games and archaeological sources show that music plays a significant role in Ancient Egypt during all periods, ie around 3100 BCE. to 400 AD Most of the information comes from representations and accompanying text on the walls of tombs and temples, but one also finds information on coffins, papyrus, stone tablets, statues and various objects. The large number of sources makes it possible to identify the names of different musical instruments, the titles of those who performed the music, as well as an explanatory vocabulary. A complete understanding, on the other hand, is problematic.

Music and Dance in Ancient Egypt

Music as an expression was of use in various types of rooms – private, public and liminal: in temples, palaces, as part of processional and festivals, military parades, in burial cults, but also at private events. All are concrete indications of the music’s pervasive presence in Ancient Egypt.

In the temple, music had a particularly important function, and to the temple dancers, singers and musicians heard some role among others was to awaken the god every morning, and toss them to sleep every night. An important instrument was the breed instrument sistrum, which was associated with goddess Hathor as a fine to in the Isis worship of Roman times.


Wind instruments are known as far back as pre-dynastic times: the flute can date at the earliest, while the double clarinet can date to the ancient kingdom. Trumpet and oboe are also known from the new realm. During the Greco-Roman era, many other instruments were introduced, the Greek aulos, but also panpipes which little by little led to the invention of the pipe organ.

Strings are known from the old realm: Harpa is central to all periods of time, but from the new realm there are several variants of harp. In the burial chamber of the Middle Kingdom, the lyric is depicted with ethnic immigrants from the East, but was first popular with the locals under the New Kingdom. Lutten has much the same history as the lyr.

Percussion and razor instruments are known as early as pre-historic times: it is first and foremost clappers (chestnut-like instruments) that are dated so early. Drums of various shapes and shapes are dated from the Old Kingdom. The cistrum and the menit necklace (raslar) are also known from the ancient realm, while various symbols, thugs, and the Greek crotalon were introduced during Greco-Roman times.


Dance could be a regular leisure activity, but more importantly it is calculated to have a liminal zone in which animals, human beings, royal and various divine beings took part. Dance is arguably particular in three main contexts: burial, banquet and Hathor cult, but also an essential part of temple ritual, and not least in processions from one temple to another, as part of important festivals. Image images are often in extreme positions where the body is bent backwards, legs in split, arms stretched unnatural far. It is suggested that one could dance into a trans-like state parallel to modern Sufidance.