Decoding the Secrets of Egyptian Hieroglyphs

Course No. 3541
Professor Bob Brier, Ph.D.
Long Island University
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Course No. 3541
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What Will You Learn?

  • How to read and write words and sentences in hieroglyphic script.
  • How to count in ancient Egyptian, and how to write fractions.
  • How to use hieroglyphs to describe events in the past tense.
  • To decipher the meaning of hieroglyphs found on relics from the tomb of King Tut.
  • The story of how archaeologists and scholars first deciphered hieroglyphs.

Course Overview

Ancient Egyptian civilization is undoubtedly one of the most fascinating chapters in human history. While remnants of the culture like temples, obelisks, and sarcophagi continue to mystify us, you can unlock their true meaning if you know how to read hieroglyphs.

To the untrained eye, this ancient writing system looks like artful decoration, a random scattering of stylized ducks, suns, eyes, hands, chairs, and feathers. But to Egyptologists like Dr. Bob Brier of LIU Post—a noted public educator known as “Mr. Mummy” and a popular Great Courses professor—hieroglyphs are the gateway to understanding ancient Egypt, from its religious beliefs to its cosmological ideas to the legacies of its great pharaohs.

In short, they’re the closest we can get to truly resurrecting the lives of ancient Egyptians.

Although hieroglyphs are a dead language, there are many reasons why learning to read and write hieroglyphs can be rewarding. An understanding of hieroglyphs can take you beyond the surface-level appreciation of viewing artifacts and historic sites, bringing you closer to the real people of an ancient civilization. Plus, the transformation of spelling and grammar into a dynamic pictorial code presents a challenging intellectual puzzle for lifelong learners of all ages. In learning hieroglyphs, you will actually decipher symbols and text, which makes learning this new language enjoyable and exciting!

In Decoding the Secrets of Egyptian Hieroglyphs, Professor Brier offers you the key to unlocking the mysteries of this amazing ancient language. Making this seemingly complex code accessible to anyone with a willingness to learn, his 24 lectures cover the basics of reading and writing hieroglyphs, including vocabulary words, number systems, and sentence structure. They also put your newfound knowledge to work, as you translate hieroglyphs found on some of ancient Egypt’s most intriguing sites and artifacts, from the Rosetta Stone to the temples at Abu Simbel to the tomb of Tutankhamen. Professor Brier opens up startling new worlds of discovery that will bring you closer than ever to a civilization that’s captivated us for millennia—and that will continue to do so for a long time to come.

Learn How to Read and Write Hieroglyphs

When learning to read and write Egyptian hieroglyphs, where does one start? Like any language, it’s critical to begin at the most fundamental level: the alphabet.

Decoding the Secrets of Egyptian Hieroglyphs is a primer on the ins and outs of the ancient Egyptian language. By approaching the topic in a straightforward manner, you’ll be surprised at just how quickly translating these curious symbols becomes second nature.

After learning the three ways hieroglyphs were used in ancient Egypt (to represent a sound, to clarify a word’s meaning, to represent a concept all by itself), you’ll go step-by-step through the ancient Egyptian alphabet. Professor Brier teaches you not only how to draw each hieroglyph, but how to pronounce them and organize them into entire sentences.

But make no mistake: This isn’t just about writing your name in hieroglyphs. You’ll learn much more.

  • Build an Egyptian vocabulary. Every lecture comes with a wealth of new vocabulary words for you to pronounce, write, and use. You’ll also discover the meaning behind these hieroglyphs. For example, the hieroglyph for the season “summer” (consisting of drawings of a pool, water, and the sun) which might indicate an absence of water.
  • Write Egyptian sentences: Professor Brier teaches you how to organize hieroglyphs into sentences that express original thoughts. You’ll learn how to draw and arrange pronouns and possessives; how to write in the past tense; how to turn a sentence into a negative statement; how to read the names of the pharaohs; and more.
  • Count Egyptian numbers: Numbers were essential to ancient Egypt’s agricultural economy. As you’ll discover, different symbols were used to denote different quantities. A stroke was “1,” a hoop was “10,” a coiled rope was “100,” a lotus flower was “1,000,” and the god Heh stood for “1 million.”

Above all, Professor Brier wants to give you not just an appreciation of hieroglyphs, but a working knowledge of them. That’s where practice comes in. Each lecture in this course begins or ends with a series of short, fun translation exercises (also included in the course guidebook) to help familiarize you with the concepts you explore in that particular lesson.

Unearth the Story of Hieroglyphs

As you progress from the alphabet to complex sentences, you’ll also uncover some fascinating historical insights into hieroglyphs.

  • Why did the language disappear, and how it was rediscovered by explorers like Jean-François Champollion?
  • What was life like for the Egyptian scribes who recorded everything from battlefield casualties to prayers for the dead?
  • Why were some of the first attempts to translate hieroglyphics unsuccessful?
  • How did ancient Egyptians use their calendar, and how do modern Egyptologists use it to determine precise dates for events?

Translate the Writings on Archaeological Finds

Decoding the Secrets of Egyptian Hieroglyphs is also an opportunity to interpret actual inscriptions found on Egyptian temples and objects. As Professor Brier builds your confidence in reading hieroglyphs, you’ll steadily move toward translating everything from the names of gods and pharaohs to special prayers and magic spells.

Like a great tour guide, Professor Brier brings you up close and personal with some of the most fascinating archaeological finds from hundreds of years of exploration.

  • King Tut’s tomb: Professor Brier devotes several lectures to perhaps the most important discovery in all of Egyptology. You’ll translate hieroglyphs from some of the many relics found in the pharaoh’s tomb, including a mirror used during Tutankhamen’s life, and the inside lid of his sarcophagus, inscribed with words spoken by the god Anubis.
  • Queen Meret’s pectoral: This brooch-like piece of jewelry isn’t mere decoration. It’s also powerful political propaganda. The queen’s pectoral proclaims the greatness of Amenemhet III as the lord of Upper and Lower Egypt and all foreign lands, and asserts his protection by Nekhbet when venturing off into battle.
  • Sneferu stela: The pharaoh most directly responsible for Egypt’s grand pyramid-building projects was Sneferu. As you pore over inscriptions on a stela named after him, you’ll witness the development of four of the five titles used to describe a king: the “Horus” name, the “King of Upper and Lower Egypt” name, the “Two Ladies” name, and the “Golden Horus” name.

Learn from an Acclaimed Egyptologist

Beloved by Great Courses customers for his dynamism and depth of knowledge, Professor Brier is the best hieroglyphics instructor you could have. Blending language and history, his lectures are a testament to his popularity with the public and his respect among Egyptologists. He brings the same skills to Decoding the Secret of Egyptian Hieroglyphs that he has to his National Geographic television special, Mr. Mummy, his TLC series, The Great Egyptians, and his popular books, including The Murder of Tutankhamen: A True Story and Egyptomania.

At the start of the course, Professor Brier recounts the ancient Egyptian saying, “To say the name of the dead is to make him live again.” Whether he’s unpacking the importance of the scarab beetle hieroglyph, explaining the reason why most of us mispronounce the names of Egyptian pharaohs, or detailing the secret messages inscribed on King Tut’s funerary mask, Professor Brier not only makes ancient Egyptians live again—he does something even more memorable: He allows them to speak in their own words.

And now you can, too.

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24 lectures
 |  Average 31 minutes each
  • 1
    Why Egypt Needed Hieroglyphs
    Before learning how to read and write hieroglyphs, you have to understand why ancient Egypt had to invent some form of writing. Central to this introductory lecture is a study of the Narmer Palette, whose writing would set standards and conventions that would be followed for 3,000 years. x
  • 2
    The Ancient Egyptian Alphabet
    It's time to learn the hieroglyphic alphabet. Professor Brier shows you how to write each hieroglyph and how to position them, including a stylized hand (D"), a horned viper ("F"), and two hieroglyphs for which English doesn't have a letter. Then, transcribe your name from English to ancient Egyptian." x
  • 3
    How a Language Becomes Lost
    How is it possible for a language used by the world's greatest civilization to become lost? The answer, you'll learn, involves charting the rise and fall of ancient Egypt's spectacular kingdoms, as well as investigating the ways Christianity replaced hieroglyphs with Greek letters. x
  • 4
    Napoleon in Egypt
    Explore how hieroglyphs, and the ability to read them, was rediscovered during Napoleon's invasion of Egypt. Along the way, you'll consider the birth of Egyptology and the role of ushabtis, statues of servants buried with prominent Egyptians so they could avoid having to work in the next world. x
  • 5
    Early Attempts to Decipher the Rosetta Stone
    With the discovery of the Rosetta Stone by the French, the process of deciphering hieroglyphs could begin. But early attempts were thrown off by what Professor Brier calls the Big Mistake". Here, examine the reasons why so many scholars made the error of treating hieroglyphs like picture writing. " x
  • 6
    William Bankes and the Keys to Decipherment
    Learn how several key discoveries showed how to decipher hieroglyphs the right way, and also shaped our understanding of ancient Egypt. First: a bilingual obelisk that extended the Egyptian alphabet. Second: the Hall of Ancients", which contained the longest list of pharaohs ever discovered." x
  • 7
    Jean-Francois Champollion Cracks the Code
    Meet Jean-Francois Champollion, the first man in 2,000 years to read hieroglyphs and correct the Big Mistake". After studying Champollion's vital contribution to the field, you'll spend time learning how to read and write biliterals: hieroglyphs that represent two sounds, one after the other." x
  • 8
    Suffix Pronouns and the Hieroglyphs of Ptah
    In the first half of this lecture, learn how to work with suffix pronouns (which, unlike in English, are the same for possessive and nominative). Then, discover what hieroglyphs reveal about the role of the creator god Ptah in Egyptian religion-and his close connection with writing and words. x
  • 9
    The Immortal Scribe
    First, continue working on suffix pronouns with several English-to-hieroglyph sentence translations. Then, unpack the hidden meaning of the scarab beetle hieroglyph (kheper). Finally, learn about the scribes responsible for writing everything from cattle inventories to Books of the Dead, then learn about the medium on which they wrote, papyrus. x
  • 10
    Hieroglyphs and the Bible
    After giving you a few more pointers on suffix pronouns (including an unusual feature of the Middle Egyptian language), Professor Brier invites you to do a little applied hieroglyphs. How does a little knowledge of hieroglyphs help us answer some biblical questions about iconic events from the book of Exodus? x
  • 11
    Dependent Pronouns and the Passive Voice
    Dependent pronouns, as you'll learn, don't have to be added onto any other word; they stand alone and are usually the object of the verb. From there, you'll consider the first expedition to copy hieroglyphs (epigraphy), and learn about a current program designed to save inscriptions on fragile temple walls. x
  • 12
    Past Tense and Adjectives
    Start working with the past tense in your hieroglyphic sentences (the secret involves tacking a water sign onto a verb). Then, expand your Egyptian vocabulary to include new biliterals, as well as adjectives like evil" and "excellent." Also, learn how to use adjectives as modifiers, predicates, and nouns." x
  • 13
    New Ideograms Related to the Gods
    From suns and pillars to flagpoles and scepters, uncover what the hieroglyphs of gods reveal about ancient Egyptian thought and belief. For example, flagpoles were the ideogram for god" (pronounced netcher) and ram-headed scepters (pronounced was) were representations of power inspired by the god Amun." x
  • 14
    Names of the Pharaohs
    Learn how the kings of Egypt wrote their names. Using the Sneferu stela as a guide, examine the development of a pharaoh's five royal titles: the Horus" name, the "King of Upper and Lower Egypt" name, the "Two Ladies" name, the "Golden Horus" name, and the "Son of Re" name." x
  • 15
    Ancient Egyptian Numbers
    Learn the Egyptian way of writing whole numbers and fractions, which were used to keep track of everything from taxes to dates when the Nile would rise. Also, visit the mortuary temple of Ramses III, where a pile of hands reveals how many enemy soldiers were killed in battle. x
  • 16
    The Egyptian Calendar
    Explore why the calendar was crucial to Egypt's success as a nation, and learn how the civilization divided a year into months and seasons based on the activity of the Nile River. Then, find out how Egyptologists use ancient Egyptian calendars to pinpoint dates. x
  • 17
    Names of the Gods
    By understanding hieroglyphic names of gods and goddesses, you can read the stories told on temple walls. Among the pantheon of deities you'll learn to recognize are Isis and Osiris, Atum (the first terrestrial god), and the earth and sky gods Geb and Nut. x
  • 18
    Negation in Ancient Egyptian Sentences
    How do you say no" in ancient Egyptian? The answer, it turns out, involves knowing how to use (and draw) your arms. After practicing your skills at negation, you'll follow Professor Brier on a study tour of amulets (for both the dead and living) as "three-dimensional" hieroglyphs." x
  • 19
    Reading Hieroglyphic Jewelry
    With your newfound knowledge of hieroglyphs, decipher what several pieces of exquisite ancient jewelry say-and why they're more than just pretty, decorative baubles. The jewels you examine include a pectoral worn by Queen Meret (used as political propaganda) and one worn by Princess Sat-Hathor (used for protection). x
  • 20
    Palimpsests: When Scribes Make Mistakes
    What happens when a scribe makes a mistake-especially when the hieroglyph is carved in stone? How do modern archaeologists know how to recognize errors? Using inscriptions on the Pyramid of Unas and at Abydos Temple, explore the topic of palimpsests, the writing of one text over another. x
  • 21
    An Ancient Egyptian Prayer for the Dead
    Enter the temples and tombs of the ancient Egyptians and explore some of the fascinating hieroglyphic prayers inscribed on their walls. Central to this lecture is a standard prayer for the dead that started in the Old Kingdom: the Hotep-di-nesu, which asked the king to grant an offering to Osiris. x
  • 22
    Translating the Tomb of Perneb
    Join Professor Brier for an in-depth tour of the Tomb of Perneb's hieroglyphs-specifically those in its chapel, or mastaba. What lies behind the false door" common to chapels like this? Why were ka-priests so important to the afterlife of the wealthy? " x
  • 23
    Translating Tutankhamen's Tomb
    In the first of two lectures on the most famous find in all archaeology, learn the story of the excavation of King Tut's tomb. Then, translate some of the inscriptions on the gilded shrines in the Egyptian ruler's burial chamber (among them: messages by carpenters for use in construction). x
  • 24
    King Tut's Magic Mirror and Sarcophagus
    Decode and understand the inscriptions on two astonishing artifacts: a magic mirror used during Tutankhamen's lifetime and the lid of the pharaoh's sarcophagus. Then, conclude the course with suggestions on how to continue studying hieroglyphs, including scholarly resources and translation tips. x

Lecture Titles

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What's Included

What Does Each Format Include?

Video DVD
Instant Video Includes:
  • Download 24 video lectures to your computer or mobile app
  • Downloadable PDF of the course guidebook
  • FREE video streaming of the course from our website and mobile apps
Video DVD
DVD Includes:
  • 24 lectures on 4 DVDs
  • 280-page printed course guidebook
  • Downloadable PDF of the course guidebook
  • FREE video streaming of the course from our website and mobile apps
  • Closed captioning available

What Does The Course Guidebook Include?

Video DVD
Course Guidebook Details:
  • 280-page printed course guidebook
  • How to Draw Hieroglyphs
  • English to Hieroglyph and Hieroglyph to English Dictionary
  • Vocabulary

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Your professor

Bob Brier

About Your Professor

Bob Brier, Ph.D.
Long Island University
Dr. Bob Brier is an Egyptologist and Senior Research Fellow at the C.W. Post Campus of Long Island University. He earned his bachelor's degree from Hunter College and Ph.D. in Philosophy from The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Professor Brier has twice been selected as a Fulbright Scholar and has received Long Island University's David Newton Award for Teaching Excellence in recognition of his achievements as a...
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Reviews

Decoding the Secrets of Egyptian Hieroglyphs is rated 4.8 out of 5 by 78.
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Outstanding In my opinion Dr Brier is absolutely the best professor in all of the Great Courses. This is his 3rd course and as always he lectures in an entertaining, informative and down to earth manner. He makes Egyptian hieroglyphs understandable and approachable. Please have him continue this course with a volume II for those of us who want to learn more!!!!
Date published: 2019-08-06
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Good title Very interesting overview of Egyptian hieroglyph history. Each lesson gives info as to glyph decipherment and writing, with practice and homework. Lots of illustrations. Can learn as much or little as one wants; info still very valuable as to how it all works.
Date published: 2019-06-23
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Probably the Best... ...of all the dozen or so Great Courses I have ever taken in the past twenty years ir so. Perfectly produced, paced, and delivered. I am on lecture 9 out if 24 and will be sad when it is over. Instructor is adept presenter and a joy to learn from.
Date published: 2019-05-24
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Love the whole thing! Outstanding! I am currently only on lesson 2 of 24 lessons but I find the course stimulating and so far, easy to understand. It is also a lot of fun as well, which makes learning easy. This course is either the 21st or 22nd course which I have taken with Great Courses. They are all well planned and well executed.
Date published: 2019-05-19
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Can't download! Hi I'm very happy to enjoy the great courses especially with professor Bob Brier but I can't download it for offline use any one of the series. Can you help please.
Date published: 2019-05-06
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Happy Hieroglyphics I taught World History & World Cultures for 18 years & during the unit on Egypt I had a kit I could use to show my students how to write their names in hieroglyphics. It was a fun way to introduce them to the unit but I retired & left the kit with the new teacher. Now my daughter is teaching & I bought this course for her. (And maybe a little bit for me, too.). It’s an excellent course.
Date published: 2019-04-12
Rated 5 out of 5 by from I love Dr Brier He is an enthusiastic lecturer, and clearly knows how to explain a challenging subject in an understandable manner. You have to do your homework and study between lectures to better master the content. This is a great entry course in middle Egyptian hieroglyphs that will allow you to better enjoy and understand Egyptian antiquities, and even read bits of them. Note that the professor uses a more phonetic English transliteration than the standardized Romanization that others use, but it wasn't hard to switch when I finished this course and moved to other material. That said, this course is only scratching the surface. Please add a part 2! Part 3!! Dr Brier is so much more fun than working through a text on my own.
Date published: 2019-04-05
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Bob Brier hits the bull's eye ! The brilliant, inimitable Professor Bob Brier does it again ! In this course he presents the engaging and fascinating world of Egyptian hieroglyphs. Bob's style is friendly and fluent; he brings with him decades of knowledge and experience, in the field and in the classroom. Over the years, I have accumulated a nice little library of publications on Egyptology, have studied several courses in the old language of the Pharaohs, and can state, without question, that this is the finest course yet, and The Teaching Company must be congratulated on making it available to the public. The course is a superb and entertaining achievement by the affable Bob Brier. Recommended unhesitatingly. Go for it !!
Date published: 2019-04-02
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