are word lists, essentially catalogs of the universe, grouped by the major items in heaven, earth, and the waters. The earliest Egyptian onomasticon is the fragmentary Ramesseum Onomasticon (Berlin Papyrus 10495), dated to the late Middle Kingdom, and from a find that contained several important manuscripts and a collection of objects, perhaps the property of a magician and storyteller. The list of words originally contained more than three hundred entries. The beginning is unfortunately lost, but the list continues with plant names, liquids, birds, fish, quadrupeds, southern fortresses, twenty-nine towns, cakes, loaves and biscuits, cereals, parts of the human body, salt, natron, and the markings and body parts of cattle.

The most important word list is the Onomasticon of Amenemope, dating probably to the end of the twentieth dynasty and known from at least ten copies or fragmentary versions on papyrus, a writing board, a strip of leather, and several potsherds. Gardiner (1947) characterized the heading as bombastic:

"Beginning of the teaching for clearing the mind, for instruction of the ignorant and for learning all things that exist: what Ptah created, what Thoth copied down, heaven with its affairs, earth and what is in it, what the mountains belch forth, what is watered by the flood, all things upon which Re has shone, all that is grown on the back of earth, excogitated by the scribe of the sacred books in the House of Life, Amenemope son of Amenemope, he said."

This is followed by the list. Note that the text is characterized as an instruction or teaching and is thus assigned to that genre; it also explains its function.

Gardiner's commentary on all the terms is widely consulted, and its excellence has in some ways discouraged other scholars from studying the onomastica as such. The main text is that of the Golenischeff Papyrus in Moscow, which was discovered at el-Hiba along with the papyri containing the Misadventures of Wenamun and the Story of Woe. The Golenischeff Papyrus has as many as 610 items listed, until it breaks off at the end of its seventh page.

As Gardiner indicated, the ancient Egyptian author had not only the principles of enumeration but also classification in mind; in addition, it is “a first rate authority for the topography of the Nile Valley.” The classification consists of nine sections: (1) introductory heading; (2) sky, water, and earth; (3) persons, court, offices, and occupations; (4) classes, tribes, and types of human beings; (5) the towns of Egypt; (6) buildings, parts of buildings, and types of land; (7) agricultural land, cereals, and their products; (8) beverages; (9) parts of an ox and kinds of meat. The order is generally hierarchical, from highest to lowest, as particularly noted in the third section: god, goddess, male ʒḫt-spirit, female ʒḫt-spirit, king, queen, king's wife (the usual term for “queen”), king's mother, king's off-spring, crown prince, vizier, sole companion, eldest king's son, great overseer of the army, and so forth. Although there is no commentary or explanation of each term, the idea of such word lists as a teaching device for scribes is obvious, particularly the unfamiliar designations of foreign places. The Miscellany Literature similarly has instructional elements, such as the list of the parts of a chariot.



  • Gardiner, Alan H. Ancient Egyptian Onomastica. 2 vols. and plate vol. Oxford, 1947. The major source for these lists, with abundant commentary.
  • Herbin, François-René. “Une version inachevée de l'onomasticon d'Aménémopé (P. BM 10474 vo.).” Bulletin de l'Institut français d'archéologie orientale 86 (1986), 187–199.
  • Nims, Charles F. “Egyptian Catalogues of Things.” Journal of Near Eastern Studies 9 (1950), 253–262. A substantial review article on Gardiner's edition.
  • Osing, Jürgen. “Onomasktika.” In Lexikon der Ägyptologie, 4: 572. Wiesbaden, 1981.

William Kelly Simpson