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Lesson 9) Across the Empire

Today, unexpectedly, Professor Wessex is already in the Room of Runes even before the first student arrives. She sweeps around the room, organizing stacks of papers and gently levitating fragile books. Some students glance up from studying for their imminent O.W.L.s to track her progress, if only briefly.

As the minutes tick by and class is due to start she returns to the ornate desk in the front of the classroom and pulls out a finely-wrought hand mirror. She straightens her dress robes and her hair for a few moments, until she is interrupted by the tolling of the large clock. Looking slightly surprised, she clears her throat and puts the mirror away in a drawer. Unnecessarily smoothing her robes once more, a flushed Professor Wessex begins the lesson.

Good morning, children. Today marks the last day of class before your O.W.L.s. I have been informed that many classes choose this lesson to review previous themes from this year and others. However, our time in the Room of Runes is far too valuable to be repeating ourselves for too long. Those of you who wished to revise have had ample opportunity over the last year, and while I am still available for questions -- as I have been all year -- keep in mind that I will be neither pleased nor helpful if you knock on my door the midnight before your exam.

Despite the fact that we will be covering new material today, I have taken into account the very limited amount of time you have before your O.W.L.s. As such, much of the material we cover today is not completely essential, but instead will serve to give you a more nuanced understanding of the material we have covered and give you a slightly more practical view of the topic. You are most certainly not at that stage of your learning. However, we are going to hear from someone -- other than me -- that has. But first, as we wait for our guest to arrive there are a few small points I want to address to draw your years on ancient Egypt to a close.

Changes in Ancient Egypt
As we have mentioned over the years, things like cultures, languages, and scripts rarely remain the same over the course of their existence. It would be very unnatural. Clearly, those of you who pay attention to the world around you have noticed that Egypt, and indeed Egyptian magic, does not look exactly like what we have been covering over the last year. This is because over time, small differences and shifts added up to create something new. Crucially, these changes did not happen overnight after the fall of the Egyptian empire. Instead, the changes that brought Egypt to where it is today were occurring constantly. This means a number of things, but the three most basic and important are this: ancient Egyptian culture was not static, ancient Egyptian scripts and languages developed and changed over time, and, because of these two things, ancient Egyptian magical practices developed over time as well.

Any civilization that is around for as long as ancient Egypt was will undergo some changes. In its thousands of years, there were roughly 26 dynasties and over 300 different rulers, all of whom had different views on what their empire should look like and how it should function. However, as you are far from experts on the topic, no one will expect you to know the difference between Egypt under Ramessiean rule and Egypt during the Ptolemaic Dynasty (though, I assure you, they are two completely distinct points in the civilization's history). Instead, it may be simpler for you to break it down into general sections. There are, in order from oldest to most recent, three very broad time periods of ancient Egyptian history. These periods can be broken down further, and sometimes go by different names, but in general will serve you well. Without overloading your brains with dates, simply know that the progression is: Old Kingdom →  Middle Kingdom → New Kingdom. Of course, it is not as simple as all that; there are periods that existed before the Old Kingdom, as well as in the middle of each of these periods. More, there are thousands of years between the end of the New Kingdom and present-day Egypt. However, these details are something you will learn, if you choose to, at a later date.

But the long and short of it is this: over these long periods, the way of life of the ancient Egyptians changed. Newer dynasties saw things their predecessors would have never dreamed of. Glyphs added meanings or changed entirely. Cultural practices, such as burial and embalming, underwent changes and general values of the society shifted, which meant that magical practices (which are often, if not always, aligned with the values of society) changed as well.

Lastly, there is a need to discuss the progression of the Egyptian language as well as their scripts over time. It is generally agreed upo that the Egyptian language -- something we have not mentioned overmuch in our studies this year -- began with what is now called “Old Egyptian”. As one might expect, the following variations of the language match up with the periods of time in their civilization-- followed by Middle Egyptian and “Late Egyptian”, which matches up roughly with the time period of the “New Kingdom”. After this, the language then changed enough to be called Demotic before eventually settling into Coptic, which lasted from the 1st century C.E. up until the 17th century, when it was replaced with modern Arabic. Likewise, the scripts used in ancient Egypt changed alongside its spoken language. Hieroglyphic systems were the first, and were one of the longest-lasting, however, we know from last year that hieroglyphics are not all created equal. That is to say that hieroglyphics had different meanings over the millennia. They began as a pictographic script before moving to logographic and then eventually evolving into syllabic. If you need more information to remember this progression, you may refer to Year Four, Lesson Two of Ancient Runes. After hieroglyphics, there existed a script called hieratic and then demotic. There have been, of course, other scripts. However, as we are focusing on Egyptian antiquity, we won’t concern ourselves with them at this moment.

A Second Introduction
As Professor Wessex launches into her last few sentences, the door at the end of the classroom creaks open and a young man enters. Clad in a simple, functional shirt and pants, the man crosses his arms and leans against the doorframe as he waits, a slight smile on his face. Glancing in his direction, Professor Wessex makes a visible effort to cut herself off.

Ah, perfect timing. Class, I have an important visitor to introduce to you today; one half of the famous Hufflepuff duo that authored our textbook for this course: Arkaeus Baldric. Mr. Baldric has been kind enough to accept my invitation to return to Hogwarts to give you a new perspective on the importance and use of your knowledge of glyphs and ancient Egypt. You will be on your best behaviour of course and, should you have burning questions, Mr. Baldric will be staying after class.

With no more introduction, the man-- Arkaeus Baldric -- takes the obvious invitation and joins Professor Wessex at the front of the class, grinning broadly, though looking a bit uncomfortable. As he passes Professor Wessex you catch a snippet of muttered conversation. “Merlin! Will you lay off the “Mr. Baldric” bit? I feel about seventy.”

Interview with Arkaeus Baldric
AB: Ah, right. So, I should thank erh -- Professor Wessex -- for having me here today. He stumbles a bit over the professor’s title, but the casually cheerful look never leaves his face. It’s not every day you get to shape young minds and all that. Where should I start?

VW: Well, there will be time for a student Q&A after class, as long as you’re up for staying, but for now, if you wouldn’t mind telling us a bit about how you and your brother Olin came up with the idea of A Magical Addendum?

AB: Oh, well, that was always Ollie’s brainchild, really. I’m more of a hands-on guy. But after our second year in the business together, there was no denying there was a huge learning curve. After meeting different researchers in the field -- historians, curse-breakers, magiarchaeologists, spell theoreticians, magianthropologists and the like-- we wished we’d known this stuff before we’d just gone barging into tombs.

Hastily, the curse-breaker adds, Not that the admins at Gringotts promote that, or anything. Really, there’s a lot of analysis that goes into being on a curse-breaking team. But sometimes, there’s nothing for it but to jump in with your best guess and think on your feet.  

VW: So, what did you and your brother intend for the book to be?

AB: Well, we’d originally wanted it to be a quick reference for us. The more we talked with other teams-- veterans, colleagues, people fresh out of Hogwarts, Ilvermorny and Uagadou-- the more we realized we were all making the same mistakes… which seemed pointless.

It actually started one night after Olin had nearly had his hands melted off and I… well, let’s just say I got real friendly with the wrong end of some battle axes. That night back at the camp, Olin sat down with a quill and started quizzing me on all the different things we’d run into that day so we could keep track of spells and glyphs to watch out for. He got on a roll, and suddenly it turned into this… mini-catalogue. After that point, we figured we might as well keep working on it to make it as complete as possible.

VW: When did your brother’s notes make the jump to a full book?

AB: Archie thumbs his chin thoughtfully. We didn’t really plan for it to be published or anything. After a while, we ran out of things to add, so we made a point to ask anyone we ran into about their tips as well -- we got a lot of really good information that way -- and one night I was talking to this bird -- A quiet clearing of the throat draws the curse-breaker’s attention away from his story, and the stern Slytherin gives him a pointed look. -- Right, sorry. Anyway, she turned out to be good friends with a bloke at this publishing company. And she was telling the two of us how this would make a great book. Ollie and I laughed at her at first. Who would want our crazy notes? Half of it was in Ollie’s shorthand that hardly anyone outside of the pair of us could make out. But she said she could really see the potential for something great.

She convinced Ollie, and that was all it really took. He always wanted to sit in an office and study this stuff. More of a historian, really. But I hijacked him and took him with me all over the globe and into lots of “dusty death traps” as he likes to call them. So, it was right up his alley, and who was I to refuse? When we were back in England next, we looked up the publisher in Diagon Alley and once Ollie and them got to talking it was pretty much already sorted.

VW: That is a truly fascinating origin story. On a slightly different topic, can you give the class some insight as to how a curse-breaker’s day looks?

AB: Well, really, no day is the same as the last. Most people work in groups made of various individuals. A team is usually made up of a bunch of assorted professionals that go off on their own. But my brother and I always figure it’s smarter to stick together. We figure that’s how our careers have lasted as long as they have. Anyway, there’s a lot of different people that go into making up a team on-site. It’s not just a dozen curse-breakers jumping into tombs. For one project, we’ve got people to help us examine the artifacts -- magiarchaeologists or spell researchers, usually-- people to help decode whatever language we’re working on -- linguists or historians, mostly -- and people to help us out with the pieces of the puzzle we don’t get -- magianthropologists and magihistorians again.

We’re trained in all of those areas as curse-breakers, but we’re sort of jacks-of-all-trades, masters of none. It’s a real blessing to have researchers on-site when you run into a problem. I remember one time DeRuijter and I were having a right apoplexy over this wooden thing, thinking it was an enchanted weapons case and about to curse our hands off. Turns out it was actually a game board that was really common in the Middle Kingdom. All these glyphs for “victory” and “defeat” and “battle” really threw us off! The curse-breaker rakes his hand through his hair and smiles abashedly. Ollie had a real good laugh about that one.

VW: Thank Circe for level heads. Before we wrap up the formalities and get started on the Q&A, is there any advice you’d like to give students thinking about going into the areas of curse-breaking, magiarchaeology, or the like?

AB: Oh, for sure. First, find yourself a partner or a solid team. Someone who will stick by you for more than one assignment. People said we were crazy when Ollie and I started hiring ourselves out as a team. But Gringotts took the chance and has never been disappointed. We’re twice as productive, and it helps that we even each other out a bit. Gringotts is starting to look into contracting all sorts of people in different fields now to make their teams a little more rounded-out, instead of having seven curse-breakers on the scene.

My other piece of advice for you is to get out of Egypt. I’m not saying Egypt isn’t great…. But if you want to jump into untested waters, there’s so much more to curses, ancient civilizations, and treasure than what’s sitting in those sandy tombs. Gringotts has recently been expanding to Turkey, Syria, China and large parts of South America and... it’s bonkers. Ask V-- uh, your professor-- about it when you have a chance. She’s been lucky enough to get out of Egypt and see some of these new sites. There are opportunities opening up all over the globe now, if you have the right specializations. A lot of this stuff is so old it’s new. If you can’t get in with Gringotts, some big museums in foreign countries hire on-the-ground people to work for them and help them pick up artifacts, and you can find yourself in places you’ve never dreamt of.

With that, the man rises from the perch he'd taken on the edge of the professor's desk as he was addressing the class. Professor Wessex doesn't need to lead the class in applause this time and Arkaeus Baldric inclines his head in a half bow before throwing the class a grin. He lingers around in the back of the classroom, but looks a bit out of place, as if he'd be more at home in the Forbidden Forest than a dusty room lined with bookshelves.

The End of the Line
With that, we bring an end to our foray into ancient Egypt, at least in Ancient Runes. Should you choose to return next year, you can look forward to exploring some magical scripts native to Asia and Oceania, including Rongorongo. For now, Mr. Baldric and I will be spending the rest of the afternoon and evening in the castle and the Room of Runes for an informal “Q and A.” In the slightly less immediate future, you have a short period of time to revise for your O.W.L.s. I suggest you use it wisely.

My thanks to you all for an unexpectedly excellent year.

Original lesson written by Professor Venita Wessex
Image credits here and here


Delve deeper into the world of Egyptian hieroglyphs! This year, we will unravel the complex layers of meaning in hieroglyphic inscriptions as well as study their use in powerful magical enchantments.
Course Prerequisites:
  • ANCR-401

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