Egyptian Writing System

The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Egyptian Writing System


one of the world’s most ancient writing systems. It had three varieties: hieroglyphic, hieratic, and demotic (these terms were borrowed from ancient Greek). The principal and most ancient form was the hieroglyphs—signs representing people, animals, plants, buildings, tools, and other objects.

Most hieroglyphs were phonograms: they represented either a combination of two or three consonants (such as pr, mn, dd, sdm, or shm) or separate individual consonant sounds (such as k, r, f, and ba total of 24). Vowels were entirely omitted in hieroglyphic writing. Along with the phonograms there were also ideograms, representing separate words and concepts. Hieroglyphic writing combined phonograms and ideograms according to definite rules. There were 700 most frequently used hieroglyphs. In later periods of Egyptian history, especially in the Greco-Roman period, their number increased.

The most ancient hieroglyphic texts date from the 32nd century B.C.; the most recent were written in the third century A.D. The hieratic, a cursive form in which the original pictorial form of the symbols was lost, developed from hieroglyphics. The hieratic was used for writing texts on various subjects on papyrus for many centuries. In the eighth and seventh centuries B.C. a new cursive form, the demotics, emerged. The demotics was distinguished from the hieratic by its more cursive quality and by the abundance of ligatures, which makes demotic texts difficult to read. The last demotic texts were written in the fifth century A.D.


Petrovskii, N. S. Egipetskii iazyk. Leningrad, 1958.
Erman, A. Die Hieroglyphen. Berlin, 1912.
Lacau, P. Sur le systéme hiéroglyphique. Cairo, 1954.
Möller, G. Hieratische Palöographie, vols. 1–4. Leipzig, 1921–36.
Erichsen, W. Auswahl frühdemotischen Texte, fascs. 1–3. Copenhagen, 1950.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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