UM Library Celebrates Language

Egyptian Languages

c. 3200 BCE - Graeco-Roman Period

Hieroglyphics were generally written vertically, as seen in this document. The script is read from top to bottom, starting at the rightmost column and moving to the left. In the hieroglyphic system, each symbol represents a sound or a word, which is indicated by the shape of the symbol.

This particular document is from an Egyptian Book of the Dead for the "chantress of Amun". Depicted here is a decorated vignette with an offering being presented to Re-Horakhty by the deceased temple singer, Djed-Mut. It is believed to be from Thebes (modern Luxor) and dates to the New Kingdom (c. 1200 BCE).

c. 1800 BCE - Graeco-Roman Period

Hieratic is a form of cursive hieroglyphics. The symbols used are the same as the hieroglyphic symbols, but they are written more quickly and with less detail. Hieratic could be written vertically, like Hieroglyphics, or (as in this case) in horizontal lines, which are read from right to left. It was used mainly by the priestly class from the pharaonic period into the Graeco-Roman period.

Mid-7th BCE - 5th CE

Demotic is a further development of the Hieratic script. Whereas Hieratic characters generally look quite similar to their Hieroglyphic counterparts, Demotic characters have evolved to the point where the similarities to Hieroglyphics are barely recognizable. This script first began being used in the 7th century BCE and continued through the Graeco-Roman period.

This document is a receipt for monies paid to the temple at Tebtynis as the sales tax included in the purchase of a house in 41 or 42 CE. It was signed by twelve priests of Soknebtynis.

332 BCE - 9th CE

After Alexander the Great conquered Egypt in 332 BCE, Greek became the official language of the Egyptian ruling class and expanded through Egypt as Greek culture pervaded the cities, towns and villages.

This document is bilingual, containing both Demotic and Greek. It is a Demotic contract for the sale of a half share in two rooms, made by Thermouthis, daughter of Marepsemis, to her son, Eutychos the elder; the subscriptions are in Greek, as well as the date which was added at the top of the papyrus. This papyrus dates to August 28th, 30 CE.

1st CE - Present

The Coptic script was based on the Greek alphabet. Essentially, it used Greek characters to write the Egyptian language. It used all of the Greek characters plus six additional characters to represent Egyptian sounds. Like Greek or English, Coptic is written from left to right in horizontal lines.

This document records the conclusion of a dispute over rent for a vineyard. The writer also asks for a blessing to be written and wrapped around some unnamed object, which will be used with the water of their foot washings for therapeutic purposes. It dates to the 6th-7th century CE.