Archaeological Museum of Bologna

Museo Civico Archeologico
Via dell'Archiginnasio 2 - 40124 Bologna

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Via de' Musei 8 – 40124 Bologna
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Collections / Sections / The Egyptian Collection

Writing in Ancient Egypt

The Egyptian civilization manifested a powerful bond with writing. Even the smallest object represented a suitable surface for a hieroglyphic, hieratic, demotic or Coptic text. Hieroglyphic writing, which appeared at the end of the 4th millennium, was founded on a complex system of phonetic signs corresponding to one or more consonants, ideograms that suggest the idea of an object or abstract concept, and determinatives that conclude the words, specifying their semantic categorie (e.g. man, woman). Hieratic script, which arose at virtually the same time, represents the “cursive” of hieroglyphics, which it replaced in daily and private use, sacrificing pictographic appearance to writing speed. These writings coexisted for many centuries until the beginning of the 26th dynasty (664–630 BC), when a third one appeared: the demotic script. Hieroglyphs thus came to be used for monumental inscriptions, whereas religious texts were written in hieratic script, and the demotic script became that of the public administration and private documents.

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The three scripts survived the Greek conquest (332 BC) as well as the Roman conquest (30 BC): the last demotic inscription dates to AD 473. With the spread of Christianity in Egypt, Coptic script emerged in the 1st century AD, using the Greek alphabet and several special signs derived from demotic script to translate sacred texts into Egyptian.

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Exhibition rooms | Egyptian collection