Archaeological Museum of Bologna

Museo Civico Archeologico
Via dell'Archiginnasio 2 - 40124 Bologna

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Collections / Ricerca / Egyptian Collection: Writing in Ancient Egypt


Throughout its ancient history, Egypt expresses an unbreakable bond with writing; every monument, even the smallest object, represent a suitable surface to receive a text written in hieroglyphic, hieratic, demotic and coptic.
Hieroglyphic writing, appeared toward the end of the 4th millennium, is based on a complex system comprising phonetic signs, which correspond to one or more consonants, ideograms, that suggest to the reader the idea of a concrete object or an abstract concept, and determinatives, that conclude the words specifying the scope of belonging (i.e. man, woman).

Almost simultaneously is another handwriting, hieratic, which mainly traced on papyrus, terracotta crocks, wooden tablets, represents the "italic" of hieroglyph which is substituted in the daily and private uses, sacrificing the pictographic aspect, in favor of the writing speed.

Without suffering any particular changes, the two scriptures coexist for many centuries until the beginning of the 26th dynasty (664-630 BC), when appears the demotic. The hieroglyphic characters continue to be used for monumental inscriptions, while are written in hieratic only religious texts (hieratic means holy) and demotic becomes the writing of public administration and private documents.
These three consonant writings continue to be used even after the Greek (332 BC) and Roman (30 BC) conquests: the last demotic inscription dates back to 473 AD.
With the spread of Christianity in Egypt, in the first century AD, the coptic makes its appearance: uses the greek alphabet and seven special signs arising from demotic, to translate the sacred texts in Egyptian; for the first time, the ancient egyptian is also written in its vocalic part.

Exhibition rooms | Egyptian collection