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WRITING in Ancient Egypt. Ancient Studies. Thoth. A hymn to Osiris. I. Origins A. Practical 1. Growing government bureaucracy 2. From Sumerians (through trade) B. Divine

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Writing in ancient egypt

WRITINGin Ancient Egypt

Ancient Studies


I. Origins

A. Practical

1. Growing government bureaucracy

2. From Sumerians (through trade)

B. Divine

1. God of learning, Thoth, invented it. In some versions, Osiris is attributed as creator of writing.

2. Words were considered to have magical powers,

since they came from the gods.

Goddess of the art of writing
Goddess of the Art of Writing

  • “Seshat was the goddess of the art of writing and calculation. Her task consisted of writing the royal annals, counting the regnal years of the pharaohs, and [being] present at the jubilee feasts as a goddess. She is also at coronation ceremonies as the goddess of fate. Thus she assumed the position of the divine record-keeper” (Owusu 109).


A. Hieroglyphs (c. 3200 BCE)

1. Means "holy writing" in Greek (Greeks named it c. 300


2. Were originally pictograms. Later evolved into mixture of

pictograms, ideograms, and phonograms.

3. Were more elaborate, artistic, and accurately drawn than

Sumerian pictograms.

4. Required a great deal of memorization (like Sumerian cuneiform)

5. Unlike Sumerian cuneiform, which scribes wrote in long

lines, right to left, hieroglyphs weren't consistent—

sometimes vertical, sometimes horizontal, etc.

Evolution of egyptian writing cont
Evolution of Egyptian writing, cont.

B. Hieratic

1. Hieroglyphs transformed by priests

2. Faster, more convenient for scribes--fewer,

simpler lines, connected (as in cursive


Evolution of egyptian writing cont1
Evolution of Egyptian writing, cont.

C. Demotic (c. 700 BCE)

1. An even more simplified version of hieroglyphs

2. Greek for "of the people"

3. Became more widespread amongst population

than hieroglyphs.

III. Writing materials

A. Early: carved on stone with chisel

B. Between 3100 and 2900 BCE began using papyrus, a

reed that grew in Nile valley, a 15 ft. high plant with

strong fibers, roots as big as a human's arm (word

"paper" comes from "papyrus")

IV. Rosetta Stone

A. Ancient Egyptian language died out c. 400 CE and with it, knowledge of

hieroglyphic writing.

B. Napoleon invaded Egypt in 1799. One of his soldiers, digging a fort in

July 1799 near town of Rashid (Europeans call it Rosetta), found a black

stone (basalt) with writing carved on it. [Stone moved to Cairo, then to

Alexandria, then to London and eventually to British Museum in 1802.]

In 1822, Jean Champollion, French genius, drawing from his knowledge

of Coptic, deciphered it.

Rosetta Stone, cont.

C. The stone: 3 feet 9 inches in length, 2 feet 4 1/2 inches in width and 11 inches in thickness (originally was probably 5 or 6 feet in height, dedicated to a king, displayed in a temple) hieroglyphics on top; demotic in middle; Greek on bottom

Rosetta Stone, cont.

D.cartouche: royal names circled in ovals; the one on the

Rosetta Stone contained the name of Ptolemy--scholars

compared it with another cartouche from an obelisk from Philae. Also compared signs to a cartouche of the name Cleopatra.

E. The inscription on the stone, according to the British

Museum, celebrates "the first commemoration of the

coronation of Ptolemy V, Epiphanes, king of all Egypt"

(c. 196 BCE).



  • http://www.artsmia.org/mythology/slide2.html (Thoth image)

  • http://www.vmfa.state.va.us/gmuvava/html/thoth_imagechange.htm (Thoth statue)

  • http://atschool.eduweb.co.uk/trinity/projects/egypt/cartouch.html (cartouche)

  • http://www-oi.uchicago.edu/OI/MUS/ED/TRC/EGYPT/writing.html (hymn to Osiris)

  • http://i-cias.com/e.o/demotic.htm (demotic)

  • http://i-cias.com/e.o/hieratic.htm (hieratic)

  • http://www.ba.dlr.de/ne/pe/virtis/stone1.htm (Rosetta stone)

  • http://www.thebritishmuseum.ac.uk/egyptian/ea/gall/rosetta.html (Rosetta stone)

  • The History of Archaeology by Maev Kennedy, NY: Barnes & Noble, 2002. p. 59

  • Owusu, Heike. Symbols of Egypt. NY: Sterling, 1998.