The Invention of the Meroitic script (Cursive and Hieroglyphic)

Abstract : Meroitic was the main language of the kingdom of Kush, in ancient Sudan. Although it appeared probably in the 3rd millennium BC, it was endowed with a specific writing-system only in its late stage, namely the Kingdom of Meroe (3rd cent. BC / 4th cent. AD) and superseded Egyptian, which has been previously the only written language in Kush (25th Dynasty and Kingdom of Napata). Although the signs were developed from their Egyptian counterparts (the cursive script from Demotic and the hieroglyphic script from Egyptian hieroglyphs), the writing system was completely different. It was an alpha-syllabary, such as in the Indian and Ethiopian scripts, and therefore, it comprised only signs with phonetic values, 23 in each set, cursive and hieroglyphic. The paper will specifically deal with the creation process of these two scripts. For the cursive, which appeared first, I shall track earlier attempts to transcribe local terms (such as Meroitic personal names) into Egyptian script and try to determine how much these attempts can account for the creation of a new script. For the hieroglyphic script, which was invented a century later, in order to replace Egyptian hieroglyphics in religious contexts (mainly temple inscriptions), I shall show how it was artificially developed by a complex process of selection and adaptation of Egyptian signs.
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Contributor : Claude Rilly <>
Submitted on : Friday, March 3, 2017 - 6:47:04 PM
Last modification on : Friday, January 4, 2019 - 5:33:05 PM


  • HAL Id : halshs-01482766, version 1



Claude Rilly. The Invention of the Meroitic script (Cursive and Hieroglyphic). Signs of Writing III, A. Stauder (EPHE), Jul 2016, Paris, France. ⟨halshs-01482766⟩



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