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The Gods Of Egypt


Amen (Amon) and Amen-Ra, King of the Gods | Forms of Amen-Ra | Osiris, Asar | Worship of Osiris | Isis | Anpu, or Anubis | Horus | Nephthys | Asar-Hapi, or Serapis | Nut | The Gods of Heliopolis | Egyptian Mythology | Hieroglyphics | Galery


Throughout their more than 3.000 year long history, the Ancient Egyptians used three kinds of writings to write religious and secular texts:

Hieroglyphic writing is the basis of the two other writings. It owes its name to the fact that when the Greeks arrived in Egypt, this writing was mainly used for sacred (Greek hieros) inscriptions (Greek glypho) on temple walls or on public monuments. Hieroglyphic writing uses clearly distinguishable pictures to express both sounds and ideas (see below) and was used from the end of the Prehistory until 396 AD, when the last hieroglyphic text was written on the walls of the temple of Isis on the island of Philae.
It was used in monumental inscriptions on walls of temples and tombs, but also on furniture, sarcophagi and coffins, and even on papyrus. It could either be inscribed or drawn and often the signs would be painted in many colours. The quality of the writing would vary from highly detailed signs to mere outlines.

Three examples of hieroglyphic writing. Top-left, an inscription with painted signs. To the right, an
inscription with very detailed signs, found at the entrance of a private tomb at Saqqara. To the left, an
example of black painted hieroglyphs, showing little to no detail. The lines in this example are less
straight than in the inscriptions but each individual sign still remains recognisable. Also note that the
relative positioning of the signs is done with less care.


Drawn on papyrus or on linen, the signs would often be simplified but they would still be recognisable as individual signs. A special, cursive form of hieroglyphic writing was used for the Book of the Dead

A sample on papyrus of the cursive hieroglyphic writing used for the Book of the Dead. As this example shows, the choice of cursive hieroglyphic, was not (necessarily) motivated by cost of production and quality. The painted figure of the woman holding the sistrum on the left is of quite high quality and may at first sight seem to contrast with the quality of the hieroglyphic signs.
Also note that some signs are painted in red, others in black. The signs in red are highlights in the text and often denote the beginning of a new chapter. Words highlighted in this way are called rubra. Highlighting text within such rubra was done by using black ink or paint. Rubra were also common in hieratic texts.


Hieratic writing is as old as hieroglyphic, but it is more cursive and the result of a quick hand drawing signs on a sheet of papyrus with a reed brush. While writing, the scribe would often omit several details that made one sign different from another. The sign , for instance, representing an arm and a hand holding something, would be written in the same way as the sign , which simply represents an arm and a hand and normally has an entirely different meaning. Several smaller signs, written in one quick flow, would melt together, but despite this, the hieratic text can still be transcribed into hieroglyphics.
Hieratic was mainly used for religious and secular writings on papyrus or on linen and during the Greek-Roman era occasionally in an inscription of a temple wall.
It was called hieratic by the Greeks because when they arrived in Egypt, this writing was almost exclusively used by the Egyptian priests (Greek hieratikos, priestly). Prior to demotic, it was also used in administrative and private texts and in stories.
An excerpt from Papyrus Berlin 3024 (The conversation of a man with his Ba) in hieratic (right) and transcribed into hieroglyphic (left).
It is a common practice among Egyptologists to transcribe hieratic texts into hieroglyphic before translating.

Demotic writing started being used during the 25th/26th Dynasty. In part, it is a further evolution from hieratic: like hieratic, demotic was a handwriting, but the strokes of the reed brush or the reed pen are even quicker and more illegible. Hieratic signs representing a group of hieroglyphs could be broken up, not as the represent the individual hieroglyphic signs again, but to facilitate the writing. With these entirely new signs, unknown in hieroglyphic or hieratic were shaped. The link between handwriting and hieroglyphic text slowly faded with demotic. Where hieratic texts often are transcribed into hieroglyphic before translation, demotic texts are not.
Demotic was mostly used in administrative and private texts, but also in stories and quite exceptionally in inscriptions.
Its name comes from the Greek word demotikos meaning popular.
It is important to note that neither writing would entirely replace another, but it would merely restrict the other writings to specific domains and be restricted itself to other domains. Thus demotic would become the writing of the administration from the 26th Dynasty on, but it did not entirely replace hieratic as a handwriting, which was still being used in religious texts.
Hieratic, on its part, did not replace hieroglyphic either. From its beginnings, it was hieroglyphic, but more cursive and written by a speedier hand than hieroglyphic. As the two writings evolved, practicality caused hieratic to be used when a text need not be written in the slow but detailed hieroglyphic signs and was used in administrative texts, texts that were not to be inscribed on monuments or on funerary objects, texts that mattered for their contents only, ...