Hieroglyphic Writing

Knowledge of the Egyptian language and its different types of writing is fundamental to the study of the Pharaonic civilisation.

Hieroglyphic writing (or medu netjer, “divine words”) was considered as a gods’ gift, an invention of Thoth, the god of wisdom. Hieroglyphic signs and their simplifications in cursive format (hieratic and demotic) were widely employed by the ancient Egyptians in order to create countless written documents; they are a paramount source of knowledge about Egyptian civilization. In this respect, meticulous administrative registers with a wide range of products, mythological accounts written on tombs or temple walls or papyri, private documents, literary or scientific texts or royal decrees survive. Thanks to the task started by J. F. Champollion with the publication in 1822 of the first results concerning the decipherment of the hieroglyphic writing, an important part of ancient Egypt has been recovered after centuries of ignorance and oblivion.

The god Imhotep. Bronze. 26th Dynasty (664-525 BC).

Imhotep, a human being, turned god two thousand years after his death; he represents the genius and the triumph of a culture. As a wise man he is depicted with a papyrus roll unfurled in his hands. Patron of the scribes during the New Kingdom, they offered him a drop of blood or water before starting a job.

Obelisk belonging to the Sole Companion , Hemre . Limestone. 6th Dynasty (2323-2150 BC).

These small obelisks have been found mainly in the cult chapels of the Old Kingdom tombs, in some cases next to offering tables. In addition to religious connotations with the solar divinity, the obelisk is an element that provides the most important data on the owner of the tomb: his name and titles.

Wall relief fragment that shows a man who is writing on his tomb wall. Limestone. 19th Dynasty (1307-1196 BC).

A man dressed in the typical garment of the vizier is writing on his tomb wall. In his left he hand holds a shell and a reed pen in his right; under the chair, there is an object, interpreted as a papyrus container.

The Rosetta Stone Plaster reproduction of the original in the British Museum.

The texts contained on the Rosetta Stone, written in three different types of script, are indicative of the situation in Ptolemaic Egypt, a country under the protection of the traditional gods (hieroglyphic text) populated by a majority of native Egyptians (demotic text) and a minority of foreign origin (Greek text). Three types of writing for the same text: a decree promulgated in Memphis in the year 9 of Ptolemy V (196 BC) proclaiming a reduction in taxes affecting the army and above all the temples. The comparison of the hieroglyphic and Greek texts, especially the signs used for the wording of Ptolemy's name in the two versions, was the key that set Jean François Champollion on the path that would lead him to the brilliant decipherment of the hieroglyphic script, officially published in 1822.