Hieroglyphs, A Brief History

Definition of Hieroglyph
Hieroglyph comes from two Greek words: hieros (sacred) and glyphos (writing).  

Introduced in 3100 BC, after cuneiform, hieroglyphs were used during the Dynastic period, with about 700 signs in use.  Peaking at around 5000 characters in the Greek and Roman periods.

History of Hieroglyphs

Usually written in columns or horizontal lines running left-to-right or right-to-left.  Hieroglyphs found in tombs or temples were normally oriented towards a central point, or an important figure such as the pharoah.  There are two types of hieroglyphic characters: symbols that stand for words or ideas, which are called logograms or ideograms; and phonetic signs, which are called phonograms or pictograms, each representing a particular consonant sound.

Numerous hieroglyphs are objects such as a crocodile or a dog, these represent a sound rather than the object itself.

Most hieroglyphs are found on the walls of temples and tombs, as well as various mummy wrappings and many other objects placed in tombs.  Used mainly to record magical spells, lists of provisions and the tomb owners name.  Many hieroglyphs were used to keep records, especially when the Nile River flooded, to keep track of the quantity of materials used to build the pyramid and to keep lists of stored surplus food.

Even though Egypt was conquered by King Cambyses of Persia, Alexander the Great and later the Roman Emperor Augustus, hieroglyphs remained in use in Egypt until the late 4th century AD.

Facts About Hieroglyphics

  1. Scribes started training in hieroglyphs as young as 12.
  2. Only 3% of the Egyptian population knew how to read hieroglyphics.
  3. Hieroglyphics were usually divided into four different categories: alphabetic, syllabic, word-signs, and determinatives.
  4. Alphabetic signs in hieroglyphics were created to represent one sound each.
  5. Syllabic signs in hieroglyphics were created to represent two or three consonants.
  6. A triple sign in hieroglyphics meant it was plural.
  7. The commoners wrote in a simpler form of hieroglyphics called demotic.
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Read more about writing: The Printing Press, A Brief HistoryHieroglyphs, A Brief HistoryWhat is Cuneiform Script?A Short History of Writing.