The Info List - Hieratic

  → Coptic
  → Meroitic

Byblos syllabary
Sister systems
hieroglyphs"> Cursive
hieroglyphs[dubious ] Direction Right-to-left ISO 15924 Egyh, 060
range"> Unicode
U+13000–U+1342F (unified with Egyptian hieroglyphs) This article contains IPA phonetic symbols. Without proper rendering support, you may see question marks, boxes, or other symbols instead of Unicode characters. For an introductory guide on IPA symbols, see Help:IPA.

Hieratic (English: /haɪərˈrætɪk/; Ancient Greek: ἱερατικά, translit. hieratika, lit. 'priestly') is a cursive writing system used in the provenance of the pharaohs in Egypt. It developed alongside Cursive
hieroglyphs">cursive hieroglyphs,[1] to which it is distinctly related. It was primarily written in ink with a reed brush on papyrus, allowing scribes to write quickly without resorting to the time-consuming hieroglyphs.[2]


In the 2nd century AD, the term hieratic was first used by Clement of Alexandria.[3] It derives from the Greek phrase Ancient Greek language
Ancient Greek language
text" xml:lang="grc">γράμματα ἱερατικά
(grammata hieratika; literally "priestly writing"), as at that time, hieratic was used only for religious texts, as had been the case for the previous eight and a half centuries.

Hieratic can also be an adjective meaning "[o]f or associated with sacred persons or offices; sacerdotal."[4]


In the Proto-Dynastic Period of Egypt, hieratic first appeared and developed alongside the more formal hieroglyphic script. It is an error to view hieratic as a derivative of hieroglyphic writing. Indeed, the earliest texts from Egypt
are produced with ink and brush, with no indication their signs are descendants of hieroglyphs. True monumental hieroglyphs carved in stone did not appear until the 1st Dynasty, well after hieratic had been established as a scribal practice. The two writing systems, therefore, are related, parallel developments, rather than a single linear one.[1]

was used throughout the pharaonic period and into the Graeco-Roman
Period. Around 660 BC, the Demotic script (and later Greek) replaced hieratic in most secular writing, but hieratic continued to be used by the priestly class for several more centuries, at least into the 3rd century AD.

Uses and materials

One of four official letters to vizier Khay copied onto fragments of limestone (an ostracon).

Through most of its long history, hieratic was used for writing administrative documents, accounts, legal texts, and letters, as well as mathematical, medical, literary, and religious texts. During the Græco-Roman period, when Demotic (and later Greek) had become the chief administrative script, hieratic was limited primarily to religious texts. In general, hieratic was much more important than hieroglyphs throughout Egypt's history, being the script used in daily life. It was also the writing system first taught to students, knowledge of hieroglyphs being limited to a small minority who were given additional training.[5] In fact, it is often possible to detect errors in hieroglyphic texts that came about due to a misunderstanding of an original hieratic text.

Most often, hieratic script was written in ink with a reed brush[6] on papyrus, wood, stone or pottery ostraca. Thousands of limestone ostraca have been found at the site of Deir al-Madinah, revealing an intimate picture of the lives of common Egyptian workmen. Besides papyrus, stone, ceramic shards, and wood, there are hieratic texts on leather rolls, though few have survived. There are also hieratic texts written on cloth, especially on linen used in mummification. There are some hieratic texts inscribed on stone, a variety known as lapidary hieratic; these are particularly common on stelae from the 22nd Dynasty.

During the late 6th Dynasty, hieratic was sometimes incised into mud tablets with a stylus, similar to Cuneiform
script">cuneiform. About five hundred of these tablets have been discovered in the governor's palace at Ayn Asil (Balat),[7] and a single example was discovered from the site of Ayn al-Gazzarin, both in the Dakhla Oasis.[8][9] At the time the tablets were made, Dakhla was located far from centers of papyrus production.[10] These tablets record inventories, name lists, accounts, and approximately fifty letters. Of the letters, many are internal letters that were circulated within the palace and the local settlement, but others were sent from other villages in the oasis to the governor.


Exercise tablet with hieratic excerpt from The Instructions of Amenemhat. Dynasty XVIII, reign of Amenhotep I, c. 1514–1493 BC. Text reads: "Be on your guard against all who are subordinate to you ... Trust no brother, know no friend, make no intimates."

script (unlike Cursive
hieroglyphs">cursive hieroglyphs)[dubious ] always reads from right to left. Initially, hieratic could be written in either columns or horizontal lines, but after the 12th Dynasty (specifically during the reign of Amenemhat III), horizontal writing became the standard.

is noted for its cursive nature and use of ligatures for a number of characters. Hieratic
script also uses a much more standardized orthography than hieroglyphs; texts written in the latter often had to take into account extra-textual concerns, such as decorative uses and religious concerns that were not present in, say, a tax receipt. There are also some signs that are unique to hieratic, though Egyptologists have invented equivalent hieroglyphic forms for hieroglyphic transcriptions and typesetting.[11] Several hieratic characters have diacritical additions so that similar signs could easily be distinguished. Particularly complicated signs could be written with a single stroke.

is often present in any given period in two forms, a highly ligatured, cursive script used for administrative documents, and a broad uncial bookhand used for literary, scientific, and religious texts. These two forms can often be significantly different from one another. Letters, in particular, used very cursive forms for quick writing, often with large numbers of abbreviations for formulaic phrases, similar to shorthand.

A highly cursive form of hieratic known as "Abnormal Hieratic" was used in the Theban area from the second half of the 20th dynasty until the beginning of the 26th Dynasty.[12] It derives from the script of Upper Egyptian administrative documents and was used primarily for legal texts, land leases, letters, and other texts. This type of writing was superseded by Demotic—a Lower Egyptian scribal tradition—during the 26th Dynasty, when Demotic was established as a standard administrative script throughout a re-unified Egypt.


has had influence on a number of other writing systems. The most obvious is that on Demotic, its direct descendant. Related to this are the Demotic signs of the Meroitic script and the borrowed Demotic characters used in the Coptic alphabet and Old Nubian.

Outside of the Nile Valley, many of the signs used in the Byblos syllabary were apparently borrowed from Old Kingdom hieratic signs.[13] It is also known that early Hebrew used hieratic numerals.[14]


The Unicode
standard considers hieratic characters' font variants of the Egyptian hieroglyphs, and the two scripts have been unified.[15] Hieroglyphs themselves were added to the Unicode Standard in October 2009 with the release of version 5.2. To date, there is no known Unicode
font with hieratic.

See also


  1. ^ a b Goedicke 1988:vii–viii.
  2. ^ McGregor, W. B., Linguistics: An Introduction (London: Bloomsbury Academic, 2015), p. 306.
  3. ^ Goedicke 1988:vii; Wente 2001:2006. The reference is made in Clement's Stromata 5:4.
  4. ^ Definition of hieratic, Free Online Dictionary. Retrieved 2011-10-23.
  5. ^ Baines 1983:583.
  6. ^ During the Roman period reed pens (calami) were also used.
  7. ^ Soukiassian, Wuttman, Pantalacci 2002.
  8. ^ Posener-Kriéger 1992; Pantalacci 1998.
  9. ^ Scribes and craftsmen: the noble art of writing on clay. Feb 29, 2012; UCL Institute of Archaeology
  10. ^ Parkinson and Quirke 1995:20.
  11. ^ Gardiner 1929.
  12. ^ Wente 2001:210. See also Malinine [1974].
  13. ^ Hoch 1990.
  14. ^ Aharoni 1966; Goldwasser 1991.
  15. ^ The Unicode Standard, Version 5.2.0, Chapter 14.17, Egyptian Hieroglyphs [1]


  • Aharoni, Yohanan (1966). "The Use of Hieratic
    Numerals in Hebrew Ostraca and the Shekel Weights". Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research. 184 (184): 13–19. doi:10.2307/1356200. JSTOR 1356200.
  • Baines, John R. (1983). "Literacy and Ancient Egyptian Society". Man: A Monthly Record of Anthropological Science. 18 (new series): 572–599. Archived from the original on 2006-10-09. 
  • Betrò, Maria Carmela (1996). Hieroglyphics: The Writings of Ancient Egypt. New York; Milan: Abbeville Press (English); Arnoldo Mondadori (Italian). pp. 34–239. Book
    Number">ISBN 0-7892-0232-8.
  • Gardiner, Alan H. (1929). "The Transcription of New Kingdom Hieratic". Journal of Egyptian Archaeology. 15 (1/2): 48–55. doi:10.2307/3854012. JSTOR 3854012. 
  • Goedicke, Hans (1988). Old Hieratic
    . Baltimore: Halgo, Inc.
  • Goldwasser, Orly (1991). "An Egyptian Scribe from Lachish and the Hieratic
    Tradition of the Hebrew Kingdoms". Tel Aviv: Journal of the Tel Aviv University Institute of Archaeology. 18: 248–253.
  • Janssen, Jacobus Johannes (2000). "Idiosyncrasies in Late Ramesside Hieratic
    Writing". Journal of Egyptian Archaeology. 86: 51–56. doi:10.2307/3822306. JSTOR 3822306.
  • Malinine, Michel (1974). "Choix de textes juridiques en hiératique 'anormal' et en démotique". Textes et langages de l’Égypte pharaonique: Cent cinquante années de recherches 1822–1972; Hommage à Jean-François Champollion. Cairo: Imprimerie de l’Institut français d’archéologie orientale du Caire. pp. 31–35.  Vol. 1.
  • Hoch, James E. (1990). "The Byblos Syllabary: Bridging the Gap Between Egyptian Hieroglyphs and Semitic Alphabets". Journal of the Society for the Study of Egyptian Antiquities. 20: 115–124. 
  • Möller, Georg Christian Julius (1927–1936). Hieratische Paläographie: Die aegyptische Buchschrift in ihrer Entwicklung von der Fünften Dynastie bis zur römischen Kaiserzeit (2nd ed.). Leipzig: J. C. Hinrichs’schen Buchhandlungen.  4 vols.
  • Möller, Georg Christian Julius (ed.) (1927–1935). Hieratische Lesestücke für den akademischen Gebrauch (2nd ed.). Leipzig: J. C. Hinrichs’schen Buchhandlungen.  3 vols.
  • Pantalacci, Laure (1998). "La documentation épistolaire du palais des gouverneurs à Balat–ˤAyn Asīl". Bulletin de l'Institut français d'archéologie orientale. 98: 303–315. 
  • Parkinson, Richard B.; Stephen G. J. Quirke (1995). Papyrus. London: British Museum Press. 
  • Posener-Kriéger, Paule (1992). "Les tablettes en terre crue de Balat". In Élisabeth Lalou (ed.). Les Tablettes à écrire de l'Antiquité à l'époque moderne. Turnhout: Brepols. pp. 41–49. 
  • Soukiassian, Georges; Michel Wuttmann; Laure Pantalacci (2002). Le palais des gouverneurs de l’époque de Pépy II: Les sanctuaires de ka et leurs dépendances. Cairo: Imprimerie de l’Institut français d’archéologie orientale du Caire. Book
    Number">ISBN 2-7247-0313-8.
  • Verhoeven, Ursula (2001). Untersuchungen zur späthieratischen Buchschrift. Leuven: Uitgeverij Peeters and Departement Oriëntalistiek. 
  • Wente, Edward Frank (2001). "Scripts: Hieratic". In Donald Redford (ed.). The Oxford Encyclopedia of Ancient Egypt. Oxford, New York, and Cairo: Oxford University Press and The American University in Cairo Press. pp. 206–210.  Vol. 3.
  • Wimmer, Stefan Jakob (1989). Hieratische Paläographie der nicht-literarischen Ostraka der 19. und 20. Dynastie. Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz Verlag. 

External links