A hieroglyph (Greek for "sacred carvings") was a character of the ancient Egyptian writing system. Logographic scripts that are pictographic in form in a way reminiscent of ancient Egyptian are also sometimes called "hieroglyphs".[1] In Neoplatonism, especially during the Renaissance, a "hieroglyph" was an artistic representation of an esoteric idea, which Neoplatonists believed actual Egyptian hieroglyphs to be. The word hieroglyphics refers to a hieroglyphic script.

Egyptian hieroglyphs typical of the Graeco-Roman period, sculpted in relief.
Glyphs: viper, owl, 'bread bun', folded cloth

The Egyptians invented the pictorial script, which refers to any writing system that employs images as symbols for various semantic entities, rather than the abstract signs used by alphabets. The appearance of these distinctive figures in 3000 BCE marked the beginning of Egyptian civilization. Though based on images, Egyptian script was more than a sophisticated form of picture-writing. Each picture/glyph served one of three functions: (1) to represent the image of a thing or action, (2) to stand for a sound or the sounds of one to as many as three syllables, or (3) to clarify the precise meaning of adjoining glyphs. Writing hieroglyphs required some artistic skill, limiting the number of scholars chosen to learn it.[2] Only those privileged with an extensive education (i.e. the pharaoh, nobility and priests) were able to read and write hieroglyphs; others used simpler versions more suited for everyday handwriting: first the hieratic script, and later the demotic.

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  1. ^ "Egypt, Ancient: Hieroglyphics and Origins of Alphabet". Encyclopedia of African History Title information  – via Credo Reference (subscription required). Retrieved 12 September 2012.
  2. ^ Shlain, Leonard (1999-09-01). The Alphabet Versus the Goddess: The Conflict Between Word and Image. Penguin. p. 53. ISBN 978-0-14-019601-6.

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