Hieratic and Demotic script

Hieroglyphics were the earliest from of Egyptian writing, however other forms did emerge throughout the period. There are two noteworthy to consider:


An example of Egyptian Hieratic script

An example of Egyptian Hieratic script

Was a script used primarily by the priests, and was, in essence a simplified more cursive version of the original hieroglyphics. Originally hieratic was quite literally a version of the hieroglyphics script which was more rounded in form, thus allowing for quick writing.

During the Old kingdom, hieratic was hardly any different to hieroglyphic writing, except it was (As far as we can tell) always written from left to right.

During the Middle kingdom hieratic became invariably associated with writing on papyrus (Since writing on papyrus was done with a simple reed pen, which allowed the writer to benefit from its cursive nature). During the middle period hieratic evolved into a script in its own right and became easy to distinguish from traditional hieroglyphs. Religious texts, however were usually written in ‘full’ hieroglyphs, even when produced on papyrus. This began to change after Dynasty xxI, when even religious texts began to use hieratic.




Demotic (from the Greek Demos, popular, the people) was a further evolution of hieratic writing, adopted during the late period. Demotic, a very rapid form of

An example of Egyptian Demotic script

An example of Egyptian Demotic script

writing was used for virtually all writing during the Ptolemaic and Roman periods and has even been found used for stone inscriptions. The widespread introduction of demotic script is generally dated to 700 bce, and was favoured particularly for legal, business, and literary texts.

Demotic was developed in the north of Egypt and was used throughout the country after the conquest of Upper Egypt under Psamtek I. The oldest known example of a demotic papyrus dates to the 21st year of Psamtek I and is from el-Hiba – Like hieratic it was always written from right to left.

Since Demotic writing was a later development, the language used to write demotic is closer to what we could loosely call ‘Late Egyptian’ rather than the Middle Egyptian we work with on this site.

Demotic script is noticeably more cursive than even hieratic, having little or no resemblance to the original hieroglyphic symbols, although the underlying principles of the writing system are the same. In fact, Demotic does not look too dissimilar from contemporary forms of arabic script.

Currently, we believe that between the seventh and fifth centuries demotic was used only for administration and officialdom. The first literary demotic texts are from the fourth century BC, though most literary texts in the script date to the early Roman Period (a time when Greek was the main administrative language).