Ancient writing systems in the Mediterranean

A critical guide to electronic resources


- (7th century BC - 5th century AD)

edited by: M. Betrò - D. Salvoldi     DOI: 10.25429/    (translation by Melanie Rockenhaus)
Last update: 1/2022

  • Introduction
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Demotic inscription; Wadi Hammamat, Arabic desert (Egypt)

The origin of Demotic (from the Greek demotikos, 'popular') writing is not clear; was it a simple graphic evolution of the Abnormal Hieratic found in Thebes from the late 20th to the 26th Dynasty, or does it have separate origins in the Delta, for which documentation is scarce? Scholars today believe that the most probable thesis is the derivation from the scribal tradition of the Hieratic of the Delta. In any case, the new Saite political power of the 26th Dynasty which took control of all of Egypt, and its consequent prestige, led to graphic uniformity and the replacement of Abnormal Hieratic with Demotic even in Upper Egypt. The first evidence of Demotic can be found in the reign of Psamtik I, from the Serapeum in Memphis. Under the reign of Amasis (570-526 BC) Demotic became the official writing system of the administration, definitively replacing Abnormal Hieratic.
The long use of Demotic is generally divided into three graphic phrases: Archaic Demotic (further subdivided into Saitic, Persian and post-Persian: 26th-30th Dynasties), Ptolemaic Demotic (further subdivided into Archaic and Late script), Roman Demotic (here, too, subdivided into two periods, the second of which begins in 2nd century AD).
The last ostracon written with Demotic script dates from 232/233 AD, the last papyrus to the rule of Philip the Arab (244-249), and the last graffito (in the final phase Demotic is only found in graffiti) is dated 11 December 453 AD (reign of Marcian, 450-457).

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