Introduction

Hieratic is the cursive form of Hieroglyphic writing which the Egyptians used for everday writing.  Hieratic developed very early in Egyptian history, and remained in use for most documents until around 700BCE when it was replaced by Demotic.  However, Hieratic was still used for religious documents on papyrus until the old priesthood was disbanded.

Hieratic, as the practical form of writing, was the first type of writing that the Egyptian scribes learned.  Hieroglyphics were only taught to advanced students.  As a result, many scribes could not read Hieroglyphic inscriptions, or only with difficulty.  This is, of course, exactly the opposite of what occurs now - Hieroglyphs first, then Hieratic for a select few.  Hieratic texts are now usually transcribed into Hieroglyphs in order to be studied.

Hieratic signs correspond exactly to the Hieroglyphic signs which would be used to write the same text.  The same rules of spelling and arrangement of signs applies to Hieratic as to Hieroglyphic.

Over the course of its history, Hieratic changed.  A major change occurred around 1300BCE, resulting in "Ramesside" style writing.  What we shall be looking at here will be "Middle Egyptian" style Hieratic, used in the Middle Kingdom and 18th Dynasty.  Most of the Hieratic signs will be taken from Papyrus Leningrad 1115, the Story of the Shipwrecked Sailor, since the scribe who wrote it had nice, clear handwriting.

Hieratic was written from right to left.  In the earlier part of the Middle Kingdom, it might be written either in columns or lines, however later it was only written in lines.  The individual signs were drawn starting from the top left of the sign, which is easier for right-handed people.  Horizontal lines were generally drawn from left to right; verticals from top to bottom.  More Information

I plan to create a series of lessons, each with exercises to practice reading Hieratic.  At first the Hieratic will be rather artificial, but later I shall try to include as much actual Hieratic as possible.  The exercises will also include places for you to type in your answers and any questions or comments and automatically have them sent by e-mail so you can be sure whether you're on the right track, or to ask for assistance i you are having difficulty with some part of a lesson.

Before you begin these lessons, I recommend that you know at least the basics of reading the Hieroglyphic version of the writing, and that you have some knowledge of Middle Egyptian, the language which was written in this form of Hieratic.  These lessons are intended to build on those skills.
 
 

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Lesson 1