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Did the pharaohs know hieroglyphic writing? - Polish Egyptologist explains

31.03.2014 History&Culture

Hieroglyphics are an inherent part of Egyptian civilization, even though only a handful of people mastered them. Photo by S. Zdziebłowski

Could all the pharaohs read and write? Only 1-3 percent of the inhabitants of ancient Egypt mastered this exceptionally difficult art. Evidence of literacy of the rulers of Egypt are perhaps not numerous, but clear, argues Filip Taterka, Egyptologist, a doctoral student at the Institute of Prehistory, Adam Mickiewicz University in Poznań.

In ancient Egypt, there were several types of handwriting. Currently, the best known are classical hieroglyphs, carved in stone on the walls of temples and tombs.

 

"For administrative documents and literary texts, ancient Egiptians used mainly hieratic, which was a simplified form of writing used since the Old Kingdom, the time of the builders of the pyramids in the third millennium BC. In the middle of the first millennium BC, even more simplified demotic appeared" - explained Taterka.

 

As it turns out, Egyptian written sources tell us very little about the literacy of the kings of Egypt. Poznań scientist tried to trace the problem since the beginning of pharaonic civilization in Egyptian texts.

 

"Relatively late sources suggest that even one of the first rulers of Egypt - Aha - mastered the writing skill. He was believed to be an author of a few medical treaties, although the reliability of this report is, of course, debatable" - added Taterka.

 

According to the reasearcher, the oldest source directly referring to pharaonic literacy comes from the end of the Fifth Dynasty, the end of the 3d millennium BC. Royal dignitary Inti an inscription carved inside his tomb at Saqqara near the oldest pyramid in the world, which mentions receiving a letter personally written by Pharaoh Isesi. The researcher found numerous allusions to skills in writing by the rulers of the land of the Nile in the Texts of the Pyramids, the oldest religious inscriptions carved inside the 10 pyramids.

 

"The most famous Egyptian text that speaks of the royal literacy is the Prophecy of Neferti. It is a story concerning the first king of the fourth dynasty - Sneferu. In the story, the ruler writes down the words of Neferti - the wise man from the East- on papyrus. Although this story can not be treated as proof of literacy of Sneferu himself, since it was created a thousand years after his reign, it clearly shows that at least in the time of the 12th dynasty, the Egyptians could imagine such a situation" - believes Taterka.

 

Evidence of the Pharaohs literacy is - according to the Egyptologist - rich clerical equipment found by Howard Carter in the tomb of Tutankhamun in the Valley of the Kings, which according to the discoverer, bears traces of use, dating back to the period of education of the young king.

 

"Future pharaohs often held high administrative positions. Any function within the state administration in ancient Egypt was associated with the absolute necessity of knowledge of the letter. Without this, they would not be able to perform their duties" - said the Egyptologist.

 

Unfortunately, little is known about the education of royal children, even though, according to the researcher, it is certain that in the time of the builders of the pyramids, there was a special institution set up for this purpose at the royal court. From the time of Queen Hatshepsut (15th century BC), royal educators are known, although we do not know the exact list of their duties.

 

"The royal children, like other Egyptians in writing schools, were probably primarily taught hieratic, which was essential for administrative positions. Study of classical hieroglyphs probably was reserved for the children groomed for priesthood, and probably for the future heir to the throne" - argues Taterka.

 

Knowledge of hieroglyphs was necessary to fulfil the Pharaoh’s royal duties, which included religious rituals, during which the ruler would recite sacred texts. The ruler was the only intermediary between gods and humans. He was often identified with the god Thoth, the inventor of the hieroglyphs.

 

It turns out that not all pharaohs spoke the language of Egypt and could write in it. In the 1st millennium BC, Egypt very often was under the foreign reign. "Persian, Greek and Roman rulers in the official presentattions were portrayed in the Egyptian manner, but most of them did not have the knowledge of the language, not to mention hieroglyphs" - believes Taterka.

 

According to his research, however, most pharaohs knew the art of reading and writing. These skills were uncommon in nearby Mesopotamia. "Peers of Egyptian rulers, kings and princes of Mesopotamia, basically did not have a command of cuneiform, probably due to the fact that it was far more difficult to master, but there were exceptions" - concluded the Egyptologist.

 

PAP - Science and Scholarship in Poland

 

szz/ agt/ mrt/

 

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