How Sudanese Invented A Writing Script With 23 Alphabets Around 300 BC


What makes up present-day Sudan is a combination of ancient cities with great historical value, indispensable to the historical narratives of civilization. Prominently among them is the ancient city of Meroe. Meroe was the capital of the kingdom of Kush (presently known as the Republic of Sudan) for several centuries famous for its wealth in ancient times.

Among other things, Meroe became an important subject matter in recent classical studies due to archaeological discoveries of ancient writing scripts generally referred to as Meroitic scripts, linked to the ancient city, an admirable attempt at literacy.

The Meroitic scripts were used to write the Meroitic language of the Kingdom of Meroë/Kush. Meroitic was the major language spoken in the Nile valley and northern Sudan from about 200 BCE until about the 4th century CE. It is believed that the people of Meroe developed the Meroitic scripts so as to keep better records of trade activities, enhance the religious practices and keep better records of royalties.

The Meroitic Scripts:

Archaeological evidence discovered that the Meroites started codifying the Meroitic language from about 300BC, and the language was written in two modes of the Meroitic alphabets, these were ;

1.   Meroitic Cursive, which was written with a stylus and was used for general record-keeping and

2.   Meroitic Hieroglyphic, which was carved in stone or used for royal and religious documents.

The Meroitic script is believed by some historians and archaeologists to be derived from Egyptian hieroglyphs, due to the similarities of both hieroglyphics, it is, however, different and works differently from the Egyptian hieroglyphs. Although it could be said that the Meroites took a cue from the Egyptians.

The direction of the Meroitic cursive as written from right to left, top to bottom, while the hieroglyphic form was written top to bottom in columns from right to left. The cursive and hieroglyphic scripts basically follow the same principle as they only differ in the shape of their signs. They were both unraveled by British Egyptologist Francis Llewelyn Griffith between 1909 and 1911.

The Meroitic consists of two alphasyllabary scripts that are composed of 23 characters, and of the 23 characters are four vowels, fifteen consonants, and four syllabus signs. The Meroitic writing method was such that every consonant had an assumed vowel sound /a/, because it was not normally written. But were the intended vowel sound was different, a special sign is written alongside the basic consonant so as to clearly relay the intended meaning.

Meroitic scripts | Source:

Meroitic Hieroglyphes | Source:


Meroitic Hieroglyphic and Demotic script

Although the scripts have been deciphered, the Meroitic script remains largely not understood, as knowledge of the language itself is incomplete. This is due to the fact that the Meroitic language has not been yet connected with other known languages, and without understanding the language, scholars have a difficult time accurately translating the texts.

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