What is a Hieroglyph?

A Hieroglyph is literally a 'sacred carving'- a character usually an image carved in stone.From Greek hiero-sacred- and glyph-to carve,to sculpt.


The Greeks called the Ancient Egyptian writing Hieroglyphics because it was used by priests and was originally carved in stone and occasionally in wood.

Hiero comes from Greek and it means sacred. Glyphs is also Greek for carving.

Ancient Egyptian Hieroglyphics

Cursive forms of the script existed written on papyrus and wood.

Hieroglyphics were originally carved images of items,animals or elements like water and fire.

They stood for the image they depicted. For example the word for duck in Ancient Egyptian was sa or sȝ, sȝt.

sa or sȝ, sȝt 
Duck in Ancient Egyptian 

In time these images started being used only for what they sounded as a phonetic value. So the image of a duck (sa) was read as 'sa' and it didn't necessarily mean duck.

Each Egyptian Hieroglyph represented- to make things simple- either a syllable , a whole word or a whole idea.

Rubbing of a Zhou dynasty bronze inscription (c. 825 BC)


Some of the glyphs had alphabetic values-they marked one single letter.These are known as the Hieroglyphic alphabet.

Sumerian cuneiform

Technically Hieroglyphics can be this kind of complicated writing of any civilization such the Babylonian cuneiform script ,or  the Mayan glyphs or Chinese characters.

Mayan glyphs

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