Writing and society in early Egypt
Egyptian writing appeared first in the late fourth millennium bce, evolving thereafter in stages, until in the later 2nd dynasty the script reached a more or less definitive structure that was applied in some contexts to the notation of continuous language. During this period of perhaps four hundred years, writing was a very limited instrument. It was used both in administration and in artistic display, but there is no reason to suppose that it was intended from the first to record texts in full syntactic form. This restricted form of writing was a vital means of communication for administration and for display within the inner elite, but its impact outside those spheres was probably indirect. Administration, writing, and representational art were three central, interlinked creations of a society that evolved rapidly into a state. The presence of the complex social form of the state—perhaps a regional state rather than a central one—was probably a precondition of the emergence of such institutions (compare Bard 1992; on state origins in Egypt, see now Wengrow 2006). Writing in turn no doubt affected social organization, although the extent and manner in which its earliest forms did so are quite uncertain.
The development of bureaucratic administration, and of art forms of which hieroglyphic writing was an integral and indispensable part, constituted a vast investment in materials and in people and involved a continuing commitment for training and supporting scribal and artistic personnel.
This chapter is based on the underlying English text of an article published in Italian
translation as 'Scrittura e societa nel piu antico Egitto', in Francesco Tiradritti (ed.) (1999),
Sesh: Lingue e scritture nell'antico Egitto—inediti dal Museo Archeologico di Milano, exhibition
catalogue (Milan: Electa 1999) 21–30 (I do not know the name of the translator into Italian).
I have revised and extended the article, notably in the discussion of the significance of three
script forms for the development of the writing system and in the largely new section 'Oral
and written "texts" '.
Questia, a part of Gale, Cengage Learning. www.questia.com
Publication information: Book title: Visual and Written Culture in Ancient Egypt. Contributors: John Baines - Author. Publisher: Oxford University Press. Place of publication: New York. Publication year: 2007. Page number: 117.
This material is protected by copyright and, with the exception of fair use, may not be further copied, distributed or transmitted in any form or by any means.