Demotic is the ancient Egyptian script derived from northern forms of hieratic used in the Nile Delta, and the stage of the Egyptian language written in this script, following Late Egyptian and preceding Coptic. The term was first used by the Greek historian Herodotus to distinguish it from hieratic and hieroglyphic scripts. By convention, the word "Demotic" is capitalized in order to distinguish it from demotic Greek.
The Demotic script was referred to by the Egyptians as
sš n šˤ.t }} "document writing", which the 2nd century scholar Clement of Alexandria called
επιστολογραφική }} (epistolographikē) "letter writing", while early Western scholars, notably Thomas Young, formerly referred to it as "Enchorial Egyptian". The script was used for more than a thousand years, and during that time a number of developmental stages occurred. It is written and read from right to left, while earlier hieroglyphics could be written from top to bottom, left to right, or right to left.
Early Demotic (often referred to by the German term
Frühdemotisch }} ) developed in Lower Egypt during the later part of the 25th dynasty, particularly found on stelae from the Serapeum at Saqqara. It is generally dated between 650 and 400 BC, as most texts written in Early Demotic are dated to the 26th dynasty and the following Persian period (the 27th dynasty). After the reunification of Egypt under Psametik I, Demotic replaced Abnormal Hieratic in Upper Egypt, particularly during the reign of Amasis, when it became the official administrative and legal script. During this period, Demotic was used only for administrative, legal, and commercial texts, while hieroglyphs and hieratic were reserved for other texts.
Middle (Ptolemaic) Demotic
Middle Demotic (c. 400;30 BC) is the stage of writing used during the Ptolemaic Period. From the 4th century BC onwards, Demotic held a higher status, as may be seen from its increasing use for literary and religious texts. By the end of the 3rd century BC, Greek was more important, as it was the administrative language of the country; Demotic contracts lost most of their legal force unless there was a note in Greek of being registered with the authorities.
Late (Roman) Demotic
From the beginning of Roman rule of Egypt, Demotic was progressively less used in public life. There are, however, a number of literary texts written in Late Demotic (c. 30 BC;452;AD), especially from the 1st and 2nd centuries AD, though the quantity of all Demotic texts decreased rapidly towards the end of the 2nd century. In contrast to the way Latin eliminated minority languages in the western part of the Empire and the expansion of Greek led to the extinction of Phrygian, Greek did not replace Demotic entirely. After that, Demotic was only used for a few ostraca, subscriptions to Greek texts, mummy labels, and graffiti. The last dated example of the Demotic script is dated to December 11, 452 AD, and consists of a graffito on the walls of the temple of Isis on Philae.
Demotic is a development of Late Egyptian and shares much with the later Coptic phase of the Egyptian language. In the earlier stages of Demotic, such as those texts written in the Early Demotic script, it probably represented the spoken idiom of the time. But, as it was increasingly used for only literary and religious purposes, the written language diverged more and more from the spoken form, leading to significant Diglossia between the Late Demotic texts and the spoken language of the time, similar to the use of classical Middle Egyptian during the Ptolemaic Period.
The Rosetta Stone was discovered in 1799. It is inscribed with three scripts: classical Greek and both Demotic and hieroglyphic Egyptian. There are 32 lines of Demotic, which is the middle of the three scripts on the stone. The Demotic was deciphered before the hieroglyphs, starting with the efforts of Silvestre de Sacy. Scholars were eventually able to translate the Egyptian glyphs by comparing the Greek words, which could be readily translated, and the Egyptian hieroglyphs, in addition to their existing knowledge of Coptic. Egyptologists, linguists and papyrologists who specialize in the study of the Demotic stage of Egyptian script are known as Demotists.
The table below shows some derivative similarities from Hieroglyphic to Demotic to the currently surviving Coptic Egyptian script.
- ↑ Haywood, John (2000). Historical atlas of the classical world, 500 BC–AD 600. Barnes & Noble Books. “However, Greek did not take over as completely as Latin did in the west and there remained large communities of Demotic...and Aramaic speakers”
- Betrò, Maria Carmela (1996). Hieroglyphics: The Writings of Ancient Egypt. New York; Milan: Abbeville Press (English); Arnoldo Mondadori (Italian), 34–239.
- Johnson, Janet H. (1986). Thus Wrote 'Onchsheshonqy: An Introductory Grammar of Demotic. Chicago: The Oriental Institute.