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Here we will distinguish between texts written in hieroglyphic script and those traced in demotic cursive.
Monumental and commemorative, the use of hieroglyphic writing stayed confined to the social elites.
The Persian Pharaohs were at the origin of hieroglyphic inscriptions destined to commemorate:
- certain large works undertaken in Egypt: steles at the Darius I canal and inscriptions in the Wadi Hammamat quarries;
- donations made to religious institutions (inscriptions linked to the cult of the bull Apis; elements of religious architecture and liturgical furniture.
Prestige items (alabaster containers, menat necklaces) that served to reward those who served the Persian power or held administrative functions (seals) also bear short hieroglyphic inscriptions.
Hieroglyphic script was still widely used by members of the Egyptian elite for their biographies written on statues, votive steles and in funeral inscriptions, sometimes even in combination with demotic (Saqqara stele).
In religious institutions, hieroglyphic script was used for the texts placed in sacred areas (inscriptions at the Temple of Hibis dedicated to Amun of Hibis; inscriptions at the Qasr el-Guheita temple).
The demotic documentation can also convey the actions of the Persian administration in Egypt, for example:
- two documentary ensembles contain texts from the Persian administration: demotic papyruses from Saqqara and from Syene-Elephantine;
- another sub-set features the correspondence between the administrators of the Khnum sanctuary at Elephantine and the Persian satrap;
- P.Bn. Égypte 215 is the medium for a group of extremely important documents : the oracular text known as the Demotic Chronicle, a copy of the Decree of Cambyses and a short text evoking Darius I’s codification of Egyptian laws.
Furthermore, the demotic documentation renders accounts of the daily activities of simple Egyptians and the day-to-day running of institutions. The vast majority of demotic texts available are practical documents (contracts, receipts, business letters, accounts…) written:
- on papyrus: the Petition of Peteise (P.Rylands 9); the Gooseherds of Hou papyrus; Lady Tsenhor’s papyrus; the demotic papyruses of the Cynopolis Choachytes; single demotic papyruses concerning private individuals;
- or on ostraca: Ain Manawir ostraca; Hibis ostraca.
Damien Agut-Labordère (CNRS-ArScAn) / March 2014