Ancient Egyptian Calligraphy: A Beginner's Guide to Writing Hieroglyphs, by Henry George Fischer

This 1999 edition, published by the Metropolitan Museum of Art, has helped me to improve my skill in both reading and writing hieroglyphic texts, and I hope others may find it useful as well.


A very focused book, dominated by a list of many hieroglyphs ordered by their Gardiner sign, accompanied with rich details about each one.

Each sign discussed comes with large scale drawings of examples, or the items they are supposed to represent. Step-by-step demonstrations of how to draw a simplified, but recognisable version of each glyph are provided, suitable for transcribing by hand with pen, pencil or brush.

Some of the tips and tricks are invaluable, and have helped me to write some of the more difficult shapes, faster and more legibly, especially in situations where precision and quality is not required - e.g. personal notes.

Some details are provided about use of colour, patterns and stylistic choices, as well as where historical examples of the hieroglyphs can be found. For most signs there is discussion of evolution across time. This has been particularly useful for interpreting Old Kingdom and Early Dynastic inscriptions where the forms or colouring conventions changed considerably throughout history.

(PDF link removed)

Here is an example of a page with some of the more well known hieroglyphs.


Em hotep děkuji zsa zdilení , hodně mě to pomuže k psaní glyfu senebty Tashepsytamun

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@Sem Can you edit out that link to the PDF book please? For a book still in print it is unlikely in the public domain and therefore would be quite wrong to have a PDF out. Thanks

sure. apologies. thank you for the instruction, i had mistakenly assumed it was fine given the source… but this was poor thinking on my part.

(EDIT: done.)

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I just had a look, and I’m not sure its still in print.

I was fortunate to get my copy for £40 a short while ago… it seems most copies are now going for £100-£200 now!

I am grateful for it for sure… I certainly would think twice before handing over £100 for one book.

When at all possible including as much bio details such as title, publisher, dates etc will help anyone find suitable resources. Thanks.

Very good resource… thank you, I’ve added it to my “read very soon, or else” list lolz

Do you have any other suggestions for people trying to learn to read/write hieroglyphs? I’d like to start very soon myself, but it’s a little hard to find a good starting point without feeling incredibly overwhelmed n stuff…

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Both of these are quite useful for starting on the basics, although they quickly dive into easy to forget details of the language.

I have found that trying to read and write with dictionaries and sign lists to help is good practice. Practice is perhaps the most effective way that I have been able to make progress. I suspect this is why the ancient scribes did it so much - and we are fortunate that we have so many practice pieces left behind from their training.

I’d recommend memorising the htp-di-nsw formula,then exploring variations of it. It also has great practical value. I have not yet started to approach hieratic or demotic in earnest yet, but for me this is where I will begin.

Learning names, official titles and epithets is a lot easier than the full language I’ve found, and will get you a long way.

I have a copy of Middle Egyptian by James P. Allen, it comes well recommended, and has a lot of useful reference material in addition to the details of the language and exercises.

I have also found the dictionaries by Bill Petty to be very useful as well.



… and welcome to Kemetic Temple UK!


Excellent stuff, thank you very much! Bookmarked everything, for now I’ll be sticking to online resources (and questionably acquired PDFs…) until I get the books - but no matter what I’m most definitely getting Allen’s work.

How far along are you with hieroglyphs? How long have you been at it? Sorry for all the questions, it’s just very cool and… I guess, admirable, in a way (?) to see someone do what I’ve wanted to do for a long time, let alone send very good resources my way.

I wish you good studies and success in your endeavours, anyhow. And thank you for the warm welcome also, it means a lot :^)

Thanks. I’m happy to talk at length about it.

Today, I am able to read a lot of inscriptions from monuments and artefacts. I can’t remember the last time I needed reference to accurately decipher a name with list of titles, or an offering formula. I still however struggle with more general texts, even those I have attempted several times.

Hieratic is still very difficult for me to read at all, although I can usually make out bits. I’ve not really tried to tackle Demotic or Coptic yet either.

I’ve known many of the uniliteral signs from memory since my early childhood which is a boon. My mother had a book including a table of them. It also listed some nsw-bity king names that let me make educated guesses at some of the biliteral and triliteral signs, and hinted at the nature of honorific transposition.

I also speak Maghreb Arabic (very badly) which has a lot in common with the Kemetic languages. The particle at the start of each of the 42 declarations in the Papyrus of Ani for example is a direct correlate with the same spelling. You will hear Arabic speaking people using it constantly as a means to get someone’s attention by name, or in the common modern Egyptian expression “y’allah”.

In my early 20s I spent about a month trying to learn more, but only really came away with ‘en ra em pet’ as a template for the grammatical construct, some better understanding that ‘en’ is not exactly ‘the’ or ‘of’, and the mn, ra and pt biliteral glyphs beyond what I already knew.

Then I did nothing until about 15 months ago. I decided to take ancestor worship more seriously, and as a result I learned to read and write Punic and Phonecian languages (very, very badly). They are both remarkably similar to modern Arabic and to each other.

After a couple of months of this I turned my attention to hieroglyphs and the Kemetic language in earnest and I try to spend at least 5 hours each week on trying to read and translate texts. I got the Allen book after failing to find the same one I had from a library in my youth. Then I started memorising, translating and transliterating in earnest.

About 6 months ago I got the calligraphy book and started experimenting with building my own tools. This definitely helped speed things up and help me become more familiar with the Gardiner sign codes and multi-literal glyphs.

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