The Old Nubian alphabet

The interested reader may have noticed that in Campbell’s introductory paragraph about Old Nubian, it is suggested that it was “written in the Coptic script”. The following table makes that statement obvious:


This table shows that the Nubians took up the 24 letters of the Greek alphabet, but also three of the six characters that the Copts had added to it so as to be able to express in writing sounds of the Egyptian language that have no graphical equivalent in the Greek language. To these 27 letters, they added three that derived from the indigenous Meroitic alphabet.

However, things are not that simple. In his Grammar of Old Nubian, Browne remarked that the ductus litteratim of the Old Nubian script is Greek rather than the Coptic. This is a statement that refers to paleography, and seems legitimate for most of the manuscripts that we are in possession of. The major paleographic difference is what has been classified as “upright” vs. “sloping” majuscule. Indeed, the Nubian script is a sloping one, and I agree that the inspiration came from Greek hands. Will speak more on the topic in session 1235 in the International Medieval Congress at Leeds on the 6th of July!

Hopefully before that I will return to some ideas on the Old Nubian alphabet based on the process of learning as it appears in our sources.

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