The Nabataean abjad developed from the Aramaic abjad during the 2nd century BC. Stone inscriptions in the Nabataean abjad have been found in Petra, the capital of the Nabataean kingdom (c. 150 BC to 100 AD) and in Damascus and Medina. During the 4th and century AD, the Nabataean abjad evolved into the Arabic alphabet.

Notable features

  • Type of writing system: abjad or consonant alphabet with no vowel indication
  • Direction of writing: right to left in horizontal lines.

Used to write

Nabataean, a Semitic language closely related to Aramaic.

Nabataean alphabet


Consonantal Alphabetic

Proto-Sinaitic > Aramaic

West Asia

2nd century BCE to 4th century CE

Right to Left

Centered at the ancient city of Petra located in what is now the modern kingdom of Jordan, the Nabataeans built a kingdom in the 2nd century BCE that grew prosperous from trade routes that crisscrossed their territory. At its height the Nabataean kingdom extended from Syria to the Hijaz in Saudi Arabia, and from Jordan into the Sinai in Egypt. The wealth and the strategic location of the Nabataeans eventually piqued the Romans’ interest, and it led to their conquest in 106 CE and incorporation into the Roman Empire as the province of Arabia Petraea.

In the first millenium BCE, Aramaic was the international language and script of trade, and the Nabataeans adopted both as their written language. However, personal names on monumental inscriptions reveal that they were in fact Arabs. It is actually not uncommon for a people to speak one language and write another, as the written language often holds such prestige that the learned class will only write in it.

Gradually, the Nabataean’s variant of the Aramaic script evolved from the angular shape of the original to a more cursive style with ample use of ligatures to join the letters of words together. Despite living under Roman rule, the Nabataeans continued to write with their script well into the 4th century CE, at which time the language behind the script shifted from Aramaic to Arabic. Nabataean is therefore considered the direct precursor of the Arabic script. In fact, one of the earliest inscriptions in the Arabic language was written in the Nabataean alphabet, found in Namarah (modern Syria) and dated to 328 CE. This date is considered by many scholars to be the date that Nabataean script “became” the Arabic script, although in reality the transition from one to the other occurs gradually over centuries.

The following chart illustrates and compares the Aramaic, Nabataean, and Arabic alphabets.


D)1)Middle Persian

The Middle Persian script developed from the Aramaic script and became the official script of the Sassanian empire (224-651 AD). It changed little during the time it was in use, but around the 5th century AD, it spawned a number of new scripts, including the Psalter and Avestan scripts.

Notable features

  • Type of writing system: abjad / consonant alphabet
  • Direction of writing: right to left in horizontal lines.
  • Only some vowels are indicated and the letters used to represent them have multiple pronunciations.

There were a number of different versions of the Middle Persian script:

Inscriptional Pahlavi

The inscriptional version of the script appears in inscriptions in clay fragments dating from the reign of Mithridates I (171-38 BC), and only in coin and rock inscriptions. In this version the script has 19 letters which are not joined together

Inscriptional Pahlavi script


Psalter Pahlavi

The name Psalter Pahlavi refers to the “Pahlavi Psalter”, a translation of a Syriac book of psalms from the 6th or 7th century AD. There are also inscriptions in Psalter Pahalvi in a bronze cross found in what is now Afganistan. This version of the script has 18 letters which are joined together.

Psalter Pahlavi script


Book Pahlavi

Book Pahlavi is a version of the script with 12 or 13 letters, which are joined in writing, and some form complex ligatures. This is the version of the script for which there is most written material, and it was in common use until about 900 AD, after which its use was confined to Zoroastrian priests.

Book Pahlavi script


Sample text

Sample text in  the Middle Persian (Pahlavi) script

Beginning of the Husrō ī kavādān ud rēdak-ē:



The Parthian script developed from the Aramaic script around the 2nd century BC and was used during the Parthian and early Sassanian periods of the Persian empire. The latest known inscription dates from 292 AD.

Parthian script


Information about Middle Persian scripts and language

Parthian and Middle Persian written literature

Pahlavi literature

Pahlavi dictionary

Pahlavi fonts

Circle of Ancient Iranian Studies at the School of Oriental and Asian Studies (SOAS), University of London:


The Pahlavi script was used to record the Pahlavi or Middle Persian language that was spoken in pre-Islamic Iran between 3rd century BCE and 9th century CE. Pahlavi evolved from the Aramaic, and so it retained the right-to-left writing direction. However, the Aramaic script was suited to write a Semitic language, and therefore introduced difficulties in representing the Persian language. One problem was that Middle Persian had more consonants then Aramaic, and the solution to which was to use some of the letters to represent multiple sounds. Another difficulty was to need to represent vowels. In this case, the old Aramaic letters of ‘aleph was used to write the vowel /a/. A more complicated scenario involved the letters yod, which was used to write the semi-vowel /y/ as well as the vowels /i/ and /e/. Similarly, the Aramaic letter waw was used for /w/, /u/, /o/, and sometimes the consonant /v/.

There were several forms of Pahlavi as it evolved through time. The most notable variants are those from the Arsacid (256 BCE to 226 CE) and the Sassanian (226 to 652 CE) dynasties, which might had actually represented slightly different dialects. Also, a more cursive variant was also used for writing on papers and manuscripts. Unfortunately, many letters in the cursive script grew to be visually similar (if not identical), making the script even more complicated.

The manuscript variant of Pahlavi is illustrated in the following chart.

The Pahlavi script was used extensively to write new Zoroastrian religious texts as well as translate existing Avestan scriptures as well. It also became the base model for a script to write the previously unwritten Avestan language.

One interesting fact about Pahlavi is that it had many Aramaic loanwords that were spelled as if they were in Aramaic but pronounced in Pahlavi. These loans are called xenographs, and represent a long traditional of “visual” borrowing that date back to Akkadian and Babylonian periods.

The Sassanian dynasty ended in 652 CE in the wake of the Islamic conquest of Persia. The Pahlavi script continued to be written for the next 300 years, but it was slowly phased out by an Arabic-derived alphabet modified for Persian.


E)Mandaic alphabet

The Mandaic alphabet appears to be based on the Aramaic alphabet and first appeared sometime during the 2nd century AD. The Mandaic name for the alphabet is Abagada or Abaga, after the first few letters.

The Mandaeans believe that all the letters of their alphabet have magical properties, and impart mysteries (raze).

Notable features

  • Type of writing system: alphabet
  • Direction of writing: right to left in horizontal lines.
  • Some of the letters change shape when combined with other letters.

Used to write

Classical Mandaic, a member of the East Aramaic sub-family of Northwest Semitic languages and the liturgical language of the Mandaean religion. Classical Mandaic is closely related to Syriac.

Neo-Mandaic, a vernacular form of Mandaic with about 100 speakers in Iran around Ahwaz. There are also a few Mandaic speakers in Iraq and the USA.

Mandaic alphabet

Mandaic alphabet

Sample texts in Mandaic

Sample text in Mandaic

Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in Mandaic


All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.
(Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights)


Information about the Mandaic language and alphabet

Mandean World – information about the Mandaic language and alphabet, including a free Mandaic font:

Mandai Studies Center of Iran – information about the Mandaic people and language

Mandaic and Neo-Mandaic Texts and Resources



SOURCE  http://www.omniglot.com


About sooteris kyritsis

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