Hieroglyphs formed the basic writing system of Ancient Egypt, took shape around 3000 BC, and reached an accepted form as early as the First Dynasty. There were thousands of signs, described by the Egyptian as "divine words."
The word hieroglyph comes from the Greek "Hieros," which means sacred, and "gluptein," or incised script, because the Greeks thought it was used particularly for inscriptions on monuments that were built to endure forever.
Hieroglyphs were carved or painted on the walls of temples and tombs, on burial equipment, on stelae of all types, on pieces of jewelry, and on false doors.
Hieroglyphic texts are concerned with everything intended to be captured in writing for eternity, in particular religious texts, historical and political inscriptions, and biographies.
Each hieroglyphic sign represented an actual thing that existed in ancient Egyptian life, for instance plants, body parts, geometric figures, and birds. These signs could be used either to write the words they depicted, called ideograms, or to spell out the sounds of the words, called phonograms.
Hieroglyphs never lost their pictorial character and their aesthetic connection went beyond the form of the signs to include groupings of words and combinations of text and images.
Hieroglyphic text can be read in two different directions, either in vertical or horizontal lines, from right to left and from left to right, specifically when the latter provides symmetry with another text so that both read toward the central axis of the monument, as in the case of the False Door of Ika. This feature never occurs in hieratic and demotic texts.
Slightly abbreviated and cursive hieroglyphics were written in ink, usually from right to left in columns for certain religious texts, for instance the Book of Amduat and the Book of the Dead. The last hieroglyphic texts appeared at Philae, in the fourth century AD.
They were abandoned after that because they were considered to be part of the "pagan" heritage of Ancient Egypt and therefore unsuitable for writing Christian texts.
After the fourth century AD, Ancient Egyptian was written in Greek capital letters with six additional letters derived from demotic signs, for phonetic values not present in Greek.