Ancient Egyptians used a picture-based script to record their thoughts. Unlike most alphabetic scripts that are always written in the same direction, hieroglyphs could be written from left to right, from right to left, or in vertical columns. One can tell in which direction reading should start from the human or animal signs with fronts and backs, since these always face the beginning of the inscription. When writing hieroglyphs, the ancient Egyptians consistently omitted vowel sounds, as is done in Arabic and Hebrew today.
From the Old Kingdom onward, the ancient Egyptians also used hieratic script, a cursive sacred script mostly written on papyrus by the priests in religious and funerary texts. By the later Pharaonic and Greco-Roman periods, a more rapid cursive script called demotic was used. Seven characters from demotic were added to Greek to form the Coptic script.
Throughout Egypt's history, scribes were considered the keepers of the literary tradition. In addition to their basic administrative tasks, scribes edited and revised theological, medical, and magical texts and composed new texts. Scribes used a rectangular case called a palette to hold their inks and the reeds they used for writing. The most common surfaces for writing were pottery, boards, papyrus, and leather. Individual sheets of papyrus were joined to form scrolls.
The papyrus scroll remained the common form for books until the Roman period when it was replaced by the codex, a set of individual sheets bound together in the form of a modern book. Parchment, made from leather, became the preferred writing surface during Christian times because it was more durable. As books were produced in Christian churches and monasteries, professions related to forming, copying, and decorating books evolved.
Under the Muslims, Egypt adopted the Arabic language, which is written with several artistic scripts including the Naskh and Kufic styles. The Arabic language contains 28 letters and is written from right to left. Arab artists became so interested in the Arabic language that they invented calligraphy, which is the art of the formation of the letters and Arabic words. Schools were founded for the study and practice of calligraphy, especially in the Ayyubid and Mamluk eras.
The pen case, pens, inkwell, and material for drying the ink were essential tools for Islamic Egyptian writers. They wrote on bones and wood with special metal pens and used bamboo pens on papyrus and paper. Decorative scripts were used to adorn mosque lamps, coffins, pottery, and other everyday objects.