We’re well into December and the postal services are enjoying their busiest time of the year as parcels and cards fly backwards and forwards. What better time to share this little gem I came across during my research.
That’s a 1956 postage stamp from Syria featuring the Ugaritic abecedarium KTU 5.6, well-known to regular readers of this blog. I was curious about it, and a few minutes’ research showed that this wasn’t the only Ugarit-themed stamp Syria has issued.
This one from 1964 isn’t writing-based, but features this famous sculpture of a head, made of ivory and adorned with gold, silver, copper and lapis lazuli. It’s usually assumed to be a statue of a prince or princess, since it was found in the city’s Royal Palace.
This got me wondering what other countries have featured ancient writing-systems on their stamps. Here are some of the ones I found:
Moving southward down the Levantine coast, we have this one from Lebanon, which celebrates the Phoenician alphabet. I’m not sure of the date. The figure’s golden hat seems to be based on the figurines found at the city of Byblos, though those are from a rather earlier date than the first attested use of the Phoenician alphabet in the eleventh and tenth centuries BC.
Before we leave the Levant, here’s an Israeli stamp from around 1957 showing a seal.
It’s got writing on it, but it’s not about writing systems per se. Still, sealing practices are closely related to writing so I thought it was worth including.
Back to writing proper, and we hop across the sea to Cyprus. This stamp from 1976 shows the Idalion Bronze, the longest and most famous inscription in the Cypriot syllabary, a writing system that was used on the island in the first millennium BC.
From Egypt in 1925, we have this stamp showing the god Thoth writing hieroglyphs:
The Egyptians believed Thoth to be the scribe of the gods and the inventor of writing, so he’s an appropriate inclusion here.
Finally we jump south to the Republic of Venda, which I have to admit I needed to look up. It was one of a number of territories set aside for black inhabitants of South Africa under Apartheid and while South Africa considered them independent, they weren’t recognised as such internationally. Nevertheless, they issued their own stamps and in 1984 they produced a range commemorating the history of writing.
Clockwise from the top left, these rather lovely stamps portray syllabic cuneiform, Chinese, Egyptian hieroglyphics and ‘Cretan hieroglyphics’, though that last one also seems to include related signs from Linear A and Linear B. The eye symbol in the bottom-left is the Wedjet or Eye of Horus, which was an apotropaic symbol used to ward off evil, but also a hieroglyph.
We hope you’ve enjoyed looking at these stamps. They show how proud modern nations continue to be off their roles in the development of writing and how they use these historical achievements to define and identify themselves internationally.
Do you know of any other postage stamps celebrating ancient writing? If so, let us know!
~ Philip Boyes (Research Associate on the CREWS Project)