Lecture: Ancient Arabia and the Written Word

9 May 2011

Inscription with the name of an influential family from the north of Saudi Arabia (3rd-2nd century BC, photograph: Smithsonian Museum)Inscription with the name of an influential family from the north of Saudi Arabia (3rd-2nd century BC, photograph: Smithsonian Museum)

This English-language lecture by Michael Macdonald [mr], Research Associate at the University of Oxford, entitled ‘Ancient Arabia and the Written Word', is presented by the School of Middle Eastern Studies in the Faculty of Humanities at Leiden University.

Ancient Arabia and the Written Word

In the first millennium BC, the nomads and sedentary peoples of ancient Arabia developed their own writing system. Yet the oral tradition remained dominant among the nomads, who used writing merely as a kind of graffiti for personal messages on stones and rock formations. At first, the ancestors of the speakers of modern Arabic [het het] did not have much more interest than the nomads in written language. There are few Proto-Arabic inscriptions from before 600 AD, the time of the earliest recorded texts in Arabic script. And for a long time, Arabic writing was used mainly for bills, business documents, treaties, and the like. Significant cultural texts, with the exception of the Qur'an, were transmitted only by word of mouth until the early Islamic period.

Michael Macdonald

Michael Macdonald is a Research Associate at Oxford University's Faculty of Oriental Studies, studying the history, languages, and writing systems of Syria and the Arabian Peninsula until the early Islamic period. He is now heading the Safaitic Database Project, a research initiative that seeks to document, translate, and publish pre-Islamic Arabian inscriptions.

date: Monday 9 May 2011
start: 20.00 hours (8.00 p.m.)
location: Temple Hall, Rijksmuseum van Oudheden
entrance fee: free
tickets: no reservation, available at the cash desk of the museum at the evening of the lecture
language: English