Noseda: From Syriac to Pahlavi

Sergio Noja Noseda

From Syriac to Pahlavi: The contribution of the Sassanian Iraq to the beginning of the Arabic writing

(without tables and pictures)

1. The aversion and contempt for writing of the northern Arabs at the time of the J?hiliyyah

In the light of many new studies1 it is highly probable that the two very famous phrases of Ab? Bakr and of Zayd son of Th?bit, outbursts prompted by the proposal to collect the Koran in written form2: „What? Do you want to embark on what the Prophet never did?“ and “ Why do you want to undertake what the Prophet had never done?“3 should not be read, as they have been for 1500 years with slavish monotony in the Muslim world and in our own, as a refusal or at least an expression of surprise focused on the text of the Revelation, but rather, generally, as a reluctance to put in writing a text of such importance, of such dimensions, and above all of that kind.

An examination of the substantial extra material that is now in our hands, compared to a hundred years ago, written in Arabic in the days of ‚ignorance‘ and in the early years of Islam shows that the Arabs undoubtedly ‚knew‘ how to write. What emerges, and what is important to us, is that they ‚did not want‘ to write. This negative attitude was not generalised but was specifically focussed on everything that we might define as a literary work. I have sometimes compared this attitude with the contempt that noblemen of the past displayed regarding details of the administration of their own lands!

As to ‚the ability to write‘ there is no doubt: the Koran uses the root ‚write‘ hundreds of times, but it is interesting to observe what the purpose of this ‚writing‘ was. On one hand there is a nuanced vision of ‚heavenly writings‘4 but in human reality only receipts and treaties5.

It therefore seems there was a reluctance to ‚write down‘ any literary work, or rather, and this is the point, anything that was living, and especially poetry. Displaying the contempt described above, they could psychologically bury the probably detested statements of debit and credit along with the writing. The traditional idea of beautiful poems hanging on the Ka?bah in the pre-Islamic era really has to be dropped today6.

On this point it is interesting to note that even today we find an almost identical attitude in the North African desert7, so that, without returning to lost worlds like those of the bards in Celtic mists, we would do well to delve into this world that has survived to our own times, a situation that may well represent what the habits and the mentality of the pre-Islamic northern Arabs were8.

The political and social conditions have always been such that, so far as we know, the Berbers have never developed a ‚civilization of writing‘ in their language. There is nevertheless a Berber script, whose origin is still unknown, that only the Tuareg currently use and which they call tifina?. If we overlook a few letters, they use this for brief writings on objects such as buckles and bracelets or on rocks, or for silent conversation during amorous encounters9.

This script too, like Arabic, is consonantal. The writings are always brief and, generally, it is this lack of spacing, rather than handwriting errors, of which we have glaring examples, that gives rise to the main difficulties in reading them. If the problems that this causes are greatly reduced because of the usual brevity of the texts, these same problems are offset by this same brevity.

All in all one can say that the Tuareg make relatively little use of writing: during evenings in company, characteristic of Tuareg society, girls and boys, in a kind of cour d’amour entertain each other by writing with their fingers on the palm of the other’s hand. Simple spaced writing or the composition of a single character is specific to this mode of writing10. Texts of a certain size, chronicles and genealogies are traditionally committed to memory, while brief texts for immediate use were entrusted to tifina?, such as inscriptions, letters, dedications and names on objects, without any specialisation in terms of specific writing materials like parchment, making the most of any suitable surface11, writing in the sand12 for their own pleasure, for example, or to discuss the form of a word.

And it is here that one may try to catch a glimpse of this aversion of the northern Arabs of the past, and of the Tuareg even today, for putting literary works in writing. There seems to be a concept of ‚castration‘ as described by Géza Róheim13 of the concepts freely expressed by the spoken word each time that they are substituted with writing. Such an idea, albeit in different terms, had also been entertained by the Greeks in the teaching of Plato: „… we now have to consider the suitability and unsuitability of writing, when it is appropriate and when on the other hand it is not.“14

Certainly it can also be seen in this reluctance, in this resistance to the ‚theft of imagination‘ or rather to the ‚theft of the imaginary‘ by the desert civilisations, from the northern Arabs in the period of the birth of Islam to the Tuaregs.

Why theft? Because – without even mentioning the third element in play today, namely pictures – if we reflect a little on the current relationship between the spoken and the written word, one can say that, all in all, it is the spoken word that has kept its prestige. In the written word there is a lack of liberty, a fading of imagination-based initiative. In other words, the rigidity of writing results in a blunting of the expressive will, of the impulse to let your imagination wander, which is the first springboard towards the formation of a „collective imagination“ and even more towards the formation of one’s own private imaginary embryo.

Yet while the pre-eminence of the spoken word (let us call it „logocentrism“) compared to any other form of communication is perfectly obvious, we also have to realise that precisely what slips from the grasp of the spoken word is what constitutes the first embryo – an imaginary one, of course – of our thought, perhaps of a thought that is not conceptualised but laden with possible aesthetic factors. This is not yet a matter of the spoken word, but rather of that combination of images (visual, auditory, but also tactile, olfactory, coenaesthetic…) that exist beyond the realm of verbal language and which may turn into concepts and words only later, as they often do15.

And so why should we not believe that even the primeval „logos“ — the primordial human word – was not at first an articulated language, but rather an all-encompassing image charged with smells and tastes, lights and shadows, shapes and gaps? All this is the antithesis of the ideas of those who think that thoughts cannot exist without words, and cognitive activity is only possible when expressed in words, or even that – as Chomsky claims, language is innate to human beings16. Nothing forbids us to suppose that the thinking of northern Arab society at the time of the j?hiliyyah was structured in this way.

As far as the beginning is concerned, Arabic writing would appear to have experienced freedom. No matter what efforts of imagination I make, I cannot visualize the highest Shanfar? sitting down to write, correcting and re-correcting his verses17. The writings were a characteristic sign of the system. How can one avoid thinking of contempt for writing in the comparison of Lab?d


and the torrent-beds of el-Raiyán – naked shows their trace,

rubbed smooth, like letterings long since scored on a stony slab;18

Then the torrents washed the dusty ruins, until they seem

like scrolls of writing whose text their pens have revised…19


and of their silence:


So I stood and questioned that site; et ?? how should we question rocks

Set immovable, whose speech is nothing significant?20


This attitude could also have represented a true drive for freedom against the structures of the southern Arabs, perhaps against the same Nabataeans or their cousins of Hatra distinguished by their monumental inscriptions, a decided wish to be able to alter the texts handed down „by memory“.

Here there is a sense of ‚liberty‘ coupled with a rejection of writing that must in some way be innate to human nature in that it has been constantly repeated in the history of mankind right up to the ‚Slam Poetry‘ of our times, the poetry that one must not write down. In this idiom the voice of the poet and the listening of his audience create a community, or rather a TAZ (Temporary Autonomous Zone) in which words, thought, criticism, dialogue and debate, coupled with the tolerance and willingness to listen of the other party are fundamental values.21

Such an atmosphere could well explain why the prophet of Islam did not want to be the one to put the text of the Revelation into writing, although he frequently ordered his secretaries22 to write letters and small treaties. One need only recall the one with the Quraysh people and the reply by Suhayl son of ‚Amr at the time of dictating the terms of the armistice „if I witnessed that you were God’s apostle I would not have fought you“23.

As regards „dictating“ this may be considered something normal. The Koran gives orders to ‚dictate‘ to write the debt statements24, and indeed the fact that the Revelation orders or recommends ‚writing‘ a document supports the idea that it was not a matter of habit or desire to do so. Even the sense of the root k-t-b may be understood as ‚dictating‘25 and in this his behaviour should not surprise the western world, in which this was the current practice in ancient times (the example of Pliny the Elder is famous) and one supposes that Saint Jerome, at the end of the 4th century, did not write some of his works with his own hand, and neither did Saint Augustine26 for that matter. Something of this tradition must have remained in the air, at least in the East, if a painter of the 15th century chose to paint in the church of St. Paraskevi at Geroskipou, on the island of Cyprus, the Apostle Paul, on foot, bent over the shoulder of his secretary, watching him write what he dictated.

The prophet of Islam was in no way opposed to the verses of the Revelation, such as those collected by ‚Umar’s sister, being written27.

Yes, writing existed, but on a ‚tablet kept‘ in Heaven28. And the word ‚heaven‘ has always made me think of the laws of the southern Arabian kings written in enormous characters on the walls of the gigantic clefts between the wadis in an incredible Official Gazette29. It is only worth noting that even today this custom persists at the border between the two Koreas30.

Opposition to the ‚book‘ as a concept was not so complete, as it had been known at least since the times of the Syriac world – the oldest Syriac manuscripts are pre-islamic31 – given that the word kit?b appears in Zuhayr’s verse:


and either it’s postponed, and put in a book, and stored away32


although this verse is accused of containing a „Koranic echo that is clearly understood“33, an echo that I personally do not hear.


2. The Sassanid era in Iraq: the coexistence of Syriac and Pahlavi


On 26 September 226 Ardashir made his triumphal entrance into the conquered Ctesiphon and, having declared the Arsacid dynasty defunct, began a new one that, in the name of the founder, is known as ‚of the Sassanids‘.

In 614 the King of Kings‘ army arrived to devastate and sack Jerusalem, a huge event that reverberated around the whole of Arabia to the point that it found a remarkable echo in the Koran:


A.L.M.* The Roman Empire, has been defeated * in a land close by… 34

??? * ???? ????? * ?? ???? ?????

One need only think of the conquest of the Persian Gulf35 and of Yemen to realise how completely this immense empire covered the areas that we are mainly interested in. The western borders of the Empire reached well beyond the Euphrates and the many cities of Iraq like Hira36, which are mentioned repeatedly in the Arab chronicles of the years that precede Islam, should nearly all be regarded as being in territory dominated by the Sassanids37. The chancellery of this immense empire, in a continuous exchange of correspondence not only with the Byzantine Empire to the West but also with the peoples beyond Samarkand and Pamir towards the Celestial Empire38, had to greatly increase its size while the missionary thrust of the Nestorians and of the Manichaeans39 transformed many languages from ‚domestic tongues‘ or from langue vehiculaire into written languages. Given that, according to what contemporary writers said, one certainly cannot claim that the Persian had a ‚vocation‘ for writing, what occurred in this context in territories dominates by the Aryans was truly incredible.

While the Annals of King Assurbanipal tell us that the Semitic king learned to ride, to shoot with a bow, and „the entire art of writing according to the traditions of the teachers“, Herodotus writes that the Persians „taught their sons only three things: to get on a horse, to shoot with a bow and to tell the truth“, an education manifestly different from that of the King of Mesopotamia.

In reality Herodotus could have added, had he known it, that the art of writing had always implied something Satanic, and „Satanic“, in ancient Persian was equivalent to „non-Iranian“ (anêrân). In practise the types of writing used by the Persians throughout their religious-literary history were of non-Aryan origin, but they wrote with different scripts and alphabets over the centuries and it is difficult not to suppose that this fact of writing so much in the Persian world suggests that the Persians owed a real debt to Babilonia capta40.

The ability to write in Persia, where entire families of the minor nobility dedicated themselves entirely to this pursuit, is very widely known and many of these families continued for at least two centuries after the victory of Islam to provide the ’scribes‘ of the new empire41. But there were also Arab families in loco who dedicated themselves to translating and presumably to writing.

Among these characters there was ‚Ad? son of Zayd, the famous poet. It is known that, because of hatreds within the court, he was killed at the behest of Nu’m?n III, King of the Lakhmids.

His son Zayd son of ‚Ad?, his heart burdened with unquenchable hatred for Nu’m?n, moved to Ctesiphon where he took up his father’s occupation and became a translator-scribe regarding the Arab affairs of the Persian court. The work of translation of texts was continuous. Relations with the Arabs were very important.

As he was in continuous contact with the King of Kings, one day he suggested that the latter should ask for the hand of Nu’m?n’s daughter. It was the same Zayd son of Ad? who dealt with the matter, and the King of al-??rah’s reply was altered by him – an ancient reminder of the continual work and importance of the translators in the Persian court? – to the point of that he put in evidence the expression „the wild cows“ as the translation of the Arabic word ‚y?n ?? which, meaning „with large eyes“, usually refers to „gazelles“, a very common word in Arabic poetry used to mean „girls“. And Nu’m?n was killed on the orders of the Emperor!42.

Apart from these few examples of the vast work of the Department of Foreign Affairs of the court of the King of Kings and of the Arabic Affairs Office – the deliberately wrong translation by Zayd son of ‚Ad? could have been limited to an exchange of pleasantries – writing „in Arabic“ might seem normal to us, to judge from a very important episode in the history of those times: the peace treaty of 561 between Byzantium and Sassanid Persia.

The special precautions taken for the translation of the treaty from Greek into Persian and from Persian into Greek, described by the Greek historian Menander, who speaks of no less than six Persian and six Greek translators, are highly significant43.

Although we do not have the document one would be right to think that a copy was made of the treaty in Arabic for the use of or as a warning to the Ghass?nids and the Lakhmids44. These were involved in the treaty in a special way and it would not have made sense to give them a copy in Greek or Persian, a text that they would have translated freely at home with unforeseeable consequences. Bearing in mind that, as Menander relates, the copies in Greek and Persian bore the 12 seals of the translators, it is hard to imagine that less care was taken over the copies intended for the Arabs45.

The Arabs felt a certain aversion to Greek writing and to the Greeks in particular46. It seems common sense to suppose that the Byzantine governments used Aramaeans who were already close to the Arabs in language terms for their relationships with the Ghass?nids, something that the Caliphs then did with the family of ?unayn son of Is??q for classic translations in Arabic. These Aramaeans were Christians and Syriac was their mother tongue, although they knew Greek. In the other court the Kings of Kings used Arabic-speaking families in their offices for the translation and writing of the documents, and these families too were Christians who knew Syriac quite well. And it was in these families of translators of the two great Empires that, for reasons of work such as the preparation of translations, of copies of them and of some correspondence, one might reasonably suppose that Arabic writing both began and developed.

With the great treaty of 561 still in mind, the following question arises: In what script was the Arabic version of this treaty written? One thinks of the writing that is even now the script of the Arabs, of which we have a contemporary epigraphic example in the writing of Jabal Usays, which predates the treaty because it was written in 52847.

This writing of Usays is immediately followed, in the evidences that archaeology has brought to light, by another dated entry in Arabic, that of ?arr?n, in 568, which moreover also includes a text in Greek and one in Syriac48.

And then, if that is not enough, we have the evidence provided by a great inscription placed by Hind in his monastery in al-??rah between 561 and 569, an inscription that was still remembered at the time of H?r?n al-Rash?d almost 200 years later49.

Islamic tradition relates50 that, shortly before the Prophet, three men of the ?ayy tribe (and the ?ayy were partly Christian) met at Baqqah, identified as a place near al-??rah and, adopting and modifying the Syriac script (al-sury?niyyah), composed Arabic writing. These people taught Arabic writing to various people of Anb?r, and its use spread also spread among the inhabitants of al-??rah.

It is also Arab tradition that tells us that Bishr son of ‚Abd al-Malik, brother of the Prince of D?mat al-Jandal51 who was Christian by religion, came at that time to stay in al-??rah and learned Arabic writing there. Bishr then went to Mecca for the wedding52 and often had occasion to meet Sufy?n son of Umayyah53 and Ab? Qays son of ‚Abd Man?f54. Noticing that he used a script, they asked him to teach it to them.

Bishr taught the two Quraysh men the art of reading and writing Arabic with the new characters, and when the three men went to al-??’if on business they also taught the art of writing to others55.

Subsequently Bishr left Mecca and went to the Mu?ar tribes of Central Arabia, where he taught the script to ‚Amr son of Zur?rah56 who took the name of ‚Amr al-K?tib. Finally Bishr went to Syria and had various pupils there too.

Bearing in mind the missionary vocation of Christianity, may we not think that the name of the brother „Bishr“ was a nickname linked to the root b-š-r or ‚herald‘, bearer of the novelty of writing? It would seem to be a precursor of the nickname of K?tib given to the character of his successor ‚Amr son of Zur?rah. It turns out that in j?hiliyyah there existed Christian names used as adjectives or Arabicised either by altering the form or by reproducing the meaning. Among these both Bishr and Bashir57 figure in the Onomasticon arabicum.

„Bishr“ means „joy, communication, annunciation“. It is not certain that the name was given to him by Islamic tradition. It could be that it was given by the Christians and he was a messenger. Adam is called Ab? al-Bashar, the Gospel Bish?rah and ‚?d al-bish?rah is the Feast of the annunciation of Mary. And he was not the only one of this name, a name that was in any case linked to Christianity. In subsequent times Theophane spoke of ????? (Bishr), a Syrian Christian who had converted to Islam58.

This word seems to have a certain background. The biblical ???? would seem to be very clear, as it is in other Semitic languages59. In Syriac this meaning is expressed by ???60 , but Leslau suggests that the Syriac verb sbar which in the doubled (intensive) form sabbar means ‚to herald‘, is connected to the root, having undergone a metathesis61.

As I wish to record this matter with care, it may also be worth observing the move of the population from Mesopotamia to D?mat al-Jandal shortly before the beginning of Islam, as well as the movement to found a second D?mah, after the defeat in the year 9 in the principality of al-??rah. There is undoubtedly a link with al-??rah in both senses.

Tradition says that the inhabitants of this fortress-city were ‚Ib?d, or ‚Christians‘, and that Ukaydir and his people remained faithful to the Christian religion. This observation tallies with the fact that the inscriptions in Arabic of the years before the Prophet of Islam were produced in a Christian context.

Caskel in his edition of the ?amharat an-nasab62 under the heading dedicated to our Bishr, placed amidst 76 people of the same name, raises strong doubts in presenting a résumé of his history, wondering whether it would have been possible for the brother of a prince to travel around acting as a ‚magister peregrinus‘63. Apart from the fact that teaching the writing of a new alphabet is not like being a fahrender Schulmeister, if we dare to think that that this was a process of starting an evangelisation, it would not have been in any way a degrading or dishonourable activity for the brother of a princeling of a run-of-the-mill Arabian oasis. After all St. Cyrill and St. Mathodius were the sons of an imperial Deputy Governor!

Arabic writing must therefore have been born in Sassanid territory between the rivers of Mesopotamia, a long way to the west, around 200 kilometres, which is equal to the distance between Medina and Mecca. Seleucia-Ctesiphon faces al-Anb?r and is only a few tens of kilometres64 away.

We also know that at that time Pahlavi was in use among the Persians but also Syriac, and it is the Syriac in this equation that emerges triumphant as a root.

But Pahlavi involved a factor that was very similar to Arabic writing without the diacritical points. Apart from the fact that as an Indo-European language it indicated the vowels, unlike Semitic languages, many symbols had sounds that were very different. One of these could be read from /a/ to /h/ and to /?/, while another indicated both /p/ and /f/.

Iranian tradition, probably referring to Aramaic but perhaps also taking account of the so-called heterograms, spoke of a script that had 365 characters taught by a demon. These were then reduced in number, probably following a general rule, with the aim of producing ever more fluent writing, until they came down to the 18 of Pahlavi65. Speaking of the sameness of these characters, Cohen tells us: „… adaptation to the non-Semitic Iranian language was not achieved by creating new characters, with the result that certain letters were used with more than one value“66.

In this case the most striking aspect is that at some undetermined time the Persians wanted to put in writing the ancient version of the sacred texts, which is known as Avesta and which had been preserved orally, by innovating a script whose base was Pahlavi but with changes to the letters to make the reading unequivocal, a change to which imitation of Greek contributed, in some cases67. This aim was achieved not by the addition of diacritical points external to the letters but by changing the letters, just as is done in our world with the modern script of certain non-Latin languages written with the Latin alphabet, such as the ‹?› in Czech distinct from the ‹ c ›68.

If we look at table no. 169, in which the characters of the Pahlavik ?? script are shown on the left and those of the Avesta on the right, the mechanism of adding diacritical marks seems obvious, beginning from the character which indicated a, xv and x‘, which is elongated, in the direction of the writing, towards the left, changing into to indicate the ‹a?› and changing into for ‹x?› and into for ‹x?›.The character that indicated both /p/ and /f/ was divided into two with the elongation of the stroke to indicate the /f/ and the other characters were modified in the same way.

While keeping in mind the lack of a definite source indicating when this work of adding diacritical marks began, one now usually thinks of the reign of Shapur II (309-379 AD) because there is the dated inscription on a famous sarcophagus in Istanbul, prior to 430 AD, which leads one to think that it was invented in the 4th century70.

It is highly probable that like many movements whose origin is unknown – nearly always the alternative to Islam has been represented by Byzantium and on this matter see the magnificent study by Ugo Monneret de Villard71 of the reciprocal influences – imitation comes into play, as in the case of the iconoclasm as the veil for women. The phenomenon of imitation, common to all peoples and eras, is exemplified by women’s fashion or by the continual imitation over the centuries of the military uniforms of one army or another.

This idea of guaranteeing the sound values of the letters with precision may have come to those who were creating the Arabic writing that was emerging or had just emerged from the clouds that crossed Iraq at the time, in a world that has been lucidly described as one of „splendid confusion72.

The Fihrist says that one of the languages of the Persians was Syriac, not neglecting to repeat this and especially referring to the Saw?d, or lower Iraq, when it says, „they speak Syriac writing it in a type of Syriac-Persian“73. It was precisely between the two rivers that the two scripts were side by side, if they were not mixed. At this point it would seem wise on one hand not to broaden the issue to include the Jews, even if traces of a certain confusion between „Syriac“ and „Hebrew“ writing remain in Islamic tradition, and on the other not to let one’s imagination roam regarding the unproven theory, suggested by Bausani, that the mechanism of heterograms of Aramaic origin was so widespread as to make one think of a closed caste of Iranian scribes in league with Aramaic scribes to make Pahlavi“a matter of class, difficult.“74

The fact that Arab tradition speaks of three inventors, almost a committee – let us not forget that the modification of Pahlavi to extend the alphabet of the Avesta had been the work of an ad hoc committee – seems to be ignored by western scholars. Why not calmly suppose that the three people mentioned by tradition really were a committee and that deliberately, imitating the Persians or following the trend that was emerging at that time, they decided to perfect the Arabic script taking the ductus of Syriac – which is something about which there does not seem to be any doubt – and adding diacritical points following the example of the transition Pahlavik ?? ? Avesta, but using the points already in use in Syriac to distinguish between ‹r› and ‹d›? These points had been in use for centuries because they sometimes appear in Palmyrene inscriptions75, bringing into being diacritical points together with the Arabic letters that were already contemporary.

While we are in this geographical area, we should emphasize the movement that led to the ductus of Syriac and the alignment of the consonants on a single horizontal line, even if sometimes interrupted. The bottom link had already emerged from western Aramaic in the Aramaic Hatran76 and is typical of the estrangel?…. From its earliest manifestations, this oldest Syriac writing displays a marked pre-disposition towards italic forms and the linking of the characters. A fact that conflicts with the current hypothesis that Arabic writing emerged in the Syrian area is that this tendency toward linking would be typical of the scripts of the area beyond the Euphrates, which appear in highly evolved forms while to the west of the Euphrates the development occurred more slowly because of slower penetration adapted from those innovations coming from the East that travelled along the commercial and military routes of the Roman limes77. It is true that in the area of Iraq the first scripts of the south-Mesopotamian family always had links too, but here the story is complicated by the vexata questio of the origin of the Mandaean script78.

The information that tradition gives regarding the specialisations of the three personalities, namely that

Mur?mir, son of Marwah conceived the shape of the letters,

Aslam, son of Sidrah defined the way of writing them, separately or joined, and

‚?mir, son of Gadarah invented the diacritical points (i’g?m),

may also be an indication of a very modern think tank that could not be grasped in the real-life situation, made up of free discussions, and was understood neither by the Arabs of the second Islam when they committed these traditions to writing, nor by the nineteenth-century Leone Caetani.

Among other matters the anarchic mentality of the Bedouins and more generally of the pre-Islamic northern Arabs and of the first Islam was highly compatible with a think tank approach, with free expression of one’s own ideas and creativity, very different to the rigid structures of the society that followed, and it seems sensible to think that perhaps that society was no longer capable of understanding these matters. It should not be forgotten that even the writing of the Vulgate had been the work of a think tank directed by Zayd son of Th?bit.

It is not for nothing that Islamic tradition places the emergence of the diacritical points in Iraq, where the melting pot was on the boil, even if it was postponed to the times of al-?ajj?j. This information is highly questionable given that the latter, born at al-??’if in the year 41 of the ?ijrah (i.e. 661 A.D.), was 17 years old when the Califf Mu‘?wiyah erected, on the dam that he had had built close to his native city, an epigraph dated 58 h (677 A.D.) in which certain diacritical points appear79.

In this field we have to admit that there must have been a little confusion in the records of Islam, because we cannot forget that in the manuscripts of ancient times small strokes are used and not points (those on the al-??’if dam are points) and the vowels are shown with coloured points in exactly the opposite way: Points stand for diacriticals and small strokes for vowels.

3. The vertical alignment of Arabic writing at the beginning


It is known that mankind has developed scripts in all directions including not just horizontal and vertical ones, or spiralling ones like the magic goblets of Mesopotamia80, continuing to modern times81, but also, and this is much less well-known, three-dimensional writing82. The script of the Berbers is an example of this kind of possibility. There can be vertical lines from bottom upwards or from top downwards or horizontal from right to left or from left to right with all the lines in the same direction, or boustrophedon. The writing can also be in columns. The lines are anything but regular, deviating, zigzagging, often curved in relation to the object about which one is writing, so that the direction of the writing is understood, and with ease, only from the way in which certain letters are orientated83.

To come to the period that interests us it is as well to be guided by the conclusions that science has currently reached regarding cuneiform writing. The reigning view of the past among Assyriologists has been overtaken. That view held that there must have been a remarkable ambivalence that allowed one to write and read both vertically and horizontally without distinction. This misinterpretation had strange consequences, such as the claim that one had to bend over sideways to read an inscription on a monument!84

The first discoveries concerned Assyrian monumental writings that, in relation to the various iconographic items that accompanied them, displayed a type of writing that was unequivocally horizontal. The inscriptions, relatively late, belong to the 1st millennium before Christ. The fact that they were written horizontally now seems normal to us, for that period. But the first scholars, whose deduction was understandable, thought that cuneiform writing must have been horizontal from the beginning, and this view did not change when the vertical inscriptions of the legends of the cylindrical seals were discovered85.

On the contrary, when the system, having crossed its own national boundaries, came into contact with populations speaking different languages, it gave the writing, which was originally vertical, a character that was at first ambivalent and then clearly horizontal86. Something of the kind was moving and developing, after the Second World War, in the Chinese and Japanese world whose vertical writing tended, in episodes that became ever less sporadic, to become horizontal writing, and for an identical reason, namely the comparison with invading scripts of other languages.

However, there are habits and traditions that remain in the air.

It is difficult to ignore the fact that the Syriac script comes from Palmyran in which there is no lack of evidence of vertical writing. This habit is clear in the monumental inscriptions in this alphabet87. Vertical writing in Syriac, well established by the monuments88, including the Nestorian stele of 781 in which the lines of writing in this alphabet are aligned in a similar way to those in Chinese characters89, which survived over the centuries because of the Syriac manuscripts90, not only was this practice not unknown but it was practised with a certain regularity in the area: One need only think of the graffiti of the Thamud tribes. Apart from that, even Pahlavi is not without vertical writing, as witnessed in the writings found at Derbend at the outer limit of civilisation, as well as in the coins91.

But it would not be so easy to think of vertical writing if there were not, now, perhaps, the hopefully correct translation of the phrase of the Fihrist that regulary crops out in our studies, beginning with Silvestre de Sacy, passing on to the old Nabia Abbott and continuing to the contemporary Déroche. The phrase is the following:92


??? ???? ?? ?????: ???? ?????? ???????? ???? ????? ????? ?????? ?? ?????? ?? ??????. ???? ????? ??????? ??? ????? ????? ??? ???? ???? ????? ??????? ??? ???? ?????? ????.


In Silvestre de Sacy’s translation it appears as: «…les élifs sont fortement inclinés vers le côté droit de la main, et la figure des lettres est en peu cuché.»93

Nabia Abbott then gives this interpretation: „The alif bends to the right and lower end, the extended vertical strokes (al-a??bi‘, i.e. alif, lâm, lâm-alif, ?â‘ and sometimes kâf) are high, and the script has a moderate downward slant to left“,94

and this observation is followed by Dodge’s translation: „… for the alifs of the scripts of Makka and al-Mad?na there is a turning of the hand to the right and lengthening of the strokes, one form having a slight slant“, and in a note: „The „The Arabic phrase translated as ‚lengthening of the strokes‘ is literally ‚raising of the fingers‘. See Abbott.“95

Lastly Déroche says: «Leurs alifs sont tordus vers la droite de la main et étiré en hauteur, et leur apparence est légérment incliné»; he follows (?? continues ??) this translation with an observation linked to Abbot’s translation: «La partie centrale de cette description … fait référence aux a?âbi‘, littéralement: ‚doigts‘, mot que N. Abbott a compris comme désignant de manière analogique les hastes des alifs , un sens que n‘ est pas attesté par ailleurs mais qui semble plausible dans ce contexte», adding:

«Une autre interprétation pourrait être avancé, qui ne remet pas fondamentalement en cause la signification du texte: au lieu de voir dans ce passage une description en quelque sorte statique de la forme de la lettre, on pourrait penser à une évocation du mouvement de la main du copiste qui élève (i’l?‘) les doigts tenant le calame en direction de la partie supérieure du feuillet pour tracer un alif; l‘ absence du suffixe possesif — renvoyant aux alifs – serait alors plus comprensible»96. (??)

At this point we need to go back to the writing of the Syriac manuscripts and quote the Fihrist yet again when it says that the Persians wrote in Syriac97, speaking in a particular manner of the Saw?donce again Sassanid Iraq which had a huge importance linked to the Christians who were there in large numbers. Describing someone who is preparing to make a sheet ready for vertical writing, the sheet then to be rotated through 90 degrees for the reading, and begins to write, one may read the following text:

“ in its alifs there is a curving (the dictionaries say ‚bend‘) towards the right side of the hand and there is a raising of the fingers and in its shape there is a slight lying down (to lie down )“.

If one thinks of vertical writing of Arabic in the early years as imitating the Syriac this expression of the Fihrist „a raising of the fingers“ becomes clear. Anyone who saw the manuscript rotated through 90 degrees and written vertically would realise that the alifs had been written making the quill come down at 45 degrees from the top left towards the bottom right in writing the longer part of the alif and would moreover notice a smudge produced by the „raising of the fingers“ that the scribe would have produced by bringing the quill from the bottom to the top vertically (Table 2).

And it is again the Fihrist that speaks of the Christians to whom the order for the writing of the Koran98 was given. They must have been professional scribes and therefore accustomed to writing in Syriac. It should be said, in corroboration of this theory, that Arabic written vertically is found on the coins of the first Islam in Persia alongside Pahlavi writing (Table 3)99, like the ones imitating Byzantine practice minted in Palestine in early times100. It was the same in this case too. Having passed through the era of the conquest there was a transition to horizontal writing.

This phenomenon of vertical Arabic writing may have only lasted for a very short time and writing may have become horizontal for the same reasons that caused the change of direction of cuneiform writing, if we re-read what was said before: „when the system …, having crossed its own national boundaries, came into contact with populations speaking different languages, it gave the writing, which was originally vertical, a character … that was clearly horizontal“101.

If we want to refute una tantum the words of the sublime poet „Per la contradizion che nol consente“ we can say that there is no contradiction between the inclined alifs of the vertical writing of the ?ij?z? manuscripts and the perfectly vertical alifs of the epigraphy, because the difference in the writing material is clear. Furthermore, in my view, when the Arabs began writing on stone the vertical writing had already evolved, becoming horizontal.

But there is more to be said. The originally vertical writing of Arabic was preserved, in keeping with the constant rule of the archaism of forms, in marginal areas of Africa. This was noted by M. Marcel Cohen who mentioned it in 1931 concerning the vertical writing of Arabic in Harar102 and he returned to the subject during the Groupe Linguistique d’études chamito-sémitique in 1951103. A few years later in 1954 in the same GLECS context, Gérard Troupeau took up this subject again, referring not only to Cohen but also speaking of his personal experiences, and was greeted by a chorus of general agreement. Troupeau said he had seen Arabic students writing in an absolutely vertical mode just as he had seen the copyists writing in an identical way in Syriac. He added that he had not noticed the faithful having any problems in reading the vertical writings in Syriac on the walls of the churches and said that the habit of reading Syriac from all directions was a «pratique nécessitée par la position des chantres à l’église, qui forment un cercle autour du livre liturgique posé à plate sur un pupitre placé au milieu d’eux». The latter observation may not be unavoidable given that in general the texts are committed to memory as in the ??? ???? of the Synagogal world.

One of those who attended this meeting said he had written in this way on tablets when he was a young student in Egypt, while another noted that this direction of the writing in the Jacobite outline of Syriac explained the Greek letters used for vocalisation such as the „capital ???“??. These speakers were followed by two others. One pointed out that with the writing medium resting on the thigh vertical writing permitted longer lines than horizontal writing, while the other observed that this phenomenon of vertical Arabic writing could explain why certain Arabic figures appeared to be basculé (toppling over) compared to Indian figures, for example the 3 of the Arabs ? compared to the ? of the Sanskrit104. It seems to me that in truth this observation could be extended, as it would appear that something identical also occurred as regards the figure 2 among the Arabs ? from the Nagari ? and for 8 among the Arabs ? and in India ? .

Attracted by this argument and by a photograph in National Geographic105 having mentioned it in my report to this Academy ?? on 17 October 2002106 I was able to send an expedition from the Fondazione Ferni Noja Noseda in the summer of 2004 to the oasis of Fachi in Niger where a DVD report on vertical writing on wooden tablets was made.107 While I was preparing the above-mentionated report, I mentioned this idea of vertical writing to my friend Déroche and he was favourably ?? impressed because, probably at his request, his teacher Troupeau had inserted a favourable ?? comment on the matter in his review.108

Now, this process of becoming aware of the vertical writing of Arabic first with surprise and then with naturalness has recently made me think again of Rhinoceros by Ionesco. If we replace ‚rhinoceros‘ with ‚vertical writing‘ we seem to hear the same words of the first act:


JEAN: Oh!, a rhinoceros!

[The noise made by the animal dies away swiftly and one can already hear the following words. The whole of this scene must be played very fast, each repeating in swift succession: Oh!, a rhinoceros! ]

WAITRESS: Oh!, a rhinoceros!

GROCER’S WIFE [sticks her head out of her shop doorway]: Oh!, a rhinoceros! [To her husband still inside the shop]: Quick, come and look ; it’s a rhinoceros!


4. Conclusions


The Arabic of the centre-north used various scripts until it felt the need to have its „own“ script, just as not long afterwards it felt the need to have its „own“ sacred book in its ‚own‘ language, as the Koran shows109. How could these Arabs who were so proud use the scripts of others?

The parallel with the Slavic world seems impelling: every Slav (or rather ‚he who speaks‘) calls the Germans „dumb“ because they do not speak Slavonic, and St. Cyril and St. Metodius created an alphabet of their own to evangelize the Slavs.

At the same time on one hand the attempt by the Syriac Church to spread Christianity ???? ?????? ?? and on the other its rejection, must have had a massive impact: Syriac could not be adopted in toto.


The journey through time seems to emerge clearly:


1. The epigraphs in Li?y?nite and Dedanite must be regarded as one being among of many faute de mieux attempts.

2. The upsurge of the south Arabian in relation to the north seems clear. Beyond Faw it could have reached as far as Mecca. Tradition, recounted by F?kith? ??, handed down the text in the south Arabian characters of Maq?m Ibr?h?m.110

3. King Imru‘ al-Qays made use of Nabataean in the Nemara inscription because he wanted to proclaim his victory and his glory in that area at that time111 and Nabataean was the available script. Then the Nabataean world was extinguished.

4. Lastly, South Arabian was definitely rejected and there is no lack of rejections such this even in recent history, ranging from that of the Weimar Republic in Germany concerning the so-called ‚Gothic‘ of Imperial Germany to that of Atatürk regarding the Arabic script! One cannot rule out the possibility that there was a reaction by the emigrants towards the world from which they had come, and in fact it was mainly tribes of southern origin who were involved in the new script that was emerging. At the time these Arabs were struck by the sight of two major systems, the Christian church and the Empire of the King of Kings. Sassanid Iraq, where Syriac and Pahlavi were side by side, became the melting pot.

5. A self-appointed committee of sages met with the intention of creating a truly Arabic script and with much goodwill, to provide their own people and language with a different script to that of nearby peoples. If for a moment we dare to substitute the word „script“ for the word „language“ in the Koranic text we hear the following verse:


„The ’script‘ of he to whom they wickedly point to is notably foreign, while this is Arabic, pure and clear!“ ??


6. The ductus was certainly that of Syriac. Starcky’s observation on the upper alignment of Nabataean and the lower alignment of Syriac and of Arabic is of fundamental importance.112 The validity of the thesis has now been confirmed by a further conclusive study, the recent one by Gérard Troupeau, which resolves the problems that no one had tackled until now arising not only from the script but also from the phonetic of the adaptation of certain letters of the Syriac alphabet to those of the emerging Arabic script.113

7. Faced with many letters that were the same they noted that the Persians were modifyng or had modified the characters of Pahlavi in order to record the Avesta accurately. Modification of the letters as implemented by the Persians seemed difficult from the graphical standpoint, and the diacritical point of Syriac for distinguishing between r and d was fundamental in prompting the big idea: It was in this way that the ‚diacritical points’were developped.


This process of the emergence of Arabic writing was very similar to that of those who returned from the Babylonian exile. Wanting to distinguish themselves from those had remained in the Land of Israel and not being able to make them change the script, the veterans from Babylonia invented square Hebrew, imitating in general the square and rectangular shapes of the cuneiform.114

It should be recalled that the fact that ‚Abd Allah son of M?lik al-Khuza‘ and Ya?y? son of Kh?lid the Barmekid (the teacher of H?r?n al-Rash?d) read the inscription of Hind in his monastery without difficulty would seem to demonstrate the identity of Arabic writing at the time when Islam emerged with what triumphed then, and existed over the centuries, within Islam.




1 «Depuis une trentaine d’années, l’histoire de la formation de l’islam a connu un extraordinaire regain d’intérêt. Deux ouvrages de John Wansbrough, qui appliquent au Coran les méthodes de l’exégèse biblique, et concluent que le recueil coranique que nous connaisons s’est constitué tardivement (après 200 h.) à partir de matériaux hétérogènes, ont été le point de départ d’une réorientation radical des recherches, caractérisée par une suspicion systématique de ‚l’histoire traditionelle’». Christian Julien ROBIN, La réforme de l’écriture arabe, à l’époque du califat médinois, in: IV International Conference on codicology and paleography of middle-eastern manuscripts. Bologna 2002 (in press).

2 Tradition has it that Zayd son of Th?bit also knew Syriac, see Régis BLACHÈRE, Introduction au Coran. Paris 1947, p. 31.

3 O. HOUDAS, El-Bokh?ri, Les traditions islamiques. Paris 1984, III, p. 522.

4 Koran XIII 39; XLIII 4; LII 2-3; LVI 78, 79; LXXX 13-16.

5 „O ye who believe! When ye deal with each other, in transactions involving future obligations in a fixed period of time, reduce them to writing. Let a scribe write down faithfully as between the parties: let not the scribe refuse to write: as God has taught him, so let him write. Let him who incurs the liability dictate, but let him fear his Lord God, and not diminish aught of what he owes.“ (II 282)

6 Daniela AMALDI, Le Mu’allaq?t. Alle origini della poesia araba. Venezia 1991, p. 21.

7 Luigi SERRA, I Berberi come preesistenza e persistenza indigena in Nord Africa in: L’Africa Romana, Atti del VII Convegno di studio, Sassari, 15-17 dicembre 1989. Sassari 1990, pp. 309-322.

8 M. V. McDONALD, Orally transmitted poetry in pre-islamic Arabia and other pre-literate societies in: Journal of Arabic Literature, IX, pp.15-31.

9 Charles FOSSEY, Notices sur les caractères étrangers anciens et modernes rédigés par un groupe de savants et réunies par Charles Fossey. Paris 1948, p.135.

10 Marcel COHEN, La grande invention de l’écriture et son évolution. Paris 1958. Vol. I, p. 334 ; Lionel GALAND, Les alphabets libyques in Antiquités africaines, t. 25, 1989, pp. 69-81 ; Lionel GALAND, Lecture et décifrement des inscriptions sahariennes in : Sahara 4/1991, pp. 53-58 ; Paulette GALAND-PERNET, Le poème oral et ses marges: prologues berbères in: Lalies 6/1988, pp.149-166.

11 Giorgio Raimondo CARDONA, Storia universale della scrittura. Milano 1986, p. 153.

12 There is a good example in the same book by Cardona in photo number 27 where the writing is vertical (see Chap. 3).

13 Géza RÓHEIM, Animism, Magic and the Divine King. London 1972.

14 PLATO, Phaedrus, V.

15 Carlo SEVERI, Il percorso e la voce. Torino 2004.

16 Noam CHOMSKY, On Nature and Language. Cambridge 2002; Ideas and Ideals. Cambridge 2004; Linguaggio e problemi della conoscenza. Bologna 1998.

17 R. A. NICHOLSON, A literary History of the Arabs. Cambridge 1968, pp. 79-83.

18 ARBERRY, The Seven Odes. London – New York 1957, p. 142.

19 ARBERRY, ibid., p. 142.

20 ARBERRY, ibid., p. 142.

21 Lello VOCE, L’avventura dello slam (in Italia e nel mondo). Un dialogo con Marc Kelly Smith e Rayl Patzack. Con una postilla sul PJ-Set in:; Henry Burt STEVENS, Poetry in:; 3.11.2003, A live performance of Monte Smith in:; Gotpoetry? in:—.

22 The names of the 65 in Mu?ammad Mu??af? AL-A‘?am?, The History of the Qur‘?nic Text. Leicester 2003, p. 68.

23 A. GUILLAUME, The life of Muhammad, a translation of ?? Is??q’s S?rat Ras?l Allah with Introduction and Notes. London 1968, p. 504.

24 See note 5.

25 This meaning is certain in Ibn Sa’d, II (1), 73, „When the Prophet had the pact stipulated between him and the Meccani written (kataba), on the day of ?udaybiyyah, he said: Write…“

26 Frédéric BARBIER, Histoire du livre. Paris 2000, p. 34.

27 Régis BLACHÈRE, Introduction au Coran. Paris 1947, pp.15, 29.

28 See note 4.

29 Inscriptions RES 3688 and RES 3689 in the Wadi Labakh. My transparency is a kind ?? by Jaqueline Pirenne.

30 Philippe PONS, L’ultimo confine in: Internazionale 577, 11 febbraio 2005, p. 56.

31 Françoise Briquel CHATONNET, Les manuscrits syriaques d’Antioche in: Topoi Suppl. 5, 2004, pp. 543-553.

32 ARBERRY, p. 116

33 Daniela AMALDI, Tracce consunte come graffiti su pietra. Napoli 1999, p.19.

34 Koran XXX 1-3.

35 Geo Widengren, The Establishment of the Sasanian dynasty in the light of new evidence, in: ACCADEMIA NAZIONALE DEI LINCEI, La Persia nel Medioevo. Roma 1971, pp. 711-784.

36 M. J. KISTER, Al-??ra. Some notes on its relations with Arabia in: Studies in J?hiliyya and Early Islam. London 1980, p.143-169.

37 Malise RUTHVEN – Azim NANJI, Historical Atlas of the Islamic World. Oxford 2000, p. 25; William C. BRICE, An historical Atlas of Islam. Leiden 1981, T. 15, 19.

38 Janos HARMATTA, The middle Persian – Chinese Bilingual Inscription from Hsian and the Chinese – S?s?nian Relations in: La Persia nel Medioevo. Roma 1971, pp. 363-376 ; Paolo DAFFINA‘, La Persia Sassanide secondo le fonti cinesi in: Rivista di Studi Orientali LVII (1983), pp. 121-170.

39 G. GNOLI, Il Manicheismo. Milano 2003, I, p. XXI.

40 Gherardo GNOLI, Babylonian Influences on Iran in: Encyclopaedia Iranica., Politica religiosa e concezione della regalità sotto gli Achemenidi in Gurur?jamañjarika. Napoli 1974, I, pp. 23-88.

41 Geoffrey KHAN, Arabic Documents from Early Islamic Khurasan (in press), Islamic Documents in: From Andalusia to Khurasan (in press).

42 TABAR?, The History of al-?abar?, vol. V, New York, p. 354; MAS’UDI, Les Prairies d’or, II, Paris 1965, p. 404; R. A. NICHOLSON, op. cit., Cambridge 1968, p. 48.

43 Irfan SHAHID, Byzantium and the Arabs in the Sixth Century. Dumbarton Oaks 1995, p. 280.

44 Irfan SHAHID, id., p.280.

45 Irfan SHAHID, id., p.281.

46 Antonio PANAINO, Greci e Iranici: confronto e conflitti in: Salvatore SETTIS, ed., I Greci. Storia, Cultura, Arte, Società, Vol. 3: I Greci oltre la Grecia. Torino 2001, p. 135.

47 Christian Julien ROBIN, La réforme de l‘ écriture arabe. Ta. 2.

48 Christian Julien ROBIN, ibid., Ta. 3.

49Irfan SHAHID, op. cit., p. 481, the arabic text in Y?Q?T, Mu‘jam al-buld?n. Beirut 1999, II, 5164. A popularization free hand drawing in Christian Julien ROBIN, Monde arabe. Une écriture réformée à l’aube de l’Islam in: Science et vie, Comment est née l‘ écriture. Paris 2004, p. 113.

50 What follows is taken from Leone CAETANI, Annali dell’Islam, Vol. II, tomo I. Milano 1907, p. 692 foll., where there are all the references to the Arab sources.

51 Ukaydir son of ‚Abd al-Malik.

52 With al-?ahy? daughter of ?arb, sister of Sufy?n son of ?arb.

53 Son of ‚Abd Shams.

54 In turn son of Zuhrah.

55 Ghaylan son of Salamah of the Thaq?f.

56 In turn son of ‚Udas.

57 Leone CAETANI (and) Giuseppe GABRIELI, Onomasticon arabicum, I, p. 76.

58 Carolus DE BOOR, Theophanis Chronografia, II. Hidelsheim 1980, p. 584.

59 David COHEN, Dictionnaire des racines sémitiques ou attestées dans les langues sémitiques. Louvain, sub BSR, 1.

60 J. Payne SMITH, A Compendious Syriac Dictionary. Oxford 1903, sub SBR.

61 Wolf LESLAU, Comparative Dictionary of Ge’ez. Wiesbaden 1987.

62 Werner CASKEL, ?amharat an-nasab, das genealogische Werk des Hiš?m ibn Mu?ammad al-Kalb?. Leiden 1966, Band II, p. 226.

63 Werner CASKEL, id., p. 226-228.

64 William C. BRICE, An historical Atlas of Islam. Leiden 1981, where Anbar is written in the 15th and in the 22nd and Ambar in the 19th ??

65 Henrik Samuel NYBERG, A Manual of Pahlavi. Wiesbaden 1974.

66 Marcel COHEN, La grande invention de l’écriture, p. 166.

67 Antonio PANAINO, Philologia Avestica V, The Origin of Avestan Letters ý and v in: Münchener Studien zur Sprachwissenschaft 57 (1997), p. 81-96.

68 K. HOFFMANN, Zum Zeicheninventar der Avesta-Schrift, in W. EILERS (Hrsg.), Festgabe deutscher Iranisten zur 2500 Jahrfeier Irans. Stoccarda 1971, pp. 64-73 (also in: K. HOFFMANN, Aufsätze zur Indoiranistik. Bd. 1, Wiesbaden 1975, pp. 316-25); J. KELLENS, „Avestique“ in R. Schmitt (Hrsg.), Compendium Linguarum Iranicarum. Wiesbaden 1989, pp. 32-55; W. SUNDERMANN, „Partisch“, ibid., pp. 114-37; W. SUNDERMANN, „Mittelpersisch“, ibid., pp. 137-64.

69 Taken from R. HOFFMANN, Avestan language, i, The Avestan script in: Encyclopaedia Iranica, available at

70 Philippe GIGNOUX, Glossaire des inscriptions pehlevies et parthes, in: Corp. Inscr. Iran., Suppl. Ser, I. London 1972, p. 14.

71 Ugo MONNERET DE VILLARD, Introduzione allo studio dell’archeologia islamica, le origini ed il periodo omayade. Venezia 1968, p. 250.

72 The Sassanian Empire was a meeting point of religions and cultures. Although the official religion of the ruling dynasty was Zoroastrianism, Judaeo-Christian sects and Semitic pagan cults jostled with each other in splendid confusion in Mesopotamia. To these was added a strong Jewish presence in Babylonia and Adiabene. It had been established since the first century. The victories of Sh?p?r I brought large numbers of captive Romans to residence in the Sassanian Empire and many of them were Greek speaking Christians from conquered cities like Antioch. Furthermore, Buddhism had also exerted considerable influence on the cultural and religious life of eastern Iran, especially areas conquered by the Sassanians from the Kushan Empire. It was as a „Buddha“ that Mani was received by the Shah of T?r?n. — S. N. C. LIEU, Manichaeism in Mesopotamia and the Roman East. Leiden 1999, p. 25.

73 Bayard DODGE, The Fihrist of al-Nad?m, vol. I, p. 24.

74 Alessandro BAUSANI, La scrittura pahlavica frutto di bilinguismo aramaico-iranico? in: Vicino Oriente, III, 1980. Roma. 1980, pp. 269-276.

75 Jutta Meischner (and) Eleonora Cussini, Vier palmyrenische Grabreliefs im Museum von Antakya in: Archäologischer Anzeiger, 2. Halbband, 2003, pp. 97-105.

76 Fabrizio A. PENNACCHIETTI, Iscrizioni aramaiche hatrene su un sostegno fittile, in: Mesopotamia XXXIII, 1998, p. 286.

77 Marco MORIGGI, La lingua delle coppe magiche siriache. Firenze 2004, p. 68-69.

78 A. KLUGKIST, The Origin of the Mandaic Script, in: AA.VV. Scripta signa vocis. Groningen 1986, pp. 111-119.

79 Christian Julien ROBIN, La réforme de l’écriture arabe, fig. 14.

80 Marco MORIGGI, op.cit., ??

81 There is a modern example in Martin KUCKENBURG, Wer sprach das erste Wort? Stuttgart 2004, p. 119.

82 D. E. IBARRA-GRASSO, La escrittura indigena andina, in: Annali Lateranensi, XII, 1948, pp. 9-124.

83 Charles FOSSEY, op. cit., p. 136.

84 Sergio Angelo PICCHIONI, La direzione della scrittura cuneiforme e gli archivi di Tell Mardikh Ebla in: Orientalia 49, fasc. 3, 1980, p. 234.

85 Sergio Angelo PICCHIONI, id., p. 234.

86 Sergio Angelo PICCHIONI, id., p. 249.

87 Pierfrancesco CALLIERI, Il rilievo palmireno di BTMLKW e ?YRN nel Museo Nazionale di Arte Orientale di Roma in: Arte Orientale in Italia, V. 6, (1980), p. 5-18. — Eleonora CUSSINI, Two Palmyrene Aramaic Inscriptions in American Collections in: Syria LXIX, 3-4 (1992), pp. 423-429.

88 Marcel COHEN, op.cit., planches, 42.

89 Paul PELLIOT, L’inscription nestorienne de Si-ngan-fou. Kyoto 1996.

90 Françoise BRIQUEL CHATONNET, La mise en page dans les manuscrits syriaques d’après les plus anciens manuscrits in: Manuscripta Orientalia, vol. 9, n. 4, p. 3.

91 W. B. Henning, Mitteliranisch in: Handbuch der Orientalistik, Erste Abteilung, Vierter Band: Iranistik, Erster Abschnit: Linguistik. Leiden 1958, p. 48; Il Medioiranico. Napoli 1996, p. 35.

92 Gustav FLÜGEL, Kit?b al-Fihrist, mit Anmerkungen herausgegeben. Leipzig 1872, p. 6.

93 A. SILVESTRE DE SACY, Mémoire sur l’origine et les anciens monuments de la litterature parmi les Arabes in: Mémoires de littérature tirés des registres de l’Académie royale des inscriptions et belles lettres, 50 (1808), p. 253-254, 297; now also in: F. DÉROCHE (and) S. NOJA NOSEDA, Sources de la transmission manuscrite du texte coranique, I, Les manuscrits de style ?i??z?, Vol. 1, Lesa 1998, p. XXVII-XCII, with the scientific transcription of the words and of the Arab names.

94 Nabia ABBOTT, The rise of the North Arabic script and its qur’ânic development. Chicago 1939.

95 Bayard DODGE, op.cit., vol. I, p.10.

96 François DÉROCHE, Les manuscrits du Coran en caractères ?ig?z?, in: Quinterni 1. Lesa (1996); F. DÉROCHE (and) S. NOJA NOSEDA, Sources de la trasmission manuscrite du texte coranique, I, Le manuscrits de style ?i??z?, 1, Lesa 1998, p. XVI.

97 See note 76.

98 Sergio NOJA NOSEDA, La mia visita a Sanaa e il Corano palinsesto, in: Istituto Lombardo Accademia di Scienze e Lettere, Rendiconti, Classe di lettere e Scienze Morali e Storiche, vol. 137 (2003) – 1, p. 43-60.

99 Ryka GYSELLEN, Arab-Sasanian Copper Coinage. Wien 2000.

100 Ariel BERMAN, Islamic Coins. Jerushalaim 1976, p.19; David DIRINGER, L’alfabeto nella storia della civiltà. Firenze 1969, Tav. LIII.

101 See note 88.

102 Marcel COHEN, Études d‘ Éthiopien Méridional. Paris 1931, p. 330.

103 Marcel COHEN Comunication, in: Comptes rendus du Groupe linguistique d’études chamito-sémitiques (GLECS), T. V, p. 98.

104 Gérard TROUPEAU, Sur l’écriture verticale, in: Comptes rendus du Groupe linguistique d’études chamito-sémitiques (GLECS), T. VII, 1954-1957, p. 6-8.

105 Donovan WEBSTER (and) George STEINMETZ, Journey to the heart of the Sahara, in: National Geografic Magazine, 195, no. 3, march 1999, pp. 2-33.

106 See note 101.

107 Roberto e Cecilia BARATELLI, Viaggio all‘ oasi di Fachi, in: Quinterni 2. Lesa 2004.

108 G. TROUPEAU, review of François DÉROCHE, Manuel de codicologie des manuscrits en écriture arabe, in: Arabica, T. XLIX,1 (2002 ), pp. 123-124.

109 Koran XVI 103; XLI 44. Efim A. REzVAN, Koran i ego mir, Sankt Peterburg, 2001, Q.2, G.1, s. 171; Robert G. HOYLAND, Arabia and the Arabs. London 2003, p. 229 ; Jan RETSÖ, The Arabs in Antiquity. London 2003, p. 24.

110 M. J. KISTER, Maq?m Ibr?h?m, a stone with inscription, in: Le Museon, LXXXIV, p. 477-491.

111 Christian Julien ROBIN, Linteu inscrit: AO 4083, in: Arabie heureuse, Arabie déserte. Paris 1997, p. 265-269.

112 J. STARCKY, Pétra et la Nabatène, in: Supplément au Dictionnaire de la Bible. Paris 1964, col. 886-1017.

113 Gérard TROUPEAU, Écriture et phonétique arabes, in : Mélanges David Cohen. Paris 2003, pp. 707-710.

114 Sergio NOJA NOSEDA, L’assunzione di forme quadrate nella scrittura aramaica e il proto-arabo, in: Istituto Lombardo, Rend. Lett. 125 (1991), pp. 269-275.