Avestan script

Ian James
© May 2009, March 2011

This is one of a group of fonts developed in response to finding so few nice representations of ancient scripts on the web. Many were poorly drawn, making them appear primitive and unsophisticated. Only after finding good ancient examples, does one appreciate how lovely the scripts really were, and how sophisticated was their heritage. See also the Meroïtic and Samaritan scripts from neighbouring regions. A recent experiment in stylizing the cuneiform of Old Persian (a script I call Xerxian) may also be of interest.

Avestan was derived from various script styles of Pahlavi, and is written right-to-left. It was developed during the 3rd century AD to help preserve the ancient Zoroastrian scriptures of Persia in as thorough manner as possible. There is an unusually large number of glyphs, with subtle phonemic distinctions. Apart from a number of relatively modern ligatures, the letters are not joined.

Vowels

Here and below, letters are given in Unicode order (encoding starts at U+10B00). There have been various methods of transliterating; some common ones are given, along with the International Phonetic Alphabet.

Consonants

In many cases it is possible to see shape relationships paralleling phonemic ones. Also, because of the large inventory of letters, it was important to maintain stylistic integrity by having many of the sub-shapes re-used.

* letter /tt/ is a final form of [t].
* letter /nn/ is a prenasal used before /t,d,k,g,p,b/
* letter /yy/ is an initial form of [j]
* this letter /v/ is an initial form of [v]
* letter /l/ was a later invention used for writing Middle Persian.

Here are some other letter forms. First an alternative for /ny/, then the common forms for /y/ and /v/ within a word. Next are some common ligatures.

Punctuation marks:

 
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Examples

1. Example using an early version of the above font, and text from the Avestan scripture Yasna 45.I:



2. Example using my more recent Avestan Nouveau font, and text from the Avestan scripture Yasna 45.II:



Ahura Mazda

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All material on this page © Ian James, except Ahura Mazda image.
Last modified Jun.29,2013