Nabataean script
Script type
Time period
2nd century BC to 4th century AD
DirectionRight-to-left script Edit this on Wikidata
LanguagesNabataean Aramaic
Nabataean Arabic
Related scripts
Parent systems
Child systems
Arabic script
ISO 15924
ISO 15924Nbat (159), ​Nabataean
Unicode alias
Final Accepted Script Proposal
Example in Nabataean alphabet

The Nabataean script is an abjad (consonantal alphabet) that was used to write Nabataean Aramaic and Nabataean Arabic from the second century BC onwards.[2][3] Important inscriptions are found in Petra (now in Jordan), the Sinai Peninsula (now part of Egypt), and other archaeological sites including Abdah (in Israel) and Mada'in Saleh in Saudi Arabia.

Nabataean is only known through inscriptions and, more recently, a small number of papyri.[4] It was first deciphered in 1840 by Eduard Friedrich Ferdinand Beer.[4] 6,000 – 7,000 Nabataean inscriptions have been published, of which more than 95% are extremely short inscriptions or graffiti, and the vast majority are undated, post-Nabataean or from outside the core Nabataean territory.[4] A majority of inscriptions considered Nabataean were found in Sinai,[4] and another 4,000 – 7,000 such Sinaitic inscriptions remain unpublished.[5] Prior to the publication of Nabataean papyri, the only substantial corpus of detailed Nabataean text were the 38 funerary inscriptions from Hegra (Mada'in Salih), published by Julius Euting in 1885.[4]

Coin of Aretas IV and Shaqilath
Nabataean Kingdom, Aretas IV and Shaqilath, 9 b. C. – 40 a. D., AE18. On the reverse, an example of Nabataean script: names of Aretas IV (1st line) and Shaqilath (2nd and 3rd line).[6][7]


Sinaitic (Nabataean) inscriptions published in 1774 by Carsten Niebuhr

The alphabet is descended from the Aramaic alphabet. In turn, a cursive form of Nabataean developed into the Arabic alphabet from the 4th century,[3] which is why Nabataean's letterforms are intermediate between the more northerly Semitic scripts (such as the Aramaic-derived Hebrew) and those of Arabic.

Inscription in the Nabataean script.

Comparison with related scripts

As compared to other Aramaic-derived scripts, Nabataean developed more loops and ligatures, likely to increase speed of writing. The ligatures seem to have not been standardized and varied across places and time. There were no spaces between words. Numerals in Nabataean script were built from characters of 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 10, 20, and 100.

Name Phoenician Phoneme Aramaic Nabataean Syriac Arabic Phoneme
ʾālep 𐤀 ʾ [ʔ] 𐡀 ܐ , ء ʾ [ʔ]
bēt 𐤁 b [b] 𐡁 ܒ b [b]
tāw 𐤕 t [t] 𐡕 ܬ ت t [t]
ث [θ]
gīml 𐤂 g [ɡ] 𐡂 ܓ j [d͡ʒ]
ḥēt 𐤇 [ħ] 𐡇 ܚ ح [ħ]
خ [x]
dālet 𐤃 d [d] 𐡃 ܕ د d [d]
ذ [ð]
rēs, reš 𐤓 r [r] 𐡓 ܪ r [r]
zayin 𐤆 z [z] 𐡆 ܙ z [z]
śāmek 𐤎 ś [s] 𐡎 ܣ
šīn 𐤔 š [ʃ] 𐡔 ܫ س, ش s [s], š [ʃ]
ṣādē 𐤑 [] 𐡑 ܨ ص []
ض []
ṭēt 𐤈 [] 𐡈 ܛ ط []
ظ [ðˤ]
ʿayin 𐤏 ʿ [ʕ] 𐡏 ܥ ع ʿ [ʕ]
غ [ɣ]
𐤐 p [p] 𐡐 ܦ ف f [f]
qōp 𐤒 q [q] 𐡒 ܩ q [q]
kāp 𐤊 k [k] 𐡊 ܟ k [k]
lāmed 𐤋 l [l] 𐡋 ܠ l [l]
mēm 𐤌 m [m] 𐡌 ܡ m [m]
nūn 𐤍 n [n] 𐡍 ܢ n [n]
he 𐤄 h [h] 𐡄 ܗ ه h [h]
wāw 𐤅 w [w] 𐡅 ܘ w [w]
yod 𐤉 y [j] 𐡉 ܝ ي y [j]

Corpuses of inscriptions in Nabataean script


See also: Nabataean (Unicode block)

The Nabataean alphabet (U+10880–U+108AF) was added to the Unicode Standard in June 2014 with the release of version 7.0.

Official Unicode Consortium code chart (PDF)
  0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 A B C D E F
U+1088x 𐢀 𐢁 𐢂 𐢃 𐢄 𐢅 𐢆 𐢇 𐢈 𐢉 𐢊 𐢋 𐢌 𐢍 𐢎 𐢏
U+1089x 𐢐 𐢑 𐢒 𐢓 𐢔 𐢕 𐢖 𐢗 𐢘 𐢙 𐢚 𐢛 𐢜 𐢝 𐢞
U+108Ax 𐢧 𐢨 𐢩 𐢪 𐢫 𐢬 𐢭 𐢮 𐢯
1.^ As of Unicode version 15.1
2.^ Grey areas indicate non-assigned code points

See also


  1. ^ Himelfarb, Elizabeth J. "First Alphabet Found in Egypt", Archaeology 53, Issue 1 (Jan./Feb. 2000): 21.
  2. ^ Everson, Michael (2010-12-09). "N3969: Proposal for encoding the Nabataean script in the SMP of the UCS" (PDF). Working Group Document, ISO/IEC JTC1/SC2/WG2.
  3. ^ a b Omniglot.
  4. ^ a b c d e Healey, John F. (2011). "On Stone and Papyrus: reflections on Nabataean epigraphy". Palestine Exploration Quarterly. Informa UK Limited. 143 (3): 163–165. doi:10.1179/003103211x13092562976054. ISSN 0031-0328. S2CID 162206051. Sinai, for example, is a major source of Nabataean inscriptions: the corpus of M. E. Stone contains 3,851 Nabataean items! But most were written by individuals who had no connection with Nabataea itself during the period of the Nabataean kingdom or its immediate aftermath and they may not normally have spoken Aramaic. The texts have generally been thought to have been written long after Nabataea as such disappeared.
  5. ^ Larison, Kristine M. (2020). ""Prolific Writing": Retracing a Desert Palimpsest in the South Sinai". In A. Hoffmann (ed.). Exodus: Border Crossings in Jewish, Christian and Islamic Texts and Images. Judaism, Christianity, and Islam – Tension, Transmission, Transformation. De Gruyter. pp. 77–92. doi:10.1515/9783110618549-005. ISBN 978-3-11-061854-9. S2CID 214051677.
  6. ^ Yaʻaḳov Meshorer, "Nabataean coins", Ahva Co-op Press, 1975; 114.
  7. ^ Numista

The Nabataean script: a bridge between the Aramaic and Arabic alphabets.