Skip to content
Licensed Unlicensed Requires Authentication Published by De Gruyter 2018

The Creation and Spread of Scripts in Ancient India

From the book Literacy in Ancient Everyday Life

Harry Falk


Like his ancestors before him, King Aśoka (ca. 268-232 BC) was linked to the Seleucid dynasty in the West by family ties. Unlike his predecessors, however, he was the first to react to the immense cultural differences separating the two realms. One of the major deficits concerned the use of dressed stone for public monuments, the other was the lack of a script. India had produced a vast literature of a sacerdotal and secular nature, kept alive solely by oral means. Aśoka had a script designed for his country which amalgamated the best features of the two scripts current in his time, Greek and Kharoṣṭhī. The latter had been created only few years previously, 1600 km away in what is now northern Pakistan in an area formerly under Achaemenid rule, administrated with the help of Aramaic clerks. Although less suited to the language, Kharoṣṭhī script was not superseded by the new Brāhmī script from the East. This paper explains the perseverance of the western script on the basis of its function as a means for legal transactions. The need for documents had provided the incentive for the creation of a local script after the Aramaic clerks with their foreign script for a foreign language had started to disappear, rendering older documents illegible and thus worthless. Brāhmī, on the other hand, had little success as a script of administration, but served to demonstrate to the West the cultural and ethical standards of its homeland, and of its creator, Aśoka

© 2018 Walter de Gruyter GmbH, Berlin/Munich/Boston
Downloaded on 1.2.2023 from
Scroll Up Arrow