The aboriginal inhabitants of Abyssinia were Africans, and were to all intents and purposes savages, and their manners and customs closely resembled those of the great Negro peoples who lived in the country a little to the north of the Equator. There is no evidence that they had invented a system of writing, though they probably possessed some way of keeping records of their transactions by barter, and employed numerical signs. Literature they had none, at least nothing exists which shows that they had. The Egyptians of the Old Kingdom traded with the people of Upper Nubia, and probably with the inhabitants of the country now called Somaliland, but their merchant caravans do not appear
to have penetrated the highlands of Abyssinia proper. The raids made by the Egyptians under the X llth and X V IIIth Dynasties into the countries to the west of Lake Sana and the Blue Nile did nothing to improve the civilization of the Western Abyssinians with whom they came into contact, and Abyssinian writing owes nothing to Egypt. There is little doubt that the hieroglyphic inscriptions on the temples and in the tombs of Napata and Meroe were drafted by Egyptian scribes and cut by Egyptian workmen imported from Egypt for the purpose. The Abyssinians borrowed the fundamental parts of their letters from the Semites of Arabia, that is to say from those emigrants from Arabia who made their way into Abyssinia and brought with them a civilization far higher than that of the Abyssinians, and the art of writing. According to some authorities this emigration took place about B.C. iooo, but others say it happened several centuries later. The alphabet in use among the Minaeans and Sabaeans between B.C. 200 and A.D. 400, and probably much later, is, according to Guidi (“ Summarium Grammaticae Arabicae Meridionalis,” in the Museon, tom. X XXIX), as follows :
with which, of course, they were familiar from the time of the Ptolemies. At all events the inscriptions of ‘Ezana (about A.D. 350) are written from left to right, and in manuscripts this is the direction always followed. In the Minaean and Sabaean inscriptions each word is divided by an upright line, e.g.