Ancient Arabia: Languages and Cultures

Safaitic Database Online

Please note: The Ancient Arabia Languages and Cultures (AALC) project was a one year project funded by the University of Oxford's John Fell Fund, and came to an end in 2011. This website acts as a historical record of the project, and is no longer actively updated.

Safaitic is an Ancient North Arabian dialect and script used almost exclusively by nomads in what is now southern Syria, north-eastern Jordan and north and north-western Saudi Arabia. They are conventionally dated to between the first century BC and the fourth century AD and thus are contemporary with the Roman occupation of this region and with Nabataean and Herodian kingdoms. Over 30,000 have been studied so far, but this is only a small sample of what remains to be recorded. They are almost exclusively graffiti but they reveal a great deal about the social structures, daily lives, religion, hopes and fears of the nomads who wrote them, as well as about their relations with the political regimes in the settled regions.

For more information see M.C.A. Macdonald,

Ancient Arabia and the written word

Reflections on the linguistic map of pre-Islamic Arabia

Ancient North Arabian

Literacy in an oral environment

The Safaitic Database Online is intended to provide transliterations, translations, ancillary information, and, wherever possible, photographs and/or facsimiles of all recorded Safaitic inscriptions. At present, some 28,000 are in the final stages of being entered. As a sample, the AALC website is hosting the Database with some 3300 previously unpublished Safaitic inscriptions recorded by the late Dr Geraldine King during the Basalt Desert Rescue Survey in north-eastern Jordan in 1989. The database is fully searchable and linked to the archive of photographs and facsimiles of the inscriptions. We are most grateful to the John Fell Fund of the University of Oxford for a grant which has made this possible. As soon as more money has been raised to scan the tens of thousands of photographs of the remaining inscriptions, these will be added to the Safaitic Database Online.

Sample record screens:

Siglum KRS15

Siglum KRS25

Siglum KRS225

Siglum KRS818

Siglum KRS1039

Siglum KRS3223

Work-in-progress Version of the SDO:

Safaitic Database Online

Further reading:

Michael Macdonald - The Safaitic Database Online