Serpentine writing systems

Let’s try this again…

Does anybody know of a language that’s written in serpentine fashion?

By this, I mean a script written from left to right on one line and them from right to left on the next. (I suppose top-to-bottom and then bottom-to-top would qualify as well.)

This question came up in an idle discussion of which is “better”, writing from left to right (e.g., English) or writing from right to left (e.g., Arabic). It was asserted that a serpentine system would be equally awkard for both right- and left-handers but you wouldn’t have to drag your hand back to the other side of the page after each line.

I think early Greek was written ‘as the ox plows’.

… and the correct term for it is ‘boustrophedon’. Try using that in a Google search. Good luck!

Right you are, Surreal.

I found an example of a Greek inscription from about 650 BC that’s written this way at


Anybody know of any other languages written this way?

This page has a picture and a little bit on boustrophedon :
The Rongorongo script[sup]*[/sup] of Easter Island is done in an unusual fashion, although I believe it’s all right to left, from bottom to top. You just have to flip it over to read the next line. Every other line thus appears ‘upside-down’, since the reverse side runs the same direction.

A good website, with pictures showing the orientation of the writing on the tablets is
[sup]*[/sup] What exactly the glyphs mean and whether they are a ‘script’ is a matter of some debate, but they do proceed as described.

As Surreal alludes to, the name for serpentine writing is boustrophedon

And, it appears, you knew that about one minute before I said it …

The Rongorongo page mentioned somewhere about connections to certain fragments in the Indus Valley, and I think some of that was written the same way.

Heh. It’s the one time that not hitting “Preview Reply” has worked to my advantage.

I just wanted to note that The Master has also written on this subject at

It seems like boustrophedon writing is pretty much extinct. This page about Unicode has some useful information about writing directions. Besides the fact that “boustrophedon writing is of interest almost exclusively to scholars intent on reproducing the exact visual content of ancient texts,” I also learned that ancient Numidian texts are written bottom-to-top.

Cuneiform was also written in the boustrophedon fashion. IIRC, the alternate lines were also upside down WRT each other. Cuneiform was used for a fussy process of making wedge-shaped marks on clay tablets with a reed stylus, and supposedly the scribe would painstakingly make marks across the tablet one direction, turn it around, and start back the other direction on another row. The reader of the dried tablet would turn it around in his hands as he read it.