User:Vuara/The Phoenician Alphabet

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The Phoenician Alphabet

Phoenician Alphabet, Mother of Modern Writing Evolution of Phoenician into Latin/Western scripts and Arabic/Eastern scripts Analytical developmental table of Phoenician Alphabet, Names of Letters, Phonetics, Derivatives and Modern Equivalents Phoenician Font for Mac or Windows (Download) Phoenician Alphabet, Adopted by the Greeks Herodotus on the origins of the Greek Alphabet

Phoenician Alphabet, Mother of Modern Writing

Alphabetic writing was already well established in the Late Bronze Age at Ugarit where a cuneiform script was used. The Phoenician alphabetic script was borrowed to write well before the first millennium BC.

The Phoenicians were not mere passive peddlers in art or commerce. Their achievement in history was a positive contribution, even if it was only that of an intermediary. For example, the extent of the debt of Greece alone to Phoenicia may be fully measured by its adoption, probably in the 8th century BC, of the Phoenician alphabet with very little variation (along with Semitic loan words); by "orientalizing" decorative motifs on pottery and by architectural paradigms; and by the universal use in Greece of the Phoenician standards of weights and measures. Having mentioned this, the influence on or from Linear A and B scripts is unknown.

Phoenician words are found in Greek and Latin classical literature as well as in Egyptian, Akkadian, Arabic, Aramaic and Hebrew writings. The language is written with a 22-character alphabet that does not indicate vowels.

Although the Phoenicians used cuneiform (Mesopotamian writing) in what we call Ugaritic, they also produced a script of their own. The Phoenician alphabetic script of 22 letters was used at Byblos as early as the 15th century B.C. This method of writing, later adopted by the Greeks, is the ancestor of the modern Roman alphabet. It was the Phoenicians' most remarkable and distinctive contribution to civilization.

The Roman naturalist Pliny the Elder was a great admirer of the Phoenicians, he credited them with many discoveries, including the invention of trade. Although Pliny was not adverse to exaggerating, scholars do accept his evidence that Phoenicians were the first traveling salesmen. Because they needed an efficient method of keeping records, they invented an alphabet from which every alphabet of the world has descended. Along with an alphabet came the equipment for using it: pen, ink and, of course, papyrus, parchment and finally paper. A wax-writing tablet was found in an ancient Uluburun shipwreck (most likely to have been Canaanite Phoenician) off the coast of Turkey. Please see an image of the original wax tablet below.

The oldest of the attested Semitic languages, Akkadian, was the vehicle of a great ancient literature written in a logosyllabic cuneiform writing system of Sumerian origin. Records of other ancient Semitic languages exist in various forms. Amorite, another ancient Semitic language, is known from proper names; Ugaritic (please see image of Ugaritic cuneiform, top left) was written in a quasi-alphabetic cuneiform script unconnected with the Akkadian. The Canaanites of Phoenicia used a still undeciphered syllabic script, the Proto-Byblian, in the 2nd millennium BC, while those of Palestine and the Sinai Peninsula employed another undeciphered writing, the Sinaitic script, which may be alphabetic in nature. All the other Semites used and, for the most part, still use consonantal quasi-alphabets with no means or only imperfect means to distinguish the vowels. All such alphabets -- of which the more important are the Hebrew, the Aramaic/Syriac, and the Arabic -- are descended from the Phoenician linear quasi-alphabet of 22 signs, first attested at Byblos and externally similar to the Proto-Byblian script. All the European alphabets are descendants of the Phoenician, and all the Asiatic alphabets are descendants of the Aramaic variants of the Phoenician.

From a South Arabian variant of the earliest Semitic alphabet the Ethiopians developed a syllabic writing still in use for the languages of Ethiopia. Maltese uses the Latin alphabet.

Important Note: Please make sure to view vital tables, charts and graphics.

Phoenician & Other Fonts for Mac or Windows (Download) Note: If you experience problems downloading any of these fonts, please try to:

Right-click and save file in Windows, or Hold down Control key and download in Mac If you continue to have problems, please e-mail me.

Phoenician font (TrueType)

eshmoon.mac.zip (Mac) -- updated March 16, 2004 eshmoon.pc.zip (Windows) -- updated March 16, 2004 Ugaritic Canaanite/ Phoenician font (TrueType)

Ugaritic.suit (compressed Mac OS X tar.gz) Ugaritic TT Windows.zip (zipped Windows) Syriac font (TrueType)

Aramaic & Syriac (compressed Mac OS X tar.gz) Syriac (compressed Mac OS X tar) Syriac.msi (installer Windows) All fonts are patented freeware. They may be used for personal purposes; however, if/when they are used for public purposes, the author needs to be duly credited. Please read the "Read Me" files contained in the compressed groups of files. Windows users need to use WINZIP to uncompress the zipped font files or use the Installer. They do not work, if uncompressed. Two characters are not included per the Cypriot version.

The Phoenician alphabet in all its variants changed from its North Semitic ancestor only in external form -- the shapes of the letters varied a little in mainland Phoenician and a good deal in Punic (in North African Phoenician colonies) and neo-Punic. The alphabet remained, however, essentially a Semitic alphabet of 22 letters, written from right to left, with only consonants represented and phonetic values unchanged from the North Semitic script.

Phoenician Alphabet, Adopted by the Greeks According to the ancient Greek historian, Herodotus, the Phoenicians introduced their alphabet to Greece. Cadmus the Phoenician is attributed with the credit for this introduction. Further, Phoenician trade was the vessel which speeded the spread of this alphabet along side Phoenician trade which went to the far corners of the Mediterranean. Phoenician alphabet is the ancestor of the Greek alphabet and, hence, of all Western alphabets.

The earliest Phoenician inscription that has survived is the Ahiram epitaph at Byblos in Phoenicia, dating from the 11th century BC and written in the North Semitic alphabet. The Phoenician alphabet gradually developed from this North Semitic prototype and was in use until about the 1st century BC in Phoenicia proper.

Phoenician colonial scripts, variants of the mainland Phoenician alphabet, are classified as Cypro-Phoenician (10th-2nd century BC) and Sardinian (c. 9th century BC) varieties. A third variety of the colonial Phoenician script evolved into the Punic and neo-Punic alphabets of Carthage, which continued to be written until about the 3rd century AD. Punic was a monumental script and neo-Punic a cursive form. Following is the account from Herodotus on the origins of the Greek Alphabet in words of Herodotus.

Herodotus on the origins of the Greek Alphabet (5.58-61) from Herodotus, The Histories, transl. Audrey de Selincourt, Penguin Books, 1972. ISBN 0-14-044034-8

Repulsed from Sparta, Aristagoras went on to Athens, which had been liberated from autocratic government in the way which I will now describe. Hipparchus, the son of Pisistratus and brother of the despot Hippias, in spite of a vivid dream which warned him of his danger, was murdered by Harmodius and Aristogiton, two men belonging to the family of the Gephyraei; the murder, however, did the Athenians no good, for the oppression they suffered during the four succeeding years was worse than before. Hipparchus had dreamt, on the night before the Panathenaic festival, that the tall and beautiful figure of a man stood over his bed and spoke to him these obscure and riddling words:


O lion, endure the unendurable with enduring heart; No man does wrong and shall not pay the penalty. At dawn next morning he was seen communicating his dream to the interpreters; but later he put it out of his mind and took part in the procession, during which he was killed.

The Gephyraei, to whom the two men who killed Hipparchus belonged, came, by their own account, originally from Eretria; but I have myself looked into the matter and find that they were really Phoenicians, descendants of those who came with Cadmus to what is now Boeotia where they were allotted the district of Tanagra to make their homes in. After the expulsion of the Cadmeans by the Argiva, the Gephyraei were expelled by the Boeotians and took refuge in Athens, where they were received into the community on certain stated terms, which excluded them from a few privileges not worth mentioning here. The Phoenicians who came with Cadmus - amongst whom were the Gephyraei - introduced into Greece, after their settlement in the country, a number of accomplishments, of which the most important was writing, an art till then, I think, unknown to the Greeks. At first they used the same characters as all the other Phoenicians, but as time went on, and they changed their language, they also changed the shape of their letters. At that period most of the Greeks in the neighbourhood were Ionians; they were taught these letters by the Phoenicians and adopted them, with a few alterations, for their own use, continuing to refer to them as the Phoenician characters - as was only right, as the Phoenicians had introduced them. The Ionians also call paper 'skins' - a survival from antiquity when paper was hard to get, and they did actually use goat and sheep skins to write on. Indeed, even today many foreign peoples use this material. In the temple of Ismenian Apollo at Theba in Boeotia I have myself seen cauldrons with inscriptions cut on them in Cadmean characters - most of them not very different from the Ionian. There were three of these cauldrons; one was inscribed: 'Amphityron dedicated me from the spoils of the Teleboae' and would date from about the time of Laius, son of Labdacus, grandson of Polydorus and great-grandson of Cadmus. Another had an inscription of two hexameter verses:

Scaeus the boxer, victorious in the contest, Gave me to Apollo, the archer God, a lovely offering This might be Scaeus the son of Hippocoon; and the bowl, if it was dedicated by him and not by someone else of the same name, would be contemporary with Laius' son Oedipus. The third was also inscribed in hexameters:

Laodamas, while he reigned, dedicated this couldron To the good archer Apollo - a lovely offering. It was during the reign of this Laodamas, the son of Eteocles, that the Cadmeans were expelled by the Argives and took refuge with the Encheles. The Gephyraei remained in the country, but were later forced by the Boeoeians to withdraw to Athens, where they have certain temples set apart for their own special use, which the other Athenians are forbidden to enter; one of them is the temple of Demeter Achaeia, in which secret rites are performed.

Tables and Charts:

Please make sure to view the tables, charts and graphics from links below.

Analytical Developmental Table of Phoenician Alphabet Analytical developmental table of Phoenician Alphabet, Names of Letters, Phonetics, Derivatives and Modern Equivalents -- Phoenician to Greek to Etruscan to Roman. Evolution of Picture Writing to Alphabet Writing The analytical graphical chart makes a comparative study of Sinaitic or Demotic Hieroglyphic -- the short hand form of ceremonial hieroglyphic of ancient Egypt -- and what word representation they contained. It also illustrates the forms of the Phoenician alphabet as an evolution from picture writing to letters. Comparison of Phoenician and Sinaitic script to Akkadian Cuneiform and Ugaritic Cuneiform Graphical chart that presents a comparison of the said forms of writing.* Evolution of Phoenician into Latin/Western Scripts and Arabic/Eastern Scripts Graphical chart that presents the evolution of the Phoenician alphabet to Greek, Etruscan and Latin, on one side, and to Aramaic, Hebrew and Arabic on the other.

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