The Controversy: Who invented the alphabet, the Phoenicians or the Greeks?
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The Hellenic Alphabet Origins, Use, and Early Functions

by Eirene Ragousi, B.A. (Class. & Med. Stud.), B.A., M.A. (Anc. Hist.), Ph.D cand. (Anc. Hist.)

and Phoenician Deception, A Greek Supremacist Heresy
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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, É think, unknown to the Greeks. At first they used the same characters as all the other Phoenicians, but as time went on, and they chanted their language, they also changed the shape of their letters. At that period most of the Greeks in the neighborhood were Ionians; they were taught these letters by the Phoenicians and adopted them, with a few alterations, for their won 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' [papyrus]-a survival from antiquity when paper was hard to get, and they did actually use goat and sheepskins to write on. Indeed, even today many foreign people use this material. In the temple of Ismenian Apollo at Thebes in Boeotia I have myself seen cauldrons with inscriptions cut on them in Cadmean characters-most of them not very different from the Ionian.1

But [Kadmos], bringing gifts of voice and thought for all Greece, made tools that echoed the tongue, mingling vowels [azyga (things that exist in isolation)] and consonants [syzyga (things that connect)], all in a row [stoichedon] of integrated harmony. He rounded off a gravent [grapton] model of speaking silence, having learned the ancestral mysteries of the divine art.2

The alphabet is a form of writing whose elements represent the actual sounds of the spoken word. The alphabetic signs, which represent single phonemes, when combined, "translate the aural, invisible elements of human speech into graphic, visible signs."3 The first alphabetic script in Greece4 developed in the late ninth or early eighth century BC, forming the Hellenic alphabet. The great majority of the signs of this alphabet were adopted from the Phoenician script, a West Semitic consonantal syllabary,5 which was probably developed in ca. 1000 BC.6 However, the revolutionary character of the Hellenic alphabet was achieved through some phonetic alterations of the existing signs and the addition of new signs. Whereas the Semitic syllabary was exclusively consonantal, the Hellenic script evolved into a phonetic writing with the alteration of five Phoenician consonants into vowels. In addition to that, four signs were added-phi, psi, chi, and omega-to cover all the range of sounds in the Hellenic language.7 These alterations and additions formed the first alphabet, which managed to create a visual representation of all the phonetic elements of speech.

Some scholars have suggested that the Hellenic alphabet was formed to facilitate the writing of poetry, in the eight century BC.8 On the other hand, historical and archaeological evidence reveal that the development of the Hellenic alphabet facilitated exchange and commercial activities. The initial function of the forerunners of the alphabet-the word-syllabic and syllabic scripts-was to facilitate almost exclusively; administrative and commercial accounting. In addition to that, the actual pattern of transmission of the Phoenician script in Hellas and the further diffusion of the Hellenic alphabet in Italy and in Phrygia reveals the association of the Mediterranean commercial network with the development and transmission of the alphabet in the late Dark and Archaic Age. Finally, the majority of the earliest Hellenic inscriptions illustrate "proprietorial concern,"9 pointing implicitly to the commercial function of the new script. Thus the origins, patterns of transmission, and the early uses of the alphabet suggest that the Hellenic script was formed to facilitate exchange and commercial transactions.

The controversy over the original function of the Hellenic alphabet started in 1949 and continues into the early 21st century. In the J. H. Gray lecture for 1949, H. T. Wade-Gery, stressing the revolutionary phonetic accuracy of the Hellenic script, suggested that the alphabet was formed as a notation for Hellenic verse.10 This suggestion came to challenge the older view that stated that the initial purpose of the alphabet was to facilitate the rising commercial activities in the Mediterranean between Hellenes and Phoenicians in the eighth century BC.11

Although the initial reaction over Wad-Gery's suggestion was negative, it finally gained supporters over the years. Examining the importance of orality and oral composition in archaic Hellas, E. Havelock concluded that the phonetic accuracy of the alphabet served to promote a greater degree of memorization of oral recitation:

We should rather ask: given the fact that the epic enjoyed a purely auditory existence, memorized and repeated orally, what was likely to be the original motive for bringing this contrived language into contact with the signs of the alphabet?... The motive was mnemonic, a response to the same psychological pressure that had inspired and governed the oral technique; the alphabetic signs offered a supplement to the energies required for memorization.... This amounts to saying that alphabetization was originally a function of oral recitation; the two were intermingled.12

Furthermore, K. Robb suggested that the creation of vowels in the Hellenic script was associated with their important function in meter. The dactyl, the Hellenic epic meter that is formed by a long syllable followed by two short syllables, presupposes the need for both consonant and vowels.13 Thus, according to Robb, alphabetization was the original function of epic composition:

The poetic unit in Greek epic meter is the dactyl, which is constituted by a long syllable followed by two short syllables -uu.... At root then Greek meter is a function of the sequence of consonant and vowel, so that it is the value of the vowel, in itself and in relationship to a consonant, which determines whether a syllable is long or short. It follows that the one thing to which an adequate written record of such a line could never be indifferent is the sequence of the vowels.14

Finally, B. Powell formulated a theory that holds the epic hexametric poetry exclusively responsible for the development of the Hellenic alphabet. The scholar adopted the view of monogenesis, which states that the alphabet was adopted, developed, and transmitted initially by the same individual. In addition to that, he stressed the fact that a great number of the early alphabetic inscriptions record hexametric verses, so that he associated oral poetry with the development of the alphabet.15 Thus, holding Palamedes, a legendary figure associated with the introduction of many inventions-including that of writing-in Hellas, as the actual adapter of the Phoenician script, Powell claimed that this individual developed the Hellenic alphabet in order to record the Homeric epics:

Behind figures of heroic legend often stand real men.... As for Palamedes, the Greeks especially knew one thing about him: he was so clever that he devised a way to write down Greek speech.... In Palamedes we may have found the adapter's very name.... We cannot separated the recording of early hexametric poetry from Homer... Homer sang his song and the adapter took him down. From this momentous event came classical Greek civilization and its achievements.16

Nevertheless, although the theory which holds alphabetization the original offspring of orality has been elaborated over the years, it still leaves many important questions unanswered: why were the forerunners of the alphabet almost exclusively employed in administrative and commercial accounting? Why did the adoption of the Phoenician signs and the transmission of the alphabet take place along the ancient Mediterranean trade routes? Why did alphabetization occur when the Hellenic world was reenacting and expanding its commercial activities? Why did the majority of the earliest alphabetic inscriptions record ownership? The answers to all these questions reveal an explicit association between alphabetization and patterns of exchange in the ancient Mediterranean world. Thus, this paper will examine how the origins, patterns of transmission, and early uses of the alphabet reveal that the original function of the Hellenic alphabet was to facilitate exchange.

The syllabic scripts and forerunners of the alphabet-Linear A, Linear B, and the Phoenician syllabary-shared a common function. They were all used almost exclusively in administrative or commercial accounting. The palace-centered economy of the Minoan and Mycenaean civilizations was structured around a highly developed administrative system which recorded the incoming commodities into the palaces and the distribution of goods in the surrounding areas.17 Hence the bureaucracy of the Minoan palaces could not have been achieved without the development of a script, which made possible the palace bookkeeping. Surviving inscriptions in Linear A,18 a script that developed out of the linear pictographic in Crete in the second millennium BC, reveal the explicit use of this script in recording lists of objects, commodities, and personnel.19 Similarly, the majority of the surviving inscriptions in Linear B,20 the official script of Mycenaean palaces in the second half of the second millennium BC, include lists of commodities and accounts and record the incoming and the sending out of commodities.21

The exclusive use of Linear A and B in the Minoan and Mycenaean palace administrative accounting can also be attested by the complete disappearance of the use of these scripts after the destruction of the Minoan and Mycenaean palaces. The destruction of Knossos, the central palace of Minoan civilization, in 1380 BC, and the burning of the Minoan palace of Pylos were followed by the complete disappearance of Linear A. Accordingly, the destruction of the Mycenaean palaces obliterated Linear B. Thus the development of Linear A and B was exclusively associated with the development of the Minoan and Mycenaean palace bureaucracies. When the palaces-and with them the need for administrative accounting-were destroyed, the use of these scripts seized to exist:

Literacy ended when the [Minoan and Mycenaean] palaces and all that went with them, particularly [when] account-keeping...ended. It probably disappeared almost overnight.22

Whereas the Minoan and Mycenaean economies depended upon the palace bureaucracies, and the administrative accounting was the work of few official who knew the scripts, Phoenician economy was developed around the commercial activities of individual traders. In the absence of a central administrative bureaucracy, the individual traders were responsible for the recording of their personal transactions and the keeping of their accounts. This increased the number of people involved in accounting and, accordingly, the number of people who should know how to use a script. The Phoenician script, which developed during a period of increasing Phoenician involvement in commercial transactions in the Mediterranean, was simpler in its use than the complex Minoan and Mycenaean scripts. This would have enabled more individuals to learn and employ the West Semitic script, making possible the process of bookkeeping and the indication of ownership by the Phoenician traders.

The Hellenic archaic economies were developed along the same lines. In the absence of palace bureaucracies, after the destruction of the palace-centered economies and the disappearance of commercial activities and of writing, patterns of exchange reemerged in the late Dark and early archaic Hellas, when individuals took the initiative to trade. This brought the need for the development of a script that would facilitate transactions made by individual traders. Since the Mediterranean trade routes in the ninth and eighth centuries were primarily controlled by Phoenician traders,23 it was inevitable that the traders from Hellas would come into contact both with Phoenicians and eventually with their script. It was also inevitable that the Hellenic traders or craftsmen, who came to know the functions of the Phoenician script and borrowed its sings, would also adopt its functions in commercial activities.

The borrowing of the Phoenician script by traders or craftsmen from Hellas has long been established both by the surviving ancient sources and by studies of linguists and historians.24 Meanwhile, the majority of scholars agree that the adaption occurred in the late ninth or early eighth century BC.25 Scholars also agree that the actual place of the adoption had to be a commercial center, where Hellenes and Phoenicians intermingled.

Among the many suggestions referring to the place of adoption of the Phoenician signs by the Hellenes and the development of the alphabet most possible are the islands of Rhodes, Crete, and Cyprus and the trading colony at al-Mina in north Syria. However, recent archaeological evidence suggests that Cyprus, an island situated on the East-West Mediterranean trade routes and one of the major grading centers in the Mediterranean world in the ninth and eighth centuries BC, should be considered as the actual place of the adaption by visiting traders from Hellas, who created the alphabet in order to facilitate their mercantile transactions.

This process presupposes Phoenician and Hellenic coexistence in the place of the initial adaption and knowledge of the Hellenic population of the Phoenician script, so that they would have explained its use to the visiting traders from Hellas. Archaeological excavations testify to the existence of both Hellenic and Phoenician settlements on Cyprus. The Hellenic settlements date back as early as the Bronze Age, while Phoenician settlements on the island date to as early as the ninth century BC. These can be attested by the recent findings of a late eleventh-century BC bilingual, Cypriot syllabary26 and an early ninth-century BC bilingual, Cypriot-Phoenician inscription on Cyprus.27 Meanwhile, recent excavations on the island have revealed a Phoenician settlement, dated to the ninth century BC.28 During the period of the adaption, Hellenes, especially Euboeans, were in close contact with Cyprus and its Hellenic and Phoenician settlements. In addition to this, it is important to note that in the Hellenic Cypriot syllabary there were signs for the designation of vowels, indicating how the idea of an exclusively phonetic script could have been achieved. Therefore, the Hellenic population of Cyprus, who knew both the Cypriot and Phoenician scripts, taught visiting Hellenes both the Phoenician script and its mercantile function as well as the employment of phonetic elements in writing. Then, the visiting Hellenes, adapting the Phoenician sings in their new form as exclusively phonetic elements, created the alphabet and spread it along their travels:

The recent discovery of a Cypriot syllabic inscription of the later eleventh century at Palaipaphos (Kouklia) goes some way to closing the gap that exists between the syllabaries of the Bronze Age and of the developed Iron Age. Greek speakers arriving in the ninth or eighth century at Paphos or Salamis, or even Kition, Amathous or Kourion, would see writing and be told, in Greek, of its uses; such writing would be both syllabic Greek and quasisyllabic Phoenician. The fact that the visiting Greeks then adopted the Phoenician signs may be explained by the fact that they had more dynamic dealings with the easterners than with the indigenous Greek-speaking population.29

The patterns of the further transmission of this new phonetic script in the eighth century BC indicate that these visiting Hellenes were traders from Euboea, one of the most flourishing Hellenic regions and founder of the majority of the Hellenic colonies in the eighth and early seventh centuries BC. In addition to that, its fast spread along the established trade routes of this period reveals its important mercantile role in the eighth century BC patterns of exchange in the Mediterranean world.

Lefkandi, a prominent city on Euboea in the eighth century BC, is the place where the earliest alphabetic inscription has been found, dated to ca. 775BC.30 On Naxos, an eighth-century BC Euboean colony, which held strong trade connections with the rest of the Cyclades as well as with Cyprus and with the Phoenician Levant, archaeological excavations have brought into light an inscribed sherd, dated to ca. 770 BC.31 Furthermore, Pithekoussai, colony of two Euboean cities-Khalkis and Eretria-and situated on the modern island of Ischia in the bay of Naples, has produced many inscriptions on pottery, dated to ca. 750 BC. Among these findings there was also the famous 'cup of Nestor' (ca. 740 BC), mentioned in the Iliad,32 which has a three-line metrical inscription on it similar to that described in the Iliad.33 Similarly, Attica and the city of Athens, which had close cultural and commercial ties with Euboea, have produced a great majority of the early surviving inscriptions, among which the famous 'dipylon oinochoe' dated to ca. 740 BC.34 Finally, at Cumae, a city on the Italic mainland across the bay of Naples, settled by Euboeans, Boeotians, and colonists from Pithekoussai, excavations have revealed the earliest examples of Etruscan writing, dated to ca. 700BC.35 These alphabetic inscriptions indicate how the Etruscans, the native population of Italy, who traded with the Hellenic settlers, borrowed the Hellenic alphabet and later bequeathed it to the Romans.36 Similarly, Aioleans from Cumae transmitted the alphabet to the Phrygians on the coast of Asia Minor through trade.37

Therefore, all these pieces of evidence indicate the explicit association of Euboea and Euboean traders with the adaption and transmission of the alphabet along the established trade routes in the eighth century BC. This also implies that since the alphabet was developed and transmitted by traders, it would have initially been employed by them for the facilitation of their mercantile activities in this period.

The last evidence that implicitly reveals the original mercantile function of the alphabet comes from the nature of the earliest surviving alphabetic inscriptions. It has been argued, as stated in the early pages of this paper, that the metrical character of a significant part of the earliest inscriptions signifies that alphabetization was the original function of oral composition, and thus that the alphabet was formed to record oral poetry.38 In order to support this theory, Powell has done a systematic study of a great part of the surviving epigraphical evidence.39

Powell's study has shown that many of the early inscriptions were indeed written in hexametric verse-among which are the 'cup of Nestor' from Pithekoussai and the 'dipylon oinochoe' from Athens:

The cup of Nestor and the inscription in the early Greek alphabet
(read from right to left)

Rhodian late Geometric kotyle with Euboic inscription; last quarter 8th century BC;
Ischia, Museo Archeologico di Pitecusa

Image Source: Caratelli, ed., The Western Greeks, Bompiani, 1996, p. 188.

I am the cup of Nestor, a joy to drink from. Whoever drinks this cup straightway that man the desire of beautiful-crowned Aphrodite will seize.40 Whoever of all the dancers now dances most friskily...of him this...41

Nevertheless, the majority of the earliest epigraphical evidence records the writing of isolated letters, names or parts of names as well as the writing of phrases which indicate ownership or the agent of manufacture.42 Thus single names and phrases such as "I or this belongs to X" or "X made me' or "I am" plus a noun in the genitive-another indication of ownership-make the majority of the surviving epigraphical evidence.43 Even the two metrical inscriptions stated above do contain also phrases which indicate ownership. The phrase "I am the cup of Nestor..." belongs in the inscriptions of the form "I am' plus a noun in the genitive, whereas the indication '...of him this..." on the 'dipylon oinochoe' belongs in the inscriptions of the form "I or this belongs to X."

On the other hand, metrical inscriptions seem to come after the second half of the eighth century BC, whereas the inscriptions from the first half of the eighth century BC indicate almost exclusively ownership. The remaining epigraphical evidence, which states either the name of a deity or an offering to a god, or records a curse, indicates, whether implicitly or explicitly, property. Inscriptions that state some form of the word god indicate divine property; the offerings, which are in the form "X dedicated this to y god," indicate the initial owner and the final receptor. Thus both forms declare ownership-human or divine-and signify a type of exchange. Finally, inscriptions that state a curse serve as a protection of property:

I am the lekythos of Tateie; may whoever steals me be blind.44

Therefore, the majority of the earliest surviving epigraphical evidence reveals preoccupation with the indication of ownership either as an attempt to label property or as a form of advertisement, or as a way to protect property. Though none of these forms of writing indicate in an explicit manner the mercantile original function of the alphabet, the inscriptions that indicate ownership do manifest the close association of the alphabet with patterns of exchange since exchange itself presupposes ownership. Moreover the labeling, advertising, and protection or ownership facilitates exchange.

The absence of early inscriptions with records of commodities or records of accounting may appear as an indication of the non-mercantile function of the alphabet. However, reviewing the surviving Linear A and B inscriptions and examining the nature of the employed writing material in the eighth century BC reveals that the absence of such inscriptions does not necessarily indicate that they never existed.

The surviving Linear A and Linear B Bronze Age inscriptions, whose scripts were employed almost exclusively to record the administrative accounting of the Minoan and Mycenaean palace-centered bureaucracies, were inscribed on unbaked clay.45 This indicates that there was no intention from the part of the palace administrative officials to preserve these tablets. On the other hand, the fact that these inscriptions were finally preserved was accidental. The tablets that have survived down to us were found in Bronze Age sites which had been destroyed by fire-palace of Pylos,46 a fact that led to their accidental preservation since the clay was baked by the fire. Furthermore, the surviving tablets were dated by months, not by years.47 These pieces of evidence, coupled with the fact that all of the transactions recorded on them had taken place in the current year,48 suggest that records of transactions and lists of administrative book-keeping were kept from one month to one year at the most and then were destroyed. Therefore, if the complex palace bureaucracies were destroying their accounts after the passing of a year, the individual traders of the archaic period would have preserved theirs for the same period of time or, more possible, for less than a year.

Scholars have also suggested that in the late Dark and early Archaic Ages, since papyrus was hard to get,49 informal writing was inscribed on waxed tablets and potsherds,50 whereas more formal writing was inscribed on pottery and stone. Archaeological evidence has revealed that waxed tablets were indeed used by the Etruscans and Phoenicians in the seventh century BC.51 Thus, if there was no intention by the individual traders to preserve their accounts for more than a year, their accounts would have been inscribed on perishable material such as waxed tablets and potsherds, which may explain the absence of records and accounts. Finally, it should also be kept in mind that what archaeological excavation has revealed throughout the years does not necessarily form a complete list of all the alphabetic inscriptions during the examined period.

Although further findings may offer additional information about the original function of the alphabet and may also help to clear the controversies, the existing material indicates that the Hellenic alphabet was initially formed in order to facilitate exchange. Orality, memorization, and thus a need of mnemonic devices characterized all ancient societies, not only Hellas. Thus memorization could not have been responsible for the development of the Hellenic alphabet. On the other hand, the Cypriot syllabary designated vowels long before the alphabet did. Hence, if the alphabet was designed to record epic poetry, which presupposes the creation of vowels, the Hellenes would have done so by modifying the Cypriot syllabary. Finally, the origins of the alphabet and the function of its forerunners in administrative and commercial accounting as well as its patterns of transmission along the trade routes of the eighth century BC and its original function in the labeling, advertising, and protecting property suggest that the alphabet was formed in order to facilitate exchange in the growing commercial transactions in the eighth-century BC Mediterranean world.


  1. 1 Herodotus, 5.58-60 (trans. by A. D. Selincourt).
  2. 2 Nonnos 4.259-64 (trans. by B.C. Powell).
  3. 3 I. J. Gelb, A Study of Writing (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1963) 248; B. B. Powell, Homer and the Origin of the Greek Alphabet Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 19912.
  4. 4 Cf. Osborne, Greece in the Making (London, 1996) pp.107-113 and Giovanni Pugliese Carratelli, ed. The Western Greeks (Venezia, Bompiani, 1996) pp. 43-46.
  5. 5 "Syllabary or syllabic writing is a writing in which a sign normally stands for one or more syllables of the language." Gelb, Study of Writing, 253.
  6. 6 For the development of the Hellenic alphabet and its forerunners see Gelb, Study of Writing, 166-83; R. S. Stroud, "The Art of Writing in Ancient Greece," in W. M. Senner, ed. The Origins of Writing (Nebraska: University of Nebraska Press, 1989)103-19; esp. 113-11; R. Harris, The Origin of Writing (Illinois: Open Court Publishing Company, 1986); Powell. Homer and the Origin, 68-118; E. Havelock, The Literate Revolution in Greece and Its Cultural Consequences (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1982) 60-88.
  7. 7 Stroud, "Art of Writing," 113.
  8. 8 L. A. Wade-Gery, The Poet of the Iliad (Cambridge; Cambridge University Press, 1952) 11-14; K. Robb, "The Poetic Sources of the Greek Alphabet," in E. Havelock & J. Hershebell, eds. Communication Arts in the Ancient World (N. York: Hastings House, 1978) 23-26; Havelock, Literate Revolution; A. Achnapp-Gourbeillon, "Naissance de l' ecriture et fonction poetique un grece archaique: quelques points de repere." Annales EconSocCivil. 37 (1982): 714-23; Powell, Homer and the Origin.
  9. 9 A. Johnston, "The Extent and Use of Literacy: The Archaeological Evidence,' in R. Hagg, ed. The Greek Renaissance of the Eighth Century BC: Tradition and Innovation. Proceedings of the Second International Symposium at the Swedish Institute in Athens, 1-5 June, 1981 (Stockholm; Paul Astroms Forlag, 1983) 67.
  10. 10 Wade-Gery, Poet of the Iliad, 11-14.
  11. 11 A. M Snodgrass, The Dark Age of Greece (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1971) 78-84; Johnston, "The Extent and Use of Literacy," 63-67; W. Harris, Ancient Literacy (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1989) 45.
  12. 12 Havelock, "The alphabetization of Homer," in The Literate Revolution, 180.
  13. 13 Robb, "Poetic Sources," 23-36.
  14. 14 Ibid., 29.
  15. 15 Powell, Homer and the Origin, 119-86; idem, "Why was the Greek Alphabet invented: The Epigraphical Evidence," Classical Antiquity 8.2 (Oct. 1989): 321-50.
  16. 16 Idem, Homer and the Origin, 236-37.
  17. 17 For the palace-centered economy of the Minoan and Mycenaean civilizations see D. B. Small, "Handmade Burnished Ware and Prehistoric Aegean Economics: An Argument for Indigenous Appearance," Journal of Mediterranean Archaeology 3.1 (1990): 3-25.
  18. 18 Linear writing used linear designs or non-recognizable pictures as signs.
  19. 19 Stroud, "Art of Writing." 106.
  20. 20 Linear B was "developed out of Linear A with which it shares a large proportion of its signs. It employs 90 signs to represent the Greek vowels and combinations of a consonant and a vowel." Stroud, "Art of Writing," 108.
  21. 21 Ibid., 109.
  22. 22 S. Dow, The Cambridge Ancient History II. 1 3rd ed. Cambridge; Cambridge University Press, 1973 605.
  23. 23 S. Sherratt & A. Sherratt, "The Growth of the Mediterranean Economy in the Early First Millennium BC," World Archaeology 24.3 (1992): 361-69.
  24. 24 Herodotus 5.58, Nonnos 4.259-64; F. Cross, "The Origin and Early Evolution of the Alphabet." Eretz-Israel 8 (1967): 8-24; L. Jeffery, The Local Scripts of Archaic Greece (Oxford; Oxford University Press, 1961) 5-12; Powell, Homer and the Origin of the Alphabet, 13; Stroud, "Art of Writing,' 110-11; Havelock, The Literate Revolution in Greece, 187.
  25. 25 Stroud, "Art of Writing," 114-15; Powell, Homer and the Origin, 18-20.
  26. 26 Thy Cypriot script was a Hellenic syllabary similar to the linear syllabic scripts of the Minoans and Mycenaeans.
  27. 27 Johnston, "The Extent and Use of Literacy," 66; Powell, Homer and the Origin, 13.
  28. 28 Johnston, "The Extent and Use of Literacy," 66; L. Jeffery, Local Scripts, 8.
  29. 29 Johnston, "The Extent and Use of Literacy," 66.
  30. 30 M. Popham, L. Sackett, & P. Themelis, eds., Lefkandi I: The Iron Age in the British School at Athens Supl. 11 (1978-80): 1-2.
  31. 31 B. Lambrinoudakes, "Anaskaphe Naxou," Praktica (1981): 293-95.
  32. 32 Homer Iliad 11.631-41.
  33. 33 Powell, Homer and the Origin, 15; Snodgrass, Dark Age 78; A. Graham, The Cambridge Ancient History III.3 2nd ed. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1982) 99-100.
  34. 34 Coldstream, Geometric Pottery, 358; Powell, Homer and the Origin, 15.
  35. 35 Jeffery, Local Scripts, 236-37; Powell, Homer and the Origin, 15.
  36. 36 Powell, Homer and the Origin, 16-17.
  37. 37 Ibid.
  38. 38 See above.
  39. 39 Powell, "Why was the Greek Alphabet Invented," 323-48; idem, Homer and the Origin, 164.
  40. 40 Jeffery, Local Scripts, 236; Powell, Homer and the Origin, 164.
  41. 41 Jeffery, Local Scripts, 15-16, 68, 76; Powell, Homer and the Origin, 159.
  42. 42 R. Thomas, Key Themes in Ancient History; Literacy and Orality in Ancient Greece (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992) 58-59; Johnston, 'The Extent and Use of Literacy," 63, 67.
  43. 43 Jeffery, Local Scripts, 238; Thomas, Literacy and Orality, 58-59.
  44. 44 Stroud, "Art of Writing,' 103.
  45. 45 Ibid., 109.
  46. 46 Ibid., 103, 109.
  47. 47 Ibid., 109.
  48. 48 Ibid.
  49. 49 Herodotus 5.58.
  50. 50 Thomas, Literacy and Orality in Ancient Greece, 67.
  51. 51 Ibid.

Greek Supremacist Scholastic Heresy

  See Alphabet page  

Published here to give the anti-Phoenician side a voice in celebration of freedom of expression
Note: Please notice that this "proclamation" has very few references to support it.

Phoenician "Alphabet": An Historical Deception

Overwhelming evidence that one of the most important discoveries in the history of civilization is Greek

Republished from the Athenian newspaper Apogevmatini.

Kostas Katis, the manager of the Greek daily, Apogevmatini,, is one of the only high-ranking executives of the Athenian press that understands the exact magnitude of one of the greatest deceptions in history: a deception that usurps and distorts Greek History and Civilization. It is of utmost importance that the truth be restored not only for modern Greece, but also for the whole of humanity.

The deception that alphabetical script was discovered by the Phoenicians is a long-lived one. For the past 14 years [the Greek scholarly magazine] Davlos has published numerous articles on this problem. This prompted K. Katis to ask that we submit a relevant article for his mainstream daily so that this important issue would become known to a wider audience. Davlos’ publisher [Dimitris I. Lambrou] wrote the article that follows, and it was originally published in a prime position in the Sunday edition of Apogevmatini on 21 November 1999 (pages 42-43). This article summarizes the strong evidence against the "Phoenician Deception," and proves that the greatest discovery in the history of civilization is Greek. We believe it necessary to republish this article in [this issue of] Davlos exactly as it appeared in the daily.

A Scientific Monstrositiy

According to linguistic theory, an "alphabet" is defined as "the sum of symbols following a specific sequence and order used to ascribe the essential utterances of a language, under the condition that each utterance represents only one symbol and vice-versa". Consequently, in alphabetical script (as an example, in the writings of the people of Europe, America, Australian, as well as the other parts of the world) each letter represents one essential sound.This is not true for the imperfect alphabets expressed through syllables where each symbol represents a syllable (with two or more voiced sounds). For example, in Greek Linear A and B, there is a symbol that represents the syllable ko (k + o), a symbol that represents the syllable po (p + o), etc. In Phoenician writing (which has only consonants and no vowels), this situation is even worse, as far as we can tell from the small amount of existing samples. In Phoenician, each symbol is not equivalent to one specific syllable, but to a variety of syllables, and thus the reader can use his imagination when attempting to decipher the sounds. For example, there are consonants which can be read as either ba, bou, be, bi, bo, etc. Others that can be read as gou, ga, ge, go, and so on. Consequently, Phoenician script does not constitute an alphabet, and is not even an advanced form of syllabic script nearing the perfection of the equivalent Greek syllabic writings. 

It is truly amazing to think that, in the academic world of the past 150 years, the almost contradictory term of "Phoenician alphabet" has been established, which, in reality refers to a type of writing that has nothing to do with an alphabet. It is even more unbelievable to think that the scientific dogma that Greek came from Phoenician has been enforced. Not only is Phoenician not an alphabet, it is a less advanced form of writing than Greek Linear A and B. So, professor G. Babiniotis' statement that "Phoenician writing is something like a syllabic alphabet" must be rejected and replaced with the correct characterization of Phoenician as a "purely concise syllable system of writing," as stated by the former president of the Greek Society of Philologists, Pan. Georgountzos (see "The Alphabet: A Greek Discovery" by Pan. Georgountzos, Davlos, issue 142, October 1993, page 8242). 

The Greekness of the Alphabet

a) Archaeological Evidence

 The theory that the alphabet is a Phoenician discovery has been maintained through the argument, among other things, that certain symbols of Phoenician writing are similar to the letters of the alphabet. For example, the Phoenician alef is the reverse or sideways Greek "A." This argument was a strong one until about 100 years ago, when linguists and historians still maintained that the Greeks did not know how to write before 800 B. C.! Around 1900 A.D., however, Arthur Evans excavated the Greek Minoan Crete and discovered the Greek Linear writings, whose symbols corresponded to 17 of the 24 letters of the Greek Alphabet.

Given that (A), the most ancient evidence of the Greek scripts (Linear A and Linear B) that were later discovered in Pylos, Mycenae, Menidi and Thebes -- but also in more northern areas up to the Danube river as well -- were dated to before 1500 B.C. And (B), that the Phoenicians and their writings appear in history no earlier than 1300 BC, Evans was the first person to express doubts about the theory that the Greeks received their script from the Phoenicians. He put forward the scientific suspicion that it was probably the other way round.The doubts pertaining as to who was first -- the Phoenicians or the Greeks -- in discovering writing, became a certainty when French professor, Paul Fore, an internationally acclaimed specialist on Prehistoric Archaeology, published a report in Nestor (an American Archaeological Journal of the University of Indiana -- 16th year, 1989, page 2288). In this report, he submits and deciphers plates with Greek Linear writing found at the cyclopean wall of Pilikates, in Ithaca, dated, through the use of modern scientific methods, back to 2700 B.C., The language of these plates was Greek, and the decoding by professor Fore resulted in the following syllabic text, expressed phonetically: A]RE-DA-TI. DA-MI-U-A-.A-TE-NA-KA-NA-RE (ija)-TE. The phonetic equivalent of this is translated, always according to the professor, as: "Ιδού τι εγώ η Αρεδάτις δίδω εις την ανασσαν, την θεάν Ρέαν: 100 αίγας, 10 πρόβατα, 3 χοίρους" [Here is what I, Aredatis, gives to the queen- goddess Rea, 100 goats, 10 sheep, 3 pigs]. (See, "Davlos" magazine, issue 107, November 1990, page 6103). Thus, Fore proved that the Greeks were writing and speaking Greek at least 1400 years before the appearance of the Phoenicians and their script in history.But, the archaeological excavations in Greece during the last 15 years have given us many more great surprises: The Greeks were writing using not only Linear A and B, but also a type of writing identical to that of the alphabet since at least 6000 B.C. In fact, at Dispilio, in the lake of Kastoria, in northern Greece, professor G. Houmouziadis discovered a plate with writing very similar to that of the alphabet, which was dated, using radioactive Carbon-14 and visual photothermal methodology, back to 5250 B.C. (see Davlos, issue 147). Three years later, N. Samson, a curator of the Prehistoric and Classical Antiquities Department, discovered shards of vases ("ostraka") with letters identical to the present Greek alphabet while excavating at the "Cyclop’s Cave," on the deserted island of Yioura, near the inhabited island of Alonnissos, in the Northern Sporades island complex. These vases were dated to 5,500 to 6,000 B.C. with the same methods (see "Davlos," issue 185, May 1997). The same archaeologist, while performing excavations on the island of Milos, discovered vessels of the proto-cycladic period (mid-3rd millennium B.C.) with letters identical to the Greek letters: "X," "N," "M," "K," "Ξ" [ksi],"Π" [p], "Ο," & "Ε." (See N. Samson's interview in Davlos, issue 204, December 1998, page 12749.)

It is apparent that these archaeological discoveries have given a "comical' character to the so-called "Phoenician Theory" on the discovery of writing. In addition, these archaeological discoveries have revolutionized chronological dating of Greek history as it is taught today, as well as the world history of civilization itself. (See also the book by Con. Koutrouvelli, "Re-establishing the Chronology of Prehistoric Times based primarily on astronomical information from Ancient Writers," Davlos Publishing, 1999.)

b) The somewhat mathematical proof

While the house-of-cards which provided "proof"' of the so-called "Phoenician alphabet" was being torn down by archaeological discoveries, another overwhelming piece of evidence surfaced. This evidence was offered to us by the 20-year long discreet and timid research of the Greek Language and Writing by a great researcher, Elias Tsatsomoiros. Unfortunately E. Tsatsomoiros passed away on December 19th 1991, after having, however, completed his revolutionary work, History of the Genesis of the Greek Language-from the hunter-gatherer to the time of Zeus-the Deciphering of the Greek Alphabet. The undersigned [writer of this article] had the honor of publishing and editing this work (Davlos Publishing, 1991), but also the honor of having worked closely with the researcher for more than a decade. We had long discussions on the numerous problems arising from the research, and we had published a series of articles in Davlos magazine. This memorable researcher proved in a remarkable way that every letter of the Greek alphabet contained a consistent code meaning, which is literally introduced either exactly or metaphorically within the general meaning of the Greek word it belongs to, as a partial meaning. Consequently, every (ancient) Greek word is basically an acronym (similar to D(imosia) E (picheirisi) H(lektrismou) [=ΔΕΗ in Greek, or as U(nited) N(ations), in English], where every letter provides a significant or less significant notional element, and then, they all together provide the logical definition of the meaning expressed by the word. The "significant difference" of each word's meaning is usually provided by the first letter.

Obviously, there is not enough space in this article to present the code meaning of the letters of the Greek alphabet as a whole, as they are analyzed in this revolutionary volume of research in the field of human speech. As an example, I will choose only one of the 24 letters of our alphabet, "Ypsilon" = "Y" or, small case, "u" (pronounced, long-e "eepsilon," the 20th letter of the Greek alphabet, and familiar to us as "Y" in the so-called "Latin" alphabet-- which is nothing more than a variation of the Greek "Chalcidean" alphabet). Ypsilon, therefore, as its shape indicates, has the code meaning of "a cavity" οr, if reversed, of a "convexity." This meaning is introduced into the words containing this letter, and sometimes, by extension into the meaning of liquids (which, through their natural flow end up filling the "cavity"). I will quickly mention some of the names of vessels and liquids (such as the amphiconical κ-Υ-πελλο which is dated back to 2700 B.C. and is displayed at the Heraklion Museum). One may add to the words mentioned there, many others, such as kot-Y-li, go-Y-ttos, tr-Y-blion, p-Y-xis, amphore-Y-s, b-Y-tion, l-Y-chnos, procho-Y-s, ske-Y-os, etc, all having the meaning of a curved object. Also, some other words such as k-Y-hsis (rounding of the stomach of an eng-Y-os [pregnant] woman); k-Y-ma (curving on the surface of the ocean); cr-Y-pti (curving of the ground); the preposition [h-Y-po] Y-po (meaning under a certain level); h-Y-per (preposition meaning above a certain level); Y-psos =height; and all of the hundreds of words that have h-Y-po or h-Y-per as a prefix, as well as thousands of others. This discovery, which unfortunately has been officially ignored, is a continuation of the forgotten Platonic approach to the problem of language (see Plato’s Cratylus ).

This theory:

  1. Completely rejects the theorem that the Greek language came from another language (the so-called "Indo-European"), since it is proven to be the only non-conventional language of the world. In other words, the only language where a relationship between the "word" (as a form) and the "meaning of the word" is established.Consequently, it is proven that Greek is the first and only created language of the human species which provided the basis for all "conventional" languages, as are all the other languages of the world (where there is no causative relationship between the form and the meaning). These other languages are a corrupt form of Greek.This theory proves, without a doubt, that the alphabet was created by the Greeks so that the 24 or 27 code letters would aid in attributing the meanings of the Greek words (and only of these).
  2. Comparatively, this theory shows that the symbols of the Phoenician writings and their nouns, e.g., "alef" =ox, "beth" = hut, "gimel = camel, etc., not only do not contain coded meaning, but are also associated or refer to [the] primitive animal conditions [one would expect in a culturally backward society].

The Herodotus Extract

All the Greek writers who mention the alphabet (they called it "grammata") consider it a very ancient Greek invention (by Prometheus, Palamedes, Linus, etc). The theory of the Phoenician alphabet was always, and is still, based on an exception to this general rule. This exception is an excerpt from Herodotus, that he himself presents as his 'personal opinion' ("ως εμοι δοκεει" = "as it seems to me"). This opinion was formed based on the sayings of others, as he himself mentions in the previous paragraphs ("αναπυνθανομενος" = taking information from others). Let us have a look at the Herodotus’ excerpt (History, E 58):

[58. As far as the Phoenicians, they, who arrived with Cadmus, including the Gefiraioi, had lived in many other places and introduced also arts (new and unknown) to the Greeks; in fact, and also (some) writing, which had not been known to the Greeks before that, as I think, first this writing which was used by all the Phoenicians. With the passing of time, however, the Phoenicians changed this type of writing along with their language.]

The most important thing about this excerpt is that in the critical phrase "… ama tin foni metevallon kai ton rhithmon ton grammaton," it is disclosed that the Phoenicians-Gefiraioi that went to Viotia with Cadmus brought some form of writing with them. But, as the Phoenicians "changed their language" (they learned Greek, in other words), they also changed their writing (they started writing, therefore, with the existing ancient Greek writing that already existed in Viotia). Although this statement was made by Herodotus, the translators, subsequently, provided the translation [meaning] that the local Greek Viotes and not the Phoenician emigrants changed their language and writing and adopted the Phoenician!

This generally incoherent reference to the alphabet, as it has been saved, has been obviously altered and meddled with, who knows by whom and when. Let us look at the suspicious continuation of the text, as it has arrived to us:

Around them (the Phoenicians) lived at that place during that year (year of Cadmus) Ionian Greeks, who received through contact or through teachings by the Phoenicians their writings, changing their own writing which they used little. When using this writing and since this writing had been introduced to Greece by Phoenicians, they called it Phoenician, as was just.

According to E. Tsatsomoiros (Davlos, issue 118), this reference, in other words that the Ionian Greeks living around the Phoenicians received the Phoenician writing and, using a few of its letters, since they had altered them and since it was just, they called it Phoenician-to pay tribute to the people who brought it to Greece, is a striking contradiction. Consequently, one can assume that this is a forged paragraph, hypothetically explanatory, which aims to reduce the previous statement "…as they changed their language, they changed their writing," to an unimportant statement. This is how the "Phoenician Theory" was substantiated and is maintained as an obvious forgery.

In addition

The "Phoenician Theory" was established in Europe during a time, when, as the renowned British classical scholar, S. G. Rembroke (The Legacy of Greece, Oxford University Press, 1984) wrote, "The Phoenicians were given an intermediary role "that is not based on any historical information". A role, in other words, of the transporter of wisdom and civilization from the "chosen" people of Israel to the "uncivilized" nations, and specifically the Greeks. This, of course, could be forgiven, since this was established around the end of the Medieval Ages, when religious fanaticism and backwardness had reached such a point that the daughter of Agamemnon, Iphigenia, is presented as the daughter of Iephtha; Deukalion is presented as Noah; Appis is a consul of Joseph; Apollo, Priam, Tiresias, and Orpheus are corrupted personae of Moses; the story of the Argonauts is the crossing of the Israelites from Egypt to Palestine, and other similar distortions. The above are noted by Rembroke.

And we conclude: At the time, Hellenism was in comatose spiritual condition regarding national and historical awareness, and therefore totally unable to defend its history and civilization, and for this reason could not react and did not react. Today, it is with our tolerance that our language is deemed "Indo-European," and our writing "Phoenician," our Athena and our Socrates are presented as "Blacks," and our civilization as "African." What spiritual situation are we in now? [i.e., What’s our excuse this time?]


On page 13745 of this article, is a picture of a piece of shard [pottery] dated to 6,000 B.C., found on the islet of Youra of the North Sporades island complex with Greek alphabetical writings. One can see the letters "A," "Y," & "D" [alpha, eepsilon, and delta ], almost identical to the Greek letters of the classical alphabets. This finding proves that the Greek alphabet is older than the Greek Linear writings. This finding also completely and definitely disproves the false theory that the Greeks got their alphabet from the Phoenicians, who made their historical appearance around 1300 B.C., in other words about 4,500 to 5,000 years after the creation of this plaque at Youra.

On page 13747 are shown letter-symbols from the Proto-cycladic vessels of Milos (mid-third millennium B.C.). One can distinguish the [letter] "X" [chi] to the left and the [letter] "N" to the right. These letters are written just as the letters of the Greek alphabet are written today. Other vessels were also found with "M," "K," "Ξ" [ksi], "Π" [p], "O," and "E."


  1. This article appeared in the January 2000 issue of Davlos, pp.13741-13750, and was written by Dimitris I. Lambrou, publisher. (Emphasis not in original was added. Translation by staff.)

  See Alphabet page  

More of the Same

Dr. Fischer in his book “ Glyphbraker” presents a meticulous and scholarly account of his decipherment of the Phaistos Disk that was based on the glyph correspondences between the Phaistos Disk and symbols of Linears A and B. His work has been endorsed by “ The National Geographic” and is by far the most credible and realistic decipherment of the Phaistos Disk to-date.

In his book, Dr. Fischer concludes that “the Minoan language of ancient Crete is the oldest documented language not only of Europe but also of the entire Indo-European language family… it was a Hellenic tongue, sister to Mycenaean Greek [Minoan Greek]… the Phaistos Disk indicates a preference for the written word in ancient Crete (it also suggests widespread literacy)… [and] the Hellenes were the first in the Aegean, indeed in Europe, to use writing…” (pp. 119-120)

The Minoans spoke and wrote in Greek, at least 1300 years prior to the appearance of the Phoenicians! Some may argue that the Phaistos Disk is “written” in pictorial script (glyphs) and it is syllabic, not alphabetic. This is true. However, the relation of the Phaistos Disk to the syllabic Linear A and B scripts is stunningly similar, thus proving the continuity and evolution of these writing scripts. Furthermore, the similarity of the Minoan writing symbols to the Phoenician scripts (i.e. Proto-Sinaitic, ca. 1700 BCE; and Phoenician ca. 700 BCE), which are also syllabic and not alphabetic, suggest a relative connection that should not, and must not, be taken lightly or go unnoticed.

Hence, the question at hand is, did the birth and early evolution of the Greek alphabet begun in the East (Phoenicia) or the West (Crete)?

The ancient historian Diodorus of Sicily mentions in his writings that Dosiades, a writer of epigrams, told him that the letters were invented by the Cretans (“Dosiades de en Kriti phisin evrethinai auta [grammata].) (Diodorus, II 783.14)  

Furthermore, according to the “On-Line Encyclopedia Britannica”, the late Sir Arthur Evans, the brilliant archaeologist and scholar who dedicated most of his life excavating, deciphering and documenting the advanced civilization of the Minoans, argued ingeniously that “the alphabet was taken over from Crete by the Cherethites (Kereti=Cretans) and Palestu (Philistines=Pelasgoi) who established for themselves settlements on the coast of Palestine. From them it passed to the Phoenicians, who were their neighbors, if not their kinsfolk.”

This is a statement and scientific observation of great importance, and has far reaching implications in the quest to identify not only the origins of the alphabet, but the origins of civilization in the Mediterranean.

Unfortunately, Evans' theory of the origin of the alphabet laid dormant (and frankly, in my opinion, purposely ignored) until recent archaeological findings in Israel regarding the Philistines, a race that, until recently, we only knew from Old Testament references, have shed new light on the migrations, settlements and cultures of the people in the Mediterranean basin, and has stirred renewed interest in the relation between the Levantines (Middle Easterners) and the Minoan Greeks.

Will, finally, Evans be exonerated and his theories be proven right? Well, we are now almost certain that, despite previous theories that the Minoans migrated from the Levant, recent scientific and archeological findings are proving that it was the other way around!

As we understand and analyze these new findings, not through the prism of narrow nationalistic, ethnic or political interests, but in true and responsible scholarship, old misconceptions will tumble and the truth will prevail.

In early 2007, in an article that appeared in “The Israel Exploration Journal”, distinguished Harvard professors Lawrence E. Stager and Frank Moore Cross commenting on several Philistine inscriptions found in the ancient city of Ashkelon in Israel, wrote that the inscriptions "reveal, for the first time, convincing evidence that the early Philistines of Ashkelon were able to read and write in a non-Semitic language, as yet undeciphered… perhaps it is not too bold to propose that the inscription is written in a form of Cypro-Minoan script utilized and modified by the Philistines — in short, that we are dealing with the Old Philistine script." Cross further states that the script had some characteristics of Linear A, the writing system used in the Aegean from 1650 B.C. to 1450 B.C. This undeciphered script was replaced by another, Linear B, which was identified with the Minoan civilization of Crete and was finally decoded in the mid-20th century.

Hence, these Cretan migrants brought with them not only the Minoan Greek language, but also the linear script, the early Hellenic syllabic alphabet that planted the seed for the evolution of a regional rooted alphabet.

To wit, excavations at Tel Miqne in Israel in 1996 unearthed a Philistine dedication inscription of the seventh century BCE, written in a script dubbed by scholars “Phoenician-Canaanite”, in the absence of a more precise alternative nomenclature.

This tablet of Ekron, as it is commonly known today, is written in none other than a “Philistine” (i.e. Cretan) script that most likely evolved from the Minoan linear scripts, and was eventually adopted by both the Canaanites and the Phoenicians “their neighbors [and] their kinfolk”, according to Evans.

Furthermore, Aaron Demsky in an article published in “Biblical Archeology” suggests that the inscription of the tablet of Ekron names one of the Philistine kings as “Akys” (Greek: Acheos = Hellene), and his patron deity as “Ptnyh” (Greek:  Potnia = Divine Lady => Great Goddess of the Aegean.), further confirming the Hellenic origin and lineage of the Philistines, their language and their writing (pp. 53-58.)

Sr. Arthur Evans may have finally been proven right! The letters of the so-called “Phoenician” alphabet were first used by the Philistines and had Minoan Hellenic roots!

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Additional references, sources and bibliography (Please don't write and ask me for references. You can find them at the end of article or in Bibliography)

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