36d - The Cypriot syllabary Volume 3, Part 3: The Expansion of the Greek World, Eighth to Sixth Centuries BC, Second edition Cambridge Histories Online - Cambridge University Press

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36d - The Cypriot syllabary Volume 3, Part 3: The Expansion of the Greek World, Eighth to Sixth Centuries BC, Second edition

pp. 71-82


  • The Cambridge Ancient History Volume 3, Part 3: The Expansion of the Greek World, Eighth to Sixth Centuries BC, Second edition
  • Publisher:

  • Online Publication Date:
  • March 2008
  • Print Publication Year:
  • 1982

  • Hardback ISBN:
  • 9780521234474
  • Online ISBN:
  • 9781139054300

Cyprus possesses in the Classical Syllabary a unique system of writing. Except for the Phoenician alphabet used by the Semitic element in the island's population, and for the Greek alphabet on certain coins and in the rare epitaphs of foreigners, the syllabary was in almost exclusive use throughout the Archaic and Classical periods. With two early exceptions (Marium, Golgi), only in the Hellenistic period do ‘digraphic’ inscriptions (with the same or a similar text in both alphabet and syllabary) occur, notably at Paphus and Soli, whose kings were among the earliest Cypriot allies of Ptolemy Soter. The syllabary, in the main or ‘Common’ variant and in the South-Western or ‘Paphian’ repertory, was the vehicle of the Cypriot dialect, the eastern branch of the Arcado-Cypriot group; in some parts of the island, especially at Amathus, the syllabary was also used for the still undeciphered ‘Eteo-Cypriot’ language. The Cypriot dialect and the syllabary are complementary, and (save for Eteo-Cypriot) they are not to be found the one without the other.

Decipherment, based on the Phoenician bilingual of Idalium (ICS no. 220) was ingeniously initiated in 1871 by George Smith, later assisted by S. Birch, and rapidly advanced by Brandis, M. Schmidt, Deecke and Siegismund. By 1876, the Bronze Tablet of Idalium (ICS no. 217; see Plates Volume), complete and very legible, with more than 1,000 signs, had received an established alphabetic text and full commentary, and it remains to this day without a rival as a source of knowledge alike of the dialect and of syllabic usage.

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