CYPRIOT THEMES

THE SCRIPT

Writing first appeared in Cyprus around 1500 BC at a time when the island's trading activities brought increased bureaucratic demands.

Scripts on Cyprus

The earliest script was syllabic (each symbol denoting a vowel or a combination of consonant and vowel) and presented obvious similarities to Minoan Linear A. It was probably introduced from Crete and adapted to the needs of the ancient Cypriot language. The script is called Cypro-Minoan but has not been deciphered yet (as is also the case with Linear A). Cypro-Minoan texts have been found on clay tablets at Enkomi in Cyprus and Ugarit in Syria, suggesting that they were used both for administration and commercial transactions. Otherwise, Cypro-Minoan symbols have been occasionally found on clay cylinders (also of administrative use), bronze and ivory objects as well as on clay balls.

The Cypro-Minoan script remained in use at least until the mid-12th c. BC. Eventually, it was replaced by the so-called Cypro-syllabic script (or Cypriot syllabary), in which elements of the Cypro-Minoan were merged with Mycenaean Linear B, and remained in use until the 3rd c. BC. On present evidence, the script appeared in Cyprus in the 11th c. BC but did not become common until the Cypro-Archaic period. It was used for writing both Greek and Eteocypriot that is the original language of the inhabitants of Cyprus prior to the advent of Greek-speaking (Mycenaean) populations at the closing stages of the Late Bronze Age. The Cypro-syllabic script was deciphered in the 1870s by the English Assyrologist George Smith, with the help of a bilingual inscription in Phoenician and Greek written with Cypro-syllabic characters. Inscriptions in Eteocypriot have not yet been read. The Greek dialect of Cyprus, on the other hand, presents similarities with the Arcadian dialect of the Peloponnese, and is, therefore, called Arcado-Cypriot.

Other scripts were also used in ancient Cyprus to record non-Greek or non-Eteocypriot languages. Particularly common are Phoenician inscriptions, which is not surprising given the strong Phoenicians presence in the island already from the 9th c. BC. Cuneiform Assyrian and hieroglyphic Egyptian inscriptions of the Archaic period are rare, while from the Roman period, there are some inscriptions in Latin.