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ΕΛΛΗΝΙΚA ΓΡΑΜΜΑΤΑ: a linguistic analysis of the early Greek alphabets



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Elvira Astoreca, Natalia  ORCID logo


Most scholarship on early Greek alphabetic writing has focused on the questions around the origin of ‘the Greek alphabet’, instead of acknowledging the diversity of alphabetic systems that emerged in Geometric and Archaic Greece. The research concerning the so-called epichoric scripts was introduced by Kirchhoff in the 19th century and saw its highest point in the 1960s with the works of Jeffery and Guarducci. Nevertheless, recent epigraphical finds and new possibilities offered by the Digital Humanities call for a revised, comprehensive study of these alphabets. Unlike previous research, which was mostly concerned with palaeography, this thesis is a linguistic analysis of the epichoric alphabets that follows the latest trends in grapholinguistics and the methodology of comparative graphematics. The latter is a branch of writing systems research focused on the relationship between graphemes and the values that they represent and compares them across writing systems. In the present case, I will compare the different Greek alphabets in their earliest stages, i.e. 8th and 7th centuries BC, taking also into account other contemporaneous alphabets, like those for Phrygian, Eteocretan and the Italic languages. In order to make this study as comprehensive as possible, I built a digital database that gathers linguistic information on all Greek inscriptions dated within the chronological framework of this thesis. Through the analysis and visualisation of this data, the dissertation presents a comparative study of the Greek scripts and their vocalic and consonantal notation systems. The aim of the thesis is to describe the differences, similarities and relationships among Greek alphabets and to show that each of them should be envisioned as an independent entity and framed individually within the ecology of ancient Mediterranean alphabets.





Steele, Philippa M


Ancient Greek, writing systems, epichoric alphabets, alphabetic writing, Greek linguistics


Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Awarding Institution

University of Cambridge
European Research Council (677758)
The research underpinning this thesis was funded as part of the project ‘Contexts of and Relations between Early Writing Systems’ (CREWS). This project has received funding from the European Research Council (ERC) under the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme (grant agreement No. 677758).
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