The 5th century BC Amathus sarcophagus found in Amathus integrates Greek, Cypriot, and Oriental features. (Public Domain) Background: Detail of the Idalion Decree, a Bronze plaque engraved on both faces with a Cyprian inscription.

Exploring an Ancient and Undeciphered Language: Eteocypriot and the Amathus Bilingual Inscription

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An English architect by profession and self-trained in the discipline and studies of linguistics and ancient history, Michael Ventris would be the first to identify the Mycenaean written Linear B inscriptions (1450 - 1200 BC) as a language belonging to a more archaic form of Greek. With the aid of John Chadwick, a full decipherment of the Late Bronze Age corpus would continue from 1951 to 1953, and in turn be published for the world to see (Chadwick, 84). Unfortunately, this milestone did not provide any more insight into the still undeciphered Linear A (2500 - 1450 BC).

It was almost fifteen years ago that I was in college studying for my Bachelors of Science in Electronic Engineering. Ever since I was a young child, I was always fascinated with human history, but it was when I was in college that this fascination turned to an obsession. At the time, I had made a vow to myself, that I would be the one to officially translate the Minoan Linear A script. While I have yet to achieve this goal, I have made significant strides in translating what could be a very similar language. Written with a modified form of the Cretan Linear A, I speak of the Cypriot Linear C and one of the two languages associated with it, Eteocypriot; the other being Greek. The purpose of this article is to bring a renewed interest into one of Europe’s ancient and undeciphered languages.

Ball with Cypro-Minoan 1 inscription.

Ball with Cypro-Minoan 1 inscription. ( Public Domain ) 

A Brief History Lesson

There was once a time when the ancient island of Cyprus had its own native language; a language which was not Greek. Modern scholars routinely refer to this pre-Greek language as Eteocypriot or “True Cyprian.” Derived from the Minoan Linear A, the language was written in the Cypriot syllabary or the Cypro-Minoan variant which would later evolve to Linear C. However, during the 10th century BC, the language was competing with the Arcadocypriot Greek dialect and eventually became extinct in approximately the 4th century BC. To this day, the Eteocypriot language remains undeciphered and the mystery surrounding it continues.

Initially discovered in 1913 at the acropolis of Amathus, Cyprus, and written on a black marble slab, the Amathus Bilingual (ca. 600 BC) contains the most famous non-Greek inscription written with this Cypro-Minoan syllabary. It is a dedicatory inscription from the city of Amathus to the noble Ariston. As mentioned earlier, the script bore uncanny similarities to that of the Minoan Linear A which immediately earned its title of Cypro-Minoan. In the same fashion, as both Linear A and B, the newly discovered system of writing was identified as a syllabary, where each sign represents a consonant followed by a vowel. This Bilingual is thought to hold the key to deciphering the language of the Cypriots prior to Greek colonization. The Eteocypriots who objected to the rule of the Greeks, gathered to the south of the island at Amathus where they continued on with their Eteocypriot language and more indigenous Cypriot culture (Karageorghis, 114).

Bichrome amphora decorated on either side with a fish. Made at Amathus, 6th century BC.

Bichrome amphora decorated on either side with a fish. Made at Amathus, 6th century BC. (Antiquities at the British Museum/ CC BY 2.0 )

The syllabary and their phonetic values were already well known to historians and archaeologists alike. If you recall from the previous section, this script was also used to write Greek, as it was originally identified and deciphered by George Smith in 1872, the Assyriologist well known for his translation of the Epic of Gilgamesh and the Babylonian Flood story, with the Idalion Bilingual. Dating to the 4th century BC, the Idalion Bilingual records a dedication to a local deity and is written in both Greek and Phoenician. Using this evidence as a guide, it has proven to later linguists and historians that the values of the signs used in the Cypriot Greek texts are the same as the values used in the Eteocypriot texts. Consisting of four inscribed lines, the top two of the Amathus Bilingual were written in Linear C while the bottom two, Greek.

Inscription in in Eteocypriot (Cypriot syllabary), cica 500-300 BC, probably from Amathus. Donated to the Ashmolean Museum by Prof. J. L. Myres in 1895. ( CC BY SA 3.0 )

Eteocypriot (Gordon, 120) :

[1] a-na · ma-to-ri · u-mi-e-s[a]-i · mu-ku-la-i · la-sa-na · a-ri-si-to-no-se a-ra-to-wa-na-ka-so-ko-o-se

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