Ancient Greek History

What is the Dipylon Inscription?

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As far as historians and linguists know, the Ancient Greek alphabet has taken roughly three forms. There was the Linear A script that was used during Minoan times, the Linear B script that was used during Mycenaean times, and the Ancient Greek alphabet that came sometime after Linear B. From there, the modern Greek alphabet evolved from the Ancient Greek one. Note that the above was a simplified summary, but the evolution of the alphabet happened over thousands of years.

Not much is known about Linear A script since there are no known examples of it that have been found. We do know about Linear B script since some of examples of it have been found in excavations. Some Linear B has even been translated. However, we seem to know the most about the Ancient Greek alphabet that came after Linear B, thanks to findings such as the Dipylon Inscription. Here’s more information:

Information About the Dipylon Inscription

Simply put, the Dipylon Inscription is Ancient Greek writing that is etched on a clay vessel, a wine jug that is referred to as a oenochoe, that was found in a dig site in the Dipylon Cemetery that is located near the Dipylon Gate near Athens. At first glance, finding this vase may not have seemed significant. After all, ancient vases are found at archaeological dig sites all the time. However, this one quickly rose to fame because it is the earliest, or one of the earliest known examples of written Ancient Greek texts and has been dated to around 740 B.C. This vessel was found at the site in 1871 and has been the subject of fascination and study ever since.

Early Days of the Greek Alphabet

The Greek alphabet as we know it today was initially adopted from the Phoenician alphabet – the Phoenicians are credited for having the oldest known alphabet in history. As mentioned above, the Greek alphabet first started with Linear A, which has been lost, and then moved on to Linear B. Some linguists and historians suspect that Linear A and Linear B were closely related, but this is only speculation since not much is known about Linear A. When the Phoenicians developed their alphabet, it impacted the rest of the world, the Greeks included.

Why the Dipylon Inscription Was Significant

Besides being the earliest known example of the Ancient Greek alphabet, this inscription was significant in other ways. First of all, many of the letters in the inscription more closely resemble the Phoenician letters than the Greek letters that they evolved to. This helps support the idea that the Greek alphabet actually evolved from the Phoenician one. Linguists, archaeologists, and historians have been able to study this inscription to learn more about the Ancient Greek alphabet and also its culture.

It has been mentioned that the Dipylon Inscription is considered the oldest, or at least one of the oldest, examples of the Ancient Greek alphabet. The Nestor Cup, which was found on the island of Ischia in Italy, a colony in Ancient Greece, is also considered to be one of the oldest. Experts are divided as to which is actually older, but a large number of them give the honor to the Dipylon Inscription.


Wikipedia – Dipylon Inscription

Wikipedia – Ancient Greek Language

Wikipedia – History of the Greek Alphabet

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This post was written by Greek Boston

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