Indices : Writing Systems : Syllabaries : Cypriot

The Cypriot syllabary was used in Cyprus from the eleventh century BCE to around the end of the third century BCE. It was used for writing two languages: the Arcado-Cypriot dialect of ancient Greek and an unknown language referred to as “Eteo-Cypriot” that was used in parts of central Cyprus during the classical period. The script contains at least 55 phonetic characters plus a punctuation mark (used for separating words or word groups) and a simple system of numerals.

In origin the Cypriot syllabary is clearly related to Linear A and Linear B, though not especially closely; the immediate ancestor is probably the poorly known Cypro-Minoan script of the Late Bronze Age. During the archaic and classical periods, the Cypriot syllabary existed in two quite different regional varieties: the “standard” syllabary used in central and eastern Cyprus and the “Paphian” syllabary used in western Cyprus. Numerous other variations of glyph shape exist within the known corpus, some probably regional, some probably chronological, and some probably technical or stylistic.

Only inscriptions on durable materials have survived: carved in stone, incised in clay, painted on clay, stamped on metal coins, or incised in metal. Most surviving inscriptions are very short; only a few are longer than 100 characters, and only one, the Idalium tablet, exceeds 1000 characters.

The Cypriot syllabary is a simple script without any shaping behavior, written in horizontal lines. The standard syllabary was normally written from right to left; the Paphian syllabary was usually written from left to right at Paphus, but usually from right to left around Curium.

The phonetic characters represent vowels or CV syllables. This structure is ill-suited to the Greek language, which (like most Indo-European languges) is prone to complex consonant clusters. Therefore, multiple characters may be needed to write what would be a single syllable in speech: for example, the phrase “Δάματρι κὰς Κόραι” (“to Demeter and Kore”), pronounced as six syllables, is written with nine characters, ta-ma-ti-ri ka-se ko-ra-i. It will also be noted that the syllabary omits many phonemic distinctions used in the spoken language, such as voice and aspiration.

The Cypriot syllabary has been included in the Unicode standard since version 4.0, and is located with other historic scripts in Plane 1.

For further information, see:
O. Masson, Les inscriptions chypriotes syllabiques: recueil critique et commenté. 2nd ed. Paris: E. de Boccard, 1983.
T. B. Mitford and O. Masson, “The Cypriot syllabary.” In The Cambridge Ancient History, 2nd ed., vol. 3 part 3: The Expansion of the Greek World, Eighth to Sixth Centuries B.C., pp. 71–82. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1982.