Euboean alphabet

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File:Nestor Cup Cumae.jpg

The inscription of Nestor’s Cup, found in Ischia; Cumae alphabet, 8th century BC

The Euboean alphabet was a western variant of the early Greek alphabet, used between the 8th to 5th centuries BC. It was used in the island of Euboea (notably the cities of Eretria and Chalkis) and in related colonies in southern Italy, notably in Cumae and in Pithikoussai. It was through this variant that the Greek alphabet was transmitted to Italy, giving rise to the Old Italic alphabets, including Etruscan, and ultimately the Latin alphabet. Some of the distinctive features of the Latin as compared to the standard Greek script are already present in the Euboean model. In Greece, this and other local variants were replaced by the standard Greek alphabet, which is based on eastern Ionic Greek variants, from the 4th century BC.

Letter inventory

Distribution of alphabet types after Kirchhoff (1887), “western” type in red.

  Western, Cumae or Euboean alphabet
  Ionic, Attic and Corinthian

The Euboean alphabet belonged to the so-called “western” (or “red”) type of epichoric alphabets, according to the classification by Kirchhoff (1887), insofar as it did not have the standard (eastern) Greek letters Ξ = /ks/, Χ = /kʰ/ and Ψ = /ps/, but instead had Χ = /ks/ and Ψ = /kʰ/. Like most early variants it also lacked Ω, and used Η for the consonant /h/ rather than for the vowel /ɛː/. It also kept the archaic letters digamma (Ϝ) = /w/ and qoppa (Ϙ) = /k/. A third archaic letter, san (Ϻ) = /s/, was not normally used in writing, but apparently still transmitted as part of the alphabet, because it occurs in abecedaria found in Italy and was later adopted by Etruscan. This gives the following letter inventory:

Standard Greek Α Β Γ Δ Ε Ϝ Ζ Η Θ Ι Κ Λ Μ Ν Ξ Ο Π Ϻ Ϙ Ρ Σ Τ Υ Φ Χ Ψ Ω
Euboean Greek Greek Alpha 03.svg Greek Beta 13.svg Greek Gamma pointed.svg Greek Delta 04.svg Greek Epsilon archaic.svg Greek Digamma oblique.svg Greek Zeta archaic.svg Greek Eta archaic.svg Greek Theta archaic.svg Greek Iota normal.svg Greek Kappa normal.svg Greek Lambda Athenean.svg Greek Mu archaic.svg Greek Nu archaic.svg Greek Omicron normal.svg Greek Pi rounded.svg Greek San 02.svg Greek Koppa normal.svg Greek Rho 03.svg Greek Sigma Z-shaped.svg Greek Tau normal.svg Greek Upsilon V-shaped.svg Greek Chi normal.svg Greek Phi normal.svg Greek Psi straight.svg
Latin A B C/G D E F H I K L M N O P Q R S T V X

also shown in the following diagram:


In addition, the Euboean alphabet tended to use certain variant forms of the standard letters, several of which also foreshadow the forms adopted by the Italic scripts. Γ was written like a (rounded or pointed) Latin C. Δ was written with the left edge vertical and the other two sides oblique, like a pointed Latin D. Λ was often written more like a Latin L, with a rightward hook at the bottom. Π was often written with a rounded top, approaching the shape of Latin P (but without the curve touching the vertical stem in the middle). Ρ, in turn, often had a downward tail, resembling Latin R.

The Marsiliana abecedarium (ca. 700 BC) shows an archaic variant of the Etruscan alphabet practically identical to the Western Greek alphabet, except for the presence of a Ξ or Samek.

Apart from the omission of samek (Ξ) and the addition of ΥΧΦΨ, the alphabet is identical to the Phoenician alphabet.